2019-01-01 00:00:00 ..
2019-07-22 13:28:32 UTC
2019-07-22 15:30:13 UTC
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The Planetary Society reports:
Representative John Culberson, an 8-term Texas Republican and staunch supporter of NASA and planetary exploration, lost his re-election bid to Democrat Lizzie Fletcher last week. Many factors played into this outcome, but one bears consideration by space advocates: his support for the scientific search for life at Europa was seen as a weakness and attacked accordingly.
Over the past four years, Culberson used his chairmanship of the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations subcommittee to increase spending on NASA and missions to search for life on Europa. He directed hundreds of millions of dollars to this effort and played a critical role in getting the Europa Clipper mission officially adopted by NASA and the White House. And he did this without cannibalizing other NASA programs. His motivation was passion, not parochialism, as the prime benefactor of these federal dollars was California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, located far outside his Houston-area congressional district.
Submitted via IRC for Bytram
The Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to American officials.
The C.I.A. made the assessment based on the crown prince's control of Saudi Arabia, which is such that the killing would not have taken place without his approval, and has buttressed its conclusion with two sets of crucial communications: intercepts of the crown prince's calls in the days before the killing, and calls by the kill team to a senior aide to the crown prince.
[...] The increasingly definitive assessment from the spy agency creates a problem for President Trump, who has tied his administration to Prince Mohammed and proclaimed him the future of Saudi Arabia, a longtime American ally. But the new assessment by the C.I.A. is sure to harden the resolve of lawmakers on Capitol Hill to continue to investigate the killing of Mr. Khashoggi and punish Saudi Arabia.
Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, has been particularly close to Prince Mohammed. Mr. Kushner has long advocated that a strong relationship with the Saudis is in the United States' interest, and he has pushed to maintain support for the crown prince despite the death of Mr. Khashoggi, who Saudi officials now say was killed with a lethal dose of tranquilizers and dismembered. Previously, Saudi officials said that Mr. Khashoggi had been strangled.
[...] Neither administration officials nor intelligence officers believe the controversy over Mr. Khashoggi will drive Prince Mohammed from power, which is one reason White House officials believe cutting ties with the prince would not be in the interest of the United States.
takyon: The Saudis have denied the reports.
NPR is reporting that Democrat Jared Golden has been declared the winner of Maine House District 2 after ranked-choice voting (RCV) boosted his vote count over Republican Bruce Poliquin. Poliquin had received more initial votes than Golden, but did not receive the requisite 50% of the vote.
Maine's new ranked-choice system of voting allows voters to rank candidates in their order of preference and to transfer their votes if no candidate gets more than 50 percent.
Local newspaper Portland Press Herald fills in some details:
Golden captured 50.5 percent of the vote to Poliquin’s 49.5 percent to become the first challenger to defeat an incumbent in Maine’s sprawling 2nd District in a century. The Marine Corps veteran and Lewiston lawmaker also made history by winning the nation’s first congressional election to utilize ranked-choice voting, enabling him to erase an initial deficit by securing the second- and third-choice votes of people who cast their ballots for two independents.
The final vote tally was 139,231 votes for Golden versus 136,326 votes for Poliquin – a margin of 2,905 votes.
However, Thursday’s ranked-choice voting results won’t be the final word on the 2nd District race, which was one of the most expensive in the country. Poliquin defiantly declared Thursday afternoon that he “won the constitutional ‘one-person, one-vote'” tally on Election Day and vowed to continue his lawsuit challenging the legality of ranked-choice voting.
[...] Poliquin led Golden by 2,632 votes after Election Day, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s Office. But neither Poliquin nor Golden received majority support during the initial tally, with both pulling in roughly 46 percent, while independents Tiffany Bond and William Hoar received a combined 8 percent of the vote.
That triggered Thursday’s ranked-choice runoff, which came after staffers in Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office spent several days scanning and downloading all of the nearly 290,000 ballots cast in the 2nd District on Nov. 6. The runoff only took a few minutes to complete as a specialized computer software eliminated Hoar and Bond from the equation and redistributed their supporters’ votes to the candidates – either Poliquin or Golden – who they had ranked highest.
In the end, Golden gained 10,232 votes from the ranked-choice retabulations while Poliquin gained 4,695 votes. That allowed Golden to overcome a 2,632-vote deficit from the initial vote. Roughly 8,000 of the ballots cast for the independents did not designate an additional choice or did not select either of the major-party candidates.
Maine voters first approved the switch to ranked-choice voting in November 2016 and then reaffirmed that decision via a second ballot initiative in June.
Also at WGME.
The Russian government has denied having anything to do with hacking the US Democratic party in 2016, although in a court filing this week stressed that even if it did break into the DNC's servers, it is immune from prosecution.
