Trump Revokes Former DCI John Brennan’s Security Clearnace( 4 )

After having hinted that he would do so back in July, President Trump today revoked former Director Central Intelligence John Brennan’s security clearance. The announcement was read by Press Secretary Sanders:

CNN:

In July, the White House announced that it was considering taking such action, which amounts to an unprecedented use of presidential authority to punish political rivals. At the time, critics quickly seized on the announcement, even as those under consideration downplayed the effect losing their clearances might have.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was not consulted on revoking Brennan’s clearance, an official with knowledge told CNN’s Jim Sciutto. Coats is the top intelligence official working in government and was appointed by Trump.

Sanders’ statement Wednesday cited the CIA’s infiltration of Senate computers during Brennan’s time at the helm of the agency as a reason for the decision, adding that Brennan has “recently leveraged his status” as a former official to “make a series of unfounded allegations” about the administration, which she called “increasingly frenzied commentary.”

So what does it mean? In the short term the reactions will probably fall along the lines of what the responders already thought about President Trump. Critics will claim Brennan as patriotism incarnate for opposing the president and being oppressed while MAGA land will paint him as a traitor, or worse, for defying the president.

In reality it is mostly a symbolic gesture. Most of the targets from President Trump’s July list of potential revocations no longer have clearance. Brennan would have been entitled to retain his for 5 years, unless some unknown measures were taken, which would have expired January 2022. Some will cry out about Brennan’s “free speech” being infringed on, but security clearances are not silencing. The experts will argue over the particulars, but security clearances and classified information is established as within the discretion of the executive, so any pushback would be limited. Even James Clapper, also subject of the Trump Administrations ire for his outspoken criticism, admits the president can do so as he pleases:

CNN:

“I think this is just a very, very petty thing to do. And that’s about all I’ll say about it,” (Former Obama DNI James) Clapper said on CNN immediately after Sanders’ briefing.

“There is a formal process for doing this,” he added. “But, you know, legally the President has that prerogative and he can suspend and revoke clearances as he sees fit. If he chooses to do it for political reasons, I think that’s a terrible precedent and it’s a really sad commentary and its an abuse of the system.”

Hayden, meanwhile, indicated being stripped of his clearance would be of little consequence to his commentary.

“I don’t go back for classified briefings. Won’t have any effect on what I say or write,” he tweeted.

The CIA declined to comment on the announcement.

In short, it’s a very Trump-like thing to do; Small on consequence, big on turmoil caused, and comes off as petty and personally motivated.

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Trump Files Arbitration Suit Over Breach of NDA( 10 )

The newest volley in the back and forth war between President Trump and former-reality-star-cum-former-White-House-staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman came today, with Trump filing an arbitration suit against Manigault Newman for what he alleges is a breach of a “non-disclosure agreement”.  Manigault Newman, who served as “liason to the African American community” for the Trump administration until her firing last December, denies that any such agreement covered her time in the White House.  Though the agreement has not yet been made public, many experts agree that the NDA is likely invalid as to Manigault Newman’s time in the White House.

That the President required his staffers to sign NDAs was first revealed back in March, Though it has been conceded on both sides that the Manigault Newman NDA dates back to the 2016 campaign, the Trump camp asserted via Kellyanne Conway that all employees of the West Wing have signed similar agreements. The Trump camp alleges that Manigault Newman’s new tell-all book and her statements to the media regarding her time in the White House is in breach of the confidentiality agreement, for which she “owes millions”.

A few things to note: White House staffers are not employed by Donald J. Trump; they are employed by the United States of America. Thus, any attempt to enforce the muzzling of federal employees would necessarily be by the federal government, not the president or his campaign. Any attempt by the government to limit speech would likely invoke that whole First Amendment thing. True, there are situations involving classified information for which the government may restrict speech, but “I saw the president eat paper and he uses the “N word” is unlikely to qualify as matters of national security.

It’s also true that government entities may have a legitimate interest in the regulation of their employees’ speech, but, as national security lawyer Bradley P. Moss of the Lawfare Blog explains here, federal courts have held that non-classified information revealed by former government employees is not subject to restriction. There exists a “pre-publication review” process for former employees who wish to publish memoirs of their time in government, which gives the government the ability to identify and restrict the dissemination of any classified-but only classified-information. However, this process is for security clearance holders, which does not include Manigault Newman, who had no security clearance at all.

Trump is often criticized for treating the presidency as another of his business ventures, and the use of NDAs is classic Trump. But while NDAs might be useful for ex-wives, former mistresses, and disgruntled beauty pageant contestants, Trump may find that things are different when his staff works for the people of the nation, not him.

 

 

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The Manafort Defense Rested Without Presenting A Case( 14 )

Paul Manafort, on trial for bank fraud and tax charges related to his overseas consulting work, will not testify, and his attorneys rested on Tuesday, setting up closing arguments for the one-time Trump campaign manager.

Washington Post:

Paul Manafort, President Trump’s one-time campaign chairman, is on trial in federal court in Alexandria on bank and tax fraud charges. Prosecutors allege he failed to pay taxes on millions he made from his work for a Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party, then lied to get loans when the cash stopped coming in.

The prosecution rested on Monday, and today the defense rested, and Manafort will not take the stand. The courtroom was sealed for nearly two hours this morning, then reopened at about 11:30 a.m. with Manafort coming in 10 minutes later. The reason for the sealed court was not disclosed.

The case is being prosecuted by the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said that closing arguments in the case will begin at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, and jurors will be given instructions in the case after that. They will be sent home at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, after they see the defense formally rest its case.

The lawyers will discuss Tuesday afternoon what instructions they intend to give jurors. Those are wonky, but important, as they will shape how jurors debate the charges of which Manafort is accused.

In fact, the only time Manafort himself has spoken was in response to Judge Ellis’ reminder of his rights in the proceedings:

CNN:

Manafort spoke for the first time in court during the trial, saying he will not testify.

Manafort told Judge T.S. Ellis that he would not testify during a brief questioning at the podium before the jury was brought in the room. Manafort is not required to testify because of his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Ellis made this clear during his brief conversation with Manafort.

“You have an absolute right to testify before this jury,” Ellis said. “You have an absolute right to remain silent before this jury.”

Closing arguments are scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday, and Ellis encouraged both sides to keep them under two hours.

Manafort faces 18 charges of tax and banking crimes and has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. The case stands as the first major test for special counsel Robert Mueller, who is currently leading the probe into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election — including whether there was any collusion between President Donald Trump campaign associates and the Kremlin.

Arm chair lawyers and social media litigators will go crazy, but this is very common. Shaky defenses rest without presenting all the time, as Popehat outlines here, and if you are not going to call the defendant, might as well hide that fact with a blanket, “we don’t need a defense against these ridiculous charges,” type defense.

Will it work? Who knows, the jury will let us know, perhaps as early as the end of this week. The Trump-centric coverage often misses the point that Manafort has been dirty for years, but proving crime beyond reasonable doubt to a jury is never a sure thing. It only takes one juror, after all. Despite the volume of the debate, we are all in the same boat as to the outcome of this trial: we wait.

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Michael Drejka arrested, charged in slaying of Merkeis McGlockton( 19 )

Michael Drejka has been arrested and charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton. For a quick recap, Sam Wilkinson did a write-up on this case, and the invoking of the Stand Your Ground defense in it, a while back:

Markeis McGlockton was at the Circle A Food Store on Sunset Point Road near Clearwater, Florida.

He had his girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, and his three children with him. He parked in a handicap spot and went into the store. Michael Drejka, a man nearby, objected to McGlockton’s choice of parking spots and initiated a confrontation with McGlockton’s girlfriend. Seeing the commotion, McGlockton left the store, confronted Drejka, eventually pushing him to the ground. Drejka then pulled a gun, shot McGlockton once in the chest, killing him. McGlockton was black; Drejka is white. Prosecutors have announced that Drejka was standing his ground, and will not be prosecuting him.

What comes next is entirely based upon what is seen in the paragraph above. Some people will see a man defending his girlfriend and their children from an armed, confrontational stranger who obviously represented an immediate threat to their well-being. (And although McGlockton had no way of knowing this at the time, Drejka has done this before; several months earlier, Drejka had threatened to shoot another man in the same parking lot, regarding that man’s decision to park in the same spot.) Some people will see Drejka simply defending himself, to the maximal imaginable degree, from an aggressor.

But regardless of what people see in this story, Florida law sees Drejka as a victim completely justified in killing McGlockton, all because Drejka can credibly report that he was afraid for his own well-being in the aftermath of having been shoved to the ground. It does not matter that he instigated the conflict; it does not matter that he was the armed aggressor; it does not matter that he is the one that posed the threat; it only matters that McGlockton almost immediately, but only briefly, had the upper hand.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said as much late last week, noting that although he questioned Drejka’s decision to shoot McGlockton, “But I don’t get to, and we don’t get to, substitute our judgment for Drejka’s judgment.”

But that was then, and apparently the now includes bringing up Drejka on manslaughter charges, as covered by the Tampa Bay Times:

Prosecutors charged Michael Drejka, the man accused of killing Markeis McGlockton in a shooting that has reignited a debate over Florida’s stand your ground law, with manslaughter Monday.

