Starbucks to hire 10,000 refugees over next 5 years


FILE – In this Wednesday, March 23, 2016, file photo, Starbucks workers prepare coffee using siphon vacuum coffee makers at a station in the lobby of the coffee company’s annual shareholders meeting in Seattle. Starbucks says that it will be boosting the base pay of all employees and store managers at U.S. company-run stores by 5 percent or more on Oct. 3. In a letter sent to workers on Monday, July 11, 2016, CEO Howard Schultz said that the amount of the raise will be determined by geographic and market factors. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File) (Credit: AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Starbucks says it will hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years, a response to President Donald Trump’s indefinite suspension of Syrian refugees and temporary travel bans that apply to six other Muslim-majority nations.

Howard Schultz, the coffee retailer’s chairman and CEO, said in a letter to employees Sunday that the hiring would apply to stores worldwide and the effort would start in the United States where the focus would be on hiring immigrants “who have served with U.S. troops as interpreters and support personnel.”

Schultz, a supporter of Hillary Clinton during the presidential run, took aim at other parts of a Trump agenda focused on immigration, repealing former President Barack Obama’s health care law and restructuring trade with Mexico. The letter said that Starbucks would help support coffee growers in Mexico, provide health insurance to eligible workers if the health care law is repealed and back an Obama-era immigration program that allows young immigrants who were brought to the country as children to apply for a two-year reprieve from deportation and a work permit.

The move reflects the increasing complexity that businesses face when dealing with the Trump administration. Trump has met with CEOs at Ford, General Motors and Boeing and asked them to create jobs in the United States, while touting each announcement about new factory jobs as a success even if those additions had been planned before his presidential victory.

But not all corporate leaders have embraced Trump. Schultz added that Starbucks would aim to communicate with workers more frequently, saying Sunday, “I am hearing the alarm you all are sounding that the civility and human rights we have all taken for granted for so long are under attack.”

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Manifest Pussy: Why don’t we just let Shakina Nayfack speak for us all?

Shakina Nayfack

Shakina Nayfack (Credit: AP/Andy Kropa)

At first glance, Shakina Nayfack’s shaved head appears naked without the platinum weave she usually wears to play Lola — the radical trans waitress on Hulu’sDifficult People.” At six foot two and sporting patterned athleisure, she’s the most noticeable person at FIKA, the Swedish café in the theater district where we’ve met to chat about her life as a trans activist in the otherwise stale, male and pale miasma of the entertainment industry.

Her embrace upon recognizing me is all-encompassing and sincere, like the magna mater meets Barry’s Bootcamp. She’s just finished rehearsal for a new Go-Go’s musical (!) slated for a possible Broadway run — Thank you, Lord! — so she apologizes as she tears into a veggie wrap. We exchange some of her infamous lines from “Difficult People,” such as, “Fuck you, Marcy,” a line from arguably the best scene on TV this season, and discuss what it’s like to have a line you wrote and uttered meme’d over the face of Mother Theresa — um, glorious.

Shakina’s chosen name (pronounced Shakeena) is derived from the Hebrew word Shekhinah, meaning dwelling place, a noun that conveys the manifestation of God’s femme counterpart, the loving mother who feels the pain of her children and rescues them from the boogeyman under the bed. Thus the observant Jew’s Friday night ritual bath to cleanse before the Sabbath to meet the beloved. In other words, the Great Equalizer knows whassup.

And so does Shakina. For starters, Lola is the only trans character on TV who is both funny and unsympathetic. A character who exists to remind us that there’s more to the trans narrative than HB2 and sex work, though you best believe mama has a lot to say (and sing) about both, though always in unexpected ways that hit on all the feelz, honey. And while Lola celebrates the bathos, Shakina’s solo show “Manifest Pussy” zeroes in on that special no-no place rendered off limits in most trans conversations — i.e., her gender confirmation surgery and her new-ish vagina.

The thing is, who isn’t talking about vaginas these days? From Issa Rae on “Insecure” with her Broken Pussy rap — “maybe it’s broke as hell/ maybe it really smells” — to Donald Trump and a whole slew of interchangeable, tired politicians with their interchangeable, tired ideology, not to mention countless brogressives and slacktivists sounding off on Facebook, everybody’s locked in an endless comment war about pussies and what should go in them and come out of them and who can and can’t grab them. It seems like Donald Trump broke the world’s pussy. Sad!

As my mother would say, it’s no new news that following the inauguration, on Jan. 21, millions of cis and trans women, girls and guys donned pink pussyhats and united to march in Washington, D.C., and in sister cities from Nairobi to Oslo. The visuals from these marches are startlingly, well, labial. They speak to exactly where we are as women: on the verge, but of what? The world as a giant pink Upsidedown where toddlers and tweens all brandish signs that say pussy, but you can no longer teach Ovid’s “Metamorphoses?” A world where, to quote breast cancer survivor, sex educator and activist Ericka Hart, “The trauma of the pussy did not begin with Trump, it began when such a high premium was put on the power of the white one.” It’s woke and vaginal AF. Where’s the musical number for that?

Ask Shakina. She wrote the book and lyrics to score a spiritual journey of true vaginal awakening. A real inside job. Like a graphic “Hedwig” if the titular character had only had Kickstarter.

Shakina grew up Jewish as Jared Allen Nayfack in Orange County, California, and faced a staggering amount of harassment as a gay teen and almost no backup from teachers and school administrators. When she was 16, she gave herself a tattoo of side-by-side male symbols, figuring that if she were found dead this would be an identifier.

This sense of outrage led to Shakina’s earliest forays into activism and organizing protests in high school, which ultimately got her expelled. This was the late nineties, the dawn of the queer youth movement, before Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) existed. It wasn’t until University of California, Santa Cruz, that she worked with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to lead trainings for educators and youth activists all over the country, so they could create GSAs in their schools and develop policies around bullying and expand the definitions of sexual harassment and discrimination to include sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Shakina also created a performance piece as part of a major she designed in “theatrical activism.” In the piece, set to the song “Faggot” by Korn, Shakina wears dominatrix drag and whips a group of guys clad in football jerseys, fishnets and jockstraps with AIDS ribbons on their genitals. Watching the piece on YouTube, one is struck by both its radical humor and extreme rage.

Perhaps this was part of the journey. A Dagobah System where Shakina fine-tuned her sense of theatrics and comedy as resistance so that she could utilize them to heal and serve the world. A hefty task, but that’s all in a day’s work for a pussy these days, manifested or otherwise.

