North Korea Is Selling Facial Recognition Technology, Report Finds

North Korea has been secretly selling facial recognition software, a new report states. This photo shows a German official identified by a computer with an automatic facial recognition system which was not mentioned in the report.

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North Korea has been secretly selling facial recognition technology, fingerprint scanning and other products overseas. That’s what researchers at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies found by investigating the country’s information technology networks.

According to their recently released report, “North Koreans appear to have marketed virtual private networks (VPNs) and encryption software in Malaysia, sold fingerprint-scanning technology to large Chinese companies and parts of the Nigerian government, produced facial recognition software for law enforcement agencies via front operations, and built websites for myriad individual and corporate clients.”

The researchers drew from open-source intelligence over a period of months. And they found that through front companies, aliases and freelancing websites, the entities grew so good at concealing their connection to Pyongyang that they amassed unwitting clients “without raising any alarm bells that something is amiss.”

Customers ranged from small European firms to “at least one reputable defense firm in a US-allied country,” and possibly a U.S. primary school and law enforcement agencies. That means they may have unknowingly and indirectly paid the economically isolated country, which has been sanctioned for its nuclear weapons program.

One front company described in the report, Global Communications — a defense firm that was exposed in 2017 as being under the control of North Korean intelligence — set up a network of companies in Asia.

An affiliated company, Future TechGroup, sent up some red flags to the researchers: cached versions of the site showed technology for mushroom growing, which is popular in North Korea; there was a Korean-language translation software and a video featuring a cover of the Rocky theme song, performed by a North Korean pop group for Kim Jong Un.

Researchers verified a Future TechGroup claim that it recently won a prestigious award for its facial recognition software at an international competition in Switzerland.

The software was entered into the competition by “a seemingly reputable not-for-profit entity in a US-allied country” that authors did not name out of concern and which they think was unaware of the North Korean connection.

Future TechGroup also advertised web development projects with the U.S. school, and said it sold facial recognition software to Turkish and other law enforcement agencies, which researchers could not verify.

A different IT company linked to Global Communications, called Adnet International, claimed to offer “biometrics identification techniques based on fingerprint, palm-print or face identification skills, artificial intelligence techniques.” It also said its products were on sale in “China, Japan, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Thailand, UAE, UK, Germany, France, Russia, Canada, Argentina, Nigeria and other countries.”

Some businesses were still active while the researchers were authoring the report, they said.

The country developed computer science skills and cyberattack capabilities in the ’80s and ’90s, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Center for Nonproliferation Studies researchers said that North Korea’s technology industry is a “significantly underappreciated problem,” representing a continuous stream of revenue that may directly or indirectly benefit people or companies connected to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

“It is also unclear precisely how much of North Korea’s IT activity the current sanctions net would catch,” found the report.

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Georgia Candidate For Governor Doesn't Plan To Use 'Deportation Bus' To Deport Anyone

Lorna Seadore protests Georgia state Sen. Michael Williams’s “Deportation Bus” that reads “Fill this bus with illegals.” She has been a resident of Clarkston, Ga. for nine years and is a refugee from Somalia.

Dustin Chambers/WABE


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Wednesday was the first day of Georgia state Sen. Michael Williams’s “deportation bus” tour. The Republican candidate for governor is a long-shot in next week’s primary election.

Williams began his bus tour in a few metro Atlanta cities that have a reputation for being more sympathetic to immigrants than others in the state.

About 300 protestors met him at a strip mall in Clarkston, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, which is sometimes called the South’s Ellis Island.

Emblazoned on the side of the gray school bus are the words “Fill this bus with illegals.” The back reads,”Danger! Murderers, rapists, kidnappers, child molesters, and others on board.” And, “Follow me to Mexico.”

The side of the bus features a seal resembling the more familiar one from U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This one, though, reads, “Michael Williams Deportation Bus.”

Williams has labeled the stops on his tour “sanctuary cities,” though they officially aren’t. In 2009, state legislators passed a law banning sanctuary cities in Georgia. The “deportation bus” tour is set to make 27 stops around Georgia until the day before the primary on May 22.

