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Each week we produce a page of news that can be used for reference to the weekly shows here at murrayTALK. Please notice that the following group of articles is but a small percentage of the info available to the concerned PURPLE community. It is by no means meant to cover every possible issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular point of view. We simply present this page each week as a convenience to our followers.
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December 2019 - Week 4
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CURRENT NEWS and EVENTS, OPINION and FEATURES

We cover issues of the week from some of the most recognized sources, but always from a PURPLE perspective. And we invite discussion of the same sort.

On each murrayTALK episode, our host Willam (Bill) Murray will express his Opinion of some of the top issues of the week. There'll be no shortage of topics ..

We promise stimulating and thought-provoking presentations, and we'll seek additional ways for the audience to contribute .. perhaps via Facebook and Twitter if we can figure out how to do it.

For now we'll use the OPEN MIKE discussion forum and the panelists who call the show. Call in number: 516 / 531-9782

Stay tuned for more on this !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Los Angeles Times

SEEKING A PURPLE SOLUTION

One ranch, 26 wolves killed: Fight over endangered predators divides ranchers and conservationists

By RICHARD READ

LAURIER, Wash. — When Washington ranchers find that gray wolves have attacked their cattle, they can call the state wildlife agency, which has killed 31 of the protected predators since 2012 under a program intended to save vulnerable livestock.

Many ranches have routinely used state-contracted range riders to ward off wolves, which are listed by Washington as endangered even as they have gradually returned during the last decade after being reintroduced in Idaho.

But not the Diamond M Ranch, which has grazed its cattle on federal land near the U.S.-Canada border in northeast Washington since World War II.

Twenty-six of the 31 eradicated wolves were killed after the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife deemed that members of their packs had attacked Diamond M livestock.

Environmentalists say the ranch not only fails to take preventive steps to safeguard its herds, but in some cases brings on the bloodshed by leaving cattle near known wolf dens.

Operators of Diamond M deny that's the case, but are vociferous about their rights. The issue highlights a clash of cultures between rural eastern Washington residents and city dwellers west of the Cascade Range who, they and other cattlemen say, don't know squat about ranching, wildlife and predators.

“Seattle doesn't ask us what to do with their homeless, and I don't think we should have to ask Seattle what to do with our wolves,” said Bill McIrvin, 50, a fourth-generation rancher in the family that owns Diamond M.

Wildlife department officials acknowledge that Diamond M has declined offers of state-funded range riders who could help protect cattle. But the agency is not required to mandate preventive measures before wolves are shot or trapped, they say.

In California's Central Coast, San Luis Obispo County abounds with remarkable vineyards and varietals.

Gov. Jay Inslee has asked that fewer wolves be killed, but his authority is limited to appointing members of a commission that oversees the state agency. When its director replied requesting more funds and promising to develop a new policy in Diamond M's region by May 1, Inslee said the agency had “not responded with alacrity.”

Passions over wolves are running so high that in August, agency officials cited threats of violence in canceling a statewide series of 14 public meetings to discuss management once recovery is sufficient for Washington to end the species' endangered status, as Congress did in 2011 in areas including the eastern third of the state. Similar controversy is building in Colorado, where proponents of reintroducing gray wolves submitted signatures Tuesday for an initiative on the state ballot next November, despite opposition from ranchers and state wildlife commissioners.

In Washington, the wolf population had grown to 126 by the end of last year, slowed by the state's efforts to cull those deemed livestock eaters.

Diamond M itself is a 2,500-acre spread across a mountain pass from the high school Bill McIrvin once attended. Doffing a cowboy hat and muddy boots by the ranch-house door, he sat for an extended interview recently as his wife, Berta, sporting an anti-wolf T-shirt, served coffee.

The stocky cattleman denied goading wolves to attack. Rather, he said, his business has lost $1 million since 2008 from the killings of 75 to 100 cattle a year by wolves — many times the number that the state has officially confirmed — and from declines in weight and pregnancy rates among traumatized livestock.

McIrvin says the problem is clearly the wolves, not the ranch.

“I don't feel that we have room for wolves in Washington state,” said McIrvin, who said his family would continue to oppose what they see as a broader agenda of wolf advocates and officials. “If it's allowed to continue, it's going to drive the ranching industry out of Washington, which is what a lot of people want. We're just stubborn, and we won't leave the range.”

McIrvin views reintroduction of wolves in the West as a plot to end grazing on public land, much as environmentalists used protection of the threatened spotted owl in the 1990s to preserve Northwest forests.

For centuries in the continental United States, government bounties encouraged trapping, shooting and poisoning wolves, which were wiped out across the West by the 1930s. In 1974, gray wolves gained protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, and in 1995 researchers began releasing wolves to Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Gradually, wolves spread into Washington, where they will be downgraded to “threatened” status once breeding pairs have established across the state. There are now about 1,500 wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Oregon is known to have 137; California, fewer than a dozen.

Wolf advocates see Diamond M as an extreme example of ranchers abusing public land privileges, and the wildlife agency as pandering to cattle producers and hunters by slaughtering animals it's supposed to protect.

“Year after year, Diamond M reportedly loses cattle to wolves while neighboring producers are able to effectively protect their herds,” said Claire Loebs Davis, an attorney for wolf advocates suing the state wildlife department.

In 2012, all seven members of a wolf family known as the Wedge pack were shot, most from a helicopter, after the Washington wildlife department determined that the group had preyed on Diamond M cattle in grazing allotments in the Colville National Forest.

In 2016, the agency spent $135,000 for a gunner and trapper to kill seven members of the Profanity Peak pack, also blamed for attacking the ranch's cattle. Over the next three years, the agency killed a dozen more wolves after Diamond M attacks, including the last four members of a pack just hours before animal advocates won a court injunction to save them.

Court fights continue, waged by Washington environmentalists and the Center for Biological Diversity, a national conservation organization. The group obtained state wildlife agency records linking Diamond M to the 26 “lethal removals” — a number that neither the agency nor the ranch disputes, except to note that in one case wolves were also blamed for attacking other cattle.

Davis views the wildlife department as having been “captured” by ranching and hunting interests. The agency counts on revenue from hunting and fishing license fees, which depend significantly on continued access to private ranch land, she noted.

Jay Holzmiller, a southeast Washington hunter and cattle rancher who served a recent six-year term on the state wildlife commission, countered that politicians in the state's urban areas wield decisive power. “The ranching and hunting community does not have near the influence, nor near the number of attorneys, as ... the environmental side does,” he said.

Environmentalists say that restoring the apex predators at the top of the food chain helps revive ecosystems, bringing back songbirds and salmon. They say wolves cull unnaturally large herds of hoofed animals, known as ungulates, allowing vegetation to return, and boosting bird and fish habitat.

“Wolves are what make the wild wild,” said Amaroq Weiss, the Center for Biological Diversity's senior West Coast wolf advocate, who sees them as crucial to the evolutionary process in which the fittest survive. “If you love ungulates, and how athletic and fast and muscular they are, you have wolves to thank for that,” she said.

Weiss toured a Diamond M federal grazing allotment last month with Tim Coleman, executive director of the local Kettle Range Conservation Group. They drove into thick woodlands in the Colville forest where the ranch has grazed cattle since 1943, much of that time with no threats from wolves.

Last summer, Diamond M paid $4,177 to graze 736 pairs of cows and calves on 80,000 acres, an arrangement Coleman called “cheap babysitting.” He said that one way to prevent cattle from being attacked would be to move them out of deep forests ideal for wolves and onto pastures where they could be readily monitored.

To Travis Fletcher, Colville National Forest district ranger, the solution is to move more quickly to kill wolves that prey on cattle. “By doing it soon enough, you remove the offending wolves that probably killed those livestock,” he said.

The state wildlife agency is allowed to kill wolves after three attacks on livestock in 30 days, or four in 10 months. Officials say they also consider whether shooting or trapping wolves would jeopardize recovery of the species, and whether the cattle owner has used nonlethal measures to prevent attacks.

Donny Martorello, the department's wolf policy lead, said Diamond M has taken precautions, waiting to turn out cattle for grazing until fawns and elk calves are born in the area, providing wolves with a wild food source.

But he said that range riding is “one of the places we'd like to see improvement,” acknowledging that last summer, Diamond M declined riders offered by the wildlife agency. The agency recommends riders to help keep cattle apart from wolves and to remove dead or ailing cows that attract predators.

Coleman and other environmentalists suing the agency accuse Diamond M of keeping salt blocks near a wolf den, causing cattle to swarm around it. Davis, the wolf advocates' lawyer, said internal agency documents show that qualified range riders have never patrolled a Diamond M allotment where attacks occurred.

McIrvin, at Diamond M, contends that “government-sponsored range riders ... have never once protected a cow or a calf.”

But range riders counter that they indeed make a difference.

Jan Wright has patrolled on horseback in areas near Diamond M‘s federal grazing allotments, safeguarding cattle belonging to five other ranches. Her territory has included parts of the Colville forest, where about 10,000 cattle grazed last summer from 34 livestock producers including Diamond M.

Contracted by the wildlife agency, Wright works to deter wolves by hanging up cloth strips and carrying a gun that shoots whistle flares. She removes dead and injured cattle that might attract carnivores. And she outfits cattle with cowbells.

“When they wear bell collars, it sounds like the cavalry are coming,” Wright said. “The ranches that I've been riding for in the last few years have not had wolf kills.”

https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2019-12-18/endangered-wolf-killings-ranch

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Washington Post

PURPLE
OPINION

Americans are at each other's throats. Here's one way out.

By Amanda Ripley

Amanda Ripley is an Emerson Collective senior fellow and a contributor to the Atlantic.

For a brief moment this month, we started to hear the proper words to describe what is happening in U.S. politics. Not the usual, safe and tired words like “polarization” or “incivility.” But more accurate words.

At a news conference ahead of the impeachment proceedings, a reporter for a conservative outlet asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) whether she “hates” President Trump. She rebuked the reporter, denying that she hates anyone. Like many questions lobbed at politicians as they walk away, that one was a trap. But it made me wonder what would have happened if the same question had been asked in a different way, not with malicious intent but with genuine curiosity.

Because hatred is what we should be talking about these days, at least as much as we talk about the facts. The American people appear to be in a “high conflict,” which is a term of art among people who study conflict. A high conflict is one that feels existential and irresolvable, and it continues on its own momentum, even when specific problems could in fact be solved.

About 1 in every 20 conflicts operates this way, as social psychologist Peter T. Coleman describes in his book “The Five Percent.” High conflicts can be interrupted, but not if we approach them the same way we handle normal conflicts. Left unchecked, high conflicts can become magnetic. Examples include the Middle East, Colombia, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Sudan, Angola and Northern Ireland. “Once we are drawn in, they take control,” Coleman writes. “They tend to enrage us, trap us, frustrate us, drain us of energy and other critical resources, and seem to never go away no matter what we do.”

In high conflict, our brains behave differently. Emotions — specifically, fear, anger and hatred — matter more than all the leaked documents or congressional reports imaginable. Psychologist Eran Halperin, who was severely wounded in high conflict while leading Israeli troops in Lebanon in 1997, calls emotions the “hidden story” of unending wars. But they are not all the same.

Under certain circumstances, for example, anger can be useful. It can boost people's support for reconciliation and for taking risks in peace talks. Angry people usually want to correct their opponents' behavior. They still contemplate a future together on the same planet, which is something. Even fear can be managed; it still allows for compromises.

Hatred, though, is different. Hatred assumes the enemy is unchangeable. Irredeemable. Unimprovable. The goal of hatred, generally speaking, is not to correct; it's to annihilate. Why correct someone who is inherently and immutably evil? Hatred, then, is an impediment to peace, Halperin says. It escalates and prolongs conflict, and it can motivate people to commit massacres.

No one in conflict wants to admit they feel hatred. “If you talk to Israelis and Palestinians, they will definitely agree that negative emotions are a problem,” Halperin says, “but it's the problem of the other side.”

That sounds familiar. In a 2017 survey of 1,000 Americans, 40 percent of both Republicans and Democrats said that the other party was “not just worse for politics — they are downright evil,” researchers Nathan P. Kalmoe and Lilliana Mason found. Five to 15 percent said they would support some level of violence against their political opponents. (And this range was the same on both sides.) That's a minority, but high conflict is almost always stoked by a small number of people. And it doesn't take many to incite fear and hatred and, ultimately, more violence. “A meaningful minority of ‘haters' can have more influence on the life span of intergroup conflicts than a majority of non-haters,” Halperin writes in his book Emotions in Conflict.”

So how do we get the minority of haters to stop hating, if we ever want to get out of this quagmire and move forward as a country? It turns out that — as ridiculously naive as it may sound — Americans' support for political violence goes down when they are exposed to messages calling for peace. For example, last year Trump tweeted this on the anniversary of the Charlottesville violence: “I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!” In Kalmoe and Mason's experiments, support for political violence went down after partisan voters read that message.

The same was true if people read this message from Joe Biden, which his campaign posted after an Antifa attack on a conservative writer last year in Oregon: “Violence directed at anyone because of their political opinions is never acceptable, regardless of what those beliefs might be.”

Do people actually become less hateful if someone tells them it's not cool to be hateful? Yes, it turns out, many do. So this is useful information. Getting politicians, pundits or YouTube stars to make calming statements like these, quaint as they may sound, could significantly reduce violence, particularly as we head toward the 2020 election.

You can even do it yourself, right now, at home. People were also pacified by tweets calling for peace from random strangers, Kalmoe and Mason found.

If we want to resist the pull of high conflict, we will all have to do things differently — not just politicians, who are ensnared in the conflict. Millions of regular Americans still have enough distance from the conflict to step out of it. And that may not always be true.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/americans-are-at-each-others-throats-heres-one-way-out/2019/12/20/c8de01ca-2292-11ea-a153-dce4b94e4249_story.html

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INTO 2020

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Wall Street Journal

The 2010s were the decade of smartphones, the streaming revolution—and five massive tech companies.

The stock market values this group— Apple, Microsoft, Amazon.com, Google parent Alphabet, and Facebook—at more than $4 trillion, while the six surviving men behind four of those companies are together worth nearly $450 billion. Such an accumulation of wealth is unparalleled perhaps since Standard Oil. And the impact these companies have had on society may be just as revolutionary.

To see one reason these tech companies have profited over the past decade, take a look at the smartphone. The modern-day smartphone in all its rectangular touch screen beauty wasn't invented in 2010. (The iPhone arrived in 2007.) But 2010 was the year that so many of us began to trade our phones for that single computer now in our pocket. It was also the year the biggest apps began to arrive.

Full Decade in Review coverage can be found here.

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New York Times

A Decade of Distrust

We've spent a lot of time recently reflecting on the 2010s. Our Opinion section describes it as “a decade of distrust” in a series of essays.

While the 2010s might have been the end of normal, our former book critic Michiko Kakutani writes, there were cultural milestones along the way: The way we use Twitter made us better, ironic capitals and stretttchedddd out words allowed us to communicate our feelings in writing like never before and the cultural canon is better than ever (here's looking at you, Beyoncé).

Here are 22 things that happened for the first time this year, 2019.

Looking to make some resolutions? Here are 13 ways to be a better person next year.

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New York Times

FIREWORKS

It appears that we're at peak fireworks. Giant displays are planned for New Year's in Dubai, London, Moscow, New York and many other cities.

The booms and starbursts have often prompted your Back Story writer to wonder: What if wars were decided by fireworks shows rather than gunpowder? Plenty of awe, and, if handled carefully, no deaths.

My assumption was that fireworks had evolved from weaponry, but I had it backward.

The Chinese are credited with the first fireworks, discovering that roasting bamboo caused its closed cells to explode. The early use was to ward off evil spirits.

China is also thought to be where the first gunpowder was mixed, enhancing bamboo's explosive power with a blend of mainly potassium nitrate (a food preservative also known as Chinese snow or saltpeter), charcoal and sulfur. Military use followed within a few centuries.

When the technology spread to Europe, development accelerated. Germany took the lead on arms, Italy on fireworks.

China is still the world's leading exporter of fireworks, but its own biggest displays come at the Lunar New Year. That will be in a few weeks, starting Jan. 25.

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Wall Street Journal

The Future of Everything's Best Stories of 2019

What will next year bring? More change, undoubtedly. In the meantime, please enjoy this selection of our best stories of the past year. Thanks for subscribing, and have a happy, healthy, adventurous new year! 

Can Jeff Bezos Make Money in Space?
The Amazon founder's Blue Origin has expanded dramatically in the past three years as it looks to be a player in the lucrative market for government and commercial business.

Six Gadgets Headed for the Graveyard.
By 2030, charging cables, cameras and big-screen smartphones may find themselves next to record players and VCRs in the museum of old technology — or at least that's what our columnist and other experts predict.

The Clinic That Helps Seniors Find the Right Marijuana Treatment.
More older people are trying cannabis to alleviate pain and other ailments, but they're often left taking medical advice from dispensary sales clerks. NiaMedic wants to change that.

