The founder of outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia announced Wednesday that its profits would all go toward fighting climate change and conserving land. Yvon Chouinard said the company was now in the Patagonia Purpose Trust and the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit. The trust will oversee operations of the company and its commitment to the environment and social cause. The nonprofit will invest all of the company’s profits into environmental projects. Chouinard’s two children, Claire and Fletcher, will oversee the nonprofit. “Earth is now our only shareholder,” reads the company’s website. In a...
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Ginni Thomas is sticking to the Big Lie, even when testifying before the January 6 committee. We still don't know her exact phrasing, but reports from members of the January 6 committee indicate that the right-wing activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas reiterated during her testimony last week the false belief that President Joe Biden stole the 2020 election from Donald Trump. Whether or not she was sincere in this claim is hard to discern. She also told the committee she never speaks about her extensive political activism with her husband, a claim so implausible that it casts doubt on the truthfulness of anything she said during an interview in which she was not put under oath.
Telling the January 6 committee that you still believe the Big Lie may seem, on its surface, to be a really bad idea, but there may be a method to the madness here. After all, Ginni Thomas was deeply involved in Trump's attempted coup in 2020, as shown by a bevy of text messages to Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows and emails to swing state legislators urging them to throw out the results of the election. Unable to plead innocence, Thomas may have decided the better course of action is to argue that her actions were justified by a sincere belief in the Big Lie.
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Thomas is not alone in going this route. On Monday, opening arguments kicked off in the high-profile trial of Stewart Rhodes and four other members of the far-right Oath Keepers, who are accused of seditious conspiracy for their extensive role in organizing the storming of the Capitol on January 6. Like Thomas, there's just way too much text message and email evidence for the Oath Keepers to deny their actions or intentions. Instead, they're going to argue their behavior was justified by the belief that the election was stolen and that Trump told them to do it.
"Rhodes' attorney has said that his client will eventually take the stand to argue that he believed Trump was going to invoke the Insurrection Act and call up a militia, which Rhodes had been calling on him to do to stop Biden from becoming president," reports the Associated Press.
As Mike Giglio explained in the New Yorker, the defense strategy is to argue that the pre-planning of the insurrection "were not only legal" but "patriotic."
Even while the riot was going on, Trump and his allies were strategizing about how to spin the insurrection and the efforts to overthrow the election that preceded the violent assault on the Capitol. As insurrectionists were still battling Capitol police, the text message log from Meadows shows that both Trump advisor Jason Miller and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., were brainstorming lies that Trump and his team could tell to deflect blame. Miller suggested falsely claiming the rioters were "likely ANTIFA or other crazed leftists," a lie that ended up getting leveraged at various times by right-wing pundits over the next year and a half.
But the Trumpist line on January 6 has been slowly morphing from "it wasn't us" into "it was justified" for months now. The effort is led by Trump himself, who struggles to conceal his pride over January 6, which demonstrated his immense power over many of his followers. In recent months, and especially after the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago to retrieve classified documents Trump illegally removed, Trump has only doubled down on his unsubtle view that violence is a useful tool to get what he wants. He's escalating the threatening language and demonizing attacks on anyone he perceives as an obstacle to his power, a strategy no one can, in good faith, pretend isn't serious after January 6.
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Friday night, Trump did it again, releasing a diatribe on social media accusing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of having a "DEATH WISH" and making a racist joke about McConnell's wife. As he usually does, Trump adopted a passive tone when talking about violence against his perceived enemies, pretending he's just "predicting" bad things will befall them and not that he's encouraging such things. At a Saturday rally, he also praised Thomas for continuing to back the Big Lie, furthering the "no regrets" messaging around January 6.
Taylor Greene was even less subtle at the very same rally. "Democrats want Republicans dead, and they have already started the killings," she declared. The language she used was conspiratorial, with echoes of the QAnon conspiracy theory cult she is also heavily connected to. But the case she used to justify this false accusation appears to have been a drunken fight in North Dakota, which is not at all a sign that there's been some kind of "go" signal for Democrats to start killing Republicans.
