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TBR News December 21, 2017

Dec 21 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., December 21, 2017:” A system, we can call it DARM as an acronym for its real name, has been developed that will short-circuit surveillance drones and cause them to plummet to earth.

Imagine a large drone suddenly crashing into that Christmas tree lot across from the Russian Embassy out on Wisconsin in DC?

Or another drone tipping upside down and smacking into a crowded city bus in Chicago?

Random, of course.

Or another out-of-control drone hitting a major high tension line on its way to smashing into the ground and killing two squirrels and some beetles.

Or yet another slamming into the ornate roof of St. Stephan in Vienna during a Christmas service.

Who developed this system?

Who is going to use it?

Who would a frightened government blame?

A terrified public would demand answers and, more important,  security.

They can have neither.

Similar in nature to the question about who stole the smallpox virus from that Munich lab.

Who took it?

Most important, what are they going to do with it?

And when?

Hezbollah, controlled to a large degree by Iranian people, has the ability to flatten Israel in an afternoon.

Will they launch their missiles?

When?

And will that Special Operation that DARPA has put together ever reach fruition?

Assange worked for DARPA just as Ed Snowden worked for the Russians.

And then there is that associate deputy director of the CIA who is even now trying to beat Pollard’s haul of secrets from the Navy.

Will he ever get caught?

Probably, because people get careless when they feel they are not in danger of exposure.

If he gets caught, will his captors make him feed disinformation to his previous employers?

Or will he have an accident when an oncoming car suddenly swerves in front of him at high speed?

And that silly business in Cuba with the tormented US intelligence personnel.

A mystery until one considers the many uses of an audio-oscillator.”

Table of Contents

  • Secrecy News 
  • Bussed out: How America moves its homeless
  • Child sex dolls, human-bot babies and the end of society: RT attends London’s Sex Robot Conference
  • What’s Next?
  • Israel’s Netanyahu calls U.N. ‘house of lies’ before Jerusalem vote
  • Bundy case: Judge declares mistrial over 2014 armed standoff

 Secrecy News 

From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2017, Issue No. 89

December 21, 2017

RECOVERING RADIOACTIVE NUCLEAR SOURCES

Over the past decade the Department of Energy/NNSA has recovered thousands of sealed radioactive isotope sources from around the world that were abandoned, unwanted or no longer needed.

Sealed nuclear sources are utilized for a variety of industrial, medical or military purposes. But at the end of their useful life they can still pose a safety or security hazard.

So the mission of the DOE/NNSA Off-Site Source Recovery Program is to take possession of “orphan” sources in the interest of public safety and security.

The Program says it has taken control of nearly 40,000 disused and unwanted nuclear sources — about 1.25 million Curies of radioactive material — from 1,400 sites in the US and 25 other countries.

The achievements of the Program were summarized last week in Strengthening Cradle-to-Grave Control of Radioactive Sources by Bill Stewart, Los Alamos National Laboratory, December 11, 2017.

The systematic recovery and control of nuclear materials became an explicit priority during the Obama Administration.

“We are leading a global effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials from terrorists,” the Administration’s 2010 National Security Strategy stated. “We are dramatically accelerating and intensifying efforts to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials. . . . We will seek to complete a focused international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world through enhanced protection and accounting practices, expanded cooperation with and through international institutions, and new partnerships to lock down these sensitive materials.”

The 2015 Obama National Security Strategy likewise affirmed that “Keeping nuclear materials from terrorists . . . remains a high priority.”

The 2017 National Security Strategy that was published by the White House this week also addressed control of nuclear materials, though in a comparatively terse and generic manner:

“Building on decades of initiatives, we will augment measures to secure, eliminate, and prevent the spread of WMD and related materials, their delivery systems, technologies, and knowledge to reduce the chance that they might fall into the hands of hostile actors. We will hold state and non-state actors accountable for the use of WMD.”

The new National Security Strategy included one reference to national security classification, citing it as a potential obstacle to information sharing:

“The U.S. Government will work with our critical infrastructure partners to assess their informational needs and to reduce the barriers to information sharing, such as speed and classification levels.”

THE SPEECH OR DEBATE CLAUSE, AND MORE FROM CRS

The speech or debate clause of the US Constitution provides Members of Congress (and their staff) with civil and criminal immunity for “legislative acts” that they perform in the course of their duties, shielding them from harassment or intimidation.

The clause is “a key pillar in the American separation of powers” that serves to “protect the independence, integrity, and effectiveness of the legislative branch by barring executive or judicial intrusions into the protected sphere of the legislative process,” as described in a new overview from the Congressional Research Service.

If Members of Congress do not value their deliberative role and do not wish to function as independent actors, the speech and debate clause cannot make them. But it is there to protect them if they do. See Understanding the Speech or Debate Clause, December 1, 2017.

Other new reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following:

Winter Fuels Outlook 2017-2018, December 5, 2017

Bank Systemic Risk Regulation: The $50 Billion Threshold in the Dodd-Frank Act, December 6, 2017

Defining Broadband: Minimum Threshold Speeds and Broadband Policy, December 4, 2017

The Application of the “One Central Reason” Standard in Asylum and Withholding of Removal Cases, CRS Legal Sidebar, December 18, 2017

What Happens if H.R. 1 Conflicts with U.S. Tax Treaties?, CRS Legal Sidebar, December 19, 2017

The War in Yemen: A Compilation of Legislation in the 115th Congress, December 20, 2017

 

Bussed out: How America moves its homeless

Each year, US cities give thousands of homeless people one-way bus tickets out of town. An 18-month nationwide investigation by the Guardian reveals, for the first time, what really happens at journey’s end

by the Outside in America team

The Guardian

Quinn Raber arrived at a San Francisco bus station lugging a canvas bag containing all of his belongings: jeans, socks, underwear, pajamas. It was 1pm on a typically overcast day in August.

