Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals

Exclusive: Tests show billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles, with 83% of samples found to be polluted

Microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world, leading to calls from scientists for urgent research on the implications for health.

Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian. Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres.

The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agencys headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.

European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still 72%. The average number of fibres found in each 500ml sample ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe.

The new analyses indicate the ubiquitous extent of microplastic contamination in the global environment. Previous work has been largely focused on plastic pollution in the oceans, which suggests people are eating microplastics via contaminated seafood.

We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that its having on wildlife, to be concerned, said Dr Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who supervised the analyses for Orb. If its impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that its not going to somehow impact us?

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A magnified image of clothing microfibres from washing machine effluent. One study found that a fleece jacket can shed as many as 250,000 fibres per wash. Photograph: Courtesy of Rozalia Project

A separate small study in the Republic of Ireland released in June also found microplastic contamination in a handful of tap water and well samples. We dont know what the [health] impact is and for that reason we should follow the precautionary principle and put enough effort into it now, immediately, so we can find out what the real risks are, said Dr Anne Marie Mahon at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, who conducted the research.

Mahon said there were two principal concerns: very small plastic particles and the chemicals or pathogens that microplastics can harbour. If the fibres are there, it is possible that the nanoparticles are there too that we cant measure, she said. Once they are in the nanometre range they can really penetrate a cell and that means they can penetrate organs, and that would be worrying. The Orb analyses caught particles of more than 2.5 microns in size, 2,500 times bigger than a nanometre.

Microplastics can attract bacteria found in sewage, Mahon said: Some studies have shown there are more harmful pathogens on microplastics downstream of wastewater treatment plants.

Plastic fibres found in tap water across the world

Microplastics are also known to contain and absorb toxic chemicals and research on wild animals shows they are released in the body. Prof Richard Thompson, at Plymouth University, UK, told Orb: It became clear very early on that the plastic would release those chemicals and that actually, the conditions in the gut would facilitate really quite rapid release. His research has shown microplastics are found in a third of fish caught in the UK.

The scale of global microplastic contamination is only starting to become clear, with studies in Germany finding fibres and fragments in all of the 24 beer brands they tested, as well as in honey and sugar. In Paris in 2015, researchers discovered microplastic falling from the air, which they estimated deposits three to 10 tonnes of fibres on the city each year, and that it was also present in the air in peoples homes.

This research led Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at Kings College London, to tell a UK parliamentary inquiry in 2016: If we breathe them in they could potentially deliver chemicals to the lower parts of our lungs and maybe even across into our circulation. Having seen the Orb data, Kelly told the Guardian that research is urgently needed to determine whether ingesting plastic particles is a health risk.

The new research tested 159 samples using a standard technique to eliminate contamination from other sources and was performed at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. The samples came from across the world, including from Uganda, Ecuador and Indonesia.

How microplastics end up in drinking water is for now a mystery, but the atmosphere is one obvious source, with fibres shed by the everyday wear and tear of clothes and carpets. Tumble dryers are another potential source, with almost 80% of US households having dryers that usually vent to the open air.

We really think that the lakes [and other water bodies] can be contaminated by cumulative atmospheric inputs, said Johnny Gasperi, at the University Paris-Est Creteil, who did the Paris studies. What we observed in Paris tends to demonstrate that a huge amount of fibres are present in atmospheric fallout.

Plastic fibres may also be flushed into water systems, with a recent study finding that each cycle of a washing machine could release 700,000 fibres into the environment. Rains could also sweep up microplastic pollution, which could explain why the household wells used in Indonesia were found to be contaminated.

In Beirut, Lebanon, the water supply comes from natural springs but 94% of the samples were contaminated. This research only scratches the surface, but it seems to be a very itchy one, said Hussam Hawwa, at the environmental consultancy Difaf, which collected samples for Orb.

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This planktonic arrow worm, Sagitta setosa, has eaten a blue plastic fibre about 3mm long. Plankton support the entire marine food chain. Photograph: Richard Kirby/Courtesy of Orb Media

Current standard water treatment systems do not filter out all of the microplastics, Mahon said: There is nowhere really where you can say these are being trapped 100%. In terms of fibres, the diameter is 10 microns across and it would be very unusual to find that level of filtration in our drinking water systems.

Bottled water may not provide a microplastic-free alternative to tapwater, as the they were also found in a few samples of commercial bottled water tested in the US for Orb.

Almost 300m tonnes of plastic is produced each year and, with just 20% recycled or incinerated, much of it ends up littering the air, land and sea. A report in July found 8.3bn tonnes of plastic has been produced since the 1950s, with the researchers warning that plastic waste has become ubiquitous in the environment.

We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic and I am very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late, said Prof Roland Geyer, from the University of California and Santa Barbara, who led the study.

Mahon said the new tap water analyses raise a red flag, but that more work is needed to replicate the results, find the sources of contamination and evaluate the possible health impacts.

She said plastics are very useful, but that management of the waste must be drastically improved: We need plastics in our lives, but it is us that is doing the damage by discarding them in very careless ways.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tap-water-around-world-study-reveals

US federal department is censoring use of term ‘climate change’, emails reveal

Exclusive: series of emails show staff at Department of Agricultures Natural Resources Conservation Service advised to reference weather extremes instead

Staff at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been told to avoid using the term climate change in their work, with the officials instructed to reference weather extremes instead.

A series of emails obtained by the Guardian between staff at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a USDA unit that oversees farmers land conservation, show that the incoming Trump administration has had a stark impact on the language used by some federal employees around climate change.

A missive from Bianca Moebius-Clune, director of soil health, lists terms that should be avoided by staff and those that should replace them. Climate change is in the avoid category, to be replaced by weather extremes. Instead of climate change adaption, staff are asked to use resilience to weather extremes.

