Technology: Australians Should Be Wary of Mindfulness Apps Offering ‘Quick Fix’, Doctor Says

Users of smartphone mindfulness apps are urged to be cautious of quick-fix promises, as doctors call for better regulations of the digital mental health market.

Dr Quinn Grundy, a postdoctoral researcher with the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, said her investigation of these apps revealed a worrying trend.

“There was a lot of messages around how easy and quickly the app could solve your problems,” said Dr Grundy.

“[But] if your app has promised that you’ll get better really easily and really quickly and you don’t, consumers shouldn’t feel like there’s something wrong with them, or that their mental health can’t be treated.”

The investigation, funded by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), also found that only a small proportion of the apps were created by universities or healthcare professionals.

“In the end we didn’t feel comfortable in endorsing any of these apps because even the ones that were from reputable organisations didn’t provide the privacy assurances one would hope for, or if they had a great privacy policy it was unclear that the developer had any mental health expertise or that it was based on sound evidence,” Dr Grundy told AAP.

Dr Grundy also expressed concerns over the commercial nature of these apps. “We would argue that mental health consumers are perhaps in a more vulnerable position to things like targeted advertising, or in-app purchases or a subscription model,” she said.

“So for example we saw apps that would be about anxiety or depression, but at the bottom you have these banner ads advertising weight loss products.”

Dr Grundy said governments should increase regulation of the digital app market.

PhD student Jazmin Ozsvar said mindfulness apps made her anxiety worse. “At first I found the meditations useful, particularly at night,” Ozsvar said. “But the requirement for daily reporting started to get annoying, and I realised that when I rated myself as feeling down, that actually compounded those feelings, I ended up feeling worse. So I gave it up.”

Ozsvar recommended the use of these apps in conjunction with professional help.

International: Fyre Festival Hit with $100 Million Class Action Lawsuit

Daniel Jung, one of the attendees of the “disastrous” Fyre Festival, has launched a $US100 million lawsuit at the event organisers for fraud, misrepresentation and breach of contract.

The class action suit, filed in the US District Court, names festival co-founders Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule along with Fyre Media.

Jung’s suit alleges that organisers went ahead with promoting the event and selling tickets when they knew “their festival was dangerously under-equipped and posed a serious danger to anyone in attendance”. It also alleges that organisers warned performers and celebrities not to come due to unsuitable conditions.

The suit also protests the “substandard accommodations”, “wild animals” in and around the festival area, and misleading marketing among others.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, McFarland said he and Ja Rule were “a little naïve in thinking for the first time we could do this ourselves”.

“There will be make-up dates, May 2018 in the U.S., free for everybody who signed up for this festival. We will donate $1.50 [per ticket] to the Bahamian Red Cross,” said McFarland. “The one change we will make is we will not try to do it ourselves.”

 

Ja Rule also said he was “heartbroken” and promised that every attendee will be refunded.

On Sunday, the Fyre Festival sent an apology email to attendees, including a link for refund. The form in the link also has an option to receive 2018 VIP passes in place of the refund.

International: Saudi Arabia Voted Into UN Women’s Rights Commission

Saudi Arabia’s election to the UN Commission on the Status of Women has sparked outrage, as the country has been ranked as one of the worst in gender equality.

The country was elected in a secret ballot at the UN’s 54-member Economic and Social Council last week. It is to serve from 2018 to 2022.

The commission’s aims, stated on its website, are for “the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women”.

The election has received strong condemnations from observers. “Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” said Hillel Neuer of UN Watch. “Why did the U.N. choose the world’s leading promoter of gender inequality to sit on its gender equality commission?”

According to Human Rights Watch, women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden to drive cars and require permission from male guardians to travel. They also have difficulty in working, doing transactions or accessing healthcare without a male relative.

Former UN Development Program Administrator Helen Clark has defended Saudi Arabia’s election to the commission, saying that it is “important to support those in the country who are working for change for women”.

International: US Would No Longer Tolerate North Korea’s Nuclear and Missile Tests, Pence Says

US Vice President Mike Pence said “the era of strategic patience is over” with North Korea, following the failed missile test in the North.