And furthermore the Kremlin claimed America is "one of the most prolific practitioners of cyberattacks and cyber-intrusions on the planet." So, nerr!
"The [Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act] FSIA provides that foreign sovereign states enjoy absolute jurisdictional immunity from suit unless a plaintiff can demonstrate that one of the FSIA's enumerated 'exceptions' applies," argued [PDF] the Russian government this week in a New York court in response to a lawsuit from the DNC.
The DNC claims that it was subject to a "military attack" by Kremlin intelligence, causing Russia to argue back that any act of its military is a sovereign action and so therefore it can't be sued for it.
It's an amazing defense though one the DNC foresaw. It argued in its initial court paperwork [PDF] that "Russia is not entitled to sovereign immunity because the DNC's claims arise out of Russia's trespass onto the DNC's private servers - a tort allegedly committed in the United States.
"In addition, Russia committed the trespass in order to steal trade secrets and commit economic espionage, two forms of commercial activity undertaken in and directly affecting the United States."
Of course this being 2018 and Russia, the Putin administration can't leave it at that, and takes the opportunity to troll the US government by pointing out that the immunity provision is also heavily relied upon by Uncle Sam and its officials abroad.
"The United States benefits significantly from the sovereign immunity that it enjoys (and US officials enjoy) in foreign courts around the world with respect to the United States' frequency acts of cyber intrusion and political interference," Russia's response reads. "As current and former US officials have acknowledged on many occasion, the United States - acting primarily through the National Security Agency (NSA) with the US Department of Defense - is one of the most prolific practitioners of cyberattacks and cyber-intrusions on the planet."
Pot calling the kettle black?
A former top executive at Facebook who was ousted from the company may have been fired over his support for Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Journal reported Sunday that Palmer Luckey has recently told people that he was fired for supporting Trump before that year's presidential election. Luckey's donation in September 2016 to NimbleAmerica, a group that funded ads attacking Hillary Clinton, reportedly sparked backlash within Facebook.
Six months after making that donation, Luckey was no longer at the company. The Journal noted that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of Congress this year that Luckey's departure had nothing to do with his political beliefs.
According to the Journal, Luckey was first put on leave and later fired. In the fall of 2016, Zuckerberg pressured Luckey to voice support publicly for Gary Johnson, the libertarian nominee in that year's election, the Journal reported, citing internal emails and sources familiar with the conversations.
"Zuckerberg lied to Congress" could become a bipartisan statement.
Also at NBC.
Related: Oculus VR Founder Palmer Luckey on the Need for "Unlimited Graphics Horsepower"
Facebook/Oculus Ordered to pay $500 Million to ZeniMax
Palmer Luckey Donates to CrossVR Patreon
Oculus Co-Founder Brendan Iribe Leaves Facebook
The outcomes of several races in the 2018 midterm elections may have an impact on the Europa Clipper mission, as well as other NASA priorities:
Perhaps the most significant loss occurred in Texas's Seventh Congressional District, home to thousands of the employees at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. A political newcomer, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, defeated the incumbent John Culberson, who has served in the House since 2001. Culberson, an attorney, doesn't have a science background. But he grew up in the 1960s building telescopes, toying with model rockets, and reading popular science magazines. For the past four years, Culberson has pushed his colleagues in the House and the Senate to steadily grow nasa's budget, for projects including its climate-science programs—which may come as a surprise, given the congressman's party line on climate change.
Culberson has fiercely supported one mission in particular: a journey to one of Jupiter's moons, the icy Europa. As chair of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, Culberson more than doubled the amount of money the space agency requested from Congress for an orbiter around Europa, from $265 million to $545 million. He also threw in $195 million to support a lander to the moon, which nasa hadn't even planned for, but would of course accept. Scientists suspect that Europa's frozen crust covers a liquid ocean that may sustain microbial life. Culberson was intent on sending something there to find it. "This will be tremendously expensive, but worth every penny," he said last year, during a visit to nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to check its progress.
With Culberson out of the House, the funding portfolio for the Europa mission could change. "I don't see any obvious members of Congress, Republican or Democratic, who'd be taking up that mantle of leading the Europa efforts, so I imagine that those are likely to start to wane," said Casey Dreier, a senior space-policy adviser at the Planetary Society, a nonprofit space-advocacy group.
Dreier said the development of the Europa orbiter, known as Clipper, will certainly continue. Since nasa formally approved the mission in 2015, engineers and scientists have made significant progress on the design of the spacecraft. But without a steady flow of funding, its launch date could slip, he said. The lander is on shakier ground. "I don't think you're going to see money for the Europa lander to continue showing up, because that's money that nasa has not been requesting," Dreier said.