According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Drejka was taken into custody Monday morning. He was being booked about 12:20 p.m. into the Pinellas County Jail, where he will be held in lieu of $100,000 bail.
“It’s about time,” said McGlockton’s father, Michael McGlockton, adding that he was ecstatic. “This is exactly what I wanted. This is exactly what me and my family wanted was to get this guy behind bars.”

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe said Monday that his office “reviewed everything, and we filed the charge we think we can prove.”

“I’m comfortable that we moved expeditiously to review the case,” he said.

Drejka, who turned 48 since the shooting, had avoided arrest since he shot 28-year-old McGlockton on July 19 because of the controversial self-defense law that eliminated one’s duty to retreat before resorting to force.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced July 20 that his agency was precluded from arresting Drejka because evidence showed it was “within the bookends of stand your ground and within the bookends of force being justified,” which provides immunity from arrest, the sheriff said. He forwarded the case Aug. 1 to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office to make a final charging determination.

So why the change? As the Times notes, the prosecutor declined to elaborate but the arrest warrant itself provides some clues:

It follows the same timeline outlined by authorities. The encounter between the two men started when Drejka, of 1116 Charles St. in Clearwater, confronted McGlockton’s girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, about why she had parked in a handicap-reserved parking space without a decal at the Circle A Food Store on Sunset Point Road.
McGlockton, inside the store with his 5-year-old son, caught wind of the heated argument from witnesses.

Surveillance video shows him leaving the store, walking up to Drejka and pushing him to the ground. Drejka then pulls out a gun and shoots McGlockton. He told deputies he was in fear of further attack.
The warrant notes what McGlockton’s family and their lawyers have pointed out to show that Drejka’s fear wasn’t reasonable.

“Drejka steadies the firearm with both hands,” it says. “McGlockton immediately backs up when confronted with the firearm. As he backs up to his vehicle he begins to turn towards the front of the store away from the shooter.”
It also notes investigators used a scanner that helps capture measurement and distance to find that Drejka was about 12 feet from McGlockton when he fired the shot.

Several questions must be considered in deciding whether someone can be protected under the law when they use force: Was the person acting lawfully? Did the person have a right to be there? And was the person in reasonable fear of serious injury or death?

State legislators revised the law last year to put the onus on prosecutors to disprove a stand your ground claim instead of on defense attorneys to prove one. That would be hashed out at a pre-trial immunity hearing.

It would seem not just Drejka, but the scope and legal definition of Stand Your Ground law itself, will be on trial this time, at least in the court of public opinion.

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Familial DNA Continues to Crack Cold Cases Around the Country( 24 )

Following the big news last spring that the maddening case of the Golden State Killer was cracked by comparing offender DNA to a commercial DNA website, dominoes continue to fall around the country with the solving of decades-old murders.  It is likely more bitter than sweet for the families of the victims, but must surely be of some comfort to finally know who was responsible for their loved ones’ deaths.

Among the cases solved in the last few months using familial DNA and genealogical databases:

  • The kidnapping and murder of April Marie Tinsley in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1988. April, 8 years old, disappeared off the street as she walked to her friend’s house to retrieve an umbrella. Her raped and strangled body was found a few days later. Despite eye-witness to her abduction and the brazen taunts made by her killer in the years after, the case went unsolved until last month, when DNA left behind by the perpetrator was compared to a geneology database, as was done in the Golden State Killer case. The results led authorities to arrest John Miller, 58. When authorities showed up at his door and asked Miller if he knew why there were there, he did: “April Tinsley”. Miller is in custody and awaits trial.
  • The 1986 rape and murder of 12-year-old Michella Welch who disappeared while out playing with her sisters in Tacoma Washington. Tacoma police in May arrested 66 year old Gary Hartman, a registered nurse employed by the State of Washington, charging him with Michella’s murder. Familial DNA led police to collect a napkin discarded by Hartman, the DNA on which was compared to that found on the young girl’s body. It was a match.
  • The 1992 murder of school teacher Christy Mirack in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Familial DNA from a genealogy database proved the culprit to be Raymond “DJ Freez” Rowe, which was confirmed after investigators collected his discarded gum and water bottle from his gig at an elementary school dance.
  • The 1987 double murder of 20-year-old Jay Cook and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Tanya Van Cuylenburg in Bellingham, Washington. Charged in that case was 55-year-old William Talbott, who raped the young woman before killing both young victims.
  • The 1981 Texas murder of real estate agent Virginia Freeman. The woman’s body was found after she went to meet with a potential buyer at a rural property. The case went unsolved for 37 years, but officials say DNA points to James Otto Earhart, who was executed in 1999 for the murder of a 9-year-old girl.

There appears no end in sight for this trend of solving cold cases – a light at the end of the tunnel for families of the victims, and an oncoming train for the perpetrators.

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Not Fine( 6 )

And it’s not through fines:

Late fines weren’t very effective at getting people to return materials, officials said.

Instead, patrons seem to be more motivated to return items to avoid replacement costs and losing borrowing privileges than they were to avert accumulating fees, officials said.

Late fees were a drain on library resources, and collecting them did not promote a good relationship with patrons, said Tim Kambitsch, the executive director of the Dayton Metro Library.

“A long time ago, the overdue fines stopped having an impact on people’s timeliness of returning items,” he said. “What’s really made a big difference is that we’ve been more aggressive in how people’s borrowing privileges get limited with the new policy if they don’t return items.”

There’s a late episode of the Cosby Show where one of the replacement kids broke the rules and accepted the punishment as the cost of doing so. Cliff and Claire had to explain that it wasn’t meant to be transactional like that.

I thought about that when reading this. Apart from actually going after their ability to check out library books, a lot of people can probably internalize fines as a sort of rental fee. Whereas this makes them feel like they are doing something wrong, and the inability to rent other things out reinforces this fact. This makes it non-transactional.

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The Case For Us To Have a Space Force( 38 )

Think Space Force is a joke? Here are four major space threats to take seriously

WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday announced the Trump administration is laying the groundwork a new Space Force and eventually a separate military branch, dedicated to space.

While the merits of a new organization are debatable, U.S. national security space systems are vulnerable to a wide array of threats, ranging from cyberattacks and jamming to anti-satellite missiles, according to a Center for Strategic and International Studies report published earlier this year. Russia and China, and to a lesser degree North Korea and Iran, are all threatening America’s military through its dependence on space.

“Given our dependence and that of our allies and partners on space, the loss of critical assets today could prove decisive to our ability to monitor critical events like missile launches or nuclear tests, or to successfully prosecute a military campaign,” retired Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, the former chief of U.S. Strategic Command, said in the forward to the report. “Urgent action is needed.”

A number of people have said that if Obama had come up with this a lot of people laughing at Trump and Pence wouldn’t be. Fair enough, thought if Obama had come up with it we’d assume an actual plan with strategic objectives. It the administration is actually serious about this, and not just selling campaign gear, I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

President Donald Trump’s re-election team seized on his administration’s push for a “Space Force” on Thursday, pledging to sell branded merchandise to his supporters.

“President Trump wants a SPACE FORCE — a groundbreaking endeavor for the future of America and the final frontier,” read an email from the Trump campaign. “As a way to celebrate President Trump’s huge announcement, our campaign will be selling a new line of gear.”
The letter from campaign manager Brad Parscale then invited supporters to vote on the campaign’s logo for the proposed military branch. The campaign email followed efforts from the Trump administration on the same day to drum up support for the proposal and outline how the Pentagon would take its first steps.
Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech where he called for the creation of a new military service for space by 2020, building on Trump’s previous calls for one, and Trump issued a tweet on Thursday where he said, “Space Force all the way!”

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Hypocrisy & Speech( 14 )

I think this is true, as far as it goes, but is also an inclination to be resisted (albeit not dismissed)

But as Stanley Fish pointed out decades ago, during the first round of political-correctness culture wars (ca. 1985-95), in this sense hypocrisy is simply what human beings do. According to the definition given above, it is virtually impossible to find non-hypocritical judgments. In his famous essay “There’s No Such Thing As Free Speech, and It’s a Good Thing, Too” Fish describes John Milton’s famous celebration of free speech in “Areopagitica,” which commends “the virtues of toleration and unregulated publication in passages that find their way into every discussion of free speech and the First Amendment,” after which “Milton catches himself up short and says, of course I didn’t mean Catholics, them we exterminate.” Here’s the key passage:

I mean not tolerated popery, and open superstition, which as it extirpates all religious and civil supremacies, so itself should be extirpate . . . that also which is impious or evil absolutely against faith or manners no law can possibly permit that intends not to unlaw itself.

Beneath every commitment to free speech, Fish says, is this unspoken but essential question: “Would this form of speech or advocacy, if permitted to flourish, tend to undermine the very purposes for which our society is constituted?” If the answer is Yes, then that speech is unprotected by our laws.

Though perhaps there is a way to incorporate it into our discussion without it leading to a wholesale dismissal of speech that runs contrary to our societal rationale.

