A satanic group has added its own statue to a series of displays in the government building of the US state of Illinois to mark the festive season.
Placed between a Christmas tree and a menorah, the four-foot sculpture depicts a snake coiled around an outstretched arm holding an apple.
It’s the first display sponsored by the Chicago chapter of the Temple of Satan.
The state government said the temple had the same right as other religious groups to have a display.
“Under the Constitution, the First Amendment, people have a right to express their feelings, their thoughts,” Dave Druker, spokesman for the Illinois secretary of state, told the State Journal-Register. “This recognises that.”
The move has been criticised on social media by Illinois Family Action, an anti-abortion pressure group.
Satanic Temple monument added to Capitol rotunda displays
A display from The Satanic Temple-Chicago has been placed in the Statehouse rotunda, joining the Nativity scene to mark the Christmas season and the Menorah to mark Hanukkah.According to the Satanic…
Past decorations in the statehouse rotunda, in the state capital Springfield, have included a “Festivus” pole – a reference to a fictional holiday which was the subject of an episode of the sitcom Seinfeld.
What is the Satanic Temple?
Founded in 2012 in Salem, Massachusetts, the Temple of Satan describes itself as a non-theistic group that aims to “encourage benevolence and empathy among all people”.
It says its uses satanic imagery to promote the separation of church and state and to campaign for “practical common sense and justice”.
It has 15 official chapterhouses in the US, the biggest of which is based in Michigan.
The temple was started by Harvard graduate Doug Mesner, known as “Lucien Greaves”, and an individual known as “Malcolm Jerry”.
In a speech, Mr Greaves said the group had had “thousands” of membership applications since the election of US President Donald Trump in 2016.
Earlier this year, members of a Satanic Temple placed a statue of Baphomet – a goat-like deity associated with Satanism – outside Arkansas’ statehouse during a First Amendment rally.
The group also settled a $50m copyright lawsuit against Netflix and Warner Bros last month over a statue of Baphomet used in the TV series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
CNN firing commentator Marc Lamont Hill exposes yet another layer of mainstream media’s bias and lack of objectivity.Last week, the US mainstream media demonstrated once again that it has a Palestine problem. CNN suspended the contract of commentator and Temple University Professor Marc Lamont Hill, after he gave a speech at the United Nations in which he criticised the Israeli occupation and the abuse of Palestinian rights.
Hill based his speech very much on facts. He cited Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinians; the use of arbitrary violence by the Israeli security apparatus; the use of torture against Palestinian detainees; the denial of due process to Palestinians by Israeli courts; the restriction on movement in the occupied territories, etc – all violations that have been well-documented and condemned by the UN and a myriad of human rights organisations.
Yet CNN, which last year adopted a new slogan – “Facts first” – did not seem to agree with these facts. After pro-Israel organisations like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) condemned the speech, the TV station was quick to sever its ties with Hill.
While CNN did not announce why it chose to do so, it is clear to many of us it caved in to pressure from pro-Israel groups. Hill was accused of being anti-Semitic for using the phrase “free Palestine from the river to the sea”, which supposedly is a “Hamas slogan” and a call for the destruction of Israel. Well, it is neither.
Throwing accusations of anti-Semitism at people criticising Israel and supporting the Palestinian right to self-determination is a convenient tool of the Zionist lobby. But calling for the freedom of Palestinians and for the recognition of their rights is not anti-Semitic; it is pro-Palestinian.
Conflating anti-Semitism with pro-Palestinian positions and criticism of Israel is not only ill-intentioned but also dangerous, as it does a disservice to Jews who have faced hate speech and hate attacks.
In Palestine, the Israeli authorities have brought this tactic to the extreme and have already passed a number of laws curbing freedom of speech. This means that those of us who dare criticise Israeli policy or call for resistance to Israeli occupation, even if in the form of a poem, face the risk of imprisonment.
In the United States, those who do so clearly face the risk of being fired, as in the case of Professor Hill and as in the case of many others before him- and probably many others after. The way CNN (mis)handled this situation offers us an opportunity to discuss how media organisations succumbing to Israel’s campaign of silencing critics is particularly problematic.
French President Emmanuel Macron is chairing an urgent security meeting, following a day of riots by hundreds of anti-government protesters.
A government spokesperson said a state of emergency could be imposed to tackle the unrest.
Protests over fuel tax have grown into general anger at higher living costs.
Police said another person died in the protests bringing to three the number of fatalities since the demonstrations started more than two weeks ago.
Saturday’s protests centred on Paris, where some demonstrators have remained peaceful, but others clashed with police and scaled the Arc de Triomphe.
