Rise of the Weed Killing Agriculture Robots( 1 )

Add weed killing to the list of things the robotic age may change in the near future. Big name chemical companies, who produce the herbicides vital for mass agriculture, are making plans that might affect not just farmers, but also the billions of dollars in equipment that delivers their product to the fields.

Reuters:

Undergoing final tests before the liquid is replaced with weedkiller, the Swiss robot is one of new breed of AI weeders that investors say could disrupt the $100 billion pesticides and seeds industry by reducing the need for universal herbicides and the genetically modified (GM) crops that tolerate them.

Dominated by companies such as Bayer, DowDuPont, BASF and Syngenta, the industry is bracing for the impact of digital agricultural technology and some firms are already adapting their business models.

The stakes are high. Herbicide sales are worth $26 billion a year and account for 46 percent of pesticides revenue overall while 90 percent of GM seeds have some herbicide tolerance built in, according to market researcher Phillips McDougall. “Some of the profit pools that are now in the hands of the big agrochemical companies will shift, partly to the farmer and partly to the equipment manufacturers,” said Cedric Lecamp, who runs the $1 billion Pictet-Nutrition fund that invests in companies along the food supply chain.

In response, producers such as Germany’s Bayer have sought partners for their own precision spraying systems while ChemChina’s Syngenta [CNNCC.UL], for example, is looking to develop crop protection products suited to the new equipment.

These are not just start-ups, as all the big names in both chemicals and agricultural equipment converge on this $100B industry:

While Blue River, based in Sunnyvale, California, is testing a product in cotton fields, it plans to branch into other major crops such as soy. It expects to make the product widely available to farmers in about four to five years, helped by Deere’s vast network of equipment dealers.

ROBO’s Lightbound and Pictet’s Lecamp said they were excited by the project and Jeneiv Shah, deputy manager of the 152 million pound ($212 million) Sarasin Food & Agriculture Opportunities fund, said the technology would put Bayer and Syngenta’s crop businesses at risk while seed firms could be hit – albeit to a lesser extent.

“The fact that a tractor and row-crop oriented company such as John Deere did this means it won’t be long before corn or soybean farmers in the U.S. Midwest will start using precision spraying,” Shah said.

While the technology promises to save money, it could be a tough sell to some U.S. farmers as five years of bumper harvests have depressed prices for staples including corn and soybeans. U.S. farm incomes have dropped by more than half since 2013, reducing spending on equipment, seeds and fertilizer.

Still, the developments are giving investors in agrochemicals stocks pause for thought, according to Berenberg analyst Nick Anderson. And agrochemical giants are taking note.

Bayer, which will become the world’s biggest seeds and pesticides producer when its acquisition of GM crop pioneer Monsanto completes, teamed up with Bosch in September for a “smart spraying” research project. The German partners plan to outpace rivals by using an on-board arsenal of up to six different herbicides and Bayer hopes the venture will prepare it for a new commercial model – rather than cannibalizing its current business.

“I would assume that within three years we would have a robust commercially feasible model,” Liam Condon, the head of Bayer’s crop science division said in February.

“I’m not concerned in terms of damping sales because we don’t define ourselves as a volume seller. We rather offer a prescription for a weed-free field, and we get paid based on the quality of the outcome,” he said. Bayer agreed to sell its digital farming ventures, including the Bosch project, to German rival BASF as part of efforts to win antitrust approval to buy Monsanto. But BASF will grant Bayer an unspecified license to the digital assets and products.

The meeting of a high dollar business segment, robotic technology, and environmental concerns is also driving the push for new tech from an angle more familiar to manufacturing processes – precision and efficiency:

Michael Underhill, chief investment officer at Capital Innovations, also said the major players may be underestimating the potential impact on their pesticides businesses.

“Precision leads to efficiency, efficiency leads to decreased usage, decreased usage leads to decreased margins or margin compression, and that will lead to companies getting leaner and meaner,” said Underhill.

He said the GM seeds market would also take a hit if machine learning takes over the role genetic engineering has played so far in shielding crops from herbicides’ friendly fire.

“Instead of buying the Cadillac of seeds or the Tesla of seeds, they may be buying the Chevy version,” Underhill said.

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ACLU Object to Amazon’s Facial Recognition Outreach to Police( 16 )

Facial recognition software is not new, but using it in real-time by police departments has raised some eyebrows. Add to those sentiments that Amazon is behind this latest marriage of big tech and government agencies, and privacy watchdogs are concerned to say the least.

NPR:

Until now, American police have used facial recognition primarily to compare still photos from crime scenes with mug shots. But now Amazon and Orlando are taking it further, by using facial recognition to spot people in real time.
“City of Orlando is a launch partner of ours,” Amazon’s Ranju Das recently told a developer conference in Seoul, South Korea. “They have cameras all over the city. The authorized cameras are then streaming the data … we are a subscriber to the stream, we analyze the video in real time, search against the collection of faces they have.”

In this video presentation, Das is seen saying the system can be set up to notify the city if cameras see a “person of interest,” and it could be used to reconstruct a person’s past movements. He showed the conference a demo of real-time facial recognition using video from a “traffic cam that was provided by the city of Orlando.”

In a written statement, the Orlando Police Department called the Amazon facial recognition system a “pilot program” and said it “will be used in accordance with current and applicable law.”
The statement also says the department “is not using the technology in an investigative capacity or in any public spaces at this time.”

It did not say whether the system has been used that way in the past, or will be in the future. NPR tried to follow up, but OPD said it wasn’t doing interviews on the topic.

Amazon also wouldn’t do an interview with NPR. In a written statement, it pointed out that its visual analytics tools have a wide range of applications beyond policing, and that “[o]ur quality of life would be much worse today if we outlawed new technology because some people could choose to abuse the technology. Imagine if customers couldn’t buy a computer because it was possible to use that computer for illegal purposes?”

Amazon’s statement added, “[W]e require our customers to comply with the law and be responsible when using Amazon Rekognition.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has asked Amazon to stop marketing the technology, to no response.

LA Times:

The American Civil Liberties Union and other privacy activists are asking Amazon to stop marketing a powerful facial recognition tool to police, saying law enforcement agencies could use the technology to “easily build a system to automate the identification and tracking of anyone.”

The tool, called Rekognition, is already being used by at least one agency — the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon — to check photographs of unidentified suspects against a database of mug shots from the county jail, which is a common use of such technology around the country.

But privacy advocates have been concerned about expanding the use of facial recognition to body cameras worn by officers or safety and traffic cameras that monitor public areas, allowing police to identify and track people in real time.
The tech giant’s entry into the market could vastly accelerate such developments, the privacy advocates fear, with potentially dire consequences for minorities who are already arrested at disproportionate rates, immigrants who may be in the country illegally or political protesters.

“People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government,” the groups wrote in a letter to Amazon on Tuesday. “Facial recognition in American communities threatens this freedom.”

Amazon released Rekognition in late 2016, and the sheriff’s office in Washington County, west of Portland, became one of its first law enforcement agency customers. A year later, deputies were using it about 20 times per day — for example, to identify burglary suspects in store surveillance footage. Last month, the agency adopted policies governing its use, noting that officers in the field can use real-time face recognition to identify suspects who are unwilling or unable to provide their own ID, or if someone’s life is in danger.

“We are not mass-collecting. We are not putting a camera out on a street corner,” said Deputy Jeff Talbot, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office. “We want our local community to be aware of what we’re doing, how we’re using it to solve crimes — what it is and, just as importantly, what it is not.”

It cost the sheriff’s office just $400 to load 305,000 booking photos into the system and $6 per month in fees to continue the service, according to an email obtained by the ACLU under a public records request.

But Police departments are defending their trial of the technology, and downplaying what it is it actually does.

NY Times:

In a statement, a spokesman for the Orlando Police Department, Sgt. Eduardo Bernal, said the city was not using Amazon’s technology to track the location of elected officials in its jurisdiction, nor did it have plans to. He said the department was testing Amazon’s service now, but was not using it in investigations or public spaces.

“We are always looking for new solutions to further our ability to keep the residents and visitors of Orlando safe,” he said.

Early last year, the company began courting the Washington County Sheriff’s Office outside of Portland, Ore., eager to promote how it was using Amazon’s service for recognizing faces, emails obtained by the A.C.L.U. show. Mr. Adzima, a systems analyst in the office, told Amazon officials that he fed about 300,000 images from the county’s mug shot database into Amazon’s system.

Within a week of going live, the system was used to identify and arrest a suspect who stole more than $5,000 from local stores, he said, adding there were no leads before the system identified him. The technology was also cheap, costing just a few dollars a month after a setup fee of around $400.

Mr. Adzima ended up writing a blog post for Amazon about how the sheriff’s office was using Rekognition. He spoke at one of the company’s technical conferences, and local media began reporting on their efforts. After the attention, other law enforcement agencies in Oregon, Arizona and California began to reach out to Washington County to learn more about how it was using Amazon’s system, emails show.

In February of last year, before the publicity wave, Mr. Adzima told an Amazon representative in an email that the county’s lawyer was worried the public might believe “that we are constantly checking faces from everything, kind of a Big Brother vibe.”

“They are concerned that A.C.L.U. might consider this the government getting in bed with big data,” Mr. Adzima said in an email. He did not respond for a request for comment for this article.

Deputy Jeff Talbot, a spokesman for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, said Amazon’s facial recognition system was not being used for mass surveillance by the office. The company has a policy to only use the technology to identify a suspect in a criminal investigation, he said, and has no plans to use it with footage from body cameras or real-time surveillance systems.

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Europe is Going Green, Literally, by Reversing Deforestation( 2 )

While deforestation remains a huge environmental concern in parts of the world such as South America, Europe is seeing a boon in greenery across the board.

The Economist:

FORESTS in countries like Brazil and Congo get a lot of attention from conservationists, and it is easy to see why. South America and sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing deforestation on an enormous scale: every year almost 5m hectares are lost, net. But forests are also changing in rich Western countries. They are growing larger, both in the sense that they occupy more land and that the trees in them are bigger. What is going on?

Forests are spreading in almost all Western countries, with the fastest growth in places that historically had rather few trees. In 1990 28% of Spain was forested; now the proportion is 37%. In both Greece and Italy, the growth was from 26% to 32% over the same period. Forests are gradually taking more land in America and Australia. Perhaps most astonishing is the trend in Ireland. Roughly 1% of that country was forested when it became independent in 1922. Now forests cover 11% of the land, and the government wants to push the proportion to 18% by the 2040s.

Two things are fertilising this growth. The first is the abandonment of farmland, especially in high, parched places where nothing grows terribly well. When farmers give up trying to eke out a living from olives or sheep, trees simply move in. The second is government policy and subsidy. Governments have protected and promoted forests for diverse reasons, ranging from the need for wooden warships to a desire to promote suburban house-building. Increasingly they welcome forests because they are carbon sinks. The justifications change; the desire for more trees remains constant.

The Washington Post had an in-depth story back in 2014 that included some very detailed graphics of the phenomenon:

In the southern French region of Vaucluse, entire mountain ranges were de-forested at the beginning of the 20th century, but the country invested heavily to reverse the trend. Meanwhile, agricultural projects in southern Spain transformed once arid, barren areas into profitable agricultural fields or even forests.

