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Supreme Court Won't Hear Appeal of Man Claiming Antigay Bias Led to Death Sentence

Charles Rhines

Jurors in convicted murderer Charles Rhines’s case allegedly thought he would enjoy prison, so they sentenced him to death instead.


Trump really, really wants troops in space

President Donald Trump says he wants the creation of a space force. Will he get it?

Will Trump get to create the “space force” he wants?

President Donald Trump just said he wants America to have a “space force” charged with protecting America in, well, space. The problem is that it’s unclear he will actually get one.

On Monday, Trump signed an executive order meant to create the space force, which would be the sixth branch of the US military (but the White House text of the order doesn’t feature a directive to create the space force). He then asked Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to oversee the creation of the new service. If it’s officially created, the Air Force would likely give up all of its space duties to the space force, including preparing for war in space and protecting US satellites from harm.

“We have the Air Force, and we’re going to have the space force,” Trump said during a speech from the White House. “Separate but equal.”

Trump has long called for the creation of a space force, saying in March that it would be “like the Army and the Navy, but for space, because we’re spending a lot of money on space.” There was even a congressional push last year that tried to formally create the new service.

But Congress flatly rejected that proposal. In this fiscal year’s must-pass defense budget bill, both the House and the Senate decided against a new space force, preferring instead to keep space defense within the Air Force.

That doesn’t seem to matter to Trump, since he has now ordered the creation of the space-focused service. It’s unclear whether Trump can actually create a military branch out of thin air. But one thing is for sure: He doesn’t have much support for it.

A senior congressional source told me that Congress — not the president — would need to authorize a new military service, just like it did in 1947 when it created the Air Force. After all, the Constitution is clear that the Congress has the authority “to raise and support armies.”

There’s another problem: The Air Force is adamantly against a space force. “The Pentagon is complicated enough,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told reporters last summer. “This will make it more complex, add more boxes to the organization chart.”

Even Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis came out against it. “I oppose the creation of a new military service and additional organizational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting efforts,” Mattis wrote in a letter to congressional defense leaders last October.

Of course, there’s nothing stopping Trump from wanting a space force or even ordering its establishment. It’s just an open question as to whether there will ever be a space force.

“[T]he near-term practical effect of all this is that the president can direct DoD to come up with a plan and start preparing to create a space force, but he still needs congress to authorize it,” Todd Harrison, a defense expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, tweeted on Monday.

“Space is no longer a peaceful domain”

There’s a good case to make for a space force, though.

“Space is no longer a peaceful domain,” Deborah Lee James, the Obama administration’s final Air Force secretary, said in an interview last July. “There is a real possibility that a conflict on Earth could bleed into space.”

There are two main reasons for that: Russia and China. According to the Defense Intelligence Agency, Russia wants to gain more power in space because it believes gaining supremacy there will allow it to win future fights on this planet. And in late 2015, China created the Strategic Support Force, which is meant to streamline and improve its space, cyber, and electronic warfare missions.

The two countries are causing problems with anti-satellite technology, too, noted Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last May — meaning they could mess with the satellites that help the US military do its job. The Pentagon is planning to open a space-war center to counter their threats.

Okay, but … what sort of conflict is actually going on in space? What are we really talking about?

Basically, there are tons of military equipment in space, especially satellites. This kind of equipment helps the US, Russia, and China — and any tech-savvy force — navigate terrain and communicate with one another. On top of that, assets in space help to track enemy fighters, take pictures for intelligence services, and even help control missiles. Without space, it would be much harder to fight on Earth; that’s why Russia and China are investing so heavily in it.

But Russia and China aren’t space’s only threats. The area just outside Earth’s orbit has seen an explosion of commercial satellites and other communications equipment since the 1960s, put there first by countries and, as of late, by commercial companies. That equipment is used to help drivers reach their destination, help potential lovers swipe right on dating apps, or simply help people text friends.

The chart below shows the huge growth in these satellites. The blue line represents their total growth since around 1960.

Department of Defense

The internet, of course, adds a new complication to all the equipment that countries are putting in space. Most notably, equipment can potentially be hacked. For instance, a team of hackers could jam a satellite by messing with its signals so it interrupts the satellite’s normal activity, rendering it useless. That could cause problems for all sorts of everyday activities, like credit card transactions and phone calls.

Then, of course, there’s space debris threatening all of that commercial and military space equipment, since it could knock into the expensive machines. NASA estimates that there are 20,000 pieces of debris larger than a softball orbiting the Earth, about 500,000 pieces of debris the size of a marble or larger, and many millions of pieces that are too small to register.

“This is a solution in search of a problem”

The idea is that creating a new service will ensure that there’s a segment of the military whose entire job is to focus on space 100 percent of the time. That would allow a space force to counter Russia, China, and other threats while giving space-focused staff more bureaucratic power inside the Pentagon.

