Maryland becomes 21st US state to legalize medical marijuana
The US Agency for International Development (USAID), a government organization that promotes economic development and combats poverty abroad, secretly created asocial networking site designed to stir unrest and undermine the Cuban government, according to an Apr. 3, 2014 investigation by the Associated Press (AP).
The program, known as ZunZuneo (the sound of a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet), drew nearly 40,000 subscribers and lasted more than two years. Cuban users were unaware of the American origins of the program. According to AP, the plan was to stoke political unrest and undermine the Castro regime by secretly hiring writers to supply the social network with texts critical of the government. ZunZuneo was able to bypass Cuba’s strict restrictions on internet use (including the use of Twitter) by using text messages as the primary means of communication.
Cuban officials allegedly and unsuccessfully attempted to trace the text messages and hack into ZunZuneo. USAID told AP that ZunZuneo ceased operations in Sep. 2012 when a Congressional grant for the program ended. Congress has given USAID more than $200 million in funding for “democracy assistance” programs in Cuba since 1996. According to interviews and documents obtained by the AP, USAID and its contractors established shell companies in Spain and the Cayman Islands to disguise the funding for ZunZuneo, and recruited contractors to work on the project under false pretenses. It is currently unknown where the idea for ZunZuneo originated or whether President Obama knew about it.
Is Marijuana an Effective Treatment for Glaucoma?
Death penalty executions rose by 15% globally in 2013, according to a Mar. 27, 2014 report from Amnesty International. Excluding China, at least 778 executions were known to have been carried out in 2013, compared to 682 in 2012.
An over 30% increase in executions in Iran and Iraq in 2013 was responsible for the bulk of the 15% global increase, and those two countries plus Saudi Arabia accounted for at least 80% of executions worldwide (excluding China).
The five countries that executed the most people in 2013 were Iran (at least 369), Iraq (169), Saudi Arabia (79), the United States (39), and Somalia (34). According to Amnesty International, China tops the list with “thousands” put to death every year, though the official number of executions is kept secret.
A total of 22 countries executed people in 2013, one more than in 2012. Indonesia, Kuwait, Nigeria, and Vietnam all resumed use of the death penalty in 2013 after not executing anyone in 2012. Gambia, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, and Belarus suspended the use of the death penalty in 2013 after performing executions in 2012.
A controversial exemption in Hawaii law that permits police to have sex with prostitutes during investigations is in the process of being changed to make the practice illegal. Despite previously lobbying to retain the exemption, Honolulu police officials have now come to an agreement with legislators to have the law changed in a revised version of the state’s prostitution statutes.
Prostitution is illegal in Hawaii, but the existing law states that the prohibition “shall not apply to any member of a police department, a sheriff, or a law enforcement officer acting in the course and scope of duties.”
The issue was raised in February as Hawaii lawmakers debated ways to strengthen existing prostitution laws. Following police testimony defending the exemption, it was retained by the state House in a proposed new law, but the state Senate deferred a vote on Mar. 21 amidst a growing furor. Police and lawmakers reached a consensus on Mar. 25 to outlaw sexual penetration between police and prostitutes, but if the revised bill passes police will still be allowed to verbally solicit sex as part of an investigation.
When defending the exemption before the House Judiciary Committee, Honolulu Police Major Jerry Inouye said that department rules governing police officers’ conduct with prostitutes were in place, but that they must be kept confidential
On Aug. 7, 1996, the FCC created guidelines on cell phone radiation (RF) exposure with input from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The guidelines created a measure of the rate that body tissue absorbs radiation energy during cell phone use called the specific absorption rate (SAR). The SAR for cell phone radiation was set at a maximum of 1.6 watts of energy absorbed per kilogram of body weight. The limit was set due to the thermal effects of cell phone radiation (all RF radiation can heat human body tissue at high enough levels) - it was not set to mitigate other biological effects cell phone radiation might have such as DNA damage or cancer.
The FCC SAR limit is based upon a cell phone call that averages 30 minutes when the cell phone is held at the ear. SAR levels for cell phones sold in the US range from a low of 0.19 to the maximum of 1.58. Holding a phone away from the body or using a wired earpiece lowers the amount of radiation absorbed, and text messaging rather than talking, further lowers that amount.
On Mar. 18, 2014 the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society, released a public warning on the dangers posed by climate change in its report, “What We Know: The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change.”
The new report focuses on three messages. The first is that “climate scientists agree: climate change is happening here and now.” The second is that “we are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.” The third is being that “the sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do.” According to the report, “97% of climate scientists have concluded that humans are changing the climate.”
However, some scientists question the idea that human-caused global warming could potentially have catastrophic impacts on the earth. Richard Lindzen, PhD, a Fellow at the AAAS who was not involved with the report, stated in an Oct. 19, 2013 CATO Institute publication that “the fact that greenhouse gases have increased over the past 200 years or so, and that their greenhouse impact is already about 80% of what one expects from a doubling of CO2 are all perfectly consistent with there being no serious problem. Even the text of the IPCC Scientific Assessment agrees that catastrophic consequences are highly unlikely.”
Belgium became the world’s first country to lift all age restrictions on euthanasia. King Philippe of Belgium signed legislation that allows children with terminal and incurable illnesses to choose to be euthanized.