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NYC Caps Ride Share Vehicles, Requires Minimum Pay( 3 )

In an effort to combat gridlock on its streets, New York City introduced new regulations affecting rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft, placing a moratorium on new licensed vehicles and mandating a minimum hourly wage for drivers. The move was met with dismay by the public, who have concerns about increased cost and difficulty in getting around, and with the company execs. From Lyft’s VP of public policy, Joseph Okpaku via CNN:

These sweeping cuts to transportation will bring New Yorkers back to an era of struggling to get a ride, particularly for communities of color and in the outer boroughs.

We will never stop working to ensure New Yorkers have access to reliable and affordable transportation in every borough.

But the drivers and labor advocates cheered:

‘Workers and New York leaders made history today. It’s not easy taking on Silicon Valley behemoths, but we kept on fighting for what we know is right and today the workers prevailed,’ said Ryan Price, the executive director of the Independent Driver’s Guild. The organization represents more than 65,000 app-based drivers.

Since services like Lyft and Uber gained popularity, traditional taxis, already regulated and capped by the city, have protested what they see as unfair competition. Unfortunately for companies like Lyft and Uber, regulations like those imposed in New York are likely to be considered in other cities around the world who have also expressed frustration with rideshare.

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Tribune Media-Sinclair Broadcasting Merger Off( 1 )

The long running saga of a proposed Tribune Media and Sinclair Broadcasting merger seems to have finally been brought to a close, with Tribune not only killing the deal, but also filing lawsuit against Sinclair for “breach of contract” in an effort to mitigate a $135 million breakup fee.

NBC News:

Tribune cited Sinclair’s “unnecessarily aggressive and protracted negotiations with the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission” in the regulatory review of the merger as the reason for the suit, filed Thursday in Delaware Chancery Court.

“In light of the FCC’s unanimous decision, referring the issue of Sinclair’s conduct for a hearing before an administrative law judge, our merger cannot be completed within an acceptable timeframe, if ever,” said Peter Kern, Tribune Media CEO. “This uncertainty and delay would be detrimental to our company and our shareholders. Accordingly, we have exercised our right to terminate the Merger Agreement, and, by way of our lawsuit, intend to hold Sinclair accountable.”

The $3.9 billion transaction, set in May 2017, would have combined two of the country’s largest broadcasters into a giant with more than 200 stations. Public interest groups lined up against the merger and Democrats contended that Sinclair was trying to infuse local stations with a conservative bent.

The decision to abandon the merger immediately raises the prospect of other suitors for Tribune Media. Industry sources speculate that the company may wind up selling off its assets in piecemeal fashion. Fox Television Stations had already cut a deal with Sinclair to acquire 7 of Tribune’s Fox affiliate stations for $910 million as part of its divestiture plan.

The deal-breaker on the merger came last month, when FCC chairman Ajit Pai announced that he had “serious concerns” about the transaction. The commissioners voted unanimously to send the merger to an administrative law judge for a hearing, a prospect that likely would add months or a year or longer to the review.

The killing of the merger comes two weeks after President Trump waded into the issue on Twitter, going against his own FCC to criticize the scrutiny by government over the proposed merger.

CNN:

“So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday. “This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!”

Trump’s tweet puts FCC chair Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed by Trump, in the awkward position of having to defend the commission and assert its position as an independent regulatory agency that is not directly accountable to the president or other elected officials. Democrat commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel replied to Trump’s tweet on Tuesday with one word: “Disagree.”

At a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Wednesday afternoon, Pai would not directly say whether he agreed or disagreed with Trump’s tweet when pressed by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). Pai would only say “I stand by our decision” to send the transaction to a hearing last week after expressing concerns about Sinclair’s bid for Tribune Media.

“Trump’s tweet actually hurts us — because of the conservative line,” one staffer said.

Other Sinclair journalists seconded this point, saying colleagues were unhappy with Trump’s portrayal of the company as “conservative.” While stations have been forced to air pro-Trump commentaries and stories, most journalists at local stations want to be recognized for their straight-forward, nonpartisan work. They don’t want to be labeled by the president or anyone else.

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About Last Night: The Democrat Center Holds in Primary Results, For Now( 23 )

Earlier this week Mark Kruger wrote about the intramural contest within the Democrat party between the rising progressive left and the more established center-left.

But AOC’s success and the media attention it brings heightens the fissures within the Democratic party. The debate is over whether Dem’s should be more socialist. A young, idealistic faction within the party wants to wrestle it further to the left. They advocate big changes in healthcare, housing and education with a primary role for government. An aging “establishment” wing of the party supports incremental changes (or in some case the status quo). It wants to maintain a position nearer to the center.

Much ink and characters have been spilled about the topic, and last night with primaries in Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, Kansas, and Washington we have some actual data and fresh results to add to the mix.

Washington Post:

The Democratic Party’s left-wing insurgency found its limits Tuesday night, with voters favoring establishment candidates over more liberal challengers in almost every closely watched race across several states.

In Michigan, former state senator Gretchen Whitmer easily won the Democratic nomination for governor over Abdul El-Sayed, a doctor backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who was vying to become the country’s first Muslim governor.

In suburban House districts across the Midwest, left-wing candidates lost to Democrats backed by party leaders, abortion rights groups and labor unions.

And in St. Louis, where party giant-slayer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez traveled to help another young insurgent candidate topple an incumbent, Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) cruised to an easy primary win over challenger Cori Bush.

Six weeks after Ocasio-Cortez stunned Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), signs of a tea-party-like movement in the Democratic Party that would throw winnable races to far-left candidates appear to be fading. Instead, the party’s establishment has embraced ideas like expanding the Affordable Care Act, shrinking the space between its leaders and its disrupters.

“Trump has been the great doctor, stitching up our scars and healing us organically,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.

The party’s centrists, who had bemoaned Crowley’s defeat, saw Tuesday night as a turning point. Whitmer, who ran on her record of expanding Medicaid in Michigan — and a memorable promise to “fix the damn roads” — will now lead an all-female ticket in a swing state that Hillary Clinton narrowly lost.

Vox drew mostly the same conclusion, adding “the left” to its column that was headed “losers” from last night along with the “moral victory” of coming close in OH-12.

The left has had a good 2018, don’t get me wrong. But Abdul El-Sayed’s second-place finish in the Michigan Democratic governor’s primary — even after a highly publicized appearance days before the election with superstar Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders — wasn’t its best moment.

Meanwhile, down south in Ohio, a moderate Democrat who explicitly rejects lefty priorities like Medicare-for-all, “Abolish ICE,” and tuition-free college, very nearly won a House district Republicans have held for 35 years. Progressives have made gains this year, compared to the past, but the moderate message still seems to have a place in certain areas.

Two establishment-backed candidates also beat self-styled Berniecrats in Michigan House primaries. The Kansas Second, with former Bernie Sanders staffer Brent Welder facing Sharice Davids, is too close to call, though Davids appears to be ahead.

Right now, it’s easy to imagine a House Freedom Caucus-size lefty caucus if things break right for Democrats. But that kind of support for the democratic socialist policies can have only so much effect, unless progressives start breaking through in more primaries.

At least for one night, any blue wave that might come will still be lead by the center. If the Democrats can manage to ride it.

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Biases and Lies, Told By Us, To Us( 7 )

A while back Jaybird brought up “Priming” while dealing with the Yanni vs Laurel thing. Cognitive bias, however, influences just about every thought you have in one way or another, and dealing with it beyond just behavior in understanding it better is a complex endeavor.
“Why You Lie to Yourself” By Ben Yagoda writing in The Atlantic takes on the subject in a new piece that give us plenty to think about.

Kahneman and others draw an analogy based on an understanding of the Müller-Lyer illusion, two parallel lines with arrows at each end. One line’s arrows point in; the other line’s arrows point out. Because of the direction of the arrows, the latter line appears shorter than the former, but in fact the two lines are the same length. Here’s the key: Even after we have measured the lines and found them to be equal, and have had the neurological basis of the illusion explained to us, we still perceive one line to be shorter than the other.

Biases and Lies, Told By Us, To Us

Müller-Lyer illusion

At least with the optical illusion, our slow-thinking, analytic mind—what Kahneman calls System 2—will recognize a Müller-Lyer situation and convince itself not to trust the fast-twitch System 1’s perception. But that’s not so easy in the real world, when we’re dealing with people and situations rather than lines. “Unfortunately, this sensible procedure is least likely to be applied when it is needed most,” Kahneman writes. “We would all like to have a warning bell that rings loudly whenever we are about to make a serious error, but no such bell is available.”

Because biases appear to be so hardwired and inalterable, most of the attention paid to countering them hasn’t dealt with the problematic thoughts, judgments, or predictions themselves. Instead, it has been devoted to changing behavior, in the form of incentives or “nudges.” For example, while present bias has so far proved intractable, employers have been able to nudge employees into contributing to retirement plans by making saving the default option; you have to actively take steps in order to not participate. That is, laziness or inertia can be more powerful than bias. Procedures can also be organized in a way that dissuades or prevents people from acting on biased thoughts. A well-known example: the checklists for doctors and nurses put forward by Atul Gawande in his book The Checklist Manifesto.