But Sean O’Keefe, a former NASA head and Navy secretary, thinks creating a brand new branch of the military is not the right way to go. “This is a solution in search of a problem,” he told me in an interview last summer. Basically, he thinks the Air Force is already doing a fine job protecting space, even if it does privilege earthbound pilots. Creating a space force would just add another layer of bureaucracy to an already massive organization: the Pentagon.

James, the former Air Force secretary, agrees. She thinks dealing with the current complaints about the Air Force and space — 1) that it’s not well-funded, 2) that acquisition takes too long, and 3) that there is no one person to call about military space operations — makes more sense.

So clearly the space force has its detractors, not least Defense Secretary Mattis. And of course, Congress has yet to officially mandate its creation.

But with Trump’s comments on Monday, the space force conversation has kicked into hyperdrive. Time will tell if future US troops will be wearing space helmets.


Before Seeing ‘Incredibles 2’, You Should Know About This Warning for Light-Sensitive Viewers

Incredibles 2 Warning - Screen Slaver

Incredibles 2 hit theaters this weekend, and in case you didn’t hear, it was quite the hit at the box office. The film broke the box office record for the biggest opening weekend in the history of animation with an estimated $180.2 million (the more precise figures will come this morning). But it didn’t entirely go off without a hitch, because some viewers has an unpleasant experience when they went to see the anticipated Pixar sequel.

In Incredibles 2, the villain known as The Screenslaver uses hypnotic, flashing videos to put people into a trance and do their villainous bidding. This means that several times throughout Incredibles 2 there are repeated light flashes and strobes that have the potential in incite problems for viewers dealing with epilepsy, migraines, vision impairments, seizure conditions, vertigo (specifically flicker vertigo), autism, ADHD, and PTSD. One viewer took notice of this issue and garnered up enough support online so that Disney asked all theaters to deliver an Incredibles 2 warning about this potential issue that might arise for some viewers.

Here’s the Twittter thread that went viral and led to Disney’s addition of a warning at box office counters:

So, the villain’s weapon of choice in the movie is bright white lights that are at a rapidly flashing/strobing frequency, with the intent to disorient people. One of these scenes lasts over 90 seconds with continuous strobe light, other scenes last anywhere from 5-30 seconds

— Veronica Lewis (@veron4ica) June 15, 2018

I am not calling for a boycott of Incredibles 2, or to change the movie. It is very well done, and the strobe lights are an important point in the plot. I just wish Disney/Pixar and theaters alike would issue a warning that the movie contains several scenes with strobe lights

— Veronica Lewis (@veron4ica) June 15, 2018

Parents have the right to make an informed decision about something that could impact their child’s safety and people with chronic illness have the right to learn about potential triggers/make steps to avoid them. Incredibles 2 needs a safety warning at the ticket window for this

— Veronica Lewis (@veron4ica) June 15, 2018

Veronica Lewis also created a post on her blog about this problem. According to Variety, there weren’t any official reports of issues arising this weekend, but it’s better safe than sorry for Disney to let their viewers know about this problem in advance. As someone with a family member who has migraines triggered by exposure to strobe lights, this is something that plenty of viewers will appreciate knowing about before they go into the theater.

The result of this quick and courteous campaign, and you might have already encountered them:

Thank you to everyone for retweeting this, writing articles, and signal boosting my message! My goal of having signs at the ticket counter was reached so that people can be warned about the flashing lights in Incredibles 2.

— Veronica Lewis (@veron4ica) June 17, 2018

So if you’re going to see Incredibles 2 this weekend, just beware of this issue. Hopefully it won’t keep you from enjoying this fantastic sequel to The Incredibles. In case you haven’t heard, it’s pretty damn great, so you should head out to see it as soon as possible.

Helen (voice of Holly Hunter) is called on to lead a campaign to bring Supers back, while Bob (voice of Craig T. Nelson) navigates the day-to-day heroics of “normal” life at home with Violet (voice of Sarah Vowell), Dash (voice of Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack—whose superpowers are about to be discovered. Their mission is derailed, however, when a new villain emerges with a brilliant and dangerous plot that threatens everything. But the Parrs don’t shy away from a challenge, especially with Frozone (voice of Samuel L. Jackson) by their side. That’s what makes this family so Incredible.

Incredibles 2 is playing in theaters everywhere now.


The post Before Seeing ‘Incredibles 2’, You Should Know About This Warning for Light-Sensitive Viewers appeared first on /Film.

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Trump just tweeted that “crime in Germany is way up.” It’s actually at its lowest level since 1992.

You’ll be shocked to learn the president sometimes says untrue things.