The primary cause of human-driven climate change is also targeted, with the term reduce greenhouse gases blacklisted in favor of build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency. Meanwhile, sequester carbon is ruled out and replaced by build soil organic matter.

Firefighters
Firefighters battle a wildfire in California. Photograph: Noah Berger/AP

In her email to staff, dated 16 February this year, Moebius-Clune said the new language was given to her staff and suggests it be passed on. She writes that we wont change the modeling, just how we talk about it there are a lot of benefits to putting carbon back in the sail [sic], climate mitigation is just one of them, and that a colleague from USDAs public affairs team gave advice to tamp down on discretionary messaging right now.

In contrast to these newly contentious climate terms, Moebius-Clune wrote that references to economic growth, emerging business opportunities in the rural US, agro-tourism and improved aesthetics should be tolerated if not appreciated by all.

In a separate email to senior employees on 24 January, just days after Trumps inauguration, Jimmy Bramblett, deputy chief for programs at the NRCS, said: It has become clear one of the previous administrations priority is not consistent with that of the incoming administration. Namely, that priority is climate change. Please visit with your staff and make them aware of this shift in perspective within the executive branch.

Bramblett added that prudence should be used when discussing greenhouse gases and said the agencys work on air quality regarding these gases could be discontinued.

Other emails show the often agonized discussions between staff unsure of what is forbidden. On 16 February, a staffer named Tim Hafner write to Bramblett: I would like to know correct terms I should use instead of climate changes and anything to do with carbon … I want to ensure to incorporate correct terminology that the agency has approved to use.

On 5 April, Suzanne Baker, a New York-based NRCS employee, emailed a query as to whether staff are allowed to publish work from outside the USDA that use climate change. A colleague advises that the issue be determined in a phone call.

Some staff werent enamored with the new regime, with one employee stating on an email on 5 July that we would prefer to keep the language as is and stressing the need to maintain the scientific integrity of the work.

In a statement, USDA said that on 23 January it had issued interim operating procedures outlining procedures to ensure the new policy team has an opportunity to review policy-related statements, legislation, budgets and regulations prior to issuance.

The statement added: This guidance, similar to procedures issued by previous administrations, was misinterpreted by some to cover data and scientific publications. This was never the case and USDA interim procedures will allow complete, objective information for the new policy staff reviewing policy decisions.

Kaveh Sadeghzadeh of the Natural Resources Conservation Service added that his organisation has not received direction from USDA or the administration to modify its communications on climate change or any other topic.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the veracity of climate change research, infamously suggesting that it is part of an elaborate Chinese hoax. The president has started the process of withdrawing the US from the Paris climate agreement, has instructed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to scrap or amend various regulations aimed at cutting greenhouse gases, and has moved to open up more public land and waters to fossil fuel activity.

The nomenclature of the federal government has also shifted as these new priorities have taken hold. Mentions of the dangers of climate change have been removed from the websites of the White House and the Department of the Interior, while the EPA scrapped its entire online climate section in April pending a review that will be updating language to reflect the approach of new leadership.

The series of emails. Some parts were redacted before the emails were released. The Guardian has further redacted phone numbers, and highlighted key passages.

These records reveal Trumps active censorship of science in the name of his political agenda, said Meg Townsend, open government attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

To think that federal agency staff who report about the air, water and soil that sustains the health of our nation must conform their reporting with the Trump administrations anti-science rhetoric is appalling and dangerous for America and the greater global community.

The Center for Biological Diversity is currently suing several government agencies, including the EPA and state department, to force them to release information on the censoring of climate change verbiage.

While some of the changes to government websites may have occurred anyway, the emails from within the USDA are the clearest indication yet that staff have been instructed to steer clear of acknowledging climate change or its myriad consequences.

US agriculture is a major source of heat-trapping gases, with 15% of the countrys emissions deriving from farming practices. A USDA plan to address the far reaching impacts of climate change is still online.

However, Sam Clovis, Trumps nomination to be the USDAs chief scientist, has labeled climate research junk science.

Last week it was revealed that Clovis, who is not a scientist, once ran a blog where he called progressives race traders and race traitors and likened Barack Obama to a communist.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/07/usda-climate-change-language-censorship-emails

WannaCry ‘hero’ to plead not guilty to accusation he wrote banking malware

US prosecutors claim Marcus Hutchins, hailed as accidental hero for stopping major ransomware attack, admitted to creating Kronos malware targeting banks

The British security researcher who stopped a global ransomware attack admitted to police that he wrote the code of a malware that targeted bank accounts, US prosecutors said during a hearing on Friday, but his attorneys said that he planned to plead not guilty.

Marcus Hutchins, the 23-year-old hailed as a hero for stopping the WannaCry ransomware attack, is accused of helping to create, spread and maintain the banking trojan Kronos between 2014 and 2015 and is facing six counts of hacking-related charges from the US Department of Justice (DoJ), according to a recently unsealed indictment.

A judge ruled on Friday that Hutchins who had been in Las Vegas for the annual Def Con hacking conference could be released on $30,000 bail. The judge said the defendant was not a danger to the community nor a flight risk and ordered him to remain in the US with GPS monitoring.

Dan Cowhig, the prosecutor, argued in federal court that Hutchins should not be freed because he is a danger to the public, adding: He admitted he was the author of the code of Kronos malware and indicated he sold it.

As part of a sting operation, undercover officers had bought the code from Hutchins and his co-defendant, who is still at large, Cowhig said in court. The prosecutor said there is also evidence from chat logs between Hutchins and the co-defendant, revealing that Hutchins complained about the money he received for the sale.

After the hearing, Adrian Lobo, Hutchins defense attorney, said: We intend to fight the case.

She added: He has dedicated his life to researching malware, not to trying to harm people.

