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22 Jan 18:12

NSA Admits It Has AGAIN Been Deleting Evidence Needed In Long-Running Surveillance Lawsuit

by Tim Cushing

The NSA is once again deleting data it's been ordered to retain for ongoing lawsuits. This isn't the first time. The Jewel v. NSA lawsuit -- which is nearing its tenth year in litigation -- has been ground zero for multiple NSA screw-ups. The shutdown of the Section 215 program resulted in some perhaps deliberate confusion within the agency. At first, the NSA decided it should just purge its 215 collections, taking with it anything that might be used against it in the Jewel case. Then it decided it would keep everything, giving it the opportunity to trawl pre-reform data banks for anything it might find useful, while simultaneously stiff-arming plaintiffs' requests for surveillance records.

Despite angering multiple judges with its inability to follow simple court orders, the NSA is back in front of a judge trying to explain why it has failed yet again to retain data relevant to the Jewel case.

[T]he NSA told U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White in a filing on Thursday night and another little-noticed submission last year that the agency did not preserve the content of internet communications intercepted between 2001 and 2007 under the program Bush ordered. To make matters worse, backup tapes that might have mitigated the failure were erased in 2009, 2011 and 2016, the NSA said.

That's the problem with collecting all the stuff. Where do you put it? Sooner or later, you have to get rid some stuff to make room for the new stuff. But rest assured, the NSA feels just awful it may have deleted crucial evidence.

“The NSA sincerely regrets its failure to prevent the deletion of this data,” NSA’s deputy director of capabilities, identified publicly as “Elizabeth B.,” wrote in a declaration filed in October. “NSA senior management is fully aware of this failure, and the Agency is committed to taking swift action to respond to the loss of this data.”

In the update Thursday, another NSA official said the data were deleted during a broad, housecleaning effort aimed at making space for incoming information.

Evidence spoliation d/b/a performance enhancements. That's the NSA way. The NSA claims potential evidence wasn't "targeted" but possibly was deleted. In other words: incidental deletion. This follows the NSA's assertions possible evidence was secured and fully backed up. Supposedly magnetic tapes containing communications and metadata pertinent to the Jewel case had been physically set aside and segregated from the NSA's other backups and data collections. That now appears not to have been the case.

The NSA is “preserving magnetic/digital tapes of the Internet content intercepted under the [PSP] since the inception of the program,” [NSA official Miriam P.] wrote, adding that “the NSA has stored these tapes in the offices of its General Counsel.”

The agency now says, “regrettably,” that the statement “may have been only partially accurate when made.”

The NSA is now making "extraordinary" efforts to recover the stuff it said wouldn't be erased. As the EFF (representing the plaintiff) has pointed out (repeatedly), missing evidence should be presumed to be favorable to the person asking for it to be handed over. Anything the NSA can't come up with should bolster the plaintiff's case. The NSA can't plausibly argue the plaintiff was never targeted or swept up incidentally in its collections if it doesn't have a copy of this data that shows otherwise.

Any person offering up shrugs and apologies instead of requested evidence could expect to be sanctioned by the court. Somehow I doubt the NSA will be subject to the same rules that apply to everyone else.

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20 Jan 07:12

Twitter begins emailing the 677,775 Americans who took Russian election bait [Updated]

by Sam Machkovech

Enlarge / Maybe Twitter should try this approach for the 677,775 emails it says it will soon send to affected users. (credit: Warner Bros. / Sam Machkovech)

On Friday, Twitter took an end-of-the-week opportunity to dump some better-late-than-never news onto its userbase. For anybody who followed or engaged with a Twitter account that faked like an American during the 2016 election season but was actually linked to a major Russian propaganda campaign, you're about to get an email.

Twitter announced that it would contact a massive number of users with that news: 677,775 users to be exact. This count includes those who interacted with the 3,814 accounts that Twitter has directly linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the Russian troll farm whose election-related meddling was exposed in 2017.

That number of accounts, Twitter noted, is a jump from Twitter's prior count of 2,812 IRA-linked trolls, which it had disclosed as part of an October 2017 hearing in Congress. Twitter says that this specific pool of troll accounts generated 175,993 posts during the 2016 period of activity that Twitter has been analyzing, and the service noted that 8.4 percent of those posts were "election-related." In its Friday disclosure, Twitter did not take the opportunity to acknowledge how the remaining percentage of these posts, which included anything from "I'm a real person" idle banter to indirect and divisive messaging, may have ultimately contributed to the troll farm's impact. (For example: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey bit, and bit hard, on a known IRA account by retweeting two of its 2016 posts.)

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20 Jan 00:05

Republicans Have Four Easy Ways to #ReleaseTheMemo — and the Evidence for It. Not Doing So Will Prove Them to Be Shameless Frauds.

by Glenn Greenwald

One of the gravest and most damaging abuses of state power is to misuse surveillance authorities for political purposes. For that reason, The Intercept, from its inception, has focused extensively on these issues.

We therefore regard as inherently serious strident warnings from public officials alleging that the FBI and Department of Justice have abused their spying power for political purposes. Social media last night and today have been flooded with inflammatory and quite dramatic claims now being made by congressional Republicans about a four-page memo alleging abuses of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act spying processes during the 2016 election. This memo, which remains secret, was reportedly written under the direction of the chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, and has been read by dozens of members of Congress after the committee voted to make the memo available to all members of the House of Representatives to examine in a room specially designated for reviewing classified material.

The rhetoric issuing from GOP members who read the memo is notably extreme. North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, chair of the House Freedom Caucus, called the memo “troubling” and “shocking” and said, “Part of me wishes that I didn’t read it because I don’t want to believe that those kinds of things could be happening in this country that I call home and love so much.” GOP Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania stated: “You think about, ‘Is this happening in America or is this the KGB?’ That’s how alarming it is.”

This has led to a ferocious outcry on the right to “release the memo” – and presumably thereby prove that the Obama administration conducted unlawful surveillance on the Trump campaign and transition. On Thursday night, Fox News host and stalwart Trump ally Sean Hannity claimed that the memo described “the systematic abuse of power, the weaponizing of those powerful tools of intelligence and the shredding of our Fourth Amendment constitutional rights.”

Given the significance of this issue, it is absolutely true that the memo should be declassified and released to the public — and not just the memo itself. The House Intelligence Committee generally and Nunes specifically have a history of making unreliable and untrue claims (its report about Edward Snowden was full of falsehoods, as Bart Gellman amply documented, and prior claims from Nunes about “unmasking” have been discredited). Thus, mere assertions from Nunes — or anyone else — are largely worthless; Republicans should provide American citizens not merely with the memo they claim reveals pervasive criminality and abuse of power, but also with all of the evidence underlying its conclusions.

President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have the power, working together or separately, to immediately declassify all the relevant information. And if indeed the GOP’s explosive claims are accurate – if, as HPSCI member Steve King, R-Iowa, says, this is “worse than Watergate” — they obviously have every incentive to get it into the public’s hands as soon as possible. Indeed, one could argue that they have the duty to do so.

On the other hand, if the GOP’s claims are false or significantly misleading – if they are, with the deepest cynicism imaginable, simply using these crucial issues to whip up their base or discredit the Mueller investigation, or exaggerating or making claims that lack any evidentiary support, or trying to have the best of all worlds by making explosive claims about the memo but never having to prove their truth — then they will either not release the memo or they will release it without any supporting documentation, making it impossible for Americans to judge its accuracy for themselves.

Anyone who is genuinely concerned about the claims being made about eavesdropping abuses should understand why the issue of evidence is so critical. After all, the House, Senate, and FBI investigations into any Trump collusion with Russia have so far proceeded with many startling claims in the media, but to date little hard evidence for the public to judge. Nobody rational should be assuming any claims or assertions from partisan actors about the 2016 election are true without seeing evidence to substantiate those claims.

The good news is there are at least four easy ways for congressional Republicans and/or Trump to definitively prove that all the right’s darkest suspicions about the Obama administration are true. If this memo and the underlying documents prove even a fraction of what GOP politicians and media figures are claiming about them, then what could possibly justify its ongoing concealment? Any or all of these methods should be promptly invoked to ensure that the public sees this evidence:

1. Trump can declassify anything he wants.

All classification by the U.S. government has no basis in laws passed by Congress (with one tiny exception that is irrelevant here). Rather, all classification is based on presidential executive orders, which rely on the president’s constitutional role as commander in chief of the armed forces. According to the Supreme Court, the presidential power “to classify and control access to information bearing on national security … flows primarily from the constitutional investment of power in the president.”