President Trump decided this morning to take a very odd step of sounding off about the domestic politics of a major ally, Germany. His core factual assertion that “crime in Germany is way up” is the opposite of true.

The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition. Crime in Germany is way up. Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2018

On the contrary, in May, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer — who is actually the leader of the immigration-skeptical forces inside Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet — released new data indicating that Germany’s crime rate had fallen to its lowest level since 1992.

Immigration is a difficult issue for the so-called “grand coalition” between the main German center-right and center-left parties Merkel oversees. This is because Merkel’s policies are unpopular with the right wing of her own party, and especially with its Bavarian affiliate that, for various historical reasons, has a good measure of institutional autonomy. But it’s just not true that crime is up.


Why do people get hangry? A study suggests it’s not just low blood sugar to blame

Oscar the Grouch

We’ve all been there, hungry, irritable, and angry, or “hangry,” a term added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2018, after decades of accepted usage among bickering partners and frustrated colleagues across the English-language world.

But how hunger mutates into anger is still not entirely clear to scientists. Recently, two researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill set out to study the underlying mechanism. Their results challenge the going theory that hanger is essentially the result of low blood sugar making it harder for people to control their emotions (known as the regulatory depletion hypothesis.)

While that may be part of the story, “there’s probably other things psychologically going on,” says Jennifer MacCormack, lead author of the study and a PhD student studying psychology and neuroscience at UNC. “Otherwise, why wouldn’t hunger always lead to us lashing out or being terrible human beings?”

Hunger does lead to higher levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the body, making you feel tense and stressed out. According to the research, however, hunger-induced feelings can lead to tantrums and anger when someone is in a situation that is indeed somehow stressful (so your family or co-workers may not be entirely off the hook), and the person experiencing hanger is unaware of their bodily state. The combination creates “the perfect storm” for someone to misattribute their pangs to an external source.

“Because of the stress, for example, or the provocativeness of the situation, people are really focused on what’s happening,” and not on their own physiological state, MacCormack says. So it becomes, “You’re the terrible reason I’m angry,” she says.

The new study, published this month in the journal Emotion, was divided into three parts: In two experiments, online participants were asked to rate the pleasantness of Chinese characters that were unfamiliar to them, with the characters serving as inkblots, or ambiguous stimuli. (Any participants who knew Chinese were excluded from the study.) Before rating the characters, however, they were flashed pictures of objects that are considered neutral (for instance, an iron), positive (a kitten, perhaps), or negative (a threatening cougar, for example). Later, they self-reported their hunger levels.

It turned out that only hungry people who also saw a negative image read the subsequent Chinese characters as less than pleasing to the eye.

Next, the researchers invited 200 students to a lab experiment sold as a “visual performance” test. They asked half to fast beforehand, and they ran the students through a series of exercises. Half the group was asked to write about an emotional experience, something sad or angry, while others wrote on a neutral topic. Then all the students were asked to complete a long, “tedious” test on a computer that was set up to crash just before they could finish, at which point, a miffed researcher would enter the room, asking the student, “What did you do?!”

That bothered some people, sparking feelings of ill-will for the researcher. But not everyone was rattled, only those who had not been directed to write about their emotions. People who had fasted, but had been primed to think about emotions, were no more angered by the crashed computer and the researcher’s unjust insinuation than people who had eaten before the test.

Like any study, this one has its limitations, and the researchers say it’s just meant to help us begin to understand the complicated “hangry” reaction. Even if you’re not the type to get hangry, they caution, when hunger pangs hit, it might lead to other negative emotions, like stress or disgust, in the right context. A closer examination of these connections could help scientists understand the “downstream emotions” that follow hunger states in different populations, the authors argue, including those with diabetes or the elderly, who may not be able to sense their hunger.

MacCormack suggests becoming better aware of your hunger as a way to avoid blaming your hot head on the situation around you. And what if it’s too late, you’re stuck in traffic after someone cuts you off, or you’re marooned at your desk after a tense budget update, and now you’re in hangry mode?

“In these cases,” MacCormack writes in The Conversation, “try to make your environment more pleasant. Listen to an amusing podcast while you drive. Put on pleasant music while you work. Do something to inject positivity into your experience.”

And, you know, start packing snacks.


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A major upgrade to the Large Hadron Collider is underway

201803-131_01.jpgThe Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is getting an upgrade that will let researchers collect approximately 10 times more data than they can now. Currently, the particle accelerator can produce up to one billion proton-proton collisions, but that number wi…


Why the I.R.S. Should Go After Trump

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Obamacare premiums are going to go up in 2019. Here’s what you should know.

Obamacare premiums will continue to rise next year, based on early rate filings from health insurers across the nation, at least before you account for the law’s financial assistance.

