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Wed, 26 Feb 2020
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Italy struggles to contain coronavirus outbreak as cases spread to Tuscany and Sicily

Rome coronavirus
Italy's coronavirus outbreak spread south on Tuesday to Tuscany and Sicily, as the civil protection agency reported a surge in the number of infected people and the death toll rose to 10.

Officials reported 322 confirmed cases of the virus, 100 more than a day earlier. In a worrying development, they said some of the new cases showed up in parts of Italy well outside the country's two hard-hit northern regions.

Tuscany reported its first two cases, including one in the tourist destination of Florence, while Sicily recorded three: all of them tourists from the worst-hit Lombardy region, where more than 200 people have tested positive.

The Liguria region, known as the Italian Riviera, also reported its first case, but cautioned that the definitive result for the 70-year old still needed to come from Italy's infectious diseases institute.

Officials also reported three new fatalities in Lombardy, bringing the total to 10. All three were elderly patients.

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Julian Assange 'phoned White House to warn of risk to lives'

assange demonstration
© Getty Images
Supporters for Julian Assange demonstrate outside the court for a second day.
Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange tried to phone the White House to warn them unredacted files were about to be published online, a court has heard.

Mr Assange is fighting extradition to the US to face trial over the leaking of classified US military documents.

His lawyer dismissed claims he "knowingly" put lives at risk by publishing the names of informants.

He told Woolwich Crown Court that a book by the Guardian newspaper was to blame for the names being published.

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Less than half of Americans have faith in their elections

I voted
Claims of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election (and the 2020 campaigns of Trump and Sanders) and the recent debacle of the Iowa caucus, where technological glitches and error-ridden results caused mayhem, have shaken many Americans' confidence in elections.

In fact, as Statista's Niall McCarthy notes, the U.S. public's confidence in elections is one of the worst of any wealthy democracy, according to a recently published Gallup poll. It found that a mere 40 percent of Americans have confidence in the honesty of their elections. As low as that figure is, distrust of elections is nothing new for the U.S. public.

The research found that a majority of Americans have had no confidence in the honesty of elections every year since 2012 with the share trusting the process at the ballot box sinking as low as 30 percent during the 2016 presidential campaign. Gallup stated that its 2019 data came at a time when eight U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed allegations of foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election and identified attempts to engage in similar activities during the midterms in 2018.

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Making Homer and Virgil optional at Oxford isn't going to 'diversify' Classics studies

trojan horse classical painting
© Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo/The National Gallery
The Procession of the Trojan Horse into Troy
When I was in sixth grade, the English teachers at my New York all-girls' school started revamping the decades-old curriculum. First, they cut The Catcher in the Rye (too masculine), then they cut Jane Eyre (too feminine), and finally, much to my dismay, they cut Homer. I had been looking forward to reading the Odyssey in class for years and begged my teachers to reconsider. "Don't worry," they said, "you'll all read Homer in college, anyway." This response, of course, was laughable. My high-school classmates went on to study such subjects as Mechanical Engineering and Media Studies, and if they read any literature in college, it wasn't, alas, Homer.

Knowledge of Homer is no longer expected in our technocratic and multicultural society. Although I believe everyone would benefit from reading the works that form the basis of our inherited tradition, the absence of Homer in particular from school curricula does not bother me all that much. My passion is ancient philosophy, and if it were up to me, I would make everyone read Plato. But knowledge of Homer is still expected in Classics departments — or at least it should be. Homer was the beacon of a common culture across the ancient Greek world. Even as different city-states, speaking different dialects of Greek, waged war against one another, they were united by Homer, whose stylized language and mythic tales transcended their differences. Ancient poets, tragedians, comedians, historians, philosophers, painters, sculptors — all nod to Homer, implicitly or explicitly, in their works, hoping to build on a shared tradition and knowing that just about any audience would detect and understand the references.

Snakes in Suits

Dr Susan Crockford: Attenborough's Arctic betrayal

fake news polar bear starvation

Inconvenient rebound in polar bear numbers.
A new video documenting Sir David Attenborough's inaccurate claims about climate change and Arctic wildlife blames his apocalyptic language and misleading narrative for the dramatic rise in eco anxiety among young people.

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People 2

Spousal abuser Amber Heard unlikely to lose 'Aquaman 2' role or L'Oreal spokesperson position

Amber Heard
© Getty
Actress Amber Heard attends the 2016 Glamour Women Of The Year Awards in Hollywood, California.
Amber Heard is likely going to keep her position as L'Oreal spokesperson and her role as Mera in "Aquaman 2," since Warner Bros. and L'Oreal are fond of her.

