Parents whose children have died from cancer are teaming up with scientists to study any correlations between toxicants and illness
Soccer was a huge passion in Oliver Strong’s young life. Right up to his death from acute myeloid leukemia in June 2015 at the age of 12, he was a standout athlete and goalkeeper, a healthy, vibrant and popular boy with a zest for living that inspired his teammates, friends and family.
So when Oliver died suddenly at a Miami children’s hospital, just 36 hours after doctors first diagnosed the disease, his parents Simon and Vilma started looking for answers. What they found was disturbing.
Cases of pediatric cancer in the United States surged by almost 50% from 1975 to 2015, according to alarming but under-reported statistics by the National Cancer Institute, and in 2018 up to 16,000 children from birth to age 19 will have received a new diagnosis.
Yet what really elevated the disquiet of Oliver’s parents was increasing concern over the role that carcinogenic environmental toxicants, including industrial waste and pollutants, were believed to be playing in the rise of childhood cancer.
“There’s almost an unspoken scientific consensus that it’s always environmental,” said Simon Strong, who with his wife set up Oliver Forever Strong – a foundation in their son’s memory.
Oliver’s Forever Strong has now teamed up for an ambitious research study with scientists at the Texas Children’s Hospital, home to the nation’s largest pediatric cancer center, and the Baylor College of Medicine.
Through the website thereasonswhy.us, the study will harness social media to help collate information from a wide geographical spread. Families with their own experiences of childhood cancers will sign up and receive a questionnaire in the coming months seeking information including the manifestation and progression of their cancers as well as demographics.
Dr Michael Scheurer, director of the childhood cancer epidemiology and prevention program at Texas Children’s Hospital, said: “[This research] … will allow families who might not live near one of the existing study centers to participate as they are comfortable.
“We realize individuals won’t know if they’ve been exposed to a certain chemical or specific agent so we try to gather an overview of their environment, where have they lived over the course of time, when the child was conceived, during mom’s pregnancy, during early childhood, up to the point they developed their cancer. Are those residences located near Superfund sites, or in areas with high levels of air pollution or water contaminants?
In October 2018, Vice President Mike Pence paid a visit to the Hudson Institute—a conservative Washington, DC, think tank—to give a wide-ranging speechabout the United States’ relationship with China. Standing stiffly in a shiny blue tie, he began by accusing the Chinese Communist Party of interfering in US politics and directing Chinese businesses to steal American intellectual property by “any means necessary.” Pence then turned his attention to the country’s human rights abuses, starting not with the persecution of religious minorities, but with a peculiar governmental initiative: the social credit project. “By 2020, China’s rulers aim to implement an Orwellian system premised on controlling virtually every facet of human life—the so-called ‘social credit score,’” Pence said. “In the words of that program’s official blueprint, it will ‘allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.’”
The vice president’s remarks echoed a steady stream of Western media reports, published in dozens of outlets over the past few years, that paint China’s Social Credit System as a dystopian nightmare straight out of Black Mirror. The articles and broadcast segments often said China’s central government is using a futuristic algorithm to compile people’s social media connections, buying histories, location data, and more into a single score dictating their rights and freedoms. The government can supposedly analyze footage from hundreds of millions of facial-recognition-equipped surveillance cameras in real time, and then dock you points for misbehavior like jaywalking or playing too many video games.
PRI’s The World
This story was produced in collaboration with PRI’s The World, the award-winning public radio show and podcast on global issues, news, and insights from BBC, WGBH, PRI, and PRX. It was coreported by The World’s Lydia Emmanouilidou. You can listen to The World’s audio program about China’s social credit score here.
But there is no single, all-powerful score assigned to every individual in China, at least not yet. The “official blueprint” Pence referenced is a planning document released by China’s chief administrative body five years ago. It calls for the establishment of a nationwide scheme for tracking the behavior of everyday citizens, corporations, and government officials. The Chinese government and state media say the project is designed to boost public confidence and fight problems like corruption and business fraud. Western critics often see social credit instead as an intrusive surveillance apparatus for punishing dissidents and infringing on people’s privacy.
