‘Cancer connected with nuclear disasters develops in Yemeni children


A girl cries next to her mother covering her face as they flee from an airstrike on an army weapons depot in Yemen's capital Sanaa. File photo. © Mohamed al-Sayaghi
The humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, where people are dying of famine, lack of medical supplies and chemical weapons, may amount to genocide if the international community doesn’t act, says Kim Sharif of Human Rights for Yemen.

Katherine Johnson, the NASA Mathematician Who Advanced Human Rights with a Slide Rule and Pencil


NASA chief Charles Bolden recalls the historic trajectory of the “human computer” who played a key role in the Apollo 11 moon landing, and as a female African-American in the 1960s, shattered stereotypes in the process.

katherine-johnson

When I was growing up, in segregated South Carolina, African-American role models in national life were few and far between. Later, when my fellow flight students and I, in training at the Naval Air Station in Meridian, Mississippi, clustered around a small television watching the Apollo 11 moon landing, little did I know that one of the key figures responsible for its success was an unassuming black woman from West Virginia: Katherine Johnson. Hidden Figures is both an upcoming book and an upcoming movie about her incredible life, and, as the title suggests, Katherine worked behind the scenes but with incredible impact.

When Katherine began at NASA, she and her cohorts were known as “human computers,” and if you talk to her or read quotes from throughout her long career, you can see that precision, that humming mind, constantly at work. She is a human computer, indeed, but one with a quick wit, a quiet ambition, and a confidence in her talents that rose above her era and her surroundings.
“In math, you’re either right or you’re wrong,” she said. Her succinct words belie a deep curiosity about the world and dedication to her discipline, despite the prejudices of her time against both women and African-Americans. It was her duty to calculate orbital trajectories and flight times relative to the position of the moon—you know, simple things. In this day and age, when we increasingly rely on technology, it’s hard to believe that John Glenn himself tasked Katherine to double-check the results of the computer calculations before his historic orbital flight, the first by an American. The numbers of the human computer and the machine matched.

With a slide rule and a pencil, Katherine advanced the cause of human rights and the frontier of human achievement at the same time. Having graduated from high school at 14 and college at 18 at a time when African-Americans often did not go beyond the eighth grade, she used her amazing facility with geometry to calculate Alan Shepard’s flight path and took the Apollo 11 crew to the moon to orbit it, land on it, and return safely to Earth.

I was so proud of Katherine as I sat with hundreds of other guests in the East Room of the White House and watched as she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama last year. Katherine’s great mind and amazing talents advanced our freedoms at the most basic level—the freedom to pursue the biggest dreams we can possibly imagine and to step into any room in the country and take a seat at the table because our expertise and excellence deserve it. Katherine, now 97, took her seat without fanfare. As far as not being equal was concerned, she said, “I didn’t have time for that. My dad taught us ‘you are as good as anybody in this town, but you’re no better.’ ” I’d posit that Katherine was better—not only at math but also at applying her talents with the precision and beauty possible only in mathematics. She achieved the perfect parabola—casting herself to the stars and believing she could chart the journey home.

Why do Rastafarians use marijuana in their religion?


Image: Why do Rastafarians use marijuana in their religion?

Rastafarians are associated with reggae music, dreadlocks, Bob Marley and of course marijuana. Rastas often refer to weed as “The Holy Herb” and consider it to be sacred. Do Rastas smoke marijuana just to get high, or does it have some other meaning in their culture and religion?

The Rastafari religion is stereotyped as having members who are constantly stoned and that the whole movement is, in fact, just an excuse to smoke a lot of pot. In fact, it is seen by many as a cover for nothing more than a bunch of drug users and drug smugglers.

Rastafarians – what their religion teaches them about marijuana

Marijuana’s use as part of religious ceremonies is not new. The practice goes back for thousands of years in a variety of cultures. For example, in India and Nepal, traveling monks have used marijuana for centuries, and other religious groups have also used marijuana or viewed the substance as sacred, including the ancient Chinese, ancient Germanic pagans and Hindus. Many Rastafarians believe that cannabis originated in Africa and that it is part of their African culture that they are reclaiming.

Rastafarians feel that marijuana is important for their understanding of self, the universe and God. The use of cannabis is part of what the Rastafari refer to as “reasoning sessions” where members join up and are encouraged to interact and discuss life according to the Rasta perspective. Rastafarians reject materialism, oppression and sensual pleasures, called “Babylon.” In fact, they see the marijuana plant as the “Tree of Life” mentioned in the Bible and often quote scriptures that support their beliefs. For example, at Revelation 22:2, the phrase “the leaves of the tree [of life] were for the healing of the nations” refers to the marijuana plant, according to them. While marijuana use forms part of their beliefs, it is not compulsory for a Rastafarian to smoke it.

Rastas fight for the right to use marijuana as part of their religion

In South Africa, Rastafarian lawyer Gareth Prince has been challenging legislation that outlaws dagga (South African word for “marijuana”), notes LegalBrief.co.za, citing a report in The Mercury. Prince has that requested certain sections of the Drugs and Drugs Trafficking Act and the Criminal Procedure Act be declared invalid, among other things.

