Texas City Tells People No Hurricane Harvey Aid Unless They Promise Not to Boycott Israel

October 19, 2017

HOUSTON — The city of Dickinson, Texas, is requiring applicants for Hurricane Harvey rebuilding funds to certify in writing that they will not take part in a boycott of Israel. The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the city’s condition as a violation of free speech rights.

“The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to boycott, and the government cannot condition hurricane relief or any other public benefit on a commitment to refrain from protected political expression,” said ACLU of Texas Legal Director Andre Segura. “Dickinson’s requirement is an egregious violation of the First Amendment, reminiscent of McCarthy-era loyalty oaths requiring Americans to disavow membership in the Communist party and other forms of ‘subversive’ activity.”

The city’s website says that it is accepting applications from individuals and businesses for grants from money donated for hurricane relief. The application says that by signing it, “the Applicant verifies that the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement.”

The city appears to be enforcing a recently passed Texas law that requires all state contractors to certify that they are not participating in boycotts of Israel. While the ACLU does not take a position on boycotts of foreign countries, the organization has long supported the right to participate in political boycotts and has voiced opposition to laws and bills that infringe on the right to boycott.

The Supreme Court ruled decades ago that political boycottsare protected by the First Amendment, and other decisions have established that the government may not require individuals to sign a certification regarding their political expression in order to obtain employment, contracts, or other benefits.

On October 11, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit challenging a Kansas law on behalf of a high school math teacher who is being required by the state to sign to certify that she won’t boycott Israel if she wants to take part in a teacher training program.

In July, the ACLU sent a letter to members of Congress opposing a bill that would make it a felony to support certain boycotts of companies doing business in Israel and its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. As a result, Senate sponsors of the bill are considering changes.




Dolphins and Whales Have Sophisticated Human-Like Societies

by Jen Viegas,

No one has ever been able to fully measure the intelligence of whales, dolphins, and porpoises, but evidence continues to mount that it is impressive. Consider Kelly, a dolphin formerly housed at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi. She was trained to keep her outdoor tank clean. If she brought a piece of litter to her trainer, she was awarded with a fish.

The enterprising Kelly figured out that if she wedged a single piece of litter under a stone and ripped it into multiple pieces, she would receive more fish. She then determined that she could increase the amount of “litter” in the tank by using the earned fish as bait to catch unwary birds. She subsequently taught these clever strategies to her calf.

Dolphins like Kelly, along with whales and porpoises, all engage in sophisticated behaviors that tend to be mostly associated with humans. They live in tightly knit social groups, have complex relationships, communicate with each other using language-like vocalizations, and even have regional dialects.

New research links this complexity of cetacean culture and behavior to the size of their brains. The findings, published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, position these marine mammals with humans and other primates in an elite and very brainy group.

“Each species’ brain is unique, but primates and cetaceans do share some features that are rarely found elsewhere in nature,” lead author Kieran Fox of Stanford University’s department of neurology and neurological sciences told Seeker. “One is the sheer size of their brains in absolute terms. They are the biggest in the world, and in the case of the whales, the largest brains ever to appear on the planet.”

“Additionally,” he continued, “primates and cetaceans both tend to have large brains relative to the size of their bodies.”

Co-author Michael Muthukrishna, a researcher at Harvard University and the London School of Economics and Political Science, explained that, in general, larger brains are able to store and manage more information than smaller brains. Braininess comes with a price, though, as such tissue is incredibly energetically expensive.

“The larger your brain, the more calories you need to support it, so actually you’re better off with the smallest brain you can get away with,” Muthukrishna said. “Bees are a nice example. They can do quite a lot with their small brains.”




New Israel law to shield PM from corruption charges

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is to propose a bill for a law to give immunity to Knesset members from any corruption investigations, Safa reported yesterday.

The bill was proposed for the first time in August last year, but it was not advanced by the Knesset.

The Chairman of the Knesset’s Interior Committee, MK David Amsalem, asked: “Is it reasonable to investigate [the American President] Donald Trump over an allegation related to cigars?” hinting to the allegations that Netanyahu received cigars as a bribe.

When he first suggested the law last year, Amsalem said it should only cover minor offences carrying a prison sentence of up to six months, but later proposed more serious crimes should also be included.

Read: Most Israelis believe Netanyahu guilty of corruption

“I have asked my legal adviser to redraft the bill so that it will also apply to all offences falling under the rubric of public morality, including bribe-taking,” Amsalem said.

For his part, the Chairman of the Government Coalition David Bitan, who is a Likud leader and very close to Netanyahu, said he is confident that the Knesset would approve the bill.

Safa reported that while speaking to Israeli Radio Bitan reiterated that Likud would put the bill forward for a vote when the Knesset convenes before going into recess at the beginning of next year.

As this would-be law will not protect the current PM, observers and opposition members expect Netanyahu to call for early elections hoping to take up office for another term in an effort to evade the wave of corruption allegations surrounding him.





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