That means presidents can also declassify anything they chose to — for any reason or no reason — as they have done in the past. George W. Bush, under pressure in 2004, declassified the section of the 2001 presidential daily brief headlined “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” Barack Obama declassified the Justice Department memos produced during the Bush presidency on the legality of torture.

Thus if the House Intelligence Committee merely releases a version of its memo without the supporting documentation, that won’t be just because they don’t want Americans to see it – it will be because Trump doesn’t want us to see it either. Note that GOP House members are insistent that releasing the memo and the underlying source material would not remotely harm national security:

So what possible justification is there for Trump to continue to conceal this alleged evidence of massive criminality from the American people by hiding it behind “classified” designations? Indeed, it is illegal to abuse classified designations to hide evidence of official criminality: so not only can Trump declassify such evidence, one could argue that he must, or at least should.

2. The House (and Senate) intelligence committees can declassify any material they possess.

According to the procedural rules of both houses of Congress, their intelligence committees can declassify material in their possession if the committee votes that such declassification would be in the public interest. It is then declassified after five days unless the president formally objects. If the president does object, the full chamber votes on the question.

It is true that – in a measure of how embarrassingly deferential Congress is to the executive branch – neither the House nor the Senate intelligence committees has ever utilized this power, so it’s impossible to know how this gambit would play out in practice. But if Trump refused to release proof of the Obama administration’s misdeeds, congressional Republicans should have a straightforward way to overrule him.

3. The Constitution protects members of Congress from prosecution for “any speech or debate in either House.”

Members of Congress have legal immunity for acts they commit as part of the legislative process. Article I, Section 6, clause 1 of the Constitution states that “for any speech or debate in either House, [Senators and Representatives] shall not be questioned in any other place.” It is this constitutional shield that protected Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska from legal consequences in 1971 when he read sections of the Pentagon Papers during a meeting of the Senate Subcommittee on Public Buildings and Grounds, and then placed the rest of the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record.

It’s true that members could face legal consequences for ancillary acts — perhaps if they unlawfully removed the relevant material from the congressional SCIF. But they could go to the House floor and describe both the memo’s revelations and the underlying evidence for it without any fear of legal consequences.

If the memo really proves what they claim, it would seem to be their patriotic duty would compel them do this. Ordinary citizens — like Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning — have risked prison in order to expose what they believed were serious official crimes; these members of Congress can do this without any of those consequences. So what justifies their failure to do this?

4. Republicans can leak everything to the news media.

If for some reason Trump and the congressional leadership refuse to use any of the above options to vindicate themselves, a brave member of Congress could turn whistleblower and transmit the classified proof of the GOP’s claims about the memo to the news media.

Many outlets now have secure methods of sending sensitive material to them, such as Secure Drop. Those for The Intercept can be found here. (All leaking entails risks, as we describe in our manual for whistleblowers.)

So that’s that. All Americans, particularly conservatives, should ask every Republican making spectacular assertions about this memo when they will be using the above ways to conclusively demonstrate that everything they’ve said is based in rock-solid fact.

If they do not, Republicans will conclusively demonstrate something else. They will prove conclusively that all of this is about them shamelessly making claims they do not actually believe, fraudulently posturing as caring about one of the most vital, fundamental issues facing the United States: how the U.S. government uses the vast surveillance powers with which it has been vested.

Top photo: The official seal of the FBI is seen on an iPhone’s camera screen outside the J. Edgar Hoover headquarters in Washington, on Feb. 23, 2016.

The post Republicans Have Four Easy Ways to #ReleaseTheMemo — and the Evidence for It. Not Doing So Will Prove Them to Be Shameless Frauds. appeared first on The Intercept.

20 Jan 00:00

A Lesson for the March for Life: Colorado Invested in Contraceptive Access and Cut Teen Abortions by Half

by Zaid Jilani

Tens of thousands of anti-abortion marchers descended on Washington, D.C. on Friday, the 45th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that liberalized abortion laws.

The March for Lifers are united behind an agenda focused on limiting or eliminating legal access to abortion; many of the House Republicans who courted the demonstrators are currently trying to pass a law that would prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

But for those in the march looking to reduce abortions and unintended pregnancies, Colorado has already shown the way forward.

In 2008, the Colorado Department of Public Health partnered with a private donor to launch the Colorado Family Planning Initiative. With $27,370,246 in private funding, the CFPI set out to provide education and access — ranging from low-cost to free — to long-acting reversible contraceptives, or LARCs, such as IUDs and implants using Colorado’s network of Title X family planning clinics.

By mid-2015, the program had provided LARCs to around 36,000 women. A state report released last year showed that CFPI has been a dramatic success in reducing both teen pregnancy and the frequency of abortions sought by teens. The report notes that “between 2009 and 2014, birth and abortion rates both declined by nearly 50 percent among teens aged 15-19.”

The report concedes that there was a national decline in teen fertility during this period as well, but notes that Colorado actually outperformed the rest of the nation. “While the U.S. teen fertility rate was also declining during this time period, dropping 36 percent from 37.9 to 24.2, the decline was not as steep as it was in Colorado,” it writes. “The two rates began as nearly identical in 2009, but by 2014, Colorado’s rate was nearly five points lower.”

The Colorado Department of Public health also concluded that state and federal taxpayers saved tens of millions of dollars thanks to the program. It estimated that “a total of $66,063,664 to $69,625,751 in entitlement program costs for Colorado women ages 15 to 24 and their infants were avoided from 2010 to 2014 due to the Colorado Family Planning Initiative.” These cost savings come from calculating the expected spending from programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and other safety net programs had these teen pregnancies not been avoided.

Some in the anti-abortion movement are slowly coming to embrace using education and access to birth control as the primary means to reduce abortion. Robb Ryerse, a self-described anti-abortion Republican challenging an incumbent in Arkansas’s deep-red third district, told The Intercept last year that he opposes legal restrictions on abortions.

“I don’t think that criminalization of abortion has been proven to reduce the number of abortions,” he said. “We’re actually seeing over the last eight years with an increase in funding for health care and education and fighting poverty we’re seeing abortion levels at their lowest rate that they’ve ever been even before Roe v. Wade, so I think that’s the path to be on.”

But for many, the data don’t matter. Some elements of the movement — such as the owners of Hobby Lobby — claim falsely that IUDs actually cause abortions. The conservative group Focus on the Family, which also opposes IUDs on principle, said it was offended by the study, which it warned would lead to increased sexual activity.

When time came for the Colorado legislature to increase its own spending on LARC programs, Republicans were split on the program, with those in favor arguing it was fiscally conservative and reduced abortion, and those opposed arguing on principle against contraceptives, comparing them to abortion.  In 2015, they defeated a funding expansion for the program. The following year, the program won the needed funding only after GOP opposition was overcome.

Top photo: Thousands of anti-abortion activists from around the U.S. gather near the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Jan. 19, 2017 for the annual “March for Life.”

The post A Lesson for the March for Life: Colorado Invested in Contraceptive Access and Cut Teen Abortions by Half appeared first on The Intercept.

19 Jan 23:56

Facebook Will Trust Its Untrustworthy Users to Rank the Trustworthiness of News

by Sam Biddle

Facebook users, by and large, are not very good at differentiating between what’s fact and what’s false. Many users will eagerly share both reliable news and the fake stuff without any hesitation. It happens because users either want the falsehoods to be received as true or simply can’t tell the difference. Rampant media illiteracy is the root cause of the fake news handwringing we’ve been dealing with since before the election, and will be fretting over until the end of time (or the end of Facebook, whichever comes first). Today, Facebook honcho Mark Zuckerberg said he is setting out to fix this fundamental problem of digital media illiteracy — by putting more power in the hands of the illiterate.

In a new Facebook post today, Zuckerberg said he “asked our product teams to make sure we prioritize news that is trustworthy, informative, and local.” Why this has only become a priority in the company’s 14th year of existence is left unsaid. Zuckerberg admitted that “there’s too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarization in the world today,” and that his website “enables people to spread information faster than ever before.” As with the rest of Silicon Valley, Facebook is obsessed with the appearance of machine-like objectivity, and so Zuckerberg said figuring out which outlets deliberately package viral-ready falsehoods and which do not is a head-scratcher (spoiler — it isn’t):

The hard question we’ve struggled with is how to decide what news sources are broadly trusted in a world with so much division. We could try to make that decision ourselves, but that’s not something we’re comfortable with. We considered asking outside experts, which would take the decision out of our hands but would likely not solve the objectivity problem. Or we could ask you — the community — and have your feedback determine the ranking.

