White House Sought Options to Strike Iran – Dion Nissenbaum Updated Jan. 13, 2019 10:10 p.m. ET


State and Pentagon officials were rattled by the request

John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, had asked for military options to strike Iran.

President Trump’s National Security Council asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran last year, generating concern at the Pentagon and State Department, current and former U.S. officials said.

The request, which hasn’t been previously reported, came after militants fired three mortars into Baghdad’s sprawling diplomatic quarter, home to the U.S. Embassy, on a warm night in early September. The shells—launched by a group aligned with Iran—landed in an open lot and harmed no one.

But they triggered unusual alarm in Washington, where Mr. Trump’s national security team led by John Bolton conducted a series of meetings to discuss a forceful U.S. response, including what many saw as the unusual request for options to strike Iran.

“It definitely rattled people,” a former senior U.S. administration official said of the request. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”

The Pentagon complied with the NSC’s request to develop options for striking Iran, the officials said. But it isn’t clear if the proposals were provided to the White House, whether Mr. Trump knew of the request or whether serious plans for a U.S. strike against Iran took shape at that time.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, here visiting the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad this month, joined forces with national security adviser John Bolton to develop a more aggressive policy aimed at weakening the government in Tehran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, here visiting the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad this month, joined forces with national security adviser John Bolton to develop a more aggressive policy aimed at weakening the government in Tehran. Photo: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS, PRESS POOL

Garrett Marquis, an NSC spokesman, said the body “coordinates policy and provides the president with options to anticipate and respond to a variety of threats.”

“We continue to review the status of our personnel following attempted attacks on our embassy in Baghdad and our Basra consulate, and we will consider a full range of options to preserve their safety and our interests,” he said.

Mr. Bolton’s request reflects the administration’s more confrontational approach toward Tehran, one he has pushed since taking up the post last April.

As national security adviser, Mr. Bolton is charged with providing a range of diplomatic, military and economic advice to the president.

Former U.S. officials said it was unnerving that the NSC asked for far-reaching military options to strike Iran in response to attacks that caused little damage and no injuries.

Mira Ricardel, who was ousted as Mr. Bolton’s deputy in November, described the attacks in Iraq as ‘an act of war.’

Mira Ricardel, who was ousted as Mr. Bolton’s deputy in November, described the attacks in Iraq as ‘an act of war.’ Photo: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg News

Last year, then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis argued against strikes that might hit Russian and Iranian forces when Mr. Trump and his national security team were looking at ways to punish President Bashar al-Assad of Syria for a chemical-weapons attack, people familiar with the debate said. Mr. Mattis, who resigned in December amid a dispute with Mr. Trump over the president’s national security decisions, pushed for a more modest response that Mr. Trump eventually embraced.

In talks with other administration officials, Mr. Bolton has made it clear he personally supports regime change in Iran, a position he championed before joining Mr. Trump’s administration, people familiar with the discussions said.

As a think-tank scholar and Fox News commentator, Mr. Bolton repeatedly urged the U.S. to attack Iran, including in a 2015 New York Times op-ed titled, “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran.”

After taking the White House post, Mr. Bolton joined forces with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to develop a more aggressive policy aimed at weakening the government in Tehran. Mr. Bolton has said his job is to implement the president’s agenda, which doesn’t include regime change in Tehran. The State Department declined to comment.

Mr. Bolton worked last year to quickly pull the U.S. out of former President Obama’s nuclear-containment deal with the country and to tighten economic sanctions on Tehran, moves eagerly sought by Mr. Trump. In a September speech, Mr. Bolton warned Tehran that there would be “hell to pay” if Iran threatened the U.S. or its allies.

Mr. Bolton and his deputy at the time, Mira Ricardel, were pressing for new ways to confront Iran militarily.

The Sept. 6 mortar attack in Baghdad generated little news coverage. The city’s Green Zone has been a frequent target for insurgents since the U.S. invasion in 2003. A Shiite militia group aligned with Iran eventually claimed responsibility for the attack.

Two days later, amid anti-Iranian protests in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, unknown militants fired three rockets that hit relatively close to the U.S. consulate, but caused no serious damage.

No one claimed responsibility for the second attack, but White House officials decided they needed to send a clear message to Iran.

Alongside the requests in regards to Iran, the NSC asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with options to respond with strikes in Iraq and Syria as well, people familiar with the talks said.