As though to further explain all of this, Shakina parses the “Fuck you, Marcy,” beat from “Difficult People,” what could well be the the platonic paradigm of her character Lola making short shrift of people’s assumptions. In this scene, Nate has called in an external resource, aka Marcy, to the café to teach his employees the Heimlich maneuver. Poor Marcy makes the error of gesturing at Lola as she mentions that she used to teach at a women’s shelter for sex workers, to which Lola replies, “Fuck you, Marcy. Just ’cuz I’m trans you think I’m a sex worker? The closest I’ve come to working the streets is the summer I spent with Greenpeace and a clipboard.”

It’s important to note that the original line was solely, “Just cuz I’m trans you think I’m a sex worker,” but Shakina ad-libbed the, “Fuck you, Marcy,” because she felt that the original line, though funny, didn’t capture her frustration with labeling and people’s association with the trans community and sex work. Lola then calls Marcy’s former occupation, “cisgender-privileged-women’s-shelter-bullshit,” while the rest of her colleagues chant, “Fuck you, Marcy,” like a deranged Greek chorus.  It’s amazing.

Yet, it’s also transformative and challenges our assumptions.

Next, Shakina references the “Difficult People” episode “Blade Stallion,” in which Julie’s boyfriend catches Julie watching porn. Julie goes to discuss the incident with her BFF Billy — played by co-star Billy Eichner — in the café. In the middle of this reveal, Nate casually informs them he used to do porn under the name Blade Stallion, and Billy and Julie google him. As Julie is making a comment about the size of Nate’s genitals, Lola passes by with her tray, flicks her gaze to Julie’s phone, says, “Mine was bigger,” and then sashays off-screen.

This line is both deliberately subversive yet subtly problematic on a couple of levels. For one, there’s your basic trans protocol which states that you never, ever talk about genitals. They’re private and off limits, Mr. President. Leave that woman alone. You know, Miss Lewinsky. . . Secondly, at least for the cis audience, there’s something jarring about a trans woman making a flippant dick joke in the past tense. When I mention the multi-layered aspect of this moment, Shakina shrugs and says, “I had to learn to love my penis before I got rid of it.” One wonders if that’s how all the women of the world will come to view Trump.

Or, for that matter, how American tweens will name their nether parts going forward. Has pussy become a totally acceptable word in popular parlance? Has the connotation shifted? According to Sadie Chorao, a sixth grader at New Voices Middle School in Park Slope, “Before the march, it was a bad word, but not the worst word that I know. This all changed after the march because now it feels like a word of power, and it shows that we will not give up our hope until we make things right.” Meantime, Ella Thomas, a sophomore at Saint Ann’s School, found Trump’s statement demeaning and disgusting. “Seeing the word pussy didn’t bother me at all. . . but I do think that more people need to know and understand that not all women have pussies.”

Ericka Hart agrees. “Not everyone who identifies as a woman has a pussy nor does your identity as a woman have anything to do with pussy. But I see a sea of knitted hats touting the power of the pussy, when some of you will never have to ponder the anti-black origins upon which gynecology was built.”

Or think of Issa’s spitting rhymes at the club: “Maybe it’s really rough/ maybe it’s had enough/ broken pussy.” At first glance, this rap seems like just a private joke to her friend, but then by the final episode, we realize that it’s a message to the entire sisterhood. Maybe it really has had enough. The question is what exactly is the antecedent of it? The collective vagina? The Pipeline? The World?

These days, it feels like maybe EVERYONE ON EARTH has finally, really, for serious, had enough of IT. If those abundant Pinkpussy hats and sold-out poster boards at Staples were any indication, there’s also a collective NRG that’s not gonna be ignored, Donald.

So hide your bunny because pussy grabs back and it grabs back HARD. This ain’t no ordinary college seminar vagina dentata, it’s a multi-generational, united feminist movement! With cat ears! They may not have marched like this for Trayvon and they may have laughed at Emma Sulkowicz and her mattress but lo! Look at them now! Look but DON’T TOUCH!

Lest you think I’m not with the program — I am. I went to Oberlin. They practically invented the program — let’s recall the divine feminine presence otherwise known as Shakina and her magnum opus “Manifest Pussy.” She tells me, “I made a vow that I wouldn’t speak about trauma in the show unless I could do it humorously. I’m standing on stage singing about going to Thailand to get a vagina. It’s demystifying some of the taboo topics of the transgender experience. I’m also bringing spirituality into that conversation, which I think is subversive on multiple levels. And when I took the show on the road to North Carolina, the whole thing became even more politically charged, because each performance was also like a rally to get people fired up to fight discriminatory (bathroom) legislation.”

When I ask her why she thinks spirituality and sexuality are the progenitors of activism, she takes a sip of tea and tells me that, for her at least, they are the cornerstones of activism, but that different people have different approaches and different motivations for creating social or political change. This makes me rethink my previous opinion about the pink pussyhats and the pussy signs. If I had a young daughter, I wonder, would I have brought her to the march? Would I have sat little Sarah, Rebecca, Leah or Rachel down and said, “From now on, this is your PUSSY. Keep God and the State the fuck out of it.”

Maybe not. But I’m pretty sure Shakina would agree with me on one thing. She may be a messianic Jew but we both pray to the same God: Musical theater. During a performance of “Hair” an actress grabbed Shakina’s hand and held it and she felt the veil of darkness begin to lift. Describing this moment to me, Shakina’s face softens and her eyes go all glittery as she focuses on a spot in the middle distance. Then she waxes poetic. “I’m a practitioner of magical realism,” she says. “I watched “Annie” before I read Márquez. The ways musicals elevate expression has informed my life on many levels. The belief in possibility and heightened expression. The attention to stylization. The light at the end of the world.” She looks at me knowingly.

I experience a sudden flash of lyrics of “Seasons of Love,” the anthem from “Rent:” “In truth that she learns/ Or in times that he cried/ In bridges he burned/ Or the way that she died.” A song that has always gripped me. My friend Victoria’s sister Pam, a lovely woman who worked for Ralph Lauren, died of AIDS some years ago and I have always taken that show to heart. I wonder if people still do, now that there’s PrEP and the Cocktail, but of course, this is probably my flawed, privileged thinking.

Later, Shakina emails me to amend, “Acting is my activism. When I was a kid I used to say, ‘When the revolution comes I want to be on the front lines, entertaining the troops.’ That still holds true for me today.” 

For now, I guess, our lips are sealed.

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The war on facts is a war on democracy: Scientific community has a warning for President Trump

Donald Trump

(Credit: AP (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik))

Scientific American There is a new incumbent in the White House, a new Congress has been sworn in, and scientists around the country are nervous as hell.

We’re nervous because there seems to be a seismic shift going on in Washington, D.C., and its relationship with facts, scientific reality and objective truth has never been more strained.