So, rather than relying on the subjectivity and biases of a team of outside experts, Facebook will rely on the subjectivity and biases of two billion people around the world. Specifically, Facebook said it will decide which media outlets are prioritized at least in part by just asking people which outlets they like:

As part of our ongoing quality surveys, we will now ask people whether they’re familiar with a news source and, if so, whether they trust that source. The idea is that some news organizations are only trusted by their readers or watchers, and others are broadly trusted across society even by those who don’t follow them directly. (We eliminate from the sample those who aren’t familiar with a source, so the output is a ratio of those who trust the source to those who are familiar with it.)

Facebook is either unaware of — or, more likely — unwilling to deal with the fact that people have rabid, tribalistic loyalties to certain outlets. Someone who enjoys sharing, say, the Daily Caller or InfoWars articles is going to of course say that these are trustworthy outlets. Otherwise, they’re admitting that they voluntarily consume and spread information that isn’t trustworthy, and we all think too highly of ourselves for that. According to a Facebook spokesperson, the surveys are meant to make sure “people can have more from their favorite sources and more from trusted sources.” Isn’t part of the Facebook information disaster that so many people count things like RedStateEagleMilitiaZoneDeepStateNews (or what have you) among their “favorite sources”? Should we be asking these people what’s trustworthy and what isn’t? Should they be deciding what will appear on your feed — or even there own — as reliable news?

Similarly, no one who posts five MSNBC articles every day is going to even consider giving Fox News a vote of trustworthiness. In fact, partisan news consumers will relish an opportunity to boost their side and downvote the bad guys, a cherished internet pastime. Rather than fix the enormous, world-spanning information morass they’ve created, Facebook is punting responsibility to its users (and, of course, the almighty Algorithm).

Facebook is still as reluctant to do anything that will cause it institutional discomfort or provoke backlash from its right-and-left-aligned users.

Details on how exactly these surveys will function are scant for now, though the Facebook spokesperson told me these new “changes that are not intended to directly impact any specific groups of publishers based on their size or ideological leanings.” The spokesperson added, “We do not plan to release individual publishers’ trust scores because they represent an incomplete picture of how each story’s position in each person’s feed is determined.”

It’s also unclear how this would affect small or new outlets that have little to no name recognition because they’re small or new. What is clear is that Facebook in the new year is still as reluctant to do anything that will cause it institutional discomfort or provoke backlash from its right-and-left-aligned users. So long as Facebook remains a corporate monolith with immense control over the entire worldwide media industry, this problem won’t go away.

At the outset of the year, Zuckerberg declared it his personal challenge to fix what’s broken at his company. Today, he said to everyone, Here, you deal with it.

Top photo: Employees have lunch at the canteen at Facebook’s new headquarters, at Rathbone Place in central London on Dec. 4, 2017.

The post Facebook Will Trust Its Untrustworthy Users to Rank the Trustworthiness of News appeared first on The Intercept.

19 Jan 19:18


by Reza

19 Jan 19:18

Porn traffic before and after the missile alert in Hawaii

by Nathan Yau

PornHub compared minute-to-minute traffic on their site before and after the missile alert to an average Saturday (okay for work). Right after the alert there was a dip as people rushed for shelter, but not long after the false alarm notice, traffic appears to spike.

Some interpret this as people rushed to porn after learning that a missile was not headed towards their home. Maybe that’s part of the reason, but my guess is that Saturday morning porn consumers woke earlier than usual.

Tags: missile, porn

19 Jan 18:58

The global state of science

by John Timmer

Enlarge (credit: Oak Ridge National Lab)

By law, the National Science Foundation is required to do a biennial evaluation of the state of science research and innovation. This is one of the years it's due, and the NSF has gotten its Science and Engineering Indicators report ready for delivery to Congress and the president. The report is generally optimistic, finding significant funding for science and a strong return on that investment in terms of jobs and industries. But it does highlight how the global focus is shifting, with China and South Korea making massive investments in research and technology.

Science isn't a monolithic endeavor, so there's no way to create a single measure that captures global scientific progress. Instead, the NSF looked at 42 different indicators that track things like research funding, business investments, training of scientists, and more. All of these measures were evaluated for the globe, in order to put the US' scientific activity in perspective.

Show me the money

Overall, science funding is on a good trajectory. In 2005, global R&D spending was just under a trillion dollars; by 2015, it had cleared $2 trillion. In total, 75 percent of that is spent in 10 nations; in order of spending, these are the United States, China, Japan, Germany, South Korea, France, India, and the United Kingdom. The US alone spends about $500 billion. China, which was at roughly $100 billion a decade ago, has now cleared $400 billion.

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19 Jan 18:57

Malicious Chrome extension is next to impossible to manually remove

by Dan Goodin

(credit: Malwarebytes)

Proving once again that Google Chrome extensions are the Achilles heel of what's arguably the Internet's most secure browser, a researcher has documented a malicious add-on that tricks users into installing it and then, he said, is nearly impossible for most to manually uninstall. It was available for download on Google servers until Wednesday, 19 days after it was privately reported to Google security officials, a researcher said.

Once installed, an app called "Tiempo en colombia en vivo" prevents users from accessing the list of installed Chrome extensions by redirecting requests to chrome://apps/?r=extensions instead of chrome://extensions/, the page that lists all installed extensions and provides an interface for temporarily disabling or uninstalling them. Malwarebytes researcher Pieter Arntz said he experimented with a variety of hacks—including disabling JavaScript in the browser, starting Chrome with all extensions disabled, and renaming the folder where extensions are stored—none of them worked. Removing the extension proved so difficult that he ultimately advised users to run the free version of Malwarebytes and let it automatically remove the add-on.

When Arntz installed the extension on a test machine, Chrome spontaneously clicked on dozens of YouTube videos, an indication that inflating the number of views was among the things it did. The researcher hasn't ruled out the possibility that the add-on did more malicious things because the amount of obfuscated JavaScript it contained made a comprehensive analysis too time consuming. The researcher provided additional details in a blog post published Thursday.

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19 Jan 12:40

New blood test could help detect eight common cancers before they spread

Researchers have said a groundbreaking new blood test that can detect eight common types of cancer before they spread will save countless lives.

They said “liquid biopsy” – developed in the US – would be a game-changer in the fight against cancer, and hoped it could be widely available within a few years.

The test was able to detect tumours about 70% of the time on average in more than 1,000 patients with early-stage cancer. Crucially, it did so before the cancers had spread, giving patients the best chance of beating the disease.

It works by looking for mutated DNA that dying cells shed into the blood, and protein biomarkers associated with bowel, breast, liver, lung, oesophageal, ovarian, pancreatic and stomach cancer.

Professor Peter Gibbs, from the Walter and Eliza Institute in Melbourne, who has worked on the test, dubbed CancerSEEK, said he thought it would save thousands of lives. He hoped it would become widely available, and affordable, before too long.

“For the first time we’re seeing a potential for a blood test that can screen for many types of nasty cancers that up until now, we’ve had to wait until symptoms [arise] and diagnose quite late,” Gibbs told the ABC.

It has proved effective in detecting cancers, such as pancreatic cancer, that often result in few if any symptoms until the disease is well advanced, often meaning death for the patient.

Gibbs said many more people would be willing to have a simple blood test than undergo unpleasant and invasive screening procedures, such as colonoscopies.

With cancer risks rising from the age of 50, he said, the test would be most important to older people, but also for younger people whose family histories might put them in a high-risk category.

The test, developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in the US, is now being tested on 10,000 more people.

“The big question is going to be the cost,” Gibbs said. “I suspect currently you’re looking at $1,000 or something like that ... but as with most technologies, and scale, things get a lot cheaper over time ... hopefully that’ll drop to a few hundred dollars.”

The research was published in the journal Science.

19 Jan 11:47

Peeved by price gouging and shortages, hospitals will now make their own drugs

by Beth Mole

Enlarge / Former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli. Jail for him, competition for his kind. (credit: Getty | Drew Angerer )

For four of the country’s largest hospital systems, enough is enough.

Sick of drug companies’ eye-popping price hikes and ridiculous shortages, the feisty hospital systems announced Wednesday that they’ve banded together and formed an unnamed non-profit to make their own steady supply of affordable generic medicines.

The leading hospital system, Intermountain Healthcare, released a statement explaining:

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19 Jan 11:47

FCC admits mobile can’t replace home Internet, won’t lower speed standard

by Jon Brodkin

Enlarge (credit: Steve Johnson)

The Federal Communications Commission is making its latest determination of whether broadband is being deployed to all Americans quickly enough, and there are a few notable tidbits from what we know about the report so far.

The FCC today released a fact sheet on the draft Broadband Progress Report and a statement by Chairman Ajit Pai, but not the actual draft report.

