Is Google’s eagerness to answer questions promoting more falsehood online?

Ready to serve. Google search page via shutterstock.com

When people have questions, they often ask Google. They expect high-quality, accurate answers. Late last year, it emerged that the top answer Google gave to “Did the Holocaust happen?” linked to a neo-Nazi, white supremacist, Holocaust-denying website.

The ensuing outcry included people buying Google ads for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum so that it would appear near the top of the results as well. After initial resistance, Google tweaked its algorithm – but only enough to push the false, prejudiced information somewhat farther down in the results. Continue reading Is Google’s eagerness to answer questions promoting more falsehood online?

Static electricity’s tiny sparks

Static electricity can cause more than just a bad hair day. Ken Bosma, CC BY

Static electricity is a ubiquitous part of everyday life. It’s all around us, sometimes funny and obvious, as when it makes your hair stand on end, sometimes hidden and useful, as when harnessed by the electronics in your cellphone. The dry winter months are high season for an annoying downside of static electricity – electric discharges like tiny lightning zaps whenever you touch door knobs or warm blankets fresh from the clothes dryer. Continue reading Static electricity’s tiny sparks

Five reasons why the North Dakota pipeline fight will continue in 2017

In December, protesters in Standing Rock, North Dakota scored a big victory against a pipeline builder, yet the underlying problems have not been addressed. AP Photo/David Goldman

In December 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) denied an easement that would have permitted the company Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) to complete one of the final segments of the 1,100-mile Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which seeks to connect the oil fields of North Dakota with terminals and refineries in Illinois.

The denial of ACE’s easement is undoubtedly a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux. The tribe and its allies in the #NoDAPL movement opposed the pipeline over risks to water quality, the destruction of cultural heritage and the injustice of, once again, having to make sacrifices for the economic gains of others. David Archambault II, chair of the tribe, thanked those who had been gathering for months at the construction site, saying their “purpose had been served,” and that they may leave now.

But as we start a new year, many people are convinced that the need for resistance has not ended even after the tribe’s monumental victory. The Sacred Stone camp, a Spirit Camp dedicated to stopping the pipeline, published the headline “DAPL Easement Suspended, but the Fight’s not Over.”

As an indigenous scholar and activist, I agree that the water protectors’ underlying causes in this high-profile resistance have not been addressed – even if ETP truly halts all construction. Here are five developments people should consider as the incoming Trump administration takes power.

1. Tribal consultation requirements need to be reformed.

In its December memo, the ACE said it did not violate its duty to consult tribes in advance. Moreover, in ruling against the tribe, which had sought an injunction to halt construction, district judge James Boasberg documented the many efforts ACE made to reach out to the tribe as well as efforts of the pipeline builders to avoid damaging places of cultural and historical significance.

Yet nonetheless, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s territory was targeted for the pipeline instead of an area closer to Bismarck, North Dakota, which speaks to the need for reform of tribal consultation policies.

In my personal review and interpretation of ACE’s specific tribal consultation policy and the related Executive Order 13175, I believe agencies can fulfill the duty to consult with tribes without really giving them a fair opportunity for free, prior and informed consent. Some scholars argue that Section 106 policy of the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires impacts on cultural heritage to be considered, is not designed to fairly consider tribes’ interests.

Finally, when I reviewed Judge Boasberg’s opinion, what stands out to me are the multiple times when the tribe expressed objections and concerns to ACE and also ETP. Nevertheless, the agency and business interests kept pushing on. This is despite what should have been widely known about the significance of a 1868 treaty area for the tribe and its involvement in a 2012 resolution against future pipelines.

Some critics of the NoDAPL movement, including a North Dakota congressional representative, claim that opposing the pipeline offends the “rule of law.” Yet, for me, this criticism is unclear.

Morally speaking, I believe current tribal consultation policies lack strong enough support for the right to free, prior and informed consent and fail to protect sufficiently religious freedom and cultural integrity. Legally speaking, the U.S. has a long way to make up for a range of unlawful actions, from breaking treaties to swindling indigenous trust assets. In my view, basic respect for the Standing Rock’s treaty rights over the years would have made the current situation unlikely. Such respect would have also, speaking more speculatively, put many tribes in stronger positions, both economically and in terms of government capacity, to negotiate and track the actions of powerful corporations and U.S. agencies.