The attorney also told reporters that Hutchins supporters were raising money for his bond and that he should be released on Monday.

He has tremendous community support, local and abroad and in the computer world.

She declined to comment on the specifics of the charges, but said he was completely shocked by the indictment and that he was in good spirits.

The DoJ charges relate to the Kronos malware, which is a type of malicious software used to steal peoples credentials, such as internet banking passwords.

According to the indictment, Hutchins co-defendant advertised the malware for sale on AlphaBay, a darknet marketplace, and sold it two months later. The indictment did not make clear if the malware was actually sold through AlphaBay.

US and European police eventually seized servers for the marketplace, which was shut down on 20 July.

Hutchins, known on Twitter as @MalwareTechBlog, gained a reputation as an accidental hero in May for halting the global spread of the WannaCry ransomware attack. WannaCry infected hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide in less than a day, encrypting their hard drives and asking for a ransom of $300 in bitcoin to unlock the files. The cyberattack wreaked havoc on organisations including the UKs National Health Service, FedEx and Telefnica.

The cybersecurity researcher, working with Darien Huss from security firm Proofpoint, found and inadvertently activated a kill switch in the malicious software.

The kill switch was hardcoded into the malware in case the creator wanted to stop it spreading. This involved a very long nonsensical domain name that the malware makes a request to just as if it was looking up any website and if the request comes back and shows that the domain is live, the kill switch takes effect and the malware stops spreading.

Hutchins noticed the domain was unregistered and so bought it for $10.69, not knowing what it did at the time. It immediately started registering thousands of connections every second.

The intent was to just monitor the spread and see if we could do anything about it later on. But we actually stopped the spread just by registering the domain, he told the Guardian at the time.

The WannaCry malware ended up affecting more than 1m computers, but experts estimate that without Hutchins intervention it could have infected 10-15m computers. Hutchins was given a special recognition award at the cybersecurity SC Awards Europe for his role in halting the malware.

Lobo and the US attorneys office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

The Press Association contributed reporting.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/aug/04/wannacry-marcus-hutchins-kronos-malware-arrest

Republicans urge Trump to keep critical health subsidies for low-income people

Donald Trump has threatened to stop payments that help millions to afford insurance, amid frustration over his partys failure to repeal Obamacare

Republicans lawmakers are urging Donald Trump to continue paying critical health insurance subsidies that help lower-income people afford it, amid growing concern that the president will follow through on his threat to cancel them.

Frustrated by his partys failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Trump has dangled the possibility that he would stop the payments a move that experts say would send insurance markets into turmoil and cause premiums to rise dramatically.

Democrats have called the threat an attempt to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare.

Senator Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate health, education, labor and pensions Committee, announced on Tuesday that his committee would begin holding hearings after Labor Day to discuss bipartisan legislation to stabilize and strengthen the individual health insurance market in 2018.

There are a number of issues with the American healthcare system but if your house is on fire you want to put out the fire, Alexander said in introductory remarks at the start of a committee hearing on Tuesday afternoon. And the fire in this case is the individual health insurance market. Both Republicans and Democrats agree on this.

Alexander publicly called on the president to continue the payments to insurance companies, knowns as cost sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies. The payments help insurance companies off-set low-income customers out-of-pocket medical expenses such as deductibles and co-payments.

Without payment of these cost-sharing reductions Americans will be hurt, he said.

He described the impact of cutting off the payments, which total an estimated $7bn in 2017 and cover roughly 7 million people. Without the funding, he said, the insurance markets would unravel and insurers would likely leave the marketplaces leaving consumers with few, or possibly no, coverage options to buy insurance through the marketplace exchanges.

The insurers that stay will likely have to raise insurance premiums in order to offset the loss of the payments. He cited an analysis by the Americas Health Insurance Plans that found insurance premiums would increase by roughly 20%. Middle-class Americans would largely bear the brunt of the increases, as poorer customers could still access the subsidies.

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Chuck Schumer praises John McCain for rejecting healthcare bill video

The announcement was the first attempt by senators of both parties to cooperate on healthcare after a Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act collapsed in dramatic fashion on the chamber floor. On Monday, the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members, unveiled a suite of fixes to the healthcare law to stabilize the insurance markets. The most significant of their five proposals would appropriate funding for the laws cost-sharing subsidies.

Trump has repeatedly raised the possibility that he might cancel the payments to insurance companies in an attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

If ObamaCare is hurting people, & it is, why shouldnt it hurt the insurance companies & why should Congress not be paying what public pays? Trump tweeted on Monday.

Democrats have accused the administration of trying to inject uncertainty into the insurance market.

The American people need a president who puts their interests first, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said in a floor speech on Tuesday, not someone who plays political games with their healthcare.

On Tuesday, several Republican senators joined Democrats in urging the president to continue payments.

Just thinking about those families that would be hurt were they not [continued], I think it would be better to continue them, said Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana. And I think it would be better then for Congress to do the constitutional thing and get it appropriated for a year or two.

Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine who helped thwart the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, said it was absolutely essential that the president continue funding for the subsidies.

Republican
Republican senator Susan Collins on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photograph: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

When I hear them described as insurance company bailouts, that is just not an accurate description, she said. The reason that we have CSRs is to help low-income people who earn only between 100% and 250% of the poverty rate afford their out-of-pocket costs. That seems to be lost in the debate.

Trump has referred to the payments as bailouts for the insurance companies, implying that the subsidies are compensation for business failings. Rather they help reimburse insurance companies for the money they lose.

But not all Republicans agree. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a fierce critic of the healthcare law who pushed for its full repeal, agreed with Trump: We need to honor our promise to repeal Obamacare and billions for the insurance companies isnt doing that, Cruz said.

