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Updated: 2 hours 41 min ago

Yvette Felarca’s attorneys plan 3rd dismissal motion, claim video of Felarca’s attack may be doctored

6 hours 26 min ago

Berkleyside has published an update on the felony case against Antifa leader Yvette Felarca and it sounds as if the case isn’t going very well from the defense attorney’s point of view. In fact, the Berkleyside reporter overheard one of the attorneys saying they would need to come up with a 3rd dismissal motion because pursuing the current path would leave them “buried” in the courtroom. Luckily, they’ll have time to work on that new motion because Felarca’s attorney came down with the flu.

A preliminary hearing for the case, where Judge Stacy Eurie Boulware will decide whether to send it to trial, began Dec. 6. The hearing was scheduled to continue Dec. 18, but Felarca’s Michigan-based lawyer Shanta Driver has the flu, the defense said, so it was continued to Jan. 22.

In the meantime, the defense is likely to file a third motion to dismiss the case, Felarca told Berkeleyside in the Sacramento courthouse Tuesday.

“We’re continuing to look for ways to have this incredibly illegal case dismissed,” attorney Mark Reichel, who is representing another defendant, told Berkeleyside.

The DA is “selectively prosecuting people that fought fascists,” Reichel said. “We used to call them heroes in World War II.”

Speaking amongst themselves outside the courtroom, the defense attorneys indicated they would file a new dismissal motion that argues the case violates due process because it is politically motivated. If they instead continued on the same path to a trial, “Our bodies will get buried in that courtroom, if you ask me,” said attorney Linda Parisi to some of her colleagues and clients. This reporter, who has previously identified herself to several of the lawyers and defendants, was sitting nearby during the discussion. Other observers were also gathered in the hallway.

You may recall that the judge in this case already refused to dismiss the case against Felarca back in May. The dismissal motion her attorneys filed at that time claimed the case was a “political witch hunt” but the judge concluded, ” nothing in these exhibits supports the defendants’ claims…that they were unjustly or unfairly culled out.” Since then, Felarca’s attorneys filed a second request to dismiss the charges. Maybe the 3rd time will be the charm.

In any case, the preliminary hearing today featured testimony from CHP Officer Donovan Ayres who watched from a rooftop as a member of a white supremacist group approached the spot where he was attacked by Felarca and other Antifa members. When the video of the assault was played, an attorney for one of Felarca’s co-defendants said he was concerned about “editing and authentification.”

I’ve posted this video probably half a dozen times before. It clearly shows Felarca throwing punches at this guy. And given that she’s the leader of this mob, it’s not surprising other people follow her lead. The idea that this video isn’t reliable is a fantasy. Felarca’s attorney’s keep claiming she’s being targeted for her views but she’s being targeted because she was dumb enough to get caught being violent on video. It really should be that simple, but her fellow-traveler attorneys keep dragging this out in hopes their dopey claims will sound less ridiculous over time. So far it hasn’t worked. I hope the latest delay doesn’t improve their chances.

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The freaky triple deaky Nvidia face generator

7 hours 6 min ago

To cleanse the palate, the latest in a continuing series on how “photographic evidence” increasingly isn’t evidence of anything. I recommend the Verge’s piece on this, mainly because the first image at the link illustrates vividly how quickly this technique has progressed in just four years. The 2014 version looks like a crude proof of concept, that AI can be taught to “blend” two human faces to create something new. The 2018 version is completely indistinguishable from reality. And I do mean completely.

Big Think explains the technology, which involves what Nvidia calls “generative adversarial networks.” They take one computer and teach it to blend images into a chimera; they take another and teach it to distinguish chimeras from real images. The first computer learns to get better by trial and error in attempting to fool the second. The Pentagon is hard at work on ways to tell real images from fakes, as being able to expose disinformation of this caliber is obviously a potential national-security priority. But that presents an obvious question, as Big Think notes: If the AI gets better at producing fakes whenever its fakes are sniffed out, won’t it eventually use the Pentagon’s defensive tools to produce a perfect, undetectable fake? What happens when you have supercomputers not only playing chess with each other but improving their skills each time they play?

As I understand the methodology from this piece, the AI takes two photos of real people and scrutinizes their faces for three variables — coarse features (e.g., facial shape), middle ones (shape of facial components), and fine ones (skin tone, hair). Once it has the data, those variables can be adjusted however you like to produce fake but completely plausible-seeming chimeras. You’ll see what I mean in the clip but the third image at the Verge makes it clear at a glance. You can make a matrix of faces, with one row on top and one column on the side, and the AI will plug in a hybrid face for every combination. It’s the technologically ultra-advanced version of the game “if A and B had a baby it would look like this.”

God only knows what Russia and China will do with it. In the meantime, per Tom’s Guide, mundane possible uses range from “paradigm-changing synthetic free-to-use image search pages that may be the end of stock photo services to people accurately previewing hair styling changes. And of course, porn.” The “deep fakes” trend arrived at porn sites months ago, in fact. Huxley forgot the part in “Brave New World” where you get to “build” the virtual stars of your fantasies.

The real saving grace of this technology: If catastrophe should befall us and the world’s cats end up going extinct, Nvidia can generate “new” cat photos for the Internet unto eternity.

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Okay, 20th Century Fox convinced me: “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie

7 hours 45 min ago

No, just kidding. I’ll die on this hill: It’s not a Christmas movie. But it’s cute of 20th Century Fox to throw this new trailer together and put it on YouTube as the annual, now seemingly endless, debate rages anew. I’m inclined to say they should have omitted the action sequences entirely here and repackaged it as lighthearted romantic fare, but how many minutes of footage are there in DH of Bruce Willis neither bleeding nor killing people? Two?

Let me take one more shot at convincing the true believers that they’re wrong. Of course “Die Hard” is set at Christmas, but the accoutrements of Christmas do not alone a Christmas movie make. We can agree on that much, right? If all it takes is a Christmas setting, you could remake “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” set it on Christmas during a blizzard (“Minnesota Chainsaw Massacre”?), have the gang of homicidal maniacs reflect briefly at the end on the true importance of family, et voila — “Christmas movie.”

What is, or should, define a “Christmas movie” is affection. Familial affection, romantic affection, friendly affection, whatever. The warm fuzzies. And note: I said define. Having Leatherface kill everyone at the local animal shelter on Christmas Eve because they won’t let him adopt a puppy doesn’t become the plot of a Christmas movie just because he walks out cuddling a puppy in the end. (Although now that I think of it, I would watch the hell out of that. Maybe I’ll write that pitch.) There’d be a moment of warm fuzzies, but that wouldn’t define the movie. The bloodletting is the point; the puppy is simply the MacGuffin that gives it a reason to happen.

Same with the romantic subplot of “Die Hard,” though. McClane’s estranged wife is a rudimentary MacGuffin created to give him a reason to be in the building and to fight on. The Christmas setting lends a cheeky ironic twist to the relentless violence. You don’t watch “Die Hard” because it makes you feel good to see John and Holly McClane reunited at the end, you watch it because it makes you feel good to watch Hans’s expression as he falls from the roof of a skyscraper. McClane’s wife is the “Leatherface puppy” of DH. Not a Christmas movie.

Here’s the real clincher, though: The screenwriter obviously picked the wrong holiday on which to set the film. We already have multiple days devoted to celebrating the willingness and ability of American bad-asses to liquidate malevolent Eurotrash. Independence Day or Veterans Day, buddy. Either one would have worked fine. Imagine fireworks going off in the background when the roof of Nakatomi Plaza blows up.

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Women’s March Washington will dissolve in protest of national co-chairs connections to Louis Farrakhan

8 hours 25 min ago

The Women’s March organization co-chaired by Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Bob Bland took another hit last week. A Washington state chapter announced it would be dissolving to protest the co-chair’s connections to Louis Farrakhan. From the Spokesman-Review:

Angie Beem, a Spokane Valley resident who served as board president of Women’s March Washington, announced the dissolution of the state group on Facebook on Thursday, citing the national organization’s ties to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Beem, who helped organize the march in Spokane in 2017 and made an unsuccessful bid for Spokane Valley City Council that fall, said in an interview Friday the decision to disband wasn’t easy.