See also: Culberson's ouster could spell big problems for NASA's Orion program, experts say
NASA's Europa lander may be in jeopardy after the midterms — and some are fine with seeing it go
What the 2018 midterms mean for NASA and planetary science
We had two Soylentils submit stories about Attorney General Jeff Sessions:
"US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been fired by President Donald Trump.
[...] Mr Trump said Mr Sessions will be temporarily replaced by his chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, who has criticised the Russia inquiry.
[...] In a resignation letter, Mr Sessions - a former Alabama senator who was an early supporter of Mr Trump - made clear the decision to go was not his own.
[...] The president cannot directly fire the special counsel, whose investigation Mr Trump has repeatedly decried as a witch hunt. But Mr Sessions' replacement will have the power to fire Mr Mueller or end the inquiry.
[...] Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he looks forward to 'working with President Trump to find a confirmable, worthy successor so that we can start a new chapter at the Department of Justice'.
Mr Graham, of South Carolina, had said last year there would be 'holy hell to pay' if Mr Sessions was ever fired."
[...] House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said: "It is impossible to read Attorney General Sessions' firing as anything other than another blatant attempt by President Trump to undermine & end Special Counsel Mueller's investigation."
Jeff Sessions is out. The new Acting Attorney General is Matthew G. Whitaker:
Matthew Whitaker will take over as acting attorney general, the President said. Whitaker is expected to take charge of the Russia investigation and special counsel Robert Mueller from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Whitaker has been openly critical of Mueller and the investigation and Democrats immediately called on him to recuse himself, just as Sessions had.
The US Surveillance State is Poised to Become Even More Powerful
Trump and Sessions Plan to Restrict H-1B Workers. Hyderabad Says to Bring It On.
Attorney General Nominee Jeff Sessions Backs Crypto Backdoors
Washington State Will Resist Federal Crackdown on Cannabis
DoJ Reverses Plans to Reduce the Use of Private Prisons
New Attorney General Claims Legal Weed Drives Violent Crime; Statistics be Damned
Trump Administration's War on Science Reaches DoJ
4/20: The Third Time's Not the Charm
Jeff Sessions Reboots the Drug War
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions Will Rescind the Cole Memo
President Trump Backed Off from Ordering Special Counsel Mueller Fired
President Trump Promises to Support State Legalization of Cannabis; Boehner Evolves
French President Emmanuel Macron called for the creation of a "true European army," issuing a sharp critique of trans-Atlantic security ties days before U.S. President Trump is due to visit France.
Europe's security ties with the U.S., which have been a bedrock of the continent's stability for decades, have come under strain as Mr. Trump has demanded more military spending from European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and questioned the alliance's benefits for the U.S. Such tensions have led Mr. Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to publicly question whether the continent can still rely on the U.S. to come to Europe's defense.
Mr. Macron went a step further by grouping the U.S. among foreign powers he considers a potential threat to the continent. "We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America," Mr. Macron said on French radio.
Mr. Macron made the remarks as part of a weeklong tour of World War I battlefields ahead of the centenary of the Nov. 11 Armistice, when the French leader is due to host Mr. Trump, Vladimir Putin of Russia and many other heads of state.
Also at Newsweek.
Six people have been arrested in France on suspicion of planning to carry out a "violent" attack on President Emmanuel Macron, officials say. The individuals, reported to be five men and a woman, were picked up by the French security services in Brittany, north-east and south-east France.
An investigation is now taking place into a "criminal terrorist association", a judicial source said. Details of the suspects and the alleged plot have not yet been released.
Maine's ranked-choice voting will be used in a federal general election for the first time, after previously using it in the primary system.
Update: Democrats have taken the House of Representatives, while Republicans have retained control of the Senate.
Georgia Secretary of State and Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp opened an investigation into the state's Democratic Party Sunday, alleging a failed attempt to hack the Georgia voter registration system.
In a law implemented last year, Georgia's 'Exact Match' requirement flags voters who have discrepancies in their official identifying documents and may be non-citizens.
As originally written, at the actual polling location, only Deputy Registrars could immediately clear individuals to vote (provisional ballots could still be cast). This was deemed burdensome in U.S. District Court and now Poll Managers can also clear individuals to vote who show proof of citizenship.
The announcement of this change is here: http://sos.ga.gov/index.php/general/judge_includes_poll_managers_in_georgias_existing_non-citizen_verification_process_
Voters were notified in advance of discrepancies and multiple avenues to resolve the issue are available, including:
- in advance by faxing or emailing documents to the county registrar
- when balloting, providing documentation to a Deputy Registrar (or Poll Manager now)
- If the above are an issue, an individual can cast a provisional ballot and provide the proof of citizenship (in person, via fax, email, or text message) before Friday.