Is it really impossible, however, to shed or significantly mitigate one’s biases? Some studies have tentatively answered that question in the affirmative. These experiments are based on the reactions and responses of randomly chosen subjects, many of them college undergraduates: people, that is, who care about the $20 they are being paid to participate, not about modifying or even learning about their behavior and thinking. But what if the person undergoing the de-biasing strategies was highly motivated and self-selected? In other words, what if it was me?

The whole article is worth a read. So what do you think? Comment below, share and discuss.

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It’s Easier To Sail That River in Egypt( 31 )

This corresponds with my own experiences and observations:

This implies that if the tables were turned — if Republican politicians proposed a climate policy — Republican voters might support it. In our research, that is exactly what we have found.

In one study, we asked Democrats, Republicans and independents to consider one of two carbon-pricing policies: a national cap-and-trade program and a national revenue-neutral carbon tax. But we varied the information we gave about political support for the policies, sometimes saying that a policy was backed by Democratic members of Congress, and sometimes saying that it was backed by Republican members.

In a similar study, we asked Democrats, Republicans and independents in Washington State to consider a carbon tax that was on the ballot in their state in 2016. There, we mentioned either liberal Democrats (like the Green Party of Seattle) or conservative Republicans (like the former secretary of state George Shultz) who in fact supported the initiative.

I wouldn’t say that they necessarily do believe in climate change, but rather that they could believe in it, and relatively easily. It would take some leadership that (a) the right’s leaders haven’t been inclined to show and (b) that they have little incentive to show, almost no upside, and quite a bit of downside.

A lot of people have come to where they currently are on the issue because it’s actually an easier posture to say that climate change isn’t real – or is in serious doubt – than to agree that it is real but disagree on what and how much should be done about it which ends up categorizing you with the doubters anyway.

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A Second West Virginia Justice Faces Federal Charges( 22 )

Mike Stewart, US Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, announced today that West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum will plead guilty to federal criminal charges arising out of the investigation into improper spending by the state’s high court. Ketchum will plead guilty “to an information”, which means that he has agreed to waive indictment by a grand jury as a result of a deal brokered with federal prosecutors.

Ketchum, who resigned his seat on the Court effective August 3rd, reportedly shared Justice Allen Loughry’s habit of appropriating state property for his own use. Ketchum is accused of using a state-owned Buick to travel over 400 miles for golf outings- and charging the gas for these trips to the state.  He also purportedly used the state vehicle to travel the hour-long commute from his home to the state capitol- but did not originally report this perk on his taxes, according to the results of a legislative audit. Prior to his resignation, Ketchum was suspended from the bench pending investigation into the inappropriate spending as well as dishonest statements to investigators by members of the court .

Ketchum has been a justice since 2008. While it is assumed an agreement has been reached between Ketchum and prosecutors, it is unknown whether testimony against his disgraced colleague is part of that deal.

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When Laws Aren’t Laws( 11 )

The problem with this, as with much of “international law”, is that even if you buy into it a law without an enforcement mechanism isn’t a law.

All parties to both these controversies proceed from a common premise: that Israel has the right to use force in order to prevent Gazans from breaching the fence. The dispute comes down to: how much? Critics who allege “disproportionate” or “excessive” force tacitly legitimize Israel’s use of “proportionate” or “moderate” force, while those who insist upon the applicability of human rights law acknowledge that Israel’s resort to force is legitimate if demonstrators pose an “imminent threat” to a sniper’s life.

This presumption holds even at the most critical pole of the debate on Gaza. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem condemned as “illegal” Israel’s resort to lethal force against unarmed persons “approaching the fence, damaging it, or attempting to cross it.” But it conceded that “[o]bviously, the military is allowed to prevent such actions, and even to detain individuals attempting to carry them out.” A senior Human Rights Watch official argued that Israel’s use of live ammunition in Gaza was “unlawful.” But she suggested that “nonlethal means, such as tear gas, skunk water, and rubber-coated steel pellets” would have passed legal muster. The International Committee of the Red Cross cautioned Israel that “lethal force only be used as a last resort and when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.” Even the major Palestinian human rights organizations characterized Israel’s use of force as “excessive,” “indiscriminate,” and “disproportionate” rather than inherently illegal.

But the fact is, Israel cannot claim a right to use any force in Gaza — whether moderate or excessive, proportionate or disproportionate; whether protesters are unarmed or armed, don’t or do pose an imminent threat to life. If it appears otherwise, that’s because the current debate ignores critical caveats in international law and abstracts from the specific situation in Gaza.

And further, a law without an enforcement mechanism that requires a more powerful force to lay down its arms against a less powerful one is even less of a law.

{via Murali}

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23andMe to Share DNA data with GlaxoSmithKline( 4 )

After Facebook was discovered to have sold the data of it’s user to outside companies for various things, the outrage and fallout was strong and  continues to this day. The fact that such a transfer was spelled out in the user agreement did little to assuage the people who felt wronged by it. So it will be interesting to see how the customers of popular DNA testing kits 23andMe react to their samples being handed over to pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline for research and testing.

NBC News:

23andMe patrons are asked if they want to participate in scientific research. The new agreement moves this consent firmly into the field of active drug discovery research.

“As always, if our customers do not want to participate in research, they can choose to opt out at any time,” Wojcicki wrote.

Glaxo has invested $300 million in 23andMe and the companies have a four-year deal that gives Glaxo exclusive rights to collaborate with the DNA testing company to develop drugs.

Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, said the companies should pay the 23andMe customers whose DNA is used in any research.

“Are they going to offer rebates to people who opt in so their customers aren’t paying for the privilege of 23andMe working with a for-profit company in a for-profit research project?” he asked.

“It’s one thing for NIH (the National institutes of Health) to ask people to donate their genome sequences for the higher good,” Pitts told NBC News.
“But when two for-profit companies enter into an agreement where the jewel in the crown is your gene sequence and you are actually paying for the privilege of participating, I think that’s upside-down.”

Pitts also questioned whether there were solid protocols for protecting the privacy of 23andMe customers.

The reason the drug makers are so heady on the idea is a simple one: the hard part of doing genetic testing is getting enough material with specific defined conditions. Enter 23andMe, the popular at-home DNA testing kits.

“The over 5 million customers that 23andMe has gained access to is really many larger … 10 times larger, than some of the other databases out there,” he added.

One of the big obstacles to genetics research is getting enough people to donate their DNA and paying to sequence it. The 23andMe database delivers a huge number of customers who have already consented and whose DNA has already been partly sequenced.

The company can go back and do more sequencing on people who have genetic variations that are of interest.

“We are also excited to leverage the patients, to have them be part of this drug discovery process,” Barron said.

Now that it is public, we will see if the customers of 23andMe share the excitement, or, like Facebook users, regret not reading the fine print.

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Trump-Cohen Recorded Conversation Released( 109 )

The Trump Tape is here. Long-time Trump Attorney, and alleged “fixer” Michael Cohen has been in the news for having “tapes” of his conversations with President Trump, and now one such recording has been aired, first reported by CNN:

The Washington Post has a transcript of the Trump Tape

TRUMP: [In background] Good. Let me know what’s happening, okay? Oh, oh. Maybe because of this it would be better if you didn’t go, you know? Maybe because of this. For that one, you know, I think what you should do is get rid of this. Because it’s so false what they’re saying, it’s such bulls—. Um. [PAUSE] I think, I think this goes away quickly. I think what — I think it’s probably better to do the Charleston thing, just this time. Uh, yeah. In two weeks, it’s fine. I think right now it’s, it’s better. You know? Okay, hun. You take care of yourself. Thanks, babe. Yup, I’m proud of you. So long. Bye.
[Into phone] What’s happening?
COHEN: Great poll, by the way.
TRUMP: Yeah?
COHEN: Seen it. Great poll.
TRUMP: Making progress.
COHEN: Big time.
TRUMP: And, your guy is a good guy. He’s a good —
COHEN: Who, Pastor Scott?
TRUMP: Can’t believe this. No, Pastor Scott. What’s, what’s happening —
COHEN: No —
TRUMP: Can we use him anymore?
COHEN: Oh, yeah, a hundred — no, you’re talking about Mark Burns. He’s, we’ve told him to [UNINTELLIGIBLE].
TRUMP: I don’t need that — Mark Burns, are we using him?
COHEN: No, no.
FEMALE: Richard [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. I’m sorry, Richard [UNINTELLIGIBLE] just called. He — just when you have a chance, he had an idea for you.
TRUMP: Okay, great.
COHEN: Um, so, we got served from the New York Times. I told you this — we were …
TRUMP: To what?
COHEN: … To unseal the divorce papers with Ivana. Um, we’re fighting it. Um, [Trump attorney Marc] Kasowitz is going to —
TRUMP: They should never be able to get that.
COHEN: Never. Never. Kasowitz doesn’t think they’ll ever be able to. They don’t have a —
TRUMP: Get me a Coke, please!
COHEN: They don’t have a legitimate purpose, so —
TRUMP: And you have a woman that doesn’t want this.
COHEN: Correct.
TRUMP: Who you’ve been handling.
COHEN: Yes. And —
TRUMP: And it’s been going on for a while.
COHEN: About two, three weeks now.
TRUMP: All you’ve got to do is delay for —
COHEN: Even after that, it’s not ever going to be opened. There’s no, there’s no purpose for it. Um, told you about Charleston. Um, I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend, David, you know, so that — I’m going to do that right away. I’ve actually come up and I’ve spoken —
TRUMP: Give it to me and get me a [UNINTELLIGIBLE].
COHEN: And, I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with …
TRUMP: So, what do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?
COHEN: … Funding .?.?. Yes. Um, and it’s all the stuff.
TRUMP: Yeah, I was thinking about that.
COHEN: All the stuff. Because — here, you never know where that company — you never know what he’s —
TRUMP: Maybe he gets hit by a truck.
COHEN: Correct. So, I’m all over that. And, I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time for the financing, which will be —
TRUMP: Wait a sec, what financing?
COHEN: Well, I’ll have to pay him something.
TRUMP: [UNINTELLIGIBLE] pay with cash.
COHEN: No, no, no, no, no. I got it.
TRUMP: Check.
[Tape cuts off abruptly. Separate recording begins.]
MALE: Hey Don, how are you?
-End Transcript-