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Report: Americans Are Now More Likely To Die Of An Opioid Overdose Than On The Road – Ian Stewart January 14, 2019 12:01 AM ET


Used syringes are discarded at a needle exchange clinic in Vermont in 2014. Americans’ odds of dying from an opioid overdose have risen in recent years.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

For the first time in U.S. history, a leading cause of deaths, vehicle crashes, has been surpassed in likelihood by opioid overdoses, according to a new report on preventable deaths from the National Safety Council.

Americans now have a 1 in 96 chance of dying from an opioid overdose, according to the council’s analysis of 2017 data on accidental death. The probability of dying in a motor vehicle crash is 1 in 103.

“The nation’s opioid crisis is fueling the Council’s grim probabilities, and that crisis is worsening with an influx of illicit fentanyl,” the council said in a statement released Monday.

Fentanyl is now the drug most often responsible for drug overdose deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in December. And that may only be a partial view of the problem: Opioid-related overdoses have also beenunder-counted by as much as 35 percent, according to a study published last year in the journal Addiction.

The council has recommended tackling the epidemic by increasing pain management training for opioid prescribers, making the potentially-lifesaving drug naloxone more widely available and expanding access to addiction treatment.

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HOW MISDEMEANORS TURN INNOCENT PEOPLE INTO CRIMINALS – Jordan Smith January 13 2019, 6:30 a.m.


Image: EyeEm/Getty Images

GAIL ATWATER AND her two young children were driving home from soccer practice in March 1997 when they realized that a rubber bat that was usually affixed to the window of their pickup truck was missing. It was a favorite toy of Atwater’s 3-year-old, Mac, so the trio turned around, retracing their route to see if they could find it.

Atwater slowed to a speed of roughly 15 miles per hour as she cruised through Lago Vista, the lakeside bedroom community just northwest of Austin, Texas. And although state law required passengers in the front seat of a truck to wear a seatbelt, Atwater told her kids they could unbuckle themselves so they could look outside for the toy. There was no one else on the road, and she was driving very slowly.

Then, she saw the police car. She knew she was likely to be pulled over, which she found reasonable, she later told the New York Times. Under state law, driving without a seatbelt was punishable by ticket and carried a $50 fine.

But when Lago Vista police officer Barton Turek got to her driver side window, he jabbed his finger at her and began yelling. She asked him to lower his voice because he was scaring her children. He told her that she was going to jail.

He cuffed her and put her in the back of his squad car. (A neighbor who had heard about the disturbance out on the street came and took the children home before Atwater was carted off.) Atwater was booked into jail and then later released on $310 bond. She ultimately pleaded no contest to the seatbelt violation and was fined $50. And she paid an additional $110 to get back her truck, which had been towed.

Atwater was incensed by the arrest. Under state law, the seatbelt violation was a fine-only misdemeanor offense, meaning it was not punishable by jail time. Yet she’d been taken to jail for the violation. Atwater sued the city, claiming Turek had violated her constitutional protection against unlawful seizure. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 2001, Atwater lost.

The ruling was astonishing to many, in part because it demonstrated a serious misunderstanding of the nation’s misdemeanor criminal justice system. Justice David Souter wrote that, during oral argument, Atwater’s attorney was asked whether he had any other examples of “comparably foolish, warrantless misdemeanor arrests,” and that he offered “only one.” Souter wrote that while there were certainly additional examples out there, “just as surely the country is not confronting anything like an epidemic of unnecessary minor-offense arrests.”

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DNA discoverer James Watson stripped of honors over views on race – Erin Durkin First published on Sun 13 Jan 2019 15.13 EST


New York laboratory cuts ties with 90-year-old scientist who helped discover DNA, revoking all titles and honors

A New York laboratory has cut ties with James Watson, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who helped discover DNA, over “reprehensible” comments in which he said race and intelligence are connected.

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory said it was revoking all titles and honors from Watson, 90, who led the lab for many years.

The lab “unequivocally rejects the unsubstantiated and reckless personal opinions Dr James D Watson expressed on the subject of ethnicity and genetics”, its president, Bruce Stillman, and chair of the board of trustees Marilyn Simons said in a statement.

“Dr Watson’s statements are reprehensible, unsupported by science, and in no way represent the views of CSHL, its trustees, faculty, staff, or students. The laboratory condemns the misuse of science to justify prejudice.”

With Francis Crick and Rosalind Franklin, the scientist was one of the researchers who discovered the double helix strucure of DNA in 1953.

In 2007, the lab removed him as chancellor after he told the Sunday Times he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says, not really”.

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He also said that while he wished the races were equal, “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.”

Watson apologized at the time but in a recent documentary he said his views have not changed.

“Not at all,” he said in the PBS documentary American Masters: Decoding Watson, the New York Times reported.