One Country's Convenient but Invasive Digital ID System.
Residents of Estonia use their digital identities to vote, fill prescriptions and start businesses. Proponents say the system solves one of the internet's thorniest issues, but cybersecurity and privacy advocates have raised concerns.

How Religions Use Robots to Connect With the Public.
The 15th century had the printing press. Today, a handful of religious institutions are developing interactive machines to share doctrine and converse with the faithful.

What Happened When I Tried to Surf an Artificial Mega Wave.
Down a dusty road in California is a man-made wave as powerful as any produced by the ocean. Designed by surf champion Kelly Slater, it's one of a growing number of wave-making projects betting that people will embrace a new future for the sport.

Industrial Exoskeletons Give Workers a Lift.
Ford, Boeing, Toyota and others are equipping workers with wearable devices that enhance strength and endurance. “Iron Man”-style powered suits could be next.

The Hunt for Alien Life Starts in Earth's Most Extreme Places.
By studying Antarctica's icy ecosystems, scientists hope they'll discover what makes life tick in hostile environments -- and how to find it in the solar system.

The Next Generation of Competitive Gamers Is...Over 60?
The billion-dollar esports industry skews young and male. The Silver Snipers want to change that -- if only they could stop getting killed so often.

Lab-Grown Meat Is Coming, but the Price Is Hard to Stomach.
The Tesla of the dinner plate: Cultivating tuna and beef from animal cells costs thousands of dollars a pound, so producers are pitching the products as luxury goods.

Los Angerles Times

New laws in 2020:

California will ring in 2020 with hundreds of new state laws. Sounds like a real party, huh? The laws will address a range of issues including monthly limits on gun purchases, more protections against high-interest loans, increased pay for low-wage jobs and the end of touring circus shows featuring exotic animals. This handy chart shows how they will affect you.

Even so, some are already being challenged: Uber and Postmates have filed a suit over AB5, which makes it harder to treat workers as contractors, and a judge has put on hold a law that would bar job applicants and workers from having to submit to mandatory arbitration as a condition of employment.

And just to clear up some confusion: If you were planning on eating roadkill pursuant to the Wildlife Traffic Safety Act, you'd better drop that possum right now.

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CNN

The day after the 2020 presidential election

Hard as it may be to envision a world beyond Trump's impeachment trial and the 2020 presidential election, we can and we must try. Why? Because when November 4, 2020 arrives, we will have little choice but to find a path forward.

Luckily, after devoting an entire series to the issue of political division, we have a set of solutions -- several of which we must credit to our devoted readers. Danny Fulton  of Bremerton, Washington, told us that "political ideologies may shape us and drive our passion but they do not define us," and we must instead turn our attention to what unites us.

In his case, he often feels like the lone conservative in the greater Seattle area, but he loves the Seahawks and "Star Wars." And Fulton has used those mutual points of fandom to form friendships with Washingtonians across the political spectrum. In fact, he recently had dinner with a liberal friend -- they both made sure to bring their lightsaber chopsticks with them.

Documentary filmmaker  Ken Burns  advocated we take our shared interests one step further and dare to share stories of our lives and experiences with each other. "We all have stories. And sometimes they lead us back to emotions and feelings we have in common," he wrote.

Of course, to succeed, we must conscript all of our friends and family in this storytelling experiment. Because, as Burns explains, "it is the diversity of our experiences that creates something new and better, something even more American."

Happy 2020!

New York Times

A New Year's Eve tradition

The Waterford crystal ball is now perched about 500 feet above Times Square in New York, and we all know what it's for, but — why?

Since the early 19th century, so-called time balls were used in harbors, dropping every day so that sailors could view them through telescopes and set their ships' clocks.

But the idea for the New Year's ball drop came from the former Times publisher Adolph S. Ochs. First, he persuaded the city in 1904 to rename Longacre Square for The Times, as the newspaper moved to the area.

Then, on Dec. 31, 1904, about 200,000 people celebrated New Year's Eve with a fireworks display at the 24-story Times Tower.

But Mr. Ochs wanted to top that. So The Times's chief electrician made a giant ball from wood and iron and outfitted it with 100 25-watt bulbs. It was lowered from the 70-foot flagpole atop the building at the end of 1907.

The Times has since relocated twice, but the holiday tradition has remained.

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FEATURE STORIES

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Washington Post

GIVING

Hundreds of D.C. seniors were alone on Christmas until these volunteers knocked on their doors

By Marissa J. Lang

Crunched into the family SUV on Christmas morning with boxes overflowing with donated presents, three boys discussed the holiday at hand.

“So wait,” said Nathan, 12. “Is today Christmas Eve?”

“I think that's tomorrow,” said Micah, 10. “Wait. Is it always the same day? Or does it move around like Thanksgiving?”

Their father, Adam Szubin, explained as he drove.

The Szubin family was headed to an apartment building in Northwest Washington where dozens of homebound seniors were awaiting the arrival of their Christmas gift: a decorated bag of toiletries and food and a chance to visit with the D.C. families who volunteered to deliver them.

Though the Szubins do not observe Christmas — they're Jewish — they were among hundreds of families who decided to spend Dec. 25 making the day a little more special for those who do.

Organized by the D.C. nonprofit We Are Family Senior Outreach Network — a group that provides hundreds of isolated seniors with free grocery deliveries, transportation, companionship and emergency cleaning assistance — the annual Christmas gift delivery drive is a highlight for many homebound seniors in the District who may be unable to visit with family or friends during the holiday.

“This guy who I have never spoken to before, who doesn't know me from Adam, suddenly started to say that he was wishing for Christmas to just be over because it was reminding him of how alone he was,” said We Are Family founder Mark Andersen, who runs the organization with his wife, Tulin Ozdeger. “And I was moved to tears.”

Wednesday's effort, which began in the sunlit chapel of Metropolitan Community Church, brought together families from different backgrounds, races, faiths and traditions. Volunteers delivered nearly 800 hand-packed gift bags.

Some wore Santa hats. Others donned festive Hanukkah sweaters. One woman identified herself as a humanist.

“We're just happy that you're here because that's what we need — the common ground of all our beliefs that everybody matters,” Andersen said to the group. “We can learn so much from each other. We can build so much together.”

Longtime volunteers gave direction to first-timers, who packed gift bags with green and red tissue paper and folded note cards bearing the We Are Family hotline — Andersen's cell number — and the slogan “Build bridges not walls.”

A family of four wearing plush red Santa hats said they decided this year to start a new tradition — one of giving instead of receiving on Christmas Day.

“I told my kids all I want for Christmas is for us to spend time together and be at peace and do something to help other people this year,” said Donna Blackman, 53, of Bowie, Md., who attended Wednesday's gathering with her husband and two kids, ages 13 and 17.

The Szubin boys skipped up and down the halls of the seven-story apartment building in the Columbia Heights neighborhood that provides affordable housing to the District's senior residents.

As Miriam Szubin called out apartment numbers, her kids knocked excitedly and pressed their ears up to the closed doors, waiting for someone to answer.

At the first door was Maria Lojo, 80, a small Spanish-speaking woman who marveled at the three boys before her.

“These are yours? Brothers?” she asked in English.

“Yes,” Miriam Szubin said, adding in imperfect Spanish, “mi hijos.”

Lojo smiled.

She was spending Christmas alone, she said, and was happy to have the visit — even if it was brief.

“There's a concert on the television that is very nice, but I enjoyed the interruption,” she said in Spanish after she bid the family farewell. “I'm a little lonely today.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 30 percent of people age 65 and older live alone, and with age, the likelihood of living alone increases.

A national survey of Americans age 45 and older by the AARP Foundation last year found that low-income adults are especially vulnerable to experiencing isolation and loneliness.

“Just because I don't find Christmas really meaningful doesn't mean Christmas isn't a very, very special day for lots of people,” said Nathan, a seventh-grader at Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School. “I don't want them to feel alone or without presents or food or toiletries on a day that is so special to them.”

Orma Collins, 92, told the Szubins about her own family. How her mother died when she was young. How her sisters died over the past several years. How her great-niece, a smart young woman whose picture she keeps at eye level on her closet door, has been living in Indonesia.

She didn't have any Christmas plans, she said. But she doesn't mind being alone.

When she was young, Collins came to the United States from the South American nation of Guyana all by herself.

“I was the first one who came,” she said.

“Wow,” said Nathan. “You must have been really brave.”

Collins didn't hear him. But it didn't matter. The gift bag sat untouched on the counter as she beamed at the three boys, crowded together on her red couch, listening to her stories.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/hundreds-of-dc-seniors-were-alone-on-christmas-until-these-volunteers-knocked-on-their-doors/2019/12/25/ac63d216-274e-11ea-9c21-2c2a4d2c2166_story.html

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Bloomberg Buisnessweek

#MeToo & WALL STREET

Wall Street's Machine of Silence Stopped a #MeToo Revolution

The finance industry apologizes every now and then, but it hasn't caught up with the times.

By Max Abelson and Katia Porzecanski

The unusual thing about the sexist comment from money-management billionaire Ken Fisher wasn't what he said or how many people heard him—it was that he got into trouble for saying it. For at least a decade, the head of Fisher Investments, an empire that oversees more than $115 billion, has been known to make casual references to sex and genitalia in front of his colleagues and peers. People who've worked with him say the usual response to his inappropriate language is nervous laughter or awkward silence. He suffered no fallout when he said at a conference last year that his life's regret was not having more sex, after comparing a mutual fund that brags about performance to a bachelor who walks up to a woman in a bar and asks her to sleep with him.

That response shifted in October when Fisher made a crude analogy between the art of wooing clients and seducing women. This time, the unwritten industry rule that values discretion and relationships above most everything else didn't stop at least three people in the audience from saying they were floored. Then several clients started fleeing: pension funds in Michigan, then in Philadelphia, Boston, and Iowa; soon after, Fidelity Investments and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Altogether they pulled about $4 billion. It took two days after the conference for Fisher to apologize -- at first he said he didn't get what the fuss was about.

More than painting a picture of rich men behaving badly, tales like the Fisher saga show that powerful parts of the finance industry haven't caught up with the times. Other stories this year, from assault and unwanted touching at ritzy London firms to allegations of harassment in a New Jersey brokerage, reveal why. Even in an era when just about every company says it champions diversity and craves inclusion, a corporate machine silences employees and maintains Wall Street's status quo. To workers in all sorts of jobs, the mechanics will sound familiar: forced arbitration, captive human resources departments, high-priced lawyers, and a culture of fear. But the finance industry's mastery of this system has prevented the revolution of the past two years from disturbing it. Instead, there've been only rare moments of revelation that hint at what future change might look like.

Wall Street can still resemble a fraternity with nicer houses. Men built almost all the big banks, private equity firms, hedge funds, and asset-management companies. Even if men can no longer openly expense trips to strip clubs, they continue to run the industry. Beneath the sanitized surface is an old mix of entitlement, exclusion, and secrecy. Once the #MeToo movement began, finance, unlike so many other businesses, didn't have a major reckoning or, in some corners, experience much reflection. “The primary difference for women that speak out on Wall Street vs. other industries is money. And money is power, and Wall Street has the most,” says Jeanne Christensen, a partner at the employment law firm Wigdor LLP, whose clients have fought major banks and hedge funds. “Going up against them is not the same.” Some finance executives even reacted to #MeToo by steering clear of their female colleagues, as if they were the problem.

Journalists who write about the landscape of Wall Street often first encounter its self-protective mechanisms when they try to report on its bad behavior. In the earliest days of #MeToo, when women in finance quietly shared stories about being grabbed, propositioned, and kissed out of the blue, most said they had too much to lose if they spoke out. In the cases when women were prepared to talk openly, Wall Street's public-relations specialists jumped into action. They told reporters not to trust these women—in one recent case because she was flirty, in another because she was too aggressive, in a third because she's past her prime.

Then there's an arm of the system that tries to prevent workers from speaking out in the first place. At the 331-year-old insurance exchange Lloyd's of London, a woman who says a senior manager drunkenly attacked her in a pub was convinced by HR that it would be bad for her career to pursue a grievance. At London's M&G, which manages about $450 billion, when a woman complained about a top money manager, HR told her to smile less sround him and dress more conservatively. Christensen, the attorney, says most of her Wall Street clients feel they can't even go to HR.

The few women who try to sue are sent behind the closed doors of the arbitration system. Brokerages helped pioneer the shadow legal process decades ago by winning Supreme Court cases that allowed the practice to spread to corporate America. Now, workers at 2 out of 3 big nonunion companies are bound by mandatory arbitration. It spares companies from the embarrassment and cost of lawsuits, while keeping victims from learning about one another and banding together. It also gives employees worse odds of winning, and smaller judgments if they do, says Alex Colvin, who teaches dispute resolution at Cornell. Several tech giants have stopped making employees sign away their right to sue over harassment, but the finance industry isn't budging from a system it says is cheaper and quicker but fair.

Lee Stowell disagrees. She's fighting to stay out of arbitration. The bond saleswoman sued her former firm, Cantor Fitzgerald, saying she put up with years of locker-room behavior and lost her job when she complained. The brokerage argued that she had to keep her complaint behind closed doors, and the two are currently tangled in a battle over where she'll get to air her grievances. (In March, a judge sided with Stowell; Cantor denies her allegations and is appealing.)

Unlike other industries, Wall Street has a self-regulatory arm that runs its own arbitration hearings; judge and jury are replaced by a small panel of decision-makers, mostly white and male. Transcripts of a case between a risk specialist and the big bank he used to work for showed an absurdist maze. One arbiter fell asleep, another left for the bathroom at a key moment, and lawyers bickered over a granola bar. There's less testimony, fewer documents, and rarely an appeal. “We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the system was invented by firms to protect firms' own interests,” says David Noll, a Rutgers Law School professor who studies legal institutions.

No woman has ever held the top job at any of the six biggest U.S. banks. But even the single most powerful person at Lloyd's was no match for a culture older than the U.S. itself. When Inga Beale, the first woman to run the insurance exchange, pushed to modernize its sexist attitudes and boozy behavior, men asked one of her friends to have Beale “tone it down.” One anonymous note sent to the chief executive officer's sixth-floor desk told her to “go and die”; another message said she should stop talking about her bisexuality. Beale left and was succeeded by a man who'd married one personal assistant and then began a relationship with another.

Fisher eventually apologized for his comments and said they were misconstrued. Looking at it one way, the trouble he got into was a fluke, and the billions of dollars of withdrawals were just a slap on the wrist for an executive who's still running the company. But it could also mark the beginning of a cultural shift. At BlackRock Inc., CEO Larry Fink told the company's 20 or so highest-ranking officials that their behavior was being held to a higher standard. Two of the men in that group are now gone. The world's largest asset manager fired them, one just this month, for breaking rules about relationships with colleagues.

There was a brief window this year when it felt like a lot more was about to change. In July, the millionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein stepped off his private jet and was arrested on charges of sex trafficking underage girls. As he sat in prison, it seemed his case was about to trigger a reckoning for the major Wall Street figures who'd embraced and enabled him. Instead, he died.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-12-19/wall-street-keeps-avoiding-its-metoo-reckoning

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Washington Post

Stories of forgiveness

Four people choose different paths in their search for renewal

By Antonia Farzan, Maura Judkis, Ian Shapira, Rebecca Tan

Despite the divisions and the discord, this is still a different time, a new year, a season for reconsideration and renewal. This year, therefore, we offer stories of forgiving — tales of people who overcame betrayal, who received an unexpected gift of financial absolution, who decided to rekindle a brutally severed relationship. And a story about why there sometimes is no path to forgiveness — and perhaps should not be.

To forgive is to reach beyond the storms of the moment. Jesus forgave unconditionally from the cross, but also in far less dire circumstances. Pope John Paul II went to see his would-be assassin and forgave him. Rep. John Lewis, a black man who was beaten and insulted in the civil rights movement, argued that George Wallace, the surly segregationist Alabama politician, deserved forgiveness.

But psychologists warn that to forgive is no panacea, no easy way out of pain. Sometimes, it can make more sense to confront than to accept. Michelle Obama said she will “never forgive” Donald Trump for spreading a phony conspiracy theory about her husband. Trump in turn said he would “never forgive” Barack Obama for various policies he disagreed with.

On this day, we do not debate forgiveness, but rather introduce you to four people, each in search of renewal, who made their decisions and went their own way.

~~ A debt forgiven out of the blue ~~

At first, Sara Cook thought the letter had to be a scam, or some kind of cruel joke.

“We are pleased to inform you that you no longer owe the balance on the debt referenced above,” it read. “Our forgiveness of the amount you owe is a no-strings-attached gift.”

Eight back surgeries and more than two dozen hospital visits in the span of three years had saddled the 43-year-old with stacks of medical bills that she struggled to pay each month. She had been working as a nurse when she first sought treatment for a herniated disc, but that was before the infection that turned into meningitis and left her with unpredictable seizures, unable to drive or walk without a cane.