Pai's FCC has determined that mobile broadband is not a full substitute for home Internet services. The FCC says this even after previously suggesting that mobile Internet might be all Americans need. The FCC also won't be lowering the speed standard that it uses to judge whether broadband deployment is happening quickly enough.

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18 Jan 19:11

Apple rejects net neutrality testing app, says it offers “no benefits to users”

by Jon Brodkin

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Brian A. Jackson)

An iPhone application that attempts to detect whether ISPs are throttling online services was rejected by Apple when its developer tried to get it into the company's App Store.

David Choffnes, a Northeastern University professor who researches distributed systems and networking, built an app called "Wehe" that tests the speeds of YouTube, Amazon, NBCSports, Netflix, Skype, Spotify, and Vimeo. Abnormally low speed results for one or more of those services might, in theory, provide evidence that your mobile carrier is throttling a service.

But as Motherboard reported today, Apple refused to let the app into the iPhone App Store, telling him that "your app has no direct benefits to the user." Motherboard was able to test a beta version of the app using Apple's TestFlight platform and provided this screenshot of the application in action:

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18 Jan 17:46

Christian Group That Pushed “Bathroom Bills” Is Taking Anti-Transgender Fight to Prisons

by Aviva Stahl

Donna Langan is very worried. Langan is a transgender woman in an American prison. She is a direct beneficiary of federal anti-rape regulations finalized in 2012, as well as subsequent changes to Bureau of Prisons policy, which have made it possible for a small number of trans people locked up in federal facilities to be housed in accordance with their gender identity. In March 2016, after spending years struggling to stay safe in male facilities, Langan was transferred to Federal Medical Center Carswell, a federal prison located just outside of Fort Worth, Texas.

For Lagan and the other trans women locked up at Carswell, the new policies were a lifeline. They were allowed to escape the pervasive risks they faced in male custody, including sexual and physical assault from prisoners and guards; they frequently ended up in solitary confinement, either as punishment or, perversely, for “protection.”

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than one third of transgender people held in prisons and jails experience sexual violence, the highest reported of any demographic group studied; the new policies were meant to ease this burden.

Today, however, a Christian legal advocacy group with a growing national profile, called Alliance Defending Freedom, is working to undo the regulations and policies that helped Langan move to Carswell. Now she is at risk of being sent back into the male prison population.

“I had to learn to fight to not make my whole existence a living hell. I’m not trying to live that way again.”

“I had to learn to fight to not make my whole existence a living hell, even though it was to some extent,” said Langan, of her life before she was transferred to a women’s facility. “I’m not trying to live that way again.”

Langan’s status at Carswell was thrown into jeopardy by a lawsuit initially filed in February 2017 by a group of three cisgender women previously housed at the prison. The lawsuit, joined by Alliance Defending Freedom last April, seeks to reverse the policy that has made Langan’s new life possible.

This isn’t ADF’s first foray into attacking transgender rights. The organization, labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, and its supporters have pushed several state-level “bathroom bills” — legislation that seeks to restrict transgender people’s rights to use restrooms that align with their gender identity, rather than their gender assigned at birth. In arguing for their clients in the Carswell case, ADF is drawing on the same logic utilized when promoting bathroom bills: recognizing trans people’s gender self-identifications puts cis people in danger.

ADF’s involvement in the Carswell lawsuit represents yet another front from which the group is endeavoring to roll back protections for LGBT people, at time when ADF has more support than ever within the Department of Justice. With many of the cisgender women who originally filed the lawsuit now transferred to a different facility, the case is now in settlement negotiations. Bureau of Prisons policy could not be changed overnight without the Justice Department violating federal law and risking another lawsuit, said LGBT advocates and attorneys interviewed by The Intercept, although some said such a move on the DOJ’s part would not have surprised them.

“Placement of transgender women in women’s facilities is exceedingly rare and where it does happen, it is often the result of years of advocacy by the individual prisoners and detainees,” said Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberty Union’s LGBT & AIDS Project, who has worked to oppose bathroom bill legislation and support incarcerated trans people. “Attacks on these placements by non-transgender women alleging harms by simply existing in space in proximity to women who are transgender are legally frivolous, but the message to the transgender individuals who are fighting so hard to survive is devastating.”

Jules Williams, 37, right, a transgender woman, looks on during a news conference following the filing of a lawsuit on her behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania against Allegheny County, Monday Nov. 6, 2017, in Pittsburgh. Williams claims that she was repeatedly physically and sexually assaulted during stays in the Allegheny County Jail because the staff refused to place her with female inmates. (Nate Guidry/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

Jules Williams, 37, right, a transgender woman, filed a lawsuit against Allegheny County, Pa., on Monday Nov. 6, 2017, in Pittsburgh. Williams claims that she was repeatedly physically and sexually assaulted during stays in the Allegheny County Jail because the staff refused to place her with female inmates.

Photo: Nate Guidry/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/AP

The case hanging over Donna Langan, Fleming v. United States, concerns policies that enable transgender prisoners to be housed according to their gender identity by mandating case-by-case evaluations and prohibiting placement determined solely on the basis of an individual’s external genitalia. The regulations were the result of a decadeslong bipartisan effort, initiated under President George W. Bush, to end the epidemic of sexual violence inside American prisons, jails, and detention centers. The effort culminated with the unanimous passage through Congress of the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003, which created a bipartisan commission to study and address prison sexual violence; it garnered support from such wide-ranging groups as the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family and the NAACP.

Historically, jails and prisons have almost always housed transgender individuals in accordance with their genitalia. “Because very few incarcerated transgender people had any way to access transition-related surgical treatment (even in cases where it would have been medically indicated), this has almost invariably meant transgender women being housed in men’s prisons, and transgender men being housed in women’s prisons,” Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality, told The Intercept over email. “This automatic practice has contributed to the extremely high rates of sexual abuse of transgender prisoners.”

The final PREA standards, released in 2012 under President Barack Obama, sought to address the problem by requiring correctional agencies to evaluate transgender individuals for placement on a case-by-case basis and take into consideration the prisoner’s own sense of where they might be safest. The Bureau of Prisons subsequently developed internal regulations in accordance with the standards, including the creation of a Transgender Executive Council to help determine placement.

Over the last few years, conditions for incarcerated trans people in Bureau of Prisons custody, as well as some other jurisdictions, have improved somewhat, said Tobin, pointing to better housing policies and increased access to hormones. According to the Bureau of Prisons, as of December 2, 2017 there were 473 individuals in BOP custody who identified as transgender. The Fleming case could impact them all.

For Alliance Defending Freedom, American prisons’ moves to alleviate the risks for incarcerated transgender people are a response to a contrived crisis — contrived by the transgender people themselves.

Donna Langan is a former member of the Aryan Republican Army, who has been incarcerated on and off from the time she was 15. She is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for robbing two banks and assaulting federal officers, among other charges. (Langan acknowledges and is remorseful for her past, and says she no longer maintains racist beliefs.) The 59-year-old, who began taking hormones in March 2012, said that in men’s facilities, the threat of violence was “always there.”

“I had to constantly think every day about different survival strategies,” she said in a phone interview, a perpetual sense of fear she no longer has to live with now that she’s housed with women. At times, claimed Langan, prison staff forced her to share a cell with sex offenders, which made her feel particularly at risk. “You’re like, ‘I’m not trying to be a victim,’ yet if you’re too aggressive in defending yourself, you can get in trouble,” she said.

For the Alliance Defending Freedom, American prisons’ moves to alleviate the risks for incarcerated transgender people are a response to a contrived crisis — contrived by the transgender people themselves, and the prisons that accede to their gender identity. In the Fleming lawsuit, the word transgender appears in scare quotes and Langan and the other transgender women are referred to using male pronouns; the suit condemns federal prison authorities for harming the plaintiffs — the cisgender women — by accepting what ADF calls “gender-identity ideology.”

To Langan, ADF’s assault on transgender rights is more than an abstract affront: The Fleming lawsuit specifically names Langan, as well as several other transgender women locked up at Carswell, and alleges that they perpetrated acts of violence against the cisgender plaintiffs and other cisgender women. Langan adamantly denied to The Intercept that she has harmed anyone at Carswell. “I’ve never threatened anybody in this institution, period,” she said. “I’ve been investigated by all the little people here, and all their little claims have been investigated. If there was like one scintilla of truthfulness and seriousness [to these allegations], then I’d be locked up” — a reference to solitary confinement. The government concurred: In a brief filed over the summer, the authorities said they investigated the plaintiffs’ claims of experiencing harassment and harm at the hands of transgender prisoners, and found that these allegations were unsubstantiated.

Langan acknowledges that one of the transgender women named in the suit did violate prison rules, including exposing herself to a group of women. But the woman has since been moved into the Special Housing Unit for a disciplinary infraction, Langan said, which is what would occur with any other prisoner who violated the rules.