With just over a year to go until the government’s self-imposed deadline for establishing social credit, Chinese legal researchers say the system is far from the cutting-edge, Big Brother apparatus portrayed in the West’s popular imagination. “I really think you would find a much larger percentage of Americans are aware of Chinese social credit than you would find Chinese people are aware of Chinese social credit,” says Jeremy Daum, a senior research fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center in Beijing. The system as it exists today is more a patchwork of regional pilots and experimental projects, with few indications about what could be implemented at a national scale.
The department’s internal watchdog just laid bare the cost of the department’s leadership vacuum.
One day after taking over as the Pentagon’s first Senate-confirmed leader in seven months, new Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was asked by a reporterto assess what the impact has been of the months-long lack of stable leadership at the largest federal agency. His careful answer attempted to endorse the department’s vast civilian workforce, whose ranks have been depleted since the exit of President Trump’s first defense secretary, James Mattis, while also providing reassurance.
“We have a great cadre of DOD civilians,” Esper responded. “I’m confident we didn’t miss any beats, any steps if you will.”
That same day, the Pentagon’s internal watchdog released a 418-page rebuttalto the notion that the Defense Department “didn’t miss any beats” during the last seven months, when temporary officials have increasingly taken more active roles among the Pentagon’s leadership. On Wednesday, the Office of the Inspector General, which itself is run by an acting leader, published its second-ever list of all recommendations the office has made to Defense officials, but which remain unfulfilled—not because DOD officials disagree with them, though sometimes they do, but because the department simply never followed through.
Resolving these issues is a crucial step toward combating the waste, fraud, and abuse that have bedeviled DOD management for decades, and the Pentagon has agreed to address hundreds of them. But with so many of these action items unresolved, there is still no indication that any timeline exists for dealing with them. And the problem has been getting worse. Eighty suggestions included in the report are at least five years old—a 42 percent increase from the prior year—and 30 of them, on topics like military suicides and contractor price gouging, are what the IG’s office considers “high-priority.”
Across the department, Pentagon officials could save up to $4.8 billion by adopting just half of the IG’s unresolved recommendations, the report claims. Some of these recommendations are so plainly simple, it is surprising that they have remained unaddressed after so many years. A May 2013 report from the inspector general’s office, for instance, questioned if the Army’s combat helmet was being properly evaluated and advised officials to adjust those metrics if the qualities of the helmet did not meet soldiers’ needs. Even though the military has “performed analysis and testing to the design of the helmet,” officials still have not figured out if the way the standard by which the helmet is being tested needs to change, which was one of the IG’s office original requests. “Failure to modify the test protocols as needed can result in helmets that do not protect the warfighter as intended, risking life and safety,” readsthis week’s report, written six years later.
With a squadron of ancient airplanes, these firefighters are usually the first on the scene.
There are days here when you walk outside and just know. Step on a stick and it snaps. Grass crunches underfoot. It’s hot, and the relative humidity is down in the single digits. If there’s a fire that day, Cal Fire battalion chief Justin McGough says, “You just know it’s going to burn very, very well.”
But today is not that day, as I step one winter morning onto Cal Fire’s Hemet-Ryan Air Attack Base in Hemet, California. To the east, Mount San Jacinto is topped with fresh snow, and ample rainfall has relieved most of the state’s drought. Here at Hemet-Ryan, which remains open year-round, firefighting aircraft out on the ramp mark time quietly in the sun.
Cal Fire—the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection—is a state agency responsible for fire control across 31 million acres of timberland, brush, and urban forest. With 50 aircraft at 23 bases around the state, it has the largest firefighting air force in the world. Hemet-Ryan hosts a little of everything in Cal Fire’s standard contingent: a Bell UH-1H Super Huey helicopter, two Grumman S-2T tankers, and a North American Aviation OV-10A tactical observation aircraft. Crews at Hemet dispatch to fires from the San Bernardino mountains, near Los Angeles, all the way south to the Mexican border.
