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Jon Stewart: Congress is abandoning veterans exposed to toxic 'burn pits'
Stewart is supporting a new bill that aims to extend health care and disability benefits to veterans who served alongside burn pits.
- Thousands of American veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were exposed to burn pits, which may have caused diseases like asthma and cancer.
- Burn pits were used as a crude way to dispose of waste, including plastics, body parts, dead animals, and hazardous chemicals.
- Despite gaps in the research linking exposure to medical conditions, advocates say the benefit of the doubt should go to veterans.
Plastics, medical waste, rubber, hazardous chemicals, human feces, batteries, dead animals, and amputated limbs.
These are some of the things that were routinely doused in jet fuel and set ablaze in massive "burn pits" near U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some pits burned more than 140 tons of trash a day, launching into the sky thick plumes of smoke visible from miles away.
For more than a decade, thousands of American soldiers who served next to these pits have developed serious medical conditions, such as asthma or cancer, that may have been caused by inhaling toxic fumes. Some veterans have filed disability claims, but the Department of Veterans Affairs has denied most.
One reason is that it's hard for veterans to establish causation: How do they know their illness wasn't caused by something else, like inhaling dust and sand from the desert? And, can veterans prove they were next to specific burn pits on specific dates?
Some veterans advocates say it's unjust to place such a high burden of proof on veterans in need of medical care. Or, as comedian and advocate Jon Stewart said Tuesday at an event on Capitol Hill, "It's bullshit."
Jon Stewart introduces bill for sick veterans: ’Welcome to another exciting episode of ‘When is America going to st… https://t.co/Fm8Ix0qRJK— NowThis (@NowThis)1600177340.0
"Welcome to another exciting episode of 'When is America going to start acting like the great country we keep telling ourselves we are?'" Stewart said at the news conference. "Our veterans lived 24 hours a day, seven days a week next to toxic smoke, dioxins -- everything. And now they're being told, 'Hey man, is that stuff bad for you? I don't know, we don't have the science.' It's bulls***. It's bulls***. It's about money."
The former "Daily Show" host was there to support a new bill called the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act of 2020, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif. The bill would give medical coverage and disability benefits to veterans who served next to a burn site and now suffer from a condition linked to the inhalation of toxins.
Stewart, who spent years pushing for legislation that ultimately extended health care coverage for 9/11 first-responders through 2092, said denying health care to veterans who were exposed to burn pits amounts to "gas-lighting."
"I'm not a doctor, I'm not a scientist. But, I'm also not an idiot. If you live next to a toxic smoke plume filled with cancer-causing elements, and you're breathing it in day in and day out, it's going to make you sick," Stewart told Fox News.
"Then, you're going to get home and people are going to tell you, just like they did with the 9/11 community, first, 'It's in your head, you're not really sick.' Second, 'OK, maybe you're sick, but had nothing to do with what that was.' And thirdly, they're going to say, 'OK, it is, but I don't know if we can afford all that,'" Stewart added. "You know, this is money. That's it. And, when you've got an F-35 that may never be battle-ready and it's going to be a cost overrun of about $1.4 trillion, and you're gas-lighting your own veterans on their health conditions because you don't want to pay for it? Criminal, and it has to stop."
The V.A. says "research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits" at this time.
"Most of the irritation is temporary and resolves once the exposure is gone," reads the V.A. website. "This includes eye irritation and burning, coughing and throat irritation, breathing difficulties, and skin itching and rashes."
"The high level of fine dust and pollution common in Iraq and Afghanistan may pose a greater danger for respiratory illnesses than exposure to burn pits, according to a 2011 Institute of Medicine report."
A lack of evidence?
Conclusive research on the links between burn-pit exposure and medical conditions is lacking.
But after the Vietnam War, there was also a lack of research on the health effects of exposure to Agent Orange. In 1991, Congress passed the Agent Orange act, which extended health benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from conditions linked to exposure. There was also an initial lack of evidence showing that 9/11 first-responders developed conditions like cancer after inhaling pulverized dust at Ground Zero.
While scientists continue to study the effects of burn-pit exposure, advocates say lawmakers should err on the side of extending health care to ailing veterans.
"If people were injured or affected and there's a plausible relationship or explanation for what's going on, the benefit of the doubt needs to go to the veteran," former V.A. Secretary Dr. David Shulkin said at the event on Tuesday. "To simply let people suffer and go without help from their government is not a satisfactory response."
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How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Answering the question of who you are is not an easy task. Let's unpack what culture, philosophy, and neuroscience have to say.
- Who am I? It's a question that humans have grappled with since the dawn of time, and most of us are no closer to an answer.
- Trying to pin down what makes you you depends on which school of thought you prescribe to. Some argue that the self is an illusion, while others believe that finding one's "true self" is about sincerity and authenticity.
- In this video, author Gish Jen, Harvard professor Michael Puett, psychotherapist Mark Epstein, and neuroscientist Sam Harris discuss three layers of the self, looking through the lens of culture, philosophy, and neuroscience.