By August, when the letter arrived, two years had passed since Cook last received a paycheck. The slim yellow envelope had been mailed to her old house, the one where she had lived before it became impossible to pay the rent.

Effectively homeless, she had been relying on the grace of family friends who let her stay with them for free. When she wasn't sitting in a doctor's waiting room or fighting to persuade the government that she qualified for disability benefits, she tried to repay her hosts for taking her in by folding their laundry and taking care of their dogs. She worried that her doctors would stop treating her because she owed them too much money.

Now, a nonprofit called RIP Medical Debt was writing to tell her that the $5,000 bill from one of her hospital stays had been forgiven.

It sounded too good to be true, but it wasn't. The New York-based group buys up medical debt from collection agencies and hospitals for pennies on the dollar, identifying accounts that belong to cash-strapped patients all over the country and absolving their debts.

When Cook confirmed that the letter was real, she was stunned. She had never asked for help paying her bills.

People can't apply to RIP Medical Debt for loan forgiveness; instead, donors decide whom they want to help — for instance, veterans or senior citizens. The news always comes as a complete surprise. That summer, the nonprofit partnered with a western Michigan church that raised $15,000 and wiped out more than $1.8 million in unpaid bills for people in Cook's area.

“That was something that someone did for me when they didn't know me, out of the kindness of their heart,” she said.

The money represented only a small fraction of the roughly $750,000 that she owes. Cook doesn't know how she'll ever pay off the rest. But knowing that strangers came together to help relieve her burden meant more than anything else.

Soon after she got the letter, Cook's luck started to turn around. Her application for disability benefits was finally approved. She moved into a condo in Kalamazoo, Mich., with her aunt and rejoiced in being able to pay her share of the mortgage and the electric bill and still have money leftover for groceries.

Having her debt forgiven reinforced her belief that God would provide for her. And it showed her that any act of generosity, no matter the size, could alter your perspective on life.

“Sometimes when you give to someone who you don't know, you don't hear back whether that has done anything,” she said. “It does. It's a huge difference, what it's done for somebody.”

— Antonia Farzan

~~ Choosing not to forgive ~~

Patricia “Tracy” Whiteside can still remember the people who acted so insensitively to her and to her three ailing children all those years ago.

There was the doctor at the National Institutes of Health who wrongly insisted that her second child didn't have the same disease as her first. The neighbor who suddenly stopped permitting her son to hang out with Whitesides' boy. The fellow diner at the Benihana in Bethesda who wouldn't stop asking Whiteside and her husband intrusive questions at the worst possible time.

All of them, she cannot forgive. All of them, she cannot forget.

When Whiteside, 85, and her husband, Daniel, an official with the U.S. Public Health Service, bought their first house in the Washington area in the 1960s, they picked a redbrick colonial on Delmont Lane in Bethesda. It was just a mile from what was then the National Naval Medical Center, where all three of their children were being treated for cystic fibrosis, an incurable disease that debilitates the lungs.

The indignities were infinite. How the Whitesides had to lay their kids on a blanket-covered wooden board slanted downward so they could clap their children's backs to help release lung mucus. How — for research purposes — hospital staff photographed her son Kemp naked at all angles, focusing their lens on his misshapen chest, despite his exhausted state.

But Whiteside never expected the small cruelties from other people.

How could a doctor — one at the NIH, no less — dismiss out of hand Whiteside's suspicion that her second child had the same disease as the first, delaying treatment that might have prolonged the 8-month-old's life?

“He was arrogant,” Whiteside said. “When he was wrong, he never apologized.”

How could her neighbor stop allowing her son to play with Kemp, her shaggy blond, blue-eyed boy who was obsessed with space and music, who collected records and cassettes and memorized lyrics and dreamed of becoming a disc jockey?

“My neighbor apparently didn't think it was good for her son to see Kemp,” Whiteside recalled. “He was getting more gaunt.”

By 1970, all of her children had died. Leslie, at age 4; Donna at 6; and finally Kemp, who was 8 years old.

Shortly after the Whitesides became childless and began giving away toys and clothes, they visited that Benihana on Wisconsin Avenue. At the end of the meal, a man at the communal table peppered them about children.

How many do you have?

None.

Really? Why not? Shouldn't you be doing something?

“He kept pushing us,” Whiteside recalled. “His wife kept nudging him to stop. A Japanese couple just kept looking at us with sympathy. We left and got in the car and talked about how awful it was.”

She didn't let the wounds eat away at her. She buried her children and eventually found a way to keep going, selling real estate and helping run a soap opera merchandise company. In 2017, her husband, Daniel, died.

But Whiteside, who now lives at Knollwood, a retirement community for military families in the Chevy Chase section of the District, never forgot the people who should have known better.

To forgive, she said, would feel phony.

To forgive would dishonor her pain and her children's.

To forgive would sap her of her resolve to know that she and her husband did what they were supposed to do. They did everything they could.

— Ian Shapira

~~ Forgiving each other — and themselves ~~

They both realized the marriage might end here, on these hard plastic chairs, in a St. Paul, Minn., office. Years of grievances spilled forth when Bridget Manley Mayer asked the couple what had brought them there.

How the wife resented being the family's breadwinner and spokesperson for 13 years while her introverted husband held back. How the husband resented the wife's resentment.

“We really had our pattern established: ‘It's his fault now,' ‘It's her fault.' And the fingers never pointed at ourselves,” the wife said.

What brought them there was the wife's affair. She had told her husband about it while they were at their cabin earlier that year, and he was so distraught, he drove off in the middle of the night — but came back before their two kids woke up so they wouldn't suspect anything.

A few miserable months later, they found Mayer, who practices discernment counseling, a type of couples therapy designed to help spouses decide — in five sessions or less — whether to divorce. The protocol for discernment offers couples three choices at each session: Stay together and commit to six months of couples therapy. Begin the divorce process. Or come back for another session, which would end with the same options.

The wife wanted the divorce but couldn't bear the havoc it would wreak on her family. The husband wanted to stay together but didn't know how to fix what was broken.

“Would you be open to coming back and continuing to work through this?” Mayer asked. They both said yes.

They talked about how, after the gut-punch reveal, the husband thought the affair was over. But when the wife was acting funny one morning before she left for work, he checked her shared location on his iPhone. She was at someone's house. He drove over and rang the doorbell. When the man his wife had been seeing answered, the husband said, “Please send my wife out.” She emerged, sheepishly, got into her car and drove away.

But when Mayer next asked those three questions, they chose to return.

They talked about how the husband was avoidant and how the wife had been wounded by her unstable childhood and her mother's four marriages. They talked about what divorce would do to their kids. They talked about how the husband, in his pain, aired their dirty laundry to the wife's business partner. Sometimes, they would drive separately because they couldn't bear to be in each other's presence afterward.

They came back again, and again.

After their fourth session, they weren't sure they would be able to find their way back to each other. If they made it through the fifth session without deciding to divorce, each would have to learn how to let go of their anger.

“If we were going to try to work this out,” the husband said, “I had to forgive her.” He realized he had forgiveness to earn, too, for burying his feelings.

To accept her husband's forgiveness, the wife knew, “I had to really forgive myself.” She was plagued with shame: “I must be broken goods. I must be incapable of having a relationship because my mom didn't. I must be incapable of being a good enough person to be married.”

Forgiveness never took the form of a big speech or heartfelt letter. It came gradually, in spurts, as the wife demonstrated her remorse and trustworthiness, and the husband became better at opening up. They would work with Mayer for a year and a half, until they realized they didn't need her help anymore: They had pulled the marriage back from the brink. Twelve years later, it remains stronger, more honest than ever.

When they walked into that fifth session, they didn't yet know how to do any of that. But when Mayer asked her questions for the last time, they looked at each other, because they finally knew the answer.

— Maura Judkis

~~ An uneven road to forgiveness ~~

On a rainy December night, Karen K. sat in the living room of her townhouse in Southeast Washington, staring down the secret she had carried for 40 years.

Christmas was approaching, which always made her think of her home back in rural Oklahoma. She thought about the brick ranch house her father built with his own hands; about the hot, windy days she spent swimming in the river nearby or sewing clothes with her younger sister, Kathy.

She also thought, inevitably, about what happened in the small of the night. She thought about what he — a relative she had adored — did to her over seven years. What he did in her childhood bedroom with its two large windows and pink, flowery sheets, as she lay there, feeling powerless. She thought about her parents, and felt that swell of red-hot anger as two questions kept nagging at her:

“How couldn't they have known?”

“Why didn't they protect me?”

Karen winced. Her 11-year-old tabby, Josie, jumped up next to her, purring gently.

Two years ago, sitting on that couch, Karen felt that burden lighten, at least momentarily.

When they were in their late 50s, Kathy asked Karen about what she had long suspected happened when they were children. Karen, after years of therapy, opened up about the abuse for the first time. Several years later, when Kathy got breast cancer, she told her older sister to confront her abuser.

Karen wrote and rewrote a letter to him, trying to say plainly that what he did had left marks throughout her life. His actions had made it hard for her to trust men, sowed the seeds of her marriage's breakdown and made her feel shame too intense to articulate. It had made her feel both alienated from her family and deathly afraid of losing them.

Further down in the letter, she wrote that she forgave him.

Midway through 2017, six months after Kathy died and at the height of the #MeToo movement, Karen sealed the letter in an envelope and mailed it.

The relative called her back and expressed remorse. She wept.

From then on, Karen thought, she would feel free. But trauma has an uncanny way of stalking its victims. And forgiveness, it turns out, isn't something you choose just once.

When she sees him now at family gatherings, she still feels bitter that this secret has gnawed away at her without, it seems, leaving a dent on his perfect life with a wife and kids. At Thanksgiving, she still feels scared of being left alone in a room with the relative, who declined to speak with a Washington Post reporter.

She will see him again soon for a family wedding. Kathy's daughter knows what happened, but Karen isn't sure who else does. She recently met some women in the District, other survivors with their own stories of abuse. Sharing, she realizes, diminishes a secret's power. Now, she wants to tell the rest of her family what happened, but she's not sure they are ready — or that they'll believe her.

Karen turned to Josie, curled into a ball, her tail in a small, tight coil.

“What do you think?” she said. “Hmm?”

Josie purred, opened her eyes briefly, snuggled closer. Outside, the rain had slowed to a drizzle.

“What should I do?” Karen said, her voice low. “What should I do ..”

The question hung in the room. It was one she had asked before, and one she would ask again.

— Rebecca Tan

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/12/20/stories-forgiveness

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Washington Post

IMMIGRATION

Under secret Stephen Miller plan, ICE to use data on migrant children to expand deportation efforts

By Nick Miroff

The White House sought this month to embed immigration enforcement agents within the U.S. refugee agency that cares for unaccompanied migrant children, part of a long-standing effort to use information from their parents and relatives to target them for deportation, according to six current and former administration officials.

Though senior officials at the Department of Health and Human Services rejected the attempt, they agreed to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to collect fingerprints and other biometric information from adults seeking to claim migrant children at government shelters. If those adults are deemed ineligible to take custody of children, ICE could then use their information to target them for arrest and deportation.

The arrangement appears to circumvent laws that restrict the use of the refu­gee program for deportation enforcement; Congress has made clear that it does not want those who come forward as potential sponsors of minors in U.S. custody to be frightened away by possible deportation. But, in the reasoning of senior Trump administration officials, adults denied custody of children lose their status as “potential sponsors” and are fair game for arrest.

The plan has not been announced publicly. It was developed by Stephen Miller, President Trump's top immigration adviser, who has long argued that HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement is being exploited by parents who hire smugglers to bring their children into the United States illegally. The agency manages shelters that care for underage migrants who cross the border without a parent and tries to identify sponsors — typically family members — eligible to take custody of the minors.

Previous Trump administration attempts to give ICE more access to the refu­gee program have generated significant opposition, because it potentially forces migrant parents to choose between reclaiming their children and risking arrest. Administration officials acknowledge the arrangement will instill fear among migrant parents, but they say it will deter families from having their children cross into the United States illegally.

Officials at ICE and HHS said that the information shared with enforcement agents primarily would be used to screen adults for criminal violations and other “red flags,” and that it would not be focused on capturing parents and relatives who come forward to claim what the government calls “unaccompanied alien children.”

Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman, said his agency will help HHS ensure that children are not placed with sponsors until the sponsors have been thoroughly vetted, a review process that includes using biometric data. Cox said his agency has more-powerful screening tools at its disposal than HHS has, “including better capabilities to identify fraudulent documents or documents obtained by fraud.”

After the Trump administration began a similar information-sharing initiative last year, which predictably led to fewer sponsors coming forward and created a massive backlog of children in U.S. custody, Democrats fought to put a firewall between ICE and ORR. Language in the 2019 funding bill specifically prohibited the Department of Homeland Security from using child sponsor data — addresses, names, phone numbers — to generate ICE target lists.

<< more >>

https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/under-secret-stephen-miller-plan-ice-to-use-data-on-migrant-children-to-expand-deportation-efforts/2019/12/20/36975b34-22a8-11ea-bed5-880264cc91a9_story.html

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Washington Post

IMMIGRATION

DHS inspector general finds ‘no misconduct' in deaths of two Guatemalan migrant children

By Robert Moore

EL PASO — Year-long investigations found "no misconduct or malfeasance" by U.S. immigration officials in the deaths of two Guatemalan children who were in U.S. Border Patrol custody last year, according to inspector general reports released Friday.

The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general released one-page reports in the deaths of Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, and Felipe Gómez Alonzo, 8. The children are not identified by name in the reports, but the details match their descriptions and the circumstances of their deaths in December 2018.

Each report concluded that the “investigation found no misconduct or malfeasance by DHS personnel.”

Officials have said they were the first children to die in Border Patrol custody in a decade. Three other Guatemalan children, ranging in age from 2 to 16, died after being taken into Border Patrol custody in April and May. DHS officials have not released results of internal investigations into those deaths.

Jakelin died on Dec. 8, 2018, two days after she and her father entered the United States in a remote part of southwestern New Mexico and were taken into custody.

The day before her death, while traveling by bus to a Border Patrol facility 90 miles from where they crossed into the United States, Jakelin's father reported that the girl was vomiting and had a fever, according to the government report. She also started having seizures.

When the bus arrived at the Border Patrol station in Lordsburg, N.M., Jakelin was taken by helicopter to a hospital in El Paso, the report said. Border Patrol agents drove her father to the hospital, about a three-hour drive from Lordsburg.

Jakelin died as a result of “sequelae of Streptococcal sepsis,” a massive infection, according to her autopsy.

Trump administration officials did not notify Congress or the public of Jakelin's death; The Washington Post first reported it five days later.

Felipe entered the United States with his father on Dec. 18, 2018, in El Paso. They were moved to a Border Patrol facility in Alamogordo, N.M., about 90 miles north of El Paso, five days later.

On Christmas Eve, a Border Patrol agent noticed the boy was ill “and interviewed the father, who requested medical treatment for his son,” according to the inspector general report.

He was taken to a hospital in Alamogordo, where “hospital staff diagnosed the child with an upper respiratory infection, prescribed amoxicillin and acetaminophen, and discharged the child,” the report said. He was taken back to a Border Patrol facility.

Felipe improved briefly but his condition soon worsened, the report said. He was taken back to the Alamogordo hospital, where he died shortly before midnight on Christmas Day.

Customs and Border Protection notified Congress and the public of Felipe's death later that day.

According to the inspector general report, “the state medical examiner's autopsy report found the child died from sepsis caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria,” often commonly referred to as a Staph infection. The autopsy report from the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator listed the cause of death as “complications of influenza B infection with Staphylococcus aureus superinfection and sepsis.”

The DHS inspector general did not immediately respond to questions about why its report did not include flu as a contributing factor in Felipe's death. Two of the children who died in April and May also died of the flu, according to autopsy reports.

Shortly after Jakelin and Felipe died, teams from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention visited Border Patrol holding facilities and made several recommendations for minimizing the spread of disease in increasingly crowded conditions, according to a November letter from CDC Director Robert Redfield to U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the CDC.

Most of the CDC recommendations were adopted by CBP. The agency rejected a recommendation that it provide flu vaccines to detained migrants, saying it was unnecessary and would create logistical challenges.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/immigration/dhs-inspector-general-finds-no-misconduct-in-deaths-of-two-guatemalan-migrant-children/2019/12/20/505c0814-2387-11ea-a153-dce4b94e4249_story.html

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Los Angeles Times

HOMELESS

How Salt Lake City upended the system to use police and shelters to fight homelessness

By DOUG SMITH

SALT LAKE CITY — The word was out on Rio Grande Street that if you got arrested, you could get into treatment. After a two-decade slide into heroin and homelessness, Branden Jenkins was ready. He didn't even try to hide.

“I had a needle in my arm when six police cars drove up,” the 35-year-old said.

The previous 32 times he had been arrested, Jenkins was quickly released because the jail was full. This time, in 2017, was different. He sat in a cell for two weeks, wondering if the rumors about treatment were true.