Protesters gather outside state senator and gubernatorial candidate Michael Williams’s “Deportation Bus” in Clarkston, Ga.

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Dustin Chambers/WABE

In Clarkson, protestors surrounded the door of William’s RV as the candidate did private interviews with the news media. The crowd chanted “No hate! No fear! Immigrants are welcome here.”

Alex Tsegaye, who came to the U.S. from Ethiopia 31 years ago, owns a restaurant at the strip mall where the bus stopped. Even though the message seems to be directed at unauthorized immigrants from Mexico, Tsegaye said he felt targeted.

“Right now, you feel unsecured a little bit,” Tsegaye said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen, even though I’m a citizen.”

Williams spoke briefly to the crowd for less than five minutes, before getting back in the RV and following the bus to its next stop.

Polls in the GOP primary for governor in Georgia consistently rank Williams last, drawing just a few percentage points.

Williams contends the message on his bus isn’t racist, and that it’s about law and order. He says his campaign won’t actually detain any unauthorized immigrants and drive them to the Mexican border.


Michael Williams Campaign For Georgia Governor
YouTube

Although a campaign video featuring the bus seems to imply otherwise.

“We don’t want vigilantes out there, we don’t want people to take the law into their own hands,” Williams said in an interview. “We have no plans at all to put anybody on that bus other than our own campaign staff.”

Other candidates in the race for Georgia’s next governor, including the front-runners, have fought over who’s strongest against illegal immigration.

While home to a large immigrant population, metro Atlanta is known for tough immigration enforcement.

Local law enforcement in at least six Georgia counties have official agreements with U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement to help apprehend, investigate, detain, and transport residents facing deportation.

Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, the leading candidate in the race, has repeatedly attacked the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, claiming it’s a “sanctuary city,” and says it’s violating state law. Police there recently put a policy into writing that prohibits arresting, detaining, or transporting individuals based solely on a request from ICE.

Decatur officials said they’re a welcoming city, not a sanctuary city.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, another GOP candidate for governor, recently released an ad with a similar message to the “deportation bus.”

“I got a big truck,” Kemp says in the ad. “Just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself. Yup, I just said that.”

Unauthorized immigrants in the state are worried this kind of rhetoric may incite actions against them, and the Latino community, said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.

“They’re encouraging people to take matters into their own hands,” Gonzalez said. “That’s not the way the rule of law works particularly when it comes to immigration. I think it’s a dangerous thing that they’re doing.”

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Whether Or Not She's A Head Coach (Yet), Becky Hammon Has Started A Conversation

Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Spurs looks on before the game against the LA Clippers on Dec. 18, in San Antonio, Texas.

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When an NBA team interviews potential head coaches, it’s a big deal on sports sites and the fan blogs. It gets a write-up in the hometown paper.

It’s not usually headline news at the New York Times, The Washington Post, Vogue and Salon.

But this month, after another underwhelming season, the Milwaukee Bucks reportedly invited Becky Hammon, an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, for a first-round interview — making her the first woman ever with a shot at an NBA head coach position.

The Washington Post confirmed the ESPN scoop. Mother Jones noted the news.

As the interview process moved forward, the New York Times’ Frank Bruni opined: “She’s making cracks in a glass ceiling few people even noticed, because few could imagine a woman aspiring to — or being considered for — such a role.”

Vogue asked: “Is the NBA Woke Enough to Make Becky Hammon Its First Female Coach?”

Salon asserted: “The NBA is ready for a woman head coach, and Becky Hammon is ready for the job.”

Hammon got an interview, to be clear. She was never reported to be the frontrunner for the job.

That honor goes to Michael Budenholzer, the recently departed head coach of the Atlanta Hawks — and, like Hammon, a disciple of legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. ESPN reports that Ettore Messina is the other top finalist for the job.

But many commentators suspect that Hammon will be head coach of some team, sooner rather than later.

And they’re taking this chance to hash out the debate over whether the sport is ready.