An unassuming 27-year-old, Raber seemed worn down: his skin was sun-reddened, he was unshaven, and a hat was pulled over his ruffled blond hair. After showing the driver a one-way ticket purchased for him by the city of San Francisco, he climbed the steps of the Greyhound bus.

He traveled 2,275 miles over three days to reach his destination: Indianapolis

Cities have been offering homeless people free bus tickets to relocate elsewhere for at least three decades. In recent years, homeless relocation programs have become more common, sprouting up in new cities across the country and costing the public millions of dollars.

But until now there has never been a systematic, nationwide assessment of the consequences. Where are these people being moved to? What impact are these programs having on the cities that send and the cities that receive them? And what happens to these homeless people after they reach their destination?

In an 18-month investigation, the Guardian has conducted the first detailed analysis of America’s homeless relocation programs, compiling a database of around 34,240 journeys and analyzing their effect on cities and people.

A count earlier this year found half a million homeless people on one night in America. The problem is most severe in the west, where rates of homelessness are skyrocketing in a number of major cities, and where states like California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington have some of the highest rates of per capita homelessness.

These are also the states where homeless relocation programs are concentrated. Using public record laws, the Guardian obtained data from 16 cities and counties that give homeless people free bus tickets to live elsewhere.

The data from these cities has been compiled to build the first comprehensive picture of America’s homeless relocation programs. Over the past six years, the period for which our data is most complete, we are able to track where more than 20,000 homeless people have been sent to and from within the mainland US.

Raber had been feeling sick, tired and depressed in San Francisco, and after three years living on the streets he decided to take his chances in Indianapolis, where he grew up. An old friend had offered him a living room to sleep in and told him there was a possibility of a job as a dishwasher at a nearby fine-dining fish restaurant.

“I’m just going to go back and work,” Raber said, and “save money, and just live”.

The Guardian has determined the outcomes of several dozen journeys based on interviews with homeless people who were relocated and friends and relatives who received them at their destination, and the shelter managers, police officers and outreach workers who supplied them with their one-way tickets.

Some of these journeys provide a route out of homelessness, and many recipients of free tickets said they are grateful for the opportunity for a fresh start. Returning to places they previously lived, many rediscover old support networks, finding a safe place to sleep, caring friends or family, and the stepping stones that lead, eventually, to their own home.

Nan Roman, head of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said bus programs can be a “positive”, although not a panacea, in part because most people are homeless in places they are from.

That is far from the whole story, however.

While the stated goal of San Francisco’s Homeward Bound and similar programs is helping people, the schemes also serve the interests of cities, which view free bus tickets as a cheap and effective way of cutting their homeless populations.

People are routinely sent thousands of miles away after only a cursory check by authorities to establish they have a suitable place to stay once they get there. Some said they feel pressured into taking tickets, and others described ending up on the streets within weeks of their arrival.

Jeff Weinberger, co-founder of the Florida Homelessness Action Coalition, a not-for-profit that operates in a state with four bus programs, said the schemes are a “smoke-and-mirrors ruse tantamount to shifting around the deck chairs on the Titanic rather than reducing homelessness”.

“Once they get you out of their city, they really don’t care what happens to you.”

Willie Romines was attracted to Key West for the same reasons as the tourists and billionaires whose yachts fill the marina. “It’s beautiful, it’s paradise,” he said. “You meet a lot of people from different countries.” For homeless people like Romines, there was also the added benefit of a mattress at the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (Kots).

But the 62-year-old former painter said his life on the island took a turn for the worse about five years ago, after he fell off his bicycle and broke his ankle in four places. He decided to spend a couple of months recuperating at a friend’s house in Ocala, and the shelter offered him a free bus ticket for the 460-mile trip.

He insists he was never told that by agreeing to take that Greyhound bus ticket off of the island, he was also promising never to come back.

Romines said when he took his ticket, he was told he could return to the shelter after six months. But when he came back to Key West, still limping from his badly injured leg, he said he was informed by shelter employees that the ban was for life. He would have to sleep on the streets.

“I would never have taken the ticket if I had known this would happen,” he said. “They stabbed me in the back is what they did.”

The Southernmost Homeless Assistance League (Shal), a not-for-profit that runs the shelter, requires recipients of bus tickets to sign a contract confirming their relocation will be “permanent” and acknowledging they will “no longer be eligible” for homeless services upon their return.

Of the 16 cities that shared their data with the Guardian, Key West was the only program with a policy expressly banning homeless people returning. It is also the only program that does not have a record of where it has sent 350 or so people who have been given one-way tickets off the island since 2014.

In many respects, however, Key West’s bus program is similar to the others in the database.

Homeless people hear about bus schemes through word of mouth or are offered a free ticket by a caseworker. To qualify, they must provide a contact for a friend or relative who will receive them at their chosen destination. The shelter then calls that person to check the homeless traveler will have somewhere suitable to stay.

No one is supposed to be put on a bus so they can be homeless elsewhere, and there is broad agreement that no tickets should be given to those with outstanding warrants.

John Miller, the executive director of Shal, said his organisation also tries to find homeless people work on the island and, where possible, a transition to housing. But he insists the bus relocation program is a valuable service, and said he often receives letters of gratitude.

Most of the people who stay at the shelter are locals, he said, but there are others who come to Key West and discover it is not the tropical paradise they expected.

“Between the heat and the bugs, and the lack of services, and the low wages and the high rents, it is just not a good place to be homeless. It might be one of the worst places in the country to be homeless. The only thing you can say is you’re not going to freeze to death.”

Nonetheless, Miller said around one in 10 homeless people who take a free ticket off the island boomerang back, only to discover that they have no access to the few services that were previously available to them.

“They’re like: well I didn’t think you were serious,” he said. “We’re like: yeah, we’re serious. Some of those gather up their change and leave again. And then we have some that are sleeping on Higgs beach or whatever.”