Jenkins was caught between what are frequently painted as opposite approaches for addressing homelessness — one by putting money into services and shelters to help people get into housing, and the other by resorting to a police crackdown.

But unlike in Los Angeles, where the response to homelessness has leaned heavily toward housing and services, and law enforcement has been a lesser part of the equation, Salt Lake City has pursued both strategies equally.

And the community — the city, county, state and nonprofits — has managed to do it without running afoul of City of Boise vs. Martin, the 2018 federal appeals court decision that found it unconstitutional to punish people for sleeping on the sidewalk when there aren't enough shelter beds or housing available as an alternative.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the case, ensuring that the status quo, which some cities say has hamstrung their attempts to clear homeless encampments, will remain in place for California, and eight other western states.

Salt Lake City in two years shut down an aging 1,100-bed shelter on Rio Grande Street, The Road Home, and replaced it with three smaller ones that provide better accommodations and treatment for hundreds of people.

It has also worked with state police in a massive sweep, known as Operation Rio Grande, that has led to 7,000 arrests in an unruly community of tents and tarps around The Road Home shelter. By enforcing warrants and misdemeanor and felony offenses instead of anti-camping laws, police worked around the premise of the Boise ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Utah is covered by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

While debate continues over whether the police crackdown was necessary or did more harm than good for thousands of homeless people like Jenkins, there is no disputing the result: Lawlessness and squalor around Rio Grande Street is all but gone.

“If we had to do it over, my mantra is, ‘Operation Rio Grande never again!' because I think we could do better,” said Rob Wesemann, executive director of the Utah Alliance on Mental Health, who was not a fan of the law enforcement sweeps. “But where we are now is a pretty good spot.”

Salt Lake City's journey to this new level of growing civic cooperation began in 2015, when Utah briefly seized the national spotlight by announcing that its “housing first” policy had reduced chronic homelessness by a remarkable 91%.

That glow quickly faded, though. A researcher writing for the Huffington Post debunked Utah's claim, showing that the reported decline was derived almost entirely from a methodological change to its survey of the homeless population.

Greg Hughes, then-speaker of the state's House of Representatives, complained that Utah had become a national joke — particularly because the expanding homeless encampments around The Road Home so obviously disproved the story. His embarrassment crystallized in 2017, when a homeless man's assault on a visiting minor league baseball player made headlines.

Hughes parlayed the series of events into a $67-million carve-out from the state budget to deploy the Utah Highway Patrol and the state Bureau of Investigation for Operation Rio Grande. State troopers worked alongside local police, and as many as 100 officers spread out over the quadrant of southwest downtown Salt Lake City near the shelter. Within a month they made more than 1,000 arrests for offenses from jaywalking to drug dealing.

The operation, which has been extended into a third year to wind down, is popular with business owners and residents. Much like downtown Los Angeles, the downtown of this capital city is in the midst of a millennial-led economic revival bumping up against a legacy of hard-core street chaos.

“It's like night and day,” said Max Bell, manager of the Rio Grande Cafe. Bell said he is planning to reopen a sidewalk dining area that was once overrun by panhandlers.

Less predictably, some of those on the front lines of serving the homeless population are also grateful for Operation Rio Grande.

“It was absolutely unsafe,” said Matthew Melville, director of Catholic Community Services day center. “Volunteers didn't feel safe. Staff members didn't want to come in. I had knives pulled on me. Staff members had knives pulled on them.”

Now, when he arrives to work on his bike, he's dodging e-scooters instead of aggressive drug dealers, trying to sell to him and homeless people alike. They pushed the “street wolves out of here,” Melville said.

<< more >>

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-12-22/homeless-salt-lake-city-utah-shelter

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THE ATLANTIC

BUSINESS / ENVIRONMENT

History's Largest Mining Operation Is About to Begin

It's underwater—and the consequences are unimaginable.

by Wil S. Hylton

Unless you are given to chronic anxiety or suffer from nihilistic despair, you probably haven't spent much time contemplating the bottom of the ocean. Many people imagine the seabed to be a vast expanse of sand, but it's a jagged and dynamic landscape with as much variation as any place onshore. Mountains surge from underwater plains, canyons slice miles deep, hot springs billow through fissures in rock, and streams of heavy brine ooze down hillsides, pooling into undersea lakes.

These peaks and valleys are laced with most of the same minerals found on land. Scientists have documented their deposits since at least 1868, when a dredging ship pulled a chunk of iron ore from the seabed north of Russia. Five years later, another ship found similar nuggets at the bottom of the Atlantic, and two years after that, it discovered a field of the same objects in the Pacific. For more than a century, oceanographers continued to identify new minerals on the seafloor—copper, nickel, silver, platinum, gold, and even gemstones—while mining companies searched for a practical way to dig them up.

Today, many of the largest mineral corporations in the world have launched underwater mining programs. On the west coast of Africa, the De Beers Group is using a fleet of specialized ships to drag machinery across the seabed in search of diamonds. In 2018, those ships extracted 1.4 million carats from the coastal waters of Namibia; in 2019, De Beers commissioned a new ship that will scrape the bottom twice as quickly as any other vessel. Another company, Nautilus Minerals, is working in the territorial waters of Papua New Guinea to shatter a field of underwater hot springs lined with precious metals, while Japan and South Korea have embarked on national projects to exploit their own offshore deposits. But the biggest prize for mining companies will be access to international waters, which cover more than half of the global seafloor and contain more valuable minerals than all the continents combined.

Regulations for ocean mining have never been formally established. The United Nations has given that task to an obscure organization known as the International Seabed Authority, which is housed in a pair of drab gray office buildings at the edge of Kingston Harbour, in Jamaica. Unlike most UN bodies, the ISA receives little oversight. It is classified as “autonomous” and falls under the direction of its own secretary general, who convenes his own general assembly once a year, at the ISA headquarters. For about a week, delegates from 168 member states pour into Kingston from around the world, gathering at a broad semicircle of desks in the auditorium of the Jamaica Conference Centre. Their assignment is not to prevent mining on the seafloor but to mitigate its damage—selecting locations where extraction will be permitted, issuing licenses to mining companies, and drafting the technical and environmental standards of an underwater Mining Code.

Writing the code has been difficult. ISA members have struggled to agree on a regulatory framework. While they debate the minutiae of waste disposal and ecological preservation, the ISA has granted “exploratory” permits around the world. Some 30 mineral contractors already hold licenses to work in sweeping regions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. One site, about 2,300 miles east of Florida, contains the largest system of underwater hot springs ever discovered, a ghostly landscape of towering white spires that scientists call the “Lost City”. nother extends across 4,500 miles of the Pacific, or roughly a fifth of the circumference of the planet. The companies with permits to explore these regions have raised breathtaking sums of venture capital. They have designed and built experimental vehicles, lowered them to the bottom, and begun testing methods of dredging and extraction while they wait for the ISA to complete the Mining Code and open the floodgates to commercial extraction.

At full capacity, these companies expect to dredge thousands of square miles a year. Their collection vehicles will creep across the bottom in systematic rows, scraping through the top five inches of the ocean floor. Ships above will draw thousands of pounds of sediment through a hose to the surface, remove the metallic objects, known as polymetallic nodules, and then flush the rest back into the water. Some of that slurry will contain toxins such as mercury and lead, which could poison the surrounding ocean for hundreds of miles. The rest will drift in the current until it settles in nearby ecosystems. An early study by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences predicted that each mining ship will release about 2 million cubic feet of discharge every day, enough to fill a freight train that is 16 miles long. The authors called this “a conservative estimate,” since other projections had been three times as high. By any measure, they concluded, “a very large area will be blanketed by sediment to such an extent that many animals will not be able to cope with the impact and whole communities will be severely affected by the loss of individuals and species.”

At the ISA meeting in 2019, delegates gathered to review a draft of the code. Officials hoped the document would be ratified for implementation in 2020. I flew down to observe the proceedings on a balmy morning and found the conference center teeming with delegates. A staff member ushered me through a maze of corridors to meet the secretary general, Michael Lodge, a lean British man in his 50s with cropped hair and a genial smile. He waved me toward a pair of armchairs beside a bank of windows overlooking the harbor, and we sat down to discuss the Mining Code, what it will permit and prohibit, and why the United Nations is preparing to mobilize the largest mining operation in the history of the world.

Until recently, marine biologists paid little attention to the deep sea. They believed its craggy knolls and bluffs were essentially barren. The traditional model of life on Earth relies on photosynthesis: plants on land and in shallow water harness sunlight to grow biomass, which is devoured by creatures small and large, up the food chain to Sunday dinner. By this account, every animal on the planet would depend on plants to capture solar energy. Since plants disappear a few hundred feet below sea level, and everything goes dark a little farther down, there was no reason to expect a thriving ecosystem in the deep. Maybe a light snow of organic debris would trickle from the surface, but it would be enough to sustain only a few wayward aquatic drifters.

That theory capsized in 1977, when a pair of oceanographers began poking around the Pacific in a submersible vehicle. While exploring a range of underwater mountains near the Galápagos Islands, they spotted a hydrothermal vent about 8,000 feet deep. No one had ever seen an underwater hot spring before, though geologists suspected they might exist. As the oceanographers drew close to the vent, they made an even more startling discovery: A large congregation of animals was camped around the vent opening. These were not the feeble scavengers that one expected so far down. They were giant clams, purple octopuses, white crabs, and 10-foot tube worms, whose food chain began not with plants but with organic chemicals floating in the warm vent water.

For biologists, this was more than curious. It shook the foundation of their field. If a complex ecosystem could emerge in a landscape devoid of plants, evolution must be more than a heliological affair. Life could appear in perfect darkness, in blistering heat and a broth of noxious compounds—an environment that would extinguish every known creature on Earth. “That was the discovery event,” an evolutionary biologist named Timothy Shank told me. “It changed our view about the boundaries of life. Now we know that the methane lakes on one of Jupiter's moons are probably laden with species, and there is no doubt life on other planetary bodies.”

Shank was 12 years old that winter, a bookish kid in North Carolina. The early romance of the space age was already beginning to fade, but the discovery of life near hydrothermal vents would inspire a blossoming of oceanography that captured his imagination. As he completed a degree in marine biology, then a doctorate in ecology and evolution, he consumed reports from scientists around the world who found new vents brimming with unknown species. They appeared far below the surface—the deepest known vent is about three miles down—while another geologic feature, known as a “cold seep,” gives rise to life in chemical pools even deeper on the seafloor. No one knew how far down the vents and seeps might be found, but Shank decided to focus his research on the deepest waters of the Earth.

Scientists divide the ocean into five layers of depth. Closest to the surface is the “sunlight zone,” where plants thrive; then comes the “twilight zone,” where darkness falls; next is the “midnight zone,” where some creatures generate their own light; and then there's a frozen flatland known simply as “the abyss.” Oceanographers have visited these layers in submersible vehicles for half a century, but the final layer is difficult to reach. It is known as the “hadal zone,” in reference to Hades, the ancient Greek god of the underworld, and it includes any water that is at least 6,000 meters below the surface—or, in a more Vernian formulation, that is 20,000 feet under the sea. Because the hadal zone is so deep, it is usually associated with ocean trenches, but several deepwater plains have sections that cross into hadal depth.

Deepwater plains are also home to the polymetallic nodules that explorers first discovered a century and a half ago. Mineral companies believe that nodules will be easier to mine than other seabed deposits. To remove the metal from a hydrothermal vent or an underwater mountain, they will have to shatter rock in a manner similar to land-based extraction. Nodules are isolated chunks of rocks on the seabed that typically range from the size of a golf ball to that of a grapefruit, so they can be lifted from the sediment with relative ease. Nodules also contain a distinct combination of minerals. While vents and ridges are flecked with precious metal, such as silver and gold, the primary metals in nodules are copper, manganese, nickel, and cobalt—crucial materials in modern batteries. As iPhones and laptops and electric vehicles spike demand for those metals, many people believe that nodules are the best way to migrate from fossil fuels to battery power.

The ISA has issued more mining licenses for nodules than for any other seabed deposit. Most of these licenses authorize contractors to exploit a single deepwater plain. Known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, or CCZ, it extends across 1.7 million square miles between Hawaii and Mexico—wider than the continental United States. When the Mining Code is approved, more than a dozen companies will accelerate their explorations in the CCZ to industrial-scale extraction. Their ships and robots will use vacuum hoses to suck nodules and sediment from the seafloor, extracting the metal and dumping the rest into the water. How many ecosystems will be covered by that sediment is impossible to predict. Ocean currents fluctuate regularly in speed and direction, so identical plumes of slurry will travel different distances, in different directions, on different days. The impact of a sediment plume also depends on how it is released. Slurry that is dumped near the surface will drift farther than slurry pumped back to the bottom. The circulating draft of the Mining Code does not specify a depth of discharge. The ISA has adopted an estimate that sediment dumped near the surface will travel no more than 62 miles from the point of release, but many experts believe the slurry could travel farther. A recent survey of academic research compiled by Greenpeace concluded that mining waste “could travel hundreds or even thousands of kilometers.”

Like many deepwater plains, the CCZ has sections that lie at hadal depth. Its eastern boundary is marked by a hadal trench. No one knows whether mining sediment will drift into the hadal zone. As the director of a hadal-research program at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts, Timothy Shank has been studying the deep sea for almost 30 years. In 2014, he led an international mission to complete the first systematic study of the hadal ecosystem—but even Shank has no idea how mining could affect the hadal zone, because he still has no idea what it contains. If you want a sense of how little we know about the deep ocean, how difficult it is to study, and what's at stake when industry leaps before science, Shank's research is a good place to start.

<< more >>

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/01/20000-feet-under-the-sea/603040/

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SHORT STUFF


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CNN

BLACK HISTORY

The year in history: 1619 in 2019

Four hundred years have passed since enslaved Africans were first brought to mainland English North America. Peniel Joseph reflected on this anniversary against the backdrop of black history: "That history, at its best, is less invested in the single heroic achievements of 'Great Black Women and Men' and more concerned with the lived reality of black everyday lives, the ordinary black folk whose courage, resilience and intelligence guided the transformation from slavery to freedom and in the process helped to reimagine American democracy." 

Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times' 1619 Project sought to take the work of re-imagination to the next level "placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative."

In her flagship essay for the project, Hannah-Jones wrote: "Our democracy's founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true." 

That reckoning isn't confined to 1619. "Black people fought alongside white people during the American Revolution -- and were still enslaved afterwards. Black people fought alongside white people during the Civil War -- and then had to endure a century of lynchings. Black soldiers fought alongside white people during WWII, helping to save the world from Adolph Hitler, only to be treated atrociously when they returned to American soil," wrote Issac Bailey in a trenchant critique of how white Americans hailed Brandt Jean's forgiveness, as a black man, of Amber Guyger, the white then-police officer who shot and killed his brother Botham in his own apartment. 

"Never mind that black people have been forgiving white people their trespass since before the founding of the United States," Bailey observed.


~~~~

CNN

LGBTQ milestones weren't the end of the road

In 2019, millions commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York City, an inflection point in the movement for gay liberation. 

In her observance of the occasion, Melisa Raney offered a personal narrative of LGBTQ experience, sharing the intimate details of what happened when she realized she was a lesbian at age 36, after building what she thought was the perfect life. Raney wrote, "I had already decided I was straight. How do you go back on that after being with guys for 20+ years? Where I fell on the sexuality spectrum would take me the better part of two years to figure out. A part of myself wasn't living. And by not letting that part live, I was slowly dying." 

During a global Pride celebration, Clay Cane struck a note of caution: The fight for LGBTQ rights is far from over, he wrote, citing especially the ongoing epidemic of violence against and erosion of protections for trans Americans. "Remember, Stonewall was a riot, not a party. It is 2019 and the political climate has a new tenuousness: There is a need for us to get back to the roots of Pride." 

Samantha Allen found in the second season of the FX show, "Pose," which features more trans actors than any scripted show in history, an authentic fusion of joy and vulnerability. The show's "potent message" is that "LGBTQ people can't wait for acceptance to live our lives, even in the face of death and discrimination."


~~~~

CNN

Anti-Semitic hate crimes

The New York Police Department is investigating five possible anti-Semitic incidents that occurred in the city this week, all during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. The first incident happened on Monday morning, when a 65-year-old man told police he was punched and kicked by another man who yelled a slur at him. That same day, a 67-year-old man told police that a group of teenagers allegedly approached his 6-year-old son and another 7-year-old boy from behind and struck them inside the lobby of a residential building. On Tuesday, a group of people allegedly yelled anti-Semitic slurs at a 25-year-old man as he walked down the street, and a 56-year-old man alleged that he was punched by a person after being approached by a group. And on Thursday, police charged a woman with assault as a hate crime after she allegedly attacked a Jewish woman in front of her 3-year-old child. Anti-Semitic incidents are the most common hate crime reported in the city. The NYPD reported 166 anti-Semitic incidents from January through September this year.