Prince himself faces criminal charges in the Khayelitsha Regional Court for dagga possession, dealing and cultivation. He questioned to what extent the government could dictate what people ate, drank and smoked. The case has been postponed.

In the US, government and corporate propaganda has caused marijuana to be seen as a dangerous drug that should be illegal, although many states have now legalized the plant for medicinal use and some states for recreational use. A massive number of people in the US have been sentenced to prison for possession ofhealth-promoting marijuana, even in cases where they have claimed that they use the substance for religious or spiritual reasons.

Emotional toxicity of austerity eroding mental health, say 400 experts


“Malign” welfare reforms and severe austerity measures are having a detrimental effect on Britons’ psychological and emotional wellbeing, hundreds of psychotherapists, counselors and mental health practitioners have warned.

Reuters / Dylan Martinez

An open letter, published by the Guardian on Friday, said the “profoundly disturbing” implications for Britons wrought by the coalition’s austerity policies have been ignored in the general election campaign so far.

The group of signatories, made up of therapists, psychotherapists and mental health experts, said Britain has seen a “radical shift” in the mental state of ordinary people since the coalition came to power.

They warned people are plagued by increasing inequality and poverty as a result of the government’s austerity policies, and this reality is generating distress across the nation.

The 400 signatories, from all corners of Britain, said the government’s welfare reforms have caused emotional and mental trauma to Britons – forcing families to relocate against their will and burdening disabled, ill and unemployed benefit claimants with an intimidating benefits regime.

On a broader level, they warned British society has been ruptured by a neoliberal dogma that has serious socio-economic impacts.

British society has been “thrown completely off balance by the emotional toxicity of neoliberal thinking”and the grueling effects of this ideology are particularly visible in therapists’ consulting rooms, they said.

“This letter sounds the starting-bell for a broadly based campaign of organizations and professionals against the damage that neoliberalism is doing to the nation’s mental health,” they added.

Fit to Work: A call for reform

The letter was particularly critical of the government’s benefits sanctions scheme, which has been condemned by human rights advocates across the state as unjust, ill-conceived, ineffective and inhumane.

In particular, the mental health experts said the government’s proposed policy of linking social security benefits to the receipt of “state therapy” is utterly unacceptable.

The measure, casually coined “get to work therapy,” was first mooted by Chancellor for the Exchequer George Osborne during his last budget.

But the letter’s signatories, all of whom are experts in the field of mental health, argue it is counter-productive, “anti-therapeutic” and damaging.

Although the government’s much criticized Fit for Work program will no longer be managed by disgraced contractor Atos, the letter said the new company set to manage the nation’s work capability assessments is an “ominous replacement.”

The mental health experts called upon the sector’s key professional bodies to “wake up to these malign developments” and categorically denounce this “so-called therapy” as destructive.

The signatories called upon Britain’s political parties running for election, particularly Labour, to offer a resolute pledge to “urgently review” these regressive practices and prove their “much trumpeted commitment to mental health” if they enter government.

Among the groups represented by the signatories were Britain’s Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility, Disabled People Against Cuts, Psychologists Against Austerity, the Journal of Public Mental Health, and a range of academic institutions including Goldsmiths, Birkbeck, the University of London, the University of Amsterdam, Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Brighton and others.

Although the coalition claims austerity is essential if the nation’s high levels of debt are to be eradicated and the disastrous economic legacy of the previous Labour government is to be addressed, progressive economists argue otherwise.

According to UK think tank the New Economics Foundation, austerity is a smokescreen for advancing a neoliberal agenda characterized by privatization, outsourcing and radical socio-economic reforms.

The think tank suggests Britain’s social and economic ills stem from an economic crisis created by banks and paid for by ordinary taxpayers.

It says Britain desperately requires a shift from the tired austerity narrative that dominates mainstream British politics, and must move towards more progressive and sustainable economic policies that will free the nation from casino capitalism, boom-bust cycles and the erosion of the welfare state.

A spokesman for the Conservative Party told RT the party believes mental health should be treated in the same manner as physical health.

“But for too long, that was not the case – so we legislated for parity of esteem, meaning they’ll be treated with equal priority,” he said.

“Our long-term economic plan means we’ve been able to increase spending on the NHS by £12.9 billion. This has meant that we can put £400 million into improving access to psychological therapies.”

“We are also investing £1.25 billion into funding service improvement, particularly for children. And from April 2016 we are introducing the first waiting time standards for mental health treatments so no one should have to wait longer than 18 weeks for talking therapies.”

A spokesperson for Labour said mental health “is the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age.”

“It’s essential that we give mental health the priority it deserves if we are to thrive as a nation and ensure the NHS remains sustainable for the future,” he said.

He argued it was Labour that forced the coalition government to “write parity of esteem between physical and mental health into law,” and that the party is committed to implementing this policy if elected in May.

The spokesman pledged Labour will bring an end to the “scandal of the neglect of child mental health.”