What say you? Comment below, share and discuss.

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White House Says it’s Looking to Revoke Obama-Era Officials Security Clearances( 20 )

So this happened during the White House daily press briefing on Monday:

That list again:
– former CIA director John Brennan
– former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper
– former FBI Director Jim Comey
– former CIA director Michael Hayden
– former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice
– former FBI deputy director Andrea McCabe

The question stemmed from statements made earlier in the day by Sen. Rand Paul:

In an unusual move, Paul wrote that he will meet with Trump on Monday to discuss allegations that Brennan is “monetizing his security clearance” and “making millions of dollars divulging secrets to mainstream media.” Paul added that he would ask Trump to revoke Brennan’s clearance.

CNN has reached out to representatives for Brennan and has not yet received a response.

For her part, Sec. Sanders was ready for the question with the list of above officials, and was reading verbatim from notes during both the initial question and the follow-up. Clearly the White House has a plan here. Whether they follow through, have evidence of wrong doing on those individuals parts, and what the response will be, remains to be seen.

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Poll: Majority of Registered Voters Support Term-Limits for SCOTUS( 0 )

Politico/Morning Consult have some polling data out, taken after the Kavanaugh SCOTUS pick, and sixty-one percent support term limits for Supreme Court justices- and support crosses party affiliation, with two-thirds of polled Democrats and 58% of Republicans in favor. 20% overall oppose limits.

Morning Consult:

Sixty-one percent of voters support term limits for Supreme Court justices, including two-thirds of Democrats and 58 percent of Republicans. Twenty percent overall oppose such limits, according to the survey of 1,991 registered voters.

“It’s important to have justices who are reflective of the population they’re bringing judgment upon,” said Gabe Roth, executive director of the group Fix the Court, in a Tuesday interview. “Before Kennedy retired, we still had justices who were appointed during the Reagan administration. A lot’s changed in the world since the Reagan administration.”

Fix the Court, a nonpartisan advocacy group, is pushing a plan that would place an 18-year limit on a judge’s term, which would start as current judges leave and new ones come in. Roth said despite momentum in the legal community and among many Americans in support of term limits, there is no such movement on Capitol Hill and a number of legal scholars argue such changes would require a constitutional amendment.

“Since the post-Watergate Ethics in Government Act that required justices to release their financial disclosure reports, there has been little action in Congress to change the institutional structure of courts,” he said.
Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, said while there is support for term limits, the challenge is in how to implement them – whether they are made retroactive or exclusively apply to future nominees.

“If you make it forward-looking, it would take literally 30 years for it to actually make any impact,” he said in a Tuesday interview.

Our own Burt Likko already made his proposal for just such and amendment for change in both nominating and term limits for SCOTUS:

I propose an amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America:

Section 1. The number of Justices serving upon the Supreme Court of the United States shall be nine, including the Chief Justice.

Section 2. Upon the vacancy of any seat on the Supreme Court, the Attorney General or such other officer as the President may designate shall convene a Selection Committee.

The Selection Committee shall consist of three Chief Justices of the Supreme Courts of the several states, chosen by lot, and four Presiding Judges of the several Federal Courts of Appeal, chosen by lot. In the event of a vacancy or a refusal of a chosen member of the Selection Committee to serve, the Chief Justice or, if there is no Chief Justice the most senior member of the Supreme Court, shall appoint a replacement from the same pool of potential members as the selected committee member not serving.

The Selection Committee shall meet and propose three candidates to the President to fill the vacancy upon the Supreme Court within thirty days of the vacancy. No member of the Selection Committee may themselves be proposed as a candidate.

Section 3. Within thirty days of his receipt of the Selection Committee’s three candidates, the President shall nominate one of those three candidates to the Senate.

The Senate shall convene if not then in session, and approve or disapprove of the proposed candidate within thirty days of the President’s proposal by a majority vote. In the event of the Senate’s rejection of a nominee, the President shall thereafter propose from the remaining proposed candidates within thirty days of the Senate’s rejection, and the Senate shall then approve or disapprove of the proposed candidate within thirty days of the President’s nomination by a majority vote.

If for any reason the Senate fails to act in response to the President’s nomination, the nominee shall be deemed confirmed, effective on the thirty-first day after the nomination is made.

If all three nominees are rejected by the Senate, or the Senate by majority vote indicates that none of the three proposed nominees will be acceptable, a new Selection Committee shall be convened within thirty days.
Section

Section 4. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Would this help or hurt? I’m trying to ratchet down, but not completely eliminate, the role of politics in the process of selecting Supreme Court nominees. And yes, I’m proposing tying the President’s hands a lot and the Senate’s hands at least a moderate amount. For instance, by prohibiting court-packing in section 1.

Lori A. Ringhand and Paul M. Collins write in the Chicago Tribune that while the Garland/Gorsuch/Kavanaugh headlines have stirred up the intellectual exercise of imposing change, the concept of SCOTUS term limits is liable to be just that.

The final argument against term limits may be the most important: They may be impossible to implement. Creating legally enforceable Supreme Court term limits would almost certainly require amending the Constitution. That’s unlikely to happen any time soon. Any solution short of a constitutional amendment would require getting justices and senators to agree to change the norms and customs governing retirement and confirmation. In other words, they would have to voluntarily agree to play by a new set of rules. Given the state of politics today, that may be too much to ask.

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Because Of Course( 2 )

Leave it to this administration to use DNA tests meant to reunite families as DNA testing is being used to keep families apart–not reunify them“>a stall and barrier.

Some of the records that linked parents and children have disappeared or have been destroyed, according to one report. In other cases, the records are sitting in border patrol or ICE files, but the government has claimed that the fastest way to prove that families are related is to give them DNA tests rather than for one agency to call another. (This came two weeks after Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services, said that he would be able to find children “within seconds” when questioned about the challenges of reunification.)

In at least some cases, parents were told they’d have to pay for the DNA tests themselves, with money they don’t have. The tests take at least a week for the government’s contractor to process.

As one immigration attorney put it, it could be a delay tactic: The longer the government can keep children and parents apart, the more it can pressure them to accept deportation. Immigration advocates say that DNA tests raise privacy concerns, and only make sense in cases where there’s clear evidence a child might be a victim of human trafficking. When some DNA testing companies offered to donate tests in June in an attempt to help with reunification, some nonprofits working with separated families turned the offers down.

The evidence that they’re actually doing this is kind of slight, but the thing about running the program the way this administration has you don’t get much benefit of the doubt.

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Maria Butina Arrested on Charges of Being Russian Agent( 25 )

A Russian woman is under arrest and charged with acting as a foreign agent, but not as part of the ongoing Mueller Probe. Among other activities, her association with NRA events and other conservative groups are alleged to be part of a plan to win “back channel” relationships with the politically powerful.

Washington Post

Maria Butina, 29, who recently received a graduate degree from American University, was arrested Sunday in the District and made her first appearance in U.S. District Court before Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson, where she was ordered held without bond.

Butina is accused of trying to cultivate relationships with American politicians to establish “back channel” lines of communication and seeking to infiltrate U.S. political groups, including an unnamed “gun rights organization,” to advance Russia’s agenda. Descriptions in court papers match published reports about Butina’s interactions with the NRA.

The case, which is not part of the special counsel investigation into Russian interference, lays out the strongest allegations to date of American involvement in Russia’s influence operations.

Butina was allegedly assisted in her efforts by a U.S. political operative who helped introduce her to influential political figures. That person was not charged and is not named in court papers, but the description matches that of Paul Erickson, a GOP consultant who sought to organize a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Alexander Torshin, Butina’s Russian colleague and a former Russian senator, at a May 2016 NRA convention.

NRA officials and Erickson did not respond to requests for comment.