“I would like for them to have changed, that there be new knowledge that says that your nurture is much more important than nature. But I haven’t seen any knowledge. And there’s a difference on the average between blacks and whites on IQ tests. I would say the difference is, it’s genetic.”

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory said it was revoking Watson’s honorary titles, which include chancellor emeritus, Oliver R Grace professor emeritus, and honorary trustee.

The latest comments “effectively reverse the written apology and retraction Dr Watson made in 2007”, the lab said, adding it appreciates his legacy of scientific discoveries and leadership of the institution but can no longer be associated with him.

“The statements he made in the documentary are completely and utterly incompatible with our mission, values, and policies, and require the severing of any remaining vestiges of his involvement,” Simons and Stillman said.

The Times reported that Watson’s family said he was unable to respond, having been in medical care since a car accident in October. The PBS interview was filmed last summer.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/13/james-watson-scientist-honors-stripped-reprehensible-race-comments

Deepfakes and the New Disinformation War – By Robert Chesney and Danielle Citron January/February 2019 Issue


UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON True lies: stills of a deepfake video of Barack Obama created by researchers in 2017

The Coming Age of Post-Truth Geopolitics

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but there is nothing that persuades quite like an audio or video recording of an event. At a time when partisans can barely agree on facts, such persuasiveness might seem as if it could bring a welcome clarity. Audio and video recordings allow people to become firsthand witnesses of an event, sparing them the need to decide whether to trust someone else’s account of it. And thanks to smartphones, which make it easy to capture audio and video content, and social media platforms, which allow that content to be shared and consumed, people today can rely on their own eyes and ears to an unprecedented degree.

Therein lies a great danger. Imagine a video depicting the Israeli prime minister in private conversation with a colleague, seemingly revealing a plan to carry out a series of political assassinations in Tehran. Or an audio clip of Iranian officials planning a covert operation to kill Sunni leaders in a particular province of Iraq. Or a video showing an American general in Afghanistan burning a Koran. In a world already primed for violence, such recordings would have a powerful potential for incitement. Now imagine that these recordings could be faked using tools available to almost anyone with a laptop and access to the Internet—and that the resulting fakes are so convincing that they are impossible to distinguish from the real thing.

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Advances in digital technology could soon make this nightmare a reality. Thanks to the rise of “deepfakes”—highly realistic and difficult-to-detect digital manipulations of audio or video—it is becoming easier than ever to portray someone saying or doing something he or she never said or did. Worse, the means to create deepfakes are likely to proliferate quickly, producing an ever-widening circle of actors capable of deploying them for political purposes. Disinformation is an ancient art, of course, and one with a renewed relevance today. But as deepfake technology develops and spreads, the current disinformation wars may soon look like the propaganda equivalent of the era of swords and shields.

DAWN OF THE DEEPFAKES

Deepfakes are the product of recent advances in a form of artificial intelligence known as “deep learning,” in which sets of algorithms called “neural networks” learn to infer rules and replicate patterns by sifting through large data sets. (Google, for instance, has used this technique to develop powerful image-classification algorithms for its search engine.) Deepfakes emerge from a specific type of deep learning in which pairs of algorithms are pitted against each other in “generative adversarial networks,” or GANS. In a GAN, one algorithm, the “generator,” creates content modeled on source data (for instance, making artificial images of cats from a database of real cat pictures), while a second algorithm, the “discriminator,” tries to spot the artificial content (pick out the fake cat images). Since each algorithm is constantly training against the other, such pairings can lead to rapid improvement, allowing GANS to produce highly realistic yet fake audio and video content.

This technology has the potential to proliferate widely. Commercial and even free deepfake services have already appeared in the open market, and versions with alarmingly few safeguards are likely to emerge on the black market. The spread of these services will lower the barriers to entry, meaning that soon, the only practical constraint on one’s ability to produce a deepfake will be access to training materials—that is, audio and video of the person to be modeled—to feed the GAN. The capacity to create professional-grade forgeries will come within reach of nearly anyone with sufficient interest and the knowledge of where to go for help.

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A $350 toilet powered by worms may be the ingenious future of sanitation that Bill Gates has been dreaming about – Hilary Brueck January 13, 2018


  • Worm toilets require no traditional flushing and aren’t hooked up to a sewer system — instead, worms compost human waste.
  • More than 4,000 such “Tiger Toilets” have been installed to date across India, in homes of people who were previously defecating in the open.
  • The worm toilets smell a lot better than a pit latrine, and don’t breed mosquitoes either.
  • Here’s how a $350 toilet powered by worms could change the world and save lives.

