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FCC proposes new strategy to finally block all robocalls
The Federal Communications Commission has finally developed a kryptonite for robocalls, officials said.
The agency announced Wednesday it's adopting a new rule that will allow phone companies to automatically block rampant spam operators. Customers would not need to activate this setting once a service provider makes the change, officials said — it would be turned on by default. The head of the FCC is calling for the anti-robocall service to be provided for free, reports Mashable.
"Allowing call blocking by default could be a big benefit for consumers who are sick and tired of robocalls. By making it clear that such call blocking is allowed, the FCC will give voice service providers the legal certainty they need to block unwanted calls from the outset so that consumers never have to get them,” said Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement.
No one is safe from the onslaught of these calls — not even the the CEO of AT&T, Randall Stephenson, who got a spam robocall during an onstage interview last month. Pai said the FCC will vote on the rule on June 6, reports The Wall Street Journal.
Donald Trump is indisputably the worst president in American history
George W. Bush was a terrible president. He fumbled everything from Katrina to Iraq to the economy. But even he wasn't all bad — his AIDS initiative in Africa was a blessing to that continent, for instance.
Jimmy Carter is remembered as a disastrous president (possibly unfairly) but he's had a post-presidency that's proved him an uncommonly decent man.
Lyndon Johnson's presidency collapsed in the Vietnam War — but hey, at least he spearheaded the momentous Civil Rights Act.
The point is that even lousy presidents have a silver lining ... right? Well, maybe not. It is increasingly difficult to find one nice thing to say about President Trump.
Let's just look at the last month: In that time he and his administration have picked fights with allies, buttered up dictators, accelerated a nascent trade war, and created — purely for the sake of cruelty and cynical political leverage — a humanitarian disaster on our border with Mexico. Oh, and in his spare time, he's used his Twitter account to undermine the rule of law in hopes it will save him from prosecution.
That's a whole term of bad accomplishments for some presidents, but Trump is barely breaking a sweat.
Trump oversees a White House full of chaotic, petty backstabbing. He makes some key decisions, it appears, purely for their trolling value. He changes positions so frequently that no one can rely on his word, but you weren't going to trust his word anyway since he's such a prolific liar. He tolerates obvious corruption in his Cabinet. He can't quite bring himself to condemn Nazis. And what may be his greatest "success" — getting out of Congress' way to get a tax cut passed — was a handout to the rich that will be paid by the poor and middle class for years to come.
He's the worst.
There are other contenders for the title, of course, but a glance through American history reveals that most bad presidents — like the aforementioned Bush, Carter, and Johnson — have at least one thing going for them.
Richard Nixon was the only president to resign, thanks to Watergate, which instantly relegated him to the ranks of the worst presidents. But he also opened relations with the Chinese, eased tensions with the Soviets, established the Environmental Protection Agency and, heck, he even endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment. He was better than Trump.
Herbert Hoover left the economy in such bad shape that capitalism itself needed saving after his term. But like Jimmy Carter, Hoover was redeemed in private life by his tremendous humanitarian work during World War I — and he was even known to raise funds for what is now the Boys & Girls Club of America. He was better than Trump.
Warren G. Harding's presidency was beset with corruption and scandal — though the most famous, the Teapot Dome scandal, wasn't revealed until after his death — and his private life, replete with infidelity, was nothing to brag about either. But he was also an early advocate of civil rights, urging that African Americans in the South be given equal opportunity to vote, and he condemned lynching in unequivocal terms. He was better than Trump.
James Buchanan played fiddle while the forces that led to the Civil War were gathering momentum. This is regarded by many historians as one of the worst-ever presidential mistakes. And he was an early example of a now-familiar phenomenon: a Northern man with Southern principles. Still, unlike Trump, Buchanan also had a long history of service to the public — serving as minister to Russia, ambassador to the United Kingdom, and secretary of state. Even he was better than Trump.
The list goes on. It is near impossible to find any president, no matter how terrible, of whom some nice things can't be said — until we get to Trump.
This raises a question: How might Trump possibly redeem himself? A Jimmy Carter post-presidency of philanthropy seems unlikely, given that New York is suing Trump for using his charitable foundation as a piggy bank to fund his private ventures. The best that can be said of "private life" Trump is that while he's a vulgarian con man, he's at least an entertaining vulgarian con man.
