U.S’s Biggest Christian Charity Channeled $56.1 Million to Hate Groups.

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U.S’s Biggest Christian Charity Channeled $56.1 Million to Hate Groups.

The U.S eighth-largest nonprofit donated $56.1 million to a series of organizations identified as hate groups from 2015 to 2017, according to a report from Sludge.

National Christian Foundation, which identifies itself as the largest Christian grant maker and one of the largest donor-advised funds in the nation, has served as a vehicle for individuals trying to anonymously send money.

Donor-advised funds allow individuals sending the tax deductible contributions to remain anonymous from the IRS and instruct where they want the payments to be sent. For those donating via NCF, this meant sending money to 23 organizations that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled hate groups. Most of the hate organizations that received money from the NCF opposed LGBT rights. The report also found that the NCF donated to anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant organizations.

Organizations receiving the most funds from NCF included the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has advocated for sterilizing transgender individuals, and the Family Research Council, which has advocated conversion therapy. Members of the Family Research Council including Tony Perkins, the organization’s president, have sought to link pedophilia and homosexuality.

The NCF’s website says it has “accepted over $12 billion in contributions and made over $10 billion in giver-recommended grants to more than 55,000 charities.”

GettyImages-632843690
Anti-abortion advocates participate in a “die-in” demonstration on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House on January 27, 2017. Many of the organizations that received money from the National Christian Foundation (NCF) opposed issues like gay marriage and abortion. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“NCF is a national network of givers who are working to further the generosity movement in the areas they care about the most. Like other donor-advised fund sponsors, NCF helps thousands of generous people give to the charitable causes they care about, and we help them do so in the most efficient and effective manner possible,” Steve Chapman, a spokesperson for NCF told Newsweek when asked about the Sludge report. “In 2018, we sent $1.7 billion in grants to more than 26,000 charities who are bringing clean water to the thirsty, homes to the homeless, food to the hungry, healing to the hurting, and much more. We are solely focused on helping people give generously and wisely to their favorite charities.”

Aaron Scherb, the legislative director of watchdog organization Common Cause, noted that conservative religious organizations have previously donated large amounts to groups that further their political interests.

“The Religious Right and certain conservative religious groups have significant resources at their disposable. As we detailed in a 2015 report, they often flex their political muscle to further enhance their ability to spend big money in politics to drown out the voices of dissenting views,” he told Newsweek.

“It’s interesting to me that big donors have a mechanism to give money to causes that would be unpopular, like going after gay rights…. It’s not always so much about the total amount as it is about the mechanisms for funneling money into politics,” Lisa Gilbert, the vice president of legislative affairs at consumer advocacy group Public Citizen told Newsweek. “This is like a shell-game funnel of corporate money. So it might be an organization that has an innocent name, that sounds like a good, upstanding, innocent group” but is being backed by wealthy donors, she added.

She emphasized that the dollar amounts weren’t necessarily the most important topic illuminated by the Sludge story. Instead she focused on the source of money influencing public and political messaging.

“It’s not always about the aggregate amount. It’s not always about that for influence peddling.”

Source: http://bit.ly/2MN8A4y

Amazon removes books promoting autism cures and vaccine misinformation.

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Amazon is removing from its online marketplace “autism cure” books that unscientifically claim children can be cured of autism with pseudoscientific methods such as ingesting and bathing in a potentially toxic form of bleach and taking medication meant to treat arsenic and lead poisoning.

Amazon confirmed Tuesday that the books “Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism” and “Fight Autism and Win” are no longer available, but declined to answer specific questions about why it had removed them or whether they were part of a larger cleanup effort, citing a policy of not commenting on individual accounts.

The move by Amazon comes on the heels of a report in Wired published Monday that criticized the retail giant for offering medically dubious books and dangerous methods for reversing autism spectrum disorder. For years, news organizations have pointed out Amazon’s practice of hosting books that promote vaccine and other health-related misinformation, but the pressure has intensified in recent weeks.