Before Hammon’s interview was reported, sports radio host Mike Francesca said the odds were “a million to one” that she would ever become a head coach, and it was “not even something that would make sense to aspire to … It’s a gender situation.”

After the news broke, Pau Gasol, a San Antonio Spurs player who has experienced Hammon’s coaching firsthand, wrote an open letter to, as he put it, “knock down a few of the silly arguments and talking points against Coach Hammon’s candidacy — and the larger idea of a female NBA head coach — that I’ve seen floating around.”

The idea that a woman can’t coach men? “If you’re making that argument to anyone who’s actually played any high-level basketball, you’re going to seem really ignorant.”

As for the suggestion that Hammon has her job because it’s good PR: “No. We’re talking about the NBA here — a business where there’s a lot of money on the line, and little patience for mediocrity.”

And the concept that there might be “awkwardness in the locker room,” he said, is “almost too stupid to include,” but he explained how NBA locker rooms work to emphasize that the concern is “just very ridiculous.”

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Gary D’Amato argued against hiring Hammon, not based on her credentials, which he called impressive, but explicitly because of her gender.

“Heaven forbid the Bucks lose a couple close games at the buzzer,” he wrote. “The vocal segment of fans who believe a woman can’t or shouldn’t coach an NBA team would be relentless and cruel in their criticism.”

“… What if she failed? What if the team took a step backward under her leadership? The Bucks would come under fire for allowing a “social experiment” to derail their title aspirations.”

“It’s just too big a gamble,” he concluded.

That prompted a response, a few days later, from another Journal Sentinel sports writer — Lori Nickel, who covers the Packers.

She opened like this:

“I am so damn tired of this question I just can’t stand it anymore.”

“My guess is that Hammon … is absolutely qualified to coach in the NBA,” she wrote. “It was good that the Bucks interviewed Hammon to see if her vision aligns with theirs. Why do we even have to ask the question whether Hammon might be a publicity stunt, a token hire? It demeans the whole process.”

She also noted, rather archly, that it might not matter who coaches the Bucks if the players just can’t score.

In many ways, of course, this conversation isn’t about Hammon at all.

But for what it’s worth, before coaching, Hammon was a point guard with the San Antonio Stars. NPR reported on her WNBA career in 2014, when she became the first woman ever hired as a full-time assistant coach by the NBA:

“In the WNBA, Hammon has been a star in more ways than one — in her 16 seasons, she’s been to six All-Star Games and was named as one of the league’s top 15 players of all time. She also leaves as the Stars’ career leader in assists and 3-point field goals, despite spending half of her career with the New York Liberty.”

As an assistant coach, Hammon coached the Spurs to a Summer League championship victory in Las Vegas.

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Time Is Running Out To Complete NAFTA Renegotation This Year

Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo speaks to reporters during the seventh round of NAFTA talks in Mexico City, on March 5. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said a deal needs to be completed this week, but fundamental differences remain among the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

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Trade negotiators for the United States, Canada and Mexico are running out of time to complete an overhaul of the North American Free Trade Agreement, making it likely the effort won’t be completed this year.

The failure to complete the deal would be a political setback for President Trump, who has repeatedly vowed to scrap NAFTA and replace it with something better.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has said that under timetables imposed by a 2015 law, the three countries need to complete a deal by Thursday if Congress is to pass a new treaty before the November midterm elections.

But negotiators remain far apart on several key issues, involving domestic auto content, dispute resolution and whether to impose a “sunset clause” requiring periodic renewal of the treaty.

Moreover, presidential elections take place in Mexico in July, and the expected winner, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is a populist who could take a harder line on NAFTA. That could further complicate talks.

Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut on Wednesday urged negotiators to continue their talks, saying Ryan’s deadline is arbitrary.

” ‘The calendar made me do it’ is not an excuse to quit on the American worker,” she said.

Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Ryan could probably find a way to postpone the deadline a few days if the countries were on the verge of an agreement, but that’s not the case.