Speaking in Seoul on Sunday alongside South Korea’s acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn, Pence said the missile launch on Saturday was “a provocation” to US and its allies.

Pence warned the North to mind President Donald Trump’s foreign military policy, as has been in shown in other countries recently. “Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan,” said Pence.

“North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region… We want to see North Korea abandon its reckless path of the development of nuclear weapons, and also its continual use and testing of ballistic missiles is unacceptable.”

On the same day, Trump also said on Twitter that China is “working with us on the North Korean problem”. US security adviser HR McMaster also indicated that the President would be “comfortable making tough decisions” in order to ensure the nuclear-free status of Korean Peninsula.

International: United Airlines Passenger Bloodied and Dragged Off Overbooked Flight

United Airlines CEO has apologized for “having to re-accommodate” a few customers from an overbooked Sunday flight after a video showing a passenger dragged out of the plane went viral.

The 30-second video shows a 69-year-old man being forced out of his seat and dragged out of the plane by police officers. Tyler Bridges, a passenger on the 3411 flight said United asked for volunteers on the gate to take a later flight for cash remuneration and hotel stay, but no one took the offer. After boarding, passengers were told four people would be randomly selected by computer to leave the aircraft. “We almost felt like we were being taken hostage,” Bridges said. “We were stuck there. You can’t do anything as a traveller. You’re relying on the airline.”

Bridges said when the man in the video was selected and approached, he rejected to leave, saying he was a doctor who needed to see patients in the morning. “He was resisting any way he could,” Bridges said. “He was flailing his arms a little bit and yelling.”

A picture of the man with bloodied face also emerged, sparking outrage.

United spokesman Charlie Hobart said the man was the only person who refused to move, and insisted police assistance was justified. “We followed the right procedures,” said Hobart.

United CEO Oscar Munoz has apologized on Twitter for “having to re-accommodate” the passengers, and said the company is now contacting them to resolve the issues.

Netizens have condemned the airline for going against its promise to “Fly the Friendly Skies”.

International: At Least 11 Killed in Saint Petersburg Explosion

At least 11 people were killed in an explosion in Saint Petersburg metro on Monday, with dozens injured.

The blast tore apart a train carriage which was travelling between two stations around 2.40 pm.

A second explosive device was found at a nearby station and defused by authorities. No groups have claimed responsibility for the explosion.

President Vladimir Putin said the cause of the explosion was not clear yet. “We will look at all possible causes, terrorism as well as common crime,” Putin said.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said while the investigation into the event was based on an assumption of terrorism, it was also considering other possibilities.

According to state media, the bomb contained a kilogram of TNT and was hidden in a fire extinguisher. Law enforcement agencies also confirmed that the bomb was filled with shrapnel.

All St Petersburg metro stations have been closed.

National: Health Groups Condemn Pauline Hanson’s Vaccination Statement

Health groups have demanded senator Pauline Hanson to retract her “ludicrous” and “dangerous” statement on Australia’s vaccination programs.

During an interview with ABC’s Insiders on Sunday, Hanson, leader of One Nation party, said that the government’s ‘no jab, no pay’ policy of withholding welfare payments for unvaccinated children is “dictatorship”, and that parents have “a right to investigate themselves” before vaccinating their children.

Experts from health groups have condemned the statement.

“I’m utterly appalled by Senator Hanson’s comments. She needs to realise that she’s a serious player in Australian politics now,” said Dr Michael Gannon, head of Australian Medical Association. “[With] 10 per cent of Australians indicating an intention to vote for One Nation, she can no longer make fringe statements that are dangerous to the health of the whole community.”

Director of Immunisation Foundation of Australia, Catherine Hughes said in an interview with SBS News that Hanson’s statement was “disappointing”.

“She shows a total lack of regard towards the health and safety of Australian children, and doesn’t seem to have an understanding of the value of preventative medicine,” Hughes said.

“By encouraging people to ‘do their own research’ on vaccination, she is insinuating parents have the resources and abilities to conduct better medical research than scientists and doctors. It’s a ludicrous thing to say.”

Hughes also added that Hanson’s previous comments on vaccination’s links with autism and other diseases were “misinformed and dangerous statements” that could influence parents’ decision.