Prostitution has an unusual feature: it is well paid despite being low-skill, labor intensive and, one might add, female dominated. Earnings even in the worst paid type, streetwalking, may be several multiples of full time earnings in professions with comparable skill requirements.
Cell phones distract parents from important face-to-face time with their children, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics.The article found that a large percentage of parents are absorbed in their cell phones during meal times, leading to poor behavior in their children.
Researchers from the Boston Medical Center went undercover at 15 fast-food restaurants in the Boston area and observed 55 parents accompanied by one or more children. Observers wrote field notes describing all aspects of cell phone use and child and parent behavior during the meal.
Forty of the parents were on their phones at some point while dining with their children. Sixteen used their cell phones almost continuously throughout the meal, eating and talking while looking at their device or only putting it down briefly to eat or speak with their children. This pattern of use occurred across age groups, genders, and group sizes.
Parents who used non-calling functions such as texting, social networking, or playing a game, showed the highest degree of absorption, because they were looking primarily at the device. Phone calls could be absorbing, according to the study authors, but parents “usually maintained some eye contact with children during these calls, which did not last through entire meals as texting or swiping could.”
Parents who believe that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism do not change their minds even after receiving information from public health researchers refuting the link, according to a new study. For parents with the least favorable attitudes toward vaccines, receiving pro-vaccine information caused a further decrease in intention to vaccinate their children.
The peer-reviewed study, “Effective Messages in Vaccine Promotion: A Randomized Trial,” published in the journal Pediatrics, surveyed 1,759 parents age 18 years and older who have children in their household age 17 years or younger. Parents were randomly assigned to receive one of four interventions: (1) information explaining the lack of evidence that the MMR vaccine causes autism from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; (2) Vaccine Information Statements from the CDC that explain both the benefits and risks of a vaccine to vaccine recipients; (3) images of children who have diseases prevented by the MMR vaccine; and (4) a dramatic narrative about an infant who almost died of measles from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet.
None of the interventions increased parental intent to vaccinate their children. Parents with the least favorable attitudes towards MMR vaccines showed decreased intent to vaccinate their children after receiving information refuting a causal link to autism. Additionally, parents shown images of sick children increased their belief that vaccines cause autism. The dramatic narrative about an infant in danger increased belief in serious vaccine side effects.
According to a meta-study published in the latest issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) of 21 reduces alcohol-related traffic crashes, alcohol consumption by youth, and long-term negative consequences in adulthood such as drug dependence, suicide, and homicide.
The study, “Case Closed: Research Evidence on the Positive Public Health Impact of the Age 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age in the United States,” analyzed dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles that evaluated MLDA 21 in the United States or that investigated the potential effects of raising or lowering the MLDA.
The investigation came as a response to advocacy organization Choose Responsibility’s call in 2006 to repeal the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which led all 50 states to establish MLDA 21 or risk losing millions of dollars in federal transportation funds. In 2008, the organization created the Amethyst Initiative, a group of college and university presidents advocating for a lower drinking age of 18. Public health and traffic safety experts responded with dozens of new research papers on MLDA’s effectiveness.
According to study authors William DeJong and Jason Blanchette, researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health and School of Medicine, MLDA 21 has “served the nation well by reducing alcohol-related traffic crashes and alcohol consumption among youths while also protecting drinkers from long-term negative outcomes they might experience in adulthood, including alcohol and other drug dependence, adverse birth outcomes, and suicide and homicide. The evidence is clear that, absent other policy changes and improved enforcement of the nation’s alcohol laws, lowering the legal drinking age would lead to a substantial increase in injuries, deaths, and other negative health-related consequences.”
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) lost 49.7% of its deportation cases in the first four months of the 2014 fiscal year against immigrants in the country illegally, the highest percentage of failed deportation cases since tracking began 20 years ago. The success rates had remained somewhat stable between 1999 (69.9%) and 2011 (70.2%), but in 2012 success rates started to lower.
According to Transaction Records Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, 22,869 people received deportation orders from the United States in the first four months of the 2014 fiscal year for immigration violations. 6,122 people received deportation orders for criminal, national security, or terror charges.
While some people contend that too few immigrants are being deported, others argue that the Obama administration deports too many immigrants, especially for non-criminal offenses. According to the Economist, nine times as many people were deported in 2013 (369,000) than were deported 20 years ago, adding up to almost 2 million people deported during Obama’s presidency.
On Feb. 11, 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder called for an end to felon disenfranchisement in the United States. His speech on criminal justice reform at the Georgetown University Law Center appealed to states that still have some form of permanent disenfranchisement to automatically restore the ability to vote to all people convicted of a felony once they complete their term of incarceration, serve all parole and probation, and pay all fines.
Attorney General Holder stated that “Across this country today, an estimated 5.8 million Americans – 5.8 million of our fellow citizens – are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions. That’s more than the individual populations of 31 U.S. states. And although well over a century has passed since post-Reconstruction states used these measures to strip African Americans of their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable… It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values. These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered, but repealed.”
The Attorney General went on to say that throughout the United States, “2.2 million black citizens – or nearly one in 13 African-American adults – are banned from voting because of these laws. In three states – Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia – that ratio climbs to one in five.”