Online platforms have been reacting to increased scrutiny from lawmakers and public health advocates over the health misinformation hosted on their websites. Last week, Facebook announced it would “downrank” vaccine misinformation shared on its platform and reject advertising that spread “vaccine hoaxes.” Pinterest has opted to block all vaccine-related search results, and YouTube disabled advertising on anti-vaccination videos last month. In February, Amazon pulled anti-vaccination documentaries from its Prime Video service.

Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in young children and for which there is no cure. Children with autism spectrum disorder display a broad range of characteristics, from difficulty interacting with peers or forming relationships to complete inability to function in school or work environments.

As of Monday, “Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism” sold for $28 and had 631 customer reviews and an average rating of 3.5 stars. The book extolled the healing power of chlorine dioxide, a form of bleach that adherents call the “Miracle Mineral Solution.” The book’s author Kerri Rivera, who lives in Mexico, claims 191 children have been cured of autism with a treatment of the chemical that the Food and Drug Administration warned can cause “severe nausea, vomiting and life-threatening low blood pressure from dehydration.”

The other removed title, “Fight Autism and Win” advises parents on chelation — an unproven treatment for autism that involves medicating a child with an antidote for mercury poisoning. The cure springs from the debunked theory that autism is caused by mercury exposure in childhood vaccines. Chelation therapy can cause serious side effects, including potentially deadly kidney damage, according to the Mayo Clinic. At the time of its removal, “Fight Autism and Win” sold for $25 and had a 4.8 star rating and 54 customer reviews.

The books’ removal was first shared Tuesday by anti-vaccine activist Larry Cook in a newsletter to followers. Cook’s Facebook advertisements — targeting pregnant women in states with measles outbreaks — were recently banned by as part of the platform’s crackdown on misinformation.

Cook attached an image that he says was sent by Amazon, explaining why the company had removed the title from his storefront.

“During our review process, we found that the subject matter of your book is in violation of our content guidelines,” the screenshot posted by Cook stated. “As a result we cannot offer this book for sale.”

Cook also profits from his Amazon storefront from which he promotes anti-vaccination content and earns commission from books bought on his recommendation.

“This title by Kerri Rivera has been on Amazon for SIX YEARS, and TODAY Amazon pulled it,” Cook continued in his newsletter. “Friends, seriously, stock up on books and DVDs right now, while you can!”

Source: https://nbcnews.to/2F2k6Vu

Marijuana may boost, rather than dull, the elderly brain.

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Picture the stereotypical pot smoker: young, dazed and confused. Marijuana has long been known for its psychoactive effects, which can include cognitive impairment. But new research published in June in Nature Medicine suggests the drug might affect older users very differently than young ones—at least in mice. Instead of impairing learning and memory, as it does in young people, the drug appears to reverse age-related declines in the cognitive performance of elderly mice.

Researchers led by Andreas Zimmer of the University of Bonn in Germany gave low doses of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, marijuana’s main active ingredient, to young, mature and aged mice. As expected, young mice treated with THC performed slightly worse on behavioral tests of memory and learning. For example, after receiving THC, young mice took longer to learn where a safe platform was hidden in a water maze, and they had a harder time recognizing another mouse to which they had previously been exposed. Without the drug, mature and aged mice performed worse on the tests than young ones did. But after the elderly animals were given THC, their performances improved to the point that they resembled those of young, untreated mice. “The effects were very robust, very profound,” Zimmer says.

Other experts praised the study but cautioned against extrapolating the findings to humans. “This well-designed set of experiments shows that chronic THC pretreatment appears to restore a significant level of diminished cognitive performance in older mice, while corroborating the opposite effect among young mice,” wrote Susan Weiss, director of the Division of Extramural Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who was not involved in the study, in an e-mail. Nevertheless, she added, “while it would be tempting to presume the relevance of these findings [extends] to aging humans … further research will be critically needed.”

When the researchers examined the brains of the treated elderly mice for an explanation, they noticed that neurons in the hippocampus—a brain area critical for learning and memory—had sprouted more synaptic spines, the points of contact for communication between neurons. Even more striking, the gene-expression pattern in the hippocampi of THC-treated aged mice was radically different from that of untreated elderly mice. “That is something we absolutely did not expect: the old animals [that received] THC looked most similar to the young untreated control mice,” Zimmer says.