Energetic and forthright, McGough doesn’t come across as a man content to “manage” drawn-out wildfires. “We’re really big on initial attack firefighting here,” he says. Whether it’s a vague report of smoke from the trees or a brush fire poised to double in size, “One call and we’re dispatching 10 fire engines, two bulldozers, four hand crews, and a full complement of firefighting aircraft right from the get-go.”
Airplanes are deployed to arrive less than 20 minutes after the initial call, the window of opportunity when emerging wildfires can often be put down with an aggressive punch. Frequently, Cal Fire air units are the sole firefighting resource on-site during that critical time frame.
Between 2013 and 2018, approximately 5.4 percent of California’s total acreage was aflame at one time or another. One measure of the agency’s success is the fact that most Californians never heard about the overwhelming majority of these conflagrations. “We keep all our fires at 10 acres or less, 90 percent of the time,” Fire Captain Richard Cordova says.
Hundreds of protesters in Hong Kong blocked access to commuter trains on Tuesday, causing widespread disruption during the morning rush hour.
Activists prevented trains from leaving across the city. Some blocked doors while others sounded emergency alarms.
Crowds of passengers were left stuck on subway platforms and services were badly delayed for much of the morning.
Anti-government protests have rocked the city in recent weeks and are causing ongoing disruption.
The demonstrations began over a controversial bill that would have enabled extraditions to mainland China, but they have since morphed into a broader movement focused on democratic reform.
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“I think my work and meeting could wait,” one commuter told the BBC. “But our freedom, safety [and] human rights are being taken away and that can’t wait – so I’m OK with it.”
“I think it’s OK because the government should respond to the demands of the citizens,” another said.
When I watch Missy Foreman-Greenwald of the animated coming-of-age series “Big Mouth,” I see my 13-year-old self. I see her in Missy’s overalls and curls — unruly in comparison to the popular girls’ flat-ironed hair — and braces. I see her in Missy’s unabashed nerdiness. At an age where girls can be tempted to make themselves, and their interests, invisible, Missy has vocal obsessions: Greek mythology, public radio (“Meghna Chakrabarti said…”), jazz. She fantasizes about Nathan Fillion of “Firefly” dancing the merengue; at 13, I wanted “Science Guy”-era Billy Nye to use his lab equipment to make me dinner.
I’d like to think that if Missy (voiced by Jenny Slate) had been my classmate, we would have become best friends, but who knows. Young teenagers can be the absolute worst to the people with whom they share the most similarities. They’re sometimes a visual reminder of the things you wish — during a time where everyone is going through changes — that you could change about yourself. Watching Missy now, though, I’m oddly, yet fiercely, protective of her character in a way that I wasn’t of myself at that age.
Of the characters on “Big Mouth,” which just announced a multi-year contract with Netflix, Jessi is “arguably the main female character” — as the show’s Wiki page states. The page also says of Jessi, “She is a sarcastic, popular and intelligent girl who has somewhat physical and emotional development in early terms.” I think that jumble of a final phrase is to say that Jessi is mature for her age. I also think that Jessi is the kind of girl I would have liked to be at 13.
Jessi (Jessi Klein) is pretty self-assured. In the eyes of a teenager, she and her choices exude a certain confidence: convincing her mom to let her buy a “sexy red bra,” running off to a motel with her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Jay, stealing a few of her dad’s pot gummies.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) saw a mass departure of senior staff late Monday amid outcry over the lack of diversity within the committee’s top ranks under Chairwoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.).
Communications director Jared Smith, political director Molly Ritner, deputy executive director Nick Pancrazio, top communications aide Melissa Miller, and the committee’s diversity director Van Ornelas all resigned by Monday evening.