During the committee hearing, Alexander said reducing the uncertainty about whether the payments will be continued should bring down premiums in 2018.

If the president were to approve continuation of cost-sharing subsidies for August and September, and if Congress in September should pass a stabilization plan that includes cost-sharing for one year … it is reasonable to expect that the insurance companies in 2018 would then lower their rates, he said.

Though Republicans were not able to dismantle the healthcare law this year, its immediate fate lies largely in the hands of the president.

Beyond canceling subsidies, the administration could also refuse to enforce the individual mandate, which requires Americans to purchase healthcare or face a penalty. It could also refuse to help customers sign up for insurance coverage on the marketplace when enrollment opens in November.

The ball is in the presidents court, Schumer said. He can make the payments as the law requires and needs, or he can sabotage our healthcare system.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/01/donald-trump-healthcare-cut-subsidies-low-income

John McCain had the chance to do the right thing on healthcare. He failed | Lucia Graves

There are many reasons to respect the Arizona senator, but his remarkable stoicism and service cant excuse his yes vote in the Senate

John McCain often gets cast as a truth-teller to Donald Trump, but his voting record says otherwise. And nowhere was that more clear than on Tuesday when, despite his own ill health, when it came to the decision of whether to take other peoples healthcare away, he cast a decisive vote in the wrong direction.

Addressing his fellow lawmakers, McCain called passionately for a return to regular order, and for senators to work constructively across the aisle. Why dont we try the old way of legislating in the Senate, the way our rules and customs encourage us to act, he said in his Tuesday speech. If this process ends in failure, which seems likely, then lets return to regular order!

Though he has often railed against Trump as if he cant actually affect what he is complaining about, McCain isnt a helpless observer hes an influential senator. And on Tuesday, as the country draws closer than ever before to the death of the Affordable Care Act, he was a pivotal one.

Had McCain simply voted no to the question of whether the Senate should begin debate on a repeal or replacement of Obamacare, which squeaked by in the Senate with a vote of 51-50, the chambers leader Mitch McConnell might well have been forced to do the very thing McCain claimed to want: restore the chamber to order.

Instead, McCain, who was recently and tragically diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, and who returned to DC explicitly to help save the GOP healthcare bill, voted yes.

To put it another way, faced with a rare opportunity to make a real tangible difference, he risked traveling amid failing health to make possible the very thing he decried.

More damningly, he voted yes to take away healthcare from millions of Americans including an untold number of other cancer patients even as he continues to access benefits of the quality care afforded him as a senator, care subsidized by American taxpayers.

Never mind that at this point in time Republicans have little idea what the bill they would replace Obamacare with will contain. Never mind that we have arrived at this point through a secretive process devoid of public hearings, or even that Republicans would have the healthcare of millions of American women dreamed up entirely by men.

Politics appears to have triumphed over logic. Sadly, the politics that won out today are is not even a sort personally dear to John McCain that much was made clear in his floor speech. Its not even his own electoral politics that won out, either; after a tough re-election battle, he wont be up again until 2022, freeing him up as much as electorally possible to act solely with his moral compass as the guide.

Instead, McCain did the very thing he had just railed against, acting out of partisan loyalty.

There are many reasons to respect McCain, a former prisoner of war who endured torture in the five and a half years he spent captive in North Vietnam, and has campaigned against torture by the US. His 2008 campaign against Barack Obama now looks like the very model of civility in the wake of Trump.

But even his remarkable stoicism and service cant excuse what he just did.

The grim reality is that health insurance is of the utmost importance when it comes to surviving cancer, the second leading killer in America after heart disease. Put simply, the uninsured are much more likely to die than those with insurance and sooner.

A recent study in the journal Cancer found the uninsured were 88% more likely to die of testicular cancer than those with insurance. For patients with Medicaid, the number dropped to a 58% greater chance of dying than privately insured patients like McCain.

The study found the same trend held true for patients with glioblastoma, the malignant brain cancer McCain was recently diagnosed with. Its a terribly disease with a median life expectancy with his type of just 15 months, and thats as true for McCain as anyone, but the uninsured still die faster than anyone.

Voting to subject any one of millions of Americans to go to meet such a fate without even the benefit of the best tools medicine has to fight it is cruel, given McCains new-found appreciation of the benefit.

The estimated cost of McCains recent surgery to remove the cancer above his eye is a sum that would bankrupt many Americans, using the Medicare rates for which McCain qualifies.

Theres a way to fix the fact that many Americans under the age of 65 dont have access to any such care: let everyone under it buy in, a scheme for which many on the left have argued. But on Tuesday, McCain helped move the country in precisely the opposite direction.

We still dont know which of several bills Republicans will bring up for a vote, but all of them involve millions of Americans losing the very sort of health insurance upon which McCain depends.

The only question is whether its a matter of 22, 32, or just 15 million people who will lose access. What we can say with confidence is whatever version moves forward, McCains lost more than his good health hes lost his decency.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/25/john-mccain-healthcare-senate-vote-republicans

Trump to rally: GOP senators who oppose health bill ‘will have a lot of problems’

Trump speaks for an hour at campaign-style rally in Youngstown, Ohio, and boasts of accomplishments while pledging once again to build that wall

Donald Trump warned that Republican senators who dont support legislation repealing and replacing Obamacare will have a lot of problems.

Speaking for an hour at a campaign-style rally in Youngstown, Ohio, Trump took a victory lap after the Senate voted to begin debate on legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act. We are now one step closer to liberating our citizens from this Obamacare nightmare, he said.

Before a raucous crowd in the blue-collar city, Trump went on to warn that any senator who votes against repeal and replace tells America that they are fine with the Obamacare nightmare, and I predict theyll have a lot of problems.