I know Trump has his fans. They don't see him as needing redemption. They're glad he's appointing conservative judges. They want a harsher stance against illegal immigration. Some may even like his trade protectionism. But the polls show that Trump is currently the most popular he has ever been in office — and still, a healthy majority of Americans disapprove of his performance.
What's clear to most of us, then, is that Trump is an awful president. What's less clear? That there's anything nice you can say about him or his presidency. It's catastrophes all the way down. Trump is the worst — and it's Americans who will pay the price.
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Practically All The Least Healthy Foods Have This One Thing in Common
This summer, the Midwest's farmers are doing what they do every year, only more so: tending massive plantings of corn and soybeans. This year's corn crop covers 94.1 million acres, a land mass nearly equal in size to California. Soybeans cover 83 million acres—a near record. You'd never know, admiring the bounty on display in the heartland, that corn and soybean prices hover at five-year lows, perilously close to the cost of production.
Why did farmers plant so much this spring when prices have been low for three years? The answer lies in taxpayer-funded farm subsidies, which encourage farmers to plant subsidized crops even when prices are low, ensuring them them at least a small profit even in times of glut. Between 1995 and 2013, federal crop subsidies to US farmers totaled an eye-popping $183.7 billion, the bulk of it to corn, wheat, and soybeans. In 2014, Congress ended direct payments and switched to subsidized crop insurance, but that, too, has proven expensive. What do we get in return for these massive investments?
According to a new study by a team from from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University, not much in in the way of our health. The researchers looked at the five most-subsidized crops—corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, and sorghum—plus dairy, and meat, which are subsidized indirectly, because US livestock are fed mainly corn and soybeans. They note that a "large proportion of these subsidized commodities are converted into high-fat meat and dairy products, refined grains, high-calorie juices and soft drinks (sweetened with corn sweeteners), and processed and packaged foods."
For example, 30 percent to 40 percent of the US corn crop, by far the globe's largest, goes into livestock feed, and 5 percent of it goes into high-fructose corn syrup (most of the rest is used for ethanol). Soybeans are divided roughly equally between feed and cooking fat. Even wheat and rice, the only subsidized field crops directly consumed by people, tend to be stripped of their fiber and other nutrients before we consume it—think white rice and white bread. So what we're paying farmers to produce is mainly meat and processed food.
To gauge the health impact of the diets taxpayers underwrite through the crops we subsidize, the researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a big, ongoing national study that interviews randomly selected individuals about their dietary choices and also tracks their health through physical examinations.
Overall, 56.2 percent of calories consumed came from the major subsidized food commodities, they found. And this will surprise no one, given how junky the subsidized fare tend to be: Even after adjusting for socioeconomic conditions and lifestyle factors (like smoking), people who ate the most food derived from subsidized crops were much more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, or stroke than people who consumed the least. The high-subsidy group had higher body mass index (BMI), ratio of waist circumference to height, C-reactive protein level (a marker of chronic inflammation, a warning sign for cardiovascular trouble), and HDL ("bad") cholesterol level.
Now, it's important to note that the study doesn't show that subsidies cause these outcomes; it does suggest, however, that the crops policymakers have chosen to subsidize are probably ones we should be eating less, not more, of—raising the question of why they merit federal support. (Meanwhile, according to another recent study by CDC researchers, less than a quarter of Americans meet federal recommendations for eating fruits and vegetables, which are largely unsubsidized.)
So how do we fix this problem? It's probably a bad idea to directly subsidize, say, spinach farming—unlike corn and soybeans, the stuff is highly perishable, and it would be quite expensive to keep a huge surplus of it frozen. But it might make sense to shift money currently devoted to subsidizing crop insurance for corn growers to programs that make vegetables and fruits cheaper for consumers. Such programs exist and have proven to be effective—yet they're currently funded at a fraction of the rate of crop-insurance subsidies.
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Why New Antibiotics Never Come to Market
In the murky depths of Lake Michigan, around 15 feet below the surface, Brian Murphy is examining the various thickets of seaweed and vibrantly coloured sponges clinging to the sides of an old wooden cargo ship.