“They have failed to reach an agreement, and the divisions are fairly fundamental, so I’m not certain that even if Ryan comes back and says, ‘I didn’t really mean it, there’s wiggle room,’ that it’s going to make a difference,” Alden said.

Meanwhile, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Fox News the Trump administration would continue the renegotiation effort, but did not address the deadline problem.

“We still want to see something happen, and we’re going to continue in those conversations. They’re ongoing now, and we’re pushing forward and hopeful that we can get something done,” she said.

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Tension Grows Around Referendum In Burundi

Preparing for a controversial referendum, the central African country of Burundi is on edge.

The Thursday referendum would not only extend the rule of President Pierre Nkurunziza until 2034, but it would also roll back some key aspects of the Arusha Agreement, which paved the way for ending the country’s long and bloody civil war in 2005. The fear is that the referendum could spark more violence in the country.

Yolande Bouka, a research fellow at the University of Denver who has studied Burundi’s current political crisis in detail, says the proposed constitutional amendment makes it easier for the ruling party “to get its way.” It gives the president broader powers to control the legislative agenda, for example, and it also makes it easier for the president to minimize the influence of other political parties and ethnic minorities.

“The very basis on which the Arusha Agreement was designed, which was to make the political system more inclusive to avoid the type of violence Burundi experienced since the 60s and the 70s all the way to civil war in the 1990s, all of that is undermined with the new constitution,” she said.

In some ways, Burundi is already seeing some of the consequences of the consolidation of power in the country.

Human rights groups have charged that the lead-up to this referendum has been marked by intimidation, beatings and even killings. In a report released last month, Human Rights Watch detailed more than a dozen cases of intimidation, many at the hands of the Imbonerakure, the ruling party’s youth league.

One man, reports Human Rights Watch, was heading home when he was stopped at a roadblock by members of the Imbonerakure. He could not prove that he had registered to vote, so the young men beat him yelling that not registering to vote meant he was “against the referendum.

Reached by telephone, Ndayizeye Sylvestre, the chairman of the Imbonerakure, said he could not speak to the media about the referendum or about the allegations against the group.

The government, however, has vehemently denied any repression calling the reports propaganda. Last month, the government jailed a supporter who called for the drowning of government opponents. And the ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), issued a statement saying they were “surprised” by the comments. They added: “The party urges all its members to exercise political tolerance and asks for justice in this case.”

The most recent bout of violence in Burundi started in 2015. President Nkurinziza, who came into power as the war ended in 2005, announced he would seek a third term. Critics called it illegal, because the constitution based on the 2000 Arusha Agreement, limited a president to two terms. But, ultimately, Nkurunziza prevailed in court arguing that in 2005, he was elected by parliament and not the people, so he was entitled to a third term.

His party splintered and it all came to a head when one of his former allies attempted a coup. Nkurinziza survived but the country has been in a slow-burn conflict since.

The now-banned human rights group ITEKA League found that between April 2015 and May 2018, 1,710 people were murdered, 558 were tortured and more than 8,000 were arrested. Over that same period, more than 400,000 Burundians fled the conflict into neighboring countries.

A commission created by United Nations Human Rights Council in 2016 has consistently found that crimes against humanity have likely been committed in Burundi and that in a country with a history of tribal-based violence, government leaders have used ethnic attacks to “help create a dangerous climate of hate [that] could rekindle ethnic tensions.”

Stephanie Mbanzendore, who runs Burundian Women for Peace and Development, an organization that focuses on reconciliation, says after Nkurunziza took power in 2005, she was hopeful. She had left Burundi in 1994, but the government was open and inclusive she said.

After 2015, she says things changed.

“Again, this division came back. Now we are talking again more and more about ethnic group,” she said. “And I hope that we come back to when we were talking about inclusivity… when you felt this was my country, not because you are this or that but because you are a Burundian.”

Bouka sees this referendum as a naked power grab by Nkurunziza and she says it goes beyond tribal conflicts between the majority Hutus and minority Tutsis.