“It’s heartbreaking. Whenever you create something that literally changed your life, it’s really hard to walk away from it,” Beem said…

Beem said state organizers were not only uncomfortable with the national leaders’ ties to Farrakhan, whose group, the Nation of Islam, has been labeled as an anti-Semitic hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They’re also concerned about the national organizers’ finances and what Beem called a “fame-hungry” attitude.

“One of the things that has really surprised me is that I’m not getting a lot of pushback and a lot of hate,” she said. “That, to me, is almost a miracle.”

The dissolution of the Washington chapter isn’t the only sign of dissatisfaction with the current co-chairs. The Los Angeles chapter has a statement on its front page distancing itself from Women’s March Inc. It reads in part:

Women’s March Los Angeles has no affiliation and was never part of Women’s March Inc.  WMLA is its own separate organization with separate leadership, board and funding.  WMLA was the first organization to incorporate under the Women’s March name in November 2016, with no guidance or input from what is now Women’s March Inc.

The four co-chairs of Women’s March Inc. have been under pressure ever since Tamika Mallory attended an event hosted by Louis Farrakhan at which she was singled out for praise. Mallory’s attempts to defend herself online only made the situation worse. The ADL noticed that Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour had also expressed admiration for Farrakhan.

The criticism died down, at least publicly, but it was sparked again last month when actress Alyssa Milano said she would not participate in any future Women’s March Inc. events because they had refused to distance themselves from Farrakhan. Milano is considered a leader of the #MeToo movement so her taking sides against the Women’s March co-chairs carried some weight. Milano’s comments were seconded by actress Debra Messing.

Less than two weeks later another big shoe dropped. Teresa Shook, the woman recognized as the founder of the movement, called for all four of the co-chairs to resign. Then, about a week ago, Tablet magazine published a 10,000-word story detailing the history of the Women’s March including incidents of anti-Semitism which allegedly happened almost from the moment the current co-chairs became involved. That bad news was compounded when a PR company hired by the Women’s March sent emails to dozens of reporters suggesting they take down their tweets of the Tablet story in exchange for evidence the story was false. That didn’t go over well with any of the reporters.

At this point, many people of influence have said the co-chairs should go. But they are pointedly ignoring those calls at present. Given the sizeable amount of money the group has raised in the past, they can probably coast for quite a while. Ultimately, the Women’s March is their ticket. They have nowhere else to go.

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Unity: Trump 2020 to merge with the RNC

9 hours 6 min ago

If anyone doubted that the Republican Party was a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump Inc, a new deal announced yesterday put any residual skepticism to rest. The RNC will merge with Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign for both fundraising and field operations. The unprecedented merger offers greater efficiency, but also a bigger risk for Republicans for as long as Robert Mueller’s probe continues:

Under the plan, which has been in the works for several weeks, the Trump reelection campaign and the RNC will merge their field and fundraising programs into a joint outfit dubbed Trump Victory. The two teams will also share office space rather than operate out of separate buildings, as has been custom.

The goal is to create a single, seamless organization that moves quickly, saves resources, and — perhaps most crucially — minimizes staff overlap and the kind of infighting that marked the 2016 relationship between the Trump campaign and the party. While a splintered field of Democrats fight for the nomination, Republicans expect to gain an organizational advantage. …

Speaking to the departure from presidential campaign tradition, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel called it “the biggest, most efficient and unified campaign operation in American history.”

This also sends another message to would-be primary challengers: Get out. How can anyone mount a challenge in the next two years within an RNC that is literally the incumbent president’s organization? One would have to look at the DNC and its constant propping up of Hillary Clinton at Bernie Sanders’ expense for precedent, although at least this is being done publicly and explicitly. The entire party organization will be brought to bear against any challengers, which might have happened anyway but at least would have had a veneer of independence under normal circumstances.

It seems that John Kasich’s team heard the message loud and clear:

“There are some people who choose for whatever reason to handcuff themselves to the Titanic,” said John Weaver, an adviser to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is considering challenging Trump in the Republican primary. “Why, I have no idea.”

So will Jeff Flake, if he ever was serious about the idea. More importantly, so will the deep-pocket donors that may have been tempted to back them. Now that the RNC has put all its resources into Trump’s hands, there’s even less incentive for a party revolt.

Does this mean that the RNC is at risk of a bad result from the Mueller probe? More at risk, probably, although it had plenty of risk in that scenario already. The worst-case scenario is a report that does serious damage to Trump but still leaves him in the race. The RNC would need a lot of time to extricate itself and its resources from Team Trump in that scenario. The issues get simpler if Trump leaves office or the 2020 election campaign, as the RNC would just reconstitute itself without any competition for the combined resources. And if Trump gets a clean bill of health from Mueller, then it doesn’t make much difference at all — at least at the presidential level.

However, there is a more important risk in this merger. How will this organization disburse resources to important down-ballot campaigns and operations? Trump is not a man who shares the wealth willingly, a situation which calls out even more for an independent party operation. Will the Republican Leadership Initiative continue focusing on expanding the reach of the party into communities where Republicans rarely tread, or will it just become an arm of MAGA and nothing else? In the short run, the latter will be more efficient, but in the long run it might stunt any potential growth of the party’s voter base.

If Trump loses with this combined operation, get set for another “autopsy.”

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Shep Smith to Fox News viewers: Let’s face it, the Mike Flynn defenses that you’ve heard here blew up today

9 hours 46 min ago

Via Mediaite. Between this and Shep announcing the news that Trump’s shady charity is shutting down amid legal scrutiny, you can see why I said last night that, despite his best efforts, Andrew Napolitano remains a distant second in Fox News’ viewers list of least favorite personalities. For sheer enthusiasm in truth-bombing POTUS’s fan base, no one on Fox tops Shep.

“The judge also questioning Flynn… and his lawyer about their memo last week that suggested that FBI agents might have tricked the former national security advisor when they didn’t tell him lying to the FBI is a crime. You heard the theory floated by the White House and its defenders here and elsewhere. That all blew up today. Michael Flynn himself said he is not challenging the circumstances of the interview, that he knew lying to the feds was a crime when he lied to the feds, that he was not entrapped, that he was guilty.”

A mystery: Why did the sentencing memo submitted to the court by Flynn and his lawyers imply that the FBI had engaged in malfeasance if Flynn wasn’t prepared to stand by that accusation in open court? Today was supposed to be the moment when Michael T. Flynn pointed his finger at the “deep state” and exposed their dirty tricks in his own words before a roomful of reporters. Trump was so excited about it that he previewed Flynn’s court appearance on Twitter this morning:

Good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn. Will be interesting to see what he has to say, despite tremendous pressure being put on him, about Russian Collusion in our great and, obviously, highly successful political campaign. There was no Collusion!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2018

In the end he had nothing to say about collusion. And he had nothing to say about FBI malfeasance despite the court quizzing him about it. The judge embarrassed himself by pressing Flynn about treason(!) but it was fair of him to ask whether, based on the memo, Flynn wanted to withdraw his guilty plea. How could he accept the plea of a man who seemed to imply that he was not guilty, who was manipulated and victimized by a rogue FBI to serve its own political ends? It was a proverbial engraved invitation for Flynn to make the case that MAGA-ites have been making on his behalf for months, that he was railroaded by James Comey and Peter Strzok. He refused to do it with the judge right in front of him.

But again, then why’d he do it in the sentencing memo? The answer, I assume, is that Flynn is looking ahead to life after Russiagate. All of his friends and fans are in the Trump-dominated right now. He needs to stay in their good graces. And so far he has, for the simple reason that unlike Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort he’s a MAGA true believer. Cohen was a private crony who came along for the ride when Trump ran for president; Manafort was an establishment mercenary who hopped aboard the Trump train opportunistically for a few months. Flynn’s the only one of the three who joined Team Trump for the same reason Trump fans did, because they supported the cause. He wears a halo because of it to this day despite the fact that he’s apparently cooperated with Robert Mueller so extensively (and may continue to cooperate with him, per today’s hearing) that Mueller asked for no jail time for Flynn’s offenses. It’s actually an amazing trick. Conceivably no one has provided more info to Mueller behind the scenes as Flynn has, yet no one involved in Russiagate save Trump himself enjoys the aura of martyrdom among MAGA Nation to the degree Flynn does.