The ACE did issue a statement in November acknowledging historic “dispossessions of lands” as a factor being weighed, yet it is unclear whether this view will ultimately be used to build improvements into current tribal consultation policies.

2. Tribes everywhere are pressured by extractive industries.

Pipelines, mining, drilling, refining and other extractive and industrial projects continue to try to enter tribal lands and waters around the country.

In the Pacific Northwest, the Lummi tribe recently worked to block plans for a coal-export port that posed risks to their treaty-protected lands. In the Great Lakes, the Menominee Nation hosted a Sacred Water Walk to protect cultural sites and environmental quality from the “Back Forty” sulfide mine. In the Southwest, the Navajo Nation is suing EPA over the Gold King mine’s spilling of contaminated water, including lead and arsenic, into the Animas River. And I could go on to discuss countless more cases.

For almost every tribe, this is not their first time dealing with extractive industries and hydropower projects.

The Navajo Nation was devastated by uranium mining in the middle part of the 20th century and still deals with uranium cleanup today. Historic mining and hydroelectric development in Washington and Oregon affected treaty protected habitats of fish, plants and animals for the Lummi and many other tribes, which are still dealing with the ecological impacts today.

Of course, the Standing Rock tribe itself endured losses of valuable lands due to a range of historical factors involving extraction and hydropower including U.S. support of gold prospecting and the construction of the Lake Oahe Dam.

3. The Trump administration is possibly exploring the privatization of some tribal lands.

As the Trump administration comes into power, some tribes recall comments Trump himself made years ago in relation to gaming which demonstrated both disrespect and ignorance.

Now recent stories suggest that the Trump administration – Trump has recently sold his stake in ETP – would seek to explore policies that make it easier for extraction to occur on tribal lands.

Reportedly, some of the options on the table involve privatization of tribal lands, echoing historic allotment and termination policies that sounded good from a U.S. capitalist mindset but that ultimately devastated many Native American economies through weakening tribal governmental sovereignty against the economic interests of U.S. settlers.

4. It is unclear the extent to which the #NoDAPL movement educated anyone.

The failure of U.S. public and private education and many media outlets to consistently cover indigenous histories and current issues means that potential allies of indigenous peoples do not have much background in relevant areas – everything from treaty rights to indigenous activism, to federal Indian law (and its limits), to indigenous religious and cultural values.

While many allies are able to send money or show up for what they understand as “direct action,” they do not know how they can advocate for indigenous peoples beyond the rare highly public issues. They do not, for example, seek to regularly pressure their political leaders to reform the U.S. government’s duty to consult with tribes before construction projects. Or they are not aware of indigenous peoples facing similar struggles to that of Standing Rock who are living right next door to them.

5. US colonialism is not over.

All these points I have just made are really just by-products of one key point: DAPL is not over because many people in the U.S. assume that it is acceptable to keep pushing tribes to make sacrifices for U.S.-endorsed business interests, whether these interests profit individuals or are portrayed as being in the national interest.

From an indigenous perspective, it is deeply frustrating to witness, generation after generation, a U.S. parasitism that continues to build the U.S. economy through infringing more and more on indigenous lands and waters, as we see from many ongoing energy and water projects detailed above.

Why is the underlying assumption always that indigenous peoples must sacrifice their cultures, economies and political self-determination for the sake of the aspirations of businesses and U.S. national interests? This question poses a significant problem for the ethics of DAPL even if it were absolutely certain that the pipeline is far safer, in many respects, than oil transport by rail.

It remains possible that the two-year-long Environmental Impact Assessment will not ultimately respect the involvement of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Or perhaps ETP will just keep building the pipeline and deal with the financial or legal consequences.

Regardless, tribes everywhere, this year and into the future, will face broken treaty rights, inadequate consultation, uphill battles against rich companies and federal and state agencies whose goals and procedures ultimately do not take to heart indigenous values, histories and sovereignty.

The Conversation

Kyle Powys Whyte does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Source: The Conversation

Why is it so hard to close the racial health gap in the US?