Already, in the opening days of his administration, Donald Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, willfully ignored clear, empirical evidence about the size of the inauguration crowds, and bristled at the suggestion experts said they were smaller than in years past. He seemed almost paranoid and insinuated that a media conspiracy — rather than simple arithmetic — was trying to embarrass his boss. And the Trump administration continues to claim, without any evidence, that widespread voter fraud cost Trump the popular vote, even though this has been thoroughly debunked by numerous, bipartisan sources — including his own lawyers.

Even more bizarrely, Kellyanne Conway, a senior advisor to Trump, has offered up the notion that “alternative facts,” rather than actual truth, were in play now. I don’t know what “alternative facts” are, but I think my parent’s generation would have called them “falsehoods” or even “lies.”

But it’s not just absence of facts that’s troubling, it is the apparent effort to derail science and the pursuit of facts themselves.

Already, we have learned that multiple agencies, including the USDA and the EPA, have ordered their scientists to stop speaking to the public about their research. The CDC suddenly cancelled a long-planned, international conference on the health impacts of climate change. And when the Badlands National Park started using its Twitter account to discuss the issue of climate change — as any nature center, park or science museum might do — the tweets were immediately deleted. Most disturbingly, the EPA has immediately suspended all of their grants and contracts, and ordered the review of all scientific work by political appointees, including efforts to collect data, conduct research and share information with the broader public — a public, we should remember, that paid for the work in the first place.

And it’s only been a week since Trump took office.

A disturbing pattern seems to be emerging. Facts, and the pursuit of facts, don’t seem to matter to this White House. Or, worse yet, they matter a lot and are being suppressed.

“Fact checking” the Trump campaign was always a surreal exercise, but we all knew that he came from the world of entertainment, and that shoot-from-the-hip, I-say-what-I-think style was part of his charm, part of his brand. People fed up with regular politicians loved his brash style. It was refreshing to many.

But now that Trump is in power, this is no longer about ratings and entertaining television. It’s about ensuring the fundamental legitimacy and credibility of the world’s most powerful office. If we can’t trust the “facts” being discussed in the White House, what can we trust?

Ultimately, a healthy democracy depends on science. The pursuit of truth, having an informed citizenry, and the free and open exchange of ideas are all cornerstones of our democracy. That’s one thing that always made America truly great: The fact that, when all is said and done, evidence and the truth would always win the day in America. Without that, we join the league of ordinary nations.

And even if you aren’t worried about factual evidence, the veracity of our leaders or the independence of science from political interference, I would urge you to look a little farther down the slippery slope. If facts don’t matter to the White House, especially when they’re inconvenient, what’s next? Laws?

Let me be clear: This isn’t a partisan thing. Scientists aren’t — and shouldn’t be — worried about which political party is in power. It rarely mattered: There has always been a long tradition of bipartisan support for science and a fact-based world view. In fact, the Union of Concerned Scientists has ranked both Republican and Democratic presidents as being exceptional supporters of science, ranging from Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.

Wise leaders of both parties have always recognized the value of independent science to our democracy.

But there’s something different about this administration. Something troubling. And scientists need to stand up and call it out. While we generally avoid political conversations, scientists should always stand up for facts, objectivity and the independence of science itself. Not doing so would be almost unethical.

So, to Trump, I would say this:

If this is all just a series of missteps, caused by over-zealous mid-level managers during a confusing presidential transition, so be it. Say so. Fix it. Get out on the public stage and affirm your commitment to facts, to truth and to the independent pursuit of science without political interference. The vast majority of your fellow Americans would applaud you for this. It would be brave. It would be wise. And it would show some class.

But if this is actually part of your governing philosophy, I would give you a warning on behalf of my fellow scientists: Do not mess with us. Do not try to bury the truth. Do not interfere with the free and open pursuit of science. You do so at your peril.

Americans don’t look kindly on bullies, people who try to suppress the truth or people who try to intimidate scientists and the press. In the long run, this always backfires. The dustbin of history is full of people who have tried, and failed. You will too.

The next time you visit the CIA headquarters, I hope you will take a moment to notice their unofficial motto, etched in the walls of the lobby. It says, “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” (John VIII-XXXII.)

It does. And scientists like me, and Americans of all backgrounds, will always fight for it.

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Buying lies: If Hillary Clinton had spent a little more time with HGTV before the election she’d know what America really wanted


(Credit: Getty/Salon)

With Donald Trump now resident-in-chief at the White House — his own, high-class Embassy Suites between trips back to Trump Tower — I can’t help but wonder what Hillary Clinton is doing with herself. I imagine her at the family’s Dutch Colonial in Chappaqua, stretched out on the couch binging on Home & Garden Television’s “Love It or List It” and “Beachfront Bargain Hunt,” favorites she recently described in Bloomberg as “relaxing, entertaining and informative.”

I’m not sure about the “relaxing” part — I find the shows unsettling. But if Clinton had watched more of the No. 3 cable channel’s house-buying and renovation shows, the story they tell about America might have helped her craft a winning campaign message, and she’d be the one hanging new (not gold) drapes in the Oval Office.

The real-life people featured on HGTV say their priorities in choosing where to live are location, size and price, but invariably they settle on the place that’s farther from their jobs or family than they wanted, and blow up their seemingly set-in-stone budget. They accept fewer bedrooms than they need for the perk of a swimming pool or a bigger kitchen.

People do these things because the human mind is not always rational. It’s emotional, and our emotions can run so strong that we don’t always recognize what’s in our self-interest. It’s apparently such a well-known phenomenon in real estate circles that realtors have a name for it: “buyer’s lies.”

I experienced this firsthand, 12 years ago. My husband, Ralph, and I sold the Washington, D.C., townhouse that we had renovated down to the studs for a ramshackle hundred-year-old, four-story affair with gold Formica countertops in the kitchen and a bathroom done in mauve tile from the ’70s.

We did it because the replacement house was twice the size of our beloved original, and we wanted to live on a hill instead of in a gully. I can no longer remember why we thought our family of four needed six bedrooms or what advantage we thought the higher ground would offer. Maybe, as I used to joke back when we were making the decision to move, we just craved chaos, because why else were we uprooting ourselves to move three blocks up the street. The first night we slept there, I turned to Ralph in bed and asked, “Will we ever get used to this house?”

Now I know the answer.

We overthrew our comfy setup for the unknown, just as nearly 63 million voters scorned the opportunity on Election Day to stay the course, to take incremental steps, to tweak only what needed changing. That would have been a vote for Clinton. Instead, in electing Trump, the country chose the human equivalent of a McMansion — a dismally proportioned mash-up of architectural styles, with a hodgepodge of windows and turrets, a six-car garage, a foyer designed for a giant, heated floors throughout, a kitchen with an island, peninsula, and umpteen dishwashers and sinks, and, it almost goes without saying, a lot of gold plate. Yes, the bells and whistles are enthralling, but they come with hidden, and not-so-hidden, costs — the heating, the air-conditioning (think Carrier), the pool man, the gardener, the gold-plate refurbisher.

