Republicans try to clean up McCarthy’s Benghazi mess – By Julian Hattem, Mike Lillis and Jordain Carney – 10/01/15 01:30 PM EDT

Republicans are scrambling to contain the damage from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (D-Calif.) remarks about the Benghazi Committee amid a firestorm of criticism.

Outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was forced to defend the Benghazi panel on Thursday after McCarthy — his presumed successor for the gavel — linked the success of the investigation to Hillary Clinton’s falling poll numbers.

“This investigation has never been about former Secretary of State Clinton and never will be,” Boehner said in a statement.

“The American people deserve the truth about what happened in Benghazi. That’s always been our focus, and that’s going to remain our focus.”

McCarthy gave an opening to critics of the Benghazi investigation during an interview late Tuesday on Fox News in which he said the panel had played a role in Clinton’s declining poll numbers.

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping,” McCarthy said on Fox News.

“Why? Because she’s untrustable.”

The remark has undermined the GOP’s message that they are only seeking to learn what really happened when four Americans where killed during the 2012 assault in Libya. The attack occurred while Clinton was secretary of State.

Several Republicans have repudiated McCarthy’s remarks, saying they disagree with the implication that the investigation is politically motivated.


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New Monsanto Spray Kills Bugs by Messing With Their Genes – —By Tom Philpott | Wed Aug. 19, 2015 6:05 AM EDT

B Brown/Shutterstock

In a fascinating long piece in MIT Technology Review, Antonio Regalado examines the genetically modified seed industry’s latest blockbuster app in development—one that has nothing to do with seeds. Instead, it involves the industry’s other bread-and-butter product: pesticide sprays. But we’re not talking about the poisonous chemicals you convinced your dad to stop dousing the lawn with. The novel sprays in question are powered by a genetic technology called RNA interference, which promises to kill specific insects and weeds by silencing genes crucial to their survival, while leaving nontarget species unscathed.

RNAi, as it’s known, is an emerging science; the two US researchers who discovered it brought home a Nobel Prize in 2006. Regalado describes the process like this:

The cells of plants and animals carry their instructions in the form of DNA. To make a protein, the sequence of genetic letters in each gene gets copied into matching strands of RNA, which then float out of the nucleus to guide the protein-making machinery of the cell. RNA interference, or gene silencing, is a way to destroy specific RNA messages so that a particular protein is not made.

If you can nix RNA messages that exist to generate crucial genes, you’ve got yourself an effective bug or weed killer. And GMO seed and pesticide behemoth Monsanto thinks it has just that. Robb Fraley, the company’s chief technology officer and a pioneer in creating GM seeds, told Regalado that within a few years, RNA sprays would “open up a whole new way to use biotechnology” that “doesn’t have the same stigma, the same intensive regulatory studies and cost that we would normally associate with GMOs.” Fraley described the novel technology as “incredible” and “breathtaking.”

A Monsanto exec describes the novel technology as “incredible” and “breathtaking.”
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The Real State of the Economy – Andrew Serge july 31 2015

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at Aug 2, 2015 1.55

As Mitt Romney and Barack Obama vied for the Oval Office back in 2012, the U.S. teetered on the edge of another recession. And no one knew about it until now.

The Labor Department on Thursday released the country’s gross domestic product results for the second quarter. The economy expanded a modest 2.3 percent in April, May and June of 2015 after a meager 0.6 percent uptick in the first quarter. While the headline numbers fell short of analysts’ expectations, it was the revisions to previous years’ data that were arguably the most intriguing.

[READ: GDP Gains in Second Quarter, Revised Upward in First]

“The revisions show a recovery from the Great Recession that has been lackluster,” Gus Faucher, senior macroeconomist at PNC Financial Services Group, wrote in a research note Thursday. “This included a small downward revision to growth in 2012 (2.3 percent to 2.2 percent), a big downward revision to growth in 2013 (2.2 percent to 1.5 percent), and no revision to growth in 2014 (2.4 percent).”

The Bureau of Economic Analysis spent the last few months updating its seasonal adjustment methodology, allowing it to tweak GDP releases as far back as 2011. A series of weaker-than-expected first quarter GDP reports over the last several years led the bureau in May to start looking into potential flaws in its calculations.

Those revisions were published Thursday and likely weren’t what Americans wanted to see. For five consecutive quarters (or 15 months) in 2012 and 2013, the U.S. economy’s growth rate fell short of the country’s benchmark 2 percent. Over that five-quarter window beginning in April 2012, the economy averaged only 1.1 percent growth per quarter.

But in the third and fourth quarters of 2012, when America was in the throes of a political battle for the White House, the U.S. economy almost plunged off the deep end. The economy expanded only 0.5 percent in the third quarter and 0.1 percent in the fourth. Though the fourth quarter’s 0.1 percent growth was unrevised from previous reports, the third quarter’s GDP was originally thought to have clocked in at a much stronger 2.8 percent.

