The strongmen strike back: Authoritarianism reemerges as the greatest threat to the liberal democratic world

Facial recognition software records the faces of people in China in November 2017. Revolutions in communications technologies, data collection and artificial intelligence have reshaped the competition between liberalism and anti-liberalism. Photo: Gilles Sabri / The Washington Post
Facial recognition software records the faces of people in China in November 2017. Revolutions in communications technologies, data collection and artificial intelligence have reshaped the competition between liberalism and anti-liberalism. Photo: Gilles Sabri / The Washington Post

By Robert Kagan
14 March 2019

(The Washington Post) – Of all the geopolitical transformations confronting the liberal democratic world these days, the one for which we are least prepared is the ideological and strategic resurgence of authoritarianism. We are not used to thinking of authoritarianism as a distinct worldview that offers a real alternative to liberalism. Communism was an ideology — and some thought fascism was, as well — that offered a comprehensive understanding of human nature, politics, economics and governance to shape the behavior and thought of all members of a society in every aspect of their lives.

We believed that “traditional” autocratic governments were devoid of grand theories about society and, for the most part, left their people alone. Unlike communist governments, they had no universalist pretensions, no anti-liberal “ideology” to export. Though hostile to democracy at home, they did not care what happened beyond their borders. They might even evolve into democracies themselves, unlike the “totalitarian” communist states. We even got used to regarding them as “friends,” as strategic allies against the great radical challenges of the day: communism during the Cold War, Islamist extremism today.

Like so many of the theories that became conventional wisdom during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, however, this one was mistaken. Today, authoritarianism has emerged as the greatest challenge facing the liberal democratic world — a profound ideological, as well as strategic, challenge. Or, more accurately, it has reemerged, for authoritarianism has always posed the most potent and enduring challenge to liberalism, since the birth of the liberal idea itself. Authoritarianism has now returned as a geopolitical force, with strong nations such as China and Russia championing anti-liberalism as an alternative to a teetering liberal hegemony. It has returned as an ideological force, offering the age-old critique of liberalism, and just at the moment when the liberal world is suffering its greatest crisis of confidence since the 1930s. It has returned armed with new and hitherto unimaginable tools of social control and disruption that are shoring up authoritarian rule at home, spreading it abroad and reaching into the very heart of liberal societies to undermine them from within. [more]

The strongmen strike back

Bill preventing use of the Next Generation Science Standards introduced in Iowa, because of climate science and evolutionary biology

Cover page of Iowa House File 428, which would prevent the use of the Next Generation Science Standards that include teaching climate science and evolutionary biology. Graphic: Iowa Legislature
Cover page of Iowa House File 428, which would prevent the use of the Next Generation Science Standards that include teaching climate science and evolutionary biology. Graphic: Iowa Legislature

19 February 2019 (Silencing Science Tracker) – On 19 February 2019, a bill (House File 428) was introduced in the Iowa legislature that would, if enacted, reinstate “the science standards utilized by school districts in this state during the 2014-2015 school year.” This would effectively prevent use of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which were approved by the Iowa State Board of Education in August 2015, and first used in the 2015-16 school year.

The NGSS were developed by a consortium of 26 states, in collaboration with various education groups, and are widely considered to reflect the “best practice” for science education. Nevertheless, the NGSS have been criticized by a number of Iowa state legislators, including Representative Sandy Salmon, who is the lead sponsor of House File 428. Rep. Salmon has previously objected to the NGSS because, in her view, “woven throughout the standards are controversial topics of climate change, man’s negative impact on the environment, and evolution as a scientific fact.”

Representative Salmon has repeatedly sought to block implementation of the NGSS. She was the lead sponsor of House File 2317, which was introduced in the Iowa legislature in February 2018, and sought to reverse the State Board of Education’s decision to adopt the NGSS. She is also a co-sponsor of House File 62, which was introduced in January 2019, and would prevent prevent the State Board of Education implementing the NGSS.