A similar development was documented in Italy. Former cropland were abandoned due to market competition, urbanization and emigration. Today, many parts of the Apennine Mountains (located on the right side of the map below) are dominated by grasslands and forests again.

The end of communism also led to forest growth in eastern Europe. In eastern Europe, many forests re-grew after the end of the Soviet Union. Fuchs and his colleagues explain the development with the fact that many privatized agricultural farms were less competitive on the global market. Therefore, farmers abandoned unprofitable cropland. Particularly in Romania and Poland, former cropland was taken back by nature afterward, first turning into grassland and later into forests.

But as in all things, what is greeted as good environmental news is not universally welcomed, as the end of The Economist piece details.

The greening of the West does not delight everyone. Farmers complain that land is being taken out of use by generously subsidised tree plantations. (They get subsidies, too, but the ones for tree-planting are especially generous.) Parts of Spain and Portugal are afflicted by terrible forest fires. These burn especially hot in areas with lots of eucalyptus trees—an Australian import that was planted for its pulp but has spread of its own accord. Others simply dislike the appearance of conifer forests planted in neat rows. They will have to get used to the trees, however. The growth of Western forests seems almost as inexorable as deforestation elsewhere.

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David Graeber Publishes Book on BS – Jobs, That Is( 27 )

David Graeber’s new book, “Bullshit Jobs” is sure to grab people from the title. But how does the content stack up?

From Miranda Purves for Bloomberg:

Very loosely, a bulls— job, by Graeber’s definition, is one that could be erased from the Earth and no one would be worse off. It’s also phenomenological. If you feel your job is bulls—, it probably is.

Any corporate lawyer or health-care services administrator who’s reading this and thinking, “Wait a minute, serving my client’s needs is necessary and fulfilling,” is going to disagree with a lot of this book, but even those readers will be hard-pressed not to admit that inventing and maintaining many of the unpleasant aspects of daily life requires a lot of work hours that would be better spent elsewhere.
For instance, consider the poor souls whose work entails implementing the ubiquitous feature of automatic phone systems: when you call about a bill or service issue, you have to speak your name into a computer system; once you’ve articulated “speak to an agent” some 16 times to said computer system, waited 20 additional minutes, and finally reached a human being, you immediately have to provide the same information you already gave the system.

Meanwhile, says Graeber, practitioners in the fields that directly benefit mankind or offer personal fulfillment, such as teaching, caregiving, waiting, writing, performing carpentry, or making art, are (with the exception of some doctors) poorly paid and secretly resented by those forced to waste their time pursuing a paycheck. Being occupied for long hours of the day fulfilling tasks that, at best, are useless and, at worst, hurt others—building the aforementioned phone systems, foisting software on budget-starved elementary schools, creating paperwork morasses for the homeless—is “a profound psychological violence” that causes anxiety and depression. Basically, our collective soul is being crushed by a rise in what Graeber sees as make-work.

But there is also the author’s motivations to consider:

He does nail it when he writes that “much of the reason for the expansion of the bulls— sector more generally is a direct result of the desire to quantify the unquantifiable,” but he’s fallen into the same trap. The tension at the heart of this book, of course, is that the writing of it is a bit of a bulls— job. Graeber might even be hiding a crushed soul of his own.

In his comfortable seat as a professor at an esteemed institution, musing amusedly about the mind-numbing hours most working people have to put in and put up with—even at jobs that have lively, meaningful moments—fits neatly in his category of “duct taping,” maybe also “flunky.”

The L.S.E. is publicly funded but also relies on alumni donations. (It’s known for graduating billionaires.) In other words, his salary is made possible by the people he accuses of being in charge of this bulls— job-generating system. Why might they want to pay him? (Graeber loves the pedagogical question structure.) By offering this cultural pacifier, which soothes by affirming people’s lonely suspicions, he’s doing only what the British version of The Office and Mike Judge’s masterpiece Office Space already have. And these diversions often just use up the little time we have left after work, restoring us only enough to return tomorrow.

Graeber is also an activist, so he must be given some credit for not just honking off in an annoyingly self-satisfied tone; although he claims he’s not interested in suggesting policy (he is, after all, an anarchist), he does endorse Universal Basic Income as one solution.

But he misses an opportunity to examine the other group of people who are trying to eliminate the bulls— job cycle. This week, droves of Glocksters (Global Blockchain Hipsters) have descended on New York for the Ethereal Summit and Consensus 2018, conferences run by Consensys and CoinDesk Inc., which are companies trying to galvanize cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. Many attendees are just Bitcoin bros who are or want to be rich, but a significant segment of crypto believers is persuaded that the blockchain will obviate the middleman, cut through the administrative morass generated by Graeber’s overlords, and offer the first pure form of state-free value exchange.

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New DNA Tech Closes Another Cold Case( 3 )

Just weeks after the country was shocked by the arrest of a suspect in the 40 year old East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer case, the use of DNA and an open-source geneology website has apparently solved another, lesser known murder, this time from 1987:

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office in Washington says a 55-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the cold case of a young Saanich couple found murdered in Washington state in 1987.

According to investigators, William Earl Talbott II, who is from the Seattle-Tacoma area, has been taken into custody. He has been charged with the first-degree murder of Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18.

Van Cuylenborg and her boyfriend, 20-year-old Jay Cook, were found dead near Seattle in November 1987.

***

In this cold case, a digital file containing DNA genotype data from evidence at the crime scene was uploaded to GEDmatch, a public genetic genealogy website. Matches were found for two of the suspect’s relatives.

Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Virginia that also developed the composite sketches, discovered Talbott’s identity from the matches and police then got an abandoned DNA sample from a cup he had used.

Seattle Times Reporter Jessica Lee tweeted an informative graphic, showing how the case was solved:

The world of crime-solving brims with excitement, speculating on which cold case will be solved next:

Interesting question, that: just how many murderers are now living with the nerve-wracking worry that they, too, will soon face their day of reckoning?

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Starbucks Changes Sitting, Restroom Policy( 21 )

In the words of our own @trumwill, “This will end badly.” Starbucks has announced a new policy that touts anyone can sit on their properties or use the restrooms whether they are a paying customer or not.

NBCNews:

Company executives have said its previous policies were loose and ambiguous, leaving decisions on whether people could sit in its stores or use the restroom up to store managers.

Starbucks said it has told workers to consider anyone who walks into its stores a customer, “regardless of whether they make a purchase.”
The company said anyone can use its cafes, patios or restrooms without buying anything, but it noted workers should still call the police if someone is a safety threat.

“We are committed to creating a culture of warmth and belonging where everyone is welcome,” Starbucks said in a statement.

This move comes as part of the coffee giant’s continuing response to an incident in Philadelphia:
NY Times:

Last month, two black men who went to a Starbucks in Philadelphia and did not buy anything were denied use of the restroom and asked to leave.
Then an employee called the police and the men were arrested, prompting protests, boycotts and accusations of racism.

Now, Starbucks has changed its policy.

On Saturday the company announced that “any customer is welcome to use Starbucks spaces, including our restrooms, cafes and patios, regardless of whether they make a purchase.”
It added that employees should follow established procedures for “addressing disruptive behaviors,” and call 911 in the case of “immediate danger or threat” to employees or customers.

Previously it might have fallen to store managers to decide whether people could sit or use the restroom without buying anything, The Associated Press reported.
“This is now an established policy for consistency across all of our U.S. company operated stores,” Haley Drage, a Starbucks spokeswoman, said on Sunday.

The men who were arrested in Philadelphia, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were waiting for another man, Andrew Yaffe, who is white, for a business meeting on April 12 when the officers arrived. Their arrest was captured in video footage that has been viewed millions of times on social media.
“What did they get called for?” Mr. Yaffe asked in the video, referring to the police. “Because there are two black guys sitting here meeting me?”
Starbucks did not press charges and the men were released hours later.

After protests erupted, Starbucks apologized and Kevin R. Johnson, the company’s chief executive, released a statement in which he called the arrests a “reprehensible outcome.” The employee who called the police was fired.

Reaction was pretty much what you would expect:

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Poet Voice and Why it Grates( 3 )

Picture, if you will, that you are not overly familiar with live poetry reading, and gave it a chance just to try it. But the speaker, using a monotone and slightly halting delivery, was as imposing as the meaning of the words themselves. Turns out that is common and the subject of some research, as Cara Giamimo writes in Atlas Obscura:

By comparing Poets and Talkers along these lines, the researchers were able to draw two overall conclusions. First, when compared to the Talkers, the poets tended to speak more slowly and stay within a narrower pitch range. Second, very few Talkers indulged in long pauses, but plenty of poets—33 percent—had no trouble leaving their listeners hanging for two seconds or more.

And what about Poet Voice more specifically? MacArthur’s own list of notable culprits includes Michael Ryan and Juliana Spahr, as well as the aforementioned Glück and Trethewey. When the researchers compared these poets’ vocal stats with each other, a set of common attributes emerged. “The pitch range tends to be narrower, but that by itself is not enough,” says MacArthur. “It’s also what you’re doing with your voice within a given pitch range.” Devotees of Poet Voice tend to exhibit slow pitch speed and pitch acceleration: in other words, though the pitch may go up and down over the course of the reading, it’s more rolling hills than rollercoaster. “You could think about it almost as the same melody over and over,” says MacArthur. This contrasts with the more conversational or expressive styles of reading exemplified by, say, Amalia Ortiz or Rae Armantrout.

This is also, perhaps, why it can seem grating or detached: “In a more natural conversational intonation pattern, you vary your pitch for emphasis depending on how you feel about something,” says MacArthur. “In this style of poetry reading, those idiosyncrasies … get subordinated to this repetitive cadence. It doesn’t matter what you’re saying, you just say it in the same way.” Overall, the researchers write, “from this small sample, we would conclude that perhaps when some listeners hear poets read with one or more of these characteristics—slow pitch speed, slow pitch acceleration, narrow pitch range, low rhythmic complexity, and/or slow speaking rate—they hear Poet Voice.”

According to this analysis, the poet Amiri Baraka favors a more conversational reading style. It’s easy to make fun of Poet Voice. But its proliferation across the space of academic poetry may have more serious implications as well. In a 2014 essay, “Poet Voice and Flock Mentality,” the poet Lisa Marie Basile connects it to an overall lack of diversity in the field, and a fear of breaking the mold. The consistent use of it, she writes, “delivers two messages: I am educated, I am taught, I am part-of a group … I am afraid to tell my own story in my own voice.”

The whole piece is interesting and worth your time to read, in the meantime us philistines will just concur with the conclusion:

“These tools help us figure out, what is it that we’re responding to?” she says. “I think there’s a lot of potential for testing our perceptions of speech that we find entertaining, or boring, or engaging, in ways that are very hard to put a finger on.” If nothing else, it’s something to think about around stanza number four, when you start nodding off.