However, Trump spent comparatively little time discussing healthcare. Instead, he returned to familiar themes from his freewheeling presidential campaign, deriding fake news and pledging once again to build that wall on the border between the United States and Mexico. He also returned to familiar boasts about how, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, he can be more presidential than any president thats ever held this office and taunted protesters, saying about one: Hes going back home to mommy.

He spent much of the rally boasting about his accomplishments since taking office: I think, with few exceptions, no president has done anywhere near what we have done in his first six months.

In particular, Trump dwelled on his efforts to curb illegal immigration and deport undocumented migrants from the United States. Trump claimed that in doing so we are liberating our towns and cities and warned darkly of immigrants in gangs committing crimes.

They dont want to use guns because its too fast and its not painful enough, claimed Trump. So theyll take a young, beautiful girl, 16, 15 and others, and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die, and these are the animals that weve been protecting for so long.

Trump though did not address the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election or his growing displeasure with Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, for recusing himself from the justice departments investigation into the 2016 campaign.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/25/trump-republicans-healthcare-bill-rally-ohio

John McCain has been diagnosed with brain cancer, spokesman says

Statement reveals brain tumor known as glioblastoma was removed along with blood clot above senators right eye during surgery last Friday

John McCain, the Arizona senator and former Republican presidential candidate, has been diagnosed with brain cancer.

A brain tumor known as a glioblastoma was removed from McCain along with a blood clot in a surgery at the Mayo Clinic on Friday, a spokesperson said on Wednesday.

McCains office had only previously announced that the blood clot had been removed from above the 80-year-olds left eye.

The Mayo Clinic said in a statement released by McCains office: The senator and his family are reviewing further treatment options with his Mayo Clinic care team. Treatment options may include a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. The senators doctors say he is recovering from his surgery amazingly well and his underlying health is excellent.

The surgery had forced McCain to stay in Arizona this week and miss votes in the Senate. It had led to a delay in the vote on the Senate Republican bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was originally scheduled for Monday. Since the delay was announced, a sufficient number of Republican senators came forward to express their opposition to the bill and forced the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, to shelve it and instead try to push a vote on a clean repeal of the ACA.

In a statement, the Arizona senators spokesperson said that in the aftermath of his diagnosis, further consultations with [the] Mayo Clinic care team will indicate when he will return to the United States Senate.

An extended absence would likely make it even more difficult for Republicans to repeal or replace the ACA, popularly known as Obamacare. Senate Republicans have a narrow 52-48 majority and, with the tie-breaking vote of Mike Pence, can only afford to lose two votes if McCain is present. His absence means that two Republican no votes would now sink any legislation if all 48 Democrats are unified in opposition.

McCain, who was re-elected to his sixth term in the Senate in 2016, was the Republican partys presidential nominee in 2008 and finished second to George W Bush in the 2000 GOP presidential primary. Prior to his career in politics, McCain served as an aviator in the US navy, and was held as prisoner of war for five and a half years during the Vietnam war. While being held captive by the north Vietnamese, McCain was repeatedly subjected to torture. He retired as a captain after earning a number of decorations including the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The Arizona senators illness sparked an outpouring of support from both sides of the aisle.

In a statement, Donald Trump said: Senator John McCain has always been a fighter. Melania and I send our thoughts and prayers to Senator McCain, Cindy, and their entire family. Get well soon. Trump, who famously set off a political firestorm in 2015 by saying McCain was not a war hero, said earlier in the week of the Arizona senator: We hope John McCain gets better very soon because we miss him. Hes a crusty voice in Washington. Plus we need his vote. And hell be back.

Barack Obama, against whom McCain ran in the 2008 presidential election, tweeted: John McCain is an American hero & one of the bravest fighters Ive ever known. Cancer doesnt know what its up against. Give it hell, John.

Barack Obama (@BarackObama)

John McCain is an American hero & one of the bravest fighters I’ve ever known. Cancer doesn’t know what it’s up against. Give it hell, John.

July 20, 2017

A number of McCains colleagues in the Senate also expressed their well wishes. In a statement, Mitch McConnell said: John McCain is a hero to our Conference and a hero to our country. He has never shied from a fight and I know that he will face this challenge with the same extraordinary courage that has characterized his life. The entire Senate familys prayers are with John, Cindy and his family, his staff, and the people of Arizona he represents so well. We all look forward to seeing this American hero again soon.

Outside a meeting of Senate Republicans to discuss healthcare reform on Wednesday night, senator John Hoeven of North Dakota said they had learned of the diagnosis during the meeting.

It was very emotional almost kind of stunned disbelief, Hoeven told reporters. Senator James Lankford, of Oklahoma, then led them in prayer.

Hoeven said the senators had received a message from McCain via South Carolina senator Lindsay Graham, a close friend. The senator told them he was eager to get back and get to work, Hoeven added.

Graham was visibly emotional as he recalled his conversation with McCain when he learned of the diagnosis.

He says, Ive been through worse, Graham told reporters. Five minutes into the call, however, McCain wanted to talk the legislative priories, Graham said.
God knows how this ends, he said. But I do know this: This disease has never had a more worthy opponent.

In a statement, McCains daughter Meghan said: He is a warrior at dusk, one of the greatest Americans of our age, and the worthy heir to his fathers and grandfathers name. But to me, he is something more. He is my strength, my example, my refuge, my confidante, my teacher, my rock, my hero my Dad.

Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain)

Statement regarding my father @SenJohnMcCain: pic.twitter.com/SMte9Hkwkq

July 20, 2017

Lauren Gambino contributed to this report.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/19/john-mccain-brain-cancer

Senate will vote to repeal Obamacare without replacement, after new healthcare bill stumbles

Republican Mitch McConnell calls for vote on clean repeal, after senators Mike Lee and Jerry Moran come out against latest effort to replace Obamacare

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has announced that the Senate will vote on a clean repeal of Obamacare without any replacement, after two Republican senators broke ranks to torpedo the current Senate healthcare bill.

Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas came out on Monday night in opposition to McConnells Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), the Senate version of the controversial healthcare reform bill that passed the House in May.

Senate Republicans hold a bare 52-48 majority in the Senate and two members of the GOP caucus, the moderate Susan Collins of Maine and the libertarian Rand Paul of Kentucky, already opposed the bill, along with all 48 Democrats. The announcement from Moran and Lee made it impossible for Republicans to muster the 50 votes needed to bring the BCRA bill to the floor.

Instead, McConnell announced late on Monday night that the Senate would vote on a bill to simply repeal Obamacare without any replacement in the coming days.

The Kentucky Republican said in a statement: Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful.

He added that in the coming days the Senate would vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act with a two-year-delay. The Senate passed a similar bill in 2015, which was promptly vetoed by Barack Obama.

McConnells plan echoes a statement made by Donald Trump in a tweet on Monday night, in which the president urged a repeal of Obamacare with any replacement to come in the future.

Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in! Trump wrote.

The announcement from Lee and Moran came as Trump was having dinner at the White House with a number of senators who support the bill. Trump talked to several conservatives on the phone over the weekend, including Lee, in an attempt to win their support.

In a tweet, Lee noted that he could not support this version of the bill. Moran used the same language on Twitter. Both voted for a clean repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2015, albeit with the expectation that it would be vetoed by Obama and not become law.

In an op-ed in The Resurgent, a conservative online publication, Lee cited the fact that the current bill did not incorporate an amendment that he introduced with Ted Cruz to allow insurance companies to offer bare-bones insurance plans. In Lees argument, the mandate that insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions resulted in a hidden tax which meant that middle-class families are being forced to pay billions in higher health insurance premiums to help those with pre-existing conditions.

In a statement, Moran took a slightly different tack. He said: There are serious problems with Obamacare, and my goal remains what it has been for a long time: to repeal and replace it. This closed-door process has yielded the BCRA, which fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcares rising costs. The Kansas Republican also warned that the current legislation leave[s] the federal government in control of everyday healthcare decisions which Moran said made it more likely that our healthcare system will devolve into a single-payer system, which would require a massive federal spending increase.

The announcement came shortly after a Senate vote on the healthcare bill was delayed due to the hospitalization of John McCain. The Arizona senator had a blood clot removed from above his left eye on Friday night and was unable to fly to Washington as a result. On Saturday, McConnell said the Senate would defer consideration of the bill while McCain recovered. A number of other moderate Republican senators have yet to take positions on the bill, most notably Dean Heller of Nevada.

Although a repeal of Obamacare without providing for a immediate replacement has long been popular with conservatives, many other Republicans have been skeptical of this approach because of the potential political cost.

In contrast, McCain said in a statement that Republicans should start the process of passing a health care bill over. Congress must now return to regular order [and] hold hearings, said the Arizona Republican.

In a statement, the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said: This second failure of Trumpcare is proof positive that the core of this bill is unworkable.

He added: Rather than repeating the same failed, partisan process yet again, Republicans should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long-term stability to the markets and improves our healthcare system.

Lauren Gambino contributed reporting

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/17/republican-health-bill-senators-oppose-vote

Journalist under fire for calling it ‘crazy’ not to be disgusted by homeless people

Prominent Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum says critics deliberately misreading his response to study on peoples reaction to seeing homelessness

A high-profile Mother Jones writer has suggested that it would be crazy not to have a reflexive disgust of homeless people, stirring the anger of those who say he is perpetuating the worst kinds of stereotypes.

Writing on Friday, Kevin Drum was responding to a study which found that some people with a propensity for feeling disgust might experience it when faced with someone living on the street.

Glenn Greenwald reacted by posting photographs of homeless people who have performed altruistic acts alongside a screen shot from Drums story. The two authors of the study, meanwhile, say Drum glossed over subtleties in their work.

outside in america

He seemed to just be endorsing the worst stereotypes without any nuance or without any humanization of these people, said Scott Clifford, one of the authors and an assistant professor of political science at the University of Houston.

Drum said his critics were guilty of deliberately misreading what I wrote.

The authors of the study which is admittedly eyebrow-raising owing to its lexicon set out to untangle a contradiction. Across the country, cities seek to aid homeless people by providing shelters and millions of dollars in funding, while also passing laws against sitting or lying on sidewalks, or restricting where RVs can park, which serve to exclude them.

They examined survey data and focused on a particular feeling that seemed to play a role in perpetuating this paradox: While most of the public wants to help homeless people, they write, sensitivity to disgust drives many of these same people to support policies that facilitate physical distance from homeless people.

Disgust, they propose, might help explain nimbyism in this casea desire among housed people to prevent camps or housing being built in the vicinity of their own homes. And they argue that the media exacerbates disgust with stories that mention disease and unsanitary conditions.

But they do not say that this kind of reaction of reaction is universal: while some people are prone to feeling disgust in the presence of homelessness, others are less likely to.

In his brief response to a summary that the authors published in the Washington Post, Drum said he found their results unsurprising. About half the homeless suffer from a mental illness and a third abuse either alcohol or drugs, he wrote, before commenting how crazy it would be not to not to be disgusted by a population like that.

He finished by suggesting that it was the work of a decent human being to overcome these reflexive feelings and find empathy.

It certainly is the work of of a good human being not to act fully based on immediate reactions, said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. She said the study seems to make sense, though she had some reservations. But she did not agree with Drum, calling the post really over the top and not true to what the paper is saying.

Its just a manifestation of the worst kinds of stereotypes. As a subscriber to this publication, Im really disappointed.

