AFP

Major US pipeline shut by ransomware attack

Washington (AFP) - The largest fuel pipeline system in the United States was forced to shut down its entire network after a ransomware attack, the operating company said in a statement Saturday. The Colonial Pipeline Company ships gasoline and jet fuel from the Gulf Coast of Texas to the populous East Coast through 5,500 miles (8,850 kilometers) of pipeline, serving 50 million consumers. It said it had been "the victim of a cybersecurity attack" which involved ransomware -- attacks that encrypt computer systems and seek to extract payments from operators. "In response, we proactively took cert...

New documentary paints disturbing picture of Woody Allen

New York (AFP) - A new documentary series premiering Sunday on the HBO network, "Allen v. Farrow," paints a damning picture of Oscar-winning director Woody Allen, particularly regarding his alleged sexual abuse of young adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow. Even if the four-part series contains no major revelations, it seems certain to further sully the already battered reputation of the aging New York filmmaker. Respected documentary directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering delve into Allen's past, using testimony and legal documents -- some not previously seen -- to dig deeper than anyone before them....

Harvard astronomer argues that alien vessel paid us a visit

Washington (AFP) - Discovering there's intelligent life beyond our planet could be the most transformative event in human history --  but what if scientists decided to collectively ignore evidence suggesting it already happened? That's the premise of a new book by a top astronomer, who argues that the simplest and best explanation for the highly unusual characteristics of an interstellar object that sped through our solar system in 2017 is that it was alien technology. Sound kooky? Avi Loeb says the evidence holds otherwise, and is convinced his peers in the scientific community are so consume...

Russians see US democracy 'limping' after Capitol stormed

Moscow (AFP) - Russian officials on Thursday pointed to the storming of the US Capitol as evidence of America's decline, with one saying it showed US democracy was "limping on both feet". After the stunning events in Washington, many in Moscow said the United States was no longer in any position to lecture other countries on freedom and democracy. Under banners reading "Storm of the Capitol" and "Chaos in Washington", Russian state television showed rolling images of mobs of Donald Trump supporters breaking down barricades and swarming the building, as security forces fired tear gas and police...

Major blast hits Nashville after chilling bomb warning

Washington (AFP) - A huge explosion tore through a section of downtown Nashville early Friday, after police responding to reports of gunfire discovered a parked motorhome playing a recorded bomb warning.  The blast shattered windows and ripped apart trees but appeared calculated to spare lives, injuring just three people as it detonated at 6:30am (1130 GMT) in a section of the southern US city that was largely deserted due the early hour and the Christmas Day holiday. The blast left as many as 20 buildings including store fronts badly damaged and the road surface charred -- scattering glass, t...

Facebook changing 'race-blind' hate speech policy

San Francisco (AFP) - Facebook on Thursday said it is revising its systems to prioritize blocking slurs against Black people, gays and other groups historically targeted by vitriol, no longer automatically filtering out barbs aimed broadly at whites, men or Americans. The change in Facebook's algorithm is a shift from the social network's ethnicity and gender-neutral system that removed anti-white comments and posts such as "Men are dumb" or "Americans are stupid." "We know that hate speech targeted towards under-represented groups can be the most harmful, which is why we have focused our tech...

#StopTheSteal is Trump supporters' viral offensive to discredit the election

New York (AFP) - All it took was a Facebook page and a hashtag: As election tallies trickled in Donald Trump supporters were busy going viral, accelerating the unsubstantiated claim that Democrats were "stealing" the election under the rallying cry #StopTheSteal.It lived just 48 hours but the page quickly racked up 350,000 members, people subscribing to the conspiracy theory the Republican president too has been touting to his 88 million Twitter followers.Trump's social media "influencers" -- his son Donald Trump Jr, or the spokesperson of the Republican party Elizabeth Harrington -- also play...

Disney adds new racism disclaimers to older streaming titles

Los Angeles (AFP) - Disney has added extended disclaimers to classics including "Peter Pan" and "Aristocats" on its streaming platform to warn viewers that the films contain derogatory stereotypes about minorities.Disney+ subscribers will be shown a text disclaimer before watching Peter Pan don a "redskin" headdress in the 1953 cartoon fantasy, or listening to a slant-eyed and buck-toothed "East Asian" cat singing in the 1970 animated feline movie.While previous disclaimers on the streaming platform already acknowledged "outdated cultural depictions," the new warning says certain Disney film s...