Clad in scuba gear, with an oxygen tank attached to his back, a casual observer might mistake Murphy for a particularly intrepid archaeologist. But rather than examining the artefacts hidden away among Michigan’s estimated 1,500 shipwrecks, Murphy is searching for new antibiotics, an ongoing treasure hunt which has seen him dive to depths of up to 130 feet in some of the most extreme locations on the planet.
“It’s a huge gamble,” he said. “We look for unique environments, and we just have to hope that the evolutionary pressures driven by the challenges of trying to survive in these conditions will yield microorganisms which can produce new drug leads. But we have no idea what we’ll find.”
The costs of such ventures, which have taken him across the globe from Thailand to Iceland, can stretch to tens of thousands of dollars. And with this brings pressure. Any organization willing to stump up such money will demand returns on their investment, but nature doesn’t always play ball.
"They’re happy to sell existing antibiotics, but they’re not interested in researching and developing new ones."
New antibiotics are generated naturally over time by bacteria, as weapons in their ongoing chemical warfare against other microbes. Predicting where and when they can be found relies mostly on good fortune and following a hunch. Murphy’s hunch is that the bacteria which live on freshwater sponges could be a hive of new chemicals. “We don’t know a huge amount about these species,” he said. “But the only way to find out if there’s anything there is by actually diving down there and carving them off with a knife.”
But even if these sponges yield the antibiotics of the future, there are seemingly endless roadblocks that prevent us from actually using them to cure disease.
Murphy, an energetic 34-year-old from the University of Illinois with a thirst for adventure, is part scientist, part explorer. He originally wanted to be a firefighter, before he discovered biology could be just as exciting.
Bioprospecting—the technical term for the quest to find the drugs of the future—can be frustrating, but it’s never boring. Sometimes it’s even dangerous.
“We try to do really safe dives but it can be tough,” he said. “There’s been times diving in Vietnam when it’s been particularly hazardous. Out there people sometimes just throw stuff overboard without really thinking twice. You end up navigating these shallow waters, with fishing nets sticking out all over the place, and at the same time you’re trying to avoid these fields of stinging jellyfish with ten feet long tentacles.”
Compared to recent expeditions to the sub-zero waters of the Arctic, the Great Lakes are a considerably less exotic location for medicine hunting. But they may hold the solution to tackling an ancient killer, a disease that has been the scourge of mankind for most of recent human history.
In April, Murphy and his colleagues discovered two new chemicals, called diazaquinomycins H and J, from a bacterium living in the waters of Lake Michigan, just off the coast of Milwaukee. Although the research is still in the earliest stages, they work with surprising potency against even the most multi-drug resistant strains of tuberculosis.
The world may be faced with a situation last seen in the pre-penicillin era when even the most minor infections could prove life-threatening
Mycobacterium tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that attacks the lungs. It originated in cattle before crossing over into humans around seven thousand years ago due to the increased milk consumption in our diets.
The discovery of antibiotics has kept tuberculosis largely under control for the past century, but the tides are turning with ominous speed. The emergence of new drug-resistant strains killed more than 210,000 worldwide in 2013 alone.
Murphy is investigating whether his new anti-tuberculosis chemicals work in mice that have been infected with the disease. If they continue to be effective in treating tuberculosis, they may prove candidates for an early stage clinical trial.
But this is just the start of a long and drawn out process which may still see them fall by the wayside just like so many promising medical discoveries over the past two decades.
As Murphy was announcing his discovery, a group of scientists, policy makers, and industry representatives had gathered in the university town of Uppsala in Northern Sweden to discuss solutions to a growing global healthcare emergency.
The facts presented were stark and chilling. The antibiotics that have protected us from an array of lethal microbes for more than half a century are rapidly becoming ineffective. And the blame rests entirely at our own door. Rampant, irresponsible overuse of these miracle drugs, to the extent that more than 63,000 tons globally are pumped into livestock production every year, has driven the evolution of a new breed of superbugs. Before long the world may be faced with a situation last seen in the pre-penicillin era when even the most minor infections, such as those resulting from a child’s grazed knee, could prove life-threatening, and every operation was fraught with danger.
