Please log in to use all the site's facilities
|Huge Pissgate News: Guccifer 2.0 identified as GRU officer|
at 12:14 23 Mar 2018
‘Lone DNC Hacker’ Revealed as Russian Intelligence Officer
By Spencer Ackerman, Kevin Poulsen
Daily Beast, 03.22.18 7:00 PM ET
Guccifer 2.0, the “lone hacker” who took credit for providing WikiLeaks with stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee, was in fact an officer of Russia’s military intelligence directorate (GRU), The Daily Beast has learned. It’s an attribution that resulted from a fleeting but critical slip-up in GRU tradecraft.
That forensic determination has substantial implications for the criminal probe into potential collusion between President Donald Trump and Russia. The Daily Beast has learned that the special counsel in that investigation, Robert Mueller, has taken over the probe into Guccifer and brought the FBI agents who worked to track the persona onto his team.
While it’s unclear what Mueller plans to do with Guccifer, his last round of indictments charged 13 Russians tied to the Internet Research Agency troll farm with a conspiracy “for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.” It was Mueller’s first move establishing Russian interference in the election within a criminal context, but it stopped short of directly implicating the Putin regime.
Mueller’s office declined to comment for this story. But the attribution of Guccifer 2.0 as an officer of Russia’s largest foreign intelligence agency would cross the Kremlin threshold—and move the investigation closer to Trump himself.
Trump’s longtime political adviser Roger Stone admitted being in touch with Guccifer over Twitter’s direct messaging service. And in August 2016, Stone published an article on the pro-Trump-friendly Breitbart News calling on his political opponents to “Stop Blaming Russia” for the hack. “I have some news for Hillary and Democrats—I think I’ve got the real culprit,” he wrote. “It doesn’t seem to be the Russians that hacked the DNC, but instead a hacker who goes by the name of Guccifer 2.0.
”Five months later, in January 2017, the CIA, NSA, and FBI assessed “with high confidence” that “Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data.” But the assessment did not directly call Guccifer a Russian intelligence officer. Nor did it provide any evidence for its assertions.
It turns out there is a powerful reason to connect Guccifer to the GRU.
Guccifer 2.0 sprang into existence on June 15, 2016, hours after a report by a computer security firm forensically tied Russia to an intrusion at the Democratic National Committee. In a series of blog posts and tweets over the following seven months—conspicuously ending right as Trump took office and not resuming—the Guccifer persona published a smattering of the DNC documents while gamely projecting an image as an independent Romanian hacktivist who’d breached the DNC on a lark. As Stone’s Breitbart piece demonstrated, Guccifer provided Moscow with a counter-narrative for the election interference.
Guccifer famously pretended to be a “lone hacker” who perpetrated the digital DNC break-in. From the outset, few believed it. Motherboard conducted a devastating interview with Guccifer that exploded the account’s claims of being a native Romanian speaker. Based on forensic clues in some of Guccifer’s leaks, and other evidence, a consensus quickly formed among security experts that Guccifer was completely notional.
“Almost immediately various cyber security companies and individuals were skeptical of Guccifer 2.0 and the backstory that he had generated for himself,” said Kyle Ehmke, an intelligence researcher at the cyber security firm ThreatConnect. “We started seeing these inconsistencies that led back to the idea that he was created hastily… by the individual or individuals that affected the DNC compromise.
”Proving that link definitively was harder. Ehmke led an investigation at ThreatConnect that tried to track down Guccifer from the metadata in his emails. But the trail always ended at the same data center in France. Ehmke eventually uncovered that Guccifer was connecting through an anonymizing service called Elite VPN, a virtual private networking service that had an exit point in France but was headquartered in Russia.
But on one occasion, The Daily Beast has learned, Guccifer failed to activate the VPN client before logging on. As a result, he left a real, Moscow-based Internet Protocol address in the server logs of an American social media company, according to a source familiar with the government’s Guccifer investigation. Twitter and WordPress were Guccifer 2.0’s favored outlets. Neither company would comment for this story, and Guccifer did not respond to a direct message on Twitter.