I think Flynn believed he could thread the needle, pandering to Trumpers on the one hand by playing the victim of the feds’ misconduct in his sentencing memo while playing the contrite offender in front of the court in hopes of avoiding jail time. If it had worked, he would have walked out having purchased his freedom by chattering to the dreaded special counsel’s office for months and nonetheless been in line to receive a hero’s welcome from TrumpWorld for sticking it to the FBI in his sentencing memo. It was masterfully done — until the judge forced him to pick a narrative. Was he in fact a liar who was throwing himself on the mercy of the court, or was he victimized by a loose-cannon DOJ and prepared to fight the injustice? In the end, with the judge pissed off and seemingly about to put him behind bars despite Mueller’s recommendation, he begged off and asked to postpone the hearing for a few months so that he might help Mueller out even more. What a fiasco. I hope at least that Flynn was fully informed by his lawyers before that sentencing memo was submitted that the court might treat it as a last-minute attempt to dispute the charges against him. He likely would have walked out of court today a free man if not for that.

I don’t think his refusal to accuse the FBI in court will hurt his post-Russiagate rehab tour among Trumpers unless it turns out that he gave Mueller something behind the scenes that hurts Trump. As long as he avoids injuring him to whom all loyalty is owed, he can still do Fox appearances, sell a book, do a speaking tour, etc, alleging that the FBI treated him terribly and that he only said what he said in court to avoid jail. He could even try to get Judge Emmet Sullivan tossed off the case for his weird blathering in court about treason. That would be risky if it didn’t work, but scoring a point on a new MAGA enemy like Sullivan would further endear him to righties if it did. In the meantime, Trump-friendly reporters on the right are left to debate with each other: Was Sullivan open to the idea that the FBI had engaged in misconduct, or was he completely closed off to it because he was biased against Flynn? The latter argument is stronger than the former but both are being made this afternoon.

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Christmas miracle: Missouri police rescue infant left to drown in icy pond

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 23:41

Monday a man named Jonathon Zicarelli walked into a police station in Greenwood, Missouri and announced, in flat tones, that he had just drowned his 6-month-old daughter in a pond. Zicarelli later told police he was stressed about money and wanted to take some of the pressure off his wife. He had driven to the pond with his daughter and then walked from the car to the pond three times trying to decide if he could go through with it. He finally pushed the daughter in and waited until she sank out of sight before driving himself to the police station to confess. Police Chief Greg Hallgrimson and Cpl. Tom Calhoun got the location from Zicarelli and rushed to the pond. The Kansas City Star relates what happened next:

Hallgrimson and Calhoun arrived to a grim scene: The unconscious body of an infant floating face up — her lungs filled with water — out in the murky pond.

Calhoun waded hard into the thigh-deep water in his black police uniform, Kevlar vest and boots, to retrieve the child.

He said the child appeared lethargic, her eyes wide and black, her skin a lifeless color. She had mud in her eyes and grass and water in her mouth. They would estimate she’d been in the water more than 10 minutes.

Calhoun rushed her cold body to the bank, cleared the water from her lungs and began CPR.

In moments, [police Lt. Aaron] Fordham said, the infant breathed again.

“There was absolutely someone watching over that child today,” he said.

They stripped off the baby’s wet clothes and Chief Hallgrimson took off his shirt and wrapped her in it. Paramedics arrived and took her to a nearby hospital. When she arrived her temperature was recorded as 87.9 degrees, severe hypothermia. Later in the day, the hospital reported she was in stable condition and improving. People are calling it a miracle, but obviously, a lot of credit goes to the police who reacted quickly and got to the child before it was too late.

Jonathon Zicarelli has been charged with first-degree domestic assault and given a bond of $500,000. He’s facing up to three decades in prison if convicted. Child protective services is also involved in the case. Here’s a local news report from Fox4kc.

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It begins: AOC purity purge takes aim at #5 House Dem

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 23:01

She hasn’t even arrived officially in Congress yet, but Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants to dictate who will be leaving. In a livestream on behalf of the activist-progressive group Justice Democrats, Ocasio-Cortez pledged to back primary challenges to more moderate Democrats in the newly established House majority. Politico reports that their top target is Hakeem Jeffries, who just ascended to the #5 slot in the caucus leadership:

[A] person who has discussed the project with Ocasio-Cortez and her team said the congresswoman-elect has recruited an African-American woman to challenge Jeffries, who was just elected to replace Crowley as caucus chairman — the No. 5 House Democratic leadership position.

The person who spoke with Ocasio-Cortez and her team, who asked for anonymity to discuss a private conversation, called Jeffries the “highest priority” primary target of Ocasio-Cortez.

A second person with direct knowledge of Justice Democrats’ primary plans said the group is “looking” at Jeffries’ seat. Since Justice Democrats put out a call for potential targets, the group’s supporters have singled out Jeffries as a member they would be “excited” to oppose. “We’re not going to shy away from New York,” the second person said.

Challenging Jeffries would open an audacious new front in Ocasio-Cortez’s efforts to steer the direction of the Democratic Party, pitting her and allies against a rising-star African-American Democrat seen by some as a potential future speaker of the House. It would also set off another intra-party New York City brawl — Jeffries’ Brooklyn district is just a few miles south of Ocasio-Cortez’s Bronx-and-Queens seat — that would peak just as Democrats hope to rally around a presidential nominee in mid-2020.

It might not be all about purity, Politico points out. Progressives don’t like Jeffries for some policy reasons — too close to moneyed interests, and too interested in school choice, among others. However, Ocasio-Cortez apparently thinks that Jeffries got too personal against her in the leadership fight, using her support for Barbara Lee in a “whisper campaign” to torpedo her challenge. Ocasio-Cortez wants to return the favor in 2020.

Ocasio-Cortez seems to want it both ways here. She’s been complaining recently about her status as the whipping post for conservative critics, suggesting that they have blown her up into a party leader illegitimately. Now, though, she’s trying to play kingmaker and settling personal scores even before taking the oath of office for the first time. Shouldn’t all of these machinations wait until her constituents discover whether Ocasio-Cortez has the foggiest idea of what’s she’s doing … or at least return from her “self-care” week off from all the stress of winning?

Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t yet started her new job, but she’s already taking a break.

The Democratic Socialist said Monday that she’s taking time a week off for “self-care” after feeling burned out and lamented that her political activity changed her lifestyle.

“I am starting a week of self-care where I am taking the week off and taking care of me. I don’t know how to do that though, so I would appreciate any and all self-care tips,” she said in an Instagram video.

Frankly, she might be better advised to focus on her own primary in 2020. Her stumbles and vapidity make her a good target for more polished and accomplished Democrats in and around her district. Ocasio-Cortez caught Joe Crowley napping earlier this year, but a tougher challenge is sure to come. A wiser politician would be looking to protect her electoral flanks by finding allies, especially in the state, rather than alienating those who might have more resources and clout in recruitment than a freshman-to-be backbencher. You know … someone like Hakeem Jeffries.

Don’t let this conservative critic keep you from launching your purity purge, though, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. Eventually one would have arisen in the new and fragile House Democrat majority anyway. Few of us would have placed bets on D-minus-15 for its start, but we’ll just pull some of the popcorn off the Christmas tree and enjoy the head start.

Update: Ocasio-Cortez is denying that she’s targeting Jeffries, kind of:

For the record, this is the second @politico article about me in a short period of time with *0* named sources to back claims containing false information.

Their articles are printed + distributed to **Congressional offices** – w/ no named sources.

It’s really unfortunate.