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FUTURE / TECH

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Los Angeles Times

SPACE

Boeing capsule returns to Earth after aborted space mission

By ASSOCIATED PRESS

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Boeing landed its crew capsule in the New Mexico desert Sunday after an aborted flight to the International Space Station that threatened to derail the company's effort to launch astronauts for NASA next year.

The Starliner descended into the Army's White Sands Missile Range in the predawn darkness, ending a two-day demo that should have lasted more than a week. All three main parachutes popped open and airbags also inflated around the spacecraft to ease the impact.

“Congratulations, Starliner,” said Mission Control, calling it a successful touchdown.

A test dummy named Rosie the Rocketeer — after Rosie the Riveter from World War II — rode in the commander's seat. Also returning were holiday presents, clothes and food that should have been delivered to the space station crew.

After seeing this first test flight cut short and the space station docking canceled because of an improperly set clock on the capsule, Boeing employees were relieved to get the Starliner back .

It was the first U.S. capsule designed for astronauts to return from orbit and land on the ground. NASA's early crew capsules all had splashdowns. SpaceX's Dragon capsule, which made its orbital debut last winter, also aims for the ocean at mission's end.

The astronauts assigned to the first Starliner crew — two from NASA and one from Boeing — were part of the welcoming committee in the bitter cold.

The capsule's first trip to space began with a smooth rocket ride from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Friday. But barely half an hour into the flight, it failed to fire its thrusters to give chase to the space station and ended up in the wrong orbit.

The problem was with the Starliner's internal clock: It did not sync up with the Atlas V rocket, throwing off the capsule's timing.

The capsule burned so much fuel trying to orient itself in orbit that there wasn't enough left for a space station rendezvous. Flight controllers tried to correct the problem, but between the spacecraft's position and a gap in communications, their signals did not get through. They later managed to reset the clock.

Boeing is still trying to figure out how the timing error occurred. The mission lasted nearly 50 hours and included 33 orbits around the Earth.

Last month's parachute problem turned out to be a quick fix. Only two parachutes deployed during an atmospheric test because workers failed to connect a pin in the rigging.

NASA is uncertain whether it will demand another test flight from Boeing — to include a space station visit — before putting its astronauts on board. Boeing had been shooting for its first astronaut mission in the first half of 2020. This capsule is supposed to be recycled for the second flight with crew.

Despite its own setbacks, SpaceX remains in the lead in NASA's commercial crew program.

SpaceX's Dragon crew capsule successfully completed its first orbital demo in March. While the flight to the space station went well, the capsule exploded a month later on a test stand at Cape Canaveral.

If a launch abort test goes well next month, SpaceX could start launching NASA astronauts by spring and end a nearly nine-year gap in flying people from Cape Canaveral.

As its space shuttle program was winding down, NASA looked to private industry to take over cargo and crew deliveries to the space station. SpaceX kicked off supply runs in 2012. Two years later, NASA hired SpaceX and Boeing to ferry astronauts to the orbiting lab.

SpaceX got $2.6 billion under NASA's commercial crew program, while Boeing received more than $4 billion.

The goal was to launch NASA astronauts by 2017.

Because of delays, NASA is looking to buy another two seats on Russian rockets in 2020 and 2021 to guarantee a continuing U.S. presence on the space station. Even when private companies are regularly carrying up astronauts for NASA, the space agency always will reserve a seat for a Russian in exchange for a free U.S. seat on a Soyuz.

Over the years, these Soyuz rides have cost NASA up to $86 million apiece, with the tab totaling in the billions.

An audit last month by NASA's inspector general found a Starliner seat will cost slightly more than that, with a Dragon seat going for just over half the price.

https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2019-12-22/boeing-capsule-returns-aborted-space-mission

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CNN

SPACE

A giant red star is acting weird and scientists think it may be about to explode

By Ryan Prior

(CNN) A young, bright star has been acting a little erratic lately.

The star, Betelgeuse, is suddenly dimming. It may be a sign, astronomers say, that the star is about to explode. Another possibility is the red supergiant may just be going through a phase. Ed Guinan, an astronomy professor at Villanova University, was the lead author on a December 8 paper entitled "The Fainting of the Nearby Supergiant Betelgeuse." He told CNN that Betelgeuse (pronounced: BAY-tel juice) been declining in brightness sharply since October, and was now about 2.5 times fainter than usual. Once the ninth brightest star in the sky, Betelgeuse has fallen now to about the 23rd brightest.

Guinan and his colleagues have been closely observing the star for decades, with "continuous coverage since 1980," he said. In the last half-century, the star has never dimmed so aggressively, and that could mean we're on the verge of something extraordinary. "What causes the supernova is deep inside the star," Guinan said. And because the star is so huge, it's impossible to tell what's going on so far down.

It could be a prelude to a supernova

Betelgeuse is the star at the shoulder of Orion, the iconic constellation in the shape of a hunter wielding a bow in the night sky. Its name is derived from the Arabic for "hand of Orion." The star, which is about 700 light years away from Earth, is a relatively close neighbor within our galaxy. "What's special about this is how close it is," Guinan said. Guinan said it's the most likely nearby supernova candidate. It's about nine million years old, and stars as large as Betelgeuse don't usually have lifespans past 10 million years. Though its time is nigh, it probably won't explode in your lifetime. "It'll probably happen in the next 200,000 or 300,000 years," Guinan said. It's a variable star, which means it regularly dims and brightens, in cycles that can last about 420 days. Betelgeuse has been in a normal dimming period over the past few months, but it's just dramatically accelerated compared to past years. The dimming process should end by mid-January, according to mathematical models. But Betelgeuse often follows its own rules, he says. "I personally think it's going to bounce back, but it's fun to watch stars change," Guinan said. However, he adds, "If it continues dimming, then all bets are off."

If it exploded, it would be be bright enough to see during the day


That might mean we're on the verge of a brilliant light show, because if a star this close exploded, it would make an impact. Stars rapidly fuse various elements in their cores. And if Betelgeuse burns down to an iron core, which won't fuse, that core could collapse rapidly, leading to a supernova. The red supergiant would glow a vibrant blue for three of four months, and would take about a year to fade out. "It would be a really bright star visible in the daytime," Guinan said. There wouldn't be any direct danger to life on earth, but ultraviolet radiation from the celestial blast could scorch ozone in our atmosphere.

Betelgeuse has been acting strangely for years


Betelgeuse's curious behavior has stuck out in other ways over the decades. In 2009, the late astronomer and Nobel Laureate Charles Townes told CNN he had observed Betelgeuse shrinking 15% since the mid 1990s. Back then, Townes and his colleagues were puzzled because as stars usually get brighter as they shrink. Betelgeuse, however, was dimming.

The star has been acting differently in the past few months, and it's anyone guess what all the unusual readings may mean. "It might then be a very small bright star, or it might even be a black hole. An explosion would be very surprising," Townes said at the time.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/26/world/betelgeuse-may-explode-scn-trnd/index.html

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The Economist

SOLAR POWERED BUILDINGS

Transparent solar cells could be used to glaze office blocks

They absorb about the same amount of light as tinted windows.

Over the past few decades, photovoltaic cells have gone from being exotic and expensive power-packs for satellites and similar high-end applications to quotidian generating equipment for grid-scale power stations. One area where they have not yet fulfilled their potential, though, is as local sources of electricity to keep office buildings and the like supplied with energy. The main reason is that no one has a good answer to the question: where do you put them? Roof-top cells can power a one- or two-storey house. They will not power an office block. You could array them on the walls. But office blocks tend to have high window-to-wall ratios and to be governed, for fire-safety reasons, by strict rules on wall cladding.

What is left is to replace the windows themselves with solar cells. Unfortunately, commercially available solar cells are opaque to the point of blackness. But Seo Kwanyong of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, in South Korea, plans to do something about that. As he and his colleagues report this week in Joule , they have created solar cells that are as transparent as tinted glass.

https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2019/12/14/transparent-solar-cells-could-be-used-to-glaze-office-blocks


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Washington Post

DIGITAL TELEPORTATION

VIRTUAL TRAVEL COULD CHANGE THE WORLD—IF IT GETS OFF THE GROUND

Proponents of ‘digital teleportation' are working to combine live virtual reality, drones and fast wireless networks to allow people to explore far-flung locales in real-time

By SARA TOTH STUB

You strap on a slim, comfortable headset, pick up your controls and press a button. A drone takes off, whizzing down flooded city streets. Through the goggles, you see what the drone sees—a crisp, live, 360-degree view of battered houses and uprooted trees. When you look down, you see what's below the drone. The full-color picture doesn't seize up; there's no latency. You are, essentially, digitally teleporting into the aftermath of a natural disaster.

At least, that's the goal. “Digital teleportation,” as the field is fancifully known, doesn't exist yet. But proponents of the technology, which some call “live delivery,” believe that in the coming years, a mix of virtual reality, fast wireless networks and machines like drones and rovers will allow people to immerse themselves in actual, far-flung environments—in real time. “Live delivery is a new type of tool that will reinvent the way we experience the world, that will allow us to be on the spot when things are happening,” said Marc Carrel-Billiard, senior managing director at Accenture Labs, who advises businesses on VR and augmented reality.

While VR shows prerecorded scenes, live VR, which is starting to show up in classrooms and operating rooms, allows users to experience what is happening in situ. Companies are already starting to pair simplified versions of live VR with drones to give users a sense of being in another place.

Since May, Israeli soldiers on the Gaza border have been using a drone system for surveillance, to search areas for explosive devices and enemy combatants, and to deflect flying objects sent by militants, according to the Israel Defense Forces. The drone transmits up to 130-degree, live footage to a pilot's headset, allowing soldiers to explore dangerous areas without risking their safety.

For Xtend, the Tel Aviv-based maker of the system, the battlefield is just the beginning. Ultimately, the company wants to build a simple-to-fly drone that delivers live, 360-degree, three-dimensional video to VR headsets, immersing users anywhere in the world they want to fly. Xtend was founded by Matteo and Aviv Shapira, the brothers behind Replay Technologies, which allows viewers to watch sports events in VR, and was acquired by Intel Corp. in 2016. The other founders are aeronautics expert Adir Tubi and Rubi Liani, the co-founder of FPV Racing Israel League, a nonprofit that promotes and organizes drone races.

Significant technological hurdles stand in the way of their ultimate vision. The amount of data needed for live, 360-degree, three-dimensional video isn't possible to transmit without significant time lags on current wireless networks, said Jacob Chakareski, who runs the Laboratory for Immersive Communication at the University of Alabama. Headsets tend to be clunky and expensive, and the systems require additional graphics cards and cables, he said. The emergence of ultrafast 5G wireless networks and computing that would allow data to be processed closer to devices—rather than in the cloud—could help these issues. But 5G service is still in its infancy, particularly in the U.S.

Some startups are already developing live VR without drones. Students who attend New York's Fordham University, which has two campuses, can use a service called Chimera, developed by New York-based startup Pagoni VR, to sit in on live classes on the other campus. Immertec, a Tampa-based startup, partnered with Johnson & Johnson to provide physicians with live, VR-enabled streams of real surgical procedures at dozens of U.S. hospitals, including Baylor Scott & White Surgical Hospital at Sherman and Vitruvio Institute of Medical Advancement in Dallas.

Live VR can also give people access to places they can't physically go. Seattle-based Pyrus Medical is developing a system that gives surgeons an immersive look inside patients' blood vessels. The system uses a VR headset and sensors attached to catheters inserted during surgery. By giving surgeons a view into the body, the company hopes to reduce the need for surgical X-rays and operating suites for minimally invasive procedures. The company hasn't yet tested it on humans and hasn't received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Pairing live VR with drones is the next step. The technology partly comes from the small but growing world of professional drone racing. Pilots don goggles during races that give them a first-person view of the drone's progress along the course. The system is difficult to learn; it takes the pilot's full attention just to steer the drone. “First-time fliers often crash,” said Nicholas Horbaczewski, chief executive and founder of the Drone Racing League. Pilots often opt for flat, black-and-white footage because it has the quickest data-transmission rates, but it isn't detailed enough for military or other non-racing uses.

The large processing chips required for live-streaming immersive scenes would weigh down small drones and require extended battery power, said Millie Radovic, a market analyst at Drone Industry Insights. Many governments have restricted drones in populated areas and require operators to undergo a hefty approval process to fly them beyond the line of sight, she said.

“There are real safety and privacy concerns and a lack of awareness about the commercial value of drones, so in many urban areas people have not yet socially accepted them,” Ms. Radovic said.

Still, startups are pushing ahead. For consumers, San Diego-based NewBeeDrone is working on a headset for use with first-person-view drones that comes with high-definition views. “It's more of a proof-of-concept now,” said Daryn Huang, the company's chief financial officer. “But this shows people what it can be like to fly.”

Xtend's Skylord system for the military includes a wireless headset and a frisbee-sized semiautonomous quadcopter drone controlled by a hand-held device similar to a laser pointer. The drone can fly for 45 minutes at speeds of around 18 miles an hour, and reach speeds of up to 100 miles an hour, according to the company. Soldiers can learn to use it in a few minutes, according to Xtend, rather than a few months like a fully manual drone.

“The panoramic capabilities of the Skylord system allows the IDF to survey a significant geographic area and neutralize threats quickly without the need for deployment of troops,” said Lt. Col. Assaf Oren, head of the IDF's optical warfare branch.

Xtend plans to start selling a model in early 2020 that offers a 180-degree view that would shift with the motions of the user's head. “It will be like turning your head to look out a car window,” Matteo Shapira said. The company also plans to add augmented-reality components, such as a virtual cockpit that would help reduce motion sickness by grounding the user and providing a feeling of orientation and balance.

The Chinese drone giant DJI sells headsets that it says come with 150-degree video, with lag times of 7 milliseconds. The system also allows others who are not piloting the drone to wear the goggles and get an experience of flying.

Still, the technological developments needed for useful, widespread teleportation by drone are likely years away, Mr. Chakareski said. “Drones appear to be the best technology for deploying the cameras needed for digital teleportation,” he said. “But you have to completely redesign the process of gathering data and distributing data in order for VR to really deliver on its potential and have a societal impact.”

https://www.wsj.com/articles/virtual-travel-could-change-the-worldif-it-gets-off-the-ground-11576162804

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Wall Street Journal

TRASH

Recycling Rethink: What to Do With Trash Now That China Won't Take It

The trash industry and governments are investing in domestic processing, ramping up alternative strategies such as incineration and rolling out education campaigns. Some are dropping programs altogether.

By DAWN KISH

For decades, America and much of the developed world threw their used plastic bottles, soda cans and junk mail in one bin. The trash industry then shipped much of that thousands of miles to China, the world's biggest consumer of scrap material, to be sorted and turned into new products.

That changed last year when China banned imports of mixed paper and plastic and heavily restricted other scrap. Beijing said it wants to stimulate domestic garbage collection and end the flow of foreign trash it sees as an environmental and health hazard. Since then, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia -- other popular markets for the West's trash -- have implemented their own restrictions.

The moves have caused a seismic shift in how the world deals with its waste. Long used to shipping off trash to poorer countries to sort and process, nations are now faced with the question of what recycling is worth to them. They are undertaking new investments in domestic processing, ramping up alternative strategies such as incineration and rolling out education campaigns to teach homeowners to sort trash. Others are dropping programs altogether.

Recycling is “something that's ingrained in you, and one day it suddenly all goes away,” said Kyle O'Brien, the town manager of Broadway, Va. The town had offered curbside recycling for two decades but canceled the service last year after Beijing started turning away the world's recyclables. The company that processed the materials, van der Linde Recycling, closed its household waste processing facility, blaming the severe drop in prices.

For years, the world's bottles and boxes made their way to China on ships that offered deep discounts to avoid returning empty after dropping off cargo in the U.S. and other countries. Since 1992, China has imported 45% of the world's plastic waste, according to data published last year in the journal Science Advances.

“It was a great relationship, where we bought their goods and sent them back the empty boxes,” says Brent Bell, vice president of recycling for Houston-based Waste Management, the largest waste management company in the U.S.

Last year, China instituted a ban on 24 categories of waste—including, for example, plastic clamshell containers, soda and shampoo bottles, and junk mail. It said foreign garbage was “provoking a public outcry.”

As of October, U.S. scrap exports of plastic to mainland China were down 89% since early 2017, when China began to make clear it would ban many categories, while mixed paper exports were down 96%, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.

Total U.S. plastic scrap exports to all countries were down 64% in that time period, while mixed paper exports were down 42% according to ISRI.

Cities and towns have been scrambling to find new buyers for their waste ever since. One big problem is that many locations outside cities such as New York are used to putting recycling in a single bin. Different materials must be painstakingly separated before they can be processed. Much paper is too damp and plastic too soiled with food or grease to be recycled at all.