National Review:

There are a few key takeaways from today’s news:

First, Butina’s operation predates the Trump campaign. Back in March 2014, Butina emailed U.S. Person 1 and projected that the GOP would “likely obtain control over the U.S. government after the 2016 election.” Moreover, she said that party is “traditionally associated with negative and aggressive foreign policy, particularly with regards to Russia.” She identified the NRA’s significance in Republican politics and hoped to exploit that influence to gain relationships.

Second, the affidavit provides the clearest example yet of an American working knowingly and willingly with a Russian operative to advance Russian interests. U.S. Person 1 enthusiastically cooperated with a project that had nothing to do with advancing Russian gun rights and everything to do with facilitating her access to key Republican leaders.

Third, don’t jump to conclusions about the NRA’s role in Butina’s scheme. There are those who will read Twitter or skim headlines and immediately leap to the conclusion that “the NRA was facilitating a Russian intelligence operation” or that the “NRA helped a Russian agent” without considering that there’s a difference between exploitation and cooperation. So far it appears that she worked with U.S. Person 1 to exploit the NRA’s connections to the GOP. Any claim of cooperation is way ahead of the evidence.

Finally, it’s worth saying this after each new revelation in the ongoing series of Russia investigations (interestingly, this indictment didn’t come from the special counsel’s office but instead from DOJ national-security prosecutors), there is much we still don’t know about Russian efforts to influence American politics and about American participation in Russian plans.

While others are noticing a pattern in who and why she targets certain groups, are quite convinced they know exactly why, and to who, Russia was trying to influence in their plans.
Mother Jones:

In 2015, just a month after Trump announced his White House run, Butina directly asked him a question about US-Russia relations during a FreedomFest event in North Dakota, eliciting a response from Trump that he would likely soften the US stance against the Kremlin. “I don’t think you’d need the sanctions,” he said. “I think we would get along very, very well.”

In another apparent indication of her interest in infiltrating US politics, Butina also met Republican Gov. Scott Walker at the 2015 NRA convention. Two days after her FreedomFest exchange with Trump that July, Butina was in Wisconsin to attend the event where Walker announced his own candidacy for the presidency.

In an affidavit unsealed Monday, FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson wrote that Butina attempted to “exploit personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics in an effort to advance the interests of the Russian Federation.” The filing alleged that Butina established contact with an unnamed American political operative in Moscow in 2013 and obtained the operative’s help meeting influential Americans.

That unnamed operative appears to be Paul Erickson, a longtime Republican activist from South Dakota who has been associated with Butina since at least 2013, according to our previous reporting. Late last year, the New York Times reported that Erickson sought to set up a “back channel” between Trump campaign officials and the Kremlin in May 2016. Erickson did not respond immediately to inquiries from Mother Jones, but he was identified Monday in an NPR report as the operative described in the affidavit.

What is clear is, as agents go, Butina was doing exactly what operatives have done for years unseen: infiltrate, build relationships, work contacts. Interesting to note here that this investigation pre-dates the Mueller probe, and has largely run parallel. How much, if any, overlap there might be remains to be seen.

The full affidavit is available to read here:

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Red Burger, Blue Salad( 57 )

This looks like an online quiz waiting to happen.

Would you think a person who frequents Arby’s is a conservative? What about Applebee’s? Is a person who buys Grey Poupon likely rich? Is someone who buys Thomas’ English muffins probably white?

The answer to all of the above questions are “yes,” according to an interesting University Of Chicago study covered in The Washington Post this week. The study claims that researcher-developed algorithms can predict a person’s political and social viewpoints—or even their race—depending on what they purchase with up to 90 percent accuracy

A lot of it is probably regional selection. You have some things, like ranch dressing, that are absolutely huge in East Texas and Oklahoma, which are red. And even national brands are more competitive in some places than others.

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Does US Government Have an Overgrowth of Ivy?( 14 )

If Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court, all nine Justices of SCOTUS will be Ivy League affiliated in their education. But the Presidency is not any less upper-crust in credentials of late, to say nothing for the rest of government. Bill Whalen writes at Real Clear about “America’s Government-Hooked Up to an Ivy Drip?”

A second point worth noting: It’s not just the Supreme Court that’s covered in Ivy, but the White House too.

Starting with George H.W. Bush (Yale Class of ’48), the five most recent presidents have earned a combined seven Ivy degrees – George W. Bush (Yale-Harvard) and Barack Obama (Columbia-Harvard) being double-dippers. Yes, this includes Donald Trump, University of Pennsylvania Class of ’68 (apparently, this vexes the southernmost of the Ivy campuses).

Never before has the White House experienced such an Ivy rash. Prior to Bush 41, the last Ivied presidents were John F. Kennedy (Harvard and, briefly, Princeton) and Franklin Roosevelt (Harvard undergrad and a posthumous JD from Columbia).

The American presidency did experience an Ivy spurt in the first two decades of the 20th Century – Theodore Roosevelt (Harvard and Columbia Law), William Howard Taft (Yale) and Woodrow Wilson (Princeton). Somehow, the nation survived the 60 years between Roosevelt and the previous Ivied president, William Henry Harrison (the briefest of America’s presidents spent one semester at Penn; technically, he’s a non-graduate alumnus of the Medical Class of 1793).

Is America destined for an Ivy-Ivy duel in 2020, ala fellow Harvardians Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012 and Yalies George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004? That would exclude the likes of former Vice President Joseph Biden, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

However, it rules in New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (Yale Law), Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (Columbia) and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (Dartmouth undergrad). As Harvard seems to work wonders for Democratic nominees (Obama, Kennedy and FDR went 7-0 in presidential elections) the smart option would seem to be former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, owner of two Harvard degrees (maybe that’s why some Obama insiders reportedly want him to run).

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The Case(s) Against The Straw Ban( 24 )

For the sake of the disabled:

On social media, many people are ecstatic about the crush of cities and businesses pledging to ban plastic straws once and for all. Ever since a video showing a sea turtle with a straw stuck up its nose went viral, campaigns like #StopSucking for a strawless ocean have gained considerable traction. Seattle this month implemented a citywide ban on plastic straws, Starbucks announced on Monday that it will phase out the use of plastic straws by 2020, and many other municipalities and businesses are likely to follow suit. As one Twitter user posted, “My waiter asked ‘Now, do we want straws OR do we want to save the turtles?’ and honestly we all deserve that environmental guilt trip.”

But for many people with disabilities, going without plastic straws isn’t a question of how much they care about dolphins or sea turtles; it can be a matter of life or death.

There are many alternatives to plastic straws — paper, biodegradable plastics and even reusable straws made from metal or silicone. But paper straws and similar biodegradable options often fall apart too quickly or are easy for people with limited jaw control to bite through. Silicone straws are often not flexible — one of the most important features for people with mobility challenges. Reusable straws need to be washed, which not all people with disabilities can do easily. And metal straws, which conduct heat and cold in addition to being hard and inflexible, can pose a safety risk.

And also to… uhhh… use less plastic?

The World Wildlife Fund and Ocean Conservancy both provided ebullient quotes for Starbucks’ press releases. Liberal magazine The New Republic praised the move as an “environmental milestone.” Slate hailed the Starbucks straw ban as evidence of as a victory for a bona fide anti-straw movement, one that would hopefully lead to bans of more things plastic in years to come.

Yet missing from this fanfare was the inconvenient fact that by ditching plastic straws, Starbucks will actually be increasing its plastic use. As it turns out, the new nitro lids that Starbucks is leaning on to replace straws are made up of more plastic than the company’s current lid/straw combination.

Right now, Starbucks patrons are topping most of their cold drinks with either 3.23 grams or 3.55 grams of plastic product, depending on whether they pair their lid with a small or large straw. The new nitro lids meanwhile weigh either 3.55 or 4.11 grams, depending again on lid size.

(I got these results by measuring Starbucks’ plastic straws and lids on two separate scales, both of which gave me the same results.)

This means customers are at best breaking even under Starbucks’ strawless scheme, or they are adding between .32 and .88 grams to their plastic consumption per drink. Given that customers are going to use a mix of the larger and smaller nitro lids, Starbucks’ plastic consumption is bound to increase, although it’s anybody’s guess as to how much.

And the main argument in favor seems to be… raising awareness?

Straw bans aren’t going to save the ocean, but they could jumpstart much-needed conversations about the level of non-biodegradable trash in them.

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Private Person, Unwilling Celebrity( 6 )

I don’t think there is any such thing as a “private person” anymore. The vast majority of us constantly groom our internet presence, choosing the right filter on Instagram for our brunch and taking polls of our friends about our next Facebook profile picture. We don’t think about this as a public act when we have only 400 connections on LinkedIn or 3,000 followers on Tumblr. No one imagines the Daily Mail write-up or the Jezebel headline. We actively create our public selves, every day, one social media post at a time. Little kids dream of becoming famous YouTubers the same way I wanted to be a published author when I was twelve.