The Fourth Amendment and Driverless Cars – By John Frank Weaver JULY 27 2015

Google’s self-driving car, parked on Pennsylvania Avenue on April 23, 2014, in Washington. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Google’s self-driving car, parked on Pennsylvania Avenue on April 23, 2014, in Washington.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Driverless cars are still in their infancy—Google’s cute little vehicles don’t go faster than 25 mph. Nevertheless, courts around the country are currently deciding the future privacy rights of self-driving car owners. The opinions that judges write today will determine whether the police searching your car 20 years from now will be able to see everywhere the car has ever driven you, how long you stayed there, possibly who was with you, your communications from the car, etc. Think about all the places you travel in your car or the conversations you have in your car. How easily do you want that information available to a search?

One court making decisions that will affect autonomous cars is the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which is currently considering its decision in Commonwealth v. Dorelas, a case examining how specific a warrant must be before police can search a smartphone. (Full disclosure: I helped the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts draft its amicus brief.) There are two major schools of thought about warrants for searching cellphones. The first considers a smartphone a “container” and holds that a warrant essentially needs only to describe the phone and the probable cause. The second recognizes that smartphones are computers with tens of thousands of files; to satisfy the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure, a warrant must describe the phone and files sought, as well as explain the probable cause.

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The All-Girl Soldier Club: Child Warriors of Donetsk – Vice News Published on Jun 4, 2015

Once a relic of the Soviet era, patriotic youth clubs in the Donetsk region of Ukraine are gaining new popularity, offering military training to their members. As young people practice assembling guns, marching, and military drills, a strong sense of allegiance flows through the ranks, with some members holding high aspirations of joining the Russian Federation army.

Up to 15 of these clubs compete in the annual Future Warrior Contest held in a local military academy, which is judged by the academy’s members and former Russian military. The contestants battle each other in displays of military prowess, vying for the prize of a visit to a training camp near Moscow.

VICE News follows the Vityaz Squad as they compete against other patriotic youth clubs at the Future Warrior Contest in Donetsk.

Online speech case heads to high court – By Julian Hattem – 11/29/14 12:16 PM EST

The Supreme Court is preparing to weigh in on a landmark free speech case that raises crucial questions about the First Amendment in the age of the Internet.

Greg Nash

The high court next week will sit down to decide whether or not police need to prove that people posting threats online actually intend to carry them out.

Free speech groups warned ahead of Monday morning’s arguments that a ruling in favor of the government “runs the risk of punishing protected First Amendment expression simply because it is crudely or zealously expressed.”

“As more and more speech moves onto the Internet, the constitutional protections afforded to online speech will increasingly determine the actual scope of First Amendment freedoms enjoyed by our society,” the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology and other organizations warned in a friend-of-the-court brief.

The court needs to determine that intention matters, they added, “to ensure that protected online speech is neither punished nor chilled.”

The case centers on Anthony Elonis, who posted a number of violent, expletive-laden Facebook messages after he and his wife, Tara, separated.

In one, he asked if her court protection order was “thick enough to stop a bullet.” In another, he expressed regret for not smothering her with a pillow, dropping her off in a creek and making it “look like a rape and murder.”

After the split, Elonis was fired from his job at an Allentown, Pa., amusement park over a post that some of his coworkers took to be a threat against them.

He was sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison for the threats. But Elonis says that the rants are essentially harmless and were intended to be raps in the style of Eminem or the Odd Future rap collective.

One post urging his sister-in-law to dress up his children as “matricide” on Halloween, for example, was accompanied by an emoticon of a face sticking its tongue out, his lawyers noted, “which he understood to be an indication a post is meant in jest.”

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Government Whitewashing Didn’t Stop With Watergate – Eric Alterman August 8, 2014

Forty years after President Richard Nixon resigned, our leaders have become even less accountable.Richard Nixon

(AP Photo)

Richard Nixon’s forced resignation from the presidency forty years ago this August was, in addition to being one of the greatest moments in the history of liberal Schadenfreude, also a turning point in the history of the American national security state.

It’s not as if previous presidents, particularly Lyndon Johnson, Nixon’s predecessor, were somehow scrupulous in observing the constitutional limits on executive power. It’s just that, thanks to his taping system—and his utterly incompetent cover-up efforts—Nixon showed us just how rotten the core of our system had become. And yet, to the degree that anything has changed in the past four decades, it has almost always been for the worst.

John Dean, Nixon’s White House counsel, went to prison for his part in the Watergate cover-up. Since then, however, he has assumed the role of the scholarly conscience of the Nixon post-presidency. His most recent contribution to the historical record is a remarkably meticulous recounting of what Nixon said and did behind the scenes. Using transcripts of approximately 1,000 conversations he secretly recorded at the Nixon White House and Camp David—of which roughly 600 have never been heard by anyone other than the National Archives staff—plus an additional 150,000 Watergate documents at the National Archives, Dean has produced a 784-page book, The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It, that gives us the clearest account yet of the man behind the curtain. The picture of Nixon that emerges is not only frightening and depressing; it bears little if any resemblance to the thoughtful, occasionally obsessive character created in the media by conservatives and gullible mainstream journalists.