The annual death toll from bacterial infections is 700,000, according to the O’Neill review on Antimicrobial Resistance, a project commissioned by the British government. But many believe this figure to be a gross underestimate.
“If you have a heart valve that needs to be replaced, but you get a bacterial infection and die of that, your doctors will write down natural causes,” said Professor William Fenical at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego. “So it slips under the radar.”
It’s estimated that more people will die from bacterial infections than cancer by 2050. The trend was obvious. The conclusion in Uppsala was simple: The world needs to start developing new antibiotics, and fast.
But where will the money come from?
Fenical, the professor at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, is one of the original marine biomedicine pioneers. He began investigating the ocean’s potential to provide cures for disease in the late 1960s, long before anyone considered it as a science at all. Having spent most of his life living by the Californian coast, he describes himself as a chemist with an inherent curiosity about the ocean.
“We have 36 phyla on planet Earth,” he said. “The phyla is the fundamental unit of life. Seventeen of them exist on land, but 34 exist in water. So it makes more sense to look for antibiotics in the oceans, rivers and lakes, as your chances of finding new chemicals are double.”
"We’ve discovered six antibiotics in the recent past. But we have no way to develop them."
In 2013, Fenical made one of the most interesting antibiotic discoveries in recent years off the coast of San Diego. A bacteria living in the sediment on the Pacific Ocean floor was producing a compound called anthramycin. Fenical soon found it was capable of attacking the bacteria MRSA, a hospital superbug which is notoriously difficult to treat.
But in many ways, discovering antibiotics is the easy bit. Finding someone interested in investing in developing them is a far greater challenge. Two years have gone by since Fenical identified anthramycin and no one has shown any interest in taking it from the research lab to the clinic.
“We’ve discovered six antibiotics in the recent past,” Fenical said. “Of those, three to four have serious potential as far as we know, including anthramycin. But we have no way to develop them. There are no companies in the United States that care. They’re happy to sell existing antibiotics, but they’re not interested in researching and developing new ones.”
Deterred by the spiralling costs of drug development, most large pharmaceutical companies abandoned their antibiotic programs by 1995. And little funding is available from the public sector.
Twenty-five years ago, the urgent need to find treatments for HIV became a politically charged battleground. Faced with intense pressure to deliver results, the US National Institute of Infectious Diseases became a center entirely dedicated to virology. This remains the case today, but there are now no national programs aimed at tackling drug-resistant bacteria.
“It’s a serious medical emergency in the US and Europe but the behaviour of the politicians doesn’t reflect this,” Fenical said. “President Obama laid out a program to try and deliver new medicines, but Congress hasn’t allocated any money to it.”
Fenical’s frustrations stem from the fact that developing new antibiotics is in some ways far easier than developing treatments for other diseases such as cancer. In the mid 1990s, he discovered a small jellylike animal, no more than six inches long, attached to the side of an underwater cliff just off the coast of the Philippines. Named Diazona angulata, the sheer fragility of its appearance made scientists wonder how it could possibly survive in the open ocean, but Fenical knew from experience that such soft-bodied creatures have typically evolved hidden chemical weapons for self-defence.
He found that it contained a chemical known as diazonamide A, which could kill colon cancer cells, typically one of the most difficult cancers to treat, even in miniscule amounts. And most promisingly, it used a mechanism of action never seen before. “We had the pharma industry literally standing by,” Fenical remembers. “We all thought we were on the verge of developing a whole new set of anti-cancer drugs.”
Divers soon returned to Philippine waters, but it would take three years before they found the creature again. Despite their best attempts, they were unable to collect enough species to obtain sufficient amounts of the precious chemical.
It was the second disappointment of the decade for Fenical, who had discovered another potential cancer drug called elutherobin, found in a particular type of soft coral, which appeared to be highly effective against breast cancer. But this time, attempts to convert the finding into a medicine were blocked by conservation laws.
The money... simply isn't there.
“We would have needed many kilograms of these substances in order to produce a drug,” he said. “But once again we simply couldn’t get enough of the material. No one’s going to let you tear up a beautiful coral reef in order to do that.”