Bill Preventing Use of the Next Generation Science Standards Introduced in Iowa


By Glenn Branch
22 February 2019

(NCSE) – Iowa’s House File 428 would, if enacted, revert the state’s science standards to “the science standards utilized by school districts in this state during the 2014-2015 school year” — just before the state adopted the Next Generation Science Standards. The bill was introduced on February 19, 2019, and referred to the House Education Committee.

The lead sponsor of HF 428 is Sandy Salmon (R-District 63). In 2015, Salmon introduced a bill, House File 272, which would have prevented Iowa from adopting the NGSS, in part because they “present evolution as scientific fact and shine a negative light on human impacts on climate change,” according to the Cedar Rapids Gazette (March 2, 2015).

After HF 272 died and the NGSS were adopted in 2015, Salmon filed a series of bills — HF 2054 in 2016, HF 140 in 2017, and HF 2317 in 2018 — aimed at reversing the adoption of the standards and prohibiting the state from requiring their use. None of these bills succeeded.

In addition to undoing the adoption of the NGSS, Salmon’s new bill, HF 428, would also prevent the state from requiring adoption of the state science standards or the use of specific instructional materials and would require further revisions to the state science standards to be approved by the legislature and governor.

Also currently with the House Education Committee is House File 61, which would prohibit the state from requiring the use of the NGSS. Its sponsor, Skyler Wheeler (R-District 4), is on record as opposing the NGSS on account of their inclusion of climate change and evolution; he is also a cosponsor of HF 428.

A second anti-NGSS bill in Iowa

How “completely avoidable” measles cases continue to climb – 4 new suspected cases in Washington state – “This is a public health problem for which science has already provided a solution”

In this 30 January 2019 photo, signs posted at the Vancouver Clinic in Vancouver, Washington, warn patients and visitors of a measles outbreak. Photo: Gillian Flaccus / AP
In this 30 January 2019 photo, signs posted at the Vancouver Clinic in Vancouver, Washington, warn patients and visitors of a measles outbreak. Photo: Gillian Flaccus / AP

By Lauran Neergaard
27 February 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. has counted more measles cases in the first two months of this year than in all of 2017 — and part of the rising threat is misinformation that makes some parents balk at a crucial vaccine, federal health officials told Congress Wednesday.

Yet the vaccine is hugely effective and very safe — so the rise of measles cases “is really unacceptable,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health.

The disease was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, which means it was not being spread domestically. But cases have been rising in recent years, and 2019 is shaping up to be a bad one.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers at the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing bemoaned what’s called “vaccine hesitancy,” meaning when people refuse or delay vaccinations.

“These outbreaks are tragic since they’re completely avoidable,” said Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky.

“This is a public health problem for which science has already provided a solution,” agreed Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.

Here are some questions and answers about measles:

Q: How dangerous is measles?

A: Measles typically begins with a high fever, and several days later a characteristic rash appears on the face and then spreads over the body. Among serious complications, 1 in 20 patients get pneumonia, and 1 in 1,000 get brain swelling that can lead to seizures, deafness or intellectual disability.

While it’s rare in the U.S., 1 or 2 of every 1,000 children who get measles dies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [more]

How ‘completely avoidable’ measles cases continue to climb


VANCOUVER, Washington, 28 February 2019 (AP) – Officials say four new suspected measles cases have been identified in a measles outbreak in southwest Washington.

Clark County Public Health officials said Thursday that four people are suspected to have the highly contagious viral illness.

Since the beginning of the year, Clark County has seen 65 people with confirmed cases of the measles around the Vancouver area.

Most are young children under age 10 who were not vaccinated.

Multnomah County which is home to Portland, Oregon, has identified four people with measles and one who could have measles. One man in King County, which is home to Seattle, also had measles. [more]

4 new suspected measles cases in southwest Washington

As global democracy retreats, ethnic cleansing is on the rise

Emergency shelter and supplies are being provided to displaced people in the Rakhine State in western Burma. Photo: DFID-UK Department for International Development / Flickr
Emergency shelter and supplies are being provided to displaced people in the Rakhine State in western Burma. Photo: DFID-UK Department for International Development / Flickr

By Michael J. Abramowitz and Arch Puddington
25 February 2019

(The Diplomat) – Ethnic cleansing, a staple of geopolitical crises in the 1990s, is making a comeback. According to Freedom in the World, the annual report on political rights and civil liberties published by Freedom House, the number of countries earning a score deduction for some form of forced demographic change increased from three in 2005 to 11 in 2018.