Ethiopia accuses Trump of inciting 'war' over Nile dam

Addis Ababa (AFP) - Ethiopia on Saturday accused Donald Trump of inciting "war" over a massive Nile River mega-dam after the US president spoke out against the project and suggested Egypt might destroy it.Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew summoned US ambassador Michael Raynor to clarify Trump's comments, which mark the US president's latest foray into a delicate, long-running dispute between Ethiopia and downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan.  Gedu told Raynor that "the incitement of war between Ethiopia and Egypt by a sitting US president neither reflects the long-standing partnership and str...

Mormons fed up with Trump's vulgar rhetoric and behavior are flocking to the Democratic Party

Los Angeles (AFP) - Mormons in the United States have traditionally been reliable Republican voters, but some members of the conservative church put off by President Donald Trump are switching sides and backing veteran Democrat Joe Biden.Support for Trump among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which emphasizes family values and morals, is especially lagging among women.Experts say that could have a significant impact in some key battleground states -- notably Arizona and Nevada, where Mormons represent six percent of the population."There are things about Biden that ...

Trump mulls higher US stimulus offer as Mnuchin downplays deal

Washington (AFP) - Lawmakers and the White House are unlikely to finalize a new stimulus plan before the November election, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday, even as his boss President Donald Trump indicated he may raise his offer.But there were signs late in the day that the impasse might be easing, after Mnuchin said the administration would agree on a national testing plan Democrats have called for in the package to help ease the damage from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.It was a small but potentially significant step after month...

Behind in polls, Trump launches swing state blitz

Washington (AFP) - President Donald Trump, trailing in the polls with the election just three weeks away, returns to the campaign trail on Monday after being hospitalized for Covid-19, embarking on a sprint through key swing states.As Trump heads for Florida -- the first of four battleground states he plans to visit over the next four days -- his Democratic opponent Joe Biden will be touting his economic plans in the midwestern state of Ohio.Trump, 74, who has declared himself "immune" after catching the coronavirus, plans to hold an outdoor campaign rally on Monday evening at the airport in S...

Citi report sees $16 tn drag on US economy from racism

New York (AFP) - Racial inequality has cost the US economy $16 trillion in wealth over the last two decades, Citigroup said in a report Thursday.The banking giant -- pointing to the drag from unequal pay, housing discrimination, education disparity and other longstanding ills in the United States -- simultaneously pledged $1 billion in initiatives for Black-oriented business needs."Addressing racism and closing the racial wealth gap is the most critical challenge we face in creating a fair and inclusive society and we know that more of the same won't do," said Citigroup Chief Executive Michael...

American Evangelical Pastor on Trial in Turkey -- For Terrorism Charges

An American pastor will go on trial in Turkey on Monday on terror-related charges after spending the last one-and-a-half years behind bars, in a case that has raised friction between Ankara and Washington.

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Facebook Suspends Trump Campaign Data Firm Cambridge Analytica

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The Myanmar Army Is Slaughtering Rohingya by the Thousands

6,700 Rohingya killed in first month of Myanmar violence: MSF

At least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims were killed in the first month of a Myanmar army crackdown on rebels in Rakhine state that began in late August, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Thursday. The figure is the highest estimated death toll yet of violence that erupted on August 25 and triggered a massive refugee crisis, with…

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In D.C., Protesters March in Solidarity With Hurricane-Hit Puerto Rico

Protesters marched Sunday in Washington in solidarity with hurricane-hit Puerto Rico, criticizing the lackluster US response to the storm and calling for reform. Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico in September, ravaging the US territory's infrastructure. Some 50 percent of its population of 3.4 million people still lacks electricity more than two months later. Demonstrators gathered…

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Contestants Turn Miss Peru Pageant Into Protest

Contestants broke with tradition and turned the Miss Peru pageant into a protest highlighting violence against women in one of South America's most dangerous countries for females. In elegant ball gowns, the 23 finalists in Sunday's televised pageant at the Lima Municipal Theatre gave voice to thousands of women who are victims of harassment, sexual and…

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Trump Says He'll Allow Release of Kennedy Assassination Files

