Biological Weapons plant here?


Wire Reports

Maj. Gen. Igor Kirillov, the head of the Russian military's radiation, biological and chemical protection troops speaks during a briefing in the Russian Defense Ministry's headquarters in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. Russia's Defense Ministry says the United States appears to be running a clandestine biological weapons lab in the country of Georgia, allegedly flouting international rules and posing a direct security threat to Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, via AP)

Maj. Gen. Igor Kirillov, the head of the Russian military's radiation, biological and chemical protection troops speaks during a briefing in the Russian Defense Ministry's headquarters in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. Russia's Defense Ministry says the United States appears to be running a clandestine biological weapons lab in the country of Georgia, allegedly flouting international rules and posing a direct security threat to Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, via AP)

The building of a U.S. laboratory in Georgia is shown in a picture released by the Russian Defense Ministry during a briefing in the Russian Defense Ministry's headquarters in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. Russia's Defense Ministry says the United States appears to be running a clandestine biological weapons lab in the country of Georgia, allegedly flouting international rules and posing a direct security threat to Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, via AP)

Russia claims US running secret bio weapons lab in Georgia


Associated Press

Thursday, October 4

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s Defense Ministry said Thursday that the United States appeared to be running a clandestine biological weapons lab in the country of Georgia, allegedly flouting international conventions and posing a direct security threat to Russia — allegations the Pentagon angrily rejected.

The exceptional accusations from Moscow came the same day U.S., British and Dutch officials accused Russian military intelligence of being behind multiple cyberattacks.

Maj. Gen. Igor Kirillov, the head of the Russian military’s radiation, chemical and biological protection troops, alleged at a briefing that the lab in Georgia was part of a network of U.S. labs near the borders of Russia and China.

The allegations were based largely on materials about the U.S.-funded Richard G. Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Tbilisi, Georgia. Kirillov claimed the documents released by former Georgian State Security Minister Igor Giorgadze showed the facility was funded entirely by the U.S and the Georgian ownership it has on paper was a cover.

Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon strongly rejected Kirillov’s claims, calling them “an invention of the imaginative and false Russian disinformation campaign against the West” and “obvious attempts to divert attention from Russia’s bad behavior on many fronts.”

“The U.S. is not developing biological weapons in the Lugar Center,” Pahon said.

He said the lab, a joint human and veterinary public health facility, was owned and operated by the Georgian National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC), not the United States.

“The mission of the Lugar Center is to contribute to protection of citizens from biological threats, promote public and animal health through infectious disease detection, epidemiological surveillance, and research for the benefit of Georgia, the Caucasus region and the global community,” Pahon said.

The center opened in 2013 and was named for the late U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana. Lugar was part of a bipartisan U.S. effort to help secure the Soviet arsenal of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.

Russia’s Kirillov said the documents published by Giorgadze signaled more sinister activities were happening under the cover of civilian research.

He noted that Giorgadze’s materials cited the deaths of 73 volunteers who took part in tests of a new drug at the lab in 2015-2016. The claim couldn’t be independently confirmed.

Kirillov alleged the deaths showed the Lugar Center used the volunteers as guinea pigs in tests of a new deadly toxin.

“The near simultaneous deaths of a large number of volunteers give reason to believe that the Lugar Center was researching a highly toxic and highly lethal chemical or biological agent,” he said.

The Russian general also claimed that the spread of viral diseases in southern Russia could have been linked to the activities of the Lugar Center. He pointed to the spread of the African swine fever (ASF) from Georgia since 2007 that caused massive losses for the Russian farm sector.

Ticks carrying the Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, a deadly viral disease, also spread across several regions of southern Russia in an unusual pattern, another sign of the U.S. lab’s alleged involvement, Kirillov said without specifying a time period.

“It’s highly likely that the U.S. is building up its military biological potential under the cover of studying protective means and conducting other peaceful research, flouting international agreements,” he said.

Among the documents released by Giorgadze was a U.S. patent for a drone intended to disseminate infected insects, he said. Other patents covered projectiles for delivering chemical and biological agents.