Producing antibiotics, on the other hand, is far less environmentally invasive. All scientists need is to collect a few cells of the antibiotic-producing bacterium, which can then be cultivated en masse, enabling the production of the chemical on an industrial scale.
Having made a potentially enormous breakthrough in tuberculosis research within just a few months of investigating Lake Michigan, Murphy is keen to sample the rest of the Great Lakes. But with a lack of funding, he’s turning to the general public to help him out.
“Before we dive anywhere, we always talk to the local divers to find out about what’s out there,” he said. “Some of these guys spend more time underwater than on land. So we had the idea, why don’t we get them to collect the sponges and specimens growing in these lakes and send them back to us?”
Within just a couple of months, his team has already received around 40 samples ranging from the Hudson River in New York to Lake Huron. Categorizing them all, identifying the bacterial species which lie within, and most importantly the chemical they produce, will take weeks and months. Murphy is indebted to a small army of undergraduates and volunteers which help with this lengthy process. But as tedious as it is, they know the solutions to some of the world’s deadliest bacterial infections may lie within.
The problem is that the money to do anything about them simply isn’t there.
For any discoveries that Murphy makes, the road ahead is paved with obstacles. Safety testing, animal testing, and then finally, the hope that a drug company and its investors can be persuaded to gamble hundreds of millions on the chemical passing the multiple stages of human clinical trials, before it can be turned into an over-the-counter product.
The odds seem slim, but with the annual global mortality rate from antibiotic resistance predicted to hit 10 million in the next 35 years, scientists remain hopeful that the politicians will come to better agreements on how to finance antibiotic development. The question is, will they get around to doing so before it’s too late?
Lead photo: Michael Mullowney, a PhD student, dives at Silfra fissure in Iceland, a small crack directly between the North American and Eurasian continental plates. Photo: Siobhan White
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Student sues public university for requiring 'free speech permit'
College is a time of learning, making friends, and keeping your damn mouth shut unless you've been given permission to speak — or so it seems that may be the case at Cal Poly Pomona (CPP) in Southern California. The school has developed a Byzantine list of requirements for students who want to exercise free speech on campus, even though, as a public school, CPP is legally required to guarantee First Amendment speech rights on its grounds.
"At Cal Poly, students have to wear a free speech badge in the free speech zone and can only get that authorization on weekdays. This is a cartoonish violation of the First Amendment, almost beyond parody," explains Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The free speech zone is just 0.01 percent of campus space.
FIRE is working with CPP student Nicolas Tomas to sue the school after Tomas was forced to jump through hoops to distribute veganism flyers on campus. "I came to college excited... to also participate in more activism," Tomas said. "But I soon learned that it was going to be very difficult to share my beliefs with other students at Cal Poly and that was very disappointing to me."
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Relax: As far as anyone actually knows, Twin Peaks season 3 is still happening
In an appearance in Australia last week, David Lynch made a few offhand comments that were widely interpreted as a sign that Showtime's upcoming Twin Peaks revival may not happen after all. "I'm not sure at this point if [Twin Peaks] is happening," Lynch reportedly said, referring to unspecified "complications."
That might sound bad, but relax, Twin Peaks fans: Anyone declaring that season 3 is doomed is making some serious and premature assumptions. For starters, a source close to the show has already told Entertainment Weekly that, despite Lynch's comments, "everything is moving forward and everybody is crazy thrilled and excited." Numerous actors have already confirmed their involvement.
And if none of that is enough, you have a separate interview with Lynch that sounds a lot rosier. Though he conceded that he hasn't formally returned due to contract negotiations, he seemed to treat his own involvement as a foregone conclusion: "I love the world of Twin Peaks and I love those characters. And I think it will be very special to go back into that world," he said.
Contract negotiations are often difficult and contentious. That goes double for someone like David Lynch, who insists on a much greater degree of creative control than your average director. But these disputes generally happen behind closed doors. The only reason this is making headlines is that there's so much extra scrutiny on Twin Peaks. In the absence of actual news, don't believe anyone who tells you that Twin Peaks season 3 isn't happening.