Trans people may be at greater risk than their cis peers of being victims — not perpetrators — of physical and sexual violence.

ADF’s fight against transgender civil rights outside prison walls has had a direct impact on its efforts against incarcerated transgender people. Years before they joined the Fleming lawsuit, ADF drafted model legislation called the Student Physical Privacy Act, that would prohibit transgender children in public school from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity. This language has been taken up in legislative efforts across the country.

In May 2016, a former ADF staffer was among the litigators in the Texas Attorney General’s office when the state and 10 others filed lawsuit to block a Department of Education guidance explaining why transgender public school students should be able to use the restroom according to their gender identity. A few months later, federal Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction blocking the guidance.

Rhonda Fleming and two other Carswell detainees asked the court to extend the Texas injunction to federal prisons’ policy. That motion was subsequently severed from the Texas case as its own civil action, which is how the Fleming lawsuit was born as a separate case. Since Carswell is located in the Northern District of Texas, O’Connor is also presiding over the Fleming case.

The plaintiffs in both the Texas and Fleming lawsuits contend that transgender people pose a grave threat to women and girls, despite statistics indicating that trans people (especially those who are poor or people of color) may be at greater risk than their cis peers of being victims — not perpetrators — of physical and sexual violence.

In legal rulings dating as far back as 1991, courts have rejected the argument that sharing space with transgender individuals violates the safety or privacy of cisgender individuals. “The plaintiffs’ claims that the presence of other prisoners who were transgender violated their rights were highly doubtful to begin with, given existing case law,” said Tobin, of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “It is hard to see how they have any standing at all on such claims when they have been transferred to different facilities.”

Despite the weak legal arguments, the ADF has a significant advantage in its political reach. In an investigation of ADF published in November 2017 in The Nation, journalist Sarah Posner documented the group’s ideological history, its multifaceted attack on LGBTQ rights, and its close ties to the Trump administration. The connections and cooperation between ADF and Trump’s Department of Justice go right to the very top. Attorney General Jeff Sessions consulted with the organization when drafting a controversial memo on how to interpret religious liberty protections under federal law. When he spoke at an ADF event this summer, Sessions reportedly praised the group for its “important work.”

Two transgender prisoners are allowed exercise time separated from the main prisoner population. The Men's Central Jail near downtown Los Angeles continues to be plagued by overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, along with inmate-on-inmate assaults and the use of excessive force by sheriff's deputies, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, released in May, 2010.  (Photo by Axel Koester/Corbis via Getty Images)

Two transgender prisoners are allowed exercise time separated from the main prisoner population in May 2010.

Photo: Axel Koester/Corbis via Getty Images

Speculation has swirled for a month that a settlement in the Fleming case is imminent. One settlement rumored as a possibility would involve transgender people being housed separately from others. Both the ADF and the Department of Justice declined to comment on the Fleming case or the ongoing settlement negotiations. But the ADF attorney litigating the suit, Gary McCaleb, told the Dallas Morning News that he was “pretty confident” the Bureau of Prisons would change its transgender housing policy.

“We have a multitude of issues. But certainly you’re going to have to find a way to separate, either in space or time, men and women in the general population,” McCaleb stressed to the Morning News. “However it’s done is less our concern than ensuring the privacy of women in prisons is protected.”

None of the experts contacted by The Intercept were able to speculate on the ongoing settlement negotiations. They did, however, agree that if the Justice Department wished to settle the Fleming case by reversing the Bureau of Prisons’ transgender housing regulations, it would face significant legal hurdles to doing so.

“DOJ is legally bound by the PREA standards to make genuine case-by-case decisions,” said Tobin. “Reopening the PREA rules would be a terrible and extremely controversial policy and legal decision, given the extraordinarily thorough and bipartisan process that produced them and the many interests that were balanced in this comprehensive set of regulations.”

Amy Fettig, deputy director for ACLU’s National Prison Project, told The Intercept, “[PREA] regulations can be changed, but it requires a particular process under the Administrative Procedures Act.” She added, “If they fail to follow that process, they can be sued and courts can overturn the regulations.”

Under the current interpretations of the PREA standards, trans-specific housing units are prohibited unless “established in connection with a consent decree, legal settlement, or legal judgment for the purpose of protecting such inmates” — but the aim of the Fleming lawsuit is to “protect” cisgender women, not vulnerable transgender prisoners.

“Since the day Sessions came in, he has prioritized attacks on transgender people.”

“It would not surprise me, however, if DOJ were willing to settle the case in a way that violates PREA,” Strangio told the Intercept. “Since the day Sessions came in, he has prioritized attacks on transgender people and used every available opportunity to roll back and compromise the explicit protections that exist in agency guidance, regulation, and enforcement.”

Strangio added that even without settling with ADF, the department could find ways to render the PREA standards almost meaningless. “With so few enforcement mechanisms within PREA, it is possible to simply continue the work of rubber-stamping audits without meaningful review of the systematic violence that prisoners and detainees remain subjected to in various carceral setting,” he said.

Back at Carswell, Langan hopes the Bureau of Prisons will approve her request for gender confirmation surgery, which would mean Langan would likely never be sent back to a men’s facility. In the meantime, she is keeping up the legal fight against a host of unsavory possibilities for settlement.

“Transgender prisoners are being reduced to second- or third-class citizens, and even nonpersons in this whole matter,” Langan pleaded in a motion submitted to the court in mid-December, after she heard the news about the possible settlement. “We cannot rely on the Federal Bureau of Prisons to protect our rights or defend policy that was meant to protect us when they are entering into secret negotiations to give away or deprive us of those same rights.”

Top photo: A prisoner leans against a bed frame in a new unit in the Harris County Jail for gay, bisexual. and transgender inmates in Houston, on Dec. 10, 2013.

The post Christian Group That Pushed “Bathroom Bills” Is Taking Anti-Transgender Fight to Prisons appeared first on The Intercept.

18 Jan 17:34

Trump Administration Tells Puerto Rico It’s Too Rich for Aid Money

by David Dayen

Means testing has now come to disaster aid — and it only applies to Puerto Rico.

When Congress passed a $36.5 billion disaster relief bill to bolster rebuilding efforts in several wildfire and hurricane-damaged areas in October, it shortchanged Puerto Rico, giving it a $4.9 billion loan instead of the grant that other areas received. Now, it appears the debt- and hurricane-ravaged island won’t even get that money.

First reported in El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico’s daily newspaper, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Treasury Department informed the Puerto Rican government on January 9 that they will not disburse the loan through the Community Disaster Loans Program, after finding that Puerto Rico had a cash balance on December 29 of last year of $1.7 billion for ongoing operations. The letter also cited $6.875 billion scattered in various local government accounts. Since the loan was intended to fill in a gap in day-to-day funding, FEMA determined Puerto Rico does not need the money at this time.

“Funds will be provided through the CDL Program when the Commonwealth’s central cash balance decreases to a certain level,” wrote FEMA official Alex Amparo and Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Gary Grippo. They didn’t specify that level but added that municipalities could also apply for loans.

There’s no question that the Puerto Rican government has lacked fiscal transparency. But the very fact that Puerto Rico must receive assistance as loans rather than grants, unlike any other entity receiving disaster assistance, is bad enough. That the island is being treated like a welfare recipient found to have too much money in its bank account takes it to another level. Among U.S. territories suffering from catastrophe, only Puerto Rico is being means-tested.

“Puerto Rican working families continue to be treated as second-class citizens by the Trump administration and Congress,” said Héctor Figueroa, president of the Service Employees International Union’s Local 32BJ, in a statement. “Despite being unable to carry out many vital functions, Puerto Rico is deemed by these federal agencies as not poor enough to qualify for emergency loans.”

The Puerto Rican government has asserted that its state-run power and sewer companies will exhaust funding this month. Nearly half of the island’s citizens remain without power. With FEMA and the Treasury refusing to release government-approved loans, it’ll be difficult for the Puerto Rican government to float money to the power and sewer companies.

The congressional assistance had to be tied to a specific purpose, like ongoing day-to-day management, only because it was offered as a loan. The October disaster relief bill also allocated $13.58 billion to FEMA’s regular disaster relief fund, but Puerto Rico is competing for that money against Florida, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which all experienced damage in violent summer hurricanes.

A more recent $81 billion disaster relief bill passed by the House in December also split its aid between Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and California, for the recent wildfires. In the debate over the bill, Puerto Rico was denied $4.6 billion to boost its Medicaid program, which has long suffered from inequities, receiving less in matching funds than U.S. states. The bill has languished in the Senate, where Democrats want the Medicaid funding included.

