Congress moves to ban child sex dolls, robots favored by pedophiles

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Wednesday approved a ban on the importation and trafficking of anatomically correct child sex dolls and robots that “normalize sex between adults and minors.”

The proposal was approved in the House by a voice vote and now moves to the Senate.

“These dolls can be programmed to simulate rape. The very thought makes me nauseous,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican.

Child sex dolls are one niche of a nascent robotic sex industry that has generated debate about the ethics of the use of lifelike machines for sexual activity. It is a subject that turns from squeamish to outright revulsion for many when it touches on child sex dolls and robots.

“Once an abuser tires of practicing on a doll, it’s a small step to move on to a child. My bill takes necessary steps to stop these sickening dolls from reaching our communities,” said Rep. Dan Donovan, a New York Republican who sponsored the legislation.

The child sex dolls are imported from China, Hong Kong and Japan, often labeled as mannequins or models to avoid seizure by authorities. No current U.S. law specifically bans the importation and sale of the sex dolls.

Sex robots are increasingly lifelike, composed of silicon fleshlike material, some with basic artificial intelligence that allows conversations based on moods.

The bill is called the CREEPER Act, which stands for Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots Act.”

The proposal says the obscene dolls and robots “are customizable or morphable and can resemble actual children. … The dolls and robots normalize submissiveness and normalize sex between adults and minors.”

—McClatchy Washington Bureau

Pence at Southern Baptists’ meeting: Light on the prayer, heavy on the politics

DALLAS — When Vice President Mike Pence, famously evangelical himself, addressed the Southern Baptist Convention on Wednesday, he erred heavily on the side of politics and only dabbled in the Bible.

The stumplike speech confirmed the fears of many at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Dallas, who felt that inviting Pence would divide a convention already working to move ahead after explosive abuse allegations. People opposed to bringing Pence aren’t necessarily anti-GOP, but felt that bringing any politicians in to address the convention was inappropriate.

“We were told he was going to bring a greeting,” tweeted Mark Wilke, a Southern Baptist pastor. “This feels like a stump speech. While I like him, feels out of place.”

And Pence did check off the stump-speech regulars. North Korea summit? Check. Jobs report? Check. First 500 days of action? Check. Religious liberty, new judges, restoring America on the world stage? Check, check, check.

Pence did make nods to religion, particularly his own evangelical awakening and the church shooting at Sutherland Springs outside of San Antonio. He and his wife, Karen, personally visited the victims.

“While strong American leadership has accomplished much,” Pence said, “(the president) and I both know that effective and fervent prayers of righteous people can accomplish much more.”

The convention messengers — those authorized by their local churches to attend and are able to vote and propose motions to be voted on — have already made their distaste for Pence’s visit known. Several messengers made motions on the floor Tuesday that would ban the annual meeting from inviting sitting politicians, or politicians entirely, or politicians who are not the mayor of the annual meeting’s host city.

—Forth Worth Star-Telegram

Former fraternity brother becomes first to concede guilt in Penn State student’s hazing death

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — A former Beta Theta Pi fraternity brother became the first to concede guilt for his role in 19-year-old pledge Timothy Piazza’s death when he entered an open guilty plea on Wednesday.

“This young man is coming forward to accept responsibility,” Philip Masorti, Ryan Burke’s attorney, said. “We know the evidence they have against us.”

Burke gave Piazza a handle of vodka to drink eight minutes before State College police detective David Scicchitano observed Piazza to be visibly intoxicated on video. The drink was one of 18 Piazza consumed in a span of 82 minutes before falling down the basement steps and becoming unconscious.

The 21-year-old Scranton native pleaded guilty to all nine charges — including four counts of hazing — bound over for trial by District Judge Steven Lachman in May. Lachman’s ruling dismissed four counts of furnishing liquor to minors and one count of recklessly endangering another person.

Three charges — aggravated assault, involuntary manslaughter and simple assault — were withdrawn by Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office prior to Burke’s preliminary hearing. Shapiro’s office accepted the case after District Attorney Bernie Cantorna cited a conflict of interest.

Masorti said he did not ask for a plea agreement and none was offered by Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Zarallo.

“There are too few words to describe a loss so great. This young man understands that,” Masorti said. “Condolences to the Piazza family. This is a tragedy and he is anxious to make amends.”

Tom Kline, attorney for the Piazza family, said Burke’s open guilty plea would allow Jim and Evelyn Piazza to deliver a victim impact statement at Burke’s sentencing.