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Universal Norms in a Diverse World( 5 )

There are, evidently, at least seven:

What’s more, the theory leads us to expect that, because there are many types of cooperation, there will be many types of morality. Kin selection explains why we feel a special duty of care for our families, and why we abhor incest. Mutualism explains why we form groups and coalitions (there is strength and safety in numbers), and hence why we value unity, solidarity, and loyalty. Social exchange explains why we trust others, reciprocate favors, feel guilt and gratitude, make amends, and forgive. And conflict resolution explains: why we engage in costly displays of prowess such as bravery and generosity; why we defer to our superiors; why we divide disputed resources fairly; and why we recognize prior possession.

And, as predicted by the theory, these seven moral rules – love your family, help your group, return favors, be brave, defer to authority, be fair, and respect others’ property – appear to be universal across cultures. My colleagues and I analyzed ethnographic accounts of ethics from 60 societies (comprising over 600,000 words from over 600 sources)2. We found that these seven cooperative behaviors were always considered morally good. We found examples of most of these morals in most societies. Crucially, there were no counter-examples – no societies in which any of these behaviors were considered morally bad. And we observed these morals with equal frequency across continents; they were not the exclusive preserve of ‘the West’ or any other region.

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Supply and Demand: Swedish Government Workers Edition( 9 )

Our Swedish friends, inhabitants of the fifth largest country in Europe representing more than 10 million people, have a bit of a problem on their hands if projections turn out to be true.

Bloomberg:

Sweden’s got a major supply and demand problem.

By 2025, its entire workforce is expected to grow by 207,000 people—yet it needs more than that number just to staff its fabled welfare state. The worker shortfall could crimp services and raise labor costs, especially in a political environment less hospitable to immigration.

The mismatch is one of the biggest headaches facing Sweden’s next government. Past precedents don’t bode well. The workforce rose by 488,000 between 2007 and 2017, with less than a third of that increase absorbed by the public sector.

Local authorities recruiting 208,000 workers is “not a credible scenario,” said Annika Wallenskog, chief economist at the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions. The real risk is that the public and private sectors end up competing for the same workers, she said.

The government is going to have to come up with some seriously big ideas on how to make up for future labor shortages. Immigration has also become an especially sensitive topic since the country re-imposed border controls in the wake of the 2015 refugee crisis.
Sweden needs to accelerate the speed of automation, increase employment and reform its welfare state, Wallenskog said. Otherwise “we won’t have enough people to continue working the way we do.”

The Swedish Government is not overly worried…yet:

“We have taken Sweden in a new direction. Investments in jobs, health care, schools and the climate have borne fruit. The Government is now making additional investments for a secure and sustainable Sweden,” says Minister for Finance Magdalena Andersson.

The Spring Fiscal Policy Bill and the proposals in the spring amending budget are based on an agreement between the government parties and the Left Party.
Sweden’s economy continues to perform strongly

The Swedish model continues to deliver results. Since 2014, Sweden has had higher growth than most comparable countries, and growth is expected to remain high in 2018. Employment has increased, with 250 000 more people in jobs during the same period, and the employment rate, (the proportion of the population in employment) is at its highest level in more than 25 years. Moreover, Sweden has the highest employment rate ever measured in an EU country. Youth unemployment is at its lowest level since 2003. The demand for labour will remain strong and unemployment is expected to continue to fall to 6.2 per cent in 2018.

Public finances have shown a surplus since 2015 and are expected to continue to do so in the coming years. The surplus is expected to amount to approximately 1 per cent of GDP in both 2018 and 2019, and then increase up to and including 2021.
“We expect to see increasing needs in the welfare system in the coming years, as we are living longer and more children are being born. This will be the major task of the next electoral period. That is why the Government is giving higher priority to investments in increased security for a Sweden that stands together than to major tax cuts for the richest,” says Ms Andersson.

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Beyond the Talking Head: Neil Cavuto( 0 )

I am not a Fox News watcher. I don’t even have it as an option with what I currently stream. I am vaguely aware of Neil Cavuto, and perceived him more as a business guy than political guy, though I don’t watch. But this piece by David Folkenflik for NPR gave me more than one reason to reconsider the man.

That Cavuto is on the air at all is remarkable. He has trouble with basic moves that other hosts take for granted: For example, he cannot reliably read a teleprompter.

“I don’t have a safety net to fall on,” Cavuto says. “I will have notes. Usually, they’re color-coded if my vision is particularly bad. The red stuff means, ‘You really want to mention that, Neil.’ ”

The Trump era presents a very specific problem. “The tweets are the death of me!” Cavuto says. “They give it to me in large-point type.”

Cavuto’s health challenges are daunting and have unfolded almost in sync with each new phase in his career. He received a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma just months before his start at CNBC two decades ago. He was told he had multiple sclerosis the year after joining Fox News as one of its original anchors. A decade later — the same year that Fox Business launched with Cavuto as managing editor — doctors informed him that his MS was progressive. Which is to say the disease would advance and take an increasing toll on his body.

On the day I visit, Cavuto acknowledges fatigue slows his ability to walk.

To treat the stage 4 lymphoma, Cavuto says, he had much of his lung removed, so he gets pneumonia and bronchitis readily, compromising his voice. Additionally, two years ago, at the outset of the 2016 general elections, he had open-heart surgery after a coronary artery completely closed.

Cavuto deflects his health concerns with self-deprecating humor: “Not to use that for an excuse, or pity, although I welcome both,” he says.

A fascinating profile, and a good reminder that though we joke about talking heads on TV, there very much is a person attached.

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Self-Examining “Left Intellectual” Winning and Progressing( 7 )

Excepted from Tired of Winning: D.C. think tanks, NYC magazines & the search for public intellect in The Point by Jon Baskin:

The project was political primarily in the sense that it pointed in a direction, indicated by the magazine’s title. “Civilization is the dream of advance,” read a note from the editors in the first issue. We were not merely going to report on progress; we were going to make it.

It was exhilarating to try and live this way. It invested what might seem like trivial everyday decisions with a world-historical import. At least that’s how it felt to me for a little while. Eventually, I began to notice in myself a tension that also existed at the heart of the project of n+1, and of many of the other little magazines. My aesthetic and cultural tastes, the reflection of a lifetime of economic privilege and elite education, did not always, or often, match the direction the magazines were trying to take me politically. This had not troubled me before, because I had never considered that—as the little magazines echoed Fredric Jameson in asserting, or at least implying—“everything is ‘in the last analysis’ political.” But now I had come to see that politics were not just an activity that people engaged in at certain times: when they voted, or protested, or wrote newsletters for think tanks. It was something that could be said to infuse every aspect of one’s experience, from which big-box store you shopped at for your year’s supply of toilet paper, to what restaurants you chose to eat at, to who you chose to sleep with. This was what it meant not just to engage in politics but to “have a politics”—a phrase I probably heard for the first time at that n+1 party, and that was often brandished as if it legitimated one’s entire way of life. What it meant for everything to be in the last analysis political, I came to see, was that everything I did ought to be disciplined by my politics. But what if it wasn’t? Should I then revise my politics, or myself?

I was coming to appreciate an old problem for the “intellectual of the left.” This problem is so old, and has been addressed unsuccessfully by so many very smart people, that we are probably justified in considering it to be irresolvable. To state it as simply as possible, the left intellectual typically advocates for a world that would not include many of the privileges or sensibilities (partly a product of the privileges) on which her status as an intellectual depends. These privileges may be, and often are, economic, but this is not their only or their most consequential form. Their chief form is cultural. The intellectual of the left is almost always a person of remarkably high education, not just in the sense of having fancy credentials, which many rich people who are not cultural elites also have, but also on account of their appetite for forms of art and argument that many they claim to speak for do not understand and would not agree with if they did. They write long, complicated articles for magazines that those with lesser educations, or who do not share their cultural sensibilities, would never read. They claim to speak for the underclasses, and yet they give voice to hardly anyone who has not emancipated themselves culturally from these classes in their pages.

This is one part of a series by The Point, and all are worth a read, but the process of self examining is a worthy and healthy one. When done correctly it should raise more questions that answers, and challenge thoughts that may have rutted from constant sameness. Regardless where you fall on the political spectrum, honest thought, or at the least the effort to be honest in thought, should be a common meeting place all of us should be endeavoring towards.

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An Army of Kalispells( 1 )

An Army of Kalispells

The age of the megatropolis is likely not behind us, but I nonetheless found this quite interesting:

In this year’s edition of our Best Cities For Jobs survey, we found that six of the 10 metropolitan areas with the fastest job growth are either mid-sized (150,000 to 450,000 total nonfarm jobs) or smaller (less than 150,000 nonfarm jobs). They also account for 18 out of the top 30. Smaller metro areas dominated job growth in a number of sectors, including manufacturing (all the top 20), information (all of the top 10) jobs and, less surprisingly, natural resources, construction and mining.

These trends are also reflected in the new U.S. Census Bureau metropolitan area population estimates for 2017, which show a significant increase in domestic migration away from the 53 major metropolitan areas with populations over a million and toward the 54 middle-sized metro areas in the 500,000 to 1 million range. In 2017, the midsize metro areas gained 271,000 more net domestic migrants than the major metro areas. (The biggest two, New York and Los Angeles, had an enormous net loss of 209,000 — 0.95% of their combined populations).

This is a major shift from earlier in the decade, when the 53 major metro areas had greater net domestic migration than the 54 midsize metro areas. In fact, since 2012, net domestic migration in the major metropolitan areas have dropped every year. By 2016, the major metropolitan areas had a net domestic migration loss of 67,000, which accelerated to 166,000 in 2017. In contrast, the middle-sized metropolitan areas have experienced annual increases in net domestic migration each year since 2012.

Granted, it’s Kotkin! The part about domestic migration has been explored by myself and others. New York City and Los Angeles look like they’re hemorrhaging people in the domestic migration maps, but it’s more that Americans are leaving but the places are extremely popular with immigrants and so that’s enough to compensate. The job growth data is more interesting. Individually medium and small cities are by definition not large, but they do add up. I suspect this also ties in to points I’ve made about the different fates of small cities in the east versus the west.

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Canadian Asylum Law( 2 )

Some interesting developments to our north.

Canada wants to alter its agreement with the U.S., which could potentially turn away thousands of refugees at its border. How has this come to pass, and what could this mean for refugees turning to what is historically one of the safer and more accommodating countries to those in need?

Ottawa has seen serious speculation that it wants to expand its agreement with Washington, which would enable it to turn away asylum seekers in the thousands. This could potentially be enforceable along all points of the shared border. {…}

Amnesty International Secretary General Alex Neve opposes the agreement because it says people can claim refuge in only the country of their initial arrival. Therefore, those arriving in the U.S. cannot bypass it to then move to Canada.

However, the loophole that has so far lent itself to asylum-seekers is that anyone already on Canadian soil can file for it. As such, the country has witnessed an increase in irregular movement of thousands of migrants across the border through snowy fields, ditches, and other unofficial points of entry. In fact, in 2017, over 20,000 asylum-seekers were met by police, the vast majority entering via Quebec.

Neve believes the STCA should be lifted because of the U.S.’s attitude toward refugee protection, commenting that the Trump administration has been especially detrimental to the conditions for asylum-seekers.