But there are also those of us who don’t choose this. We keep our accounts locked, our Instagram profile set to “friends only.” Maybe we learned a lesson when a post took off and left the safe haven of our community, picked apart in a horrifying display of context collapse. Maybe we are hiding from something: a stalker, an abusive ex, our family members who don’t know our true queer identity. To some of us, privacy is as vital as oxygen. Without it we are exposed—butterflies with our wings pinned to the corkboard, our patterns scrutinized under a magnifying glass. For what? For entertainment? For someone else’s mid-workday escapism? For a starring role in someone else’s bastardized rom com?

A woman boarded a plane in New York and stepped off that plane in Dallas. She chatted with a stranger, showed him some family photos, brushed his elbow with her own. She wore a baseball cap over her face and followed him back on Instagram. At no point did she agree to participate in the story Rosey Blair was telling. After the fact, when the hunt began and the woman took no part in encouraging it the way Holden did, Blair tweeted a video in which she drawled, “We don’t have the gal’s permish yet, not yet y’all, but I’m sure you guys are sneaky, you guys might…”

Blair’s followers were sneaky. They did as they were told and immediately replied with screenshots of the woman’s Instagram account. They shared links.

When people called Blair out for this blatant invasion of privacy, she blocked them. Because she, apparently, could control her own boundaries. Later she tweeted about wanting a job at BuzzFeed.

Source: We Are All Public Figures Now – Ella Dawson

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DAG Rosenstein Announces Indictments of 12 Russian GRU Members( 11 )

DAG Rosenstein announced indictments of 12 Russian GRU members for various activities related to the 2016 Presidential Election.

WaPo:

The 12 were members of Russian military intelligence, known as the GRU, and are accused of engaging in a sustained effort to hack the computer networks of Democratic organizations and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein planned to detail the new charges at a mid-day press conference. Mueller, as has been his practice, was not expected to attend the announcement. Court records show a grand jury Mueller has been using returned an indictment Friday morning.

Mueller and a team of prosecutors have been working since May 2017 to determine if any Trump associates conspired with Russia to interfere in the election. His work had already led to charges against 20 people on crimes ranging from money laundering to lying to the FBI. Fourteen of those charged earlier are Russians who are unlikely to ever be put on trial in the United States.

CBS News:

“There is no allegation in this indictment that Americans knew they were corresponding with Russian intelligence officers,” Rosenstein said in his announcement.

The charges come just days before President Trump is set to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. Rosenstein said he briefed Mr. Trump on the indictment earlier this week.

The charges come after Mueller’s investigation has already led to the indictment of 12 Russian nationals earlier this year.

The indictment charges 11 of the defendants with conspiracy to commit computer crimes, eight counts of aggravated identity theft, and conspiracy to launder money, according to the special counsel’s office. Two of the defendants are charged with a separate conspiracy to commit computer crimes.

In the face of alleged foreign interference, Rosenstein urged unity and patriotism against foreign interference.

“The partisan warfare fueled by modern technology does not fairly reflect the grace, dignity and unity of the American people,” Rosenstein said.

Let’s all hope that last statement hold ups. Full indictment can be read here.

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Find The Nearest Black Kid?( 3 )

Probe found Fla. police chief told officers to pin unsolved crimes on random black people: report

The police chief in a small Florida town is accused of encouraging his officers to pin unsolved crimes on random, nearby black people so the department would have a better arrest record, the Miami Herald reported Thursday.

Former Biscayne Park Chief Raimundo Atesiano and two officers, Raul Fernandez and Charlie Dayoub, have been charged with falsely accusing a black Haitian-American teenager — identified as T.D. — with burglaries to impress local officials in the village north of Miami Shores.

All have pleaded not guilty to the accusations. A trial date is set for later this month.

The charges were part of a long history of targeting random people to achieve a spotless crime-solving record before an internal investigation in 2014, the Herald reported.

Innocent until proven guilty and all that, but apart from that I got nothin’.

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The Denmark Dilemma( 23 )

Center-left parties all over Europe are struggling. Could they find their foot-hold by turning against immigration?

Several factors lie behind the Social Democratic policy change on immigration.

First, welfare state ideology. SD believes itself to be the prime sponsor of the Danish welfare state. As various scholars have pointed out, there is a fundamental contradiction between a very liberal immigration policy and the survival of the welfare state. A welfare state simply cannot afford anything other than a restrictive immigration policy if welfare arrangements are to remain at a reasonable level. This has now been fully agreed upon by the Danish Social Democratic leadership.

The contradictions between a liberal immigration policy and the continued existence of the welfare state has most recently been emphasized in an analysis from the Danish Ministry of Finance, which shows that immigration from third world countries costs the Danish exchequer more than DKK 30 billion (€4bn) a year. This, of course, means a loss of public money which cannot at the same time be spent on the welfare state’s core activities.

In its latest manifesto, “United on Denmark”, SD describes the dilemma as follows: ‘As Social Democrats we believe that we must help refugees, but we also need to be able to deliver results in Denmark via local authorities and for the citizens. For the Social Democratic Party, it is about finding the balance between helping people in need and ensuring the coherence of our country, and continuing to be able to afford the high level of welfare provision that characterizes our society. […] We have therefore been tightening asylum rules and increased requirements for immigrants and refugees. And we will continue to pursue a tight and consistent asylum policy, which makes Denmark geared to handling refugee and migratory pressures’.

It could be! One of the problems they have is when the center-right parties are sufficiently centrist on the issue that they get challenged from their right. In turn, they end up occupying political middle ground and having a cultural pose that makes it difficult for center-left parties to distinguish themselves. That, combined with post-Cold War communist chic splitting the broader left between center and left, is a significant part of their problem. This does at least shake up the board.

More:

For those who imagine Denmark as some form of progressive paradise, the notion of parents being forced to hand over toddlers or face punishment might seem bizarre and alarming. The idea of some criminals receiving lighter punishment because they robbed someone in a well-to-do area seems equally concerning. We look to Scandinavia for wind-turbines and nice furniture, not baby-snatching and Apartheid-lite. The story behind the measures is, however, more complex, if not less alarming: They have been presented as a way of easing social and residential segregation in Danish cities.

The measures come as part of a national plan to get rid of concentrated areas of poverty, and the attendant problems such as low educational performance and lower levels of public health. Also included in the plan, for example, is a ruling that in areas of high deprivation, no more than 40 percent of future housing can be public—an attempt to increase the country’s social mix. Denmark is not alone in Europe in trying this approach. As CityLab has noted in the past, cities like Berlin and Rotterdam have experimented with public housing quotas aimed at diluting concentrations of ethnic minorities, while the Paris region offers frequent tax breaks to encourage businesses to relocate to the deprived banlieues.

Denmark also aspires to integrate by acculturation: The plan would dilute other cultures with (typically wealthier) residents from Danish backgrounds and oblige ethnic minorities to send their children to institutions where their inculcation into official Danish culture is overseen by the state.

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Steve Ditko’s Legacy( 2 )

Steve Ditko Was More Than Just the Guy Behind Spider-Man

In addition to his work on Peter Parker and Stephen Strange, Ditko, whose death at age 90 hit the news late last week, also introduced the most iconic Iron Man suit of all time: the first armor in red and gold—a color scheme that would come to define the character. He also refined the helmet design from “a bucket on someone’s head” to its sleeker incarnation. Ditko also, reportedly, was the one who decided Bruce Banner would transform into the Hulk in times of emotional stress and anger, instead of just when provoked by the multiple triggers the series had been using.

Ditko parted ways with Marvel in 1966. There are still multiple versions of the story behind his exit, ranging from disagreements over the direction of Amazing Spider-Man (and, specifically, the yet-to-be-revealed identity of the Green Goblin) to a general mismatch of attitudes between Ditko and Lee. Regardless of what happened, Ditko moved on from the publisher and continued creating. He alternated work for horror publisher Warren’s Creepy and Eerie anthologies with new superhero work for Charlton Comics, for whom he created Blue Beetle, the Question, and Captain Atom. (All three of those characters would, two decades later, become the basis for Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, which without Ditko arguably wouldn’t exist at all.) He moved on to DC, where he created the Creeper and Hawk and Dove. While working on the small press series witzend, he created what might be his true trademark character: Mr. A, a reporter who fights crime in a particularly uncompromising (almost cruel) manner that reflected Ditko’s own objectivist beliefs.

Impressively, this burst of creativity that produced characters and concepts that would shape comics—and pop culture as a whole—for more than half a century all occurred in a six-year span, from the debut of Spider-Man in late 1962 through the creation of the Creeper, Mr. A, and Hawk and Dove in mid-’68. Ditko continued to work for multiple publishers, including Marvel, after that but his star had started to fade.

I’ve always been more on the DC side of collecting, so a lot of his star characters are lost on me. I did really like his DC characters and the Charlton characters that became DC characters. They tended to be second string, though, and DC has never been kind to its second stringers. Ted Kord is dead. Captain Atom has been Hawkmanesquely bent and twisted and turned so many times it’s hard to keep track of who he is. Vic Sage died and is sort of back and sort of not back, but became a liberal anyway. Creeper was killed, I think. Hawk from Hawk and Dove turned into a villain and killed Dove (though I think that was the Dove who was Dove after Ditkos… who was also killed though not by Hawk).