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) December 18, 2018

Didn’t media outlets get angry with Donald Trump over that complaint? Twitchy’s Sarah D seems to recall that.  Note that Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t get around to specifically disputing that Justice Democrats is considering an effort to target Jeffries, and her own public comments for the group calls for such challenges to Democratic incumbents.

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Are AI and Automation adding to the “gender gap?”

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 22:21

Every time I see a story alleging massive gender gaps in pay and employment opportunities I tend to roll my eyes a bit. There’s far too much contradictory information out there and many of these studies fail to take into account factors such as the fields of study young men and women pursue in college, the average pay in various sectors, hours worked and other criteria. But Time Magazine has added a wrinkle to this debate which is at least worth a look. Is the rapid advancement of automation, robotics and artificial intelligence contributing to an actual gender gap? And if so, how?

Women are disproportionately affected by the automation of jobs and development of artificial intelligence, which could widen the gender gap if more women are not encouraged to enter the fields of science, technology and engineering, the World Economic Forum warned on Monday.

Despite statistics showing that the economic opportunity gap between men and women narrowed slightly in 2018, the report from the World Economic Forum finds there are proportionally fewer women than men joining the workforce, largely due to the growth of automation and artificial intelligence.

According to the findings, the automation of certain jobs has impacted many roles traditionally held by women. Women also continue to be underrepresented in industries that utilize science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills. This affects their presence in the booming field of AI.

You really have to dig down a fair distance into this article to get at the meat of what they’re talking about. Do the authors of the WEF study mean that there’s a greater gender disparity among workers who are actively working in the fields of artificial intelligence, robotics and automation or that the implementation of these technologies in other career areas is producing a greater disparity? There are few if any specifics offered, but the answer seems to be both.

If you’re talking about the businesses where robotics and artificial intelligence is being developed, this is old news. The major problem there is that fewer young women go into the STEM fields critical to those careers than young men so schools are producing fewer candidates. And the majors that the majority of girls select in college lead to careers which, on average, pay lower salaries no matter which gender you are.

But what about the effect of automation and robotics on the downstream workforce? When you think of the professions where workers are losing jobs to robots and AI, two come to mind immediately. The first is manufacturing. The days of long lines of workers standing alongside a conveyor belt putting together automobiles on an assembly line are largely gone. Robotic welders, riveters and screw guns have replaced many of them. The other field where this effect is increasingly felt is the food service industry. Kiosks and phone apps have taken the place of the kid asking you if “you want fries with that” and even some of the kitchen staff is being supplanted by Flippy the Robot Burger Flipper.

But were either of those career paths more heavily represented by women, leading to a larger cut in jobs traditionally held by females? It certainly doesn’t seem so intuitively. All the Time article has to say on the subject is, “the automation of certain jobs has impacted many roles traditionally held by women.” But they don’t offer any examples. If you look in the report itself on page 30, there’s a graph showing the industries feeling the largest effects, but the only ones with majority female representation in the talent pool and workforce are education, healthcare and non-profits. Those are also three areas suffering the least from the effects of automation.

Perhaps someone else can solve this riddle, assuming there’s a solution to be had. But from their own data, it appears the only legitimate “gender gap” to be seen is in the tech sector fields where these new innovations are being developed. And that’s simply because, yet again, there are fewer women studying for those fields in college.

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More bad early-early polls for Elizabeth Warren

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 21:41

It’s getting hard to keep up with all of them. If you want to dump all early-early polls in the trash on grounds that Jeb Bush was a solid contender in GOP polling at this stage in late 2014, fair enough. They’re not strong predictors of whom the eventual nominee will be. But I think they have some value with respect to Warren specifically — not in terms of gauging her chances of winning, maybe, but in proving that she really has been damaged by her bizarre DNA stunt, and not merely with Republicans. A new poll of Iowa Democrats from David Binder Research:

Klobuchar (from nearby Minnesota) and Beto! are up, Biden and Warren are down. Warren was also down five points since October in the CNN poll that was published on Friday. And she’s underperforming in this new one from Democracy for America, a progressive PAC that pushed hard to get her to primary Hillary in 2016:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), meanwhile, has seen her stock slide among the group‘s members, according to the poll released Tuesday and obtained first by POLITICO. The Massachusetts senator, whose success in similar polling four years ago propelled DFA to help organize a massive but ultimately unsuccessful effort to draft her into the 2016 presidential campaign — was running fourth

Leading the field was Sanders, with 36 percent support. He was followed by Biden at 15 percent and O’Rourke at 12 percent. Warren and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), received 8 percent and 7 percent, respectively. No other potential candidate received more than 4 percent.

How much of this underperformance is due to the weird saga of her Native American ancestry and how much is due to other factors? The fact that multiple polls show her sliding in polling within just a few months suggests it’s related. But I’m intrigued that Warren’s decline has coincided with Beto O’Rourke’s momentary rise, as they’re not ideological twins. Warren is a solid economic progressive; Beto’s philosophy is murkier, as lefties are increasingly noticing. (“The thing I fear most about Beto is that he’s like Emmanuel Macron: super charismatic, runs a great campaign, really good at organizing and really good at speeches, but then on policy he’s going to surround himself with Wall Street bankers because he doesn’t have really strong ideas.”) The young charismatic guy with mushy liberal principles isn’t an obvious replacement for the older woman senator known for leftist economic populism.

But maybe the Warren boomlet of 2016 was misdiagnosed. Her economic policies supplied what leftists were seeking as an antidote to Clinton, but other less staunchly dogmatic liberals might have been drawn to her because she was, or would have been, the comparatively charismatic insurgent outsider battling for the soul of the party with Hillary. That appeal is gone now. The soul of the party will be a battle among many candidates and by no means will she be the most charismatic player on the field. Beto seems to have gobbled up the latter group, for now. Instead of asking why Warren’s pulling only five percent of the vote or so, we might ask why she’s pulling five percent at all. She can’t do economic populism like Bernie can, can’t do cultural progressivism like Harris can, can’t do inspiration like O’Rourke can. Her best hope might be as a compromise candidate. She can do all of those things serviceably well by lefty standards; if the field deadlocks, maybe she’s a way out that’s agreeable to all sides.

One more poll: A survey by She the People, a group of minority women political organizers, finds that 71.1 percent place Kamala Harris in their top three for president. Next highest is O’Rourke at just 38.3 percent. Warren is fifth at 22.3. (Bernie is seventh(!) behind Stacey Abrams, who might not even run.) Team Beto can view that glass as half full or half empty as it prefers. Half full: The Democratic nominee will need the enthusiasm of women and minority voters and he’s already built more than Joe Biden, former VP to the first black president of the United States. He’s even ahead of Cory Booker, one of the two black candidates soon to be in the race. Half empty: Harris is on nearly twice as many people’s shortlists as Beto is. Gonna be hard to beat her among this group. And in a field splintered among 10 candidates or more, one who can bank lots of votes among minority women may be unbeatable.

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Trump administration ban on bump stocks will be official later this week

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 21:01

A new rule banning bump stocks has been signed and will be formally published later this week. Once that happens, the rule will take effect in 90 days. From CBS News:

“The rule will take effect in 90 days from publication in the federal register,” a senior Justice Department official told reporters on a conference call Tuesday morning. “At that point it will essentially become unlawful to posses a bump stock type device, they will be considered machine guns under both the National Firearms Act and the GCA — the Gun Control Act.”…

The senior DOJ official on the conference call Tuesday acknowledged the Las Vegas shooting made the DOJ reevaluate current regulations given the times. The October 2017 massacre at an outdoor music festival on the Las Vegas strip was the deadliest in U.S. history, and more than a year later investigators have still be unable to offer a motive.