Pete White, head of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, said he thought Drums conclusions risked tarring an entire group of people, as if every houseless person is addicted to drugs and had a mental illness.

Both of the studys authors expressed displeasure. He appears to believe that everyone will in all circumstances feel disgust towards homeless people, said Spencer Piston, the other author and an assistant professor of political science at Boston University. Theres a clear irony here, which is that we argue that the connection between disgust and attitudes about the homeless depend in part on media coverage and the extent to which homeless people are portrayed as disgusting.

In an email, Drum said that he did not think his blogpost was unfaithful to the study. He also pushed back at those condemning him. Please note that I didnt say I was disgusted by the homeless, nor that they are inherently disgusting, he said. Only that, given the nature of the demographic, its not surprising that most people find them disgusting.

Clara Jeffery, the editor-in-chief of Mother Jones, said that the anger was fueled by the terms used in the study and not Drums writing itself. But it is one brief post about a study, she added in her email. Mother Jones has an extensive body of work on the homeless, the housing and mental health and opioid crisis fueling it.

Do you have an experience of homelessness to share with the Guardian? Get in touch

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/17/homelessness-kevin-drum-mother-jones-disgust

How the middle class hoards wealth and opportunity for itself

American society is dominated by an elite 20% that ruthlessly protects its own interests

When I was growing up, my mother would sometimes threaten my brother and me with electrocution. Well, thats not quite right. In fact, the threat was of lessons in elocution, but we wittily, we thought renamed them.

Growing up in a very ordinary town just north of London and attending a very ordinary high school, one of our several linguistic atrocities was failing to pronounce the t in certain words. My mother, who was raised in rural north Wales and left school at 16, did not want us to find doors closed in a class-sensitive society simply because we didnt speak what is still called the Queens English. I will never forget the look on her face when I managed to say the word computer with neither a p nor a t.

Still, the lessons never materialised. Any lingering working-class traces in my own accent were wiped away by three disinfectant years at Oxford University. (My wife claims the adolescent accent resurfaces when I drink, but she doesnt know what shes talking about shes American.) We also had to learn how to waltz. My mother didnt want us to put a foot wrong there either.

In fact, we did just fine, in no small part because of the stable, loving home in which we were raised. But I have always been acutely sensitive to class distinctions and their role in perpetuating inequality. In fact, one of the reasons I came to the United States was to escape the cramped feeling of living in a nation still so dominated by class. I knew enough not to think I was moving to a socially mobile utopia: Id read some of the research. It has nonetheless come as something of a shock to discover that, in some important respects, the American class system is functioning more ruthlessly than the British one I escaped.

In the upper-middle-class America I now inhabit, I witness extraordinary efforts by parents to secure an elite future status for their children: tutors, coaches and weekend lessons in everything from French to fencing. But I have never heard any of my peers try to change the way their children speak. Perhaps this is simply because they know they are surrounded by other upper-middle-class kids, so there is nothing to worry about. Perhaps it is a regional thing.

But I think there is a better explanation. Americans tend to think their children will be judged by their accomplishments rather than their accents. Class position is earned, rather than simply expressed. The way to secure a higher status in a market meritocracy is by acquiring lots of merit and ensuring that our kids do, too. What ones parents are like is entirely a matter of luck, points out the philosopher Adam Swift. But he adds: What ones children are like is not. Children raised in upper-middle-class families do well in life. As a result, there is a lot of intergenerational stickiness at the top of the American income distribution more, in fact, than at the bottom with upper-middle-class status passed from one generation to the next.

Drawing class distinctions feels almost un-American. The nations self-image is of a classless society, one in which every individual is of equal moral worth, regardless of his or her economic status. This has been how the world sees the United States, too. Historian Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the early 19th century that Americans were seen to be more equal in fortune and intelligence more equally strong, in other words than they were in any other country, or were at any other time in recorded history. So different to the countries of old Europe, still weighed down by the legacies of feudalism.

British politicians have often felt the need to urge the creation of a classless society, looking to America for inspiration as, what historian David Cannadine once called it, the pioneering and prototypical classless society. European progressives have long looked enviously at social relations in the New World. George Orwell noted the lack of servile tradition in America; the German socialist Werner Sombart noticed that the bowing and scraping before the upper classes, which produces such an unpleasant impression in Europe, is completely unknown.

This is one of many reasons socialist politics struggled to take root in the United States. A key attraction of socialist systems the main one, according to Orwell is the eradication of class distinctions. There were few to eradicate in America. I am sure that one reason Downton Abbey and The Crown so delight American audiences is their depictions of an alien world of class-based status. One reason class distinctions are less obvious in America is that pretty much everyone defines themselves as a member of the same class: the one in the middle. Nine in ten adults select the label middle class, exactly the same proportion as in 1939, according to the pollsters Gallup. No wonder that politicians have always fallen over each other to be on their side.

But in recent decades Americans at the top of the ladder have been entrenching their class position. The convenient fiction that the middle class can stretch up that far has become a difficult one to sustain. As a result, the modifications upper or lower to the general middle class category have become more important.

Class is not just about money, though it is about that. The class gap can be seen from every angle: education, security, family, health, you name it. There will also be inequalities on each of these dimensions, of course. But inequality becomes class division when all these varied elements money, education, wealth, occupation cluster together so tightly that, in practice, almost any one of them will suffice for the purposes of class definition. Class division becomes class stratification when these advantages and thus status endure across generations. In fact, upper-middle-class status is passed down to the next generation more effectively than in the past, and in the United States more than in other countries.

One benefit of the multidimensional nature of this separation is that it has reduced interdisciplinary bickering over how to define class. While economists typically focus on categorisation by income and wealth, and sociologists tend more towards occupational status and education, and anthropologists are typically more interested in culture and norms, right now it doesnt really matter, because all the trends are going the same way.