North Korea will let tourists run in the Pyongyang Marathon after all
Last month, North Korea expressed Ebola concerns and announced that foreigners wouldn't be allowed to run in its annual marathon. But the North has since changed its tune.
Overseas runners will be allowed to run in 2015's Pyongyang marathon after all, The New York Times reports. North Korea has reversed a travel ban that essentially sealed its borders in late October.
Koryo Tours, a British tourism company based in Beijing, said Thursday that foreign applications for the race, which will take place on April 12, are now being accepted. The majority of North Korea's tourists are from China and Russia, but the Times notes that the number of Western tourists, especially those from Britain and Germany, is on the rise.
In Line And Out Of Line, Part 7
(Retail | TX, USA)Retail | TX, USA
(I’m working as a cashier on Black Friday. A man cuts to the front of the line with an armful of clothing.)
Me: “Uh, sir, you’ll have to go to the back of the line. I’m sorry.”
Rude Customer: “F*** that! No way I’m waiting that long! Just make it quick!”
Me: “No, sir. You just cut the line, and I won’t serve you.”
Rude Customer: “Oh, f*** you! Just do your job already! You’re only making this take longer!”
(At this point, the customer he cut in front of, a man in his early 20s, speaks up, quietly and calmly.)
Calm Customer: “Just go back and wait in line, man. Stop being a dick.”
Rude Customer: “F*** y-”
(The rude customer rounds on the calm one as he speaks, raising his hand in what may or may not have been an attempt at a backhand. Regardless, the calm customer catches his arm, twists it, and slams the rude customer’s face into the counter hard enough for it to make an audible thunk through the clothes. The entire time, the calm customer remains stone faced.)
Rude Customer: “Ow! A**-hole! Lemme go! You can’t do this!”
Calm Customer: “Texas law says I can use lethal force if I’m attacked.”
(He twists the man’s arm a little more, causing him to cry out.)
Calm Customer: “You don’t want that, do you?”
Rude Customer: “Ow! No! Just lemme go!”
Calm Customer: “Where are you going to go?”
Rude Customer: “Back of the line! Back of the line!”
Calm Customer: “And are you going to be patient? And polite?”
Rude Customer: “Yeah, man! Sure!”
Calm Customer: “Apologize to the nice young lady, now.”
Rude Customer: *starting to cry slightly* “I’m sorry! I’m sorrryyyyy!”
(The calm customer released the rude one, who almost looked like he was going to attack again. One look at the calm customer’s completely emotionless face seemed to make him think twice, though, and he grabbed his clothes and scampered back to the end of the line.)
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Always Time For A Rhyme
(Government | UK)Government | UK
(Our county council has online web-forms for people to get in touch.)
“The winds outside blew and blew
and my bin lid verily flew
in a lickety split
I emailed you quick
to request a brand new one from you”
(Since the customer did not tell us whether it was her recycling or refuse bin that broke in the weather I have to contact her back. It is the first time I have EVER received a request in limerick form, so I decide to phone the lady. Unfortunately, it goes to voicemail.)
Me: *to the voicemail*
“The council received your request
but you leave us a little perplexed
Amidst rhyming hype
forgot ye the type
of the bin-lid you meant to suggest”
On the Galapagos Islands, giant tortoises make a huge comeback
The number of Espanola giant tortoises on the Galapagos Islands dwindled down from several thousand to just 15 in 1960, but thanks to a little help from conservationists, more than 1,500 tortoises are now out in the wild.
A study published Tuesday in PLOS One reports that between 1963 and 1974, the 12 female and 3 male giant tortoises still living on the islands were brought into captivity in order to replenish the population. Since then, more than 1,500 offspring have been released, and now there is no longer any need for humans to intervene.
"The population is secure," James P. Gibbs, a professor...More
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New York Times Hit With Incredibly Weird Lawsuit
The owners of Texas Monthly magazine are set to sue its former editor, Jake Silverstein, for leaving to edit the New York Times Magazine, the paper said Friday. For good measure, the company, Emmis Communications, is also suing the Times itself.
Silverstein's hiring in March was widely praised, but apparently Emmis decided that he was in breach of contract for leaving the Monthly — and that the Times was liable for "inducing" him to break the contract.
Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy called the decision "inexplicable" in a statement:
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