Miller said that Romines, who was issued his ticket under a previous scheme, is not on the official list of people banned from the shelter. Romines, however, insists he was told he was not permitted to sleep there, and police records show he has been arrested three times for sleeping outside, including on Higgs beach, a strip of sand on the south of the island.

Miller conceded that members of his board had been “conflicted” over the morality of turning homeless people away because they previously took a free bus ticket.

But he maintained the policy was justified to discourage abuse – a point echoed by his former deputy, Mike Tolbert, who said it was the only way to prevent the shelter from being used as a “travel agency”.

There is another benefit to the shelter in banning ticket recipients from coming back: it is a policy that can appeal to locals on the island. Miller asks residents to contribute to a fund that will buy homeless people one-way tickets to relocate elsewhere. He makes clear that they will not be allowed to come back.

“That, I figured, was the easiest ‘sell’,” Miller said. “Give us money and we’ll ship our homeless problem to somebody else.”

Two children tumbled out of a cab at New York City’s John F Kennedy airport on a humid evening in July. They enthusiastically helped pull suitcases onto the crowded curb. Their parents looked more subdued; they felt they were being strong-armed by city officials to board a flight to Puerto Rico.

“I really don’t want to go back,” Jose Ortiz, 28, had said hours earlier, standing outside the austere brick building in the Bronx where his family had been given temporary shelter as the city assessed their case, a standard procedure. “They said we could only stay in this apartment for 10 days, after that we might be on the street.”

New York appears to have been the first major city to begin a relocation program for homeless people, back in 1987. After the current iteration of the program was relaunched during the tenure of mayor Michael Bloomberg, it ballooned, and its relocation scheme is now far larger than any other in the nation. The city homelessness department budgets $500,000 for it annually.

Almost half the approximately 34,000 journeys analyzed by the Guardian originate from New York. In contrast with other relocation initiatives, New York is notable for moving large numbers of families, like the Ortizes.

New York does not only move homeless people on buses. About 20% of travelers were given sometimes-costly airline tickets.

Ortiz and his family did not last long on the mainland. They first moved to Delaware in early 2017 to live with his mother. When that did not work out they packed up and moved to New York, where Ortiz pleaded with the city’s homelessness department for help until he could find a job.

He was told the family was ineligible for services because they had housing options elsewhere, notably in Puerto Rico with his partner’s mother. To officials in New York, steering the family into accommodation instead of the city homeless system was the most sensible option. Ortiz’s decision to take the airline ticket was voluntary, but he did not feel he had much choice given the alternative likely meant sleeping in the park or on a street corner.

“We feel like animals, like they put us in a garbage bag and put us to the side on the street,” he said.

They, like others relocated to Puerto Rico, were being moved from a city with a median household income of $60,741 to an island with one of $19,606, and an unemployment rate twice the national average.

It is a stark example of a pattern that is replicated through most of the journeys, which, analysis shows, have the overall effect of moving homeless people from rich places to poorer places.

There are some obvious reasons why impoverished homeless people might choose to relocate to less-wealthy cities, such as the availability of cheaper housing and a lower cost of living. To some extent the apparent transfer of homeless people from richer to poorer locations is a product of the data: relocation programs are often based in cities with high median incomes such as San Francisco, Santa Monica and West Palm Beach.

However, the repercussions of this trend in the extreme cases bear considering. “The folks who so often fall into homelessness come from communities that have been experiencing a Great Recession for decades, living in neighborhoods with broken or absent support systems, enervated public schools, and little or no economic prospects to lift themselves up beyond their current circumstances,” said Arnold Cohen, president and CEO of The Partnership for the Homeless in New York. “Moving them out to other struggling neighborhoods is just another way of neglecting the root issues that continue to drive the problem.”

Just over a week after arriving in Puerto Rico, Ortiz sent a Facebook message to say that his prospects were looking up: he had an interview for a job as a security guard. In late September, Puerto Rico was struck by Hurricane Maria, devastating the island’s infrastructure and sending its economy into freefall. The Guardian has reached out to the family but not heard from them since.

For as long as cities have been offering homeless people free tickets to go elsewhere, the programs have attracted controversy. In the run-up to the 1996 summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, the city was accused of getting rid of homeless people by distributing free tickets for them to leave.

In 2013, the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas, a state-run facility, was alleged to have discharged around 1,500 patients, often with little more than their medication and a bus voucher to leave the city. One of the patients killed themselves after their bus journey and another committed a homicide, according to a lawsuit brought by former patients.

While high-profile abuses such as these have attracted headlines, there has been far less attention on whether relocating homeless people makes sense in the first place. Among the cities that provided data to the Guardian, there was an almost total lack of long-term follow-up with the recipients of bus tickets to check whether their relocation had been a success.

San Francisco provided records showing that in the period from 2010 to 2015, only three travelers were contacted once they had left. “Our record-keeping, as you discovered, has not always been that great,” said Randy Quezada, a spokesperson for the city’s homelessness department. Records from 2016 onwards, when different officials ran the program, showed that a majority of people were “contacted” once they reached their destination, but the city declined to share whether they were actually housed, citing privacy concerns.

Smaller schemes had mixed results: Portland found that around 70% of 416 travelers were still housed three months after traveling, and of those leaving Santa Monica, 60% remained housed six months later.

“I think it begs for more research,” said Michelle Flynn, a program director at the shelter that gives out tickets in Salt Lake City. Following up with homeless people who are given tickets in the weeks, months and years after they have left is not a trivial undertaking, especially for shelters that are short-staffed and funded with slim budgets, and when homeless people are by definition hard to trace. “That would probably cost even more than what we’re saving on the actual trips,” said Tom Stagg, an administrator in Santa Cruz.