“Such research doesn’t conform to Washington’s international obligations regarding the ban on biological and toxin weapons,” Kirillov said. “A legitimate question is why such documents are being stored in the Lugar Center for Public Health Research. We hope to receive a precise answer from Georgia and the United States.”

He noted that Russia was worried about the U.S. military commissioning the collection of genetic materials of people from various regions of Russia, including the North Caucasus, and was unsure of the project’s purpose.

The lab in Georgia is “just a small element of a part of a sprawling military and biological program of the United States,” the general said, adding that the Pentagon allegedly has other labs in countries neighboring Russia.

“The choice of location for such labs isn’t accidental,” Kirillov said, characterizing the research facilities as “a constant source of biological threats” to Russia and China.

Robert Burns in Washington and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.

US to offer cyberwar capabilities to NATO allies


Associated Press

Wednesday, October 3

BRUSSELS (AP) — Acting to counter Russia’s aggressive use of cyberattacks across Europe and around the world, the U.S. is expected to announce that, if asked, it will use its formidable cyberwarfare capabilities on NATO’s behalf, according to a senior U.S. official.

The announcement is expected in the coming days as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis attends a meeting of NATO defense ministers on Wednesday and Thursday.

Katie Wheelbarger, the principal deputy assistant defense secretary for international security affairs, said the U.S. is committing to use offensive and defensive cyber operations for NATO allies, but America will maintain control over its own personnel and capabilities.

The decision comes on the heels of the NATO summit in July, when members agreed to allow the alliance to use cyber capabilities that are provided voluntarily by allies to protect networks and respond to cyberattacks. It reflects growing concerns by the U.S. and its allies over Moscow’s use of cyber operations to influence elections in America and elsewhere.

“Russia is constantly pushing its cyber and information operations,” said Wheelbarger, adding that this is a way for the U.S. to show its continued commitment to NATO.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Wednesday that the inclusion of offensive cyber operations in alliance missions “is just one of many elements in our strengthened NATO cyber defenses.” And he said that it’s important to have cyber capabilities that can be used against the Islamic State group to destroy the networks they use for recruiting, financing and communicating.

He said that the British and Denmark have also agreed to make cyber contributions to NATO and he expects other allies will follow.

“We have seen an increasing number of cyber-attacks. They are more frequent, they are more sophisticated,” Stoltenberg said. “We see cyber being used to meddle in domestic political processes, attacks against critical infrastructure. Cyber will be an integral part of any future military conflict.”

Wheelbarger told reporters traveling to NATO with Mattis that the move is a signal to other nations that NATO is prepared to counter cyberattacks waged against the alliance or its members.

Much like America’s nuclear capabilities, the formal declaration of cyber support can help serve as a military deterrent to other nations and adversaries.

The U.S. has, for some time, considered cyber as a warfighting domain, much like air, sea, space and ground operations. In recent weeks the Pentagon released a new cybersecurity strategy that maps out a more aggressive use of military cyber capabilities. And it specifically calls out Russia and China for their use of cyberattacks.

China, it said, has been “persistently” stealing data from the public and private sector to gain an economic advantage. And it said Russia has use cyber information operations to “influence our population and challenge our diplomatic processes.” U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Moscow of interfering in the 2016 elections, including through online social media.

“We will conduct cyberspace operations to collect intelligence and prepare military cyber capabilities to be used in the event of a crisis or conflict,” the new strategy states, adding that the U.S. is prepared to use cyberwarfare along with other military weapons against its enemies when needed, including to counter malicious cyber activities targeting the country.

The document adds that the Pentagon will “work to strengthen the capacity” of allies and partners.

NATO has moved cautiously on offensive cyber capabilities. At the Warsaw Summit in 2016, allies recognized cyberspace as a warfighting domain. It has said that a computer-based attack on an ally would trigger NATO’s commitment to defend its members. And last year the alliance agreed to create a new cyber operations center. But the focus has always been on defending NATO networks and those of its members, not offensive cyberwar.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that the defense ministers will have a working session this week to address cyber and other risks, and how allies can cooperate to counter such threats. He did not provide details.