In the bloodiest cases, civilians from targeted groups have been killed or displaced in huge numbers. The military in Myanmar engaged in an orgy of rape, murder, and arson in a campaign to push the Muslim Rohingya minority into neighboring Bangladesh. During a period of extreme violence that began in mid-2017, tens of thousands of Rohingya were killed and over 700,000 fled.

In Syria’s multisided war, belligerents including the Assad regime and the Islamic State have engineered mass displacement, starvation, and purges of entire communities. And in South Sudan, both pro-government and rebel fighters have committed atrocities against civilians from rival ethnic groups, though government-aligned forces have been responsible for the worst abuses.

But the most violent outbreaks should not be allowed to overshadow or excuse more subtle efforts to forcibly alter the ethnic or religious makeup of a population. In Bahrain, the repressive Sunni monarchy has engaged in a long-term attempt to erode the Shiite majority and tip the country’s demographic balance in favor of the Sunni minority. Among other steps, the state has revoked the citizenship of hundreds of Shiite Bahrainis, and outlawed Shiite activists and opposition parties that object to such policies.

Ethnic cleansing became a global concern during the Balkan wars and the genocidal slaughter in Rwanda in the 1990s. Given the belated international response to those crises, some in the democratic world advanced a doctrine called the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which obliges states to protect all populations from genocide and ethnic cleansing, and to intervene before the killing begins. At a 2005 UN summit, every country in the world signed a commitment to R2P.

Since that optimistic moment, democracy has been in retreat. In country after country, strongmen have eviscerated independent media, captured the judiciary, and stage-managed elections to perpetuate their rule. The failure of the United States and other democratic powers to respond effectively to these abuses has encouraged major autocracies to embrace more extreme measures, like forced demographic change, in pursuit of their domestic or geopolitical agendas.

The world’s democracies have appeared powerless to stop tragedies like those in Myanmar and Syria, whereas Russia and Iran have provided indispensable support to the regime in Damascus, and China has served as a key diplomatic backstop for Myanmar.

Indeed, both Moscow and Beijing are carrying out demographic engineering operations of their own.

Since its seizure of Crimea, the Kremlin has systematically enhanced the Russian military and civilian presence in the territory while deporting Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, or forcing their departure through acts of persecution.

China is engaged in campaigns to transform the populations of three regions with sizable ethnic minorities: Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang. While all three feature organized, long-term efforts to encourage settlement by members of the Han Chinese majority and suppress the cultures and languages of the indigenous minorities, the most ambitious and brutal project is under way in Xinjiang.

Conditions in the region deteriorated sharply during the past two years as more than 1 million ethnic Muslims were detained in a vast network of “re-education” centers to undergo political and religious indoctrination. The number and size of orphanages and boarding schools have also been expanded to absorb the growing number of minority children who have been sent away for immersive Chinese-language education or whose parents are being held in the camps. Cases of torture and deaths in custody were reported throughout 2018, as was evidence that Uyghurs were transferred in large numbers to detention facilities in other provinces.

Chinese officials use reassuring terms to describe their concentration camps and ethnic removal plans, referring to urban renewal, rural development, and job training.  But the goal remains what it has always been: to obliterate unique ethno-religious cultures that have endured for centuries, using a revamped version of techniques that made Maoism an infamous symbol of totalitarian cruelty.

One could make the argument that the atrocities in places like South Sudan and Myanmar are the work of rogue regimes. But the embrace of forced demographic change by world powers, especially China, which is making an aggressive bid for global leadership, has truly alarming implications. The international norm against ethnic cleansing is not just being swept aside. It is at risk of being replaced by a new standard that authorizes rulers to use any means necessary to create their preferred citizenry — a sinister reversal of democracy, in which free citizens are meant to choose their rulers.