That’s what Ralph and I learned. Instead of a storybook ending, our house swap is an ongoing nightmare. It turns out that when we bought near the top of the market in 2005, just shy of the Great Recession, we were operating on an old set of assumptions.

We still believed that if bankers gave us a mortgage for our behemoth on the hill, it must be because they believed we could afford it. We didn’t realize that they were more like con artists, trying to unload mortgages on anyone naïve enough to bite, or that for two people in declining industries — journalism and photography — our earning potential had already topped out. Note: It’s not just Trump supporters who lie to themselves. And it’s not only the rural working class that has unrealistic expectations and finds itself in precarious straits. Technology is displacing the urban professional class, too. Now the soaring Washington housing market has trapped us. We can sell what we have, but we cannot afford to downsize. We’ve already tapped what little equity we had.

If home is supposed to be a refuge, ours is a jail cell. We long ago shelved our plans for a new kitchen, or any other upgrades or repairs. We’re just trying to make our mortgage payments. And DIY is out of the question. My 85-year-old mother calls Ralph and me “the least handy people she’s ever met,” and it’s true: we can’t even nail a picture on the wall so that it hangs straight.

But as we try to hold onto what we’ve got, things aren’t going our way. The bathtub on the third floor — the one in that hellish shade of purple — is cracked, and unusable. And the second-floor bathroom has a story of its own. The earthquake that damaged the Washington Monument and National Cathedral five years ago also cracked our pipes. Soon the kitchen ceiling just below it was bubbling with moisture. But that wasn’t as much trouble as what happened days after we moved in, when the same ceiling crashed in, and the second-floor bath had to be taken down to the joists. It turned out that the previous owners had neglected to put in a shower pan.

My sister-in-law, who specializes in historic preservation, assures us that it takes a long time for a house to fall down, and I hope to God she’s right. One night last summer Ralph and I came home from dinner to find a section of the living room’s coffered plaster ceiling in a pile on the floor. Now we live with the exposed laths as if we’re a historic site trying to show visitors how early twentieth-century houses were built, and we pretend to overlook the bits of plaster dust that sift down every day. If Chicken Little lived in our house, he would be hiding under the table. Our next-door neighbor, a single woman in her seventies, who yelled at our son when he was 4 for hitting a baseball into her yard, and Ralph when he tried to rake her leaves, was dead to us for a long time before she died nearly three years ago. Now her house — which was already severely testing my sister-in-law’s theory — is abandoned, and we have inherited her mice, which skitter across our gold Formica countertops.

In our quest for bigger and better, new and different, we didn’t stop to weigh our lifelong values or long-term goals. We were caught up in the relentless need to consume, allowing ourselves to fall prey to the same cultural conditioning that has led Americans to choke down nearly $1 billion in credit card debt without thinking about what we really want: time with our kids to share experiences. We want to afford things that enrich their lives, like music lessons and camp, and prepare them to become grownups. This is just one price of our buy-now, pay-later mentality.

The more serious and persistent problem is the angst that’s eating us up.What I’ve learned over the past decade is that the unasked questions are the most important, and the consequences of some decisions are too grave to be tossed over for the next shiny object, as alluring as that can be.

The one thing HGTV never shows is that sometimes change for change’s sake — and giving into one’s emotions — ends in buyers’ remorse. But according to some sources, the home shows aren’t 100 percent real — and the Trump presidency is.

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Living in a horror film: How Trump could make a deadly flesh-eating bacteria spread, again

Donald Trump

(Credit: Reuters/Ben Brewer)


By nominating fossil fuel-fanatics and climate deniers to his cabinet, signaling U.S. abandonment of the Paris climate accord, cutting NASA climate research and planning to gut the EPA, President Donald Trump has made it clear that federal action to fight climate change is a thing of the past — and that he’s willing to erode any gains that have been made.

What could that mean? For starters, the goal to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2° Celsius is now endangered, since the United States — the world’s second biggest greenhouse gas emitter behind China — is responsible for more than 15 percent of the world’s emissions. Then there’s the cascade of impacts resulting from the increased surface temperature, including species extinctions, ocean acidification, sea level rise, changes in precipitation patterns that impact farmers, increase in global warming refugees and more droughts, wildfires and heatwaves.

While these impacts are frightening indeed, one has emerged that is particularly scary: the rise of a deadly, flesh-eating bacteria.

Last fall, Michael Funk was cleaning crab traps outside his home in Ocean City, Maryland. As he waded into the Atlantic, a deadly bacteria entered his body through a small cut in his leg. Four days later, he was dead.

“It’s like something out of a horror movie,” said Marcia Funk, his wife of 46 years.

But it’s frighteningly real — and thanks to climate change, the occurrence of the menacing microbe, Vibrio vulnificus, is expected to rise.

Ars Technica’s health reporter Beth Mole, a microbiologist, wrote:

Within hours, Funk fell ill and went to a nearby hospital where a surgeon removed infected, rotting skin from his leg. But with the flesh-eating bacteria circulating in his bloodstream, his condition quickly worsened. He was flown to a trauma hospital in Baltimore where surgeons amputated his leg. Still, the lesions spread and, on September 15, he died.

As Mole notes, Funk’s case, while extreme, wasn’t even the worst recent case. She cited a case in July 2015 of a 59-year-old man who became infected with V. vulnificus in the Gulf of Mexico. He went to a hospital with a painful lesion on his ankle that expanded before the doctors’ eyes. “Within hours, his whole body was covered in lesions,” Mole wrote. “A little more than 48 hours later, he was dead.”

False color scanning electron micrograph of Vibrio vulnificus, a species of Gram-negative, motile, curved, rod-shaped, pathogenic bacteria of the genus Vibrio that lives in marine environments such as estuaries, brackish ponds, or coastal areas. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Climate change isn’t the only culprit in the expected rise in cases of deadly bacterial infections. Raw oysters also play a role. The editorial board of the Salisbury, Maryland, Daily Times (the newspaper that reported on the Funk case) offered readers a simple warning: “Avoid brackish, stagnant water and don’t eat raw oysters.”

There has been a surge in demand for raw oysters, particularly those raised in farms. “Along the East Coast, wild oysters have been disappearing,” wrote Bonny Wolf of WFSU, a public radio station serving Florida and Georgia, two Atlantic seaboard states that have the kind of warm saltwater the vibrio class of bacteria prefers. “But the number of farm-raised oysters is exploding . . . raw oyster bars are all the rage.”