All the social media noise against Heard is not enough to persuade Warner Bros. and L'Oreal to fire the actress. According to a source, her admission from the leaked audiotapes that she was physically aggressive towards ex-husband, Johnny Depp, does not affect her job. Even the petitions against her are unlikely going to get any resolution.

"Warner Bros. doesn't care about the allegations made about Amber Heard nor do they have interest in social media. As such, there's nothing going on with her role on Aquaman 2 and they wouldn't consider firing her," a source with knowledge about the situation told Screen Geek.

Comment: The double standard is jaw dropping. Johnny Depp lost his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise over hearsay that he had been abusive to Heard. Now that the truth comes out and the roles are reversed, Heard loses nothing.

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Day 1 of Assange's US extradition hearing: Key facts to know

assange extradition trial court sketch
© Reuters/Julia Quenzler
Courtroom sketch of Julian Assange's extradition hearing, Monday February 24, 2020
Opening arguments were made on the first day of the US extradition hearing of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, with the prosecution claiming his leaks risked lives while the defense argued that his case was politically motivated.

Monday's hearing lasted six hours, including breaks, and Judge Vanessa Baraitser heard arguments from James Lewis QC, representing the US government, and Edward Fitzgerald QC, representing Assange.

The journalist's supporters amassed outside Woolwich Crown Court, loudly chanting, holding 'free Assange' placards and blowing vuvuzelas. Inside the courtroom, Assange sat clean-shaven, with a new haircut and wearing glasses and a gray suit.

Comment: Assange's father, John Shipton, sounded the alarm once again on the dangers waiting for journalists if his son's prosecution is successful:
If Julian Assange's transfer to the US isn't stopped, other journalists and publishers face the imminent risk of being persecuted, detained or even tortured, his father exclaimed as his extradition trial got under way in London.

"We're here to vigorously and firmly support Julian in this ten-year-long oppression and political action that's [reached its] culmination here in Belmarsh," his father John Shipton told reporters outside the courthouse, which is adjacent to the prison.

Shipton, himself an anti-war activist in his youth, lashed out at "the oppression of journalism [and] the ceaseless malice" directed against his son. He drew attention again to the "ten-year-long arbitrary detention of Julian," as well as his inhuman and degrading treatment at HM Prison Belmarsh, which amounted to torture, according to UN Rapporteur Nils Melzer.
That is what will happen to journalists, publishers and publications if this extradition, this political extradition of Julian Assange, is successful.
The Guardian reports that Assange continues to be abused in Belmarsh Prison
Julian Assange was handcuffed 11 times, stripped naked twice and had his case files confiscated after the first day of his extradition hearing, according to his lawyers, who complained of interference in his ability to take part.

Their appeal to the judge overseeing the trial at Woolwich crown court in south-east London was also supported by legal counsel for the US government, who said it was essential the WikiLeaks founder be given a fair trial.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, acting for Assange, said the case files, which the prisoner was reading in court on Monday, were confiscated by guards when he returned to prison later that night and that he was put in five cells.

The judge, Vanessa Baraitser, replied that she did not have the legal power to comment or rule on Assange's conditions but encouraged the defence team to formally raise the matter with the prison.

The details emerged on the second day of Assange's extradition hearing, during which his legal team denied that he had "knowingly placed lives at risk" by publishing unredacted US government files.

The court was told Wikileaks had entered into a collaboration with the Guardian, El País, the New York Times and other media outlets to make redactions to 250,000 leaked cables secret cables in 2010 and publish them.

Mark Summers, QC, claimed the unredacted files had been published because a password to this material had appeared in a Guardian book on the affair. "The gates got opened not by Assange or WikiLeaks but by another member of that partnership," he said.

The Guardian denied the claim.
Kristinn Hrafnsson, the head of Wikileaks, continues to point to the elephant in the room. Assange is really on trial for exposing war crimes committed by the U.S.:
"There's absolutely nothing new that is being presented here this morning by the Crown Prosecution Service on behalf of US prosecution," Hrafnsson told a crowd of journalists who gathered outside Woolwich Crown Court where the extradition hearing for Assange began.

Lawyers representing US authorities presented arguments that were "more of the same things we've been hearing for ten years." Back in July 2010, WikiLeaks was accused of putting US lives at risk by exposing its military and intelligence operations worldwide, but "ten years later, there is no evidence of such harm."