As Global Democracy Retreats, Ethnic Cleansing Is on the Rise

The unique dangers of the Washington state measles outbreak – “It will take off like a wildfire”

Amber Gorrow holds her 8-week-old son Leon at their home in Vancouver, Washington. He is too young for a measles vaccination right now, so his mother keeps him at home as much as possible to limit his exposure to the disease. Photo: Alisha Jucevic / The Washington Post
Amber Gorrow holds her 8-week-old son Leon at their home in Vancouver, Washington. He is too young for a measles vaccination right now, so his mother keeps him at home as much as possible to limit his exposure to the disease. Photo: Alisha Jucevic / The Washington Post

By Lena H. Sun and Maureen O’Hagan
6 February 2019

VANCOUVER, Washington (The Washington Post) – Amber Gorrow is afraid to leave her house with her infant son because she lives at the epicenter of Washington state’s worst measles outbreak in more than two decades. Born eight weeks ago, Leon is too young to get his first measles shot, putting him at risk for the highly contagious respiratory virus, which can be fatal in small children.

Gorrow also lives in a community where she said being anti-vaccine is as acceptable as being vegan or going gluten free. Almost a quarter of kids in Clark County, Wash., a suburb of Portland, Ore., go to school without measles, mumps and rubella immunizations, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) recently declared a state of emergency amid concern that things could rapidly spin out of control.

Measles outbreaks have sprung up in nine other states this winter, but officials are particularly alarmed about the one in Clark County because of its potential to go very big, very quickly.

The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the nation’s most vocal and organized anti-vaccination activists. That movement has helped drive down child immunizations in Washington, as well as in neighboring Oregon and Idaho, to some of the lowest rates in the country, with as many as 10.5 percent of kindergartners statewide in Idaho unvaccinated for measles. That is almost double the median rate nationally.

Libertarian-leaning lawmakers, meanwhile, have bowed to public pressure to relax state laws to exempt virtually any child from state vaccination requirements whose parents object. Three states allow only medical exemptions; most others also permit religious exemptions. And 17, including Washington, Oregon and Idaho, allow what they call “philosophical” exemptions, meaning virtually anyone can opt out of the requirements.

All those elements combine into a dangerous mix, spurring concern about the resurgence of a deadly disease that once sent tens of thousands of Americans to hospitals each year and killed an estimated 400 to 500 people, many of them young children.

“You know what keeps me up at night?” said Clark County Public Health Director Alan Melnick. “Measles is exquisitely contagious. If you have an under-vaccinated population, and you introduce a measles case into that population, it will take off like a wildfire.”

To date, at least 55 people in Washington and neighboring Oregon have gotten sick with the virus, with new cases tallied almost daily. All but five are in Clark County. King County, which includes Seattle, has one case; Multnomah County in Oregon, which includes Portland, has four, including three cases reported Wednesday. Most of those infected are unvaccinated children under 10, health officials said. [more]

‘It will take off like a wildfire’: The unique dangers of the Washington state measles outbreak

Europeans watch Brexit chaos in “disbelief and bewilderment” – “It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion and you can’t do anything to stop it”

Shiren Hermanns, 30, a German who works for the European Commission in Brussels, stands outside the EC building in Brussels. About Brexit, she says, “It’s an unfortunate development and I don't think it’s been handled well. I’m not sure they understood what they were getting themselves into.” Photo: Susannah Ireland / NBC News
Shiren Hermanns, 30, a German who works for the European Commission in Brussels, stands outside the EC building in Brussels. Photo: Susannah Ireland / NBC News

By Rachel Elbaum
21 February 2019

BRUSSELS (NBC News) – Europeans in Brussels, the unofficial capital of the E.U., have some choice words to describe Britain’s attempt to leave the 28-country bloc.

“Horrifying,” “chaotic” and “frustrating” are just a few of them.

There are just 36 days left until Brexit, and lawmakers have been unable to agree on how it will leave and what the future relationship will look like.