Dean says he listened to or read some 4 million words, 8,500 pages, twenty-one volumes, for his account—almost all of it filled with “obsessive compulsive” behavior as Nixon repeats the same things to the same individuals, as if trying to convince himself of his own innocence. “He’s not in command,” Dean observes. “I just keep wondering how widespread this was.”

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It Costs the Government Just 6.5 Cents an Hour to Spy on You – By DREW F. COHEN February 10, 2014

Glenn Greenwald, the journalist and activist at the center of the controversy over the National Security Agency’s spying operations, launched his new website Monday with a reported look at how the NSA uses tracking technology to hunt down terrorists abroad. He’s promising more revelations that will blow the lid off the agency’s activities. “We decided to launch now because we believe we have a vital and urgent obligation to this story, to these documents, and to the public,” he writes.

In this, he’s pushing on an open door. By now, most Americans agree that the NSA surveillance program, brought to light by leaked documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, went “too far.” But what Greenwald and many other analysts often miss is that an overzealous security apparatus is not the driving reason behind government overreach. A lot of it has to do with dollars and cents: The price of surveillance technology has dropped so precipitously over the past two decades that once the agency overcame any moral objections, few practical considerations stood in its way of implementing a system that could monitor 315 million Americans every day. Indeed, one estimate tagged the NSA’s annual surveillance costs at $574 per taxpayer, a paltry 6.5 cents an hour.

If privacy law experts Kevin S. Bankston and Ashkan Soltani are correct, costs, once a significant check on government spying and police monitoring efforts, have become an afterthought. In a recent study published in the Yale Law Journal Online, Bankston and Soltani found that most technologies deployed for mass surveillance efforts by police departments (e.g., GPS devices and domestic drones) are on cost trajectories similar to the NSA spying program: As the number of subjects increases, the cost of keeping tabs on each target nears zero. Cheaper, more effective tracking devices have been a boon to cash-strapped police departments nationwide, largely to the dismay of civil liberty groups.

Meanwhile, privacy protections afforded to individuals under the Fourth Amendment, which safeguards individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures by the state, have been eroding for years. Whether a particular search or seizure is deemed “reasonable” — thus justifying police action — rests largely on our ephemeral notions of privacy. It’s a dicey standard. As we place more of our private lives in the public domain (73 percent of adults online use social media), we, as well as courts, consider fewer acts to be truly private and thus protected by the Constitution. At the height of McCarthyism in the 1950s, for instance, groups fought tooth and nail to keep library lists private; today, we publicize the titles of books we’ve recently read on sites like Facebook and Goodreads.

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Supreme Court to decide case on police cellphone searches – By Robert Barnes, Published: January 17

The Supreme Court will take the next step in applying traditional notions of privacy to emerging advances in technology, announcing Friday it will consider whether police need a warrant to search the contents of a cellphone they seize when making an arrest.

Government officials contend cellphones are no different than other items that the court over the years has said police may search when they find them on the individuals they arrest.

But defendants and privacy groups say modern cellphones contain a wealth of information that traditionally has been off-limits. In one of the cases the court accepted, a federal appeals judge said they contain a vast array of information that traditionally has been kept in the home: “photographs, videos, written and audio messages (text, email and voicemail), contacts, calendar appointments, web search and browsing history, purchases and financial and medical records.”

In trying to apply Supreme Court precedents about the constitutional protection from unreasonable searches to modern technology, lower courts are deeply split.

“At least six courts hold that the Fourth Amendment permits such searches, while at least three others hold that it does not,” wrote Jeffrey L. Fisher, a Stanford law professor representing a California man who successfully sought the court’s review.

The court accepted two cases with different technologies. One involves a Massachusetts man’s old-style flip phone, while the California defendant was carrying a Samsung Instinct M800 smartphone.

Coming on a day when President Obama addressed concerns about the government’s ability to gather massive amounts of surveillance data, the court’s announcement underscored how technological advances are causing the justices to look anew at issues.

The court decided last year that technology made it easier — and thus, usually made it required — for police to obtain warrants to test the blood of suspected drunken drivers. And it went a long way toward endorsing DNA sampling as the modern-day equivalent of fingerprinting.

Lower courts are still struggling with other questions, such as whether the government needs a warrant to obtain cellphone location data from telecommunications carriers.

But searches of cellphones found on those arrested already has split the country.

In general, warrants are required for searches, but the Supreme Court has said there are numerous exceptions, particularly after arrests, when police are protecting themselves and others by looking for weapons or securing evidence that might be destroyed.

In past cases, searches of wallets, pagers, address books and even cigarette packages have been deemed acceptable.

But a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston said cellphones were different. The judges were considering the case of Brima Wurie, who was picked up on suspicion of selling crack cocaine in 2007. While he was in police custody, his flip phone kept getting calls from a number identified as “my house.”

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