The findings raise the intriguing possibility that THC and other “cannabinoids” might act as antiaging molecules in the brain. Cannabinoids include dozens of biologically active compounds found in the Cannabis sativa plant. THC, the most highly studied type, is largely responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive effects. The plant compounds mimic our brain’s own marijuanalike molecules, called endogenous cannabinoids, which activate specific receptors in the brain capable of modulating neural activity. “We know the endogenous cannabinoid system is very dynamic; it goes through changes over the life span,” says Ryan McLaughlin, a researcher who studies cannabis and stress at Washington State University and was not involved in the current work. Research has shown that the cannabinoid system develops gradually during childhood, “and then it blows up in adolescence—you see increased activity of its enzymes and receptors,” McLaughlin says. “Then as we age, it’s on a steady decline.”

That decline in the endogenous cannabinoid system with age fits with previous work by Zimmer and others showing that cannabinoid-associated molecules become more scant in the brains of aged animals. “The idea is that as animals grow old, similar to in humans, the activity of the endogenous cannabinoid system goes down—and that coincides with signs of aging in the brain,” Zimmer says. “So we thought, ‘What if we stimulate the system by supplying [externally produced] cannabinoids?’ ”

That idea does not seem so outlandish, considering the role of cannabinoids in maintaining the body’s natural balance, says Mark Ware, a clinical researcher at McGill University, who was not part of the study. “To anyone who studies the endocannabinoid system, the findings are not necessarily surprising, because the system has homeostatic properties everywhere we look,” meaning its effects may vary depending on the situation. For example, a little marijuana may alleviate anxiety, but too much can bring on paranoid delusions. Likewise, cannabis can spark an appetite in cancer patients but in other people may produce nausea. Thus, the detrimental effects seen in young brains, in which cannabinoids are already plentiful, may turn out to be beneficial in older brains that have a dearth of them.

These chemicals also work to maintain order at the cellular level, McLaughlin says. “We know the endogenous cannabinoid system’s primary function is to try to preserve homeostasis within a given brain circuit. It works like an internal regulator; when there’s too much [neuronal] activity, cannabinoids suppress activity to prevent neurotoxicity.” Restoring that protection might help safeguard the brain against cellular stress that contributes to aging. “A critical takeaway of this study is that they used low doses,” Ware says, considering that different doses could have entirely different effects. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to translate the dose they used in mice to a human equivalent, “but it’s clear we’re not talking about vast amounts. We don’t know what would happen with higher doses.”

Scientists do not know exactly how marijuana affects older adults, in part because they have been focused squarely on younger people, who are thought to be at greatest risk. “Because of the public health concern, research has had a very strong focus on marijuana’s effects in adolescence,” Ware says. But although young people make up the largest group of cannabis users, their rate of use has remained relatively stable over the past decade even as the drug has become increasingly available. Meanwhile use among seniors has skyrocketed as the drug’s stigma has faded. A March study showed that in people aged 50 to 64, marijuana use increased nearly 60 percent between 2006 and 2013. And among adults older than 65, the drug’s use jumped by 250 percent.

The researchers do not suggest seniors should rush out and start using marijuana. “I don’t want to encourage anyone to use cannabis in any form based on this study,” Zimmer says.

Older adults looking to medical cannabis to relieve chronic pain and other ailments are concerned about its side effects, Ware says: “They want to know, Does this cause damage to my brain? Will it impair my memory? If these data hold up in humans, it may suggest that [THC] isn’t likely to have a negative impact if you’re using the right dose. Now the challenge is thrown down to clinical researchers to study that in people.”

Zimmer and his colleagues plan to do just that. They have secured funding from the German government, and after clearing regulatory hurdles, they will begin testing the effects of THC in elderly adults with mild cognitive impairments.

Source: http://bit.ly/2SvBNV7

Microsoft tried a 4-day workweek, and productivity jumped by 40%

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Microsoft tried a 4-day workweek, and productivity jumped by 40%

An experiment that involved reducing the workweek by one day led to a 40% boost in productivity in a Microsoft subsidiary in Japan, the technology giant announced last week.