“It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion and you can’t do anything to stop it,” said Jess Fitch, who was born and raised in Belgium to British parents and is a U.K. national. […]

“There is disbelief and bewilderment,” said Petros Fassoulas, the secretary general of European Movement International, a lobbying group that promotes European integration. “It is impossible to comprehend how badly this has been handled.” […]

“The fact that it’s been so difficult to understand what the Brits want has soured attitudes, and now the sense is the sooner they are out the better,” said Fassoulas, who was born and raised in Greece, worked in London and now lives in Brussels. […]

“It’s an unfortunate development and I don’t think it’s been handled well. I’m not sure they understood what they were getting themselves into,” said Shirin Hermanns, 30, a German who works for the European Commission in Brussels. [more]

Europeans watch Brexit chaos in ‘disbelief and bewilderment’

Trump wins 2018 Rubber Dodo award as top eco-villain – “From wildlife to public lands to climate, Trump has wrecked, poisoned, and polluted our environment on an unprecedented scale”

The Center for Biological Diversity’s 2018 Rubber Dodo award, given to Trump on 15 February 2019. The award reads, “For greedy and corrupt policies against wildlife, wild places, and people, including denying climate change, slashing protections for public lands, ramping up offshore oil drilling, attempting to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act, and putting fossil fuel lobbyists in charge of the EPA and Interior Department.” Photo: Center for Biological Diversity
The Center for Biological Diversity’s 2018 Rubber Dodo award, given to Trump on 15 February 2019. Photo: Center for Biological Diversity

TUCSON, Arizona, 15 February 2019 (CBD) –  President Trump is the winner of the Center for Biological Diversity’s 2018 Rubber Dodo award. The statue is awarded each year to the person or group who has most aggressively sought to destroy America’s natural heritage or drive endangered species extinct.

“From wildlife to public lands to climate, Trump has wrecked, poisoned and polluted our environment on an unprecedented scale,” said Kierán Suckling, the Center’s executive director. “There’s never been a president with such a vicious approach to slashing protections for water, wildlife, lands and oceans.”

Among the Trump administration’s misdeeds: slashing protection for more than 2 million acres of Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante national monuments in Utah, opening Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve for oil development, ramping up offshore oil drilling, denying climate change, putting an oil and gas lobbyist in charge of the Department of the Interior, putting a coal lobbyist in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency, attempting to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act and launching a plan to end protection for nearly every wolf in the lower 48 states.

“Trump’s greed and ignorance know no bounds, and it’s having a profound effect on the natural world,” Suckling said. 

Trump won the Rubber Dodo award after an online contest where more than 12,000 people cast their votes. Other nominees were Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt and Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen.

Previous Rubber Dodo award winners include Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (2017), Rep. Rob Bishop (2016), Monsanto (2015), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services (2014), the Koch brothers (2013), climate denier Senator James Inhofe (2012), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2011), former BP CEO Tony Hayward (2010), massive land speculator Michael Winer (2009), Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (2008) and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne (2007).

Background on the Dodo

In 1598 Dutch sailors landing on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius discovered a flightless, 3-foot-tall, extraordinarily friendly bird. Its original scientific name was Didus ineptus. (Contemporary scientists use the less defamatory Raphus cucullatus.) To the rest of the world, it’s the dodo — possibly the most famous extinct species on Earth after the dinosaurs. It evolved over millions of years with no natural predators and eventually lost the ability to fly, becoming a land-based consumer of fruits, nuts and berries. Having never known predators, it showed no fear of humans or the menagerie of animals accompanying them to Mauritius.

Its trusting nature led to its rapid extinction. By 1681 the dodo had vanished, hunted and outcompeted by humans, dogs, cats, rats, macaques and pigs. Humans logged its forest cover while pigs uprooted and ate much of the understory vegetation.

The origin of the name dodo is unclear. It likely came from the Dutch word dodoor, meaning “sluggard,” the Portuguese word doudo, meaning “fool” or “crazy,” or the Dutch word dodaars meaning “plump-arse” (that nation’s name for the little grebe).