“We are pleased to see one individual accept responsibility and encourage others to follow in his steps,” Kline said.

Burke is scheduled to be sentenced July 31.

—Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.)

Mother of children killed in Orlando standoff: ‘I am heartbroken’

ORLANDO, Fla. — The mother of the four children who were held hostage and killed on Monday said she wanted her kids to be remembered as being “loving, wonderful children, full of life.”

“I am heartbroken and feel completely alone,” the children’s mother 31-year-old Ciara Lopez said Tuesday, according to her family’s representative, Walter Benenati.

Gary Wayne Lindsey Jr., 35, had battered Lopez earlier on Monday, leading to a daylong standoff with Orlando Police before shooting and critically injuring Officer Kevin Valencia. He then barricaded himself in Lopez’s Orlando apartment and killed himself sometime after.

Benenati said the mom was “grieving considerably and is surrounded by loving family and friends.”

“The pain comes from having her children in her life one day and then gone the next,” Benenati said.

The family also shared new photos of her four children — Irayan Pluth, 11; Lillia Pluth, 10; Aidan Lindsey, 6 and Dove Lindsey, 1 — “doing what they loved most while here on Earth,” Benenati said.

He added that the family is not considering any legal action at this time and is requesting privacy. Benenati is managing a GoFundMe campaign for the family to help cover funeral expenses. It was created Tuesday and has since raised over $38,000.

—Orlando Sentinel

Study: In 25 years, West Antarctica tripled its rate of ice loss

The Antarctic ice sheet lost nearly 3 trillion metric tons of ice from 1992 to 2017 and tripled its rate of loss over that time for West Antarctica, according to an international collaboration involving some 80 scientists.

The finding published in Nature reveals that Antarctica’s ice is shrinking at an unprecedented rate and would mean an even higher sea level rise by 2100 — with serious implications for the environment and for people living in coastal regions around the world.

“People should be concerned that Antarctica is clearly feeling the effects of climate change and it’s responding to changes in ocean temperature,” said lead author Andrew Shepherd, a glaciologist at the University of Leeds in England.

According to the overwhelming scientific consensus, the planet is warming at a rate accelerated by the greenhouse gases from human activity. Researchers have linked this rise in temperature to a host of consequences, including rising sea levels and shrinking polar ice reserves.

The ice sheets of Antarctica hold the vast majority of the planet’s fresh water. Theoretically, if they melted entirely, sea level worldwide would rise by 58 meters (190 feet), posing an existential threat to small island nations and coastal communities.

—Los Angeles Times

Iran arrests 2 prominent supporters of anti-head scarf protests

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian authorities on Wednesday jailed a prominent human rights lawyer who has defended women who removed their mandatory Islamic head scarves in public.

Nasrin Sotoudeh was arrested at her home by unidentified agents and taken to Evin Prison in Tehran, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, an advocacy group.

Her husband, Reza Khandan, said the agents told him she must serve a five-year sentence but did not say on what charges she was being detained, the group said. Khandan confirmed her arrest to the Los Angeles Times.

Separately, state media reported that Farhad Jafari, a well-known writer in the city of Mashhad, was arrested 12 days ago for supporting “the girls of Enghelab Avenue,” near the Tehran square where, in December, a woman removed her headscarf in protest of modesty laws that require Iranian women to cover their hair.

The simple protest galvanized a nationwide women’s movement against the head scarf, or hijab, and added to the anti-government unrest that has roiled Iran over the past several months.

The arrests suggested that Iran’s crackdown against human rights defenders and dissidents was escalating as the judiciary and clerical establishment seeks to keep a lid on public anger.

Sotoudeh, one of Iran’s most high-profile rights lawyers, has defended one of the women arrested and prosecuted in the anti-hijab protests. More recently, she has criticized the Iranian judiciary’s move to allow only state-approved lawyers to work on cases involving activists, dissidents and other detainees held for political reasons.

She and other opponents of Iran’s hard-line judiciary were reportedly planning a sit-in to protest the restrictions, which top judicial officials have defended as being in the interest of national security.

“The arrest of this distinguished attorney, who has dedicated her life to defending detainees held on politically motivated charges, reveals the state’s fear of those who defend due process and the rule of law in Iran,” Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, said in a statement.

Amnesty International called Sotoudeh’s arrest “an outrage” and demanded her immediate release.

—Los Angeles Times