Associated Press writer Lorne Cook contributed to this report.

Rescuers detect possible sign of life under quake-hit hotel


Associated Press

Thursday, October 4

PALU, Indonesia (AP) — A French rescue team said Thursday it has detected a possible sign of life under the rubble of a hotel in Indonesia’s central Sulawesi, nearly a week after it was hit by a powerful earthquake and tsunami. They cautioned that other factors could cause the sensors they use to give a false result.

Philip Besson, a member of the French organization Pompiers de l’urgence, said the team’s high-tech sensors “detected the presence of a victim” in the wreckage of the four-star Mercure Hotel in Palu but wasn’t able to say if the person is conscious. The device is able to pick up signs of life, including breathing and heart beats, he said.

Nita Hamaale, whose 20-year-old younger sister is believed to be buried beneath the hotel rubble, said a translator for the French rescue team told her they didn’t want to raise her hopes. The translator said it’s possible other factors such as gas in the rubble could result in a false positive, Hamaale told The Associated Press.

Besson said the five-member team only had a hand drill that was not strong enough to reach the victim, who was trapped under thick concrete, and had to abandon digging as night fell. Besson said they would bring heavy equipment early Friday to try to rescue the person.

“We have to drill through the concrete to be able to verify and access the victim,” he told AP.

Rescue efforts since last Friday’s quake, which killed more than 1,400 people, have been greatly impeded by a shortage of heavy equipment.

National disaster agency spokesman Supoto Purwo Nugroho said the body of a South Korean man was among eight dead pulled Thursday from the wreckage of another hotel, the Roa Roa, which collapsed sideways in a heap of cement and steel. Local television said the man, the only foreigner known to have perished in the disaster, was a paraglider taking part in an event in the area.

As the search for victims continued, aid workers raced to get shelter, food, medicine and other badly needed supplies to survivors.

The Indonesian military was bringing in hundreds more troops to help with search and rescue efforts and keep order among survivors who have grown desperate six days after their lives were thrown into chaos. Hundreds of the injured and other survivors lined up on the tarmac of Palu’s badly damaged airport, hoping to escape aboard military aircraft.

As help and supplies began arriving, there were other signs of progress: Trucks were hauling in new electricity poles to replace broken ones and restringing the wires. Workers said they intended to repair all the damage to the networks and substations and get them reconnected to the grid within days.

The United Nations announced a $15 million allocation to support relief efforts, saying more than 200,000 people were in dire need of assistance.

More than 70,000 homes are thought to have been wrecked by the quake, demolished by the tsunami or engulfed by mud slides. Thousands of people are sleeping in tents or in rough shelters made from debris, unsure when they’ll be able to rebuild. Many spend their days trying to secure basics like clean water and fuel for generators.

“Please tell the government and the NGOs if they’re really willing to help us with some food please do not give it away through the command posts,” said Andi Rusding, who was huddled with his relatives under a tarpaulin. “It’s better to go directly to each and every tent. Because sometime (the relief goods) aren’t distributed evenly.”

“It’s really difficult to find water and we don’t have a place to shower, but thank God we got some aid from the government, including a medical checkup,” said Masrita Arifin, who was camped out a few hundred meters (yards) from her family’s heavily damaged home.

Nugroho said most of the 1,424 confirmed dead had been buried. The death toll is expected to rise as rescue crews dig and comb through debris after being slowed initially by impassable roads and other damage.

People and heavy machinery were struggling to unearth victims from expanses of earth that surged sideways due to liquefaction, a phenomenon in which an earthquake turns loose, wet soil into quicksand-like mud. Several communities were wiped out as homes suddenly sank into the mire, which has since hardened in the tropical sun.

Many victims might have survived with faster help, said Palu resident Bambang. He told local television he found a friend injured and trapped under debris but was unable to help him. The friend died, leaving a message to have him buried in front of his church, he said.