The interviews the Guardian has conducted with recipients of bus tickets indicate the outcome of their journeys can vary hugely.

Tiffany Schiessl credits her bus journey with saving her life. She was living in a tent beside some railroad tracks in Fort Lauderdale when her alcoholism took her to the brink of death. She recalls waking up in the mornings and having to drink cans of beer to stop herself from shaking and vomiting.

She was diagnosed with early-stage cirrhosis and chronic pancreatitis in 2015, the year she suffered a pulmonary embolism from a blood clot. She was 22 years old.

It was her doctor who recommended she use Fort Lauderdale’s bus program to move in with her mother, Marleen, who had previously been unable to house Tiffany when she experienced difficulties after suffering heart attacks and a stroke. Marleen lived in Lehigh Acres, on the other side of the state. When Tiffany got off the bus, Marleen was horrified: Tiffany’s weight had dropped to 94lbs, her face was sunken and her vertebrae were poking out through the skin of her back.

Now Tiffany Schiessl is on the road to recovery, contemplating moving into her own home and looking to find work as a counselor. She credits the turnaround in part to her mother, who gave her the care “of someone who wants to see you succeed”. She adds: “If I hadn’t gotten that ticket I would have drunk myself to death.”

Those who agreed to take in bus-ticket recipients spoke candidly about the challenges, both financial and emotional, of taking responsibility for formerly homeless family members. Rick Williams, a Boeing technician in Everett, Washington, said he would give his son everything he needed to get on his feet – food, money, shelter – for six months after he came home from Florida in mid-2017. “I want to see him succeed,” Williams said. “All I can do is help him as best I can.”

Kathy Mathews, who agreed to host her brother, Alan, in Whitehall, Pennsylvania, after he traveled from Sarasota, said the situation was “absolutely a little bit of a strain”. But she added: “I know that had he been left where he was it wasn’t going to get any better.”

But not everyone receiving homeless people at their destinations is so accommodating.

The underlying assumption of the relocation programs, which have names such as “Homeward Bound” and “Family Reunification”, is that returning to a hometown or relative will lead to a process of rehabilitation. But for some, homelessness is driven by domestic conflicts and broken relationships, issues that may be rooted in the places they are returning to.

Last year Fort Lauderdale sent Fran Luciano, 49, back to her native New York to stay with her ex-husband, according to program records. A home health aide who cared for patients with cancer before she ended up homeless, Luciano had been sleeping in bus shelters and at the airport in the Florida city and desperately wanted to leave.

When Fort Lauderdale offered her a bus ticket back to New York, she said her instant reaction was: “Yeah, of course I want to go home.” The city asked for a contact there, and Luciano could only think to provide her ex-husband’s details, although she said she stressed she could not stay with him given their divorce was acrimonious.

When she arrived at the Greyhound station in New York, Luciano sat on her luggage and wondered where to go. For around six months she shuttled between shelters, eventually ending up in the small town of Nanuet, where she spent nights in McDonald’s and was assaulted. She is now back in Fort Lauderdale.

“They should’ve said, ‘you’ve got to make sure’,” she said of the outreach workers who gave her a ticket. “Are you going to be out on the streets there? Are you going to have a place to stay?’”

Even relatives of homeless people who assure outreach workers they can look after their loved one may struggle to live up to that ambition.

Rose Thompson, 58, said she decided to leave Key West last year after her problems with drugs and alcohol resulted in her collapsing at a soup kitchen. She opted to relocate to Morgantown, West Virginia, to stay with her daughter, who agreed to host her. But when she arrived, she discovered she would have to share a trailer with seven other people.

An official with the Sarasota program said he did not know why two homeless people were sent to meet with bail bondsmen in South Carolina and Indiana earlier this year, but did not consider this problematic. A third was put on a bus to Traverse City, Michigan, where he lived in a tent. A fourth person, meanwhile, said Key West sent her to a homeless shelter in Sarasota.

While some programs consider it essential to check for active arrest warrants before dispatching people, others do not perform such extensive research.

In a random sampling of around 100 ticket recipients from Salt Lake City, the Guardian found that at least five had outstanding warrants at the time they were dispatched. A number were for minor public nuisance and drug crimes that routinely and – in the opinion of many advocates – unfairly dog homeless people. Others were more serious, including one recipient with two warrants for domestic violence who received a bus ticket to Texas last year, and another man with an assault warrant who traveled to Montana.

Asked why the shelter had given tickets to men wanted by the police, Flynn said that so far this had not proved problematic. “We are quite open to exploring this as a part of the travel program,” she added.

Raber wanted his relocation to Indianapolis to be an escape. Within a week of arriving it was clear it might not last as one for very long. “Starting over is really tough,” he said by phone in August. He found work at a burger restaurant, but the friend he was living with decided to enter an addiction-recovery program, leaving Raber with nowhere to stay. He was overtaken by a sense of claustrophobia. “I feel like being outside I can breathe better,” he said. “It kind of makes me feel like coming back to California.”

San Francisco has one of the largest homeless populations in America, and it is an expensive problem to have. Once the cost of policing and medical services is taken into account, each chronically homeless person is estimated to cost the city $80,000 annually. Bus tickets cost a few hundred dollars.

The city does not deny there is a financial incentive behind its program, which was launched in 2005 when officials considered the example of nearby Sacramento, which was reducing its homeless population by giving people tickets to leave.

Commander David Lazar, who at the time was a lieutenant representing the San Francisco police department on homeless issues, said there were humanitarian reasons he and others wanted to introduce the program in the city. But he added that giving free bus tickets was considered a “win-win” because each homeless person that left was “one less call for services”.

“How many more people would have been in San Francisco had we not had this program?” asks Lazar. The dataset, which reveals the number of homeless people given tickets in and out of the city, can help answer that question.