Certainly, the increased interest in raw oysters can’t be pegged to Donald Trump, but the president’s anti-climate policies will help to maintain the perfect breeding ground for certain deadly viruses and bacteria like V. vilnificus. The close relationship between climate and infections on an epidemic-scale has been well established, and history shows it. Jonathan Patz, an environmental health expert at Johns Hopkins University, explained:

For centuries humans have known that climatic conditions affect epidemic infections — since well before the basic notion of infectious agents was understood late in the nineteenth century. The Roman aristocracy took refuge in their hill resorts each summer to avoid malaria. South Asians learned early that in high summer, strongly curried foods were less prone to induce diarrheal diseases. In the southern United States one of the most severe summertime outbreaks of yellow fever (viral disease transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito) occurred in 1878, during one of the strongest El Niño episodes on record. The economic and human cost was enormous, with an estimated death toll of around 20 000 people. In developed countries today it is well known that recurrent influenza epidemics occur in mid-winter.

More recently, scientists at the World Health Organization suggest that climate change aided the spread of the Zika virus.

“Zika is the kind of thing we’ve been ranting about for 20 years,” Daniel Brooks, a biologist at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, told the Guardian. “We should’ve anticipated it. Whenever the planet has faced a major climate change event, man-made or not, species have moved around and their pathogens have come into contact with species with no resistance.”

With Trump and his fellow climate deniers in power, there will be little in terms of climate action to stop the rise of the deadly, flesh-eating Vibrio vulnificus. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. Carina Blackmore, a Florida epidemiologist, explains how in this video:

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1987’s “Document” feels especially applicable to America in 2017


(Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

On Jan. 20, Paste ran a clever article titled “An Inaugural Day Message via the Words of R.E.M.” The piece creates a narrative about politics and life by jumbling together and rearranging phrases culled from the Athens, Georgia, band’s song lyrics. Workload-wise, the 2400-word piece is impressive; mixing and matching sentiments from a 30-plus-year career certainly isn’t easy.

From a thematic standpoint, the article also seems remarkably true to the ongoing nationwide pendulum swing between hope (“There are 40,000 reasons for living. The first starts with someone, and that someone is you”) and despair (“Where to turn? There’s no one left to take the lead. The story is a sad one, told many times. I’m not sure where we’re headed, but I’m very scared for this world”).

More than anything, the Paste article illustrates how thoroughly R.E.M. chronicled the geopolitical landscape before its 2011 breakup. Out of all of the band’s releases, however, 1987’s “Document” feels especially applicable to America in 2017.

The last record R.E.M. released via I.R.S. Records — and the first LP the band recorded with producer Scott Litt — “Document” addresses the corrupting nature of money; political witch hunts concerning free speech; circumstances that are both bewildering and unprecedented; and economic and employment oppression. Appropriately, the record’s music is glinting and electrified, and nods to post-punk, folk, funk and fiery rock ‘n’ roll.

“It’s a sideways look at the world and us,” guitarist Peter Buck said of the album in a 1987 Melody Maker interview. “It has a kind of Orwellian wry humour. It’s not that we’re making light of America, it’s just that I can’t look at it the way Bruce Springsteen does. To me, America in 1987 is Disney World.” (In fact, it emerged years later that a potential title for “Document” was reportedly “Last Train to Disneyworld.”)

On “Document,” R.E.M.’s take on the country is indeed a mixture of absurdity and brutality. “Welcome to the Occupation” pulls no punches as it addresses U.S. involvement in Central America, although some of its lyrics (“Listen to the Congress where we propagate confusion/Primitive and wild”) could have modern interpretations. The jaunty “Exhuming McCarthy” uses sharp horns and a marching band-like tempo to address the comeback of the baseless character assassination. For added emphasis, the song even features archival audio footage from the 1954 hearings between Senator Joe McCarthy and the Army.

“Document” also leaves room for mystery and metaphor, however. The psychedelic-kissed “King of Birds” wields insightful aphorisms (“Standing on the shoulders of giants leaves me cold,” “I am king of all I see, my kingdom for a voice”) to explore the intersection of knowledge accumulation, leadership power and historical oppression.

And then there’s the rapid-fire “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” a song about “bombastic, vomiting sensory overload,” vocalist Michael Stipe told Rolling Stone in 1987. Back then, the song functioned as an indictment of a quick-cut, whiplash-inducing media approach; today, its dizzying verses are as warp-speed as online culture and the compressed news cycle.

Unsurprisingly, “Document” emerged during a time of worldwide political and social upheaval, as well as anger toward the American government. Both Wall Street greed and the Iran-Iraq war continued to rage, while president Ronald Reagan’s mishandling of the Iran-Contra affair dominated during the early part of the year. “All you have to do is turn on the TV,” Buck said in a separate interview back then, “and you’re inundated with complete lies from people who are supposed to be running the country.”

The latter quote feels eerily prescient, if not contemporary — as do many sentiments expressed by the band then. Back in 1987, bassist Mike Mills told The Globe and Mail that “Michael [Stipe] is really concerned — we all are — about this neo-conservative wave in America. With all the repression of personal freedoms, the knee-jerk reactionism, it’s the sort of atmosphere old Joe [McCarthy] would fit well into, hence the song.” In 2003, Stipe admitted that “Disturbance at the Heron House” is his “take” on George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

“That song is so fucking political, and it’s so appropriate to what’s going on right now,” he told Filter. “Like, the kind of arrogance that some of the policy makers and world leaders are carrying with them right now is, I think, reflective of the very worst of the United States. It’s that teenage arrogance, as a young country, the know-it-all-kind of thing. That makes me crazy.”

Thirty years later, it’s somewhat horrifying to feel like history is repeating itself. In that sense, R.E.M.’s “Document” is more important than ever. Its righteous anger and blunt condemnations are inspiring, comforting and engaging — a blueprint for forward motion when everything in the world seems untethered and chaotic. “Document” is a grounding, centering presence.

In fact, R.E.M.’s continued political activism and outspokenness also feels crucial. To this day, the group’s website and social media channels reflect causes and values espoused by the band members. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” has even been adopted in some circles as a reaction to this past election; Stipe, for one, quoted the song’s chorus across several Instagram posts last week.

What’s interesting (if not somewhat frustrating) is that casual listeners or new fans of the group may not be completely aware of R.E.M.’s fierce political orientation. Take radio, one of the major ways people still encounter the band on a daily basis. According to statistics kept by Nielsen BDSradio, the five most-played R.E.M. songs on the airwaves between January 17-23 were (in this order) “Losing My Religion,” “The One I Love,” “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” “Stand” and “Man on the Moon.”

Taken together, these five tunes show the breadth of the band’s sonic range. Thematically, however, the songs aren’t overtly political — with the possible exception of “Stand,” a deceptively basic song “about making decisions and actually living your life rather than letting it happen,” as frontman Michael Stipe once told Q. In other words, “Stand” can very much serve as a rallying cry to get involved locally.