“He was still alive then, but he died because the evacuation was so slow,” said Bambang, who like many Indonesians uses one name.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said military transport aircraft from India and Singapore had arrived to help in the relief efforts, including transporting supplies and evacuating victims. Marsudi said 18 countries had offered help and the government was still working out arrangements with some countries, including Japan and the United States.

National police spokesman Brig. Gen. Dedi Prasetyo said security was being ramped up to ensure law and order after 92 people were arrested for looting goods such as motor oil, tires and farming equipment. Authorities earlier allowed desperate villagers to grab food supplies from shops but warned them not to take other things.

Palu has repeatedly been hit by the quakes and tsunamis that plague much of the Indonesian archipelago. The national disaster agency says more than 148 million Indonesians are at risk in earthquake-prone areas and 3.8 million people also face danger from tsunamis, with at most a 40 minute window for warning people to flee.

Among those gathered at the airport in Palu was Fitriani, one of a group of students hoping to leave for an Islamic competition in far-off Medan, on the island of Sumatra. The group of students have been practicing calligraphy and reciting the Koran for months.

“We survived here,” Fitriani said. “We pray we can be safe in Palu.”

Associated Press writer Eileen Ng in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

Volunteers from Puerto Rico help feed NC hurricane victims

Wednesday, October 3

LUMBERTON, N.C. (AP) — They know what it’s like to suffer from a devastating hurricane, so chefs and volunteers from Puerto Rico are helping out in a North Carolina city damaged by Hurricane Florence.

Chef Lionel Rodriguez and others with a group called Operation Pay It Forward are preparing meals at the East Lumberton Baptist Church. Spokesman Jesus Flores said Wednesday the group arrived Monday and will serve lunch and dinner through Oct. 13.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz organized the delegation, which is working through Operation Blessing, a Virginia-based nonprofit.

Flores says Operation Blessing volunteers are serving about 2,000 meals per day.

Puerto Rico is struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria, which killed almost 3,000 people and caused damages estimated at more than $100 billion last year.

Dialysis clinic arrives in Puerto Rico a year after Maria

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A mobile dialysis unit long sought by patients suffering kidney failure on the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques has arrived more than a year after Hurricane Maria.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Thursday that the $3 million unit bought by the U.S. government will be set up at a shelter serving as a makeshift emergency clinic.

Some patients had been flying three times a week to the main island of Puerto Rico for dialysis since the Category 4 storm hit last year. But at least five patients have died, with doctors and relatives saying that the constant trips wore them down.

Dialysis patient Elias Salgado told The Associated Press that he hopes the unit starts operating soon.

Officials shuttered Vieques’ sole medical clinic after Maria. It is slated for demolition.

Editorial Roundup: Excerpts from recent editorials

By The Associated Press

Thursday, October 4

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Oct. 3

The Baltimore Sun on President Donald Trump’s remarks on a psychology professor who has accused his Supreme Court nominee of sexually assaulting her at a party:

Dear Sens. Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski,

There was a time — fleeting as it was — when it seemed President Donald Trump would give the proper respect and deference due to Christine Blasey Ford, the 51-year-old psychology professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her at a party when she was 15. Last week after her testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Trump called her “very compelling” and a “very credible witness.”…

Mr. Trump’s civility did not last, of course. He eventually got around to speculating about how she, or her parents, would surely have reported the incident to police decades ago had it really happened — ignoring the reality of such trauma and how rarely it comes to light. But the president hit rock bottom Tuesday when, speaking before a political rally in Mississippi, he savagely mocked Ms. Ford. “‘I don’t know. I don’t know.’ ‘Upstairs? Downstairs? Where was it?’ ‘I don’t know,’” Mr. Trump said in his shameful attempt to imitate her testimony. “‘But I had one beer. That’s the only thing I remember.”’…

What followed this public sadism? Cheering. Laughter. Applause. One of Ms. Ford’s attorneys, Michael R. Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general, called the performance a “vicious, vile and soulless attack.”…

We write to you, senators, because you know — as all Americans must know — that you hold the future of the Kavanaugh nomination in your hands. It’s clear most senators have already made their choices in this matter following the customary lines of Washington’s tribal politics. Senator Flake, in particular, demonstrated that while he may be inclined toward consenting on the nominee, he can recognize that something seriously wrong is happening right now on Capitol Hill. His choice to force a further FBI inquiry into Mr. Kavanaugh’s background was at least a step toward making things right. But it’s proving to be an inadequate one.