“Some of these measures are not meant only to exclude the Tutsi minority. They are also meant to undermine the possibility of the political elites on the Hutu side from challenging Nkurinziza and other people in his circle,” she said.

Back in 2015, Bouka points out, it was Hutus who wanted a chance at the presidency who began a rebellion that spiraled into months of intense violence.

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SEC Creates Spoof Cryptocurrency Website To Warn Investors

The fake website set up by the Securities and Exchange Commission contains many of the elements — including a countdown timer — that cryptocurrency scams use to pressure consumers.

SEC/Screenshot by NPR


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SEC/Screenshot by NPR

The Securities and Exchange Commission launched a spoof cryptocurrency website on Wednesday to warn investors about the risks of participating in “initial coin offerings,” or ICOs.

The website — called “HoweyCoins.com” — mirrors marketing materials published by actual cryptocurrency promoters. It includes a countdown timer, promises of outsized investment returns, and even a “Meet the Team” section with SEC employees posing as cryptocurrency developers.

When visitors click a button that reads “Buy Coins Now!” they are routed to an Investor.gov site that breaks down the spoof and outlines how each element is commonly used to trick unsuspecting investors in ICO schemes.

Initial coin offerings are a way for upstart cryptocurrency firms to raise large amounts of money. In a typical ICO, inside investors are offered the first chance to buy a new cryptocurrency before it hits the market.

HoweyCoins is part of the SEC’s effort to combat an explosion of scams and securities fraud associated with cryptocurrencies. The regulator is taking a multi-pronged approach to consumer protection, educating the public about the risks of unscrupulous ICOs while simultaneously bringing enforcement actions against and investigations of the worst offenders.

A statement from the SEC says the agency “was able to build the HoweyCoins website in-house in very little time, which demonstrates just how easy it is for someone to create a scam opportunity.”

“At the end of the day, we’re never going to be able litigate our way out of investment fraud. It’s going to come down to investor education,” said Lori Schock, director of the agency’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy.

The name “HoweyCoins” is a reference to the Howey Test, a four-part legal test issued by the Supreme Court in 1946 for determining whether an investment counts as a “security.” Generally, if something passes the Howey test, and is therefore considered a security, it is subject to SEC regulation.

The SEC claims that many of the cryptocurrencies launched with initial coin offerings in recent years pass the Howey test, and it has relied on this interpretation as a legal basis for its enforcement actions.

In 2017, the regulator established a dedicated cyber unit tasked with combating financial crimes and “cyber-related threats” to investors. The unit targets ICO scams as well as frauds involving social media, the dark web and data breaches.

But enforcement can only catch bad actors after the damage has been done. Once lost, investor money is often extremely difficult to recover — even if the agency is able to successfully shut down the scam.

According to Schock, investor education can help consumers identify risky cryptocurrencies before they lose their money. To her, the HoweyCoins site is a fun way to get that message out.

“The currency may be virtual, but the pain is real,” she said.

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'Yanny' or 'Laurel'? Why People Hear Different Things In That Viral Clip

The debate over whether an audio clip says “Yanny” or “Laurel” is tearing the Internet apart.

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If you are reading this, you are likely one of the more than 14 million people who vehemently believe that this audio clip is saying either the word “Yanny” or the word “Laurel.”

If you haven’t heard it yet, take a listen:

What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel pic.twitter.com/jvHhCbMc8I

— Cloe Feldman (@CloeCouture) May 15, 2018

The short audio clip has sharply divided the Internet since it was posted by Twitter user Cloe Feldman on Monday. Why would people hear two totally different words?

To answer this, we consulted experts in how human brains perceive sound.

Nina Kraus, a neurobiology professor at Northwestern University, says that “it is not at all surprising to me that two different people will take a sound that is admittedly acoustically ambiguous and hear it differently.”

“Acoustically ambiguous” in this case means that it’s a very poor quality file. That’s crucial in explaining why people are hearing different things.

The viral tweet posted by Feldman was actually taken from a post on Reddit, as she has explained. And the person who appears to be the original Reddit poster, RolandCamry, says that he made it from playing a recording from Vocabulary.com out of his speakers. In other words, there are multiple steps that degrade the quality of the audio.