From www.shutterstock.com

The racial health gap in the United States is well-documented. The gap starts with the infant mortality rate (11.1 blacks vs. 5.1 whites per 1,000) and extends to almost any health domain. Compared to whites, blacks live shorter and live fewer years free of illness. Blacks develop chronic disease on average one decade earlier than whites. Although the life expectancy gap between black and white Americans has narrowed, disparities are still persistent. Continue reading Why is it so hard to close the racial health gap in the US?

At Russian Hacking Hearing, Most Republican Senators Express No Outrage

At Thursday morning’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about Russian hacking during the 2016 elections, little new information was revealed about Moscow’s meddling in the presidential campaign. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper did say that the intelligence community’s review ordered by President Barack Obama of the Russian operation will be done early next week and will yield an unclassified report for public release. “I intend to push the envelope as much as I can,” Clapper said, referring to information the report will make public. Continue reading At Russian Hacking Hearing, Most Republican Senators Express No Outrage

It's 2017 and the House GOP Wants to Ban Live Video

On the first day of the new Congress, House Republicans have created a new rule in which House members could be fined up to $2,500 for live-streaming from the House floor, taking still photos, and recording audio and video. The rule is largely seen as a response to the sit-in Democrats held last year to pressure Republicans to hold a vote on gun control legislation, which they live-streamed from their phones once the official cameras were shut off.

AshLee Strong, a spokesperson for the Republican House leadership, told Mother Jones the move is an effort to “ensure that order and decorum are preserved in the House of Representatives so lawmakers can do the people’s work.”

But good-government advocates are criticizing the measure, saying it’s bad for government transparency. “It could have a chilling effect on some members of Congress who might otherwise be inclined to depict something that’s going on in the floor of the House through electronic means,” says Michael MacLeod-Ball, chief of staff for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office. A rule prohibiting the use of taking pictures as well as audio and video recordings on the House floor is already in place, he notes, but the new rule adds teeth to it by way of a fine.

In a passionate speech urging the House to reject the rule, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights icon who led the sit-in last summer, asserted that fines won’t keep him from his duty to speak out if the House of Representatives is not reflecting the will of the American people. “We have a right to dissent,” he said. “We have the right to protest for what is right. Regardless of rule or no rule, we cannot and will not be silenced.”

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) described the move as an “unconstitutional gag rule” in a statement released late last month when the fine was first proposed. They called it “unprecedented,” arguing the rule “clearly is intended to undermine the rights of Members in the Minority to freely express their views on the House floor, which is a critical means by which Members communicate to the American public.”

“It is particularly egregious that such a controversial and potentially unlawful change is being implemented in the complete absence of hearings or input from legal experts, let alone the Minority,” they concluded.

Mother Jones reached out to Facebook, Periscope, and YouTube for their take on the live-streaming rule, but none of the platforms offered any comment.

Last night, in an apparent response to criticism, Republicans changed their initial proposal in order to allow lawmakers to appeal the fine to the House Ethics Committee. MacLeod-Ball of the ACLU says he’s still not convinced the rule would stand up to legal scrutiny because of the speech-and-debate clause in the Constitution, which protects lawmakers if they’re fulfilling their legislative responsibilities to their constituents. Even if the rule is technically legal, MacLeod-Ball argues lawmakers should get rid of it.

“The restriction is in place and for no apparent good reason,” he says. “It will tend to restrict the amount of information the public gets about the way government operates.”

Source: Mother Jones Politics

A Wave of Anti-Abortion Laws Is About to Hit This State

In November’s election, Republican Eric Greitens was elected to replace Democrat Jay Nixon as governor, making Missouri one of four states with a new trifecta in which the GOP controls all branches of government. Wasting no time, Missouri lawmakers prefiled 14 anti-abortion bills for the legislative session that started Wednesday.

The proposals include a personhood bill, religious liberty protections for crisis pregnancy centers, several measures blocking fetal tissue research, a chemical endangerment bill, and a bill regarding fetal burial similar to those passed this year in Indiana and Texas.

“I believe that the Republican leadership wants to focus on other issues that are priorities,” says Alison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri. “But the legislators who are obsessed with further restricting access to abortion…are emboldened by the new Republican trifecta. They might be emboldened by the new Trump presidency.”