The trial was part of Microsoft’s “Work-Life Choice Challenge,” a summer project that examined work-life balance and aimed to help boost creativity and productivity by giving employees more flexible working hours.

Microsoft Japan closed its offices every Friday in August and found that labor productivity increased by 39.9% compared with August 2018, the company said. Full-time employees were given paid leave during the closures.

The company said it also reduced the time spent in meetings by implementing a 30-minute limit and encouraging remote communication.

Microsoft isn’t the first to highlight the productivity benefits of a four-day workweek. Andrew Barnes, the founder of a New Zealand estate-planning firm, Perpetual Garden, said he conducted a similar experiment and found that it benefited both employees and the company, according to CNBC. It has adopted the four-day workweek permanently.

It’s not just the employees who benefited from Microsoft’s four-day-workweek experiment — Microsoft found that it helped preserve electricity and office resources as well. The number of pages printed decreased by 58.7%, while electricity consumption was down by 23.1% compared with August 2018, the company said.

Source: http://bit.ly/2Mxyd9p

Male circumcision needs to be seen as barbaric and unnecessary as female genital mutilation.

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Male circumcision needs to be seen as barbaric and unnecessary as female genital mutilation.

The debate over male ritual circumcision – the surgical removal of the foreskin from the penis of a baby boy for religious and cultural reasons – is becoming more prominent each year. A BBC documentary broadcast this week provides further evidence that the tide is beginning to turn on the historic carte blanche afforded to infant circumcision.

The non-therapeutic alteration of children’s genitals is typically discussed in two separate ethical discourses: one for girls, in which such alteration is referred to as “female genital mutilation” (or FGM), and one for boys, in which it is usually referred to as “male circumcision”. The former is illegal in the UK and typically regarded as barbaric; the latter, benign or even “beneficial”.

But the similarities between the two practices are glaring. Both procedures vary in severity. Both involve painful and usually permanent surgery on a non-consenting child. Both are medically unnecessary. And both are risky.

Just last week reports emerged of a one-month-old baby having to have his penis amputated in Egypt after it turned gangrenous following a circumcision. Earlier this year, two baby boys died in Italy after their genitals were cut for religious reasons. Circumcisions in the UK have also resulted in serious injury and deaths.

But even when carried out “successfully”, circumcisions involve the cutting away of erogenous tissue leading to a loss of penile sensitivity, inhibiting sexual pleasure. This alone should justify a shift in the way we think about this issue.

It can come with psychological problems, too. This year, a mother told her devastating story of how her 23-year-old son killed himself following the trauma he experienced following circumcision – a practice he felt should be known as “male genital mutilation”. Alex Hardy’s suicide prompted other men to speak out about their own experiences of circumcision.

The psychological effects are likely to be greatly under-reported. People who have experienced sexual harm are often reluctant to reveal it as societal dismissal or stigmatisation may compound the harm.

Defenders of male circumcision sometimes try to justify the practice by citing “health benefits”. Throughout history, male circumcision has been advocated as a pseudo-medical cure for a variety of ailments ranging from TB to epilepsy to warts to excessive masturbation.

But no national medical, paediatric, surgical or urological society in the world recommends routine circumcision of boys as a health intervention. In truth, circumcision is a solution in search of a problem. As the medical ethicist Brian Earp has pointed out, “A large proportion of the current medical literature purporting to show health benefits for male circumcision has been generated by doctors who were themselves circumcised at birth – often for religious reasons – and who have cultural, financial, or other interests in seeing the practice preserved.”

FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls. Non-therapeutic male circumcision is a violation of the rights of boys. The gendered double standard in the way the law deals with them needs to be addressed.

Our response to both forms of cutting should be to apply the principle of genital autonomy and bodily integrity to all children, irrespective of their sex. Circumcision before the age of consent deprives a boy of a body part that he would otherwise likely appreciate. Every child should enjoy the freedom to grow up with an intact body and to make their own choices about permanent bodily modifications. If they consent to their own non-therapeutic circumcision when they are old enough to do so, then fine. But let’s at least give them that choice.