(Spoiler alert: Based on what the Redditor who claims to be the original poster said, the original recording is probably this one on Vocabulary.com, which says “Laurel.”)

The poor quality of the audio, likely rerecorded multiple times, makes it more open to interpretation by the brain, says Brad Story, a professor of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at The University of Arizona. Primary information that would be present in a high quality recording or in person is “weakened or attenuated,” Story says, even as the brain is eagerly looking for patterns to interpret.

“And if you throw things off a little bit, in terms of it being somewhat unnatural, then it is possible to fool that perceptual system and our interpretation of it,” says Story.

Story says the two words have similar patterns that could be easy to be confused. He carried out his own experiment by analyzing a waveform image of the viral recording and compared it to recordings of himself saying “laurel” and “yanny.”

He noticed similarities in the features of these words, which you can see below. Both words share a U-shaped pattern, though they correspond to different sets of frequencies that the vocal tract produces, Story explains. Take a look here:

Story analyzed the acoustic features of the words “Yanny” and “Laurel.”

Brad Story


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Brad Story

“So with a recording that’s somewhat ambiguous and low-quality, it’s not surprising that some people may flip those when they’re perceiving that word,” Story says. That probably wouldn’t happen in a high-quality recording, he says, or if it were spoken in a full sentence to give people more context clues.

Britt Yazel, a neuroscience doctoral student at U.C. Davis, analyzed the sound file and filtered out all the sound above the frequency 4.5 kHz.

That filtering “takes away the entire perception of hearing the word ‘Yanny’ and all you get is the word ‘Laurel,'” he says. “If you lose the high frequencies, the illusion goes away.”

Some people have greater sensitivity to higher frequencies or lower frequencies, Yazel says, which could explain part of why people hear different things.

“But not only that, the brains themselves can be wired very differently to interpret speech,” he says. For example, if you hear the sounds in either “Yanny” or “Laurel” more in your everyday life, you might be more likely to hear them here.

It’s also worth noting that people are expecting to hear either “Yanny” or “Laurel,” which makes it more likely that they actually will hear one of those words and not something else.

For Kraus, the Northwestern professor who runs a laboratory on the biology of how humans process sound, it matters little how people interpret this single word in a poor-quality, idiosyncratic recording. Where this does matter, she says, and where similar issues are at play, is how people fill in the gaps of their hearing when faced with a noisy context. Much of what you hear, she says, is about what you’re expecting to hear.

She provides another example. First, listen to this noisy clip and see if you can hear a sentence.

Next, listen to this clip, which is no longer noisy.

Finally, go back to the first clip. Now that the brain is primed to cut through the noise, you will probably be able to hear “The juice of lemons makes fine punch.”

“We all perceive the world a little differently based on our experiences,” she says. It’s crucial, she adds, to “use your experience with sound and what you know about it to fill in the gaps.”

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Under The Banner Of Marijuana — An Estonian Municipality Adopts A New Flag

The Estonian municipality has approved using the marijuana leaf as the official government symbol. It will appear as the government logo, on flags and crest.

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Susan Montoya Bryan/AP

A rural Estonian municipality has taken the final step in adopting the cannabis leaf as its new civic symbol, adding it to the official regional logo, flag and coat of arms, news outlets reported Wednesday.

The Kanepi municipality was formed last July after it merged with two other districts under a single government, and residents were asked to vote on a new emblem, state broadcaster ERR reported. Out of seven different designs, a silver cannabis leaf on a green shield won by a landslide. Of 15,000 total votes, marijuana got 12,000. And on Tuesday, the Kanepi Municipal Council voted nine to eight in favor of the flag, according to Reuters.

Mayor Andrus Seeme said the leaf has been used as an insignia by local groups for decades. In fact, Reuters reported, “The name of the region, Kanepi … is derived from ‘kanep’, the Estonian word for marijuana.”

The plant has a long history in the region where more than 150 years ago Kanepi ancestors cultivated hemp and manufactured it into cloth, oil and rope.