More than 100 people were injured in the capital, including 23 members of the security forces.
Police say more than 400 people were arrested.
Mr Macron returned from the G20 summit in Argentina on Sunday morning and went straight to the Arc de Triomphe to assess the damage.
He is meeting the prime minister, interior minister and top security service officials at the presidential palace.
Dozens of people were injured in Saturday’s clashes
Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told Europe 1 radio that a state-of-emergency declaration was a possible option. “We have to think about the measures that can be taken so that these incidents don’t happen again,” he said.
Who are the protesters?
The protesters are known as the “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests), because they have taken to the streets wearing the high-visibility clothing that is required to be carried in every vehicle by French law.
Their core complaint is a hike in diesel taxes. President Macron says his motivation for the increase is environmental, but protesters call him out of touch – particularly with non-city dwellers who rely on their cars.
The protest movement has no identifiable leadership and has gained momentum via social media, encompassing a whole range of participants from the anarchist far left to the nationalist far right, and plenty of moderates in between.
Nearly 300,000 people took part in the first country-wide demonstration, on 17 November.
After a lull around the mid-term elections, Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is accelerating again. But where does it go from here?
Former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen’s plea deal was the exclamation point at the end of a week that gave numerous hints and indications of where the special counsel’s office may be focusing its efforts in the days to come.
Here are five potential lines of inquiry Mr Mueller could be pursuing and why.
Trump tower meeting
It’s been more than 16 months since the first public disclosure of the 9 June, 2016, Trump Tower meeting between a Russian team lead by lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya and Donald Trump Jr, Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner – three of the top members of the Trump campaign.
The meeting has continued to loom in the background as either a smoking gun of collusion in plain view or campaign business as usual, depending on who’s doing the talking.
Although Mr Mueller reportedly learned about the meeting at the same time as the rest of America, it’s now clearly a point of interest in the special counsel’s larger investigation into possible co-operation or co-ordination between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign.
According to multiple media outlets, the special counsel’s office asked the president about whether he had advanced knowledge of the meeting in written questions that Mr Trump answered last week.
The president supposedly denied – as he has in public – any prior knowledge of the Trump tower get-together, which was presented to his son as both part of an effort by the Russian government to help the Trump campaign and an opportunity to gain “incriminating information” about Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
If the Trump Tower meeting is evidence of the Trump campaign team’s interest in gaining information from Russia, the big question becomes what – if anything – happened next.
Ms Veselnitskaya is reported to have ties to senior members of the Russian government. It would not require a significant leap of faith to conclude that the Trump team’s openness to Russian help eventually made it back to those government officials.
Trump Jr responded to word that Russia had dirt on Mrs Clinton with: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer”. A few months later, according to Mr Mueller, Russians were disseminating damaging information about Mrs Clinton and the Democrats.
Now Mr Mueller is asking questions about the meeting. He’s also had an on-again, off-again co-operation agreement with Mr Manafort, who was in the room for that Trump Tower meeting.
It could be a sign the special counsel knows more than he’s letting on. Or it could mean there’s more he wants to learn. Either way, the Trump Tower meeting is at the centre of it all.
The WikiLeaks connection
One of this week’s big reveals, in the form of a leaked draft plea agreement, was how closely the special counsel team is looking at possible ties between WikiLeaks and those connected with the Trump presidential campaign.
In previous court filings, Mr Mueller identified WikiLeaks as the chosen means by which Russian hackers distributed politically damaging documents and emails it had purloined from Democratic Party and Clinton campaign sources.
Now, per the draft agreement offered to conservative author and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, the special counsel’s office is looking into efforts by long-time Trump associate Roger Stone to reach out to WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.
The agreement, in which Mr Corsi would have admitted to lying to investigators, included reference to multiple Stone emails, as well as a Corsi reply that told of WikiLeaks document dumps to come.
There have also been multiple news reports of contacts during the 2016 campaign between the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, and WikiLeaks.
There is still no concrete evidence that Mr Stone, Trump Jr or anyone else with ties to the Trump campaign knew about the hacked Democratic emails before they were publicly released. But the Corsi information shows Mr Mueller is digging in that direction.
The Moscow deal
Mr Trump has insisted, accurately, that there’s no law or rule against exploring foreign business dealings while running for president. It’s not an issue that comes up very frequently, of course, but then-candidate Trump was clear that he wasn’t putting his financial interests on hold while seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
In fact, his claims of business acumen were a central part of his presidential campaign.