Over the last 12 years, San Francisco’s homeless population has grown from around 6,200 to just over 7,600, according to the city’s counts. During that period, a small number of people in other cities have been given free tickets to relocate to San Francisco. A far larger number – more than 10,500 homeless people – have been moved out of San Francisco on buses.

What might the San Francisco homeless population have looked like if homeless people had never been bussed into and out of the city?

This data is partial; it does not include, for example, housed San Franciscans who become homeless while living in the city, the many homeless people who travel to and from San Francisco independently of relocation programs, or those homeless people who might have by now found a home. But it does give a rough illustration in response to Lazar’s question.

If these relocation programs did not exist, and the people San Francisco has bussed out of the city had stayed put, there could be as many as 18,000 homeless people currently in the city, more than twice the current population.

The US government mandates cities and other municipalities count their homeless street populations every two years; mayors are always keen for the tallies to show numbers are not on the rise. In 2009, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg lauded his own city’s bussing scheme because it “saves the taxpayers of New York City an enormous amount of money”.

Officials currently involved in running programs in Denver, Jacksonville, and Salt Lake City all told the Guardian they saw them as cost-effective programs that delivered their cities value for money by reducing the numbers living on their streets.

Yet it appears bussing schemes are also being used to give a misleading impression about the extent to which cities are actually solving homelessness.

When San Francisco, for example, reports on the number of people “exiting” homelessness, it includes the tally of people who are put on a bus and relocated elsewhere in the country. It turns out that almost half of the 7,000 homeless people San Francisco claims to have helped lift out of homelessness in the period of 2013-16 were simply given one-way tickets out of the city.

Such sleights of hand are not unique to San Francisco; a travel program operated by a homelessness not-for-profit in Oahu, Hawaii, claimed in documents shared with the Guardian that several hundred people who were offered subsidized plane tickets to the mainland were moved “out of homelessness”.

But the money spent on bus tickets does not necessarily address the root causes of homelessness. “There may be cases where you have good intentions of trying to return that person back to that family”, but the family is “why they were homeless in the first place”, said Bob Erlenbusch, a longtime advocate based in Sacramento, California. As examples he cited domestic violence victims, transgender youth facing rejection by their parents, and families unable to deal with a relative’s mental health or substance-abuse problems.

The records kept by San Francisco will presumably state that Raber ceased being homeless when he was relocated to Indianapolis in August: one more person they can call a success story. That’s despite the fact he has been back in San Francisco for three months.

Raber appeared relaxed as he sat on a Greyhound bus crossing the Bay Bridge to bring him back into the city. The sojourn in Indianapolis had been worth it because he “was not in a good state” when he left San Francisco, he said. “It helped me get my mind back on track and my body back on track.”

But when it became clear that his friend’s substance-abuse issues would leave him homeless, he decided to return to San Francisco – paying for the ticket with his own money.

Today his circumstances are almost exactly the same as they were before he left. He spends part of the month crashing in a friend’s room in a rundown residential hotel, and the rest bedding down on the sidewalk with a blanket and pillow in the gritty Tenderloin neighborhood, where many other homeless people congregate. He drags his belongings around in a suitcase with broken wheels, and hopes to move into a discarded tent that he found recently.

He is adamant that he did not mislead San Francisco’s bus program officials about his intentions. As he tells it, his return to the city he loves, despite the hardships he faces there, was almost ordained.

“I told them up front that I might not stay where they’re sending me,” he said. “San Francisco is a place that people always end up going back to at some point.”

Guardian staff

Alastair Gee (homelessness editor), Julia Carrie Wong (reporter), Paul Lewis (editor), Adithya Sambamurthy (video editor), Charlotte Simmonds (copy editor)

 

Child sex dolls, human-bot babies and the end of society: RT attends London’s Sex Robot Conference

December 20,2017

by Mary Baines,

RT

Will it be possible for humans and robots to procreate? Could bots see the demise of female humans? And what about pedophiles – should they be given child sex dolls? RT went to the Love and Sex Robots Conference to find out.

The event, which had its venue changed from Goldsmiths University to a secret north London location following “threats from Islamic extremists,” saw ethicists, computer scientists, and sex toy developers discuss how robots are set to affect our intimate lives. It was previously banned in Malaysia for being “too extreme.”

The ethics of robot sex is hotly debated. But with ‘digisexual’ now an accepted sexual preference, the world’s first robot brothel opening in Barcelona, and buyers able to customize sex dolls to an extreme level – nipple color, body shape, and breast size – there’s no denying the rise of sex bots is inevitable.

Conference organizer Professor Adrian David Cheok told RT that robot-human love will soon be the norm. “As robots become more intelligent, more realistic, more people will fall in love and have sex with robots,” the founder of Mixed Reality Lab said. “It is not just erotic.”

Dr. David Levy, author of Love and Sex with Robots, added that robots already play an important role in society. “There are millions of people in the world who for one reason or another have no one to love, and no one who loves them. There’s a huge void in their lives. And this void can be filled by sex robots, who make people who are currently very lonely much happier.”

Pedophiles and child sex dolls

Robotics philosopher Marc Behrendt of ULB University in Belgium told the conference child sex bots (CSBs) could be used to treat pedophiles to stop them from offending on real children.

A CSB – like any other sex bot – would be an autonomous, animated, articulated machine with advanced AI that is designed to sexually assist the human users. At this stage of robotic tech, we are still not talking about self-aware or conscious machines.”

But he said CSBs are “inevitable,” adding that an ethical framework is “urgently needed.”

It “might seem immoral, preposterous and creepy… [but] how do we as a society protect children from sexual predators?” Behrendt asked. “Should we incite pedophiles to unlearn and suppress sexual urges as it has [been] until now with limited success? Or should we, in addition to other therapies, try to divert to CSBs and not real children?”

Using CSBs to treat pedophiles may be “in the collective interests of society,” he suggested. He said they could be used alongside other therapies, overseen by doctors or an ethics committee.