The exact design of the new flag remains uncertain. In June, Seeme told ERR that the council objected to the emblem “exactly as it was presented in the referendum.” He said, the committee would recommend “stylizing” the leaf.

Selling cannibis is illegal in Estonia, but Reuters reported, “possession and use of small quantities of marijuana for personal use is a misdemeanor punishable with a fine.”

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Teachers Take School Funding Fight Straight To North Carolina's Capitol

People inside the North Carolina state Capitol, in Raleigh, look out a window upon the teachers’ march Wednesday. Educators, school workers and parents joined the protests to push for greater school funding.

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The months-long wave of teacher protests, which has rolled through roughly half a dozen states already, swelled and crashed on the front stoop of North Carolina’s Capitol building Wednesday. Demonstrators donned red and gathered in the capital, Raleigh, to demand better pay and better school funding.

And there they stayed for hours, crowding into the opening session of the Legislature and eddying in the streets outside, gathering for a massive rally nearby organized by the North Carolina Association of Educators, the state’s biggest teacher advocacy group.

Schools across the state, meanwhile, were shuttered as teachers attended the protests. More than three dozen school districts closed, according to member station WUNC, which notes that that represents more than 1 million public school students — or two-thirds of the state’s public school population — who had their classes canceled.

SEEING RED: Thousands of teachers from across North Carolina have descended upon the streets of #Raleigh

This is a view from @WRAL
above the crowd. Unreal!#RedforEd #ncpol #nced #WatchWBTV

Watch LIVE coverage » https://t.co/qunwkhExe6 pic.twitter.com/6OTesYwdRm

— Mark Davenport WBTV (@TheDavenReport) May 16, 2018

The NCAE published its list of priorities ahead of the rally. These include a boost to school funding that would bring it in line with the national average; hundreds of additional health workers and counselors; pay raises across the board for public school employees — and no more corporate tax cuts until both per-student spending and teacher salaries reach the national average.

The average teacher salary in the U.S. now stands nearly $10,000 higher than that of the average educator in North Carolina, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

They have joined a movement that at various points in the past three months has made waves in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado and Arizona, where a mixture of walkouts and protests have set educators at odds with the lawmakers they say are failing them. In Arizona, a weeklong walkout affected more than 800,000 students before teachers went back to school earlier this month, satisfied — if only for the time being — with a new pay raise.

Teachers in North Carolina say they see this campaign as a fight for respect.

“I’m not asking for everything all at once,” middle-school band and chorus teacher Seamus Kenney told NPR’s Ari Shapiro on Wednesday, “but I do want to look down the road and feel that I’m progressing towards a better life.”

The NCAE priorities align with a budget recently proposed by the state’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, who says he’s seeking an average 8 percent pay raise this year with an eye toward reaching the national average in four years. The budget would also authorize $75 million to rein in class sizes and support for covering school construction costs.

Teachers — we hear you and we’re with you. – RC pic.twitter.com/B2UDm6FUDt

— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) May 16, 2018

Republican lawmakers, for their part, point to the fact that teacher pay has risen each year over the past half-decade, during which time the GOP has held a commanding majority in the Legislature.

“Our state’s teacher salaries are among the fastest rising in the country,” state Sen. Phil Berger said Wednesday, in the midst of a tweetstorm asserting that “Republicans have [been] increasing every year we’ve held the majority.”

When asked by Ari why teachers are marching in protest then, GOP House Speaker Tim Moore answered: “I’m scratching my head over that.”

“The folks organizing it tend to have more of a liberal political agenda, and so I think that’s a big partisan part of it. And that’s why, frankly, a lot of teachers that I know have said on Wednesday they’re going to be in school teaching their students,” Moore said.

“I believe that teachers have legitimate concerns,” he added, “and the thing is, we’ve addressed very many of those.”