It is not just the top 1% pulling away, but the top 20%. In fact, only a very small proportion of US adults 1% to 2% define themselves as upper class. A significant minority about one in seven adopts the upper middle class description. This is quite similar to the estimates of class size generated by most sociologists, who tend to define the upper middle class as one composed of professionals and managers, or around 15% to 20% of the working-age population.

As David Azerrad of the Heritage Foundation writes: There is little appetite in America for policies that significantly restrict the ability of parents to do all they can, within the bounds of the law, to give their children every advantage in life. That is certainly true. But then Azerrad has also mis-stated the problem. No one sensible is in favour of new policies that block parents from doing the best they can for their children. Even in France the suggestion floated by the former president, Franois Hollande, to restore equality by banning homework, on the grounds that parents differ in their ability and willingness to help out, was laughed out of court. But we should want to get rid of policies that allow parents to give their children an unfair advantage and in the process restrict the opportunities of others.

Most of us want to do our best for our children. Wanting ones childrens life to go well is part of what it means to love them, write philosophers Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift in their 2014 book Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships. But our natural preference for the welfare and prospects of our own children does not automatically eclipse other moral claims. We would look kindly on a father who helps his son get picked as starting pitcher for his school baseball team by practising with him every day after work. But we would probably feel differently about a father who secures the slot for his son by bribing the coach. Why? After all, each father has sacrificed something, time in one case, money in the other, to advance his child. The difference is team selection should be based on merit, not money. A principle of fairness is at stake.

So, where is the line drawn? The best philosophical treatment of this question I have found is the one by Swift and Brighouse. Their suggestion is that, while parents have every right to act in ways that will help their childrens lives go well, they do not have the right to confer on them a competitive advantage in other words, to ensure not just that they do well but that they do better than others. This is because, in a society with finite rewards, improving the situation of one child necessarily worsens that of another, at least in relative terms: Whatever parents do to confer competitive advantage is not neutral in its effects on other children it does not leave untouched, but rather is detrimental to, those other childrens prospects in the competition for jobs and associated rewards.

The trouble is that in the real world this seems like a distinction without a difference. What they call competitive advantage-conferring parental activities will almost always be also helping-your-kid-flourish parental activities. If I read bedtime stories to my son, he will develop a richer vocabulary and may learn to love reading and have a more interesting and fulfilling life. But it could also help him get better grades than his classmates, giving him a competitive advantage in college admissions. Swift and Brighouse suggest a parent should not even aim to give their child a competitive advantage: It would be a little odd, perhaps even a little creepy, if the ultimate aim of her endeavours were that her child is better off than others.

I think this is too harsh. In a society with a largely open, competitive labour market, it is not creepy to want your children to end up higher on the earnings ladder than others. Not only will this bring them a higher income, and all the accompanying choices and security, it is also likely to bring them safer and more interesting work. Relative position matters it is one reason, after all, that relative mobility is of such concern to policymakers. Although I think Brighouse and Swift go too far, they are on to something important with their distinction between the kind of parental behaviour that merely helps your own children and the kind that is detrimental to others. Thats what I call opportunity hoarding.

Opportunity hoarding does not result from the workings of a large machine but from the cumulative effect of individual choices and preferences. Taken in isolation, they may feel trivial: nudging your daughter into a better college with a legacy preference [giving applicants places on the basis of being related to alumni of the college]; helping the son of a professional contact to an internship; a single vote on a municipal council to retain low-density zoning restrictions. But, like many micro-preferences, to borrow a term from economist Thomas Schelling, they can have strong effects on overall culture and collective outcomes.

Over recent decades, institutions that once primarily served racist goals legacy admissions to keep out Jewish students, zoning laws to keep out black families have not been abandoned but have been softened, normalised and subtly re-purposed to help us sustain the upper-middle-class status. They remain, then, barriers to a more open, more genuinely competitive and fairer society. I wont insult your intelligence by pretending there are no costs here. By definition, reducing opportunity hoarding will mean some losses for the upper middle class.

But they will be small. Our neighbourhoods will be a little less upmarket but also less boring. Our kids will rub shoulders with some poorer kids in the school corridor. They might not squeak into an Ivy League college, and they may have to be content going to an excellent public university. But if we arent willing to entertain even these sacrifices, there is little hope. There will be some material costs, too. The big challenge is to equalise opportunities to acquire human capital and therefore increase the number of true competitors in the labour market. This will require, among other things, some increased public investment. Where will the money come from? It cant all come from the super-rich. Much of it will have to come from the upper middle class. From me andyou.

This is an extract from Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That is a Problem, and What To Do About It by Richard V Reeves (Brookings Institution Press, 2017)

HOW TO STAY AHEAD – OR PLAY FAIR

As parents, we naturally want our children to flourish. But that laudable desire slides into opportunity hoarding when we use our money, power or position to give our own children exclusive access to certain goods or chances. The effect is to strengthen class barriers.

1. Fix an internship using our networks. Internships are becoming more important but are too often stitched up privately. Its worse if theyre unpaid. Instead: insist on paid internships, openly recruited.

2. Take our own kids to work for the day. Children learn what work is from adults. Instead: try bringing somebody elses kid to work, perhaps by partnering with local charities.

3. Be a Nimby. By shutting out low-income housing from our neighbourhoods with planning restrictions, we keep less affluent kids away from our local schools and communities. Instead: be a Yimby, vote and argue for more mixed housing in your area.

4. Write cheques to PTA funds. Many of us want to support the school our children attend. This tilts the playing field, however, since other schools cant do the same. Instead: get your PTA to give half the donations to a school in a poor area.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/jul/15/how-us-middle-classes-hoard-opportunity-privilege