“It is simply not right that when three quarters of adult mental illnesses begin in childhood, children’s mental health services get just six per cent of the mental health budget,” he said.

Inmate’s family sues Ohio after ‘agonizing’ execution with untested drug protocol — RT USA


 

Reuters / HandoutConvicted killer Dennis McGuire struggled noticeably for his life during a lengthy lethal injection procedure in Ohio on Thursday, and now his family plans to sue the state for violating his Constitutional rights.

A press conference is scheduled for Friday, where the executed man’s children, Amber and Dennis McGuire, and their attorneys will argue the state violated their father’s right to be free of “cruel and unusual punishment.”

In what amounted to an unusually long time for a lethal injection, it took McGuire about 25 minutes to die after being injected with an untested combination of drugs that had never been used before in an execution in the United States.

For about 10 minutes, the controversial cocktail of midazolam and hydromorphone resulted in McGuire “struggling and gasping loudly for air, making snorting and choking sounds that lasted for at least 10 minutes, with his chest heaving and his fist clenched. Deep, rattling sounds emanated from his mouth,” as reported by the Columbus Dispatch.

Soon after McGuire’s death, his attorney Allen Bohnert called the execution “a failed, agonizing experiment by the state of Ohio.”

“The court’s concerns expressed earlier this week have been confirmed,” Bohnert added, according to the Associated Press. “And more importantly, the people of the state of Ohio should be appalled at what was done here today in their names.”

Last week, Bohnert tried to argue that McGuire was at risk of “agony and terror” since the new drug combination could cut off his air supply as he died, but the plea ultimately failed as judges ruled in favor of the state.

The use of midazolam, in particular, has been called into question in the past, as critics believe it leaves inmates aware of their surroundings and in extreme pain as they die.

Dennis McGuire.(AFP Photo / Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction)Dennis McGuire.(AFP Photo / Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction)

“I watched his stomach heave,” said Amber McGuire in a statement, according to the Dispatch. “I watched him try to sit up against the straps on the gurney. I watched him repeatedly clench his fist. It appeared to me he was fighting for his life but suffocating.”

McGuire was originally convicted of raping and killing a pregnant Joy Stewart back in 1994. His pleas for clemency had been denied, and Stewart’s family issued the following statement on the situation surrounding McGuire’s death.

“There has been a lot of controversy regarding the drugs that are to be used in his execution, concern that he might feel terror, that he might suffer. As I recall the events preceding her death, forcing her from the car, attempting to rape her vaginally, sodomizing her, choking her, stabbing her, I know she suffered terror and pain. He is being treated far more humanely than he treated her.”

The behavior of Ohio and other states that condone the death penalty have come under fire since most of the companies that traditionally manufacture the drugs used in lethal injections – generally based in Europe and which are against capital punishment – have halted sales to state correctional departments.

In an effort to replace diminishing supplies of sedatives and paralytics, many states have begun experimenting with alternative drug mixtures, including products typically used to euthanize animals.

As the AP noted, Bohnert has urged Ohio Governor John Kasich to place a moratorium on executions following McGuire’s death. According to the Dispatch, at least one judge, Gregory L. Frost of the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati, cast suspicion on the state’s behavior concerning executions in 2013.

“Ohio has been in a dubious cycle of defending often indefensible conduct, subsequently reforming its protocol when called on that conduct, and then failing to follow through on its own reforms,” he wrote in an unrelated case last year.

 

Death row inmates now executed with drug cocktail used to euthanize animals.


San Quentin Prison execution chamber, US (AFP Photo)

Compounding pharmacies, which create specialized pharmaceutical product meant to fit the needs of a patient, have begun producing the drugs for state authorities.

But because of the lack of transparency around the production process – one compounding pharmacy was responsible for a fatal meningitis outbreak in 2012 because of poor hygiene – prisoners argue that risky drug cocktails put them at risk of being subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment,” which is prohibited under the US Constitution.

Earlier this month three Texas-based death row prisoners filed a lawsuit arguing this type of pharmacy is “not subject to stringent FDA regulations” and is “one of the leading sources for counterfeit drugs entering the US,” the lawsuit reads, as quoted by AFP.

“There is a significant chance that [the pentobarbital] could be contaminated, creating a grave likelihood that the lethal injection process could be extremely painful, or harm or handicap plaintiffs without actually killing them,” it adds.

“Nobody really knows the quality of the drugs, because of the lack of oversight,” Denno told AFP.

Michael Yowell, who was convicted of murdering his parents 15 years ago, was executed in Texas Wednesday. He became the first inmate to be executed in Texas with pentobarbital since European nations halted production for this purpose. His lawyers unsuccessfully tried to stop him from being killed, saying the compounded factors in pentobarbital make the drug unpredictable and there have not been enough trials to guarantee the death is painless.

The states in question may find an applicable replacement for the short-term but, Denno argued, this development could be an indication that capital punishment is on the wane.

“How many times in this country can they change the way they execute?” she said. “There were more changes in lethal injections in the last 5 years than in the 25 preceding years.”