Pro-cutting groups claim this is an issue of religious freedom. But too often, debates around religious freedom are framed solely by those who only really care about their own. Those narrowly focused on maximising their own freedoms can sometimes fail to recognise and consider how their right to manifest their beliefs tramples on the rights of others. The demand for religious freedom to be respected is often little more than a demand for the state to turn a blind eye to the violation of other’s rights and freedoms when done in the name of religion.

But as a society we have a duty to balance competing freedoms and consider the rights of the child. Why should a parent’s religious freedom trump a child’s right to religious freedom and bodily integrity?

Whilst you have the absolute right to your beliefs, you don’t necessarily have the right to impose those beliefs on others – and you certainly shouldn’t assume to have the right to impose them with a pair of scissors or a sharp knife on a non-consenting child.

Source: http://bit.ly/2QatXxs

Who Is Funding The Climate Denial Movement?

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Who Is Funding The Climate Denial Movement?

The overwhelming majority of climate scientists, international governmental bodies, relevant research institutes and scientific societies are in unison in saying that climate change is real, that it’s a problem, and that we should probably do something about it now, not later. And yet, for some reason, the idea persists in some peoples’ minds that climate change is up for debate, or that climate change is no big deal.

Actually, it’s not “for some reason” that people are confused. There’s a very obvious reason. There is a very well-funded, well-orchestrated climate change-denial movement, one funded by powerful people with very deep pockets. In a new and incredibly thorough study, Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle took a deep dive into the financial structure of the climate deniers, to see who is holding the purse strings.

According to Brulle’s research, the 91 think tanks and advocacy organizations and trade associations that make up the American climate denial industry pull down just shy of a billion dollars each year, money used to lobby or sway public opinion on climate change and other issues. (The grand total also includes funds used to support initiatives unrelated to climate change denial, as explained in a quote Brulle gave to The Guardian: “Since the majority of the organizations are multiple focus organizations, not all of this income was devoted to climate change activities.”)

“The anti-climate effort has been largely underwritten by conservative billionaires,” says the Guardian, “often working through secretive funding networks. They have displaced corporations as the prime supporters of 91 think tanks, advocacy groups and industry associations which have worked to block action on climate change.”

“This is how wealthy individuals or corporations translate their economic power into political and cultural power,” he said. “They have their profits and they hire people to write books that say climate change is not real. They hire people to go on TV and say climate change is not real. It ends up that people without economic power don’t have the same size voice as the people who have economic power, and so it ends up distorting democracy.

Last year, PBS talked to Brulle about his investigation into the climate change countermovement. The project, says Brulle, is the first part of three: in the future he’ll turn a similar eye to the climate movement and to the environmental movement. But for now, the focus is on the deniers.

Now, what you can see in the movement itself is that it has two real roots. One is in the conservative movement itself, in that you see a lot of conservative foundations that had been funding the growth of the conservative movement all along now appear as funding the climate countermovement. You also can see dedicated industry foundations that come in to start funding the climate countermovement.So it’s kind of a combination of both industry and conservative philanthropies that are funding this process, and what they did was they borrowed a great deal of the strategy and tactics that came out of the tobacco industry’s efforts to prevent action on the health impacts of smoking.

What you see is the tactics that this movement uses were developed and tested in the tobacco industry first, and now they’re being applied to the climate change movement, and in fact, some of the same people and some of the same organizations that were involved in the tobacco issue are also involved in climate change.

Here’s where the money is coming from:

Click to legibilize. Funding breakdown of a subset of the climate change countermovement players in Brulle’s analysis. Photo: Brulle

The climate denial movement is a powerful political force, says Brulle. They’ve got to be, too, to outweigh in the public’s mind the opinions of pretty much every relevant scientist. Brulle:

With delay and obfuscation as their goals, the U.S. CCCM has been quite successful in recent decades. However, the key actors in this cultural and political conflict are not just the “experts” who appear in the media spotlight. The roots of climate-change denial go deeper, because individuals’ efforts have been bankrolled and directed by organizations that receive sustained support from foundations and funders known for their overall commitments to conservative causes. Thus to fully understand the opposition to climate change legislation, we need to focus on the institutionalized efforts that have built and maintain this organized campaign. Just as in a theatrical show, there are stars in the spotlight. In the drama of climate change, these are often prominent contrarian scientists or conservative politicians, such as Senator James Inhofe. However, they are only the most visible and transparent parts of a larger production. Supporting this effort are directors, script writers, and, most importantly, a series of producers, in the form of conservative foundations. Clarifying the institutional dynamics of the CCCM can aid our understanding of how anthropogenic climate change has been turned into a controversy rather than a scientific fact in the U.S.