So this rule will prevent any future sales of bump stocks and anyone who owns one will have 90 days to either turn it into the ATF or destroy it themselves. The outstanding question is whether or not this will be challenged in court. The NY Times reports that the exact position of the NRA on the ban is still uncertain:

The National Rifle Association, the gun-rights lobby, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the new rule or its intentions. In the immediate aftermath of the Las Vegas massacre, the N.R.A. supported an A.T.F. review of bump stock devices, seemingly breaking with its usual practice of fiercely opposing any new restrictions on legal access to firearms. At the time, it said it “believes that devices designed to allow semiautomatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”

But the N.R.A. never embraced a ban…

Back in February, NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch said the NRA did not back a “ban” but also pointed out that the NRA had called on the ATF to make sure its rules were “consistent.” That matched with what Wayne LaPierre had said after the Las Vegas shooting (video below). The NRA wasn’t calling for a ban or confiscation, but it was suggesting the ATF look at the law in a way that suggested the group was open to a decision that would limit the devices.

I don’t have any inside information on this but it seems to me the NRA is probably going to be hesitant to break with Trump over something that he has signaled for months he was going to do. Nothing about this decision is a surprise at this point, so the fact that the NRA hasn’t explicitly opposed it before now makes me think they don’t really want to pick this fight. So far, the group has not issued a statement. Here’s the clip of LaPierre from last October discussing bump stocks.

Update: Still no word from the NRA but one group is suing over the ban.

Gun Owners of America and its foundation said Tuesday they will challenge the Trump administration’s new ban on bump stocks and seek a court order to block the rule…

“As written, this case has important implications for gun owners since, in the coming days, an estimated half a million bump stock owners will have the difficult decision of either destroying or surrendering their valuable property — or else risk felony prosecution,” Erich Pratt, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

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Today’s hot topics: Shutdown theater, RNC merger, Krauthammer’s legacy, and more!

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 20:21

Today on The Ed Morrissey Show (4 pm ET), we have another great lineup for the news of the day! The show will be streamed on Hot Air’s Facebook page and embedded here and on the show page for those who are not on Facebook.

Join us as we welcome:

  • Andrew Malcolm joins us for Tuesdays with Andrew! The Prince of Twitter and I will discuss all of the hot political stories of the day. Can we fix the juvenile-delinquency problem in Washington DC? Tune in and find out!
  • For three decades, Charles Krauthammer elevated the opinion column to a form of art. In the time before his death, Krauthammer, along with his son, Daniel Krauthammer, compiled a new collection of writings, speeches and columns. The Point of It All: A Lifetime of Great Loves and Endeavors is now out, and we’ll talk about it with Daniel.

The Ed Morrissey Show and its dynamic chatroom can be seen on the permanent TEMS page. Be sure to join us, and don’t forget to keep up with the debate on my Facebook page, too!

How can Republicans and conservatives keep the momentum going? Find out in GOING REDpublished in April from Crown Forum!

The post Today’s hot topics: Shutdown theater, RNC merger, Krauthammer’s legacy, and more! appeared first on Hot Air.

A chance of federal pot decriminalization?

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 19:41

One of the bigger stalemates in the American legal system right now is the disconnect between the federal government and the states on the subject of marijuana decriminalization or legalization. While many states now allow for the legal sale of either medical or recreational marijuana (and more seem to be on the way, as in New York), sale or possession of the drug remains a serious crime at the federal level. But there’s an amendment pending in the Senate which might do something to address this conflict, though its passage seems dubious. (Washington Examiner)

The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on an amendment that would federally legalize marijuana by allowing states to regulate their own medical and recreational pot markets.

But even one senator can block a vote on the amendment, which would address a longstanding conflict between federal and state law.

Sen. Cory Gardner, D-Colo., is seeking to attach the measure to the First Step Act, a bundle of prison, prisoner re-entry, and sentencing reforms that senators voted 81-12 to advance Monday.

“While we are debating criminal justice reform, we need to address the threat of prosecution by the federal government for people in Colorado that are operating legal businesses under state law,” Gardner said in a statement.

That’s the problem with trying to push this through as an amendment to a larger bill. The proposal would require unanimous consent. And then it would still have to make it through the reconciliation process. If that somehow happened, it sounds like the President would go along with it since he voiced his support for a standalone bill accomplishing the same thing earlier this year.

I’m not here arguing in favor of full legalization across the entire country. Quite the contrary… I think it’s a question best left up to the individual states. But the current situation is simply untenable. I’ve brought this subject up during discussions on social media and asked quite a few lawyers. None could name another situation where some activity is fully legal at the state level and a serious felony under federal law.

This leaves citizens in a very unstable position, whether they are users or business owners looking to move into marijuana sales. The state can tell you that you’re in the clear, but the feds could still come busting down your door without notice and bankrupt you. I’m personally in favor of decriminalization because we waste far too many resources and throw too many people in jail over a product that’s never struck me as being particularly more dangerous than alcohol and probably does less damage to people than tobacco.

But I’m perfectly happy to leave it up to the residents of each state to decide for themselves. The problem is, we can’t seem to gather enough consensus in Congress to make that happen. If any of the members oppose legalization, the proposals on the table now don’t legalize pot for the entire country. They simply open the door for the individual states to make the decision. This entire mess could be cleared up in short order if Congress had any interest in taking care of it.

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“You sold your country out”: Judge’s fury at Flynn leads to sentencing delay

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 19:01

Michael Flynn and his attorneys must have expected their day to unfold differently — and so did Robert Mueller’s prosecutorial team. By the end of what was supposed to be a pro forma sentencing hearing, Flynn was left twisting in the wind until March after a hurricane-force blast from the federal judge deciding his fate.

Even though prosecutors had praised Flynn’s cooperation and recommended no prison time, Judge Emmet Sullivan clearly has a different perspective on Flynn’s situation. “You sold your country out,” Sullivan said and suggested that prosecutors might have a case for treason:

A federal judge is telling former national security adviser Michael Flynn that “arguably you sold your country out.”

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan says he “can’t hide my disgust, my disdain” for this criminal offense.

He says Flynn committed a “very serious offense” by lying to the FBI on the premises of the White House.

Sullivan explicitly broke out the T-word, and said that an offer to postpone might save him from prison time:

Judge Emmet Sullivan even asked a prosecutor in special counsel Robert Mueller’s office if he believed Flynn could have been charged with treason for his conversations with then-Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump took office in early 2017. The prosecutor said Mueller had not considered lodging such a charge.

Sulllivan warned Flynn that if he did not accept an offer to postpone his ongoing sentencing hearing on a charge of lying to the FBI about what he and Kislyak discussed, “I cannot assure you that if you proceed today, you will not receive a sentence of incarceration.”

CNN beat reporter Katelyn Polantz reports that Sullivan’s animosity apparently took the prosecution by surprise as well. Polantz wonders if Sullivan’s hoping Flynn will put off his sentencing and perform more atonement through Mueller’s office:

Judge Sullivan, having left the bench for a break, is now giving Flynn an opportunity to speak with his lawyers privately.
Will Flynn continue with sentencing today? Will he change his mind+cooperate more? Will Sullivan give him a harsher sentence than what Mueller suggested?

— Katelyn Polantz (@kpolantz) December 18, 2018

It might be designed to force Flynn into an allocution from which he can’t retreat later. Flynn’s attorneys and his defenders have accused the FBI and the special counsel of sandbagging him and of manipulating the 302 from his interview to catch him in a lie. Sullivan seemed very interested in getting Flynn on the record in court on those defenses:

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan began Flynn’s sentencing in an unusual way, noting another judge had accepted Flynn’s guilty plea and forcing the former Trump ally to answer questions under oath. Sullivan reminded Flynn he could get into “more trouble” if he were to lie in court, then asked, “Were you not aware that lying to FBI investigators was a crime?”

“I was aware,” Flynn said.

The judge asked if he wanted to postpone the sentencing, or reconsider his plea.

“I would like to proceed your honor,” Flynn said.

“Because you are guilty of this offense?” the judge responded.

“Yes, your honor,” Flynn said.

Sullivan’s ire was apparent when he told Flynn and his attorneys, “I cannot recall any incident in which the court accepted a guilty plea in which he was not guilty, and I don’t intend to start today.” The defense responded by saying that their issues with the conduct of the FBI was not to minimize Flynn’s crimes, but to argue against consideration of aggravating circumstances. Robert Kelner insisted that Flynn “fully accepts responsibility, [and] stands by his guilty plea.”