Puerto Rican officials have said Medicaid funding will run out early this year without the increased funding. Though this would seem to fit the definition of ongoing operations covered in the CDL program, FEMA and the Treasury did not reference Medicaid in their letter.

Puerto Rico also took a hit from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the Republican overhaul of the tax code, which treats manufacturing operations on the island like they’re in a foreign country, subject to a large export tax. Democrats want that rolled back in the next disaster supplemental as well. As The Intercept has reported, utility workers restoring power in Puerto Rico have alleged that the Army Corps of Engineers is hoarding supplies that could be used in the reconstruction effort. So FEMA and the Treasury’s decision fits with a recent history of smacking Puerto Rico while it’s down.

“Our federal government is telling 3.3 million Puerto Ricans that exercising its colonial power is more important than the survival of Puerto Rico’s people,” Figueroa of SEIU said.

Top photo: A local resident cleans debris near his damaged home in an area without electricity on Oct. 15, 2017 in San Isidro, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is suffering shortages of food and water in many areas and only 15 percent of grid electricity has been restored. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage including most of the electrical, gas, and water grid, as well as agriculture after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, swept through.

The post Trump Administration Tells Puerto Rico It’s Too Rich for Aid Money appeared first on The Intercept.

18 Jan 17:09

Planet finally stops setting warmest year records; 2017 merely finishes Top 3

by Scott K. Johnson

Enlarge / The results from NASA's dataset (showing temperature above the 1951-1980 average), which ranks 2017 as the 2nd warmest year on record. (credit: NASA)

Last year had its fair share of attention-grabbing natural disasters, so you can be forgiven for not keeping an eye on the global average temperature as the months rolled by. But NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the UK Met Office all announced their final tally today: 2017 ranks as the second or third warmest year on record, depending on which dataset you ask.

In the NASA dataset, 2017 comes in a few hundredths of a degree Celsius above third-place 2015, while NOAA puts 2015 a touch above 2017. The UK Met Office dataset also ranks 2017 in third. The datasets use slightly different methods, including different approaches to handling the polar regions, where weather stations are sparse.

It turns out that the cold weather in the eastern United States around the holiday season was not indicative of what was happening on the rest of the planet, much less for the rest of the year. President Donald Trump may have been tweeting that "we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming," but he was doing so during an exceedingly warm year.

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18 Jan 15:38

The Best Menstrual Cup

by Jack Smith
The Best Menstrual Cup
After spending 25 hours on research and testing 18 different cups from nine different manufacturers, we found that the MeLuna Classic is the best cup for first-time users. It’s the cup that comes in the biggest variety of sizes to accommodate people of different heights, athletic backgrounds, or vaginal birth histories. The MeLuna is also available in a firmer version and with different handles. Its design can be folded the most ways, yet it popped open easily, so it was the easiest to insert, remove, and clean.
18 Jan 13:31

Opinion | Aziz, We Tried to Warn You

In 1975, 42 years before the comedian Aziz Ansari reportedly brought a date home to his apartment and repeatedly tried to initiate sex with her after she told him “next time” and “I don’t want to feel forced,” Susan Brownmiller published “Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape.”

“All rape is an exercise in power,” Brownmiller wrote in 1975, “but some rapists have an edge that is more than physical.” Sometimes, the 1975 text suggests, rapists “operate within an emotional setting or within a dependent relationship that provides a hierarchical, authoritarian structure of its own that weakens a victim’s resistance, distorts her perspective and confounds her will.” “Against Our Will” has been available in American libraries since its publication, which was in 1975.

Ansari would have been 7 or 8 years old in 1991 when a feminist group at Antioch College fought to establish the school’s Sexual Offense Prevention Policy (informally the “Antioch rules” or, more commonly, the “infamous Antioch rules”) requiring affirmative and sustained consent throughout all sexual encounters, and he was 10 when “Saturday Night Live” mocked the Antioch rules in a sketch that cast Shannen Doherty as a “Victimization Studies” major.

Also in 1991, Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, detailing repeated sexual harassment at the hands of her boss, Clarence Thomas, who is still on the Supreme Court. Like Ansari, I, too, was 8 in 1991, and I vividly recall my mother explaining sexual harassment to me in the living room of my childhood home: “For example, a man might say, ‘I have a big penis, and I bet you’d like me to —’ well, you know.” She cut off, disgusted.

In 2008, Jessica Valenti and Jaclyn Friedman edited the anthology “Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape,” seven years before Ansari released his own book, “Modern Romance: An Investigation,” in which he explores dating and sex in the digital age.

In the summer of 2014 (perhaps as Ansari was writing his own book), the California Legislature passed a bill requiring “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity,” unleashing a debate on the efficacy of “yes means yes” that consumed the blogosphere for months. “Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent,” the bill stated. Feminist publications covered the issue exhaustively. In October 2014, Ansari appeared on “The Late Show With David Letterman” and declared himself a feminist.

In 2015, two years before Ansari stuck his fingers in a woman’s mouth who’d just told him “no, I don’t think I’m ready to do this,” according to the woman’s account, which was published this past weekend, Kate Harding published “Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture — and What We Can Do About It,” in which she described sexual assault as “not a ‘mistake’ but a deliberate decision to treat another person like a soulless object.” The same year, Rebecca Traister of New York Magazine argued for the need to look beyond consent to systems of power in an essay titled “The Game Is Rigged: Why Sex That’s Consensual Can Still Be Bad.”

There is a reflexive tendency, when grappling with stories of sexual misconduct like the accusations leveled at Ansari this past weekend — incidents that seem to exist in that vast gray area between assault and a skewed power dynamic — to point out that sexual norms have changed. This is true. The line between seduction and coercion has shifted, and shifted quickly, over the past few years (the past few months, even). When I was in my 20s, a decade ago, sex was something of a melee. “No means no” was the only rule, and it was still solidly acceptable in mainstream social circles to bother somebody until they agreed to have sex with you. (At the movies, this was called romantic comedy.)

What’s not true is the suggestion that complex conversations about consent are new territory, or that men weren’t given ample opportunity to catch up.

The books and articles and incidents and perspectives I listed above are nowhere near comprehensive, nor are they perfect, nor are they all in alignment with one another. But they are part of an extensive body of scholarship and activism, and they have been there this whole time for anyone who cared enough to pay attention. You don’t have to agree with the Antioch rules to be aware that they exist. You don’t have to build a shrine to Brownmiller to internalize the fact that women and femmes are autonomous human beings, many of whom felt dehumanized and unsatisfied by the old paradigm.

The notion of affirmative consent did not fall from space in October 2017 to confound well-meaning but bumbling men; it was built, loudly and painstakingly and in public, at great personal cost to its proponents, over decades. If you’re fretting about the perceived overreach of #MeToo, maybe start by examining the ways you’ve upheld the stigmatization of feminism. Nuanced conversations about consent and gendered socialization have been happening every single day that Aziz Ansari has spent as a living, sentient human on this earth. The reason they feel foreign to so many men is that so many men never felt like they needed to listen. Rape is a women’s issue, right? Men don’t major in women’s studies.

It may feel like the rules shifted overnight, and what your dad called the thrill of the chase is now what some people are calling assault. Unfortunately, no one — even plenty of men who call themselves feminists — wanted to listen to feminist women themselves. We tried to warn you. We wish you’d listened, too.

18 Jan 13:22

Is Pop Music Becoming Louder, Simpler and More Repetitive?

96652737 story Music Science Entertainment Technology

Posted by BeauHD from the music-science dept.

dryriver writes: The BBC has posted a very interesting article that investigates whether people claiming all over the internet that "pop music just isn't what it used to be" are simply growing old, or if there actually is objective science capable of backing up this claim of a "steady decline in music quality." The findings from five different studies are quoted; the findings from the fourth study is especially striking:

1. Pop music has become slower -- in tempo -- in recent years and also "sadder" and less "fun" to listen to.

2. Pop music has become melodically less complex, using fewer chord changes, and pop recordings are mastered to sound consistently louder (and therefore less dynamic) at a rate of around one decibel every eight years.
3. There has been a significant increase in the use of the first-person word "I" in pop song lyrics, and a decline in words that emphasize society or community. Lyrics also contain more words that can be associated with anger or anti-social sentiments.
4. 42% of people polled on which decade has produced the worst pop music since the 1970s voted for the 2010s. These people were not from a particular aging demographic at all -- all age groups polled, including 18-29 year olds, appear to feel unanimously that the 2010s are when pop music became worst. This may explain a rising trend of young millennials, for example, digging around for now 15-30 year-old music on YouTube frequently. It's not just the older people who listen to the 1980s and 1990s on YouTube and other streaming services it seems -- much younger people do it too.
5. A researcher put 15,000 Billboard Hot 100 song lyrics through the well-known Lev-Zimpel-Vogt (LZV1) data compression algorithm, which is good at finding repetitions in data. He found that songs have steadily become more repetitive over the years, and that song lyrics from today compress 22% better on average than less repetitive song lyrics from the 1960s. The most repetitive year in song lyrics was 2014 in this study.