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New Tech for Old-School Transport( 3 )

While various plans to connect Southern California to Las Vegas via mass transit wallow in development hell, at least one company is planning on filling the need with a more traditional method, albeit with some modern essentials.

Las Vegas Sun:

There will be another way to travel from Las Vegas to Arizona and Southern California starting at the end of the month. And on the first day, services will begin at $2.99, according to the company.

FlixBus and its fleet of green buses are descending on the U.S. after a successful run overseas, and on May 31 will begin offering Las Vegas-based trips between eight destinations in Southern California, including Los Angeles, San Diego and Palm Springs. In Arizona, they’ll travel to seven cities, including Phoenix, Tempe and Tucson.

FlixBus offers e-ticketing, free Wi-Fi and power outlets on each seat. Also, the “Where’s My Bus” GPS live tracking and an automated Delay-Management System will help keep track of bus arrivals.
The U.S. will become the 28th country the company operates in.

To celebrate its first interstate lines, FlixBus today is giving away 200 free trips to locals. FlixBus team members, who will be walking around downtown this morning wearing bright green shirts, will give vouchers to anyone with a valid Nevada identification and who is over age 17.

The German company has sights set on more than just the well-travelled SoCal-to-Vegas routes.
MenaFN:

The company, whose bright green buses are already a familiar sight on European roads, will from May 31 run 180 routes daily connecting seven US cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

The Flixbus website is offering one-way tickets from LA to Las Vegas for $9.99 (8.43 euros) in early June, compared with around $20 on Greyhound.

The German firm said it plans to widen its US network to “around 20 cities” by the end of 2018.
Founded just five years ago, Flixbus has grown into Germany’s most popular long-distance bus service and has since expanded into 27 other European countries, linking over 1,700 destinations and transporting 40 million passengers last year alone.

“We have revolutionised the perception and use of coaches in Europe,” Flixbus co-founder Andre Schwaemmlein said in a statement. “We are impatient to share our vision of mobility with consumers in the United States.”

Founded in 1914, the Greyhound Lines company is still the US’ biggest intercity bus service although it has faced growing competition from smaller upstarts in recent years.

It covers some 3,800 destinations across North America, transporting around 18 million people annually.

So is WiFi, power outlets, and lower prices than plane travel enough to lure you back on the bus?

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North Carolina Teachers March on Raleigh( 2 )

Following similar scenes in West Virginia and Oklahoma, Raleigh has been filled with thousands of North Carolina teachers marching for higher pay and school funding at the state capitol.

WRAL:

The teachers said it’s surreal for them to be marching alongside thousands of their fellow teachers and supporters. So many Durham teachers requested May 16 off that the Durham Board of Education was the first to cancel classes.

“I’m overwhelmed with emotion right now,” said Ryanne Logan, a counselor with Durham schools. “I don’t know if I should cry or scream or jump or do a back flip. I’m so excited to be here.”

Chimere Johnson, a Durham teacher, also shared her thoughts.

“Today is for the policy makers to see that, as teachers, we work hard, and we shape the outcome of a lot of these citizens today. In education, we are partially responsible for where they’re going to end up.”

More than three dozen school districts followed Durham’s lead, closing schools to march downtown and “rally for respect.” Some of the teachers are hoping to meet with their representatives, but several believe that the size of the crowd, which is estimated to be more than 20,000, is a success.

NBC News:

This is the basic math in the life of North Carolina kindergarten teacher Kristin Beller: one master’s degree, plus 14 years of experience, plus 10-hour workdays, plus a sometimes six-day workweek equals $51,000 in annual salary.

That does not include the money she makes on the side as a tutor. But nor does it take into account the hundreds of dollars of her own money Beller said she has shelled out to make sure her students at the Joyner Elementary School in Raleigh have new books to read.

On Wednesday, Beller and thousands of other teachers from across the Tar Heel State skipped school, donned red T-shirts, and marched through North Carolina’s capital demanding a raise — along with more state funding for education — from lawmakers who they say have been shortchanging public schools for years.

They got a shout-out of support from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

With so many teachers absent from class, dozens of school districts across the state closed Wednesday.
“We have suffered through a decade of cuts,” Beller said before the rally, “so this will be a sign of strength, a sign of power, a sign that North Carolina fully believes in public schools.

Not everyone shares the same sentiments. WRAL:

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger has criticized the rally, noting that teacher strikes are illegal in North Carolina and said “in some respects” this protest looks like a work slowdown and “fairly typical union activity.”

Meanwhile, Republican leaders in the General Assembly say education funding and teacher salaries are on the right track and point out that teachers will get their fifth consecutive pay raise in the coming budget. House Speaker Tim Moore’s office said the estimated average teacher salary next year will be in the neighborhood of $53,400.

North Carolina’s education funding and teacher salaries are much-debated topics each year, especially how they compare with other states. North Carolina is currently ranked 37th in the nation for average teacher pay and 39th in per-pupil spending.

Johnson, a Republican, said in a statement last week that teacher pay is important and has been improving.

“Teacher salaries have increased each of the last four years – outpacing inflation every year – and North Carolina is one of the top states for fastest rising teacher pay,” he wrote. “We are on the right track, and I am pleased teachers will receive another raise next year. In a booming state economy, we need to keep boosting teacher pay to attract and keep talented teachers.”

Patrick wrote on this subject for Ordinary Times previously, and has a word of caution about how numbers get used in these education debates:

As an information consumer, to prevent your own biases from running roughshod over your understanding of public education, you must be immediately wary – I’d argue to the point of supreme skepticism – of anyone that uses national statistics to say anything specific about public education in the United States.

In fact, if the thing you are reading is making a strong claim about the general case of public education in the U.S. it’s overwhelmingly likely to be basically just hot garbage cooking on a dumpster fire.

This goes for folks who try to compare U.S.-wide public education outcomes to other countries (Finland is a popular case here), folks who try to draw generalizable conclusions about how public education spending affects outcomes, or that argue that school closures work to produce better outcomes, just for a few examples. To the extent that they have points (and sometimes they have points), the points are tied to ideological or normative assumptions that have very little to do with general education policy. Certainly not workable, nation-wide education policy.

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Science Says Our Music Is Getting More Depressing( 33 )

Wham! to Sam Smith: Pop Music Study Finds Rise in Sadness Over Past 30 Years | Billboard

A study of hundreds of thousands of popular songs over the past three decades has found a downward sonic trend in happiness and an increase in sadness, as the chirpy band Wham! gave way to the moody Sam Smith.

For the report in the journal Royal Society Open Science, researchers at the University of California at Irvine looked at 500,000 songs released in the UK between 1985 and 2015, and categorized them according to their mood. “‘Happiness’ is going down, ‘brightness’ is going down, ‘sadness’ is going up, and at the same time, the songs are becoming more ‘danceable’ and more ‘party-like,’” co-author Natalia L. Komarova told The Associated Press.

Of course, the researchers emphasize that a gradual decrease in the average “happiness” index does not mean that all successful songs in 1985 were happy and all successful songs in 2015 were sad. They were looking for average trends in the acoustic properties of the music and the moods describing the sounds.

One of the best albums I’ve ever owned is Chris Isaak’s “Forever Blue.” It’s good from end to end, but very depressing. I used to limit how much I listened to it as I went to bed because by the third day I would start becoming vaguely depressed.

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Tom Wolfe Dead at 88( 3 )

Journalist, author, and influencer Tom Wolfe has died following a hospital stay for an infection. He was 88 years old when he passed on Monday.

CNN:

Wolfe started as a reporter at the Springfield (Massachusetts) Union before moving onto the Washington Post. He moved to New York in 1962 to join the New York Herald-Tribune and remained in the city for the rest of his life.

He was known as a pioneer of a literary style in nonfiction that became known as New Journalism. It was a long-form of writing in which writers deeply immersed themselves in the subject they were writing about. The style relied on rich and detailed description that evoked a more literary style of prose than found in typical non-fiction works.

He became a leader in the field. Wolfe edited a volume of work by himself and other prominent writers of the era, including Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, titled “The New Journalism.”

By then he had already published a number of ground-breaking books of his own, including “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” in which Wolfe provided a psychedelic chronicle of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters as they experimented with LSD. He went on to write “The Right Stuff” about the Mercury space program.

He then moved onto his first work of fiction, “The Bonfire of the Vanities” a seminal tale of 1980s New York involving a Wall Street banker, a Bronx high school student, and a tabloid reporter. He wrote the work as a series of stories written on deadline every two weeks for Rolling Stone in 1984 and 1985. It was later published in book form in 1987.

Remembrances have flooded the media.

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US Supreme Court Strikes Down PASPA Gambling Restrictions( 5 )

A ruling that will have dramatic impact on both sports, economics, and media has been issued by the Supreme Court of the United States. In a 7-2 decision, the Court struck down the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, paving the way for legalized sports gambling outside of Nevada.

ESPN:

The court ruled to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA), a 1992 law that barred state-authorized sports gambling with some exceptions. It made Nevada the only state where a person could wager on the results of a single game.

States that want to offer legal sports betting may now do so, and New Jersey plans to be first. Delaware, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are among the states expected quickly get into the legal bookmaking game.

The court ruled in favor of New Jersey and against the NCAA, NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, capping a nearly six-year legal battle and overturning a federal statute that the sports leagues had adamantly stood by for more than 20 years.

“Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own,” the court wrote its opinion. “Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”

The leagues first sued former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in August 2012 and won every step of the way — until last June, when the Supreme Court decided to take the case. Oral arguments were heard on Dec. 4, and the justices ruled five months later.

The impact will be widespread. For nearly 26 years, Nevada has been the only state allowed to offer a full menu of sports betting options. A record $4.8 billion was wagered at Nevada sportsbooks in 2017.

Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune shared a common sentiment in speculating on this outcome. In sports gambling there is big money, and where there is money comes media and politicians:

It’s the prospect of bringing a mammoth multibillion-dollar underground industry — no one knows exactly how big — to the surface where it can be regulated, marketed and taxed that has states, gaming interests, entrepreneurs and gamblers excited and poised to exploit it.

Any media organization without a contingency plan to follow suit is missing a possible lifeline in what have been very rough waters for the business.

PASPA effectively stopped the spread of legal sports wagering dead in its tracks.
It also was ineffective in thwarting illegal gambling, if you believe casino lobby estimates that of $60 billion wagered on pro and college football games last season, only $2 billion was bet legally.
Nevada’s casino sports betting was grandfathered in, as were state-run sports lotteries in New Jersey, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. But states are always looking for new revenue sources, and this one has looked ripe for some time.

There have to be debates within executive suites and newsrooms over how to make the most of opportunities state-sanctioned gambling might present to ensure standards are not compromised in a way that damages credibility or reputation.

Yet they already know there’s no more invested media consumer than someone who hopes to profit from what he or she reads, hears or sees, and people have always been willing to pay money to make money.
Sports fans are a passionate lot to begin with. Betting on sports raises the stakes and investment, not just by definition financially but emotionally as well.