At least where radio is concerned, the version of R.E.M. many see in 2017 is a far different band than the one people grew up with in the ’80s, ’90s and ’00s. That’s not a unique phenomenon: Historical revisionism has changed the perception of plenty of bands. However, this phenomenon does no favors to R.E.M., particularly where the band’s depth is concerned. For example, “there’s a lot of whimsical humor and irony in Michael’s writing that we don’t really get credit for,” Mills told the Globe and Mail in 1987. “I think people miss that a lot of the stuff we do is partly tongue-in-cheek.”

The way R.E.M. always balanced emotional levity and political commentary feels like a useful survival mechanism, one that deserves to be excavated and updated for the modern world. As online debates seethe over political memes and mocking hashtags — and whether such sardonic humor softens the severity of what’s going on or is simply a way to cope — finding such equilibrium is an imperative.

In the end, it’s poignant that “Document” starts with the aggressive “Finest Worksong,” whose very first line is the rabble-rousing cry “The time to rise has been engaged.” More than anything, the album urges people to stay motivated, and to speak up and take action — timeless advice that feels more vital than ever.

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August Wilson and the long awaited triumph of “Fences”


“Fences” (Credit: Paramount Pictures)

Watching the powerful new film “Fences,” a triumph for actor-director Denzel Washington and co-star Viola Davis (both have earned raves and Oscar nods), and a rare slice-of-working-class black drama to reach the big screen, I couldn’t help wonder what August Wilson would make of it all.

Surely, Wilson would appreciate the extraordinary ensemble acting and faithfulness to his screenplay, which he’d closely based on his stage drama “Fences.” And certainly the prolific and lionized author, who died of cancer at 60 in 2005, would be relieved to see his potent script reach the Cineplex at all — nearly 30 years after he sold the screen rights to a major Hollywood studio.

I know. I knew Wilson professionally as a journalist after we both moved to Seattle in 1991, and I had the privilege of interviewing him on numerous occasions and as Seattle Times theater critic reviewing his plays and hearing periodic progress (or lack of progress) updates on the long-wished-for filming of “Fences.”

First a few words about August. Esteemed nationally and abroad, he became a local Seattle celebrity, in the best sense. A gregarious, expansive and shrewd raconteur, he was an unmistakable presence about town, dapper in his tweed jacket, suspenders and porkpie hat, an unapologetic throwback in style and spirit to the beatnik/bebop era. He didn’t drive, and was often spotted on a bus or in his favorite coffeehouses and diners, cigarette in hand, greeting friends and strangers and penning his scripts in longhand.

One quickly discovered August was, like many of his protagonists, a riffing jazz and blues connoisseur whose instrument was conversation. He was unusually congenial and accessible to interviewers, while cannily embellishing touchstone anecdotes about his underclass youth in a racist America to fit the medium and his mood. He was also an activist, volubly urging more support for black theater companies (though his own works mostly originated in white-run theaters), and given to provocative declarations — most controversially, that African-American actors should only appear in roles specifically written for blacks (which left out Shakespeare, Chekhov and pretty much everything written before the mid-20th century).

Even when you disagreed with August, he was entertaining and gracious company, and, gradually, he became more open during our chats — about, among other frequent topics, his frustrating Hollywood adventures over “Fences.”

As a posthumous achievement, the movie reflects both the struggle of major African-American artists to crack the Hollywood glass ceiling on their own terms, and the modern challenges of capturing theatrical literature on film.

“Fences” was my first encounter with Wilson’s artistry, in the play’s pre-Broadway 1987 premiere in San Francisco. It would go on to New York and win a double-whammy Pulitzer Prize for drama and a best play Tony Award, the second of his plays to reach Broadway (after his breakthrough 1920s blues drama “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), and the third entry in his remarkable American Century Cycle, a planned 10-play, decade-by-decade rumination on 20th-century African-American history and identity. “Fences” would help establish Wilson as the nation’s most successful black Broadway dramatist by far.

In San Francisco, James Earl Jones memorably originated the role of Troy Maxson (the role Washington would inherit), a raging bull of an African-American Everyman, a Pittsburgh sanitation worker whose Falstaffian life force is undermined by psychological demons and festering bitterness over the racial barriers he believes stymied his athletic career.

“Fences” impressed me as a rough-hewn family study very much in the tradition of Arthur Miller’s seminal working-stiff tragedy from the late 1940s, “Death of a Salesman,” a prototype for many searing domestic dramas to follow. In Wilson’s script, set in the 1950s, here is another thwarted father taking out his own failures on a son and abusing the love of his loyal, patient wife. (The latter role was first performed by Mary Alice, and in the movie is played by Davis.)

Here is another unfulfilled American dreamer, another frustrated, aging “untermensch” who swears he could have been a contender. But of course, there were glaring differences between Troy and Willy — racially, culturally and historically. Willy is white; Troy is an African-American, enraged at an oppressive system that essentially barred blacks from competing in major league sports until the 1940s and ’50s. He deeply resented, too, how racism had trapped him for years in a low-rung job emptying trash cans astride a garbage truck.

And even more than the garrulous salesman Willy Loman, Troy was a talker — a yarn-spinner, a fabulist, a bullshitter and truth-teller. His gift for gab sounded theatrically unique to my ears; in cadence and sensibility it was at once poetic and pithy, steeped in blues and Afro-urban folklore, blunt and allusive, grand and gritty, self-conscious and organic. It was not the theatrical parlance of James Baldwin or Lorraine Hansberry, major writers whose earlier plays introduced important black voices and visions to Broadway. It was full of artifice and candor, and entirely Wilson’s own.

The sparring and rhapsodizing between characters, I later learned, were creations of a self-taught writer who dropped out of high school but read voraciously and listened (just as voraciously) to older men hold court in the bars and on the front stoops of the Hill District, the black Pittsburgh neighborhood where Wilson was raised and the setting for his plays.

By the late 1980s, the film industry was looking less and less to Broadway for material to adapt. But with its rich characters and flush of media attention and honors, it seemed a good bet that a movie version of “Fences” would soon emerge. It would be the first full-length record of a Wilson work, capturing what his widow and literary executor, costume designer Constanza Romero, now calls “one of August’s most accessible, most beloved plays.”

There was never much doubt “Fences” would have a fruitful, vivid life in the theater. I’ve seen four or five productions — recently, the splendid Tony-winning Broadway revival starring Washington and Davis (a warm-up for the film), and years ago, a performance before a small, rapt audience in a Rockford, Illinois, theater, where the only black people in sight were the actors, jobbed in 80 miles from Chicago.