Health director of Grattan Institute, Stephen Duckett told ABC Radio that Hanson has to “apologise and retract that statement”.

“Vaccines are safe. I cannot stress how angry it makes one feel that she is putting lives at risk,” said Duckett.

“If parents choose not to vaccinate their children, they are putting their children’s health at risk, and every other person’s children at risk too.”

Hanson has defended her statement, claiming it was a “personal opinion” which “has nothing to do” with politics. “I had my children vaccinated,” said Hanson. “I never told my children not to get their children vaccinated. All I’m saying is get your advice.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull re-emphasised the importance of vaccination. “Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children are putting their own children’s health at risk and they are putting the health of everybody else’s children at risk as well,” said Turnbull on Monday.

“So, that is why vaccination is so important. That is why we have our no-jab, no-pay policy. It has worked very well over the past year and we have seen 200,000 more children vaccinated as a result.”

International: Donald Trump Signs a Revised Travel Ban Order

US President Donald Trump has signed a newly revised travel ban order, exempting Iraqi nationals and US permanent residents from the prohibition to enter the country.

The new order, which takes effect starting March 16, will apply a 90-day visa halt on citizens of six Muslim-majority countries: Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. It also explicitly exempts US permanent residents and valid visa holders.

The new order comes after the controversies surrounding the original order, which was issued on January 27 and blocked by federal courts following protests and .

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the order was required to provide “a needed pause” for US to review its relationship with travellers from “countries of concern”.

“We cannot compromise our nation’s security by allowing visitors entry when their own governments are unable or unwilling to provide the information we need to vet them responsibly, or when those governments actively support terrorism,” said Sessions.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it would try to block the new order in court, saying the latest revision still amounts to religious discrimination.

“President Trump has recommitted himself to religious discrimination, and he can expect continued disapproval from both the courts and the people,” said Omar Jadwat, ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project director.

Democrats senator Bernie Sanders said the ban would instead jeopardise the safety of American citizens.

“This ban is a racist and anti-Islamic attempt to divide us up,” Sanders wrote in a statement. “This isn’t about keeping America safe. A president responsible for keeping our citizens safe would not hand over ideological ammunition to terrorists seeking new recruits to kill Americans.”

“A watered-down ban is still a ban,” said senator Chuck Schumer in a statement. “Despite the administration’s changes, this dangerous executive order makes us less safe, not more, it is mean-spirited, and un-American. It must be repealed.”

National: Plane Crashes near Essendon Airport

A plane containing five people has crashed into the Direct Factory Outlet near Essendon Airport in Melbourne.

Witnesses reported explosions and black smoke from the crash site. A government source said the Beechcraft airplane was a charter aircraft heading to King Island.

The plane crashed just before 9am today, a police spokesman confirmed. Police, paramedics and firefighters have arrived at the Essendon airway. Information on injuries and fatalities is not available yet.

Tullamarine Freeway is now closed between English Street and McNamara Avenue, and all motorists are advised to leave Tullamarine as soon as possible.

International: Mike Pence Pledges US Commitment to the EU

US Vice President Mike Pence said the country “remains committed” to the European Union in a visit to Brussels, following President Donald Trump’s vocal criticism of the organisation.

“It is my privilege on behalf of President Trump to express the strong commitment of the United States to continued cooperation and partnership with the European Union,” Pence told reporters.

“Whatever our differences, our two continents share the same heritage, the same values and above all the same purpose, to promote peace and prosperity through freedom, democracy and the rule of law, and to those objectives we will remain committed.”

The statement contrasted Trump’s previous comments about the EU, which the president described as “basically a vehicle for Germany”. Trump has also been a vocal Brexit supporter, saying the UK was “so smart in getting out”, and that “others will leave” as well.

Pence also addressed concerns over the new administration’s commitment to NATO defence pact, which Trump recently described as “obsolete”. While the US maintained “unwavering” support for the alliance, Pence said NATO members still had to meet the 2 per cent defence spending target as soon as possible.

“America will do our part, but Europe’s defence requires Europe’s commitment as well as ours,” said Pence. “The president expects real progress by the end of 2017… the patience of the American people will not endure forever.”