US President Donald Trump said Saturday he will allow long blocked secret files on the 1963 assassination of John F Kennedy to be opened to the public for the first time. The November 22, 1963 assassination -- an epochal event in modern US history -- has spawned multiple theories challenging the official version that Kennedy was…

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Sexual Abuse Stories from Around the World Pour out on Social Media: 'Me Too'

Sexual abuse stories from around the world pour out on social media

Celebrities and everyday people continued flooding social media with personal accounts of sexual assault and harassment Monday, responding to calls to break the culture of silence around such abuse. ... the outpouring with a simple Twitter request that women respond " me too" if they have also been sexually harassed or assault. Tens of thousands of people replied, making #MeToo the top trending topic. The...

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Poland's Great Leap Backwards

Marta Syrwid travelled to a private clinic in Slovakia for an abortion this January, as thousands of Polishwomen regularly do. Syrwid, 30, a journalist, told her story in Gazeta Wyborcza: ‘2 January. The woman who was supposed to be driving us was still drunk from New Year’s Eve. A man drove us instead and she told him the way. There were three of us in the back, squeezed together in a car that was in a terrible state. It stank of booze and we couldn’t open the windows.’

Abortion was legal and free in Poland from 1956 to 1993 but the country’s current legislation is among the most restrictive in Europe, with only three exemptions from an outright ban — a risk to the mother’s health, a foetal abnormality or illness, or a pregnancy because of rape or incest. And still there are hurdles: ‘Even when a woman is in theory entitled to a free, legal abortion in a public hospital, she often can’t get one,’ says Krystyna Kacpura who runs Federa, the Federation for Women and Family Planning. The majority of doctors invoke the conscience clause or delay until the legal 22-week time limit expires. They request additional examinations and don’t tell patients their rights, despite a legal obligation. ‘And what’s worse,’ says Kacpura, ‘they exert psychological pressure to make them change their minds. They play down the risks of serious health problems in the foetus and say “Of course your child has a brain abnormality but look, he’s moving his legs”.’ Doctors also fear stigma: ‘Some have had their cars vandalised. Online you see “Don’t go to so-and-so. He’s a murderer”. Catholics demonstrate outside hospitals holding graphic images. In some southern cities, there are no longer any hospitals prepared to carry out a termination.’

The official figures show that the number of legal abortions in Poland has dropped from 130,000 a year in the 1980s to under 2,000 for a population of 38.5 million. That is still too many, say activists from the Fundacja PRO — Prawo do Å»ycia (Foundation for the Right to Life), who collected nearly 500,000 signatures in July to submit a draft law to parliament to remove all exemptions except immediate danger to the mother. Doctors would have been required to inform the police about every miscarriage, and women who aborted would have faced five years in prison.

The plan — other than the jail term — was officially backed by Poland’s bishops. The Church put forward Magdalena Korzekwa for interview, who told me that ‘the law should be changed as soon as possible. All unborn children should be protected.’ She maintained that ‘even a child conceived through rape should have the right to life. It’s not his fault if he was conceived in terrible circumstances. He’s a child like any other. His dignity is the same.’ The main grounds for legal abortion in Poland is the risk of disability. ‘That’s a form of eugenics. A choice is being made about who has the right to life.’

The Law and Justice Party (PiS), which has a majority in the Sejm (lower house), approved a draft version of the law on 23 September, but U-turned on 6 October, three days after 100,000 women dressed in black demonstrated in Poland’s major cities. Prime Minister Beata SzydÅ‚o tried to reassure the most reactionary wing of her support base by announcing ‘a huge information campaign to promote the defence of life’ and a support scheme for women who have had a disability diagnosed in their unborn child but not had a termination. The founder of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD), Mateusz Kijowski, emphasises that the law ‘originated in civil society: The PiS had said it would put forward its own law to further restrict the right to an abortion, in particular in case of foetal abnormality.’

Parents of a disabled child currently have no entitlement to state aid. Around a million children (14%) in single-parent families receive no support from the father. ‘There is a state food allowance, but the chances of getting the monthly grant of 500 zÅ‚oty [$125] in the event of paternal default are very limited,’ says MaÅ‚gorzata Druciarek, a sociologist at Warsaw’s Gender Equality Observatory. ‘Only 330,000 children receive it. If a woman works and is not assessed as being in extreme poverty, she can’t claim it. Some women do two or three jobs to keep their heads above water.’