Levy told RT it is not yet known whether CSBs could stop pedophiles from offending on real children, or actually encourage pedophilia. “I think until sex robots are available in very large numbers, and there has been a lot of experimentation, we won’t know which side of the coin will come down.”

“A lot of work needs to be done between now and then by lawyers, lawmakers, physiatrists, and those who develop software to use AI for therapeutic means. And eventually it will have to be a gigantic experiment to see what the results are – will the use of child sex dolls in fact wean pedophiles off their predilection, or will it in fact make matters worse? We don’t know,” he added.

Human-robot hybrid babies

Levy, a leading expert in the field of artificial intelligence, has predicted robots could have children with their human owners to create a new hybrid species. He said given recent progress in stem cell research, artificial intelligence and robot genetics, “it is possible.”

Levy pointed to the work of researchers at Ohio State University, who have developed a nanotechnology-based chip that can successfully inject code into damaged skin cells to repair them. Levy says in the future, scientists will be able to use this process – Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT) – to allow “the genetic code of a robot to be passed onto its offspring along with human genetic code.”

“Suddenly the very real possibility has appeared on the horizon of the robots of the future manipulating human skin cells to create human sperm and human eggs,” he said. He adds that from those eggs, robots may be capable of “creating an entire human baby whose embryo can be nurtured and carried through pregnancy by a mother surrogate.”

“This is how I believe it will be possible, within the foreseeable future, for humans and robots to make babies together.”

TNT could render in vitro fertilization (IVF), and even sexual intercourse, redundant. “I think it is an odds-on cert to happen before the end of this century,” Levy said.

Robots will see humans’ demise

For Kathleen Richardson, a professor in the ethics of robots at De Montfort University, sex robots are a disturbing development that humans should fear, not fantasize about. An opposing voice at the conference, the co-founder of the Campaign Against Sex Robots said that if action isn’t taken to curb the growth of sex robots, “society will come to an end.”

Richardson believes it’s damaging to our society to promote sex robots as alternatives to having a meaningful experience with a human being. She added that sex robots will isolate lonely people further, dehumanize and objectify women, and see men “not relating to a human female, or even recognizing her as a female.”

“In our world, what matters is how we relate to each other as human beings – as men and women, as adults and children. If we can’t get that right, if we keep perpetuating practices that turn the other into an object – into an ‘it’ – then that’s a problem,” Richardson said. “I can tell you where things are going, and it’s not looking pretty.”

Anxieties over AI’s potential dangers are not uncommon. A professor of robotics at Sheffield University, Noel Sharkey, has warned that teens may soon have their first sexual encounters with specifically-designed robotic dolls, saying the trend could ruin human relationships and have terrible consequences for humanity.

Space X CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly said AI will be a threat to people, and renowned theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has warned that sentient computers, able to think and learn for themselves, could enslave humans or wipe us out if not developed carefully.

 

What’s Next?

Climate change is battering coasts with storms and floods, but we still haven’t grappled with the risks of what’s to come.

November 18, 2017

by Simon Worrall

National Geographic

President Trump has dismissed climate change as a hoax. But scientists project that, within the next 100 years, rising sea levels caused by climate change will submerge much of southeast Florida—including Mar-a-Lago, his beachfront Florida “White House.” And a new category of exiles will be created, says Jeff Goodell in his new book The Water Will Come—climate change refugees. [Seven things to know about climate change.]

When National Geographic caught up with Goodell at his home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., he explained how water contamination is one of the greatest threats from rising seas; why poor nations are demanding compensation; and how President Trump’s policies are causing people, and states, to push back.

After Hurricane Irma, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida said: “So many areas that you never thought could flood, have flooded.” What does this tell us about climate change and rising sea levels?

What Governor Scott’s remarks say is how poorly we understand the risks of what we face now and in the future. The idea that areas flooded that we didn’t think could flood suggests we don’t have a very good sense of what the risk is along the coastline, especially in Florida where we’re continuing to build out at an incredible pace.

It also suggests we don’t understand the risks we face in a world where climate change is happening. We know that, as the Earth’s atmosphere heats up, climate change is likely to create bigger and more intense hurricanes, which will push more water up onto the land. Combine that with rising seas—and sea levels are rising faster in southern Florida than anywhere on the planet—you get more flooding.

It doesn’t take much of a grasp of science to understand that when the atmosphere heats up, ice is going to melt—just like an ice cube on a picnic table on a hot summer day. That’s what’s happening at the planet’s poles in Greenland and Antarctica. We’re turning up the heat on the planet and as the heat rises the ice is going to melt. A warmer ocean also expands and that is a factor in sea level rise.

The real question is not if this is going to happen. This is a fact. But it’s hard to say where and when. With sea level rise we know it’s going to be an incremental process, which will accelerate as time goes on. But we don’t know how fast the water will come or how high it will go.

Much of your book focuses on Florida. Why is that state at such risk from sea-level rise?

The vast majority of south Florida is less than six feet above high tide. That risk is exacerbated by the fact that it’s on a hurricane track, so you get these storm pulses that come through every year.

In Florida, you also have a geology of porous limestone that makes it difficult to build sea walls around places like Miami and Miami Beach because the water will just come through underneath and flood from below. In the Netherlands they’ve built the dikes to keep the water out. In New Orleans, which was flooded severely during Hurricane Katrina, they have also built big dikes.

But you can’t do anything like that in Miami or South Florida. There’s no real technological fix for rising seas there other than elevating structures or retreating.

Sea-level rise causes other negative effects apart from flooding, doesn’t it? You suggest coffins and septic tanks may soon be floating around.

Even small amounts of sea level rise, six inches or a foot, can cause a lot of problems. We’re already seeing that happening in places like south Florida and other places around the world. Anyone who’s been on a boat knows how corrosive salt water is. And as you get more flooding and high tides, you get more corrosion.