In Missouri, it is not unusual for lawmakers to prepare many abortion bills before the legislative session begins, but since 2014 lawmakers have never prefiled more than 10 bills. “This legislative session is going to be the fight of our lives,” said Elise Higgins, interim director of public policy and organizing at Planned Parenthood Great Plains, the regional affiliate that provides care in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

The state has a long history of curbing access to abortion. Between 2011 and 2015, political pressure and abortion restrictions shut down four providers, and now only one abortion clinic remains to serve Missouri’s more than 2 million women. Year after year, legislators have filed dozens of anti-abortion proposals—31 in 2014, 27 in 2015, and 28 last year—with mixed success. The Show-Me State has also been a testing ground for new approaches to restricting abortion—a legacy that dates back to the 1989 Webster case decided by the Supreme Court. That ruling, which upheld a Missouri abortion law, allowed states to impose far more restrictions on abortion care than had previously been permitted under Roe v. Wade. This is what gives the current list of measures potential for national consequences.

Here are the bills that have been proposed so far:

  • HB58: The bill would require the state’s health department to rank facilities that deal with maternal care and high-risk pregnancies and would prohibit the department from considering facilities’ rates of abortion or referral for abortion in these rankings. In practice, this means the facilities designated as those with the best care may in fact not offer abortion or present it as an option to patients.
  • HB112: This measure relates to custody disputes over embryos conceived by in-vitro fertilization and, if passed, would require courts to grant custody to those parties who intend to gestate the embryos, rather than the party intending to dispose of them. Courts could no longer issue judgments in custody disputes that permit embryos to be terminated or “kept indefinitely in an environment in which it does not develop or grow.” Advocates consider this a personhood measure. “One could argue that if you’re giving personhood protections to frozen embryos, that would apply to other areas of law,” says M’Evie Mead, director of policy and organizing at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri—an advocacy group. The provision is also worrisome to groups focused on infertility and assisted reproductive technologies because of the unforeseen consequences it could create for embryos conceived through IVF.
  • HB147: This bill would require women who have had abortions to choose how the fetal remains are disposed of, including the option of cremation or burial, and mark their choice on a specific health department form. NARAL’s Dreith considers this one measure that, if passed, could reverberate nationally. In 2016, both Indiana and Texas passed bills requiring that fetal remains from abortions be interred or cremated, but both bills were temporarily blocked by federal judges. (The latest hearing regarding the Texas bill began on Tuesday.) Missouri’s proposal is different because it doesn’t require fetal remains to be cremated or buried—instead it offers these methods among a list of disposal options, and simply requires women who have abortions to choose from the list. This concession, Dreith says, “is not as ugly on the public service level…[but] this bill could be replicable in other states that don’t want to be as vulgar as Texas.”
  • HB174 and SB41: These two billsfiled simultaneously in the House and Senate—would provide free speech and religious liberty protections for crisis pregnancy centers. Often unregulated, these facilities are usually religiously affiliated and discourage women from having abortions, frequently by touting medically inaccurate claims about abortion, including that abortion causes breast cancer or that it causes psychological damage.
  • HB182: This measure makes it a felony for an adult to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion, with an exception for parents or adults who have obtained consent from a minor’s parents.
  • HB194 and SB67: These bills would make it illegal to donate fetal tissue to any kind of research. Fetal tissue has been critical to medical advancements in many realms, from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s to the polio vaccine. This bill would also complicate the disposal of fetal tissue, requiring a multistep process that would culminate in a report prepared by the health department for the Missouri General Assembly that includes data on every fetal tissue disposal that took place in the state.
  • HB252: The bill would make it a crime for a woman to use narcotics or a controlled substance without a prescription if she is pregnant or she “knows or reasonably should have known” that she is pregnant. The crime would be classified as a felony of “endangering the welfare of a child in the first degree,” which is punishable by up to four years in prison, according to Missouri law.
  • HB326: This would require notification of both parents when a minor seeks an abortion, in addition to consent by one parent, which is already required by Missouri law.
  • SB15: This bill reauthorizes existing state tax credits for those making charitable donations to maternity homes and crisis pregnancy centers.
  • SB96: This measure would make it a misdemeanor for doctors to perform abortions on women who are seeking the procedure due to the sex, race, or Down syndrome diagnosis of the fetus.
  • SB196: This bill would give the state attorney general jurisdiction to enforce abortion laws—a power that is currently held by county-level prosecutors. This measure was last attempted by Missouri lawmakers in 2014. The bill’s return follows November’s election of Josh Hawley as Missouri’s attorney general. Hawley was a member of the legal team that argued Burwell v. Hobby Lobby before the Supreme Court in 2014—the case that cemented an exception for religious employers from the Affordable Care Act’s required contraceptive coverage. The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Andrew Koenig, did not respond to a request for comment about whether this bill’s introduction and Hawley’s election are related.
  • SB230: This would require an abortion facility providing contact information for an out-of state abortion clinic to also provide documents about informed consent. These include information about possible fetal pain during abortion (scientific consensus is that such fetal pain claims are false), alternatives to abortion, and child support requirements for fathers.