After a short recess, Sullivan appeared to have calmed down. He explained that his remark about treason was a hypothetical, and the prosecutor reiterated that there was no basis for such a charge:

Judge returns to his hypothetical question on treason:

“I wasn’t suggesting he was committing treason. I was just curious if he could have been charged. Lots of conspiracy theories out there.”


“The gov't has no reason to believe” that Flynn “committed treason.”

— NBC News (@NBCNews) December 18, 2018

It’s an absurd hypothetical at that. The US didn’t even start enforcing criminal violations of FARA until just recently with Mueller. The last person convicted of treason outside of an actual war was Walter Allen in 1922 for an uprising by coal miners that involved Army troops. The five other Americans convicted of treason in the last century were all working for Axis powers in World War II, three of whom were propagandists. It’s very possible for Sullivan to be “disgusted” by Flynn’s comments without hyperbolic suggestions of prosecution for treason over a FARA violation and corruption that involved an ally and NATO partner of the US — Turkey.

At any rate, it worked. When the hearing resumed, Flynn’s attorneys asked for a delay in sentencing, presumably to get Flynn a little more credit with the court. He’ll be back in March to see what Sullivan thinks:

Judge Sullivan says it is fine to delay Flynn's sentencing and proceed by having both sides update the judge on Flynn's case in March, per @kpolantz

— Manu Raju (@mkraju) December 18, 2018

One has to wonder whether Flynn’s attorneys will file a motion to change the judge. And one has to wonder whether Mueller’s team would oppose such a motion if they do. Any other cooperators looking at plea deals from this point forward has to consider whether they’d be better off with a jury rather than a judge deciding their fate.

CBS’ Paula Reid wonders whether they’ll ask for a new judge, but also suggests that Flynn might want to change attorneys. Both of those options have to be looking pretty good to Flynn at the moment.

"So General Flynn has to wonder whether or not he's getting the greatest legal representation and the fairest shake in this courtroom," @paulareidcbs reports after a federal judge delayed Michael Flynn's sentencing.

— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 18, 2018

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Retreat? We may fund the border wall without a shutdown, says Sarah Sanders

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 18:31

The NYT’s headline as I write this: “White House Signals Retreat on Shutdown Threat.” That word, “retreat,” is not one easily digested by a populist strongman, especially in the context of immigration. He can get away with retreating on tax cuts or foreign policy or even trade. He cannot, cannot retreat on the wall. But if he does, and he pretty much has to given the math in the Senate, we all know how this plays out from here:

Don't discount the classic Trump strategy of approving a deal, not liking the coverage, but then finding it's too late and getting bullied into taking the deal anyway while complaining on Twitter

— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) December 18, 2018

Right. For various reasons, he has less leverage than Democrats do if the government shuts down. But at this point any outcome that doesn’t involve Schumer and Pelosi forking over at least $5 billion for the wall will give Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson wholly predictable aneurysms. And then Trump will be mad at his advisors for convincing him to do something that gave him bad press on the right, even though it was clear from the start that trying to use a shutdown to squeeze money for the wall wouldn’t work. Certainly not so soon after a midterm in which the GOP kitchen-sinked Democrats for being soft on the border and lost 40 House seats anyway.

Time to climb down:

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders signaled that Trump would support a bipartisan spending deal with $1.6 billion for border security — which has already been endorsed by key senators — rather than forcing a shutdown on Friday…

“We have other ways that we can get to that $5 billion that we’ll work with Congress if they will make sure that we get a bill passed that provides not just the funding for the wall, but there is a piece of legislation that has been pushed around … that provides roughly $26 billion in border security including $1.6 billion for the wall,” Sanders said in an interview with Fox News…

Sanders did not say where the additional border money would come from to reach Trump’s full $5 billion demand, but administration officials have hinted it could come from the military’s budget.

Hey, all’s well that ends well. If he can get $5 billion for the wall without forcing a shutdown, so much the better. Except … if it’s that easy, why was he threatening a shutdown to begin with? Just make a deal with the Dems for $1.6 billion, which has been on the table from the start, and then move some money around from other budgets to cover the remaining $3.4 billion.

It’s not that easy, it turns out. For one thing, the Times notes that the $1.6 billion Democrats have mentioned “expressly prohibits the additional border money to be used on a wall.” The Senate agreed this past summer to appropriate that amount for “pedestrian fencing,” not quite the same thing as a wall. Any forthcoming deal would require Dems to lift that restriction, something their base won’t like. And although Schumer was talking $1.6 billion recently, the party has backed off that number lately and instead offered Trump $1.3 billion, an amount that’s already been signed into law. In other words, they’re (momentarily) so opposed to border barriers on principle that they’d deny him an extra $300 million just so that they can say they didn’t approve any increase in funding.

What about getting it from the military budget, as Sanders seems to imply? The problem there is that the Pentagon’s money is earmarked for particular purposes. Said a Democratic aide to Politico, “Existing laws and guidelines make it essentially impossible to fund significant wall construction with [military construction] funds… There are virtually no Defense funds that can be used or reprogrammed for these purposes.” No doubt Mattis’s staff is looking into it right now, however reluctantly.

The obvious compromise is to do $1.6 billion for the wall, not for “fencing,” but I don’t think that compromise can happen before a shutdown. It’s too unhappy for both sides. Trump and his fans would be pissed that they got such a measly amount for his grand border project, just a third of what he had requested. Democrats, meanwhile, would be pissed that he got anything. “Why are we casting a symbolic vote of confidence in Trump and the wall by providing a nickel for it?” they’d ask. Plus, once the project is funded, it becomes that much easier for Trump to say in years to come that we need to keep funding it so as not to have wasted the initial investment. Maybe after a two-week standoff amid growing public annoyance that compromise might start to look acceptable to Democrats and Republicans, but it doesn’t now. And so we wait for the inevitable Trump tweet ruling it out, notwithstanding Sanders’s comments here about finding $5 billion elsewhere.

I’m convinced that the GOP’s failure to fund the wall despite having had total control of government will become a key nationalist grievance in years to come. “We had the filibuster to contend with,” McConnell will say to critics. But the filibuster could have been nuked, nationalists will reply — an argument that’ll grow more potent if/when Democrats nuke it themselves after they have total control of government again. “We couldn’t have nuked it,” McConnell will answer, noting that it would have taken 50 votes to change the rules and Republican centrists like Collins and Murkowski were strongly opposed. He just didn’t have the numbers. To which nationalists will say that that’s exactly the point — the GOP will always have too many weak links to really MAGA. Fun times for the party ahead.

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Engineer teaches porch pirates a lesson with fart-spray-glitter-bomb

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 18:01

Last night I realized that my 11-year-old son’s big Christmas gift was missing. I’d ordered it on Amazon about three weeks ago but it was one of those 3rd party fulfillment deals so the delivery wasn’t via Prime and was expected to take several weeks. No problem, I thought. I’ve ordered hundreds of things on Amazon and never once had a problem.

But with Christmas coming up, I checked last night and, to my surprise, the tracking information showed the item had arrived here at my house last Thursday. I immediately thought it must have been stolen off my porch by porch pirates. But then I noticed that this particular package showed I had signed for it. And then I remembered signing for one package last week. And yet, I didn’t remember getting the gift for my son. It’s not here. For a few hours, this was driving me nuts. How had I received this package in my hand and not received it?

This morning I got up early and went through everything again. It still made no sense until I clicked on the reviews for the 3rd party company I’d ordered from. It showed 83% negative feedback in the past 30 days, about the time I placed my order. As I scrolled through the messages I saw a pattern. People had ordered items from this company and, weeks later, had received a box they were asked to sign for containing a plastic wristband with a USB drive. Nothing else.

And sure enough, I suddenly remembered what was in the box I’d signed for: a white plastic wristband with a USB drive. I never connected it to the expensive gift I’d ordered weeks before. I’d been scammed.