While most of the coverage will be on how many states will gain from this decision, one place who will not greet this news gladly, Las Vegas, will have much to contemplate. From ESPN:

In a way, sports betting has divided Las Vegas. The larger companies with presences in other states, such as MGM, Caesars, William Hill and Wynn, support expanded legalization, while companies limited to Nevada, such as South Point and Station Casinos, warn caution. “I just think it’s better for the entire state if we were the only one with [sports betting],” Gaughan says. “Besides the sports handle, it also brings a lot of people to town. But I’m out of the old school.”

On average, sports betting accounts for about 2 percent of the state’s overall gaming win, according to UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research. In 2017, Nevada sportsbooks contributed more than $248 million to the state’s $11.5 billion gaming win.

“Yeah, that’s tiny,” says Richie Baccellieri, a longtime bookmaker and industry consultant, “but that’s not giving enough credit to the contribution it makes to other parts of the casino. You may not get a lot from the guy sitting in the book for a three-hour ballgame, but, oh by the way, his wife’s out playing slots.”

Last year, Nevada operators cleared $3.1 billion on penny slots. In blackjack, they made $1.2 billion, 14.8 percent of the amount wagered. In sports betting, the win percentage drops to a slim 5.5 percent margin. So, states looking to reap a similar profit would be wise to adopt Nevada’s industry friendly tiered tax system on sports winnings. Taxes top out at 6.75 percent of the sports betting win (plus the 0.25 percent federal excise tax on the amount bet, the handle). Those rates are in sharp contrast to what is being proposed in other states. Pennsylvania has passed legislation to allow sports betting that includes an effective 36 percent tax rate on sports betting revenue.

“Everyone thinks we print money, but we work on the smallest margins,” says Ed Malinowski, a 20-year veteran bookmaker, now the sportsbook director at the Stratosphere. “I never thought in my position that I’d be worrying about how much I pay for golf pencils. It’s ridiculous, but those are the things I have to keep my eye on, because it all hits the bottom line.”

***

When the landscape first started to shift, most of these bookmakers openly rooted for New Jersey. The pros of legalization outweighed the cons for their industry, they thought. And, this being Vegas, spite also played a role. The Garden State was trying to stick it to the leagues, which had long denigrated Las Vegas, looking down on sports betting in general with moral indignation. “I wouldn’t put a team in Las Vegas, just because I don’t want our people around that kind of atmosphere,” former MLB commissioner Bud Selig once said.

Legalization, in a way, would be a big middle finger to all that rhetoric for the bookmakers. And not everyone believes it will harm Las Vegas. An analysis by research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming projected a positive or, at worst, neutral impact on Nevada. However, a doomsday scenario does exist: The influential leagues could convince Congress that a new federal sports betting law is needed, one with an integrity fee, potentially a prohibition on betting on college sports and one that would force Nevada to comply with the new rules. And that possibility has long since overshadowed the free-roll feel the bookmakers had in initially supporting New Jersey — back when no one really thought they could pull it off.

For Las Vegas, and now the rest of the sports and gaming public, the future is more risk vs reward than ever. And just as uncertain.

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US Embassy Opens in Jerusalem to Praise and Violence( 126 )

Moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has long been discussed. On Monday it became reality, along with sharp divides over what such a move means both to the region and the United States role in ever-elusive Middle East peace. Those that predicted that such a move would be accompanied with violence, were tragically not disappointed.

NBC News:

Fulfilling a campaign promise, and with deadly protests occurring less than 50 miles away, the Trump administration opened the new American embassy in Jerusalem Monday. During an elaborate dedication ceremony, Trump addressed a small crowd via taped video message, saying that the opening had been “a long time coming.”

“Today, Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli government, the home of the Israeli legislature and the Israeli Supreme Court and Israel’s prime minister and president,” he said. “For many years, we failed to acknowledge the obvious … the plain reality that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem.”
U.S. Ambassador to Israeli David Friedman, as well as Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump also gave remarks.

The controversial move fulfilled a promise by Trump to bring the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, having already recognized the disputed city as Israel’s capital.The decision has delighted the Israeli government but angered the Palestinians, as well as concerning some Western allies who say it will further destabilize the region and hamper the peace process.

Trump, however, maintained that his “greatest hope is for peace” and that the U.S. “remained committd to facilitating a lasting agreement.”

President Trump, who was not present, instead made remarks by video:

 

But on the Gaza border, the on-going “Great March of Return” took an even more violent turn, with 40+ reportedly killed. BBC:

Palestinians hurled stones and incendiary devices while the Israeli military used snipers, as black smoke poured from burning tyres. The Hamas-run health ministry said children were among those killed on Monday.The mass demonstrations, led by Gaza’s Islamist rulers, Hamas, are part of a six-week protest dubbed the “Great March of Return”.

Israel’s army said 35,000 Palestinians were taking part in “violent riots” along the security fence and that its troops were operating “in accordance with standard procedures”. Israel says the protests are aimed at breaching the border and attacking Israeli communities nearby.
The Israeli military said it had killed three people trying to plant explosives near the security fence in Rafah. It said aircraft had also “targeted Hamas military posts near the Jabalia area after troops were fired upon”.

There have also been violent clashes between Israeli police and protesters who raised Palestinian flags outside the new embassy. Several protesters were detained.

Palestinians have held weekly protests in the run-up to their annual commemoration of what they call the Nakba or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of their people fled their homes or were displaced following the foundation of the Israeli state on 14 May 1948.
Scores of Palestinians have been killed since the protests began. Thousands more have been wounded.
Hamas, which is in a state of conflict with Israel, had said it would step up protests in the lead-up to Tuesday, the official Nakba commemoration.

Hundreds of people have been injured, according to Palestinian officials
It says it wants to draw attention to what Palestinians insist is their right to return to ancestral homes in what became Israel.”Today is the big day when we will cross the fence and tell Israel and the world we will not accept being occupied forever,” a science teacher in Gaza, Ali, told Reuters news agency.

Sky News tweeted a split screen that is widely found in media today, appropriate to the complex issues of the region:

 

 

Israel’s Arab neighbors continue to denounce the move, even now that it is completed:
Al Arabiya:

The Arab League will hold emergency talks Wednesday to discuss Washington’s “illegal” decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a senior official said.

The meeting will focus on “ways of countering the illegal decision by the United States to move the embassy to Jerusalem”, the organization’s deputy secretary general for Palestinian affairs, Saeed Abu Ali, said. He told reporters the permanent representatives of members of the Cairo-based Arab League would meet “at the request of the state of Palestine”.

Jordan denounced the embassy move as a “clear violation” of the UN charter. In a statement, it also “condemned” a unilateral decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, despite Palestinian claims to part of the disputed city.

Jordan is the only other Arab country besides Egypt to have ties with Israel, and it is also the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

The status of the holy city — home also to Christian and Jewish shrines — is perhaps the thorniest issue in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians see east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

While such a response was predictable, the moving of the embassy was anything but. Though long a talking point, and a frequently heralded position by US Presidents, taking no action had become the norm, with many speculating an avoidance of just such a violent reaction being the motivation.

NY Times:

“Jerusalem is a symbolic, emotional and real issue,” said Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and president of the Israel Institute. “It matters to many Israeli Jews because it would indicate that the United States actually recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which now it effectively does not.”

Which is why Arabs object so strenuously to such a move. “This is a sign that he’s going to side with Israel,” said Mustafa Alani, a scholar at the Gulf Research Center, a research organization with offices in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. “If he does it, it’s going to be a wrong start for his relationship with the Arab world.”

The status of Jerusalem has always been one of the thorniest issues dividing Jews and Arabs. In 1947, the United Nations recommended that the city be declared a “corpus separatum,” meaning an international city, rather than incorporated into either the Arab or the Jewish states then being contemplated on the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. But in the war that followed its declaration of statehood in 1948, Israel captured the western portion of the city while Jordan seized the east.

Israel took control of East Jerusalem in its 1967 war with its Arab neighbors and annexed it, declaring that the city would remain whole and unified as its eternal capital (and later building many settlements there that most of the world considers illegal). The United States and most other countries refused to recognize the annexation and kept their embassies in or near Tel Aviv. The last two countries with embassies in Jerusalem, Costa Rica and El Salvador, moved out a decade ago.

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both promised during their presidential campaigns to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Both later backed away from those promises, convinced by Middle East experts that doing so would prejudge negotiations for a final settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.
In 1995, Congress passed a law declaring Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital and requiring the embassy be moved there by 1999 — or else the State Department building budget would be cut in half. But the law included a provision allowing presidents to waive its requirement for six months if they determined it was in the national interest. So every six months, Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush and eventually President Obama signed such waivers, fearing a violent response in the Arab world if the embassy moved.

“Every president who reversed his campaign promise did so because he decided not to take the risk,” said Dennis B. Ross, a longtime Middle East envoy who advised multiple presidents, including Mr. Obama. “Jerusalem has historically been an issue that provoked great passions — often as a result of false claims — that did trigger violence.”

Rather than an end, this current chapter in the Israel-Palestinian saga very much feels firmly in the middle of the story. An historic day, but it remains to be seen how much change will really come from it.

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Mother’s Day Increasingly Happy for Millennial Moms( 0 )

Mother’s Day is becoming more and more important to everyone’s favorite demographic group to opine on: Millennials. Millennial mothers are now a significant group in the ranks of parents-all 17 million of them.

Pew Research:

Some 1.2 million Millennial women gave birth for the first time in 2016, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, raising the total number of U.S. women in this generation who have become mothers to more than 17 million.

All told, Millennial women (those born from 1981 to 1996) accounted for 82% of U.S. births in 2016. At the same time, Millennials made up 29% of the adult U.S. population and more than a third of the U.S. workforce (35%).

While they now account for the vast majority of annual U.S. births, Millennial women are waiting longer to become parents than prior generations did. In 2016, for instance, 48% of Millennial women (ages 20 to 35 at the time) were moms. But in 2000, when women from Generation X – those born between 1965 and 1980 – were the same age, 57% were already moms, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey data. (The rising age at first birth is hardly limited to the Millennial generation. It has been a trend since at least 1970 and may stem from many factors, including a shift away from marriage, increasing educational attainment and the movement of women into the labor force.)

And their effect is not just on their ever-growing amount of children. From Forbes:

It has been widely reported that mothers control 85% of household purchases and have a U.S. spending power of $2.4 trillion. Within this segment are tens of millions of millennial moms. In fact 83% of new moms are millennials, according to a study conducted by BabyCenter- they give birth to about 9,000 generation Alpha babies each day.

These new moms spend over eight hours online primarily searching or browsing for parenting advice. And less than one third look for this advice from parenting or baby apps; instead they turn to social media, reading product recommendations from other moms. Forty-six percent of millennial moms trust the recommendations of other parents, compared to 39% of generation X moms. These younger moms are happy providing their opinions and recommendations, and are more likely to do so, citing themselves as key advisors among their circle of friends.

74% of Millennial moms report they are sought out more often than other friends as advisors on a wide range of topics, and have an average of 24 close friends in which to share product recommendations. Aware of the power millennial mothers have in affecting each other’s thinking, companies often connect with those who have a strong digital influence to promote their services or sell their products.