One week was always a tough deadline to expect the FBI to do a meaningful investigation but what’s come out so far — of its limited scope and rigor (interviewing as few as four individuals, according to some accounts) — suggest the effort is more a fig leaf than an attempt to gain insight. Meanwhile, there’s the matter of Mr. Kavanaugh’s own testimony before the committee, his sharply partisan tone that seemed inappropriate to a first-year District Court judge let alone a Supreme Court justice. Senator Flake recently admitted he was troubled by the “tone” of Mr. Kavanaugh’s remarks. How often does a nominee talk about “revenge for the Clintons” or other perceived partisan slights as Mr. Kavanaugh did last week? And then there’s the matter of how often the nominee evaded questions about, or outright misrepresented, his heavy drinking to the Senate committee and the prospect that his memory of events in 1982 is hazy at best.

Don’t let this train leave the station, senators, not if you care about decency, about the integrity of the court, about what this episode is telling victims of sexual abuse. …


Oct. 1

The Toronto Star on the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government have done as well as anyone could reasonably expect in negotiating a new economic deal with the United States and Mexico.

Canada (and Mexico as well) were always going to be playing defense in these talks, given the overwhelming size of the U.S. economy and the willingness of the Trump administration to use every kind of threat and bully tactic.

In the end, for Canada, it came down to making a few acceptable concessions in order to keep the most important aspects of NAFTA in place and win guarantees in key areas, including autos and culture.

Most important, it avoids the truly troubling prospect of Canada being left on the sidelines as Washington and Mexico City made a deal of their own.

We’ve dodged that bullet and, make no mistake, it was a big one. It would have been an enormous political blow to the Trudeau government and — much more important — a real danger to a Canadian economy that for better or worse has been shaped for decades around easy access to the world’s biggest and most dynamic market.

That being said, the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, falls short of the “win-win-win” deal that was promoted during the 13 months of trade talks.

For one thing, it’s notable that the words “free trade” appear nowhere in the new name. The very phrase has become synonymous with “lost jobs” in rust belt states that saw factory jobs migrate to Mexico under NAFTA. This is frankly about managed trade and political branding. Count that as a big win for Trump.

Canada did make a real concession in opening our dairy industry a bit more to U.S. producers. But the howls from the industry are way out of proportion to the real impact: it still amounts to giving the Americans access to only 3.6 per cent of the Canadian market.

Weigh that against ending the threat of big tariffs against Canadian-made cars exported to the United States, and a ceiling on Canadian auto exports that is well above what Canada currently sends south of the border. That’s a huge win for Canadian industry, and in particular for Ontario. No wonder the auto workers’ union is thrilled.

Canada also bent on extending patent protections for pharmaceuticals, raising the prospect of higher drug prices. And most disappointingly, U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum stay in place. They should have been removed as part of the deal.

Still, there are other gains for Canada in this accord. For one thing, Canadian workers stand to benefit from a major concession by Mexico, increasing guarantees for higher-wage workers in the auto industry. This was aimed at helping U.S. workers, but Canadians will win as well.

The threatened “sunset clause” won’t be in the new USMCA, thanks also to Mexico’s negotiators. Canada will keep important exemptions for cultural industries. And, key to reaching the deal, the new accord will include dispute settlement mechanisms that Canada had insisted on and the Americans wanted to dump. That was a red line that Canada had to maintain, and it did.

For those inclined to criticize the new deal from the left, including the federal NDP, it should be noted that it drops a couple of NAFTA provisions they found particularly objectionable.