"And to the contrary, a Pentagon official was forced to admit in Manning's trial in 2013 that nobody was physically harmed because of the revelations in 2010 and 2011. And now, in 2020, they are in court, not able to present a single evidence of that harm," Hrafnsson reminded the press, before hitting back at the US side.
And I'm sitting there listening to these claims, these subjective claims, and thinking: Why aren't we discussing the harm that was revealed by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011? Why aren't we talking in court about war crimes, the assassination of innocent civilians by the military, the slaughtering of Reuters journalists?
At any rate, the very existence of the extradition trial is a disgrace, Hrafnsson pointed out: "It is a shameful thing that we have to defend journalism in a court of law in this country."

The imprisoned publisher's legal team believe he is unlikely to receive a fair and unbiased trial in the US, but the ongoing proceedings in Britain are also far from flawless.

The courtroom in Woolwich has only a dozen seats reserved for the general public, Hrafnsson revealed, and journalists have trouble getting inside.

"Very hard to talk about open and transparent proceedings, especially when the microphones are so bad that you have to stretch your ear to hear what is being presented," the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief added.


Iranian deputy health minister tests positive for coronavirus - lawmaker claims death toll 4x higher than revealed

iranians masks
© Global Look Press / Ahmad Halabisaz
Iran's Deputy Health Minister Iraj Harirchi has tested positive for coronavirus, Iranian state media has reported. Harirchi has been at the forefront of the country's response to the outbreak.

A spokesperson for Iran's health ministry confirmed in a television interview on Tuesday that Harirchi has been infected and is under quarantine.

ILNA reported Monday that officials from the city of Qom had said there had been 50 coronavirus deaths there. "We prefer not to censor what concerns the coronavirus because people's lives are in danger," the outlet said.

Harirchi rejected that report, however, saying he would resign if even half of that number had died.

Tehran confirmed its first two cases of the novel virus COVID-19 last Wednesday, with the health ministry saying that two patients had been put into isolation.

Comment: Another video - pre-diagnosis - shows him coughing and wiping his nose.

As RT points out:
The minister has no mask or protective clothing on in the videos, and could therefore have passed the virus on to multiple people in the vicinity. The coronavirus death toll in the country currently stands at 15, according to IRNA, with 95 infected.

Iran is experiencing the deadliest outbreak so far outside of China, where the virus originated.
Based on Iran's current numbers, the death rate is as high as 20%, ten times higher than what it should be based on the numbers coming out of China and the rest of the world. Either those numbers are bunk and the death rate is higher, or Iran has many more undiagnosed cases (probably the second option).

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Arrow Up

Village People say Trump's use of their music is legal - they've always been inclusive

village people
The Village People defended President Trump's use of their songs "Macho Man" and "Y.M.C.A." at rallies and in India this week after a flood of complaints from fans.

"We have received numerous requests demanding that we prevent or ban President Donald Trump's use of our songs, particularly 'Y.M.C.A.' and 'Macho Man,' the iconic 70's disco group wrote in a Facebook post on Monday. "Since our music is not being used for a specific endorsement, the President's use is 'perfect[ly]' legal."

The statement comes as other bands have sought to stop the president from using their music, including Rihanna and R.E.M. which recently threatened to take legal action.

"Like millions of Village People fans worldwide, the President and his supporters have shown a genuine like for our music," the Facebook post continued. "Our music is all-inclusive and certainly everyone is entitled to do the YMCA dance, regardless of their political affiliation."

Comment: It's nice to see there are some in the entertainment industry who haven't completely lost their minds. Kudos to the Village People for maintaining their civility and modeling some adult behavior.


Probe reveals abuse at America's oldest school for the deaf, finds 'appalling truths'

American School for the deaf

American School for the Deaf, in West Hartford, Connecticut
An investigation into inappropriate conduct at America's oldest school for deaf people corroborated multiple allegations of sexual and physical abuse that stretched decades, school officials said.

In a report, officials at the American School for the Deaf, in West Hartford, Connecticut, said Friday that the allegations involved former dorm supervisors, a maintenance worker, a dean and the school's longtime executive director.

The alleged abuse occurred from the 1950s to the 1980s, the report said. The school was founded in 1817.

"The results of this investigation reveal startling and appalling truths," Executive Director Jeffrey S. Bravin and Catherine Burns, president of the board of directors, said in the report. "As a school community, we offer a sincere and heartfelt apology to the survivors of the inexcusable actions identified in this report and for the fact that the school did not prevent or stop them."