Interestingly, Pew’s statistics also show Millennial mothers are not only enjoying parenthood, but are also confident. One caveat to that confidence though — by definition their kids are younger. In other words, Millennial’s children are yet to — or just starting to — reach the ages that made “Millennials” a famous demographic in the first place: the teen years.

Pew:

Meanwhile, the millions of millennial who have entered into parenthood are notably confident in their parenting abilities. In the 2015 survey, half of Millennial parents (52%) said they were doing a very good job as a parent, compared with 43% of Gen X parents and 41% of Boomer parents. Millennial moms, in particular, were more likely than other moms (or dads) to say they were doing a very good job: 57% said this, compared with 48% of Gen X moms and 41% of Boomer moms. Millennial dads, like other fathers, didn’t rate themselves as highly as moms on this measure – 43% said they were doing a very good job. By comparison, 37% of Gen X dads said the same, as did 39% of all dads. (The differences among dads are not statistically significant.)

Millennials not only feel good about their parenting, but they also seem to be having more fun with it than older generations. In the 2015 survey, they were more likely to say that parenting was rewarding (58%) and enjoyable (52%) all the time than were Gen X parents (51% and 39%, respectively) or Boomer parents (46% and 39%).

One factor behind these generational differences in parenting perceptions is the fact that Millennials are less likely than parents from prior generations to have older children. Among parents from any generation whose oldest child is younger than 6, about half (52%) said that they were doing a very good job parenting, according to the 2015 survey. But the share who said this dropped to 42% among those whose oldest is a teenager. The same pattern persists on other questions. Some six-in-ten parents whose oldest child is younger than 6 said parenting was rewarding all of the time, compared with half of those whose oldest is a teen. And while 55% of parents whose youngest child is under 6 said parenting was always enjoyable, the share drops to 41% for parents living with a teen.

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Trump, Kim Summit Set for Singapore in June( 4 )

After weeks of speculation, President Trump announced by tweet that a place and date has been set for what would be the first meeting ever between the sitting president of the United States and the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, in Singapore.

CNN:

Administration officials have been instructed to move forward with plans to convene a historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, according to two people familiar with the plans.

The decision is ultimately up to Trump, who said on Wednesday he would announce the time and location in three days.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump ruled out the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that divides North and South Korea as a potential location for the talks with Kim. Singapore and the DMZ are the only two places Trump has floated in public as potential venues for the meeting.

The Southeast Asian city-state has been the preferred location among US officials, who saw its neutrality as an advantage over locations closer to Pyongyang.

The president is not being shy in his lofty goals for the historic meeting.

The announcement comes hours after the return of three hostages retrieved by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

ABC News:

Mr Trump and First Lady Melania Trump climbed red-carpeted stairs to privately welcome Kim Dong-chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim, along with many senior administration officials.

The President was also accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington.

The three former detainees will be transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre for further evaluation and medical treatment, the White House said.

During the middle-of-the-night welcome ceremony, Mr Trump thanked North Korea’s Kim Jong-un for releasing the three Americans from captivity, saying he believed Mr Kim wanted to reach an agreement on denuclearising the Korean Peninsula.

“I really think [Mr Kim] wants to do something,” Mr Trump said.
He said talks between his administration and the North Korean Government had “never been taken this far”.

The three men were released as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left Pyongyang after meeting with Mr Kim, amid final plans for a Trump-Kim summit.
N
orth Korea had accused the three Korean-Americans of anti-state activities. Their arrests were widely seen as politically motivated and had compounded the dire state of relations over the isolated nation’s nuclear weapons.

The DPRK has a long history of “hostage diplomacy”, and the returning of such prisoners has occurred several times in recent years.
CNN:

Freeing prisoners from North Korea, in recent years, has largely required a high-level emissary of sorts.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the same person negotiating terms of the US-North Korea summit, went to Pyongyang to retrieve Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang Duk, who’s also known as Tony Kim.

Then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper went to retrieve Kenneth Bae along with Matthew Todd Miller, both of whom were accused of “hostile acts.” They were released in November of 2014 after spending months in a hard labor camp.

An outburst on CNN by Dennis Rodman, who slammed Bae, then in prison, after the former basketball star met with Kim Jong Un, helped draw attention to Bae.

The journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were freed after former President Bill Clinton traveled to Pyongyang in August of 2009 to ask for their release and to collect them.

Other releases have had unhappy endings. The American student Otto Warmbier was released by North Korea in 2017 when he was in a coma. He died shortly after returning home. His family members attended the State of the Union address this year as Trump’s guests.

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Indictment for ex-CIA Agent in China Espionage Scandal( 1 )

While Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick for CIA director, testifies in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearings, one of the biggest intelligence and espionage scandals in recent memory is unfolding not far away.

NY Times:

Mr. Lee was at the center of an intensive F.B.I. and C.I.A. investigation into how the Chinese determined the identities of agency informants. The dismantling of the C.I.A.’s spy network in China was one of the worst American intelligence failures in years.

Mr. Lee joined the C.I.A. in 1994 and left in 2007, moving his family to Hong Kong. According to court documents, the F.B.I. lured Mr. Lee back to the United States in 2012 as part of a sensitive intelligence operation.

While he was in Virginia and Hawaii, agents secretly searched his belongings and found a pair of notebooks containing sensitive details about C.I.A. operations and the identities of undercover officers and informants.

The F.B.I. interviewed Mr. Lee five times but never directly asked him whether he had worked for the Chinese government. Investigators let Mr. Lee leave the country in 2013 in hopes of gathering more evidence and proving he had committed espionage.

Prosecutors said Mr. Lee made “unexplained cash deposits, and repeatedly lied to the U.S. government during voluntary interviews when asked about travel to China and his actions overseas.”

From the official DOJ press release:

The Justice Department announced today that Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, of Hong Kong, was indicted by a federal grand jury sitting in the Eastern District of Virginia with one count of conspiracy to gather or deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government, and two counts of unlawfully retaining documents related to the national defense.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy Doherty-McCormick for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Assistant Director in Charge Nancy McNamara of the FBI’s Washington Field Office announced the charges.

“When government officials violate their oath to defend our nation and protect its secrets, the National Security Division will hold them accountable,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers. “Lee, a former CIA case officer, allegedly conspired to provide information to the Chinese government about the national defense of the United States. Lee’s alleged actions betrayed the American people and his former colleagues at the CIA. We will not tolerate such threats to our country or its national security.”

“The allegations in this case are troubling,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Doherty-McCormick. “Conspiring with foreign agents poses a real and serious threat toward our national security. The United States will hold accountable those who conspire to compromise our national security.”
“Espionage is a serious crime that can expose our country to grave danger” said Assistant Director in Charge McNamara. “The FBI will continue to aggressively pursue all allegations of espionage.”

Lee is a U.S. citizen who speaks fluent Chinese. According to the indictment, Lee was a case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) until 2007. After leaving the CIA, Lee resided in Hong Kong. The indictment alleges that in April 2010, two Chinese intelligence officers (IOs) approached Lee and offered to pay him for information. The indictment alleges that Lee received taskings from the IOs until at least 2011. The taskings allegedly requested that Lee provide documents and information relating to the national defense of the United States. According to the indictment, the IOs provided Lee with a series of email addresses so that he could communicate covertly with them. The indictment further alleges that Lee prepared documents responsive to the taskings, made numerous unexplained cash deposits, and repeatedly lied to the U.S. government during voluntary interviews when asked about travel to China and his actions overseas.

In August 2012, Lee and his family left Hong Kong to return to the United States to live in northern Virginia. While traveling back to the United States, Lee and his family had hotel stays in Hawaii and Virginia. During each of the hotel stays, FBI agents conducted court-authorized searches of Lee’s room and luggage, and found that Lee was in unauthorized possession of materials relating to the national defense. Specifically, agents found two books containing handwritten notes that contained classified information, including but not limited to, true names and phone numbers of assets and covert CIA employees, operational notes from asset meetings, operational meeting locations and locations of covert facilities. Agents also found a thumb drive on which was stored a document later determined to contain information classified at the Secret level. During voluntary interviews with the FBI, Lee admitted preparing the document in response to taskings from the IO.

Despite the wordiness of the charges, they are the most serious that can be brought, and a conviction on any one of them will mean life in prison. The charges stem from activity linked to the deaths or capture of over a dozen CIA operatives in China. Lee faces life in prison if convicted.

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Michael Cohen linked to AT&T, Novartis Payments( 19 )

Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, alleged “fixer” at the center of the Stormy Daniels pay-off affair, is having a no-good, very bad day.

CNBC:

Drug giant Novartis revealed Wednesday that it paid President Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen $1.2 million for health-care policy consulting work that he proved “unable” to do. The company also said it has been questioned by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team about the payments to Cohen.

NBC News reported later Wednesday that a senior Novartis official said that Cohen reached out shortly after Trump’s election “promising access” to the new administration.

Novartis said it signed a one-year contract with Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants, for $100,000 per month in February 2017, shortly after Trump was inaugurated as president. Novartis said it believed Cohen “could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain U.S. health-care policy matters, including the Affordable Care Act.”

But just a month after signing the deal, Novartis executives had their first meeting with Cohen, and afterward “determined that Michael Cohen and Essentials Consultants would be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated.”

CNN:

The payments (to AT&T) were revealed in a document published by Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti Tuesday afternoon.

Avenatti alleged that Essential Consultants, a shell company set up by Cohen before the election to pay Daniels, was paid by several corporations, including AT&T. At the time, AT&T was seeking government approval for its acquisition of Time Warner, CNN’s parent company.

A document released by Avenatti stated that “Essential received $200,000 in four separate payments of $50,000 in late 2017 and early 2018 from AT&T.”

AT&T disputed this timeline.

“Essential Consulting was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration,” AT&T said Tuesday evening. “They did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017.”

AT&T’s assertion, in essence, is that Cohen provided information about what made Trump tick.
Selling access to or influence with a president is not illegal, but it has the whiff of the so-called “swamp” that Trump rails against.

AT&T declined to comment on the total amount of the payments. But a source with knowledge of the matter said the total was actually higher than the $200,000 listed by Avenatti.

AT&T, one of the biggest companies in the country, has numerous issues before the government, including valuable government contracts and changes to so-called “net neutrality” regulations.

But the timing of payments to a Trump lawyer is especially significant because of the AT&T-Time Warner deal. Trump, then the GOP nominee for president, expressed opposition to the $85 billion deal on the day it was announced.

And just how did Avenatti, the seemingly omni-present lawyer representing Stormy Daniels get such records to release?

Washington Post:

The Treasury Department’s inspector general is investigating whether confidential banking information related to a company controlled by President Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen may have been leaked, a spokesman said.

Rich Delmar, counsel to the inspector general, said that in response to media reports the office is “inquiring into allegations” that Suspicious Activity Reports on Cohen’s banking transactions were “improperly disseminated.”

Detailed claims about Cohen’s banking history were made public Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, an attorney for Stormy Daniels, the adult-film star who was paid $130,000 by Cohen shortly before the 2016 election to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Trump.