Chapter 11, which allowed corporations to sue governments, is no more. And the so-called “proportionality rule,” which required Canada to maintain its proportion of energy exports to the U.S., is also gone. That will make it easier to diversify Canada’s markets.

Realistically, Canada was never going to make big gains in these negotiations and simply walking away was a fantasy.

The real question is whether another government could have done significantly better under the circumstances. At this point, the answer to that must be no.


Oct. 2

The New York Times on its reporting that President Donald Trump received millions of dollars from his father over decades:

“I built what I built myself.”

This boast has long been at the core of the mythology of Donald Trump, Self-Made Billionaire. As the oft-told story goes, young Mr. Trump accepted a modest $1 million loan from his father, Fred, a moderately successful real estate developer from Queens, and — through smarts, hard work and sheer force of will — parlayed that loan into a multibillion-dollar global empire.

It’s a classic American tale of ambition and self-determination. Not Horatio Alger, exactly, but appealing, and impressive, nonetheless.

Except that, like so much of what Mr. Trump has been selling the American public in recent years, this origin story was a sham — a version of reality so elaborately embellished that it qualifies as fan fiction more than biography. Also, as we’ve come to expect from Mr. Trump, the creation of this myth involved a big dose of ethically sketchy, possibly even illegal activity.

As an in-depth investigation by The Times has revealed, Mr. Trump is only self-made if you don’t count the massive financial rewards he received from his father’s business beginning as a toddler. (By age 3, little Donald was reportedly pulling in an annual income of what today would be $200,000 a year.) These benefits included not only the usual perks of hailing from a rich, well-connected family — the connections, the access to credit, the built-in safety net. For the Trumps, it also involved direct cash gifts and tens of millions in “loans” that never charged interest or had to be repaid. Fred Trump even purchased several properties and business ventures, putting ownership either fully or partly in the names of his children, who reaped the profits.

As Donald Trump emerged as the favorite son, Fred made special deals and arrangements to increase Donald’s fortunes in particular. The Times found that, before Donald had turned 30, he had received close to $9 million from his father. Over the longer haul, he received upward of what, in today’s dollars, would be $413 million.

Along the way, it seems that certain liberties were taken with tax laws. The Times found that concocting elaborate schemes to avoid paying taxes on their father’s estate, including greatly understating the value of the family business, became an important pastime for Fred’s children, with Donald taking an active role in the effort. According to tax experts, the activities in question show a pattern of deception, a deliberate muddying of the financial waters. Asked for comment on The Times’s findings, a lawyer for the president provided a written statement denying any wrongdoing and asserting that, in fact, Mr. Trump had little to do with the dizzying transactions involving his family’s wealth.

Everyone can understand the impulse to polish one’s background in order to make a good impression. For Mr. Trump, whose entire life has been about branding and selling a certain type of gaudy glamour, this image-polishing has been all the more vital to his success. And he has pursued it with a shameless, at times giddy, abandon.

With this glimpse into the inner workings of the Trump family finances, some of the grimier, ethically suspect aspects of Mr. Trump’s mythmaking begin to emerge — and with them, many questions about all that we still do not know about the man and his business empire. Seeing as how that empire and his role in building it are so central to who Mr. Trump claims to be — the defining feature of his heroic narrative — the American public has a right to some answers. For starters, now would be an excellent time for Mr. Trump to hand over those tax returns on which he has thus far kept a death grip.

In his 1987 memoir “The Art of the Deal,” Mr. Trump famously offered his take on the origins of his success: “I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.”

But increasingly, Mr. Trump’s willingness to bend the truth — and the rules — in the service of his myth looks less like innocent exaggeration than malicious deception, with a dollop of corruption tossed in for good measure. It’s not the golden, glittering success story he has been peddling. It’s shaping up to be something far darker.


Oct. 1

Chicago Sun-Times on the U.S. Justice Department suing California over its net neutrality laws:

Trying to protect an open internet state by state, rather than by federal law, is a daunting and unwieldy goal.

Unfortunately, it’s also entirely necessary, given that the Trump administration and Congress are more than happy to let internet providers restrict what we — the American people — can see and access online.