I’ll get my money back. Amazon will refund it or my credit card will do it. I ordered a replacement item for my son. So it’s not going to cost me anything ultimately. I’ll probably never know who the scammers were or if they’ll get caught or simply move on to try this scam again next Christmas. And yet, I’m left with this feeling of being taken advantage of that I don’t like. Don’t the scammers deserve to be punished for doing this to so many people at Christmas?

Maybe that’s why this sweet little bit of revenge strikes me as so perfect right now. As you’ll see, some porch pirates stole an item from this guy’s house. He had security footage showing the thief in action, but when he took it to police they said it wasn’t worth their time to track him down.

So the engineer decided he would build his own revenge.

It took six months but what he came up with is truly epic. No porch pirates get hurt in this clip but the fart-spray-glitter-bomb leaves several people surprised and humiliated and best of all, we get to see it happen. Instant karma! Here’s hoping these creeps take the opportunity to start making some better choices in life.

Finally, if you want more detail about how the glitter bomb was designed and made, there’s a video about that here.

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Does gallows humor from Camp fire cleanup crew merit firing?

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 17:31

A strange headline in the New York Post caught my eye this week, describing what at first sounds like yet another tale of terrible people doing terrible things. It deals with one of the clean-up crews hired to begin the dismal work of removing all the debris from the city of Paradise, California after it was destroyed in the Camp fire. Some of the workers were found to have made tasteless jokes about the remains of the city and posted them on social media. Three of the workers were fired.

Three construction company employees assigned to clean up the Camp Fire burn zone were fired — and face a criminal investigation — after one of them allegedly posted to social media a series of offensive photos showing themselves in the scorched Northern California area, the company announced.

The Bigge Crane and Rigging employees were fired following their “abhorrent” behavior cleaning up the town of Paradise, in Butte County, which was destroyed by the deadly Camp Fire.

A spokesperson for the Paradise Police Department confirmed to Fox News on Sunday that officials have opened a criminal investigation into the employees’ behavior, and were consulting with the Butte County District Attorney’s Office.

There’s no question that some of this behavior was in bad taste. The workers weren’t actually vandalizing anything, stealing or breaking the law, but they were posing in inappropriate places and posting the pictures with insensitive jokes. One of them sat on a mailbox shaped like a firetruck while another pretended to be driving the burnt remains of someone’s RV.

The only reason I bring this story up is that I’m going to take what will likely be an unpopular position here. As I said, the jokes were tasteless, but I just don’t see this as a firing offense. In support of this idea, I’d ask you to consider the job these workers were undertaking. They’re cleaning up the remains of one of the most terrible, devastating fires in memory. They’re going through the ruined remains of people’s lives. There’s a very real possibility that in the course of their work they will come across the decaying remains of people’s pets or – God forbid – a human being who was unaccounted for.

This is some grim work. And professionals of all stripes who engage in such duties frequently release their tension through the mechanism of gallows humor. I had to dig a bit to find it, but this story reminded me of one I read in the Washington Post a few years ago. The title gives it all away. “Sometimes nurses make fun of their dying patients. And that’s okay.”

Doctors, nurses and others in the medical field make awful jokes at the expense of their patients all the time, though hopefully out of earshot. It’s a coping mechanism for the endless episodes of injury, pain, sickness, and death they encounter on a daily basis. From personal experience, I can tell you that the same frequently goes on with police and firefighters. Sometimes that’s just how you make it through the day.

These guys doing the cleanup at Paradise were, to be honest, rather idiotic to post their jokes on social media where they could be easily discovered. But most of us have moments of idiocy over the course of our lives. Does that mean that a group of blue-collar workers who were assigned to do something awful should lose their jobs and be turned into villains? I just don’t think so. An apology should have been enough and they should be returned to work.

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Intel: Russia disinformation campaign exploited Mueller, natch

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 17:01

Go figure that the same team that had Hillary Clinton arm-wrestling Jesus would make Robert Mueller a bete noire as well. According to analyses submitted to Senate Intelligence Committee, Russian disinformation operatives took aim at Robert Mueller shortly after his appointment as special counsel. The intent was to undermine confidence in his investigation, but the Washington Post’s report has the same failure as yesterday’s — a lack of context:

Months after President Trump took office, Russia’s disinformation teams trained their sights on a new target: special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Having worked to help get Trump into the White House, they now worked to neutralize the biggest threat to his staying there.

The Russian operatives unloaded on Mueller through fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter and beyond, falsely claiming that the former FBI director was corrupt and that the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election were crackpot conspiracies. One post on Instagram — which emerged as an especially potent weapon in the Russian social media arsenal — claimed that Mueller had worked in the past with “radical Islamic groups.”

Such tactics exemplified how Russian teams ranged nimbly across social media platforms in a shrewd online influence operation aimed squarely at American voters. The effort started earlier than commonly understood and lasted longer while relying on the strengths of different sites to manipulate distinct slices of the electorate, according to a pair of comprehensive new reports prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee and released Monday.

There’s no denying that Russians (and possibly others) conduct disinformation campaigns in the US. Our enemies have lots of incentives to sow dissent and to undermine faith in our institutions. That didn’t start in 2016, however; it’s been going on for decades, running hotter or cooler depending on the global political situation. Russia, during its Soviet Union stage, spent a lot of time and money attempting to exploit divisions and paranoia in the US right up until its collapse.

There’s also no denying that social media makes that a lot easier. Before, it took word of mouth or access to a small number of media outlets to spread disinformation. These days, it can be done with a meme, and still fly largely under the radar. As one example of this, here’s a piece of actual news in this Post article from the reports coming to the Senate this week:

One unexpected star of the new reports Monday was Facebook’s photo-sharing subsidiary Instagram. Over the years of the disinformation campaign, Instagram generated responses on a scale beyond any of the others — with 187 million comments, likes and other user reactions, more than Twitter and Facebook combined.

But it had been the least scrutinized of the major platforms before this week as lawmakers, researchers and journalists focused more heavily on Facebook, Twitter and Google. Instagram’s use by the Russian teams more than doubled in the first six months after Trump’s election, the researchers found. It also offered access to a younger demographic and provided easy likes in a simple, engaging format.

More than two years later, we’re just finding out about this? That’s amazing in itself, but it raises a big question. If no one noticed this until now, how influential could it have been? That’s a serious question, and one that has gone unanswered in all of the hyperbole and moral panic that has arisen since the 2016 election. To this day, no one has even postulated a causative or even correlative relationship between social media memes and voting choices at any scope. There is literally no evidence at all that this disinformation campaign had any impact on the election in terms of voter choices or voter activity at all.

Even on a smaller scale, it’s tough to reach any conclusions about the information given here. We don’t even know from this article what the significance of 187 million Instagram comments might be. It’s bigger than 186 million, of course, and not as big as 188 million, but how does it stack up otherwise? How many of the comments were from the Russians themselves? How many legit Instagram users actually read any of these, let alone multiples of them? How many total Instagram comments and posts were there in the same period?

If the answer is 200 million, then it’s pretty significant. If the answer is 200 billion, then it’s a blip, just like the effort on Facebook and Twitter was. And just like the estimated $25 million spent by the Internet Research Agency was in light of the $2 billion spent by the presidential candidates, parties, and PACs in the presidential election. Throwing statistics on the wall might look impressive, but without context it means nothing.

The targeting of Mueller was entirely predictable for a hostile intel service in love with social-media disinformation operations. It’s cheap, he’s an easy target, and the special counsel is an innovation with a very bad record its various forms over the past five decades. It generates skepticism and suspicion for entirely legitimate reasons, even if the Russians clearly want to exploit those for their own purposes. There’s nothing wrong with pointing that out as long as it’s put in proper context — and not used to cast aspersions on those who offer legitimate criticism of the innovation and its use, in general and in specifics.

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Confirmed: Arizona governor names Martha McSally to replace Jon Kyl in the Senate

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 16:21

What’d I tell ya? What Mitch McConnell wants, Mitch McConnell (usually) gets.