Worms may not have spines, but they’re doing some back-breaking sewer work in more than 4,000 toilets across India.

Since 2015, a creative new type of toilet called the Tiger Toilet has been popping up outside homes and schools around the country. From the outside, this toilet looks like any other pit latrine. But it doesn’t smell like one. Instead, it comes with a built-in population of tiger worms.

“Their natural breeding, natural habitat is in cow dung heaps, or horse sh*t heaps, that kind of thing,” Ajeet Oak, director of the Tiger Toilet company, told Business Insider. “Poop. That’s where they like to live.”

The toilets involve no traditional flushing and aren’t hooked up to a sewer system. Instead, the worms are contained in a container below the toilet, and they feast on feces. The creatures’ activity leaves behind a mix of water, carbon dioxide, and a small amount of wormy compost (that’s technically the worms’ poo, though it’s much less toxic and more nutrient-rich than ours).

The resulting water isn’t clean enough to drink, but it “can go into the ground and it sort of gets filtered naturally from there on,” Oak said. No wastewater treatment plant needed.

To get the worm system to market, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundationawarded at least $4.8 million in grant money to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to perfect the technology. Tiger Toilets also received $170,000 for initial testing in India, Myanmar and Uganda from USAID. Now, after years of development and field testing around the world, the technology is finally reaching people who need it most.

“These are people who are getting toilets for the first time,” Oak said, adding that before getting a Tiger Toilet, “they would go out in the field.”

Bill Gates recently told a crowd in Beijing that he’s ready to spend an additional $200 million developing technology for next-generation toilets like these that can operate without mainframe sewer systems.

“We estimate that by 2030, the opportunity here is over $6 billion a year,” Gates said.

Read More: Bill Gates is so obsessed with redesigning the world’s toilets, he brought a jar of poop onstage in Beijing to prove it

How worms clean excrement

Tiger worms, or Eisenia fetida if you prefer the scientific term, are animals that love to eat waste. This makes them a perfect composting solution, and they especially love what falls into their Tiger Toilet compartment.

“These worms, they won’t escape on their own, because they won’t survive in just soil,” Oak said. They need our human waste to live.

These worms love eating human waste. The byproduct they create is mostly just water.
Courtesy of Bear Valley Ventures

The Tiger Toilet system costs about $350 USD to install and requires no connection to drainage pipes or a mainline sewer.

Once a person does their business in the toilet, they send their waste down into the worm-filled compartment below using a pour-flush system, usually with a little bucket of water. (There are no handles or automatic flushing devices in the Tiger Toilet.)

The toilet’s cleaning stats are impressive: they process feces, remove 99% of the pathogens, and leave behind no more than 15% of the waste by weight, in the form of compost material. The rest becomes water (around 60-70%) and carbon dioxide. That’s better performance than a septic tank.

Plus, the leftover byproduct makes for “excellent fertilizer,” Oak said, because its mix of nitrogen, phosphorous, carbon, and potassium is good for growing plants.

Tiger Toilets (and Tiger worm-powered treatment plants, like the one pictured below) also don’t breed mosquitoes or attract other flying menaces.

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Dark Matter Hunters Are Looking Inside Rocks for New Clues – REBECCA BOYLE SCIENCE 01.13.19


Minerals such as olivine could hold evidence of long-ago collisions between atomic nuclei and dark matter.OLENA SHMAHALO/QUANTA MAGAZINE

In nearly two dozen underground laboratories scattered all over the earth, using vats of liquid or blocks of metal and semiconductors, scientists are looking for evidence of dark matter. Their experiments are getting more complicated, and the search is getting more precise, yet aside from a much-contested signalcoming from a lab in Italy, nobody has found direct evidence of the mysterious material that is thought to make up 84 percent of the matter in the universe.

A new study suggests we should look deeper.

Dark matter is different from regular, baryonic matter — the stuff that makes stars, galaxies, dogs, humans and everything else — in that it does not interact with anything except through gravity (and perhaps the weak nuclear force). We can’t see it, yet physicists are all but certain it’s there, sculpting galaxies and their paths through the cosmos.

For many decades, the favored candidates for dark matter particles have been hypothetical shy things called weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs. Many experiments search for them by looking for evidence that a WIMP has come by and knocked regular matter around. In this scenario, a WIMP would tap an atomic nucleus via the weak force. The startled nucleus would then recoil and emit some form of energy, such as a flash of light or a sound wave. Detecting such barely perceptible phenomena requires sensitive instruments, usually buried deep underground. This is mostly so the instruments are shielded from wayward cosmic rays, which can also cause nuclei recoils.

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