The dodo’s reputation as a foolish, ungainly bird derives in part from its friendly naiveté and the very plump captives that were taken on tour across Europe. The animal’s reputation was cemented with the 1865 publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Based on skeleton reconstructions and the discovery of early drawings, scientists now believe that the dodo was a much sleeker animal than commonly portrayed. The rotund European exhibitions were likely produced by overfeeding captive birds.

Contact

  • Kierán Suckling, (520) 275-5960

Trump Wins 2018 Rubber Dodo Award as Top Eco-villain

GoFundMe: Protect the National Butterfly Center from Trump border wall – $82K of $100K goal raised – UPDATE: Goal reached!

Aerial view of the area where the Trump border wall will be built on National Butterfly Center land, 1.2 miles inland from the Rio Grande River. It will bisect NBC property and leave 70 percent of it between the wall and the river (the actual international border). Photo: National Butterfly Center

10 December 2018 (National Butterfly Center) – Congress funded 33 new miles of Border Wall in the 2018 omnibus Appropriations Act  and contracts for the first 6 miles have been awarded to SLSCO . The real kicker is, the border wall is not being built on the border, but over 2 miles inland, moving the border of Mexico NORTH of the Rio Grande River (the actual border) and placing more than 6,000 acres of private property and public lands behind it in the newly created subdivision we’ve named MEXIGRO.We need your help to protect our property!The issue is not whether butterflies can fly over a wall, but whether  private property (farms, businesses, homes) should be seized and destroyed for a project that does not serve the greater good or enhance national security; rather, it pushes the boundaries of Mexico north of the Rio Grande and makes America smaller.At the National Butterfly Center  in Mission, Texas, 70% of the land belonging to the nonprofit project of the North American Butterfly Center will be forfeited, to create a landing and staging area for illegal traffic on the shores of the United States.In this land set aside for the protection of a remnant of native habitat, endangered species such as the ocelot, and the graves of Native American people who were present before the U.S. existed, everything will be desecrated, bulldozed, and cut off from access by citizens and landowners; where gunboats could more easily be placed on the river to actually prevent traffic from setting foot on our soil.Moreover, the federal government has waived 28 laws  in order to expedite this. The fact that we now live in a country where the laws duly passed by Congress may be waived for political expediency, eliminating all protections for people, water, wildlife and more,  should terrify all Americans.Please join us, today, to preserve and defend the National Butterfly Center, the only entity in Texas to sue the Trump Administration over this outrageous land grab!

A bobcat that lives on National Butterfly Center land that is soon to be cut off by Trump's border wall. Photo: National Butterfly Center

Read the most recent developments  in our ongoing battle against the seizure of private property for the border wall, here, and subscribe to our e-newsletter  for updates.Funds will be used for expenses associated with our on-going lawsuit against the federal government (travel expenses, depositions, filing and document fees, etc.); all efforts related to publicizing and resisting this atrocity; clean up and remediation of the damage, if we can’t stop it (because the government’s private contractors are NOT going to do that); and tearing down the wall, as soon as we’re able!  Your support is invaluable to our efforts to fulfill our mission, preserve our property, and restore it after construction, if it cannot be stopped.  BUT IT’S NOT OVER, not by a long shot.THANK YOU! UPDATE:  $100,247 of $100,000 goal reached on 14 February 2019. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Protect the National Butterfly Center

The anti-vaxx movement is a worldwide pandemic – “Parents need to understand that vaccines save lives”

A vial of MMR vaccine. Health officials say the number of confirmed cases of measles in western Washington has grown to at least 30, with nine more cases suspected. Clark County Public Health said on 25 January 2019 that 29 of the cases were in southwest Washington with one confirmed case in King County, which is home to Seattle. Photo: Eric Risberg / AP