On Twitter, Avenatti circulated a dossier that purports to show that Cohen was hired last year by the U.S.-based affiliate of a Russian company owned by Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian business magnate who attended Trump’s inauguration and was recently subjected to sanctions by the U.S. government. The affiliate, New York investment firm Columbus Nova, confirmed the payment, saying it was for consulting on investments and other matters, but denied any involvement by Vekselberg.

Avenatti’s dossier also alleged that, after Trump’s inauguration, Cohen’s company Essential Consultants had received payments from several others with business considerations before the federal government, including telecommunications giant AT&T, aircraft manufacturer Korea Aerospace Industries and pharmaceutical company Novartis. All three companies subsequently confirmed the payments.

In an interview, Avenatti declined to reveal the source of his information.

“The source or sources of our information is our work product, and nobody’s business,” Avenatti said. “They can investigate all they want, but what they should be doing is releasing to the American public the three Suspicious Activity Reports filed on Michael Cohen’s account. Why are they hiding this information?”

A fixture on cable television, Avenatti has been calling on the Treasury Department for weeks to release reports of unusual banking transactions by Cohen. He came up with a social media hashtag: #releasetheSAR, using the acronym for a Suspicious Activity Report.

Then there is this tidbit from The Daily Caller about Avenatti’s reveal:

Michael Avenatti, porn star Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, released a seven-page dossier on Tuesday containing a list of payments purportedly made to Michael Cohen, the lawyer for President Donald Trump.

But there is one problem with the document: two of the allegedly “fraudulent” payments were made to men named Michael Cohen who have no affiliation with Trump.
Avenatti’s report includes a section listing “possible fraudulent and illegal financial transactions” involving Trump’s lawyer. One of the payments is a $4,250 wire transfer from a Malaysian company, Actuarial Partners, to a bank in Toronto.

Zainal Kassim, a representative for Actuarial Partners, told The Daily Caller News Foundation Avenatti’s report is a case of mistaken identity. He forwarded an email the falsely accused Michael Cohen sent to Avenatti requesting the lawyer “correct this error forthwith and make it known publicly” there is no connection to Trump’s Michael Cohen.

“You are surely aware of the fact that this is an extremely common name and would request that you take care before involving innocent parries in this sordid affair,” wrote Cohen, who told Avenatti he is an international consultant who was paid by Actuarial Partners for work on a project in Tanzania.

“Actuarial Partners have already received inquiries from the press in this regard, and we would like to see this scurrilous rumour spiked as soon as possible.” Haaretz, the Israeli news outlet, found another case of mistaken identity in Avenatti’s report.“Mr. Cohen received one wire transfer in the amount of $980.00 from a Kenyan bank from account holders Netanel Cohen and Stav Hayun to an account in Israel at Bank Hapoalim,” Avenatti wrote. Haaretz caught up with Netanel Cohen, who acknowledged having a bank account in Kenya and transferring money to a Michael Cohen. But the Michael Cohen in questions is his brother, Netanel told the news outlet. And his brother is not Trump’s lawyer.

“I’ve never heard of Michael Cohen, and I have no connection to this affair,” Netanel told Haaretz.
It is unclear how Avenatti obtained the financial records cited in his report. But various news outlets, including The New York Times, also appear to have viewed the documents. The Treasury Department’s office of the inspector general opened an investigation into whether someone leaked Cohen’s financial documents to Avenatti and the press, it was reported on Wednesday.

The Michael Cohen saga, and the headache it will be causing President Trump and Avenatti both, appears to just be starting.

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President Trump Withdraws US From Iran Deal( 44 )

President Donald Trump announced he is withdrawing the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) document, otherwise known as the Iran deal.

NY Times:

President Trump told President Emmanuel Macron of France on Tuesday morning that he plans to announce the withdrawal of the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, according to a person briefed on the conversation.

Mr. Trump’s decision unravels the signature foreign policy achievement of his predecessor, Barack Obama, isolating the United States among its allies and leaving it at even greater odds with its adversaries in dealing with the Iranians.

The United States is preparing to reinstate all sanctions it had waived as part of the nuclear accord — and impose additional economic penalties as well, the person said.

A second person familiar with negotiations to keep the 2015 accord in place said the talks collapsed over Mr. Trump’s insistence that sharp limits be kept on Iran’s nuclear fuel production after 2030. The deal currently lifts those limits.

President Trump has made no secret of his wish to nullify the agreement, but had also sent some mixed signals, included declining to reimpose sanctions on Iran in January. Speculation turned towards withdrawl again with the arrival of new NSA John Bolton and freshly sworn-in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both outspoken critics of the deal.

NY Times:

The decision fulfills one of Mr. Trump’s oft-repeated campaign promises, and came despite intense personal lobbying by European leaders and frantic attempts to craft fixes to the deal that would satisfy him.

The president’s own aides had persuaded him twice last year not to take this step.
But Mr. Trump made clear that his patience with the deal had worn thin, and with a new, more hawkish set of advisers — led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the national security adviser, John R. Bolton — Mr. Trump faced less internal resistance this time.

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NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman Accused of Abusing Women( 40 )

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, one of the first to prosecute a big name in the #MeToo era, is now facing his own moment of suspicion.

Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow broke the story for The New Yorker:

Now Schneiderman is facing a reckoning of his own. As his prominence as a voice against sexual misconduct has risen, so, too, has the distress of four women with whom he has had romantic relationships or encounters. They accuse Schneiderman of having subjected them to nonconsensual physical violence. All have been reluctant to speak out, fearing reprisal. But two of the women, Michelle Manning Barish and Tanya Selvaratnam, have talked to The New Yorker on the record, because they feel that doing so could protect other women. They allege that he repeatedly hit them, often after drinking, frequently in bed and never with their consent. Manning Barish and Selvaratnam categorize the abuse he inflicted on them as “assault.” They did not report their allegations to the police at the time, but both say that they eventually sought medical attention after having been slapped hard across the ear and face, and also choked. Selvaratnam says that Schneiderman warned her he could have her followed and her phones tapped, and both say that he threatened to kill them if they broke up with him.

The details of the accusations are disturbing, to say the least.

NY Daily News:

Schneiderman, in a statement to the magazine, denied any wrongdoing.
“In the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity,” Schneiderman said. “I have not assaulted anyone. I have never engaged in nonconsensual sex, which is a line I would not cross.”

Schneiderman, who is divorced, was one of the most outspoken public officials as the walls caved in on Hollywood honcho Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused by dozens of women of rape and sexual assault.

“We have never seen anything as despicable as what we’ve seen right here,” Schneiderman said after filing a civil rights suit against Weinstein.

Barish, who was romantically involved with Schneiderman from the summer of 2013 until New Year’s Day in 2015, said she was outraged by the hypocrisy.

“You cannot be a champion of women when you are hitting them and choking them in bed, and saying to them, ‘You’re a f—–g whore.’ ” Barish told the magazine. “How can you put a perpetrator in charge of the country’s most important sexual-assault case?”

Reaction has been swift, and has ranged from AG Schneiderman outwards:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And one last important note as this story goes along, about one of the people responsible for breaking it:

 

 

*Update 09:50 EST 7MAY18*

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Oliver North to Become President of NRA( 110 )

Retired Marine Corps Officer, Fox News Contributor, and author Oliver North has been announced as the next president of the National Rifle Association. North, who rose to prominence with his later over-turned conviction in the Iran-Contra Affair, will assume the role in the coming weeks. He had been on the NRA Board for some time.

From the NRA press release:

Lt. Colonel Oliver North, USMC (Ret.) will become President of the National Rifle Association of America within a few weeks, a process the NRA Board of Directors initiated this morning.
“This is the most exciting news for our members since Charlton Heston became President of our Association,” said NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre. “Oliver North is a legendary warrior for American freedom, a gifted communicator and skilled leader. In these times, I can think of no one better suited to serve as our President.”

North said he was eager to take on this new role as soon as his business affairs were put in order. North is retiring from Fox News, effective immediately. “I am honored to have been selected by the NRA Board to soon serve as this great organization’s President,” North said. “I appreciate the board initiating a process that affords me a few weeks to set my affairs in order, and I am eager to hit the ground running as the new NRA President.”

The NRA Board acted quickly to begin the process for North to become President, after former NRA President Pete Brownell announced this morning that, in order to devote his full time and energy to his family business, he had decided not to seek election to a second term. In his letter to the Board, Brownell wholeheartedly endorsed North for President.

Reaction was varied:

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Don Blankenship Is Not Going Quietly( 9 )

Convicted felonconspirator*, Nevada Resident, and US Senate candidate for the State of West Virginia Don Blankenship’s bizarre campaign is back in the news. Following last weeks highly controversial ad, and his defense thereof, in which he…well, maybe better to just watch it, from MSNBC:

Fast forward to Monday morning, and President Trump dedicated one of his customary morning tweets to the subject:

Trump, who invited candidates Rep. Jenkins and AG Morrisey to sit on either side of him during a recent appearance in the Mountain State, won West Virginia by 42 points in the 2016 campaign. The snub to Blankenship didn’t go unnoticed. Many have drawn comparisons to other recent problematic candidates, namely Roy Moore in Alabama. Among those to bring up Presidents Trump’s endorsement of Moore is…Don Blankenship?

His assertion that the government, and not the company he lead that was cited over 1300 times for violations, was responsible for the Upper Big Branch tragedy is not new.

Gideon Resnick offers this from Blankenship in Daily Beast:

Blankenship shrugged off the tweet in a statement to reporters, saying Trump “is a very busy man and he doesn’t know me and he doesn’t know how flawed my two main opponents are in this primary.”

“The establishment is misinforming him because they do not want me to be in the U.S. Senate and promote the president’s agenda,” Blankenship continued. “Tomorrow, West Virginia will send the swamp a message—no one, I mean no one, will tell us how to vote.

As some have said, I am Trumpier than Trump and this morning proves it.”

WV primary is tomorrow, May 8th.

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*Previous version of this post incorrectly noted Blankenship’s conviction as a felony, where as it was a misdemeanor conspiracy charge with the maximum sentence. He was acquitted of the felony charges.

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Manafort Judge Grills Prosecutors( 0 )

Federal Judge TS Ellis’ verbal questioning of the Paul Manafort prosecutors in court has raised plenty of questions, and stirred up the already troubled waters surrounding the Special Counsels investigation. Legal tea leaves are among the hardest to read, but plenty of folks are immediately speculating what this might all mean for not just Manafort but the Mueller probe as a whole.

CNN:

“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort’s bank fraud,” Ellis said to prosecutor Michael Dreeben, at times losing his temper. Ellis said prosecutors were interested in Manafort because of his potential to provide material that would lead to Trump’s “prosecution or impeachment,” Ellis said.

“That’s what you’re really interested in,” said Ellis, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.

Ellis repeated his suspicion several times in the hour-long court hearing. He said he’ll make a decision at a later date about whether Manafort’s case can go forward.

“We don’t want anyone in this country with unfettered power. It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me the special prosecutor has power to do anything he or she wants,” Ellis told Dreeben. “The American people feel pretty strongly that no one has unfettered power.”

When Dreeben answered Ellis’ question about how the investigation and its charges date back to before the Trump campaign formed, the judge shot back, “None of that information has to do with information related to Russian government coordination and the campaign of Donald Trump.”