Just on Sunday, the U.S, Justice Department sued to stop California from requiring “net neutrality,” the concept of protecting full and equal access to the internet. It’s a sad day — and a threat to our democracy — when the federal government goes to bat for those who would squelch the free flow of information.

Why is this a big worry? President Donald Trump and his administration have been all about attacking independent news sources and trying to reshape the media into a lapdog that supports all the president’s policies. As much as the internet has been abused by bogus web and social media sites, an independent internet is an important part of maintaining an informed citizenry.

Getting rid of net neutrality also means you might pay more for such things as streaming movies from particular sites. You might also suddenly find you can’t go into competition with an established web-based company with your own web-based start-up because you don’t have the deep pockets to pay for fast internet speeds.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission pulled back Obama-era rules to protect internet access. Several states, including Washington, Oregon and Vermont, have enacted some protections in response. But a bill California Gov. Jerry Brown signed on Sunday gives that state the nation’s toughest laws protecting internet freedom.

Average Americans have come to assume that the internet is a level playing field where they can go wherever they want. But the big internet service providers see an opportunity to make huge profits by speeding up connection speeds for companies willing to pay a premium while slowing down speeds for those who don’t pay.

That would put corporate entities in the position of deciding who gets information at what speed. Many valued voices on the internet could be throttled out of existence.

… Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and 22 other state attorneys general earlier this year filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn to FCC decision. Arguments in the lawsuit have been scheduled for February.

At the time of the filing, Madigan said the repeal of net neutrality would allow internet service providers to block or slow access to some content and charge consumers to access certain sites.

Telecommunication companies say they dread the thought of having to contend with a patchwork of internet access laws from state to state. No doubt. But the solution is not the wholesale dispensing with net neutrality. Rather, the companies should be leading the charge for a free and open internet.

Net neutrality is one of many issues in which states suddenly find themselves having to take an activist stance on national policies so as to protect their residents. States also are stepping up on immigration, LGBTQ and environmental issues. They have been forced to do so by an administration and Congress that are failing to meet the needs and heed the wishes of average Americans.


Oct. 2

Los Angeles Times on the Trump administration’s immigration policies:

Stoking fears of changing demographics and hinting at the decline of white America, the Trump administration has adopted a severe, xenophobic immigration policy. After trying to bar Muslims from the country, after insulting Mexicans, after cutting back the number of refugees admitted, after separating children from their parents, the latest outrage is that the government has moved nearly 2,000 of the estimated 13,000 “unaccompanied minors” it has in custody to a barren tent city in the remote border town of Turnillo, about 30 miles southeast of El Paso.

According to the New York Times, the children were awakened, put onto buses with snacks and backpacks and shipped off to the internment camp in the dead of night, supposedly because they would be less likely to try to escape in the dark. At their new “emergency shelter,” they will be without access to schooling or to lawyers.

It cannot possibly be morally permissible to cram 2,000 children into a tent city in West Texas while they await hearings on whether they should be allowed to stay in the country. Or to target for arrest family and friends who are willing to take in some of the children. Or, for that matter, to arrest families seeking asylum, jailing the parents on misdemeanor illegal border-crossing charges and removing their children from them.

Yet this is where we are as a country. Sure, many people have protested the administration’s draconian steps, and immigration advocates have fought some of the moves in court. But Trump just bulls ahead with little meaningful pushback from Congress, which has for far too long shirked its responsibility to fix the unworkable immigration system. And the prognosis for a break in the current stasis is bad so long as an anti-immigration hard-liner runs the White House, and Congress remains in the control of right-wing Republicans who persistently work against the nation’s best interests.

The U.S. should have an immigration system that balances its economic needs with its right to control its border and with reasonable ideas of fairness, justice and generosity. We should reopen our arms to refugees who deserve resettlement, after proper vetting, instead of slamming the border gates shut. We need to continue to focus, in part, on reunifying families. We should offer a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants leading productive, lawful lives, beginning with the so-called Dreamers, people who live here illegally after being brought here as children — decisions they had little to do with. It’s unfair and self-defeating for the government to deport them — especially after they have been raised as Americans and educated by American taxpayers — to nations where they are strangers. The U.S. needs enforcement at the border to ensure an orderly immigration process in which rational decisions are made about who may come in and out — but Americans also need to acknowledge that our economic strength as a nation is based on immigration.