Conclusion: There is some scientific evidence backing the widely voiced complaint -- on the internet in particular -- that pop music is getting worse and worse in the 2000s and the 2010s. The music is slower, melodically simpler, louder, more repetitive, more "I" (first-person) focused, and more angry with anti-social sentiments. The 2010s got by far the most music quality down votes with 42% from people polled on which decade has produced the worst music since the 1970s.

18 Jan 12:50

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - A Window


Click here to go see the bonus panel!

Later, God paints a tunnel on a brick wall and convinces you to run full speed into it.

New comic!
Today's News:

Hey geeks! Just 10 days to get your BAHFest proposals in!

18 Jan 12:49

House Spending Bill Changes Law to Let Trump Administration Secretly Shift Intelligence Money

by Ryan Grim

The House spending bill released Wednesday would allow President Donald Trump, or people under him, to secretly shift money to fund intelligence programs, a break with 70 years of governing tradition.

Since 1947, section 504 of the National Security Act has mandated that the administration inform Congress if it intends to shift money from one intelligence project to another, if the new project has not been authorized by Congress. That notification can be — and almost always is — done in secret, but it is at least a minimal check on executive power.

The spending bill currently under consideration, known as a continuing resolution, or CR, breaks with that tradition, allowing funds to “be obligated and expended notwithstanding section 504(a)(1) of the National Security Act of 1947.”

Section 504(a)(1) is the piece of the law that requires intelligence agencies to spend money on the program the money was appropriated for. “Appropriated funds available to an intelligence agency may be obligated or expended for an intelligence or intelligence-related activity only if those funds were specifically authorized by the Congress for use for such activities; or …”

The “or” refers to the intelligence community’s obligation to inform Congress of any deviation. But without any obligation to spend funds as specifically authorized, there is no obligation to inform Congress if that’s not happening.

That’s not how this issue has been dealt with in previous CRs. Here’s what the language typically looks like:

Funds appropriated by this Act, or made available by the transfer of funds in this Act, for intelligence or intelligence related activities are deemed to be specifically authorized by the Congress for purposes of section 504 of the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C. 414) during [fiscal year] until the enactment of the Intelligence Authorization Act for [insert fiscal year].

The reference to the Missile Defeat and Defense Enhancements Appropriations Act merely refers to the previous continuing resolution, which means that the money appropriated could be secretly reprogrammed to whatever intelligence operation the Trump administration deemed fit.

The government’s spending authority expires Friday at midnight.

Top photo: President Donald Trump listens as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson speaks during an event to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Jan. 12, 2018, in Washington.

The post House Spending Bill Changes Law to Let Trump Administration Secretly Shift Intelligence Money appeared first on The Intercept.

18 Jan 12:41

A Photo Accidentally Revealed a Password For Hawaii's Emergency Agency.

A Photo Accidentally Revealed a Password For Hawaii's Emergency Agency.

A Photo Accidentally Revealed a Password For Hawaii's Emergency Agency - Slashdot
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Quartz: In the aftermath of an erroneous missile warning that terrified Hawaiians on Saturday (Jan. 13), the state's emergency management agency has come under increased scrutiny, from the poor design of the software that enables alerts to a particularly slap...
17 Jan 23:24

Nintendo’s Labo playset slaps the Switch into build-your-own cardboard toys

by Sam Machkovech

Enlarge / Labo looks like a trip, Nintendo. (credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo has announced a new build-your-own-accessories line for the Switch console, dubbed Nintendo Labo. It will arrive on April 20 in the United States and Japan and April 27 in Europe.

Labo's two playsets, the $69.99 Variety Kit and the $79.99 Robot Kit, will come with marked cardboard sheets that must be punched and folded by players, along with connecting string, reflective stickers (for controller-sensing purposes), and other accessories. The foldable parts resemble everything from pianos to fishing rods, along with a full-body robot outfit. They accept both the Switch console and its Joy-Con controllers in various slots.

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17 Jan 23:19

Scientists racing to save vital medical isotopes imperiled by shabby reactors

by Beth Mole

Enlarge / A dose of Tc-99m to be used in an upcoming scan. (credit: Getty | Rene Johnston)

There’s a mad dash for a vital radioactive isotope that’s used in about 50,000 medical procedures every day in the US, including spotting deadly cancers and looming heart problems. Currently, access to it hinges on a shaky supply chain and a handful of aging nuclear reactors in foreign countries. But federal regulators and a few US companies are pushing hard and spending millions to produce it domestically and shore up access, Kaiser Health News reports.

The isotope, molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), decays to the short-lived Technetium-99m (Tc-99m) and other isotopes, which are used as radiotracers in medical imaging. Injected into patients, the isotopes spotlight how the heart is pumping, what parts of the brain are active, or if tumors are forming in bones.

But, to get to those useful endpoints, Mo-99 has to wind through a fraught journey. According to KHN, most Mo-99 in the US is made by irradiating Cold War-era uranium from America’s nuclear stockpile. The US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration secretly ships it to aging reactors abroad. The reactors—and five subsequent processing plants—are in Australia, Canada, Europe (Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, and the Czech Republic), and South Africa, according to a 2016 report by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Private companies then rent irradiation time at the reactors, send the resulting medley of isotopes to processing plants, book the final Mo-99 on commercial flights back to the US, and distribute it to hospitals and pharmacies.

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17 Jan 20:49

US border patrol routinely sabotages water left for migrants, report says

Humanitarian groups report agents routinely destroy supplies left in Arizona desert, condemning people to die of thirst

The US-Mexico border fence outside Lukeville, Arizona. Volunteers are said to have found hundreds of water gallons vandalised in a patch of Sonoran desert.
The US-Mexico border fence outside Lukeville, Arizona. Volunteers are said to have found hundreds of water gallons vandalised in a patch of Sonoran desert. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

United States border patrol agents routinely vandalise containers of water and other supplies left in the Arizona desert for migrants, condemning people to die of thirst in baking temperatures, according to two humanitarian groups.

In a report published Wednesday, the Tucson-based groups said the agents committed the alleged sabotage with impunity in an attempt to deter and punish people who illegally cross from Mexico.

Volunteers found water gallons vandalised 415 times, on average twice a week, in an 800 sq mile patch of Sonoran desert south-west of Tucson, from March 2012 to December 2015, the report said. The damage affected 3,586 gallons.

The report also accused border patrol agents of vandalising food and blankets and harassing volunteers in the field.

“Through statistical analysis, video evidence, and personal experience, our team has uncovered a disturbing reality. In the majority of cases, US border patrol agents are responsible for the widespread interference with essential humanitarian efforts.”

The report, published by No More Deaths and La Coalición de Derechos Humanos, said wildlife – as well as hunters, hikers and border militia members – also damaged aid drops. But it said the main culprits were agents from border patrol, a branch of Customs and Border Protection, which is part of the department of Homeland Security.

“The practice of destruction of and interference with aid is not the deviant behavior of a few rogue border patrol agents, it is a systemic feature of enforcement practices in the borderlands.”

An agency spokesman said he could not rebut accusations before seeing the report but added that patrols and desert rescue beacons routinely saved migrants’ lives.

The report came amid renewed rancour in Washington over Donald Trump’s desire to build a border wall and his alleged racism towards non-white immigrants. Congress is scrambling to reach a deal on immigration and border security before federal funding expires on Friday, raising the specter of a government shutdown.

In addition to building a wall Trump wishes to hire another 5,000 border patrol agents.

Caitlin Deighan, a spokesperson for No More Deaths, said the policy of militarising the border and funnelling migrants into remote, perilous desert, where thousands died, dated from President Bill Clinton’s era. “It’s been ongoing throughout every administration since.”

A US border agent patrols the wall in San Ysidro, California.
A US border agent patrols the wall in San Ysidro, California. Photograph: Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images

Barack Obama occupied the White House during the water vandalism detailed in the report. Pima county’s medical examiner received the remains of at least 593 border crossers during this period.

Trump’s plan to further fortify the border and deport more people – people who often will try to return – will mean more suffering and death, said Deighan. “We do expect this crisis to worsen under the current administration.”

Border crossers should drink between five to 12 litres of water daily, depending on conditions. Few manage to carry more than seven litres even though a journey through the desolate scrub can last several days or even weeks.