At one point, Ellis posed a hypothetical question, speaking as if he were the prosecutor, about why Mueller’s office referred a criminal investigation about Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen to New York authorities and kept the Manafort case in Virginia.

They weren’t interested in it because it didn’t “further our core effort to get Trump,” Ellis said, mimicking a prosecutor in the case.

A smattering of various opinions:

FWIW

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Big Island of Hawaii Rattled by Kilauea Eruption( 4 )

Parts of the Big Island of Hawaii are under evacuation orders and the rest is on high alert. After several days of warnings, the Kilauea delivered with its first eruption in several years.

NBC News:

Hawaii County civil defense officials ordered some of the 1,500 residents of Leilani Estates in the Puna district, on the eastern coast of the island, to get out late Thursday afternoon as steam and red lava began emerging from a crack in the earth in the Leilani neighborhood.

The eruption was reported at about 4:30 p.m. (10:30 p.m. ET), about six hours after a magnitude-5.0 earthquake rattled the active Kilauea volcano following several days of smaller tremors, said the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, an agency of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The observatory said the lava was erupting from the volcano’s lower East Rift Zone. NBC affiliate KHNL of Honolulu quoted residents as saying they could see lava spewing from cracks in roadways.

Frightening and dangerous as it may be, the raw power of nature makes for stunning images.

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The Limits of Science( 4 )

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Giuliani Said Some Things on Hannity( 10 )

Rudy Giuliani made some comments on Hannity Wednesday night that will no doubt be the topic discussion in the days to come. Contradicting the President, he had some rather astonishing statements.

CNN:

Rudy Giuliani said Wednesday that President Donald Trump paid back his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, the $130,000 in hush money that was used to pay off Stormy Daniels.

The payment is going to turn out to be “perfectly legal,” Giuliani said in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

“That money was not campaign money, sorry,” Giuliani said. “I’m giving you a fact now that you don’t know. It’s not campaign money. No campaign finance violation.”

Hannity replied: “Because they funneled it through the law firm?” To which Giuliani said: “Funneled it through the law firm, and the President repaid him.”

This, of course, is problematic at best:

More from CNN:

In the same interview, Giuliani also called ex-FBI Director James Comey a “disgraceful liar,” and said he thinks Comey should be prosecuted.

“I know James Comey. I know the President. Sorry Jim, you’re a liar — a disgraceful liar,” Giuliani said.

Giuliani then went on to say that “every FBI agent in America has his head down,” because of Comey.

Comey and Trump have had a tumultuous relationship following Comey’s firing. Comey recently published a memoir, which detailed his encounters with the President, and has said he thinks Trump is “morally unfit” for the presidency.

Trump, in turn, has also repeatedly sounded off on Comey via social media.

Prior to Comey’s book release, Trump even insinuated Comey should go to jail, tweeting: “The big questions in Comey’s badly reviewed book aren’t answered like, how come he gave up Classified Information (jail), why did he lie to Congress (jail), why did the DNC refuse to give Server to the FBI (why didn’t they TAKE it), why the phony memos, McCabe’s $700,000 & more?”

Giuliani echoed that suggestion on Fox News, telling Hannity that Comey should be prosecuted.

“Comey should be prosecuted for leaking confidential FBI information when he leaked his report intended to develop a special prosecutor for the President of the United States,” Giuliani said.

Some of the clips:

President Trump responded on Twitter the following morning:

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Cambridge Analytica to “Cease Operations”( 3 )

The day after Facebook announced new changes to the platform following a spat of controversy surrounding their association with Cambridge Analytica, comes the news that firm is closing up shop.

Sky News:

“Despite Cambridge Analytica’s unwavering confidence that its employees have acted ethically and lawfully, which view is now fully supported by Mr Malins’ report (independent investigator Julian Malins), the siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all of the company’s customers and suppliers,” it added.

“As a result, it has been determined that it is no longer viable to continue operating the business, which left Cambridge Analytica with no realistic alternative to placing the company into administration.”

Cambridge Analytica was linked with Vote Leave ahead of the EU referendum in June 2016, and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign the same year. The firm sought information on Facebook to build psychological profiles on a large portion of the US electorate.

The company was able to amass the database quickly with the help of an app that appeared to be a personality test. The app collected data on tens of millions of people and their Facebook friends, even those who did not download the app themselves.

Facebook has since tightened its privacy restrictions.

Opinions, as to be expected, vary:

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Boy Scouts to Drop Boy as Girls Join( 22 )

The Boy Scouts have been around for 108 years, but new changes announced mean their flagship program for 11-17 year olds will no longer carry “Boy”.

AP:

Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh said many possibilities were considered during lengthy and “incredibly fun” deliberations before the new name was chosen.

“We wanted to land on something that evokes the past but also conveys the inclusive nature of the program going forward,” he said. “We’re trying to find the right way to say we’re here for both young men and young women.”

The parent organization will remain the Boy Scouts of America, and the Cub Scouts — its program for 7- to 10-year-olds — will keep its title, as well. But the Boy Scouts — the program for 11- to 17-year-olds — will now be Scouts BSA.

The organization has already started admitting girls into the Cub Scouts, and Scouts BSA begins accepting girls next year.

Surbaugh predicted that both boys and girls in Scouts BSA would refer to themselves simply as scouts, rather than adding “boy” or “girl” as a modifier.

The program for the older boys and girls will largely be divided along gender-lines, with single-sex units pursuing the same types of activities, earning the same array of merit badges and potentially having the same pathway to the coveted Eagle Scout award.

Surbaugh said that having separate units for boys and girls should alleviate concerns that girls joining the BSA for the first time might be at a disadvantage in seeking leadership opportunities.

So far, more than 3,000 girls have joined roughly 170 Cub Scout packs participating in the first phase of the new policy, and the pace will intensify this summer under a nationwide multimedia recruitment campaign titled “Scout Me In.”

The Girl Scouts at not amused:

The name change comes amid strained relations between the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America.
Girl Scout leaders said they were blindsided by the move, and they are gearing up an aggressive campaign to recruit and retain girls as members.

Among the initiatives is creation of numerous new badges that girls can earn, focusing on outdoor activities and on science, engineering, technology and math. The organization is expanding corporate partnerships in both those areas, and developing a Girl Scout Network Page on LinkedIn to support career advancement for former Girl Scouts.

“Girl Scouts is the premier leadership development organization for girls,” said Sylvia Acevedo, the Girl Scouts’ CEO. “We are, and will remain, the first choice for girls and parents who want to provide their girls opportunities to build new skills … and grow into happy, successful, civically engaged adults.”

No doubt social media will take up the “Culture War” angle on this, but the real driver behind all this change might be much more simple:

Money.

The Girl Scouts and the BSA are among several major youth organizations in the U.S. experiencing sharp drops in membership in recent years. Reasons include competition from sports leagues, a perception by some families that they are old-fashioned and busy family schedules.

The Boy Scouts say current youth participation is about 2.3 million, down from 2.6 million in 2013 and more than 4 million in peak years of the past. The Girl Scouts say they have about 1.76 million girls and more than 780,000 adult members, down from just over 2 million youth members and about 800,000 adult members in 2014.

The overall impact of the BSA’s policy change on Girl Scouts membership won’t be known any time soon. But one regional leader, Fiona Cummings of Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois, believes the BSA’s decision to admit girls is among the factors that have shrunk her council’s youth membership by more than 500 girls so far this year. She said relations with the Boy Scouts in her region used to be collaborative and now are “very chilly.”

“How do you manage these strategic tensions?” she asked. “We both need to increase our membership numbers.”

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Zuckerberg Says Facebook to Add Clear History, Dating Features( 7 )

With controversy still plaguing Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg announced some changes coming to the social media giant’s platform.

Speaking at Facebooks F8 conference, Zuckerberg covered several topics.
CNN:

“We are all here because we are optimistic about the future,” said Zuckerberg. “We have real challenges to address but we have to keep that sense of optimism too. What I learned this year is we have to take a broader view of our responsibility.”

Zuckerberg called out “Watch Party,” a tool announced in January that lets you watch shows while chatting about them with your Facebook friends.

“Let’s say that your friend is testifying in congress, for example. Now you’re going to be able to bring your friends together and you can laugh together and you can cry together. Some of my friends actually did this! Let’s not do that again anytime soon,” Zuckerberg said.

And Facebook is adding new features for dating, Zuckerberg announced.

“This is going to be for building real long term relationships, not just hookups, it’s going to be in the Facebook app but it’s totally optional. It’s opt in… we have designed this with privacy and safety in mind from the beginning… you will only be suggested people who are not your friends.”

Meanwhile, Zuckerberg’s days of answering to government inquiries are far from over:
CNBC:

U.K. officials said Tuesday they will summon Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Parliament the next time he’s in British territory if he does not volunteer to do so.
It would be the first governmental summons for Zuckerberg in the fallout of the Cambridge Analytica data leak and widespread concerns around user privacy.

“It’s worth noting that, while Mr. Zuckerberg does not normally come under the jurisdiction of the UK Parliament, he will do so the next time he enters the country,” Damian Collins, a Conservative member of Parliament, wrote in a letter published Tuesday.

“There are over 40 million Facebook users in the UK and they deserve to hear accurate answers from the company he created and whether it is able to keep their users’ data safe,” Collins wrote.

Facebook’s current PR troubles seem to be far from over.

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Rosenstein Drama Percolating in Congress( 1 )

Somewhat buried by other news of the day comes reports that some members of the House are working on articles of impeachment for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man overseeing the Mueller Special Counsel investigation. While many experts doubt the success of such a measure, openly discussing congressional action against the second highest-ranking official at the Justice Department is extrodinary. Much like the long-rumored desire of the President to fire Mueller, Rosenstein, and perhaps even AG Jeff Sessions, such a move would likely cause far more problems for the administration than it would solve.

From Robert Costa in WaPo’s Daily 220:

Rosenstein continues to play a pivotal role in the outcome of Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections because he’s engaged in an escalating battle with House Republicans.

As I report with Sari Horwitz and Matt Zapotsky in Tuesday’s paper, the deputy attorney general is also now facing the threat of impeachment proceedings from members of the House Freedom Caucus, the conservative bloc that’s closely aligned with President Trump.

Impeachment, of course is usually reserved for presidents in big trouble or federal judges who are accused of accepting bribes. Even the author of the draft of the articles of impeachment — Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) — calls the proposal a “last resort” at this point. (Read the articles here.)

But the fact that the draft has moved from whispers to a document that’s being circulated in the House is significant because it reveals how the case against the Mueller probe, and in a related way against Rosenstein on various fronts, is only gaining steam as the Trump administration and many Republicans grow restless about what they call a “witch hunt.”

The inside-baseball squabble between Meadows and Rosenstein is about document requests related to the conduct of the federal officials working on the Russia probe — which is also examining whether Trump officials had improper contact with Russian officials and whether the president himself sought to obstruct Mueller’s investigation. The investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server is another area of interest.

Whatever stage the Mueller probe is now in, the circus surrounding it and this administration is nowhere near ebbing.

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