Oct. 1

Houston Chronicle on James Allison of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center winning the Nobel Prize in medicine:

Jim Allison lost his mother, a brother, two uncles and a cousin to cancer, but he says he never set out to find a cure for the disease. Like many great scientists, he was driven by “the selfish desire to be the first person on the planet to know something,” as he explained to Houston Chronicle medical writer Todd Ackerman.

In the 1990s, Allison’s development of an antibody that frees the body’s immune system to attack tumors revived the moribund field of immunotherapy, now taking its place alongside surgery, chemotherapy and radiation as a key weapon in treating cancer.

Allison, the MD Anderson Cancer Center’s director of immunology, was honored on Monday with the Nobel Prize in Medicine. He shared the award with Tasuku Honjo of Kyoto University in Japan, who conducted similar research.

The Nobel announcement, which follows the prestigious Lasker Award and other recognition showered on Allison’s work, is a proud moment for the harmonica-playing scientist, for MD Anderson and for Houston. And it’s a reminder that even amid the turmoil and drama that often roils major medical institutions, the men and women toiling behind the scenes in labs deserve our support — including the support of public funding — even when the practical benefits of their work aren’t immediately apparent.

“Everyone thought I was crazy,” Allison says, when his research with mice challenged conventional wisdom regarding the function of a newly identified protein. While other scientists believed the protein stimulated the immune system, Allison’s work indicated it had the opposite effect — it was a brake, not a gas pedal.

Even as Allison’s work advanced — he figured out how to unlock the brake — it wasn’t clear whether or when it would lead to effective treatments. Twenty years later, immunotherapy drugs are extending the lives of patients with lung, breast and other deadly cancers.

The accolades for Allison’s work over the past few years have coincided with controversy and turmoil in the institution that employs him. After five years as MD Anderson’s president, Dr. Ron DePinho resigned in March 2017 amid a revolt by faculty members who said they felt pressure to produce more revenue through higher patient loads. The world-renowned cancer center started in 2017 with an operating deficit of nearly $170 million. It laid off hundreds of employees.

Leadership issues and financial problems ebb and flow, but the work of scientists like Jim Allison will endure. Its legacy will be the lengthened and improved lives of countless cancer patients, and the inspiration that trickles down to future generations of researchers driven, like Allison, by a pure thirst for knowledge.


Maj. Gen. Igor Kirillov, the head of the Russian military’s radiation, biological and chemical protection troops speaks during a briefing in the Russian Defense Ministry’s headquarters in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. Russia’s Defense Ministry says the United States appears to be running a clandestine biological weapons lab in the country of Georgia, allegedly flouting international rules and posing a direct security threat to Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, via AP) Gen. Igor Kirillov, the head of the Russian military’s radiation, biological and chemical protection troops speaks during a briefing in the Russian Defense Ministry’s headquarters in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. Russia’s Defense Ministry says the United States appears to be running a clandestine biological weapons lab in the country of Georgia, allegedly flouting international rules and posing a direct security threat to Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, via AP)

The building of a U.S. laboratory in Georgia is shown in a picture released by the Russian Defense Ministry during a briefing in the Russian Defense Ministry’s headquarters in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. Russia’s Defense Ministry says the United States appears to be running a clandestine biological weapons lab in the country of Georgia, allegedly flouting international rules and posing a direct security threat to Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, via AP) building of a U.S. laboratory in Georgia is shown in a picture released by the Russian Defense Ministry during a briefing in the Russian Defense Ministry’s headquarters in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. Russia’s Defense Ministry says the United States appears to be running a clandestine biological weapons lab in the country of Georgia, allegedly flouting international rules and posing a direct security threat to Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, via AP)

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