The exits come on the heels of the resignation of the committee’s executive director Allison Jaslow, which she announced at an all-staff meeting earlier on Monday.
Jaslow’s exit followed complaints about the lack of diversity in the senior management positions from Reps. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas) and Filemon Vela (D-Texas).
Gonzalez and Vela said in a statement Sunday that the committee was in “complete chaos.”
Bustos returned to Washington on Monday despite the August recess to deal with the growing outcry from black and Latino lawmakers over diversity.
In 2016, there were 10 NGOs operating rescue vessels in the Mediterranean Sea, the deadliest route for migrants trying to cross from Africa to Europe. Today, there are just three. That’s mostly thanks to Italy’s populist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, an immigration hard-liner who’s imposed harsh obstacles and penalties on humanitarian rescue boats.
But some of the rescuers won’t be deterred from what they see as their moral duty.
“I don’t have any doubt that this is a thing that should be done. I will not sleep if I leave people at sea because someone is telling me that you should not do it,” said Anabel Montes Mier, who leads the Spanish rescue boat Open Arms.
Mier is under investigation in Italy for a March 2018 rescue she carried out, and facing up to 12 years in prison if she’s convicted. She’s among at least 38 people who have been investigated or charged with aiding illegal migration, an accusation that activists who rescue migrants are colluding with smugglers.
Still, the Open Arms is continuing its rescue missions, even despite a new security decree from Salvini that gives him the power to ban migrant rescue ships from entering Italian territorial water unless they have his permission. Since the decree went into effect, two boats have defied it and entered the port of Lampedusa to disembark migrants. Both boats have been impounded, and their operators face fines of up to 50,000 euros.
Mier and other activists say they’re protected under the International Law of the Sea and that taking migrants back to war-torn Libya would be a crime.
VICE News talked to Mier along with a rescued Cameroon refugee — and some Italian locals who aren’t sure if they should trust the NGOs.
GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe, the president’s nominee for director of national intelligence, once worked with a leading Putin critic on the Magnitsky Act — which Russians have been pushing to overturn.
President Donald Trump’s new pick to lead the country’s vast intelligence apparatus fell into favor with the White House as a longtime, vocal critic of the Russia investigation and the officials who launched it.
But John Ratcliffe, the congressman Trump has tapped to fight the “deep state” from within, has worked closely with one of the men Russian President Vladimir Putin wants most to see in prison: Bill Browder, an American-born businessman who has been on a decade-long campaign to expose Russian corruption.
Ratcliffe, a third-term congressman, was chief of Anti-Terrorism and National Security for the Eastern District of Texas and served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas from 2007 to 2009. But he has no other intelligence experience aside from a recent appointment to the House Intelligence Committee.
Intelligence community sources have therefore been skeptical of Ratcliffe’s qualifications to lead the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the government’s intelligence agencies, coordinates the country’s global information-gathering operation and frequently briefs the president on threats each morning.
They are also wary of Ratcliffe’s criticisms of the Russia probe, including his claims that former FBI Director James Comey should be investigated “for violating the Espionage Act” and that the Obama administration “committed crimes” while investigating Russia’s election interference.
“There’s concern that a political crony of the president will squelch any evidence that the Russians are interfering in the 2020 election,” said Jeremy Bash, the former chief of staff at the Pentagon and CIA under President Barack Obama. “If the Russians interfere in 2020 to support Trump, can we count on an intelligence community led by Ratcliffe to call that out publicly? Or will that evidence be swept under the rug?”
It remains to be seen how Ratcliffe will approach the job if he’s confirmed, and whether he’ll be as candid with Trump about Russia’s threat to U.S. democracy as his predecessor, Dan Coats. Coats famously warned last year, just days after the Helsinki summit, that “the warning lights are blinking red again” and “the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”
Trump, who in defiance of his own national security advisers has repeatedly downplayed the threat posed by Russia, did not get along with the famously outspoken Coats.