The play was rooted in the black experience, yet the white patrons responded palpably and warmly to its earthy humor and primal urgency, as the complexity of Troy’s personality and his ferocious impact on those close to him unfolded. “Troy is just exactly like my father,” I heard a woman tell her companion at intermission.

Such cross-racial reactions are no surprise to Romero, who has guarded her husband’s legacy and the task of keeping his plays in constant theatrical circulation. In her view, Wilson told “American stories, and they contain a whole world of characters that relate and sometimes struggle with the different societal restrictions of their time.” She believes that for a diverse audience, they “still have so much to teach us about the time we are living in right now, about our own humanity and about our relationships with each other.”

Of course, a modestly successful movie reaches far more people than a regional or even a long-running Broadway production ever could. And Hollywood did quickly come knocking. In 1987, Paramount Pictures paid $1 million for Wilson’s screenplay as a future vehicle for Eddie Murphy, who wanted to display his acting range in the role of Troy’s bullied, defiant son Cory.

But there was a hitch: The studio intended to hire the commercially proven filmmaker Barry Levinson (“Rain Man”) to direct. Levinson is white, and though he “didn’t necessarily have [contractual] right to approve a director,” reports Romero, “August was very vocal about having his first feature film be directed by a black director.”

Levinson stepped aside. Paramount wanted both good box office and to appease Wilson, but Murphy declared, “I don’t want to hire nobody just cause they’re black,” according to Wilson, in a 1990 essay he wrote for Spin magazine.

“I am not carrying a banner for black directors,” he underscored. “I think they should carry their own. I am not trying to get work for black directors. I am trying to get the film of my play made in the best possible way.” That meant someone who understood the black experience inside out, who knew first-hand, the “[s]pecific ideas and attitudes that are not shared on the common cultural ground.”

So Wilson embarked on a years-long hunt for a director both he and the studio could live with. (Murphy eventually aged out of the role of Cory and was too young to play Troy.) Initially Wilson wanted his longtime Broadway collaborator Lloyd Richards to direct, but the studio balked at having a first-time filmmaker. So he met with and considered the crop of gifted black filmmakers breaking Hollywood racial barriers in the late 1980s and ’90s, including Spike Lee (“Do the Right Thing”), John Singleton (“Boyz in the Hood”), Charles Burnett (“To Sleep with Anger”) and others.Yet for one reason or another, as elaborated in a recent New York Times account, none of them worked out. And even after leading film producer Scott Rudin signed on and generated new enthusiasm for the project, a deal still didn’t materialize.

In the meantime, Wilson kept writing for the theater. He collected a second Pulitzer Prize for “The Piano Lesson,” a mystical tale set in the 1930s, which was also filmed for TV and aired on CBS. And he continued to add more plays to his American Century Cycle – putting the finishing touches on his tenth and final entry, the 1990s political-themed script “Radio Golf,” in the months and weeks before his death.

Yet over the years, the failure to get “Fences” filmed kept nagging at him as unfinished business. In 1993 he told me he’d turned down two black directors who wanted to do it, because “it has to be the right person. I [still] think Lloyd Richards would be good for it. They say he’s never directed a movie, but every day some white boy turns on a camera and directs his first Hollywood movie — so why not Lloyd?”

He also lamented that he couldn’t get a film deal for “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” another play in the cycle, about former Southern slaves and offspring of slaves coming north to Pittsburgh in the post-Reconstruction era. Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Danny Glover and Morgan Freeman had all expressed interest in acting in it, and Wilson ruefully noted, “We weren’t talking about $45 million or anything. . . We were trying to get $6 million for a film with Academy Award winners! But we couldn’t raise it.”

Toward the end of his life he was carrying a cell phone when we met for coffee — surprising for an admitted technophobe. He apologized that he’d have to take the call if Scott Rudin was trying to reach him, because “we might finally have a ‘Fences’ deal.”

But it was long after he was gone that the prominent actor Denzel Washington, who was moved by “Fences” as a young actor seeing it in the late 1980s, had the clout and passion to realize Wilson’s dream — and to do it with commitment to a highly verbal script and the kind of cinematic intimacy one rarely sees in a mainstream American film anymore (one of the reasons why so few new plays make it to the screen these days).

“Denzel always understood that opening the play up more would detract from the claustrophobic confines of the Maxson house, and the limited mobility of Troy’s life,” Romero says. “Paramount always knew that this would keep its poetic language and the bulk of the text intact.”

Predictably, some film critics have complained that “Fences,” set almost entirely in the backyard and living areas of Troy and Rose’s modest row house, is too “stagey” and “talky.” And yet, in an era of hyped-up, hyper-expensive action fantasy flicks, this small-scale yet emotionally epic film has been landing on top-10 box office lists, selling better than “La La Land” and “Office Christmas Party,” and attracting, says Romero, “a lot of young people, older people, of many different ethnicities and races.”

“We have a great mix of people who are acquainted with his work, and others that aren’t. As Denzel said to me, ‘August Wilson now belongs to everyone; they’re all welcome to the party!’”

And Washington is just getting started with the Wilson cycle. He has made a deal with HBO to also executive-produce the remaining nine plays (including “Jitney,” which makes its belated Broadway debut this month), an endeavor sure to feature some our finest black actors, many of whom (like Davis, Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett) had career breakthroughs in Wilson plays.

If only Wilson could attend the party too. I can imagine him there, grinning, smoking and spinning more stories.

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Can you say awkward? 5 painful moments from Donald Trump and Theresa May’s joint press conference

Theresa May

British Prime Minister Theresa May talks to media with U.S. President Barack Obama after their bilateral meeting in Hangzhou in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016, alongside the G20. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Credit: AP)


What happens when an American authoritarian meets a British arch-conservative? The public found out Friday, as President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May held their first joint press conference, a sporadically awkward affair that reminded us just how ill-prepared Trump is for the world stage.

Here were the five most painful moments.

1. On NATO and Trump’s changing positions

“On defense and security cooperation, we’re united in our recognition of NATO as the bulwark of our collective defense, and today we’ve reaffirmed our unshakable commitment to this alliance,” PM May said in her introduction. “Mr. President, I think you said, you confirmed that you’re 100 percent behind NATO,” she added.

Trump has repeatedly challenged the validity of NATO, calling the organization “obsolete,” a remark that sent shockwaves through Europe earlier this month. Apparently, for Trump, putting “America first” means reconsidering alliances made when America was a “rich nation” and focusing on our own defense going forward.

In response to his opening remarks, one reporter asked Trump, “You said you’d stand by us with NATO, but how can the British prime minister believe you? Because you have been known in the past to change your position on things.”

“I really don’t change my position very much,” Trump told him, using trade as an example. However, even this proves untrue.

2. On Russian sanctions

Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin is just a day away, and given his blasé answer in the press conference, it appears Russian sanctions may not even be discussed.