China accepted dirty and mixed recyclables because it had low-wage workers to sort out unwanted material, often by hand. That gave American contractors little incentive to weed out food scraps, plastic bags and nonrecyclable junk stateside.

After China rejected imports, a flood of trash was rerouted to countries such as India, Indonesia and Malaysia. Many of those places now say they are overwhelmed and have imposed their own restrictions on paper or plastic imports. The countries also want to focus on developing their own waste collection industries.

Malaysia in May began sending back 60 containers of imported trash to the U.S. and other countries, complaining it had become a dumping ground for rich countries. The containers were meant to contain plastic scrap but were contaminated with other items such as cables and electronic waste. A government spokeswoman said more containers will be returned as Malaysia ramps up inspections.

Japan, which historically sent most of its plastic exports to China, had been redirecting trash to Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam after China's ban. But when those countries began turning dirty recycling away, Japanese collectors started stockpiling, in hopes a new market would arise. Over the past year, Japan has amassed 500,000 tons of plastic waste, according to Hiroaki Kaneko, deputy director of recycling at the environment ministry.

Japan, the second-biggest exporter of plastic waste behind the U.S., is trying to stimulate domestic processing by earmarking billions of yen to subsidize plastic recycling machinery for private companies.

Daiei Kankyo Holdings, a recycling company based in Kobe, recently applied for the government subsidies, which are estimated to cover up to half the cost of recycling equipment for a new plant slated to open next year in Osaka. The opening of the plant, where plastic waste will be recycled into cases for transportation of food and other items, has been pushed forward by a couple of years due to China's ban, said Kunihiko Idei, manager of the business strategy division of the company. The plant will double the company's current capacity to around 30,000 tons a year.

Asei Co., a Japanese plastic waste exporter, moved the production of plastic pellets, which are created during the recycling process and used to produce new products, home from its factory in Shanghai. It spent 500 million yen, or close to $5 million, on two new facilities northeast of Tokyo.

The U.K. is burning more of its trash, including dirty or low-value recycling. Attitudes toward incineration vary greatly by country. In the U.S., where space is plentiful, it has long been cheaper to send materials to landfills, and incineration has remained unpopular. Across much of Europe, by contrast, trash burned for energy has been popular for years.

Incineration and recycling rates in England are now on par at roughly 42%, according to government data. Waste collected by local authorities sent for incineration climbed to 10.8 million metric tons last year from 10.2 million tons a year earlier, while recycling dropped to 10.9 million tons from 11.3 million tons.

“We are fast moving into a crisis where we don't have market capacity for the materials collected, and already prices have plummeted,” said Simon Ellin, CEO of the Recycling Association, a U.K. trade body.

London-based waste contractor Paper Round has begun asking customers to stop putting plastic film, which isn't easily recyclable, into recycling bins dotted around the office buildings, hotels and restaurants it collects from, because buyers don't want it.

It is holding breakfast seminars for office workers and sending educational emails to staff at the buildings it serves explaining what can and can't be recycled. It has also warned customers that unless prices for cardboard rise it will start charging for some collections.

“The China ban has highlighted that we can no longer export our problem,” said managing director Bill Swan. Paper Round's buyers have much higher standards now, he said, such as checking moisture levels, which can decrease the quality of paper.

In Memphis, Tenn., Republic Services Inc., one of America's largest waste haulers, last year stopped accepting mixed recycling put in a single bin from some businesses, saying it was too contaminated.

“When you're in a buyer's market—and we are certainly in a buyers market—you can demand higher quality,” said Pete Keller, head of recycling at Phoenix-based Republic.

The move in Memphis prompted the city's airport to send all its bottles, cans and paper to landfills. For months it left in place recycling bins in case the service returned but recently gave up and removed them.

To improve the quality of what it does still collect, Republic has hired more staff to sort materials and acquired new optical scanners to distinguish between metals, colored paper and different types of plastic. It opened a new facility in Texas earlier this year that uses a variety of technologies to sort material in milliseconds.

Other waste collectors have also made investments, which have driven up costs for customers. Philadelphia is paying $92 a ton for its recyclables to be collected, up from $44 a ton before the China ban. Higher costs initially prompted the city to start burning half its recyclables before backtracking after public criticism.

The city is now spending $500,000 on an advertising campaign it hopes will reduce contamination rates—down to 10% from the current 25%—to secure it a discount on collection costs. “Often the material people put in bins, they don't know whether it's recyclable,” said Department of Streets Commissioner Carlton Williams, who counts bowling balls, garden hoses and old toys among examples of contaminants he has seen.

This summer, Philadelphia put ads on bus shelters and the radio telling people to “take a minute before you bin it” and “if in doubt throw it out.” The campaign asks residents to stop putting plastic bags in recycling bins and to rinse food containers. It has also sent staff door-to-door to tell residents what should go in the recycling bin, and has put lids on bins to protect paper from the rain.

The waste contractor in Flagstaff, Ariz., stopped taking five types of plastic, including yogurt tubs and clamshell food containers, because it couldn't sell those types on to processors. Much of that material now goes to landfills.

The city is running appeals on its social-media pages to encourage its roughly 70,000 residents to put only bottles, jugs and jars in recycling bins to comply with the change. “Do you experience confusion when recycling plastic?” asks a video, styled like a commercial for prescription drugs. “If you live in Flagstaff, talk to your doctor about recycling plastic by shape.”

“People love recycling—it's a very tangible way of living your environmental values—but I don't think people realize the impact of putting the wrong things in the bin,” said Dylan Lenzen, who works on waste prevention for Flagstaff.

This year, Flagstaff announced workers would begin inspecting residents' recycling bins, putting “Oops” tags on ones containing materials that shouldn't be there and refusing to pick them up. A pilot it ran last year showed tags had slashed the number of nonrecyclable items in recycling bins by 40%.

For Elisha Dorfsmith the measure went too far. “It almost feels like public shaming,” said the 42-year-old, who sells used items online for a living. He stopped recycling for months to avoid being humiliated in front of the neighbors and restarted only recently when “it sounded like the recycling police had stopped going around.”

Longtime Flagstaff resident Susan Bassett has been washing empty yogurt tubs and feta cheese containers and storing them under her bed. The 75-year-old Ms. Bassett pays $25 a box to mail her extra plastics to Cortland, N.Y., where a company turns them into toothbrushes.

For some towns, the finances don't work. Waste collectors in Deltona, Fla., got just $5 a ton for mixed paper last year, compared with $120 a ton in 2017, while processing costs stayed flat at $80 a ton. “With the current state of the recycling market, there is little if any market for the processed collected recyclable materials,” City Manager Jane Shang said in January. The next month, Deltona suspended its recycling program.

Kristie Ramirez didn't believe her 12-year-old daughter when she came home from school one afternoon and said Deltona was sending their recycling to a landfill—residents were still filling and setting out recycling containers, but collectors were dumping it all into the regular trash. The 35-year-old, who called her waste company to check, still puts out her blue recycling bin on collection days, saying she doesn't know what else to do. “I have always practiced recycling as long as there's a recycling bin that comes with my trash bin,” she says.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/recycling-rethink-what-to-do-with-trash-now-china-wont-take-it-11576776536

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BLAST FROM PAST

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BBC News

World's oldest fossil trees uncovered in New York

By Laura Foster

The earliest fossilised trees, dating back 386 million years, have been found at an abandoned quarry in New York.

Scientists believe the forest they belonged to was so vast it originally stretched beyond Pennsylvania.

This discovery in Cairo, New York, is thought to be two or three million years older than what was previously the world's oldest forest at Gilboa, also in New York State.

The findings throw new light on the evolution of trees.

What did they find?

It was more than 10 years ago that experts from Cardiff University, UK, Binghamton University in the US and the New York State Museum began looking at the site in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains in the Hudson Valley.

Since then, they have mapped over 3,000 square metres of the forest and concluded the forest was home to at least two types of trees: Cladoxylopsids and Archaeopteris.

A third type of tree has yet to be identified.

"This is the oldest place where you can wander around and map out where fossil trees were standing back in the middle part of the Devonian era."

Researchers say they also discovered very long, woody roots that transformed the way plants and soils gather water.

"It's a very ancient forest from the beginnings of the time where the planet was turning green and forests were becoming a normal part of the Earth's system," said Dr Berry.

It's understood the forest was wiped out by a flood. The researchers have found fish fossils on the surface of the quarry.

How does this help us understand the planet's past?

The point in time that the fossil trees date to marks a transition between a planet with no forests and a planet that is largely covered in trees.

Dr Berry says studying the site can give us a better understanding of how trees evolved and how they draw down carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere.

"We're well aware at the moment that having forests is a good thing and burning down forests and deforestation is a bad thing.

Prof Howard Falcon-Lang from Royal Holloway, London says there's no doubt this is the earliest fossilised forest that we know of.

"It may well be that in the future, something even older pops up - palaeontology is full of surprises!

"But for the time being, this is incredibly exciting."

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-50840134

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ANIMALS

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Los Angeles Times

CATS - OPINION

Opinion: U.S. cities are overrun with feral cats, and magical thinking isn't the solution

By CAROL MITHERS

The alleys, parks and vacant lots of this country are alive with so many stray and feral cats that we don't even know the precise number. Thirty-two million, says one estimate; triple that, another. The felines are the offspring of pets we didn't bother to “fix,” the animals we adopted then dumped or left behind.

In the past, we called them pests and tried — brutally, unsuccessfully — to wipe them out. Today, the accepted strategy is to catch and sterilize them, then send them back outside, where they were. “Trap-neuter-release,” as the approach is called, has been hailed by the no-kill movement, which opposes routine euthanasia by animal shelters. And it has been adopted by animal control departments in more than 400 cities and counties. (Los Angeles has its own plan in the works.)

In theory, the tactic seems like an easy solution that lets us all sleep well: We don't want these animals, but we also don't want their blood on our hands. In reality, and as emphasized by a recent flare-up over the practices of Orange County's public animal shelter system, it's not that simple.

Originally, the promise of trap-neuter-release was to reduce stray and feral populations by curbing their prolific breeding — cats are fertile by six months of age and can give birth multiple times a year. But for cat populations to fall, more than 50% of the females in a given “colony,” or living group, need to be sterilized. That's not easy, given cats' ability to hide — and the fact that known colonies become dumping grounds for more unwanted, often unfixed, pets. As a result, herd sterilization hasn't ever been achieved on a mass scale.

The approach has skeptics for other reasons, too. Many scientists, birders and wildlife managers oppose trap-neuter-release programs in general, noting that free-ranging cats are destructive predators, annually killing billions of birds and mammals, while also spreading diseases like toxoplasmosis.

The programs have been successful in one way, however. They have enabled shelters to sharply reduce the number of feral cats they impound, then euthanize, at a time when public shelters face immense pressure to reach a no-kill ideal, usually defined as not euthanizing any healthy or adoptable animals. An added bonus is reduced taxpayer cost: sterilizing and releasing cats costs less than housing, feeding and then killing them.

How well the cats themselves fare is less clear than you might imagine. Contrary to popular belief, cats are not self-sustaining. That means colonies under the watchful eye of caretakers willing to devote considerable time and money to their welfare may thrive. Those without human guardians may suffer from malnutrition, infection and parasites. Some of the cats get hit by cars or eaten by coyotes. Even the authors of a paper lauding trap-neuter-release programs acknowledged that “the welfare outcome for cats returned to location of origin were not tracked ... [and] little research on this topic could be found.”

Some shelters run neuter-and-return programs in which individual strays that are brought in by concerned residents aren't put up for adoption, but rather are neutered and returned to where they were initially found. In October, a lawyer representing a group of animal rescues and individuals sent Orange County Animal Care, the county's government-run shelter network, a demand that it stop its practice of “abandoning” these cats.

According to signatory Sharon Logan, some of the more than 1,000 cats Orange County released between September 2018 and June 2019 weren't feral, but roaming, lost or abandoned pets, or kittens still young enough to be socialized and made adoptable. Some were sick, she said, and in many cases, communities where the cats were returned weren't told the felines were coming. There was often “no obvious presence of a feeder or caretaker.” As a result, she said, the animals suffered. Carol Barnes, another signatory to the letter, shared photos of one cat she said was released by Orange County and later found malnourished, with broken ribs, an upper respiratory infection and an injured eye crawling with maggots.

An Orange County Animal Care representative declined to comment, but a research and policy analyst for Best Friends Animal Society, which runs similar programs, has called some of the critics' claims “misinformation and scaremongering.”

The answer? No one who's ever loved a house cat or felt moved to feed a hungry feral (that includes me) wants to return to mass killing. And well-run trap-neuter-release programs may be an important part of dealing with our national cat problem. But increased and organized efforts to educate humans about their responsibilities to their animals are also crucial. So is more rigorous enforcement of existing spay/neuter laws and far more access to affordable services.

Maybe most of all, we need to abandon what one cat lover described to me as “magical thinking” — pretending that the only thing that matters is keeping stray cats alive; believing that any one effort holds a simple, painless solution. These fictions serve mostly to comfort those responsible for our cat problem in the first place. That is, us.

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2019-12-22/opinion-u-s-cities-are-overrun-with-feral-cats-and-magical-thinking-isnt-the-solution

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Los Angeles Times

DOGS

After canine deaths, State Department stops sending dogs on overseas assignments

By TRACY WILKINSON

WASHINGTON — Military dogs like Conan, who took part in a recent U.S. special operations raid that led to the death of Islamic State founder Abu Bakr Baghdadi in Syria, get headlines and a White House visit.

But other U.S. working dogs are deployed overseas as well to sniff for drugs, ferret out explosives, guard civilians and do other important tasks. Many are under the control of local handlers.

A new report by the State Department's inspector general says some of those dogs are dying from neglect, heat stroke, poisoning and disease. The report did not say how many dogs had died, but it appeared to be about a dozen.

State Department officials, who oversee the dog program through the Diplomatic Security and Counterterrorism bureaus, said Monday they were alarmed by the report and were taking measures to ensure better conditions and the safety of the animals.

After initial resistance and the additional deaths, the U.S. has suspended new deployments of non-military working dogs overseas and will send veterinarians to sites where the animals are posted, the officials said.

“We will take every measure possible to prevent this from happening in the future,” a senior State Department official told reporters. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because, apparently, the death of dogs is a sensitive topic.

The dogs “play a critical role in saving lives and are the most effective way to detect explosives,” the official said.

About 135 working dogs are used in eight countries, but Jordan, Egypt and Morocco were the biggest offenders when it came to canine mistreatment, the report said. Among some Muslims, dogs are not highly regarded and are rarely kept as pets.

Jordan, an important U.S. ally, has the largest number of U.S. working dogs, about 20 last year.

The report cited “ongoing health and welfare concerns” for those dogs and faulted the State Department for continuing to supply canines to Jordan “without plans for funding or care.”

It costs $640,000 to send 10 canine teams, each team comprised of a dog and its handler, abroad for a 30-day training period, the report said. An additional million dollars or so is spent annually for vets and assistants.

State Department officials have been criticized for failing to protect the animals, waiting until after a whistleblower's complaint and the inspector general's report.

The report said poor kennel conditions and bad handling contributed to the decline in the dogs' health. And some, the report said, “lost the will to work.”

Most of the dogs are German shepherds and Belgian Malinois, the officials said, dogs like Conan.

But the State Department is trying to introduce “floppy-eared” dogs such as Labradors, instead of their pointy-eared cousins, to give a softer and friendlier impression, an official said.

https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2019-12-23/after-canine-deaths-u-s-stops-sending-dogs-for-overseas-assignments

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New York Times

BIRDS

Welcome to the Falcon Hospital. Please Take a Number.

In a corner of Doha's old city, a state-of-the-art facility offers scans, surgeries and a link to a centuries-old pastime. Members of the royal family get to cut the line.

By Tariq Panja

DOHA, Qatar — As soon as the clinic opens, the patients and their guardians begin streaming in.

In the waiting room, the mood is a mix of anxiety and ennui. Some visitors pace the marble floors. Others sit on couches, absent-mindedly leafing through magazines. The most frustrated press forward to harass the overworked receptionists, demanding to be seen at once.

The dozen or so falcons? Don't worry. They are supposed to be here.

This morning is like most others at the clinic, the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital, which, as its name does little to hide, is an entire facility dedicated to treating one member of the raptor family. Tucked in one corner of the main square in Doha's old city, the historic center where thousands of soccer fans have gathered for FIFA's Club World Cup, it is a medical facility like few others.

Inside its walls — across the tiny bird tracks marking the entry, through the shiny glass doors holding back the air-conditioning, beyond the waiting room with the couches and the chrome perches and the man who collects bird excrement off the floor in case it needs testing — no expense has been spared to treat falcons in a country that reveres them like no other member of the animal kingdom.

In Qatar, as in several other countries in the Gulf, the falcon fulfills a variety of roles, from family pet to status symbol to racing competitor. But falcons also provide an important and valued link to the region's ancient Bedouin culture.