It’s a privilege meeting so many hardworking educators on Opening Day of the North Carolina legislature, listening to each other and working together to build a brighter future for every student in our state. Thank you for your service in our classrooms and have a safe trip home. pic.twitter.com/AOT38vHfg6

— Speaker Tim Moore (@NCHouseSpeaker) May 16, 2018

But protesters say that to focus only on teacher salaries is to miss the point.

“We’re here to tell our legislators and our representatives that we need more funds to keep our buildings in good shape, to get more textbooks, more resources for our students, to just have a better environment for public education,” elementary school teacher Tracy Brumble told WUNC before departing her school for the Capitol.

“Yes, it’d be great to have more money in my paycheck, but at the end of the day, the future sits in my room,” another teacher attending the protests Wednesday told WUNC’s Rusty Jacobs. “And if they don’t have what they need, how can I pump out and create amazing citizens for our country and our state, to turn back around and do amazing things? How can I do that if I don’t have what I need as an educator?”

During the legislative sessions Wednesday, demonstrators raised a warning of what might happen if they don’t get satisfactory answers to questions like those.

“Remember, remember,” they chanted from the galleries. “We vote in November.”

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Test of Herceptin Finds Briefer Treatment Can Work, With Fewer Side Effects

Herceptin has proved to be effective in prolonging the lives of the 12 percent of women with breast cancer whose malignancy hasn’t spread to other organs, and whose cancer also carries the genetic marker HER2. But side effects can be a problem.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images


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Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Sometimes less may be better when it comes to treatment for breast cancer. A new study finds that women who have been diagnosed with early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer did just as well with six months of treatment with the drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) as did women who received a 12-month course of this treatment.

And the women with the shorter treatment had fewer side-effects, most notably less damage to their hearts.

“The headline result is ‘six months is as good as 12 months,’ ” says oncology researcher Dr. Helena Earl from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. She presented her results Wednesday in a teleconference for journalists, which highlighted findings that will be presented in early June at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual conference.

Earl and her colleagues recruited more than 4,000 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer that had not spread to other organs, and whose cancer expresses high levels of a protein called HER2. The drug Herceptin is effective in prolonging lives of women whose cancer is HER2-positive. Half got standard treatment, which is given over the course of 12 months. The other half received treatment for six months.

The objective was to see whether giving less of the drug would be just as effective, while sparing women the side effects that are common with this treatment. Herceptin’s list of possible side effects can range from headache, diarrhea or sleep problems to severe coughing, bone pain or heart problems, among other symptoms.

This kind of question — of whether the standard, established dose could be reduced to good effect — is one that drug manufacturers don’t go out of their way to answer once a drug is on the market, because the result could reduce the amount of drugs they sell. So in this case, the “Persephone” study got funding from the British government.

Survival was nearly identical after five years, and side effects were much less common with the briefer course of the drug. Typically, 8 percent of women who get treated with Herceptin have to drop the treatment because of heart damage. Those on a six-month course had that risk cut in half, Earl said. Women suffered fewer other side-effects as well, such as cough, fatigue, pain and heart palpitations.

She called the as-yet-unpublished findings “exciting first results,” and said she was confident they “will mark the first steps toward reducing treatment duration for many women with HER2-positive breast cancer.”

Dr. Bruce Johnson, president of ASCO, said one benefit of this change would be to reduce the cost of treatment, both to women and to health insurers. “We think this is an important thing for the 12 percent of women who have early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer,” he said.

Even though the report covers the results after five years of study, there were relatively few deaths in either group, so researchers can’t yet say for sure whether the long-term benefits are the same for the two treatment options. As a result, “it may be a bit early to make a definitive change in practice,” Johnson said.

ASCO’s chief medical officer, Dr. Richard Schilsky also added some notes of caution.

“When we see the results from a clinical trial, we’re looking at the average results for the patients in that population,” he said. “There may well be some women in the population who do not do as well with six months of treatment.” It’s possible that further analysis of the data could identify those women who would still benefit from the year-long treatment, he said.

“Personally I find the results quite compelling,” he added. “And it is likely that it will signal a shift” in how doctors prescribe this drug to their early-stage breast cancer patients.

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