Family planning and women’s organisations estimate that 150-200,000 clandestine abortions are carried out in Poland each year. Pro-life campaigners dismiss this as a gross exaggeration. The most clued-up women get reliable information from sites such as Kobiety w Sieci (Women Help Women) or Women on Web, which offer help in finding emergency abortion pills. Some have the financial and material means to go to private clinics in Slovakia, Germany or the Czech Republic.

But what about the less well off and less well informed? ‘Many doctors take advantage of these women in need,’ says Wanda Nowicka, former deputy speaker of the Sejm. ‘The same doctors who say publicly that they won’t carry out abortions put small ads in the papers or online offering “all gynaecological services” or “resumption of your periods”. They sometimes exploit women’s ignorance. Women will go to see a doctor thinking they’re pregnant just because their period is a few days late, and for a hefty fee, these doctors will pretend to carry out a termination but in fact do nothing at all.’

Poland’s black market is thriving. An abortion costs between 3000 and 4000 zÅ‚oty ($750-1,000), a month’s salary (the average monthly income is 4,100 zÅ‚oty). They are sometimes carried out without anaesthetic, and medical aftercare is rare. Marta Syrwid, whose abortion cost $500, says an acquaintance told her about worse journeys than her own. ‘It was like something from a spy film. A minibus took the girls from Kraków to Katowice. In Katowice they had to find the second vehicle by themselves to take them to the doctor’s surgery. They were told to carry a particular newspaper under their arm so the driver would recognise them. A few minutes after the abortion, my friend had to leave the surgery, still under anaesthetic, and walk a kilometre in the snow to the station to catch the train back to Kraków.’ Even if prosecutions are rare in Poland, doctors and others who help a woman risk two years in jail (the projected law would have increased that to five years). Blackmail is common. Other than Syrwid, no woman has told her story publicly, even anonymously — too risky, too painful.

Other women have turned to veterinarians or used heavy doses of arthritis medicine to cause a miscarriage. ‘Most people think it’s an exaggeration to say that women are putting their lives at risk having clandestine abortions, but it’s true,’ says Natalia Skoczylas of Feminoteka, which helps victims of domestic violence. Church spokesperson Magdalena Korzekwa claims ‘these situations don’t exist. They’re an invention of the abortionists.’ Korzekwa went on to say: ‘The greater the protection of life under the law, the fewer the women who will risk their lives by having abortions, including clandestine ones.’

The Federation for Women and Family Planning has recorded cases of women who have had health problems or even died. The most high profile is that of Alicia TysiÄ…c. In March 2007 the European Court of Human Rights found against Poland for its refusal to allow TysiÄ…c, who had three children and suffered from severe myopia, to have a termination that would have saved her sight. In October 2012 the court found Poland to have breached article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides a right to respect for private and family life, in the case of a woman who had been raped when she was 14 and had been refused an abortion by several hospitals, and harassed by anti-abortion groups.

In post-communist Poland, religion is taken seriously. The 1993 compromise on abortion must be seen in the context of the politics of social tension when society was undergoing major change, says sociologist François Bafoil, a Central Europe specialist at CNRS, France’s national centre for scientific research. ‘During the partitions of Poland [in the late 18th century], the Church enabled it to maintain its historical, territorial unity and an idea of nationhood. It played this role again between the wars, and under the Nazis and the communists. It was the foundation of a shared identity. This continued in the 1990s, when the state was overwhelmed by the scale of what it needed to do after independence, and it remains so today.’

So it’s unsurprising that the proposed law contained passages of scripture and quotations from the Polishpope John-Paul II (1978-2005). The number of self-declared Catholics in Poland is still very high. When the regime changed in 1989, the Church ensured that religious education was added to the school curriculum. Sex education, introduced in 1973, was replaced by classes on ‘family life’ taught by priests. ‘They play videos that show the embryo as a child with hands and a head,’ says Natalia Skoczylas, ‘and show how it will be cut up during an abortion.’

Abortion was banned in January 1993. When the left returned to power that September, they passed an amendment adding ‘difficult social circumstances of the mother’ to the permitted exemptions, but this was vetoed by President Lech WaÅ‚Ä™sa and, after his departure in 1995, a new measure introduced by his successor was censured by the constitutional court, which repealed it in 1997.