By The Times Editorial Board
6 February 2019
(Los Angeles Times) – It’s not quite six weeks into 2019, and it’s already looking like it will be another banner year for measles in the United States. An outbreak in the Pacific Northwest that began in late January continues to spread, with more than 50 cases now being reported. Meanwhile, Texas health officials on Tuesday confirmed five cases of measles in the Houston area — four of them in children under 2. And health officials in New York are still dealing with an outbreak of measles from late 2018 among orthodox Jews who apparently brought the virus back from Israel.The global measles picture is even gloomier. A large and ongoing measles outbreak in the Philippines has killed at least 50 people, and may have spread to Australia. Nearly 12,000 measles cases have been reported in the Ukraine in the first month of 2019. And more than 28,000 cases have been reported in Madagascar since 2018. New cases are popping up all the time. For example, last week authorities in Manchester, England, urged residents to get vaccinated after a local case of measles was confirmed.All in all, in just the last few years there has been a 30% increase in measles worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.How has this disease that was once considered all but eliminated in the U.S. and other developed nations, surged back to life? According to international health officials, the same anti-vaccination fear-mongering that has been at work in the U.S is contributing to a decline in vaccination rates, and measles outbreaks around the world.About 85% of children worldwide have received at least one of the two recommended courses of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccination, which is high but still below the ideal 95% rate that scientists say is necessary to stop outbreaks from spreading. And that percentage has stalled over recent years, and in some places has actually declined. Not surprisingly, some of the declines have been in in poor countries with limited access to health care. Economic hardship and political unrest have certainly contributed to the incidence of infectious disease in some places. The breakdown of Venezuela’s health care system, for example, drove a major 2018 outbreak in that country, which has spread to other parts of South America.But developed countries with strong health care systems have become measles hot spots as well. Last year, France and Italy, had huge measles outbreaks that the World Health Organization says was driven not by lack of access to immunizations, but by a lack in trust in their efficacy. This distrust, called “vaccine hesitancy,” is such a threat to public health that it is on the World Health Organization’s list of top 10 global health concerns for 2019.This distrust of vaccinations — which is all too common in the United States as well — is easily spread over social media, where a debate rages about whether the medicines themselves are dangerous. One persistent but entirely groundless fear is that vaccines cause autism. There’s no data to back up that assertion, and there is scientific evidence — quite a lot of it — showing that vaccinations save lives. But the narrative is durable particularly because the threat of measles — which has been virtually absent for a generation — is to many people more distant than autism.Domestically, measles is breaking out in states — Washington, Oregon, and Texas — that allow parents to opt out of vaccinations for their kids on the basis of their “personal beliefs.” California used to be one of those states until a serious outbreak at Disneyland in 2014 woke lawmakers to the fact that the “personal belief” exemption had been allowing childhood immunization rates to decline to dangerous levels. With measles so easily transmittable, populations with low vaccinations rates can be at risk from an outbreak half a world away.In some places, it is understandable why people are skeptical of what they’re told. The lack of confidence in measles vaccinations plummeted in the Philippines in recent years after the maker of a government-sanctioned vaccination for dengue fever admitted it would not protect some children and perhaps even make them sicker.Around the world, too many people seem to believe that vaccinations don’t really matter any more. Loose vaccination rules contribute to that sense. But those attitudes must change. Parents need to understand that vaccines save lives.

The anti-vaxx movement is a worldwide pandemic

National Butterfly Center to file restraining order to stop Trump border wall construction

People ride a bike along the levee near the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas on Wednesday 6 February 2019. The center will have about 70 percent of its property cut off by the proposed Trump border wall along the levee in the area. Photo: Courtney Sacco / Caller-Times

By Beatriz Alvarado
6 February 2019
MISSION, Texas (Corpus Christi Caller Times) – Amid a legal battle to stop the federal government from erecting a 36-foot “wall system” topped with steel bollards through its property, the National Butterfly Center is conducting business as usual.
On a Wednesday morning, the parking lot at the 100-acre wildlife center was full, with some families and winter Texans visiting its trails, observation areas, exhibits, and botanical garden.
There’s even a field trip planned for tomorrow, said Marianna Treviño-Wright, the center’s director.Meanwhile, a draft emergency restraining order against the federal government awaits a final read before it’s filed, possibly as soon as Thursday, she said. […]In October 2018, environmental and historic preservation laws were waived to expedite the construction of the barriers, which are being funded by the 2018 omnibus Appropriations Act. [GoFundMe: Protect the National Butterfly Center] [more]

National Butterfly Center to file restraining order to stop border wall construction