The initial 2019 rate increases, compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, range from a modest 7 percent bump in Richmond, Virginia, to a 36 percent hike in Baltimore for so-called “benchmark” plans on which the law’s tax subsidies are based. (It’s too soon to say where the national average might end up, and every market is unique anyway.)

The primary culprits for the increases seem to be the repeal of the individual mandate penalty in the Republican tax law and the Trump adminstration’s expansion of non-Obamacare plans, in addition to the continued effect of President Trump’s decision to end the cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers. Some of this is also the general increases that we would expect for inflation and the actual medical costs insurers paid the year before.

By the looks of it, two important trends that came into sharp focus in 2018 are going to carry over into 2019:

  1. Because Obamacare caps the premiums that people who qualify for subsidies are required to pay, the federal taxpayer is going to be asked to make up the increasing gap between the gross premiums that health insurers are charging and the net amount subsidized customers pay.
  2. People who make too much money to qualify for assistance are going to have to choose between paying the full amount of the increased rates or buying a less comprehensive non-Obamacare plan, now that the Trump administration is making those more available again — or, I guess, they could go uninsured.

Let’s take those one at a time.

How Obamacare premium hikes cost the federal taxpayer

The Affordable Care Act is designed so that people who receive tax subsidies (those making less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level, $98,000 for a family of four) pay a set percentage of their income on their health plan and not a penny more, no matter the actual premium set by their insurer. The federal government picks up the rest of the cost.

This has been compounded since the Trump administration ended CSR payments. Health insurers responded by hiking rates specifically on these benchmark plans that are used to calculate the subsidies. So the size of tax credits increased, which allowed many people to buy more generous plans at a lower price or less generous plans for free.

Examples from the KFF database help make this less abstract. In Burlington, Vermont, insurers are planning to hike premiums on the benchmark plan by 28 percent, before you apply any subsidy.

As a result, the size of the subsidy will increase by nearly 45 percent for a 40-year-old nonsmoker making $30,000 a year in 2019.

With that subsidy, this person can buy the benchmark plan next year for just 2 percent more than they did in 2018. Or they could buy a less generous plan that would cost them 96 percent less than it did the year before. Or, maybe even better yet, they could buy a more generous plan for 36 percent less than it cost in 2018, thanks to the bigger federal tax credit.

In other words, the cost to the subsidized customer will either be the same or even lower in 2019 than it was in 2018, but the federal government (and thus the federal taxpayer) is making up the difference. This is why the CBO estimated before Trump decided to pull the CSRs that federal spending on subsidies would increase by tens of billions of dollars if CSRs were ended.

The plight of the unsubsidized Obamacare customer

So the bottom line for subsidized customers is not so bad. They are protected from premium increases by the law’s subsidies.

But for people who don’t receive any federal assistance, they are going to feel every dollar of those rate hikes. A family in Baltimore making $110,000 a year is going to see the premium for that benchmark plan increase from $456 a month to $622.

That’s an additional $2,000 over a full year. Even if you’re making low six figures, you’re probably going to feel that pinch.

Those people are going to be left with a choice, one that Obamacare has always presented them but that became more pronounced over the years as premiums continued to go up.

If they have high-cost medical conditions, they might have no option except to pony up for these higher prices. Other people might decide to buy less generous Obamacare plans, if they are risk-averse. Or they could decide to leave the law’s markets altogether.

That will be easier than ever for non-subsidized customers, after the actions taken by Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration:

  • There is no penalty for not having insurance, after the GOP tax bill ended the mandate.
  • The Trump administration has expanded non-Obamacare coverage, through association health plans and short-term insurance that is not required to comply with the law’s rules about preexisting conditions.

For younger, healthier people or people inclined to take on more risk, maybe that’s not such a bad deal. But particularly for the people who don’t receive federal assistance but do have serious medical needs, this is only getting worse.

A bit of good news: Insurers are entering — not leaving — the Obamacare markets

So subsidized customers are actually a pretty good deal, but federal taxpayers and unsubsidized customers are paying the cost. There is one piece of unqualified good news so far in the 2019 Obamacare landscape: No insurers are pulling out of the law’s markets, and in fact, a few insurers are entering them.

”The other things to note so far is that insurers are on net entering the market and not leaving the market,” David Anderson at Duke University told me. “This is interesting as a sign that the chaos of 2017-2018 is seen as subsiding.”

You might remember all the panic about bare counties last year, as it looked like some areas of the country would be without any insurance options at all. But all those bare spots were filled in before customers picked their 2018 plans, thanks in part of the law’s subsidy structure and the work of state and even Trump officials.

We could still see some empty counties pop up as filing season goes on. But so far, so good.

This story appears in VoxCare, a newsletter from Vox on the latest twists and turns in America’s health care debate. Sign up to get VoxCare in your inbox along with more health care stats and news.

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