The same, however, cannot be said of Taylor Greene's comments. On the contrary, speeches like hers should be understood as incitement to violence. As Mark Follman explained in the most recent edition of Mother Jones magazine, rhetoric like this is what "experts call 'stochastic terrorism,' whereby a leader vilifies a person or group in ways likely to instigate random supporters to attack those targets, while the instigator maintains a veneer of plausible deniability." Follman has been carefully documenting Trump's tendency to wish for violence or use of violence-excusing language, and the escalation in the past few weeks has been alarming.
Taken together, a disturbing picture is emerging: There's an acceleration both in intimations of violence and justifications for it. No doubt Thomas would deny that her reiterating a belief in the Big Lie contributes to an atmosphere of political violence, but there is no way around that fact. If you really do believe that democracy is being "stolen" by Democrats, then that justifies violence. Indeed, that's a huge reason the Big Lie was invented in the first place: to give a moral pretext to immoral efforts to overthrow the democratic system. The doubling down on the Big Lie by figures like Thomas and the Oath Keepers, in turn, suggests that Trump's biggest fans think it's still a useful tool to give cover to otherwise inexcusable actions.
Nuclear fusion reactions in the sun are the source of heat and light we receive on Earth. These reactions release a massive amount of cosmic radiation — including x-rays and gamma rays — and charged particles that can be harmful for any living organisms.
Life on Earth has been protected thanks to a magnetic field that forces charged particles to bounce from pole to pole as well as an atmosphere that filters harmful radiation.
During space travel, however, it is a different situation. To find out what happens in a cell when travelling in outer space, scientists are sending baker’s yeast to the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis 1 mission.
Cosmic radiation can damage cell DNA, significantly increasing human risk of neurodegenerative disorders and fatal diseases, like cancer. Because the International Space Station (ISS) is located in one of two of Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts — which provides a safe zone — astronauts are not exposed too much. Astronauts in the ISS experience microgravity, however, which is another stress that can dramatically change cell physiology.
As NASA is planning to send astronauts to the moon, and later on to Mars, these environmental stresses become more challenging.
The most common strategy to protect astronauts from the negative effects of cosmic rays is to physically shield them using state-of-the-art materials.
Technicians practice putting on Self-Contained Atmospheric Protective Ensemble (SCAPE) suits, which are designed to shield them from environmental stressors in space. (NASA/Isaac Watson)
Lessons from hibernation
Several studies show that hibernators are more resistant to high doses of radiation, and some scholars have suggested the use of “synthetic or induced torpor” during space missions to protect astronauts.
Another way to protect life from cosmic rays is studying extremophiles — organisms that can remarkably tolerate environmental stresses. Tardigrades, for instance, are micro-animals that have shown an astonishing resistance to a number of stresses, including harmful radiation. This unusual sturdiness stems from a class of proteins known as “tardigrade-specific proteins.”
Under the supervision of molecular biologist Corey Nislow, I use baker’s yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, to study cosmic DNA damage stress. We are participating in NASA’s Artemis 1 mission, where our collection of yeast cells will travel to the moon and back in the Orion spacecraft for 42 days.
This collection contains about 6,000 bar-coded strains of yeast, where in each strain, one gene is deleted. When exposed to the environment in space, those strains would begin to lag if deletion of a specific gene affects cell growth and replication.
Tardigrade DNA may help increase resilience for other organisms. (Shutterstock)
My primary project at Nislow lab is genetically engineering yeast cells to make them express tardigrade-specific proteins. We can then study how those proteins can alter the physiology of cells and their resistance to environmental stresses — most importantly radiation — with the hope that such information would come in handy when scientists try to engineer mammals with these proteins.
When the mission is completed and we receive our samples back, using the barcodes, the number of each strain could be counted to identify genes and gene pathways essential for surviving damage induced by cosmic radiation.
A model organism
Yeast has long served as a “model organism” in DNA damage studies, which means there is solid background knowledge about the mechanisms in yeast that respond to DNA-damaging agents. Most of the yeast genes playing roles in DNA damage response have been well studied.