But most of them were around when I was originally collecting and they added to my reading enjoyment. And they were some good characters and good concepts who probably deserved better than they got from DC.

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AI is Coming, But What Culture Will Influence It?(Comments Off)

The questions surrounding AI development are heavy on the why, the how, the should, and other things; so what about what culture that AI would be operating from? Naturally the designer will be reflected, but something as complex as culture meeting the brave new world of AI, there are questions to answer for both fields.

William Michael Carter writes an interesting piece in The Conversation “How to Get Culture Right When Embedding It Into AI,” and the whole thing is a great read, including this excerpt:

What happens when these very unique ecosystems begin to communicate with each other? How will norms and values be determined as the various AI entities begin to exchange information and negotiate realities within their newly formed cultures?

MIT’s Norman, an AI personality based on a fictional psychopath produced a singular example of what we have long known in humans: With prolonged exposure to violence comes a fractured view of cultural norms and values. This represents a real danger to future exposure and transmission to other AI.

How so?

Envision Norman and Alexa hooking up. Both AI’s are representative of the people who made them, the human data that they consume and a built-in need to learn. So whose cultural values and norms would be more persuasive?
Norman was built to see all data from the lens of a psychopath, while Alexa as a digital assistant is just looking to please. There are countless human examples of similar personalities going awry when brought together.

Social scientists argue that the debate over AI is set to explode and, as a result, that multiple versions of AI are bound to co-exist.

As philosophers, anthropologists and other social scientists begin to voice their concerns, the time is ripe for society to reflect on AI’s desired usefulness, to question the realities and our expectations, and to influence its development into a truly pan-global cultural environment.

Read the whole piece at The Conversation, and comment below.

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Introductory Rates & Inertia( 6 )

How I got my landlord to lower my rentand save me 2400 over the next year – MarketWatch

It’s always a good idea to negotiate rent, said Erin Lowry, personal finance expert and author of the book “Broke Millennial,” especially if the landlord has raised the rent for the new lease period. That is, unless you have been a bad tenant.

“This strategy is best deployed only if you’ve been a model tenant,” she said. “If you’ve had conflict with your landlord in the past or been late on rent, then he or she isn’t likely to take your request too seriously.”

When asking for a rent decrease, I was sure to remind my landlord that I had lived at other properties owned by the same rental company for the past three years and had never been late on rent or caused any property damage.

In this case it’s because of various changes that actually make apartments less expensive sometimes, but it reminds me of something tangential.

It used to be a common pet peeve of mine that people moving in always got much better rent than renewals. They were basically betting that they could charge people for their interia (and the cost of relocating), and I suspect that they were right. It reached the point for me where I started contemplating “They should pass a law!” which is not my instinct.

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Judge Brett Kavanaugh is President Donald Trump’s SCOTUS Pick( 53 )

President Donald Trump made his second SCOTUS pick his administration: Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh will be nominated to replace Anthony Kennedy

Politico

A longtime foe of former President Bill Clinton and a former aide to President George W. Bush, Kavanaugh is favored by many conservatives and has served on the D.C. Circuit Court since 2006, bringing with him a long record of conservative jurisprudence.

Kavanaugh, a graduate of Yale Law School, cut his teeth under former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, who led the investigation that ultimately resulted in Clinton’s impeachment. Kavanaugh himself was a lead author of the controversial Starr Report.

A former Kennedy clerk, Kavanaugh is much loved in conservative legal circles as an originalist in the mold of Justice Clarence Thomas and former Justice Antonin Scalia.

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The Technological Convergence & Divergence(Comments Off)

This makes a lot of sense.

We study the cross-country evolution of technology diffusion over the last two centuries. We document that adoption lags between poor and rich countries have converged, while the intensity of use of adopted technologies of poor countries relative to rich countries has diverged. The evolution of aggregate productivity implied by these trends in technology diffusion resembles the actual evolution of the world income distribution in the last two centuries. Cross-country differences in adoption lags account for

This makes a lot of sense. Especially when you consider the figurative (maybe literal) exponential increase in technology adoption. They’re at radically difference places in the curve and the curve is so steep now that even a small lag creates gigantic discrepencies.

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The Ending Of The Last Track( 8 )

The end of an era

In February, we reported that Best Buy would be pulling the plug on CD sales. Well, it’s official, you can no longer get CDs at one of the major US retailers.

According to Billboard, Best Buy’s U.S. CD sales generally average about $40 million per year, though the sales of the format were down 18.5% last year in the United States. Best Buy still currently has a vinyl section, but the corporate giant is planning on phasing that out as well.

That leaves very few major retailers left to buy actual physical product. There’s Target (who are also considering dropping CDs), WalMart, FYE (which seems to be metal’s biggest supporter in the retail space) and then Hot Topic. Of course, there are independent music stores, which are still doing their best to keep the format alive, but even those are dying out.

CDs were around for 35 years and were on top at least half of that time. When you think about it, that’s a really good run. And they’ll likely remain the last physical medium for music.

The car stereo was the last refuge of the CD for me, and I got a new aftermarket installed last year and now almost everything runs through my phone and Bluetooth. Which is good, because I was struck by how terrible the interface for the car player is.

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Thailand Boys Found Alive in Cave, Now Comes the Hard Part.(Comments Off)

The good news is the kids were found alive. The bad news is there is no good way to get them out, and dangerous conditions could change at a moments notice.

BBC:

The boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their 25-year-old coach went missing on 23 June. It is believed they entered the cave when it was dry and sudden heavy rains blocked the exit.

They were found on a rock shelf about 4km (2.5 miles) from the mouth of the cave.

It is thought the boys could move through parts of the cave in dry conditions but rushing waters clogged the narrow passages with mud and debris, blocking visibility and access.

One of the toughest stretches for the divers came as they neared the so-called Pattaya Beach – an elevated mound in the cave complex – where it was hoped the boys had sought refuge.

Divers had to navigate a series of sharp, narrow bends in near-darkness. They completed the difficult journey to find Pattaya Beach flooded, so swam on and found the boys about 400m away.

Bringing the trapped boys to safety is an extremely dangerous task given the conditions inside.
The Tham Luang cave complex in Chiang Rai in northern Thailand is regularly flooded during the rainy season which lasts until September or October.

The options are being pressed into action as fears of further flooding worry rescue officials, plus the fact that apparently none of the boys can swim.

News Corp Australia:

SEAL commander Rear Adm. Arpakorn Yookongkaew said seven members of his unit — including a doctor and a nurse — are now with the 12 boys and their coach in the cave where they took shelter.

He told a news conference that his team members “have given the boys food, starting from easily digested and high-powered food with enough minerals.” He said that having the rescued people dive out of the cave was one of several options being considered. If it were employed, he said they “have to be certain that it will work and have to have a drill to make that it’s 100 percent safe.”

According to Thai media reports, a first meal of pork and rice is being prepared for the boys with rescuers signalling that sealed portions of the dish will be taken to the trapped boys.

“A telephone line will be installed tonight… they (the boys) will be able to talk with their families via military phone,” Passakorn Boonyarat, deputy governor of Chiang Rai province, told reporters late on Tuesday.

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Happy Canada Day!(Comments Off)

Canada Day!

When is it?

July 1 is Canada Day. However, because that date falls on a Sunday this year, many Canadians will take off from work on Monday, July 2.

How did it start?

July 1 commemorates the joining of Canada’s original three provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Canada province, which is now Ontario and Quebec) as one nation in 1867. The holiday was previously called Dominion Day, for the Dominion of Canada in the British empire.

How do Canadians celebrate it?

Events start early in the morning and go until the evening. They include parades, barbecues, fireworks displays, concerts, and also welcome ceremonies for those who recently became citizens. Members of the British government have also celebrated the holiday. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip attended the celebration in the capital, Ottawa, in 2010, and Prince William and his wife, Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, attended in 2011.

Events start early in the morning and g

Source: Canada Day: What is it? When is it celebrated? How do Canadians celebrate? – CNN

No matter where you are, you can celebrate Canada Day by looking at the London’s gallery of Canadian photographs.

Copyright collections – those aggregations of published material accumulated by libraries as a result of copyright deposit laws – can provide a unique view of the world; especially when they have the opportunity to add photographs to their holdings. With minimal curatorial involvement in their selection and collection, as well as few gate keepers beyond the administration fee required to register copyright, you could say that such caches of material are a rare thing – a photographic world selected by myriad photographers themselves.

This is the format of the British Library’s Colonial Copyright Collection of Canadian photographs, over 4,000 images registered for deposit and collected by the Library between 1895 and 1924. By and large the contents of the collection have been copyrighted as a result of the quality of the shot, the potential to make money from the photograph or, most likely, a mixture of both. These photographs were then accessioned by the British Library and left relatively untouched until a series of works were begun on them in the 1980s.

Why would such a collection end up in London? The answer hangs on an arcane piece of British copyright law, the colonial copyright legislation of the nineteenth century. To be frank the law was a lame-duck: it attempted to extend a part of British law to the Empire and ensure the comprehensive collection of intellectual property from beyond the metropole but in both areas it was fairly ineffective, with only a few territories taking it seriously.

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