Source: http://bit.ly/2SlvPX1

U.S economy loses billions because foreign students aren’t enrolling.

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U.S economy loses billions because foreign students aren’t enrolling.

The continued decline in international student enrollment since the fall of 2016 has cost the US economy $11.8 billion and more than 65,000 jobs, according to estimates from NAFSA: Association of International Educators, an international association of professional educators.
“There’s many variables, but largely it’s been the policies and rhetoric from the current administration that’s really driven the numbers to move in that direction,” said Rachel Banks, director of public policy at NAFSA.
There’s a perception among international students that getting a visa for the United States is more difficult, and they increasingly feel unsafe in America, NAFSA survey data show.
“It’s not only the anti-immigrant rhetoric being expressed by this administration, there’s also increasing concern with regard to gun violence in this country,” said Banks. “There’s been a number of shootings and that gets reported worldwide, and parents certainly take all of this into account when they are thinking about where they want to send their children to study.”
New international student enrollments declined by 0.9% during the 2018-2019 academic year, following a 6.6% decline in new enrollments in the year prior, according to the most recent US Department of State Open Doors report. This marks the first time the United States has seen a three-year decline.
The Trump Administration has a different explanation for the lower enrollments. International students are discouraged by the high cost of US schools, said Caroline Casagrande, deputy assistant secretary for academic programs at the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural affairs. The Trump administration has made “more efforts than ever in outreach to international students,” and “to mitigate against the cost of education in the US,” Casagrande said in a call with reporters last week.

The cost of declining enrollment

The loss of international students is hurting many universities financially. At California State University Northridge, the decrease in international students between 2016 to 2019 has resulted in a 26% revenue loss of about $6.5 million, the university said.
For every seven international students, three US jobs are created or supported by spending in sectors including higher education, accommodations, dining, retail, and transportation, according to NAFSA.
The more than one million international students currently enrolled at US colleges and universities contributed nearly $41 billion to the US economy, and supported 458,290 jobs during the 2018-2019 academic year, a new NAFSA report finds.
International students are significant to school budgets, as many colleges and universities collect higher tuition from them. At Peninsula College in Washington State, international students are charged about $10,000 a year in tuition, while in-state students pay about $5,000.
Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Washington, has seen a 25% drop in international student enrollment over the last two years, and the school had to cut 13 positions and suspend programs due to a $800,000 deficit that was due mostly to shrinking enrollment.
“From our perspective, it’s a troubling trend on a lot of different levels that we would like to see turn around,” said Peninsula College President Luke Robins. “While the budget is concerning, a bigger thing for us is that we really value what international students bring to our college culture and organization.”
Robins said that several factors contributed to the decline, including the US dollar being at nearly historic highs compared to other currencies. This may have encouraged international students to choose other countries over the United States, he said, as it poses a better value proposition for them.
But the most significant factor is politics, said Jack Huls, vice president for student services at Peninsula College. In countries where the school traditionally had strong international enrollment, like China, it’s become more difficult for students to get visas.
“There’s most certainly politics involved there,” Huls said. “And that’s political issues domestically, as well as senior politics between the US and China.”
Worldwide competition for international students is also heating up, NAFSA’s Banks said. While the growth rate of students choosing to study in the United States declines, competitor countries are experiencing double-digit growth.
“Countries like Canada, Australia, and China have developed proactive recruiting strategies and are actively recruiting students, while we seemingly are not wanting to attract students,” Banks said.

 

Source: https://cnn.it/2Q6JYo1