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U.S. Spending Bill, Italian Union Strikes, Olympic Shoplifting

General labor strikes are hitting Italy
General labor strikes are hitting Italy

Friday, December 12, 2014

The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill to fund most government operations until September 2015, The New York Times reports. But the newspaper notes that the liberal base of the Democrat party formed an “unlikely alliance” with the Tea Party in opposition to the spending bill, which the Financial Times says was “attacked as a Christmas gift to Wall Street.” According to The Guardian, the package contains “two concessions to financial interest groups” that made many Democrats “furious,” namely a tenfold increase in donation limits to political parties and candidates, and the rollback of a 2010 banking regulation that will allow public bailouts of banks engaged in risky derivative trading.

The Department of Homeland Security will only be funded through February, and further negotiations when the Republicans dominate both chambers of Congress are likely to be even more difficult, especially on the president’s signature issue of immigration reform.

Two major Italian trade unions are staging a general strike today with some 50 rallies in cities across the country to oppose austerity policies and labor reforms, news agency Ansa reports. Just months after becoming prime minister, Matteo Renzi is already under pressure as unemployment continues to grow, rising to a record high 13.2% in October.

The Islamist terror group Boko Haram killed at least 30 people yesterday in a double bomb attack in the central Nigerian city of Jos, the BBC reports. “Government must step up to show that it cares about the weak, about the poor, about those who have no means at all in society,” Anglican archbishop Ben Kwashi told reporters. The recent and unrelenting wave of terrorism is putting the government and President Goodluck Jonathan under intense pressure as the country prepares for a February general election. Former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari won an important primary election yesterday that makes him the main opposition leader in next year’s election.

Michel du Cille, the Miami Herald and Washington Post photojournalist who won three Pulitzer Prizes, died Thursday while on assignment in Liberia.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged yesterday that UK intelligence agencies asked the CIA to delete references to their participation in torture practices from the report published earlier this week on grounds of national security. According to The Guardian, British spying agencies were involved in at least two cases, but the many redactions in the report suggest that all references to U.S. allies were edited out.

The report describes how even President Barack Obama was kept in the dark about the locations of secret prisons in Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Romania and Lithuania, for which the countries were paid millions of dollars, according to The Washington Post. CIA Director John Brennan defended the agency yesterday, describing the officers accused of using brutal methods against detainees as “patriots.” But he admitted that some interrogation methods were “abhorrent and rightly should be repudiated by all.”

As La Stampa’s Merilla Serri writes, a new book surveys the dark side to the myth of the Italian male's seductive gifts, from ribald ancient Rome to Berlusconi's bunga bunga. “The Italian playboy stereotype is universally known, not only because it has ancient origins, but also because it has been kept alive for so long thanks to the persistent inequalities between men and women,” the journalist writes of the new book’s premise. “It was sustained for centuries because of the Catholic Church and the foundations of patriarchal societies laid even further back.”
Read the full article, The Twisted Legend Of The Italian Lover.

State prosecutors in Brazil have charged 36 people, including executives from the country’s biggest construction companies, with involvement in a corruption scandal at the state-owned oil company Petrobras, O Globo reports. According to the newspaper, investigators uncovered 105 cases of money laundering, but the most shocking charge is political corruption within several parties, including President Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party. Read more in English from the BBC.

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Tripling internet access worldwide would eventually do more good than investing in clean drinking water or tackling HIV, according to an economic study published yesterday. The report commissioned by think tank Copenhagen Consensus Centre claims that going from today’s 21% coverage to 60% by 2030 would cost $1.3 trillion, and that each dollar spent would result in $17 worth of benefits, giving a significant boost to worldwide economies. Read more from AFP.

French Olympic and world champion swimmer Laure Manaudou, 28, was arrested yesterday after being caught shoplifting at Disneyland Paris, where she spent the day with her 4-year-old daughter and a friend, Europe 1 reports. The retired champion had 200 euros worth of souvenirs in her bag and no receipt, while her friend allegedly nicked merchandise worth more than 300 euros. Disney decided not to press charges, and the two women were issued a warning.

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AI As God? How Artificial Intelligence Could Spark Religious Devotion

We may be about to see the emergence of a new kind of religion, where flocks worship — literally — at the altar of Artificial Intelligence.

Image of artificial intelligence as an artificial being

Artificial intelligence generated picture of AI as a god

Neil McArthur

The latest generation of AI-powered chatbots, trained on large language models, have left their early users awestruck —and sometimes terrified — by their power. These are the same sublime emotions that lie at the heart of our experience of the divine.

People already seek religious meaning from very diverse sources. There are, for instance, multiple religions that worship extra-terrestrials or their teachings.

As these chatbots come to be used by billions of people, it is inevitable that some of these users will see the AIs as higher beings. We must prepare for the implications.

There are several pathways by which AI religions will emerge. First, some people will come to see AI as a higher power.

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