Today, even the right to contraception cannot be taken for granted. ‘In big cities, it’s easier to get the pill prescribed or to buy contraceptives,’ says Kacpura. ‘You can blend in with the masses. But rural doctors refuse to prescribe it, even for therapeutic purposes.’ Chrystelle F (not her real name), a Frenchwoman married to a Pole who has lived in Warsaw for six years, told me that ‘my pill, Cerazette, is banned by Poland’s Medical Association because they say it carries too high a risk of sterility. My mother posts it to me. Polish friends stock up on it when they go to France or England.’ Chrystelle once tried to get the morning-after pill, available over the counter for under a year: ‘I had to go to nine pharmacies. On one of the city’s best-known streets, Nowowiejska Avenue, one pharmacist told me curtly that I ought to think about what I’m doing. Another told me she couldn’t give it to me because of the problems it might create. I ended up paying €80 [$88] for it, double the normal price.’

‘The current situation for Polish women is the worst in 25 years,’ says Nowicka. Hundreds of thousands of Poles have recently responded to the call from the KOD and demonstrated in Warsaw against PiS decisions in the first public expression of anger since 1989. Social networks rallied 100,000 to a march organised by Dziewuchy Dziewuchom (‘Gals for Gals’) on 18 June, followed by the ‘women on strike’ demonstration on 3 October. ‘These marches in black are a terrifying demonstration of the civilisation of death,’ said the archbishop of Å�ódź. Ewa Burgunska, a film producer, says: ‘The right to medical protection has really pushed us to mobilise. None of the organisers is a feminist or activist, but the proposed law went too far. Our strength is that we know how to talk to women in straightforward terms that reach them all.’ Nowicka believes that ‘part of society has woken up’. Kijowski thinks ‘people realised the effect they could have by taking to the streets. There had never been such demonstrations over abortion before.’ But ‘the current situation is still very serious. Most doctors are restricting access to prenatal examinations.’

Outlawing abortion has had no effect on the birthrate, which has fallen continuously since 1989. At 1.3 births per woman, it is among the lowest in Europe and demographic prospects are grim.

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WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Questioned by Prosecutors

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was being questioned by prosecutors on Monday at the Ecuadoran embassy in London in the latest twist in the long-running legal battle over a rape allegation against him.

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True Love Didn't Fuel Humans' Shift Toward Monogamy - It Was Fear of Disease

Why did humans become monogamous, apparently rejecting the promiscuity that is natural to most animals?

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Avoiding Food at Night May Reduce Breast Cancer Recurrence

Women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer may lower their risk of tumors coming back if they avoid eating for 13 hours or more each night, a study published Thursday said.

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Trump’s ‘Egg Yolk Yellow’ Helmet of Hair Has Stylists Shaking Their Heads

Is it a combover? Contemporary art, maybe? Or, wait, a cross between an otter’s tail and a blooming ear of corn?

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WATCH: Doomsday Clock Remains at 3 Minutes to Midnight

Nuclear threats and climate change pose strong threats to the planet and a symbolic "doomsday" clock will stay at three minutes to midnight, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said Tuesday.

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Cuba's Plus-Size Ballerinas Are Determined to Defy Stereotype

Havana (AFP) - With wide waists in white tutus, their figures are far from those of typical ballerinas -- but these plus-size Cuban dancers are determined to defy stereotypes.

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Richest 1 Percent Now Own More Than the Rest of Us Combined: Oxfam

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Supreme Court Strikes Down Florida Death Penalty Law

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida's death penalty law Tuesday, declaring it unconstitutional because it does not require that a jury make the life or death decision.

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Study Concludes That Environment, Not Bad Luck, Is Mainly to Blame for Cancer

Environmental factors such as sunshine and tobacco smoke cause more cancers than random DNA mutations, researchers have affirmed — contesting another team's conclusions that "bad luck" was mainly to blame.

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195 Countries Adopt Historic Paris Global Warming Pact

Le Bourget (France) (AFP) - To rousing cheers and tears of relief, envoys from 195 nations approved Saturday an accord to stop global warming, offering hope that humanity can avert catastrophic climate change and usher in an energy revolution

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