According to No More Deaths, of 31,558 gallon jugs of water left on migration trails between 2012 and 2015, over 86% was used.

Birds, cattle and other animals destroyed 533 gallons and humans destroyed 3,586 gallons, said the report.

Hunters, militia members and other actors were partly to blame but statistical analysis of the different land jurisdictions – national forest, state trust land and private land – identified border patrol as the only group with regular access and consistent presence in all three jurisdictions.

The report also cited anecdotal evidence from volunteers and an unnamed former Border Patrol agent interviewed last year who was quoted saying: “I remember people smashing and stepping on water bottles, I remember that being imparted onto us in one way or another.”

The report also quoted a 37-year-old Mexican border crosser named Miguel: “They break the bottles so you can’t even use them to fill up in the tanks. I needed water, some of the other people in the group needed water, but we found them destroyed. [I felt] helplessness, rage. They [the US border patrol] must hate us.”

The report is the second of a three-part series on death and disappearance on the border. The first part was released last year.

17 Jan 20:43

Go Big

by Reza

17 Jan 20:11

Google is already referring to the next version of Android as ‘Android Pi’

by Chris Chavez

It’s always fun trying to guess the name for the next version of Android. Google’s had fun with it in previous years, teasing the dessert name in a series of videos leading up to an official announcement. It’s even become a sort of tradition among the Android blogosphere to try to figure it out ahead of time.

With this year’s Android version — which will likely arrive as Android 9.0 — we only know that the official dessert name will start with the letter “P.” While that keeps things open for a wide variety of desserts (parfait, pumpkin, pistachio, peanut, pecan) it seems Google has already chosen an internal code name for the next major firmware update.

Discovered in a few recent code commits, Google can be found making references to the next version now known internally as Android Pi. While that could be shorthand for something “pie,” these codenames aren’t typically related to the official dessert name (Key Lime Pie for instance turned out to be KitKat). It does, however, open things up to a variety of different pies (pumpkin or pecan for instance), but that’s a little too lazy and obvious.

We’re not sure what Google could be planning for Android P, but if they’re going to pick an actual product, my money’s on Pop-Tart.

AOSP 1, 2 | via Twitter

17 Jan 19:56

Why Is Clock-Drawing Used in Cognitive Tests, Like the One Trump Took?

There has been extensive coverage of Trump’s medical report, as you’d expect. Much of it has mentioned the inclusion of the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, which Trump “aced,” scoring 30 out of a possible 30, 100 percent correct. The fact that most “normal” people score around 28 is something to be pondered elsewhere. But something about the clock-drawing in particular seems to have caught people’s attention.

So common are clocks that drawing one may seem like an inherently pointless exercise. It’s something you’d make small children do in kindergarten to keep them quiet on a rainy day. It certainly doesn’t sound like a crucial part of a widespread clinical test used to assess cognitive abilities in a large range of people, including, just recently, the president himself. And yet that’s exactly what it is, a fact that becomes more clear when you see a misshapen clock drawn by someone in even the earlier stages of cognitive impairment. But why is this such a useful test for predicting cognitive decline?

Drawing of a clock, from left to right, by someone with a healthy brain, someone with mild cognitive impairment, and someone in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Photo: Mattson M

A cognitive assessment is meant to evaluate how good your brain is at doing the things that allow us to function in the everyday world, and the Montreal assessment is clinically useful because it assesses several vital brain processes in a very short amount of time and with minimal tools or oversight required, qualities that are very important in busy clinical settings. One of the core functions, or “cognitive domains,” of a working brain is visuospatial cognition, the ability to perceive objects and understand where they are in space, how they’re associated, the patterns that govern them, and so on. We human beings are intensely visual creatures — it’s our dominant and most important sense, and much of our brains are involved with vision in some form or other. But just being able to see things is not enough; you have to know where they belong or what they should look like, and understand how to achieve this desired state, in order to get things done. And in order to effectively manipulate the things we see in the world around us, something we do all day every day, we need visuospatial cognition.

When you make a bed, arranging all the scattered quilts and pillows into the desired neat pattern, you’re using visuospatial cognition. When you button a shirt, putting the buttons through the correct holes in effective ways, you’re using visuospatial cognition. When you’re playing chess and can work out your next seven moves just by looking at the current arrangement of pieces, you’re using a lot of visuospatial cognition.

It’s not just restricted to one brain region though; it takes a whole network. Seeing the images in your head may be the role of the visual cortex, but you also need to be able to remember what they are and how they work, requiring the memory system governed by the hippocampus and other temporal lobe regions. And you need to be able to process this information, to extrapolate and plan and think ahead, using working memory in the prefrontal cortex.

Visuospatial cognition is widely regarded as an integral part of human intelligence, and one thing that seems to be strongly linked to intelligence and intellectual ability is the efficiency of the connections between the various areas and processes going on in the brain.
The better the connections that exist between your brain regions, the smarter and more capable you’re going to be, just like a fiber-optic cable connection is considered superior to two tin cans linked by a length of string. Therefore, any sign of someone losing their visuospatial cognitive abilities is a sign of underlying problems and a reduced functioning of the brain. But how do you test for this?

Make them draw a clock, that’s how. The very familiarity of clocks to your average person belies their complexity. To draw a clock unaided, you need viable hand-eye coordination, an awareness of spatial arrangements and symmetry, numerical understanding, memory skills, and the test usually requires the subject to draw the clock at a specific time, demonstrating awareness of time and recall.

It might sound simple, and, arguably, it is. But it still requires involvement of multiple neurological processes. If you struggle to draw the numbers in the right order, or it’s all asymmetrical, or you can’t figure out the right time, this suggests that one of those important processes isn’t working as well as it should, which indicates underlying health or neurological problems. So: Trump can draw a clock. Hooray for him. This test still can’t explain why he does not read, or why time has slowed to a crawl since he took office.

17 Jan 19:26

The US Government reportedly pressuring AT&T to end ties with Huawei

by Andrew Myrick

2018 was supposed to be Huawei’s “coming out party” as the company looked to finally enter the US market, and expand on its successes as it currently sits as the third biggest OEM behind Samsung and Apple. However, those plans have all but been demolished after AT&T backed out of a deal to make Huawei smartphones more accessible to those in the US.

The initial reports claimed that AT&T was getting a lot of pressure and push back from the US government over privacy concerns, and a new report from Reuters is suggesting that AT&T is getting even more pressure to cut all ties with Huawei.

While on the front this may seem a bit unorthodox and pointless, but when you look at who AT&T is working with to expand its 5G network capabilities, the picture becomes a bit more clear. Huawei and AT&T have been working together on building AT&T’s infrastructure for the upcoming push to a world with 5G networks, but the US government is concerned about National security consequences due to Huawei being based in China.

The consequences for AT&T listening to the government and backing down from its partnership with Huawei is two-fold. First, the company could experience issues when attempting to work with the US government in the future, as well as slowing down the development of a 5G network. With Verizon and T-Mobile already working on bringing their own 5G networks into the fold, this move could really damage AT&T as the company would have to look elsewhere to build its infrastructure.

I get it. The US government doesn’t want the Chinese spying on the US citizens, but the issue is that Huawei devices are currently offered on 45 of the 50 largest carriers across the WORLD. The company has become a trusted brand across almost every market (except for the US), and the company is making strides to continue offering great devices to keep up with the competition.

Let us know what you think about this latest report and what you think AT&T should do regarding the predicament between Huawei and the US government.

17 Jan 19:07

Christie ends term as first New Jersey governor to not break a leg in 25 years

Chris Christie left the New Jersey governor’s office with his popularity in tatters, but at least he didn’t break a leg.

Newly sworn in New Jersey governor, Phil Murphy, greets former governor Chris Christie after taking the oath of office in Trenton, New Jersey.
The newly sworn in New Jersey governor, Phil Murphy, greets former governor Chris Christie after taking the oath of office in Trenton, New Jersey. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Republican Chris Christie left the New Jersey governor’s office with his popularity in tatters, but at least he didn’t break a leg.

Christie is the first elected New Jersey governor in nearly 25 years to serve without breaking a leg.

Christie’s predecessor, Jon Corzine, a Democrat, broke his leg during a serious vehicle accident on the Garden State Parkway in 2007.

Democrat Jim McGreevey broke his leg during a walk on the beach in Cape May in 2002.

Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, fractured her leg while skiing in Switzerland in 1999.

Eric Columbus, a former Obama administration justice department official, dug up the nugget on Twitter on Tuesday after Christie was replaced by Phil Murphy, a Democrat.

The last governor to leave office without breaking a leg was Jim Florio, who served until 1994.