House Panel Votes to Release GOP Memo on Russia Probe – Byron Tau Updated Jan. 29, 2018 8:43 p.m. ET

Congressional committee invoked an obscure rule in effort to make the classified material public

Members of the House Intelligence Committee in Washington last March.

WASHINGTON—A congressional panel voted on Monday to make public a classified Republican-authored memo that alleges surveillance abuses against an associate of President Donald Trump dating back to the 2016 campaign.

The GOP-led House Intelligence Committee invoked an obscure rule in its effort to release the memo that was drawn from highly classified law-enforcement material and written under the direction of its chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), a close ally of Mr. Trump.

People familiar with the memo say it raises concerns about surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—specifically how a campaign associate of Mr. Trump’s came to be the target of U.S. spying and whether a dossier of salacious and unverified material was used in part to obtain the warrant.

The four-page document has been made available to all House members for more than a week but many GOP lawmakers have been calling for it to be released to the public—with some who have seen the memo saying that it outlined “disturbing” behavior under the previous administration.

Democrats say the document is misleading, cherry-picked and part of a continuing GOP effort to discredit the investigation into whether Mr. Trump or his associates colluded with Russia in its interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and whether the president obstructed justice when he fired former FBI Director James Comey, who launched the Russia probe. Mr. Trump has denied there was collusion and that he obstructed justice. Moscow has denied it meddled in the campaign.

After the Intelligence Committee’s vote, the matter now goes to Mr. Trump, who has five days to decide whether to object to the release of the material. If he does, the full House of Representatives can override his decision. If he doesn’t object, the material will be released.

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Don’t Call It a Blood Moon. Or Supermoon. Or Blue Moon – MATT SIMON SCIENCE 01.29.18 8:00 AM

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On Wednesday, humanity will be treated to a celestial trifecta: A supermoon (meaning it’s relatively close to Earth), but also simultaneously a blood moon (it’ll be orange or red), but also simultaneously a blue moon (the second full moon in one calendar month) will pass in the shadow of Earth, for a total lunar eclipse. It’s going to be righteous.

But supermoon? Blue moon? Blood moon? Yeah, let’s go ahead and pump the brakes on those terms, because the first was created by an astrologer, the second is highly subjective, and the third was only recently popularized by this-must-be-prophecy types.

First, some basics on the grand astronomical event. A total lunar eclipse is, of course, when the moon passes through the shadow of the Earth. But the Earth doesn’t actually cast one super-delineated shadow. There are two components: the penumbra and umbra.

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“The reason there are these two portions of the Earth’s shadow, umbra and penumbra, is because the sun is not a single small point, it’s got this big disk,” says Noah Petro, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. So the penumbra is more a partial shadow, caused by a portion of the sun being blocked by the Earth.

Check out the diagram above. You can see that light sneaking through in the penumbra. If you glimpse the moon when it’s there, it still won’t have the reddish or orangish or brownish hue it takes on during the so-called blood moon. “Only once it passes completely into the Earth’s umbra does it turn that red color, and the reason for that is because it’s very, very dim,” says Petro. “So just having any part of the moon illuminated by sunlight during an eclipse, washes out that red color that you would eventually see when it’s in totality.”

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Inside The Underground Network Helping Refugees Across Europe: VICE on HBO, Full Episode – VICE News Published on Jan 23, 2018

Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war-torn Africa and the Middle East in search of safety are finding a new kind of hell in Europe, where countries are cracking down on border crossings. But in the midst of the chaos, an underground network has emerged to help the refugees. “There are a lot of people helping. I think that in the Roya Valley, there are more than 150 refugees living people’s homes,” said Cedric Herrou, a farmer from a French-Italian border village. He’s helped organize a small network of underground smugglers to help the migrants pass into France.

The refugee crisis in Europe has reached unprecedented levels — over 65.6 million people worldwide have now been forcibly displaced from their homes. And that’s just counting those who reach their destination. In 2016, more refugees than ever were killed on the journey across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

To stem the flow of refugees, authorities are cracking down on border crossings. After walking hundreds of miles in search of safety, many are forced back to the first country where they entered in Europe. And that’s where most of them remain, apparently indefinitely, as they wait for their claims to be processed.