“How close are you to lifting some of the sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine incursion? What would you expect in return?” Trump was asked by a reporter.

Trump said it was “very early to be talking about that,” but PM May was much firmer in her answer.

“In relation to Russia’s activities in Ukraine, we’ve been very clear that we want to see the Minsk agreement fully implemented. We believe the sanctions should continue until we see the Minsk agreement fully implemented and we’ve been continuing to argue that inside the European Union,” she said.

3. On a free press 

Trump’s controversial views were called into question by one British reporter who asked Trump to defend them.

“Mr. President, you’ve said before that torture works; you’ve praised Russia; you’ve said you want to ban some Muslims from coming to America; you’ve suggested there should be punishment for abortion,” she rattled off.

“For many people in Britain those sound like alarming beliefs. What do you say to our viewers at home who are worried about some of your views and worried about you becoming the leader of the free world?” she asked Trump.

Trump turned to May, smirking.

“This was your choice of a question?” he asked the PM. “There goes that relationship!” he sort-of joked.

4. On Mexico

Trump’s turbulent relationship with Mexico was also questioned in the press conference, to which he responded, “[The Mexican president and I] had a very good call. I have been very strong on Mexico. I have great respect for Mexico. I love the Mexican people . . . but as you know, Mexico . . . has out-negotiated us and beat us to a pulp.”

He also persuaded May not to weigh in, even though the question regarding the U.S.-Mexico relationship was directed at her as well.

“I think the prime minister, first of all, has other things that she’s much more worried about than Mexico and the United States’ relationship,” Trump said.

“The relationship of the United States with Mexico is a matter of the United States and Mexico,” May reiterated.

5. On Brexit

The reporter who questioned Trump on his changing positions also asked Trump how he and May planned to work together, given their political differences.

“People are fascinated to know how you’re going to get on with each other . . . have you found anything in common personally yet?” he asked Trump and May.

Trump awkwardly explained that he, like May, is a “people person,” and then proceeded to rant on about Brexit. Did he forget that May voted to remain, not leave?


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Antibiotic resistance on the rise: Superbug infections found in Chinese hospitals

China Superbug

This 2006 colorized scanning electron micrograph image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the O157:H7 strain of the E. coli bacteria. New research suggests that a worrying number of people in China are infected with bacteria resistant to an antibiotic used as a last resort. Researchers examined more than 17,000 samples from patients with infections of common bacteria found in the gut, in two hospitals in China’s Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces, over eight years. About 1 percent of those samples were resistant to colistin, often considered the last option in antibiotics. The study was published Friday, Jan. 27, 2017 in the journal, Lancet. (Janice Carr/CDC via AP) (Credit: AP)

New research suggests a worrying number of people in China may be infected with bacteria resistant to an antibiotic used as a last resort.

Researchers examined more than 17,000 samples from patients with infections of common bacteria found in the gut, in two hospitals in China’s Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces, over eight years. About 1 percent of those samples were resistant to colistin, often considered the last option in antibiotics.

The study, published Friday in the Lancet journal, is one of the first to document the extent of drug-resistant infections in more than one Chinese province.

For decades, China has used colistin in its agriculture industry to speed animals’ growth, but the drug was not used in people. Scientists say the latest work is further evidence that overuse in animals can spread to people. Chinese officials earlier this year approved colistin for use in hospitals, raising fears that it could worsen the resistance problem.

“It will be very important to ration its use so that it’s only used when absolutely nothing else will work,” said Mark Enright, a professor of medical microbiology at Manchester Metropolitan University, who was not part of the research.

Health officials have long worried that colistin-resistant bacteria might spread more widely, setting the stage for superbug infections that would theoretically be impervious to medications. Only a small number of such cases worldwide have been detected, including in the U.S.

Rising concerns over drug-resistant germs have prompted the United Nations to encourage countries to cut back on antibiotic use and develop new medicines.

People infected with these resistant strains can usually be treated with current antibiotics, but doctors warn that as these bacteria — which are already untreatable with last-resort drugs — acquire resistance to current drugs, the infections may become impossible to treat.

Experts also noted a surprise: the apparent ease with which the resistant gene spread between bacteria, including different species of bugs.

“It now looks like there’s potential for the resistance gene to move around and spread between different species of bacteria,” said Nigel Brown, a spokesman for Britain’s Microbiology Society, adding that it could lead to a jump in infections.

In a separate study also published in the Lancet, another group of Chinese researchers analyzed samples from patients with blood infections at 28 hospitals. About 1 percent had the colistin-resistant gene — a much higher figure than would be expected in developed countries.

Colistin’s use in hospitals should be restricted to avoid problems, said Yunsong Yu, one of the study’s authors.

“This is a warning shot about the possible scenario where we don’t have very much left in the armory to treat (bacterial) infections,” said Brown. “I don’t think we are very close to that happening, but it is a remote possibility if we aren’t careful about how we use our antibiotics.”

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Trump signs “new vetting measures” to guard against terror

Donald Trump

(Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Pushing full-speed into international controversies, President Donald Trump on Friday ordered “new vetting measures” to keep “radical Islamic terrorists” out of the United States and alternated tough talk with kind words in his diplomatic standoff with Mexico.

Trump traveled to the Pentagon where he joined Defense Secretary James Mattis for the signing of an executive action to bring sweeping changes to the nation’s refugee policies and put in motion his plans to build up the nation’s military.

“I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. We don’t want ’em here,” Trump declared. “We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas. We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”

 During his election campaign against Hillary Clinton, Trump pledged to put in place “extreme vetting” procedures to screen people coming to the U.S. from countries with terrorism ties. The White House did not immediately release details on the order that Trump signed, but a draft of the order called for suspending the issuing of visas to people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 30 days.

Joined earlier in the day at the White House by British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump reaffirmed the United States’ “special relationship” with Great Britain.

But he was also asked about a more contentious issue: his recent statements that torture “does work” in prying information out of terror suspects. Giving ground, he said his defense secretary’s opposition would override his own belief. Hours later he stood at the Pentagon as retired Gen. James Mattis was sworn in as the military’s chief.

Trump held firm on another controversy — trade and illegal immigration from Mexico. He told reporters at a joint news conference with May that he had a “very good call” with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto earlier in the day, but he reaffirmed his belief that Mexico has “outnegotiated and beat us to a pulp” on trade — and that would change.

“We’re no longer going to be the country that doesn’t know what it’s doing,” he declared a day after the Mexican leader canceled his visit to Washington in response to Trump’s plans to build a border wall and have Mexico pay for it.

The flurry of national security moves and foreign policy outreach capped a hectic first week for Trump at the White House, giving Americans an initial look at how Trump intends to position the United States around the globe.

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