Michael Cohen’s plea deal, however, indicates that Mr Mueller and his team are keenly interested in the details of the Trump Organization’s ties to Russia, which the president’s former personal lawyer is now saying stretched well into the heart of the 2016 campaign season.
That Mr Cohen felt compelled to lie to Congress about the extent of these ties – out of what he says was loyalty to Mr Trump and a desire to be consistent with his “political messaging” – could be an indication that there is more to Mr Trump’s Russian business dealings than are currently known by the public.
At the very least it makes clear that Mr Cohen communicated directly with an assistant to Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov – opening yet another potential line of communication between the Trump team and Russia. In addition a Cohen associate, Felix Sater, was relaying messages from Mr Peskov, who until now had denied any such contacts.
Again, there’s no clear evidence that Mr Trump or those close to him engaged in any misconduct. But it also is clear that as recently as June 2016 Mr Trump’s organisation was seeking to profit from Russian business dealings and reportedly considered offering Mr Putin a $50m penthouse in the planned Moscow Trump Tower.
The Cohen revelations aren’t the first indication that Mr Mueller has been “zeroing in” on Mr Trump’s business empire – something the president once said would be a red line the special counsel shouldn’t cross.
Taken with other reports, however – including that US attorneys in Manhattan have given immunity to long-time Trump Organization accountant Allen Weisselberg – it’s clear evidence that the Trump business empire is directly under the microscope.
James Comey’s firing
One area that hasn’t come up in any of Mr Mueller’s court filings to date are allegations that Mr Trump or those close to him in the White House engaged in efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation.
Exhibit A in this case, according to the president’s critics, is his April 2017 firing of James Comey after what Mr Comey said were his efforts to pressure the FBI director to pledge his loyalty and back off an investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
They point to a comment in an interview Mr Trump made shortly after the firing that the move was made with “the Russia thing” in mind and the remark to Russian officials in the Oval Office that removing Mr Comey relieved “great pressure” on him.
Other bits and pieces of evidence include Mr Trump’s very public criticism of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose recusal from the Russia investigation he views as leading to Mr Mueller’s appointment, and the president’s reported effort to fire Mr Mueller last June.
It’s an open question as to whether a president can be charged with obstruction of justice – or if adjudicating such a matter rests solely in the hands of Congress through the impeachment and removal process. Mr Mueller is said to be looking into the matter, however, although a denouement may have to wait until a final, comprehensive report at the conclusion of the investigation.
Overlooked in the flurry of revelations of the past few weeks and the “Sturm und Drang” arising from Mr Trump’s repeated criticisms of the special counsel investigation is the fact that Mr Mueller has already laid out extensive details about the nature and extent of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
In a one-two punch of indictments, Mr Mueller detailed Russian use of social media to create false narratives and sow discord in the political process, on-the-ground activities that included information-gathering by Russian operatives and financial support for rallies and protestors during the election season, and the targeted efforts to hack computer systems and emails of Democratic Party and Clinton campaign officials.
The crimes alleged by the special counsel’s office are nothing short of cyber-warfare waged against US institutions at the direction of a foreign government. There’s always the chance that more charges will be filed.
A total of 25 Russian nationals and three Russian organisations have been indicted so far. And given that none of the individuals are in US custody, chances are slim that they will ever face a day in court.
One of the indicted companies, Concord Management and Consult, is contesting the charges in US court, however. At the moment, it is engaged in a legal battle to gain access to information the US government considers “sensitive,” which it lawyers say could aid in their defence.
According to some national security experts, the move could be a Russian effort to bog down the special counsel office or even gather valuable information about the inner workings of Mr Mueller’s investigation.
If this case ever makes it to trial, it could become the source of some unexpected drama that lasts well beyond the main fireworks of the Russia probe.
On average, the US population can expect to live around 78 years – nearly a decade less than the world’s highest life expectancy rate.
Life expectancy in the US has dropped once again, thanks in part to rising suicide and drug overdose rates, according to new government reports.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found nearly 70,000 more Americans died in 2017 than 2016, with rising rates of death among 25- to 44-year-olds.
Thursday’s reports revealed synthetic opioid-related overdose death rates rose by 45% on average, nationwide.
The suicide rate is also the highest it has been in decades.
Americans can expect to live just over 78 years and six months on average – a 0.1 year drop from 2016, according to the report released on Thursday.
“Tragically, this troubling trend is largely driven by deaths from drug overdose and suicide,” said CDC director Robert Redfield in a statement.
“Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wake-up call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable.”
The top 10 leading causes of death – including heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and suicide – were the same as in 2016, accounting for the majority of deaths.