Even there, things are dire. Last October, the French government destroyed one of Europe’s largest and most notorious refugee camps, known as the Calais Jungle. It’s used as a jumping off point to enter the U.K., and the destruction displaced thousands of refugees, many of whom were unaccompanied minors. VICE News was in France when the government destroyed Calais Jungle. We followed hundreds of refugees attempting to cross the border into France, and met some of the people keeping the underground network alive.

CIA Director Has ‘Every Expectation’ Russia Will Try To Influence Midterm Elections – Scott Neuman January 30, 2018 3:36 AM ET

CIA Director Mike Pompeo listens while testifying in May before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

CIA Director Mike Pompeo says he has “every expectation” that Russia will try to disrupt midterm elections in November after U.S. intelligence uncovered interference in 2016.

In an interview with the BBC, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency was asked about concerns that the Kremlin might try again to influence the outcome of upcoming U.S. polls. He said: “I haven’t seen a significant decrease in their activity.”

“Of course. I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that,” Pompeo told the BBC, adding, “but I’m confident that America will be able to have a free and fair election [and] that we will push back in a way that is sufficiently robust that the impact they have on our election won’t be great.”

In January 2017, a U.S. intelligence assessment concluded that Russia had authorized hacks into the Democratic National Committee and officials connected with the Clinton campaign. In addition, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a Senate hearing that the hacking was one part of a coordinated effort that “also entailed classical propaganda, disinformation, and fake news.”

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This Land is Your Land Rotting cabins, closed trails: why we’re shining a light on US national parks – by Alastair Gee – Mon 29 Jan 2018 06.00 EST

At Zion national park, a popular trail has been closed since 2010. At the Grand Canyon, a rusting pipeline that supplies drinking water to the busiest part of the park breaks at least a half-dozen times a year. At Voyageurs, a historic cabin collapsed.

The National Park Service is the protector of some of America’s greatest environmental and cultural treasures. Yet a huge funding shortfall means that the strain of America’s passion for its parks is showing. Trails are crumbling and buildings are rotting. In all there is an $11bn backlog of maintenance work that repair crews have been unable to perform, a number that has mostly increased every year in the past decade.

“Americans should be deeply concerned,” said John Garder, senior director of budget and appropriations at the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). The National Park Service, he argued, is hamstrung by a lack of resources and is in “triage mode”.

Today the Guardian is announcing a major expansion of This Land is Your Land, our series investigating the threats facing America’s public lands.

The Ingersoll Lodge after its collapse, at Voyageurs national park.
The Ingersoll Lodge after its collapse, at Voyageurs national park. Photograph: National Park Service

National parks are just one part of an unparalleled system, managed by the government and held in trust for the public, and spanning over 600m acres of forests, deserts, tundra and glacier-covered peaks, as well as historical sites such as the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. They are integral to American life: an ancestral home for Native Americans; a retreat for vacationers, sportspeople and hunters; a source of grazing; and an economic engine. Yet their future is uncertain.

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Republicans love their tax law. Voters aren’t so sure. – BERNIE BECKER 01/29/2018 06:08 PM EST

With polls showing Republicans have yet to make the sale on the tax bill, it’s not clear how much the new law will help them in November.

“The tax bill has everything to do with the success of the American people,” said Republican Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (center). “And if the American people are successful, they are going to show that at the ballot box.” | Al Drago/Getty Images

President Donald Trump is sure to get plenty of applause during Tuesday’s State of the Union address when he mentions the $1.5 trillion tax cut he signed into law in December.

But with polls showing Republicans have yet to make the sale on the tax bill, it’s not clear how much the new law will help them in November.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a group with close ties to House GOP leadership, recently found that voters in battleground districts are more likely to think Republicans raised their taxes than cut them. And a recent Pew Research Center survey found that only around a third of adults thought the tax bill would help them and the country as a whole.

“It’s hard to envision a positive outcome in November if the middle class doesn’t think we cut their taxes,” said Corry Bliss, the Leadership Fund’s executive director.

If anything, the fight over taxes is only about to escalate. Democratic lawmakers are holding “teach-ins” against the measure in their districts. As conservative groups prepare to spend tens of millions of dollars to sell the law, Democrats are preparing their own ad campaigns to portray it as helping only the rich.

Around 4 in 5 taxpayers are expected to get a tax cut this year, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, and workers will start seeing bigger paychecks within weeks. But one other problem facing the GOP is that an average worker could get only about a $30 boost every two weeks, leading to questions about how much voters will notice.