In south Florida and other places, septic tanks are also starting to get flooded, so the sewage leaks out into the floodwaters. I’ve waded through floodwaters in Miami where the bacteria content was thousands of times higher than is recommended for public health!

With Hurricane Harvey, we also saw the problems of floodwater pollution where industrial zones leached chemicals into the waters. And many of these chemicals and septic systems that are polluting floodwaters are in lower income, poorer neighborhoods.

The third problem with even modest sea level rise is the contamination of drinking water supplies. This is especially true in Florida and small island states, like the Marshall Islands, where the drinking water is in aquifers right below the surface. As the seawater comes in, it moves underground and contaminates the drinking water.

I would argue that the contamination of drinking water is going to be one of the first things that force people out of areas like the Marshall Islands and makes it more and more difficult—and expensive—to live in places like south Florida.

Cities from New York to Venice are gearing up to defend themselves against sea-level rise. Tell us about some of the innovative approaches being considered.

A lot of cities are thinking about how to deal with this but one of the complicated things about sea level rise is that it’s different in every place. One strategy is to build a wall.

That’s what they’re doing in Manhattan with what’s referred to as the “Big U.” On Staten Island, they are developing breakwaters that mimic barrier islands to break up storm surges and create habitats for oysters and other marine life.

In Lagos, a Nigerian architect built a floating school in a slum neighborhood. It was a very innovative project, using plastic barrels with a simple, two-story, wooden structure on top.

I also talked with architects in Miami who are thinking about building platform cities in Biscayne Bay. Instead of just building walls and trying to defend ourselves from it, the question is how do we live with it in a more elegant, sustainable way?

The inspiration for this kind of thing is Venice, which is an extraordinarily beautiful city. Part of its beauty comes from the presence of water all around but, as we all know, Venice has been sinking for a long time due to groundwater pumping and other issues. It’s been stabilized and they’re now building what one engineer I talked to called “a Ferrari on the sea floor,” a retractable barrier to keep the storm surge out of the lagoon.

Aboriginal myths in Australia, as well as Western stories like Gilgamesh, seem to record past changes in sea level. Give us a quick synopsis.

The earliest recorded human stories are about dealing with floodwaters and rising seas. I spent some time talking to anthropologists in Australia who have chronicled some of these Aboriginal stories. They were able to track them back to the end of the last Ice Age, the last warm period, when the seas were rising quickly around the world. They think these stories have been passed down from generation to generation through oral storytelling.

Similarly, many scholars now believe that the oldest written story, the epic of Gilgamesh, was the basis for the flood story of Noah. It again tracks back to this warm period when seas were rising fast.

What’s fascinating about this is that it suggests just how dramatic and central this is to human experience. Both the oldest oral stories we are aware of, and the oldest written stories, deal with floods and coming to terms with the changing border between land and sea.

You call Alaska “the dark heart of the fossil fuel beast.” Tell us about your walk along the shoreline with President Obama and how his successor, Donald Trump, is altering the narrative on climate change.

I’ve covered climate change for a long time and have a very good bullshit detector for people who understand what’s at stake and what’s not. And I was surprised by how well Obama understood what he was talking about and was able to parse the risks and political strategies. His trip to Alaska was part of his push to get a deal done in Paris. He wanted to draw attention to what was happening, using Alaska as a “poster child” for the risks of climate change. The whole state is basically melting like a Popsicle.

If you had told me that the following year Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil, who has done more to subvert and distort the conversation about climate change than virtually anyone, would be the secretary of state, I would have thought it more likely that little green men from Mars would be selling chocolate at Yankees games. [Laughs]

But we have a president who doesn’t understand or care about climate change. It’s not benign neglect, as it was under President George W. Bush. Trump has an active strategy to undermine not only every accomplishment of President Obama, but to subvert all progress in dealing with climate change, from rolling back coal mining regulations to cutting fuel efficiency standards.

The hopeful side of it is that it’s galvanized a lot of people to become active. A lot of states, like California and New York, are also pushing ahead with clean energy. So there’s a hope that the backlash against Trump will mitigate all the damage that he’s doing. But it’s not a happy moment.

A new category of the dispossessed now exists—“climate refugees.” Which countries are particularly at risk—and should the rest of the world be held financially accountable for them?

The countries that are most vulnerable are places like Bangladesh, India or West Africa. Globally, 145 million people live 3 feet or less above high tide. Small island states, like the Marshall Islands, may not only have to move to escape the rising seas, they’re going to lose their entire cultures as their nations are literally going to be under water.

The central paradox is that the people who are going to suffer most, like the Marshall Islanders or people in Bangladesh, are those who have done the least to contribute to this problem. These are not the people who are driving around in SUVs and dumping CO2 into the atmosphere!

Do I think that richer nations should compensate? I absolutely do!

But that’s not going to happen. The Green Climate Fund is meant to transfer money to help with adaptation and other things, but it’s been very slow to get going. One of the central problems is that the world doesn’t have a lot of empathy for people who are suffering from the consequences of our fossil fuel consumption.

You end the book with an apocalyptic vision of Miami underwater. How likely—and how soon—might that happen? And what can we do to prevent it?

How likely? It’s a virtual certainty. Sea levels have risen dramatically. The idea that we have a stable coastline is a fantasy of our own imaginations.

The last time the CO2 levels in the atmosphere were as high as they are today, sea levels were 20-30 feet higher. But even if we all turn in our cars and ride skateboards to work, because of the heat that’s already in the ocean, sea levels are going to continue to rise.

How fast that will happen is hard to say. But a place like Miami is going to go underwater. There is no stopping that. There’s only trying to think about how we reinvent Miami to live with water.