Today, the most sought-after birds can change hands for a few thousand dollars. The best, though, are worth a few million to the men — and it is always men who handle the falcons — who plow fortunes into a centuries-old pastime in the world's richest country.

But sometimes those birds are injured or fall ill. And that is how those responsible for them wind up at the Souq Waqif Falcon Hospital, waiting their turn.

Trained Hands

Three medics huddled around the patient. Bright LED lamps above their heads bathed the operating table in light. A full-body X-ray glowed on a screen in one corner of the room, while a device monitoring vital signs supplied a soundtrack of steady beeps.

The patient's immediate problem — an acute case of tilting head — was quickly identified. The issue now was working out the cause. Injury? Influenza? Something worse? The falcon could not have been in a better place to find out.

Prasoon Ibrahim, 38, has worked at the hospital for eight years, but he continues to be surprised whenever he stops to think of the resources at his disposal. Sitting in a busy waiting room, which could pass for any busy emergency room in the world were it not for all the people sitting quietly with a bird of prey attached to their gloved hand, Ibrahim lists in rapid-fire staccato all the treatment options and special equipment offered by the hospital: blood and kidney tests; feather replacements; endoscopies. Speaking faster and faster, he eventually stops to draw a breath and say, “We have everything.”

A South Indian like the majority of the hospital's staff members, Ibrahim, who has a doctorate in molecular biology, worked in a regular hospital before taking up his current post. And like most of his colleagues, he said, he had never worked anywhere with the breadth of state-of-the-art technology he now has at his disposal.

“In my lab, I saw a gene sequencer for the first time,” he said, his eyes widening.

Set over multiple floors, the facility, subsidized by Qatar's ruler, treats about 150 falcons a day. Most of the birds come for checkups after being bought in the many shops selling falcons nearby, or to have what staff members nonchalantly describe as a mani-pedi, the falcon equivalent of a manicure in which its beak and talons are sharpened while under general anesthesia. Others arrive to have radio transmitters and GPS devices fitted so their owners can keep track of the expensive birds when they take them out to hunt. The devices are typically attached to tail feathers, though some require invasive implantation surgery.

The most serious work — orthopedic surgery to mend broken bones that in the wild would mean certain death — takes place in an inpatient unit housed on another floor.

In the general treatment area, which is off-limits to anyone but staff members and their patients, technicians are split into specialized sections with the central space reserved for a group of workers manning a bank of computers. They analyze blood and fecal samples as well as throat swabs under high-powered microscopes that display images on giant screens. Anything untoward is marked for the attention of a handful of senior medics who patrol the area in green scrubs.

At the far end, another group is busy trying to replace a missing tail feather on an expensive-looking peregrine. “For each species the pattern is different, and for each feather the pattern is different,” said the technician Abdul Nasser Parolil. He reached to open a set of drawers, revealing a surprisingly broad selection of feathers of varying lengths, colors and patterns. “We have to find the right pattern,” he said.

While Parolil's section is silent — his patient is under sedation — loud squawks emanate from another of the glass-walled rooms. In one, a technician is injecting fluids under the wings of a falcon suffering from dehydration, a common problem for a species not always suited to the Gulf's extreme heat, which limits the falconry season to about four months in winter.

Many of the staff members acknowledge that they have learned their craft on the job; none had trained to work with falcons before taking up posts at this hospital or at similar facilities in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. Some, like Prasoon, have a background in health care. For others, the work they do bears little relation to what they did in their homelands before being lured to the Gulf by the promise of higher pay.

As bits of dust fly off the gyrfalcon's beak he is trimming with a tool that resembles an electric sander, Jahangir Mohamed explained that he was a martial arts instructor in his home state of Kerala in India. A third-dan black belt in karate, he has now spent more than 10 years in Qatar.

“Before, I didn't understand anything,” he said, pointing at Parolil, who was busy focusing on the peregrine's feather. “I came here and practiced by watching.”

One of the oldest and most respected men at the hospital is Wilson Joseph, 54, who is now in his 20th year working with falcons. He started as a cashier at a smaller medical facility in Saudi Arabia. Joseph was a criminal lawyer in India, he said. He had never seen a falcon, let alone treated one, before he came to the Gulf. “But I wanted to take care of my family, get better earnings,” he said.

House Rules

As with many institutions in Qatar, there is a strict hierarchy when it comes to the falcon hospital's waiting room. While there is a numbered ticketing system, there are ways to cut the line: Qatari royals bearing falcons are treated as a priority, then Qatari nationals and finally foreigners, usually South Asian domestic staff members sent on behalf of their employers.

The vagaries of the system mean that waits can be long. The delays offer a chance to exchange gossip, make jokes and generally let off steam.

Leaning against the window of the in-house pharmacy, Shagul Hameed, 27, who has spent five years working inside the home of a member of the al-Thani Qatari royal family, explained how after some initial difficulties, he has bonded with the falcon in his charge. “See, it doesn't bite me anymore,” he said, taking the tiny hood off his bird's head and giving its beak a quick squeeze.

One of his acquaintances joined the conversation to express amazement at the amount of money and time owners were willing to spend on their falcons. But what Hameed said he found most surprising was the affection some owners gave their falcons: the care by millionaires, and perhaps even billionaires, who rose at dawn to accompany their sick falcons to the hospital.

“The way they look after their kids, they look after their falcons,” Hameed said, before correcting himself. “Actually, if their child was ill, they would send the driver, the maid or the wife to the doctor.

“But if the falcon is sick, the man of the house will go himself.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/19/sports/qatar-falcon-hospital.html

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Washington Post

MORE ANIMALS

‘It's a boy!': Meet the rare black rhino baby born on Christmas Eve

An endangered baby black rhino was born at a zoo in Lansing, Mich., on Dec. 24

NOTE: Many photos and a wonderful video are on the web site.

By Katie Mettler

He was not born in a manger, and there were no wise men, nor frankincense or myrrh. But the masses are still flocking to worship him.

Meet the Potter Park Zoo's Christmas Eve miracle, a black rhino calf born at 5:40 a.m. on Dec. 24 in Lansing, Mich. “It's a boy!” the zoo wrote in the calf's birth announcement. The little guy does not yet have a name, but he has been collecting fans since before he was born. A video feed of his mother, 12-year-old Doppsee, broadcast his birth on the zoo's Facebook page.

The baby rhino stood within an hour and a half of appearing in the world, nursed for the first time midmorning and has been the star of the zoo's social media pages since. The calf appears healthy and has been bonding “behind the scenes” with Doppsee, according to a news release from the zoo. This is Doppsee's first offspring — and the first time in the Potter Park Zoo's 100-year existence that a black rhino has been born there.

The species is critically endangered, the result of poaching in the wild and loss of habitat. About 5,000 black rhinos exist in the African wild, an improvement from their historically low numbers about 20 years ago, when the population was less than 2,500 and on the brink of extinction, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

The zoo's new calf was bred as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan, which aids population management and conservation within AZA member institutions. There are more than 50 black rhinos in AZA zoos, and one of them — Phineus — came to the Potter Park Zoo in 2017 from Texas to breed with Doppsee. Fewer than two black rhino calves are born annually in captivity, according to the zoo's news release, making each newborn “vital to this endangered population.”

“This is a monumental moment for Potter Park Zoo that has taken our staff years of planning and hard work,” Cynthia Wagner, director of the Potter Park Zoo, said in a statement. “We are dedicated to conserving rhinos and couldn't be more excited about this successful black rhino birth.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2019/12/25/its-boy-meet-rare-black-rhino-baby-born-christmas-eve

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New York Times

WHALES

The gray whale migration

If you traveled for the holidays, you may be grumbling about the hours on the road.

You've got nothing on the gray whale.

About 20,000 of them have begun their 5,000-mile southern migration from the icy waters off Alaska, where they've been fattening up for months on a diet of invertebrates sucked up from sea mud and strained out by the bristly baleen in their huge mouths.

The whales pass within a few miles of shore, so spectators and volunteer counters have gathered for decades to count their telltale plumes. Oregon's Whale Watch Week, for example, begins today.

The whales are bound for Baja California, where higher temperatures are more suitable for giving birth. The calves have only a thin layer of the blubber that protects adult whales.

But the Baja mud offers little sustenance, so the whales return north within months, babies in tow.

The 10,000-mile round trip ranks as one of the longest of any mammal, rivaled only by another baleen whale, the humpback.

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CNN

Scientists discovered 71 new species this year. Here are some of their favorites

By Ashley Strickland

(CNN) The quest for the unknown revealed exciting new discoveries this year. California Academy of Sciences researchers discovered 71 new animal and plant species in 2019.

The list includes flowers, fish, corals, spiders, sea slugs, ants and lizards, among others. They were found across three oceans and five continents in caves, forests and even the greatest depths of the ocean. Learning more about these intriguing new species allows for a greater understanding of environments and biomes, as well as targeted conservation efforts.

"Despite decades of tirelessly scouring some of the most familiar and remote places on Earth, biodiversity scientists estimate that more than 90% of nature's species remain unknown," said Academy Chief of Science Shannon Bennett. "A rich diversity of plants and animals is what allows life on our planet to thrive: The interconnectedness of all living systems provides collective resilience in the face of our climate crisis. Each newly discovered species serves as an important reminder of the critical role we play in better understanding and preserving these precious ecosystems."

Here's a look at some of the new species:

A fish called Wakanda

Although the nation of Wakanda exists only in the Marvel Comics universe as superhero Black Panther's home, researchers believe they have found a version of it underwater. In secretive reefs 260 feet below the surface, these warriors -- accented with vibrant purple -- are fish. Previously unknown, the fish species lives in dark coral reefs, called "Twilight Zone" reefs, in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Tanzania. The fish are a new species of what's known as fairy wrasses.

Their scales are so deeply pigmented that the deep purple remains even when preserved for research, when color is usually lost. The fish were named Cirrhilabrus wakanda, or the vibranium fairy wrasse, in honor of Wakanda and "Black Panther." "When we thought about the secretive and isolated nature of these unexplored African reefs, we knew we had to name this new species after Wakanda," said Yi-Kai Tea, lead author of the study and an ichthyology Ph.D. student from the University of Sydney.

"We've known about other related fairy wrasses from the Indian Ocean but always thought there was a missing species along the continent's eastern edge. When I saw this amazing purple fish, I knew instantly we were dealing with the missing piece of the puzzle." Researchers found 16 other new species of fish this year, including a cat-eyed cardinalfish.

Endangered lizards and geckos

In 2019, Aaron Bauer, an Academy Research Associate, found 15 mottled geckos, an orange lizard, a girdled lizard and three skinks -- and most of them are essentially endangered. That's because all of them are found in very small geographic areas so any upset, like deforestation, can deplete their numbers. Finding these species in time, and determining the threats to their populations, is key. For example, one of the island-dwelling skinks Bauer found is threatened by an invasive species of fire ants. "If we don't explore isolated habitats, like mountaintops, we would miss a huge part of the biodiversity that's unique to these regions," Bauer said. Over the course of his career, he has discovered more than 205 reptiles.

Surprising sea slugs

Sea slugs are masters of disguise. A newly discovered species, Madrella amphora, actually resembles snail eggs that can be found in their habitat. "We recently confirmed through genetics that sea slugs mimic the colors of other species, but it's rare to see sea slugs mimic other animals entirely," said Terry Gosliner, Academy Curator of Invertebrate Zoology. Gosliner is known for a number of discoveries regarding sea slugs. Researchers also found five other types of colorful sea slugs with quirky disguises, unique colors and small sizes compared to their other well-known counterparts.

Delicate flowers

A number of surprising things have been determined about plants over the years, like the fact that they communicate with each other and complain about drought. And in the case of a rare flowering plant spotted this year, they keep researchers on their toes by moving around. Trembleya altoparaisensis is a lovely plant with white flowers that was initially collected only once more than 100 years ago by Auguste François Marie Glaziou, a famed botanist. Trying to track it down in modern times to actually describe the plant proved difficult. "People don't think plants move, but they do," said Ricardo Pacifico, a PhD student working with Frank Almeda, emeritus curator of botany at the Academy. This is because plants have to look after their needs as environments change, so they migrate. They found Trembleya altoparaisensis living in Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park's canyons in Brazil. In total, eight flowering plants, including a new species in one of Madagascar's national parks, were found this year.

Deep sea coral

Remotely operated vehicles are helping researchers discover and understand coral found during deep sea surveys. A 2018 NOAA expedition revealed a beautiful yellow coral called Chromoplexura cordellbankensis off the coast of California. "We know the intertidal zone, but the deep sea is out of sight, out of mind," said Gary Williams, invertebrate zoology curator at the Academy. Two new diverse corals were found this year in the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, 60 miles from San Francisco's coast.

Freaky spiders

Researchers spotted five new spiders this year, and some of them are pretty strange. One is a family of "ant-worshipping" spiders that live in ant mounds -- although the reason for that remains to be seen. Researchers found them in the Chihuahuan desert in Mexico, spotted in an array around an ant nest that had collapsed. Otherwise they're usually underground. "The only way to see what they're doing is to dig them up. But then they're no longer in their natural state," said Darrell Ubick, Academy Curatorial Assistant of Entomology. They also found new harvestmen -- organisms related to spiders -- living in caves and adapted to life in the dark. They were found in Croatia, helping inform the way species branch off using different adaptations.

Skate party

Skates are fish that look like rays. Many can be found off the Falkland Islands, living at depths of nearly 2,000 feet.

They're also cut into steaks or fermented in Korea. But some of the species ending up in markets may actually be a newly discovered species called Dipturus lamillai. The discovery could help with conservation efforts so that new species aren't overfished before they can be understood, the researchers said.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/07/world/new-plant-animal-species-2019-scn/index.html

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THE LIGHTER SIDE

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CNN

A man is accused of stealing $10,000 worth of lobsters, leading to a bizarre lobster truck chase

By Anna Sturla

(CNN) File this case under "only in Boston."

A man hijacked a lobster truck, making off with $10,000 worth of the shellfish -- prompting employees of a warehouse to jump into another lobster truck and give chase. The bizarre incident happened early Tuesday in the historic neighborhood of Charlestown. Employees of Buy New England Lobsters were packing up orders for a European client when they saw the box truck driving away, sales director Peter Lagorio told CNN.

Employees jumped into another box truck -- and a short, but odd, chase involving two lobster trucks followed. "The suspect refused to stop but instead deliberately crashed the stolen truck into the second box truck," Boston police said in its report. The employees detained the driver and the police arrived a short time later. "No lobsters were harmed," Lagorio said. "We were able to bring them back to the shop and ship them to our client on time."

Later, police charged a 29-year-old man with motor vehicle larceny, threat to commit harm and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. "It's very Bostonian," Lagorio said. "The idea of a truck heist involved in Charlestown with lobsters is very, very unique to this great city."

https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/19/us/boston-stolen-lobsters-truck-trnd/index.html

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LAW ENFORCEMENT / CRIME

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PUBLIC SAFETY

Los Angeles - local

LAPD & LA County Sheriff -- How are they doing?

We'll explore how listeners feel about their local law enforcement agencies. How safe do they feel? How good is the local quality of life in their home town and what can be done to make things better?

We'll continue this discussion tonight ..

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from LACP.org web site

DHS and FEMA - Preparedness Newsletter


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Daily Local & Regional NewsWatch - 2019 Archives

The LA Police Protective League, the union that represents the rank-and-file LAPD officers, presents a weekday digest of local news, which often includes the union's perspective.

The material is often from local and national newspapers as well as other sources.

It constitutes but a small percentage of the information available daily to the community policing and neighborhood activist public.

But most of the material includes issues of some interest to the Los Angeles community-policing community.