To sway public perceptions, Republicans and their allies are planning to spend tens of millions of dollars on digital and television ads.

Groups affiliated with billionaire donors Charles and David Koch plan to spend $20 million this year to sell the tax changes to voters, on top of $20 million also spent to help shepherd the bill through Congress.

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Scott Pruitt is slowly strangling the EPA – Umair Irfan Jan 29, 2018, 10:30am EST

The unprecedented regulatory slowdown and rollbacks at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Javier Zarracina/Vox

The mandate of the head of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect human health and enforce environmental regulations.

Yet since he was confirmed last February, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has worked to stall or roll back this core function of his agency, efforts he’s now celebrating with posters:

He’s also taken some highly unusual, even paranoid, precautions, armoring himself with a 24/7 security detail, building a $25,000 secret phone booth in his office, spending $9,000 to sweep his office for surveillance bugs, and hiding his schedule from the public. When one employee turned one of the celebratory posters around, Pruitt assigned a worker to look through security camera records to see who did it, Newsweek reported.

Pruitt’s posters are a list of the regulatory rollbacks he’s delivered to his allies in coal, oil, gas, and chemicals industries. These gifts include the reversal of a ban on chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to developmental problems in children.

Some of the biggest changes Pruitt has made at the EPA have come by not doing anything at all. He’s steering the EPA’s work at an agonizingly slow pace, delaying and slowing the implementation of laws and running interference for many of the sectors EPA is supposed to regulate.

With more staff and funding cuts looming, even fewer toxic chemicals and other environmental hazards will be measured, and the statues that protect against them won’t be enforced.

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The 32-year-old prince who’s shaking up Saudi Arabia – Vox Published on Jan 23, 2018

Mohammad bin Salman was designated as Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince in June 2017. Since then, he has rapidly consolidated power and led Saudi Arabia towards some progressive reforms, such as granting women the right to drive. He also has plans to privatize certain segments of the economy, with the goal of reducing Saudi Arabia’s economic dependency on oil. These changes, along with a suppression of Saudi Arabia’s religious Right, could potentially begin to destabilize one of the Middle East’s most powerful nations. is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what’s really driving the events in the headlines.

U2 gives shout-out to ‘s—hole countries’ during Grammy performance – BY JUDY KURTZ – 01/28/18 11:08 PM EST

U2 ended their politically-charged performance in front of the Statue of Liberty during Sunday night’s Grammy Awards with a shout-out to “shithole countries,” a reference to a controversial comment reportedly made by President Trump.

“Blessed are the shithole countries,” Bono yelled into a megaphone in a moment that was reportedly censored during some broadcasts.

The statement was a riff on a remark allegedly made by Trump in reference to Haiti and some African nations.

The moment capped off an immigration-focused performance of their song “Get Out of Your Own Way,” part of a pre-taped segment at Sunday’s 60th annual awards ceremony in New York.

Reciting the lyrics to the song, frontman Bono sang:

“Fight back
Don’t take it lyin’ down, you got to bite back
The face of liberty’s starting to crack
She had a plan up until she got smacked in the mouth.”

As she introduced U2’s performance, singer Camila Cabello said it was aimed at “celebrating New York City and the promise that has drawn generations of immigrants here from around the world.”

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Why a South China Sea Diplomatic Breakthrough Is Unlikely – By Gregory Poling January 25, 2018

On December 30, Chinese state television broadcast aerial footage of the country’s facilities on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea. The video was the first ever to show close-up images of the entirety of the substantial naval and air base on the disputed reef in the Spratly Islands. Earlier that month, the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative had released satellite imagery documenting the construction of aircraft hangars, missile shelters, signals intelligence facilities, and other military infrastructure on Fiery Cross, as well as Mischief and Subi Reefs, throughout 2017. But the aerial footage highlighted the scale of China’s military buildup in a visceral way that satellite imagery could not. It should have served as a wake-up call in both Manila and Washington that Beijing has not changed its long-term strategy of employing coercion and, if need be, military force to establish dominance over the South China Sea. Despite diplomatic niceties and largely unrealistic talk of a code of conduct (COC) with fellow claimants, China’s actions undermine the narrative that it is serious about finding an equitable diplomatic solution to the disputes any time soon.

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