When you look at history, cities come and go. I’ve been to Petra, where there was an amazing civilization that flourished thousands of years ago. Now, it’s a ghost land.

Maybe Miami will reinvent itself as a lovely, 23rd-century Venice, and maybe it won’t. Maybe it will be a place where people go scuba diving in the lobby of the Fontainebleau Hotel to look at the sharks.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

 

Israel’s Netanyahu calls U.N. ‘house of lies’ before Jerusalem vote

December 21, 2017

by Jeffrey Heller

Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the United Nations as a “house of lies” ahead of a vote on Thursday on a draft resolution calling on the United States to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“The State of Israel totally rejects this vote, even before (the resolution‘s) approval,” Netanyahu said in a speech at a hospital dedication in the port city of Ashdod.

The 193-member U.N. General Assembly will hold a rare emergency special session on Thursday at the request of Arab and Muslim countries to vote on the draft resolution, which the United States vetoed on Monday in the 15-member U.N. Security Council.

Generating outrage from Palestinians and the Arab and Muslim world, and concern among Washington’s Western allies, President Donald Trump abruptly reversed decades of U.S. policy on Dec. 6 when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Palestinians have protested daily in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip since Trump’s announcement, throwing stones at security forces and burning tires. Gaza militants have also launched sporadic rocket fire.

Eight Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire during the demonstrations and dozens wounded, Palestinian health officials said. Two militants were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza after a rocket attack.

Trump threatened on Wednesday to cut off financial aid to countries that vote in favor of the U.N. draft resolution, and his ambassador to the world body, Nikki Haley said the United States “will be taking names”.

Netanyahu, in his speech, thanked Trump and Haley for “their brave and uncompromising stance”. He repeated his prediction that other countries would eventually follow Washington’s lead in pledging to move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“The attitude towards Israel of many countries, on all continents, outside the walls of the United Nations, is changing and will ultimately permeate into the U.N. – the house of lies,” he said.

Most countries regard the status of Jerusalem as a matter to be settled in an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, although that process is now stalled.

Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all embassies based there. Palestinians want the capital of an independent Palestinian state to be in the city’s eastern sector, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War and annexed in a move never recognized internationally.

Several senior diplomats said Haley’s warning was unlikely to change many votes in the General Assembly, where such direct, public threats are rare. Some diplomats brushed off the warning as more likely aimed at impressing U.S. voters.

Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Ori Lewis and Angus MacSwan

 

Bundy case: Judge declares mistrial over 2014 armed standoff

December 20, 2017

AP

LAS VEGAS — A U.S. judge in Nevada declared a mistrial Wednesday in the case against a states’ rights figure, his two sons and another man accused of leading a 2014 armed standoff with federal agents during a cattle grazing dispute.

Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro in Las Vegas dismissed a jury seated last month for the long-awaited trial of Cliven Bundy, his sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy and self-styled Montana militia leader Ryan Payne.

It is the latest in a string of failed prosecutions in Nevada and Oregon against those who have opposed federal control of vast swaths of land in the American West.

Jurors in Portland, Oregon, acquitted the two Bundy sons of taking over a U.S. wildlife refuge in Oregon for more than a month in early 2016 amid calls for the U.S. government to turn over public land to local control.

In the Nevada case, Navarro faulted federal prosecutors for failing to turn over all evidence to defense attorneys, including records about the conduct of FBI and Bureau of Land Management agents during the standoff.

“The government is obligated to disclose all evidence that might be favorable” to the defense, the judge said.

The case stemmed from an armed confrontation that capped a decades-long dispute over Cliven Bundy’s refusal to pay grazing fees. The 71-year-old rancher says his family has grazed cattle for more than a century in the area and insists public land belongs to states, not the U.S. government.

Government agents began rounding up his animals. The four on trial were accused of enlisting armed gunmen to force government agents to abandon the effort.

“A mistrial is a very bad result for the government,” said Ian Bartrum, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas, law professor who has followed the case closely.

Bartrum had cast the trial as a test of whether U.S. authorities could enforce their own land policy in Western states where the government owns or controls vast expanses.

“It looks even worse because it isn’t the sort of jury nullification we’ve seen before, but actual incompetence (or worse) by the prosecution,” Bartrum said in an email. “It certainly erodes a lot of confidence in the federal government’s motives.”

Acting U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre had no immediate answer about whether prosecutors would retry the case. If so, the Bundys and Payne still would face 15 felony charges including assault and threats against federal officers, firearms counts, obstruction and extortion.

Prosecutors also failed to win full convictions against others at the tense confrontation near Bunkerville, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Six men who acknowledged carrying assault-style weapons faced a trial and a retrial. Two were acquitted, two were convicted of some charges and two are free after pleading guilty to misdemeanors to avoid a third trial. None was found guilty of a conspiracy charge.

In the case against the Bundys, the judge hinted last week that trouble was afoot. She sent the jury home to review sealed documents following closed-door hearings over complaints about the conduct of FBI and Bureau of Land Management agents during the standoff.

Jurors got a glimpse of the claims when Ryan Bundy, who represented himself, spoke at opening statements about seeing government snipers and surveillance cameras positioned on hilltops surrounding his family home in the days before armed supporters answered his family’s calls for help.

A whistleblower memo by a lead U.S. Bureau of Land Management investigator that was released last week alleges widespread bad judgment, bias and misconduct, as well as “likely policy, ethical and legal violations among senior and supervisory staff” in the days leading up to the standoff.

The memo said agents who planned and oversaw the cattle roundup mocked and displayed clear prejudice against the Bundys, their supporters and Mormons.

The investigator, Larry Wooten, said he was removed from the investigation last February after he complained to the U.S. attorney’s office in Nevada.

The judge freed the Bundy sons and Payne to house arrest during the trial after nearly two years in jail. Cliven Bundy refused the judge’s offer  with his lawyer saying the patriarch was holding out for acquittal.

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