Gov. Doug Ducey has appointed Martha McSally to fill the U.S. Senate seat that Sen. Jon Kyl will vacate at the end of the year.

The announcement from the Governor’s Office Tuesday sets up a unique dynamic in which Arizona will be represented in the Senate by former foes…

In determining who to appoint to replace Kyl, Ducey was thinking long term. More specifically, he was looking for a Republican who could run a strong campaign in two years and possibly again in 2022, at the conclusion of what would have been McCain’s six-year term.

Read this if you missed it last week. Ducey had misgivings about McSally, partly because Kyl’s successor will need to win not one but two elections to keep this seat for a full term. There’s the special election in 2020 to finish out the final two years of McCain’s term and then there’s a new election in 2022 for a full six-year stint. The natural choice for that task isn’t someone who just lost a tough race to a Democrat for Jeff Flake’s seat. But what choice did Ducey have, realistically? The only other top-tier candidate for the seat was his chief of staff, a man who’d never run a statewide race and had a fraction of the name recognition (and campaign dough) that McSally had. It’s fair to say that McSally isn’t an ideal bet for the party. It’s also fair to say that there isn’t a better one right now.

Supposedly Ducey and his staff were also annoyed at a memo circulated by Team McSally after election day in which they tried to shift blame for her defeat to external factors (Trump fatigue, etc). I don’t fully buy that. Shifting blame for defeat is what politicians do, especially when they’re young and in line for an appointment to a different seat that would require them to run again for office in two years. Why would McSally cop to having run a bad race if she wanted Ducey to trust her to win the next one? Maybe Team Ducey’s alleged annoyance at the memo was just a smokescreen for a deeper annoyance — namely, McSally refusing to pay due homage to John McCain before and after he died in August. The McCain family was allegedly “deeply irritated” about it. By way of illustration, here’s something that was tweeted Friday by Meghan McCain’s husband, Ben Domenech, and retweeted by Meg herself:

Ducey wasn’t about to compound the affront to the McCains by appointing McSally without their approval, or at least without the approval of Cindy McCian. Reportedly he urged McSally to make amends. Which, in the end, she did:

Martha McSally met with Cindy McCain Friday afternoon at her north Phoenix home, according to Republicans familiar with the conversation.

In the meeting, McSally apologized for not mentioning the senator’s name during President Donald Trump’s signing of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2019. McSally did not use McCain’s name in discussing the act when it was signed in August.

Cindy McCain expressed her appreciation for the apology and conveyed the importance of her late husband’s legacy and his service to Arizona, they said.

McSally’s hesitance to praise John McCain during the campaign was pure strategy, fearing that warm words for one of MAGA Nation’s least favorite senators might keep populists home on Election Day and tip the election to Sinema. In the end the election tipped to Sinema anyway and McSally had to go crawling to Cindy McCain for forgiveness. She’s lucky the GOP’s local bench is so thin and that she has an advocate as powerful as McConnell in her corner. Otherwise Ducey and the McCains might have quashed her chances for the appointment from the start and looked elsewhere. Even after Friday’s meeting, the NYT noted, Cindy McCain “still believes Ms. McSally is an imperfect option…”

If you missed it last month, read Ed’s take on the GOP’s Arizona debacle. Not only is the bench thin, McSally’s loss to Sinema marked the second time in two years that a Republican at the top of the ballot failed to win as much as 49 percent of the vote. Trump pulled 48.1 against Hillary, winning the state by a few points; McSally took 47.6 percent from Sinema, losing by a few. It’s comforting to believe that she lost because she ran a bad race but the ugly truth may be that Arizona really is a full-fledged purple state now. And if it is, its electoral votes will be precious in 2020, as there aren’t many places left on the map where the GOP could plausibly make up for losing it in a tight race. In fact, if McSally washes out again as a Senate candidate in 2020, the GOP’s hopes of regaining the seat may rest entirely on Doug Ducey himself. He’s term-limited as governor, having just won his second term in a walkover, and will be in his final year of office in 2022. McConnell and other party brokers will be begging him to run for the Senate to put at least one of Arizona’s Senate seats back in Republican hands.

Update: Cindy McCain is tactful in her reaction. Usually a statement like this would be a rhetorical high-five to the governor on a great pick. In this case, she “respects” Ducey’s decision.

My husband’s greatest legacy was placing service to AZ & USA ahead of his own self-interest. I respect @dougducey's decision to appoint @RepMcSally to fill the remainder of his term. Arizonans will be pulling for her, hoping that she will follow his example of selfless leadership

— Cindy McCain (@cindymccain) December 18, 2018

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AOC’s Green New Deal would spike mining, leave us indebted to China, Russia

Tue, 12/18/2018 - 15:41

Every time you see congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez showing up in the news, she almost always begins preaching the “Green New Deal” that she spoke of endlessly on the campaign trail. Under this plan, we would supposedly move the United States to 100% renewable energy (or very close to it) while shutting down the fossil fuel industry entirely. It’s a progressive wish list item which helped her gain traction throughout the midterms.

But just how “green” is this deal? There are a number of problems with it. For one thing, it shuts down nuclear power (which produces no greenhouse gases, by the way). That’s an element of the “deal” being pushed heavily by Bernie Sanders. Of course, when they shut down all nuclear energy in his home state they wound up having to burn oil to keep the power grid alive last winter. Super plan there, Bernie.

But the bigger crisis we’re looking at with the Green New Deal has to do with our ability to actually manufacture all the equipment required to generate that kind of energy. A new report from Leiden University in the Netherlands reveals one factor that progressives don’t seem to have considered. Expanding production of solar and wind power facilities is going to require a vastly larger supply of what are known as “rare-earth metals” like neodymium, terbium, dysprosium, and praseodymium. Here’s the problem. The current global supply of these metals is nowhere near the anticipated demand and the countries that control most of those supplies aren’t exactly our best friends. (Washington Examiner)

Moving the world to 100-percent renewable energy under a Green New Deal, or the Paris climate accord, will require at least a twelvefold increase in the not-so-green practice of hardrock mining, according to a new study backed by prominent environmental consultants.

“The current global supply of several critical metals is insufficient to transition to a renewable energy system,” a new study released Thursday by Leiden University in the Netherlands and environmental consulting firms Metabolic and Copper8 concludes.

Transitioning to a global renewable energy system devoid of fossil fuels will place a strain on the supply of certain metals required to manufacture solar panels and wind turbines, according to the study, requiring twelve times today’s production by 2050.

And that estimate does not include increasing demand for other electronic goods like electric cars and iPhones, which also require the same metals, the study said.

Known as “hardrock mining,” the processes required to obtain these metals are generally on par with strip mining (not exactly a favorite of the people trying to save the Earth). It’s a dirty, destructive process which requires intense labor to return the land to normal conditions when you’re finished.

Also, the demand for these metals is already high, particularly for any industry relying on a lot of battery power. (Think cell phones and electric cars.) Adding that much new demand will make the prices skyrocket, making any chance of this green energy revolution being affordable highly unlikely.

But we should also consider who we’ll need to go to in order to lay our hands on that much of these rare-earth metals. The word “rare” is is in the name for a reason. This 2017 report from Investing News explores where these minerals are found and how big the proven reserves are in each country. China, Brazil and Russia not only have the largest supplies of rare-earth metals, but they dwarf everyone else, holding more supplies than the rest of the world combined. The United States is sitting on some supplies, but we produced exactly zero tons of them in 2017.

So if you want to move ahead with this plan, there appear to be two choices. We could start doing a massive amount of hardrock mining here in America, no doubt driving the environmentalists insane. Alternately, we could go to China and Russia with our hat in our hands. We’ve only recently gotten the boot of OPEC off our collective throats by becoming a world leader in the oil and gas industry. Now we’re going to replace OPEC with the Russians and the Chinese and leave our fortunes in their hands?

Somebody didn’t think this plan through very well. It definitely needs another look before our elected leaders sign onto it.

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