Law Enforcement News - Tue, 12/31

Traffic-Related Fatalities Increased In 2019 As Number Of Collisions Dropped In L.A., Police Chief Says

The number of traffic collisions in L.A. declined this year, but there were more fatalities tied to crashes, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said Monday. Approximately 54,000 collisions occurred in 2019, a slight dip from the 54,800 reported the previous year, according to the latest LAPD data. Despite fewer collisions, traffic-related deaths increased slightly this year, with 236 fatalities reported, Moore said at a Monday morning news conference. That's two more than last year. But more alarming, the number of traffic-related deaths has risen 32% in the past five years, with pedestrians making up the majority of the victims. “When we look at those pedestrian fatalities … just over half them in the period of time, the pedestrians themselves are outside of a crosswalk or on the roadway, and so to speak are at fault." Moore said. “We know that the other half of the time, the motorist is, through distracted driving, or texting, or impaired driving.” Nearly half of the crashes this year -- more than 25,300 -- were categorized as hit-and-runs, according to LAPD.
KTLA 5
LAPD Focusing On 6 West Los Angeles Intersections That Have Seen Spike In Violent Car Crashes

Los Angeles police are stepped up their patrols at six locations in West L.A. Monday where they say there's been a spike in violent car crashes. Hoping to make the streets safer, the officers will be there to make sure drivers are aware that they're in what's described as a "danger zone." The intersections include: Santa Monica and Sepulveda boulevards, Santa Monica Boulevard and Century Park East, Santa Monica and Westwood boulevards, Lincoln and Washington Boulevards, Manchester Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard and Century and Sepulveda boulevards. In 2019, about 236 people have been killed in one of 54,000 traffic collisions involving cars in the Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The stepped up patrols are part of the city initiative Vision Zero, which is aiming to end all traffic deaths in the city within the next five years.
ABC 7
LAPD Announces Arrest In Thanksgiving Fatal Hit-Run

A woman who was allegedly one of three motorists who struck a 62-year-old pedestrian on Thanksgiving night in the West Adams district, killing him and dragging him about a dozen city blocks, surrendered to authorities, police announced Monday. At a downtown news conference to discuss traffic safety and accident statistics, police said the woman -- accompanied by her attorney -- surrendered about two weeks after the Nov. 28 hit-and-run death of Jihad Muhammad. Yolanda Thompson, 57, of Los Angeles, was booked Dec. 16 and released on bond that night, according to police and jail records. Police said they presented their investigation to the District Attorney's Office for consideration of criminal charges. Muhammad was standing in the street outside a crosswalk in the intersection of Adams Boulevard and West View Street about 8:40 p.m. Nov. 28 when he was struck by a car, possibly a white Audi A5, police said at the time. While he was on the ground, he was struck again by another vehicle, possibly a white Cadillac Seville.
NBC 4

Suspect Detained After Leading LAPD On Erratic Chase, Abandoning Car On 110 Fwy In South LA

A carjacking suspect was taken into custody after leading police on an erratic car chase in South Los Angeles Monday. The vehicle was originally spotted behind the Hollenbeck Community Police Station shortly before 1 p.m. The suspect took off in the reportedly stolen vehicle traveling on the southbound 5 Freeway and the westbound 10 Freeway before abandoning the vehicle on the southbound 110 Freeway. The suspect abandoned the car and took off running along freeway lanes before being apprehended near the 51st Street off-ramp. AIR7 HD showed traffic was being escorted off the 110 Freeway while officers searched the car for a weapon and pushed it out of freeway lanes.
ABC 7

Authorities Search For Bank Robbery Suspect In Tujunga

A man robbed a Chase bank branch in Tujunga Monday and escaped with an undisclosed amount of cash. The holdup occurred just before noon in the 6500 block of Foothill Boulevard, the Los Angeles Police Department reported. No injuries were reported and no weapon was seen, according to police, who did not release a full suspect description.
MyNewsLA.com

Thieves Use USPS Master Key To Clean Out Westwood Apartment Building's Entire Mailbox

Security video obtained exclusively by FOX 11 shows two criminals apparently using USPS master keys to gain access to a Westwood apartment building's mailboxes, and steal almost all of the tenants' mail. It happened around 7:40 a.m. at The Rochester Apartment Homes, where Sam Keeley has lived for the past five years. “I was pissed off, it's pretty upsetting to see people entering your home and taking your stuff so I was pretty angry,” Keeley said. Keeley awoke Monday morning to find out an expensive smartphone was missing from his mailbox. When other residents noticed their boxes were empty as well, the building manager was alerted. LAPD and the USPS Inspector General are both actively investigating the case. “They should go to jail, pure and simple,” Keeley said. If you recognize the thieves in the video, you're asked to contact LAPD's West L.A. station.
FOX 11

CHP Starts New Year's Crackdown Tuesday Night

An end-of-year crackdown targeting drunken and drug-impaired drivers in Riverside County will get underway Tuesday Monday evening. The California Highway Patrol will initiate its New Year's “maximum enforcement period” at 6 p.m. Tuesday, when all available officers deploy to catch impaired motorists, speeders and other traffic violators. The enforcement campaign will run for 30 hours straight, ending late Wednesday night. Officers from the Riverside, Beaumont, Blythe, Indio and Temecula CHP stations will be on Inland Empire freeways, highways and unincorporated roads, looking to snare suspects. “Please make smart choices this holiday season,” CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley said. “Driving while impaired can have tragic results. Whether impaired by alcohol or drugs, the result can lead to arrest, injury or death. Either way, the impact will be life-altering.”
MyNewsLA.com

California To See New Laws Go Into Effect In 2020

With the start of a new year comes a new batch of laws for the state of California. Here is a list of laws that will go into effect Jan 1, 2020: AB 317 makes it against the law for anyone to sell, or offer for sale, a DMV appointment. SB 957 allows certain used vehicles that were previously issued a green or white clean air vehicle decal to receive another decal, which allows access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes until Jan. 1, 2024. However, in order to qualify, the vehicle must have a new owner whose income is 80% or less than the statewide median income. The courts will no longer have the authority to revoke, restrict or order the DMV to delay the driving privilege of a person convicted of prostitution, vandalism or other non-driving offenses since SB 485 was approved. AB 1614 extends a pilot program to evaluate the cost-effectiveness and use of alternatives to license plates and registration cards until Jan 1, 2021.
NBC 4

Public Safety News

Firefighters Free Man Trapped In Wreckage Of Multi-Vehicle Crash Involving Bus In Florence Area

Firefighters Monday extricated a man who was trapped in the wreckage of a multi-vehicle crash involving a bus in the Florence area of Los Angeles. The crash was reported around 1:45 p.m. in the 200 block of West Gage Avenue. It involved a bus and a dark-colored four-door sedan. The sedan appeared to have struck the back right side of the bus, video from SkyFOX showed. The unidentified man was extricated from the sedan and transported to an area hospital in critical condition, authorities said. A 70-year-old woman who was on the bus at the time of the collision was taken to a hospital with minor injuries, and all other patients on the bus declined to go to a hospital. Additional details were not immediately available.
FOX 11

Lead Paint, Banned For Decades, Still Makes Thousands Of L.A. County Kids Sick

During his pediatrics residency training at a hospital in Hollywood, Dr. David Bolour rarely gave a second thought to lead poisoning. Lead paint had been banned since before the 36-year-old doctor was born. Children being harmed by the once-ubiquitous metal was a thing of the past, he thought. But when he started as a pediatrician in 2015 at St. John's Well Child and Family Center in South Los Angeles, Bolour began testing every child who came in for lead poisoning. And he learned that about 1 out of 100 had elevated lead levels, he said. Public health officials consider even low levels of lead found in a child's blood to be lead poisoning, since studies have linked just small amounts of lead exposure to irreversible brain damage and stunted development in kids. “When I came here, I realized this is a real problem,” Bolour said. Although lead poisoning has become less common in recent years, roughly 2,000 children are diagnosed with unsafe levels of lead in their blood each year in Los Angeles County, according to state data.
Los Angeles Times

AAA Offering Free ‘Tow to Go' service In SoCal During New Year's Celebrations

AAA is offering people in Southern California a safe ride home on New Year's Eve, to discourage people from drinking and driving. The company is offering its “Tow-to-Go” program to promote safe driving and encourage motorists to plan ahead. The free service launches Tuesday, December 31 at 6 p.m. and ends at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, January 1. Anyone, whether they are a AAA customer or not, can get a free ride home. They'll even tow your car up to seven miles for free. This only applies to California's southern counties, including Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Tulare and Ventura. Local motorists should dial 800-400-4222 to request the service.
FOX 11

Local Government News

New Proposed Rule Would Ban Tour Buses From Hollywood Hills Streets Deemed ‘Unsafe'

The Los Angeles City Council is looking to restrict tour companies after complaints from homeowners in the Hollywood Hills. Earlier this month, the council's Transportation Committee recommended a set of rules for how tour buses and vans would operate in the area. The most notable recommendation would ban the tourist vehicles on roads deemed "unsafe" by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. The idea to impose such restrictions was introduced by Councilman David Ryu. In a motion back in 2017, the councilman stated that the buses "pose a clear hazard on certain streets not built to accommodate these types of vehicles." There are about 20 tour companies in Hollywood, industry officials say. Residents who live in the area, which is frequented by tourists, say the vans park in private driveways, cause accidents and could block narrow streets in the Hills, which is a big concern in the event of a fire.
ABC 7

The Decade Ahead: Here Are The Big-Ticket Public-Transit Projects On The Horizon For The San Fernando Valley

The next decade is expected to bring a host of badly needed public transportation improvements — from trains to light rails and buses — to the San Fernando Valley. Here are the major transit projects expected to be up and running by 2030: The Sepulveda Transit Corridor rail project (from Sherman Oaks to West Los Angeles) - Getting from the Valley to the Westside in 20 minutes instead of sitting in traffic on the 405? It sounds like a fairytale, but Metro says a route through the Sepulveda Pass might be operational in time for the 2028 Olympics. The agency completed a feasibility study and will soon go into environmental review, choosing from a host of options. At present, Metro is short billions to fund the rail line or monorail that could cost between $9.4 billion and $13.8 billion. A public-private partnership, they portend, could expedite and partially finance the process.
Los Angeles Daily News

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Law Enforcement News - Mon, 12/30

Two Beverly Hills Police Officers Injured In Crash During Pursuit

Two Beverly Hills police officers were injured when their patrol car overturned while they were pursuing a stolen vehicle, authorities said. It happened at 2:24 a.m. Saturday on Sunset Boulevard, according to a Beverly Hills Police Department news release. The officers were attempting to assist in the pursuit when the officer driving the patrol car lost control and it overturned west of Sunset Plaza Drive, police said. Both officers suffered minor injuries. Sunset Boulevard was shut down between Veteran Avenue and Sunset Plaza Drive during the accident investigation.
FOX 11


LAPD Increases Patrols Near Synagogues After Stabbings At New York Hanukkah Event

Los Angeles police have stepped up patrols in and around Jewish communities and synagogues after a man stabbed and wounded five people gathered for a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi's home in New York. The increased patrols are “out of an abundance of caution,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore tweeted Sunday morning. The LAPD did not elaborate on the extra security measures. “The LAPD stands with members of our Jewish community,” Moore tweeted. “There is no place for hate in Los Angeles.” The stabbings happened on the seventh night of Hanukkah, which the victims had been celebrating in the rabbi's home north of New York City. One person was seriously wounded and is in critical condition. It follows a series of attacks targeting Jews in the region, including a shooting at a kosher grocery store in New Jersey earlier this month that left six dead, including a police officer and three people inside the store.
Los Angeles Times


Police Station Is Evacuated After Man Turns In Several Grenades

A man turned in several live grenades to the LAPD on Friday. At around 4 p.m. a man walked into the South East LAPD Station and turned the grenades in to the front desk, according to police. The building had to be evacuated so the bomb squad could safely detonate all of the grenades. The building was rendered safe at 7:53 p.m., the LAPD said. The man was not arrested. He said he found the grenades at his home.
NBC 4


Downey Man Arrested In Death Of 6-Year-Old South L.A. Boy

On Christmas Day, David Nicholson Jr. dropped off presents for his son and daughter at the South L.A. apartment where they lived with their mother. For D'Vine, 4, he brought a doll set; for Dayvon, 6, a skateboard, walkie-talkies, a Nerf gun and a playsuit of body armor. His daughter was there, Nicholson said, but Dayvon wasn't. His mother said he was with a man she called “Coach Ty.” On Thursday, Dayvon's mother called the boy's grandparents to tell them he was at the hospital, unable to breathe. Nicholson raced to St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, where a police officer took him aside and told him Dayvon had died. “My heart just fell,” Nicholson said in an interview with The Times on Saturday. “I couldn't breathe. No matter how many kids you got, it's a piece of you.” The Los Angeles County Coroner ruled Dayvon's death a homicide. Tyler D'Shaun Martin-Brand, 23, a friend of the boy's mother and a supervisor for a Los Angeles Unified School District after-school program, was arrested Thursday by Downey police in connection with Dayvon's death. He is being held in lieu of $2-million bail.
Los Angeles Times


Pellet Gun Shatters Tommy's Restaurant Window In Valley Village, Police Say

Los Angeles police are investigating after they say a pellet gun shattered the window of a hamburger restaurant in Valley Village Sunday evening. Police say they received a 911 call at about 9:50 p.m. after the pellet gun was fired and shattered a window at the Original Tommy's World Famous Hamburgers restaurant located at the intersection of Laurel Canyon and Burbank boulevards. The location is blocks away from Los Angeles Valley College. The restaurant remained open as police investigated the incident, which is being handled as an act of vandalism. No information regarding a suspect was available. Police are also attempting to figure out if the incident is connected to another act of vandalism at Yoshinoya restaurant in Reseda, where police say they found a shattered window. The cause of that shattered window was not known.
ABC 7


Man Arrested After Allegedly Threatening To Kill Uber Driver In Van Nuys


Authorities say a man has been taken into custody on suspicion of making criminal threats after an Uber driver says he threatened to kill him. The incident unfolded just after 3:30 a.m. Sunday when the ride-share driver flagged down a CHP unit and reported that his passenger was armed with a gun and had made threats to kill him. That's when multiple CHP units responded, and conducted “call outs” to the suspect in both English and Spanish. Authorities say the passenger refused to get out of the vehicle and would not respond to their commands. Authorities ultimately used less than lethal shotgun rounds, and eventually were able to get the suspect out of the car. He was taken into custody and booked. He was identified by the CHP as Sergio Gonzalez, and had allegedly been armed with a knife, authorities said.
CBS 2


Woman Set To Be Arraigned In Tesla Crash That Fatally Injured Pedestrian

A woman who allegedly struck a pedestrian with a Tesla and left him fatally injured in the Pico-Union area last month is set to be arraigned Monday on a felony charge. Vanessa Gutierrez, 35, of Los Angeles, is charged with one count of hit-and-run driving resulting in death or serious bodily injury to another person, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. The charge stems from a Nov. 21 crash in which Emilio Perez was struck by a light-colored Tesla Model 3 in the area of Olympic Boulevard and Lake Street. Perez, 38, never regained consciousness, according to Los Angeles Police Department Detective Moses Castillo. Perez died at a hospital four days later as a result of blunt force injuries, according to the Los Angeles County coroner's office.
MyNewsLA.com


U.S. Mass Killings Hit New High In 2019, Most Of Them Shootings

The first one occurred 19 days into the new year when a man used an ax to kill four family members including his infant daughter. Five months later, 12 people were killed in a workplace shooting in Virginia. Twenty-two more died at a Walmart in El Paso in August. A database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University shows that there were more mass killings in 2019 than any year dating back to at least the 1970s, punctuated by a chilling succession of deadly rampages during the summer. In all, there were 41 mass killings, defined as when four or more people are killed excluding the perpetrator. Of those, 33 were mass shootings. More than 210 people were killed. Most of the mass killings barely became national news, failing to resonate among the general public because they didn't spill into public places like massacres in El Paso and Odessa, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Jersey City, New Jersey. The majority of the killings involved people who knew each other — family disputes, drug or gang violence or people with beefs that directed their anger at co-workers or relatives.
KTLA 5

Public Safety News

Firefighters Rescue 2 Trapped In Vehicle Following Reseda Crash

Firefighters cut the roof off of a car that slammed into a light pole in Reseda early Sunday, Dec. 29 to rescue two people who were trapped inside but expected to survive their injuries. Traffic investigators believe a burgundy Toyota was speeding along Sherman Way near Wilbur Avenue when it struck a pole on the northeast corner of that intersection at about 1:40 a.m., Los Angeles Police Officer E. Houser said. The driver and passenger of the sedan became trapped inside the damaged vehicle and had to be extracted. More than a dozen members of the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to the collision. One was seen standing on the sedan's mangled hood in photos posted by the agency to Twitter as first-responders used the jaws of life (hydraulic cutters) and other heavy equipment to free the car's occupants.
Los Angeles Daily News


Decade Of Disasters: Wildfires, A Gas Leak, Earthquakes In Southern California

A disaster is never more than the failure of aging infrastructure, a slip of tectonic plate or a spark away from affecting thousands of Southern California residents. Such disasters often come with long-term consequences and can be drivers for change and improvements to keep us safe. Here's a look at a trio of such events that made headlines: a natural-gas leak in Porter Ranch, a pair of earthquakes in the High Desert, and increasing wildfire danger.
Los Angeles Daily News

Local Government News

End Of The Decade: With Garcetti's Rise, Scandal And #MeToo, Valley Politics Scene Heated Up And Never Cooled Down

They say all politics is local, and the 2010s went a long way toward affirming that around the 818 area code. Consider the 25th Congressional District, the northern LA County district that covers a snippet of the San Fernando Valley. That's where Democrat Katie Hill scorched a path to Congress in 2018, upsetting incumbent GOP-er Steve Knight in a pivotal 2018 race. Hill's success flipped the district from red to blue, and affirmed its move left from a recent past of Republican seat-holders. But Hill's skyrocketing ascent in Congress fizzled in late 2019, when nude photos of her were released by a right-leaning website and allegations of affairs with staffers led to a congressional ethics investigation. Hill would resign, opening up a newfound battleground for the 25th.
Los Angeles Daily News

 
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