Despite the differences in genetic complexity between yeast and humans, the function of most genes involved in DNA replication and DNA damage response have remained so conserved between the two that we can obtain a great deal of information about human cells’ DNA damage response by studying yeast.
Furthermore, the simplicity of yeast cells compared to human cells (yeast has 6,000 genes while we have more than 20,000 genes) allows us to draw more solid conclusions.
And in yeast studies, it is possible to automate the whole process of feeding the cells and stopping their growth in an electronic apparatus the size of a shoe box, whereas culturing mammalian cells requires more room in the spacecraft and far more complex machinery.
Such studies are essential to understand how astronauts’ bodies can cope with long-term space missions, and to develop effective countermeasures. Once we identify the genes playing key roles in surviving cosmic radiation and microgravity, we’d be able to look for drugs or treatments that could help boost the cells’ durability to withstand such stresses.
We could then test them in other models (such as mice) before actually applying them to astronauts. This knowledge might also be potentially useful for growing plants beyond Earth.
By Andrew Chung
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a challenge to federal protections for internet and social media companies freeing them of responsibility for content posted by users in a case involving an American student fatally shot in a 2015 rampage by Islamist militants in Paris.
The justices took up an appeal by the parents and other relatives of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old woman from California who was studying in Paris, of a lower court's ruling that cleared Google LLC-owned YouTube of wrongdoing in a lawsuit seeking monetary damages that the family brought under a U.S. anti-terrorism law. Google and YouTube are part of Alphabet Inc.
The Supreme Court also agreed to hear a separate appeal by Twitter Inc of the lower court's decision to revive a similar lawsuit against that company, though not on the basis of Section 230.
The lawsuit against Google accused it of materially supporting terrorism in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act, a federal law that allows Americans to recover damages related to "an act of international terrorism." The lawsuit alleged that YouTube, through computer algorithms, recommended videos by the Islamic State militant group, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, to certain users.
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2021 dismissed the lawsuit in a ruling relying largely on another law, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
Section 230, enacted before the rise of today's major social media companies, protects "interactive computer services" by ensuring they cannot be treated as the "publisher or speaker" of any information provided by other users.
The lawsuit argued that such immunity should not apply when the company's platform recommends certain content via algorithms that identify and display content most likely to interest users, based on how people use the service.
Section 230 has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum. Democrats have faulted it for giving social media companies a pass for spreading hate speech and misinformation. Republicans painted it as a tool for censorship of voices on the right, especially after Twitter and other platforms banned then-President Donald Trump from after a mob of his supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol in a deadly riot on Jan. 6, 2021. Trump as president unsuccessfully sought its repeal.
Gonzalez was among 130 people killed in Paris during the 2015 attacks that included suicide bombings and mass shootings. She was at a bistro called La Belle Equipe when militants fired on the crowd of diners.
The plaintiffs said that YouTube's algorithm helped Islamic State spread its militant message by recommending to users the group's videos including those aimed at recruiting jihadist fighters, and that the company's "assistance" was a cause of the 2015 attacks.
Gonzalez's family appealed the 9th Circuit ruling to the Supreme Court, noting that while algorithms may suggest benign dance videos to some, "other recommendations suggest that users look at materials inciting dangerous, criminal or self-destructive behavior."
The family added that removing Section 230 protections would prompt websites to stop recommending harmful materials, while saying that allowing the immunity "denies redress to victims who could have shown that those recommendations had caused their injuries, or the deaths of their loved ones."
In the case against Twitter, American family members of Nawras Alassaf, a Jordanian citizen who died in a nightclub mass shooting in 2017 in Istanbul also claimed by Islamic State, accused that social media company of violating the anti-terrorism law by failing to police the platform for Islamic State accounts or posts.
The 9th Circuit in the same ruling reversed a federal judge's decision to throw out the case against Twitter, but did not assess Twitter's claim of immunity under Section 230.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)