In the past, most of the anti-abortion bills proposed have not become law, blocked at times by Missouri’s Democratic governor. Missouri’s new governor, Greitens, has not been vocal about his views on abortion, beyond noting that he is pro-life on his campaign website. But should bills cross his desk, advocates like Dreith believe he is likely to sign them. “I don’t think abortion is a major priority for him,” Dreith said. “But the anti-choice Republicans we have in our Legislature will be emboldened by Trump and by knowing that they have a governor that is probably going to support them in their efforts should something pass.”

Source: Mother Jones Politics

The challenge facing libraries in an era of fake news

How can students think critically about information in today’s age? UBC Library Communications Follow, CC BY-NC-ND

Imagine, for a moment, the technology of 2017 had existed on Jan. 11, 1964 – the day Luther Terry, surgeon general of the United States, released “Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the United States.”

What would be some likely scenarios? Continue reading The challenge facing libraries in an era of fake news

New study: Did America’s growing diversity make voters more xenophobic?

Most whites would say they’re okay with diversity. But is there a threshold? ‘Map’ via www.shutterstock.com

Donald Trump’s presidential victory took many by surprise, and in the weeks since the election, political analysts have attempted to understand who voted for Trump and why election forecasts were so wrong. One might wonder how a country that’s becoming increasingly diversesome projections have the country becoming majority minority by 2060 – could elect one of the most openly xenophobic candidates in recent history. Continue reading New study: Did America’s growing diversity make voters more xenophobic?

Is hunting moral? A philosopher unpacks the question

Three generations of a Wisconsin family with a nine-point buck Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Every year as daylight dwindles and trees go bare, debates arise over the morality of hunting. Hunters see the act of stalking and killing deer, ducks, moose and other quarry as humane, necessary and natural, and thus as ethical. Critics respond that hunting is a cruel and useless act that one should be ashamed to carry out. Continue reading Is hunting moral? A philosopher unpacks the question

Dengue virus antibodies may worsen a Zika infection

Revellers at a carnival in Sao Paulo wear mosquito masks in a reference to the _Aedes aegypti_ mosquito, which can spread dengue and Zika on February 4, 2016. Paulo Whitaker/Reuters

The World Health Organization declared in November that Zika was no longer a public health emergency of international concern.

That doesn’t mean concern over Zika is over, but now that a link between Zika and microcephaly has been established, it is viewed as a long-term problem, which requires constant attention. Continue reading Dengue virus antibodies may worsen a Zika infection

Trump Hires an Adviser He Once Called an Untrustworthy Liar

A decade after deriding her as irresponsible and dishonest, Donald Trump has hired the controversial reality star-turned-political operative Omarosa Manigault to advise him in the White House. The incoming Trump administration announced Wednesday afternoon that Manigault will serve as assistant to the president and director of communications for the office of public liaison. Continue reading Trump Hires an Adviser He Once Called an Untrustworthy Liar

Fewer Americans Are Buying Guns Without Background Checks Than Previously Thought

Is the case for background checks for gun buyers gaining momentum? In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on Tuesday, public health researchers from Harvard and Northeastern universities found that 22 percent of all gun sales in the past two years around the United States were conducted without background checks—nearly half as many as previously thought. The new study asked 1,613 gun owners about when and where they acquired their most recent firearm, and whether they were asked to show a firearm license or permit, or to pass a background check. Continue reading Fewer Americans Are Buying Guns Without Background Checks Than Previously Thought

Fighting Corporate Socialism Since Reagan Confused Catsup and Trees