Working off the IP address, U.S. investigators identified Guccifer 2.0 as a particular GRU officer working out of the agency’s headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow. (The Daily Beast’s sources did not disclose which particular officer worked as Guccifer.)
Security firms and declassified U.S. intelligence findings previously identified the GRU as the agency running “Fancy Bear,” the ten-year-old hacking organization behind the DNC email theft, as well as breaches at NATO, Obama’s White House, a French television station, the World Anti-Doping Agency, and countless NGOs, and militaries and civilian agencies in Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus.
Timestamps in Guccifer 2.0’s first leaks show they were packaged for release over the course of a single day in June 2016, beginning just hours after the DNC intrusion and its attribution to Russia were made public. The moniker was an homage to Romanian hacker Marcel Lazăr Lehel, who as “Guccifer” achieved notoriety in 2013 for a string of hacks against celebrities and politicians.
In his inaugural blog post, Guccifer 2.0 disputed Russia’s involvement and claimed credit personally for the DNC breach, positioning himself as a one-time hacking operation working to expose “the Illuminati.” The post included the world’s first glimpse of the enormous cache of documents siphoned from the DNC’s network, including the Democrats’ opposition research report on Trump. Presaging the leaks that would roil the election, Guccifer 2.0 declared that he’d already sent the bulk of the stolen material to WikiLeaks—which has spent the time since obfuscating whether Guccifer was its source.
On July 22, 2016, WikiLeaks began releasing its cache of approximately 19,000 emails and 8,000 attachments stolen in the hack. While Trump promoted the leak on Twitter and in rallies, his surrogate Roger Stone pushed back against the Kremlin attribution. In his August 2016 article for Breitbart, he argued that Guccifer 2.0 was the Romanian hacktivist he claimed to be. “Guccifer 2.0 is the real deal,” he wrote.
Last May, Stone admitted that he’d also exchanged direct messages with the Guccifer 2.0 persona, and he released what he claimed was a complete transcript of his communications with the account. The transcript is brief and banal, showing Stone congratulating Guccifer 2.0 on returning to Twitter after a brief suspension, and then mostly ignoring him. Then and since, Stone has consistently denied that Guccifer was connected to the Kremlin.
“I myself had no contacts or communications with the Russian State, Russian Intelligence or anyone fronting for them or acting as intermediaries for them,” he wrote.
Guccifer 2.0 maintained a sporadic online presence throughout the election, posting to his dedicated WordPress blog and on Twitter, and spilling more DNC documents, sometimes in private emails to journalists.
While the national election clearly interested him (“Democrats prepare new provocation against Trump,” he thundered in October 2016), Guccifer 2.0 reached down the ballot as well, posting documents from the Democrats’ national campaign committee on his WordPress blog. There, readers could find internal Democratic candidate assessments relevant to battleground states like Pennsylvania and Florida; internal assessments of key congressional districts, with granular analyses of their demographics; and campaign recruitment material.
The GRU officer was eager to share this trove, as well. A GOP political operative in Florida, Aaron Nevins, DM’d Guccifer 2.0 a request for “any Florida based information” and received 2.5 gigabytes’ worth, according to The Wall Street Journal. The data, he enthused to Guccifer 2.0, was “probably worth millions of dollars.” A consultant for a successful Florida Republican congressional candidate told the paper, “I did adjust some voting targets based on some data I saw from the leaks.”
Sometime after its hasty launch, the Guccifer persona was handed off to a more experienced GRU officer, according to a source familiar with the matter. The timing of that handoff is unclear, but Guccifer 2.0’s last blog post, from Jan. 12, 2017, evinced a far greater command of English that the persona’s earlier efforts.
“It’s obvious that the intelligence agencies are deliberately falsifying evidence,” the post read. “In my opinion, they’re playing into the hands of the Democrats who are trying to blame foreign actors for their failure.”
(Contrast that with the language from a June 2016 post: “I made some conclusions from the Marcel’s story and decided not to put all eggs in one basket. Moreover, other cases weren’t so successful and didn’t bring me the glory.”)
Today the most popular counter-narrative surrounding Guccifer 2.0 concedes that the account was a fake persona but posits that it was created by the DNC to support a false-flag operation implicating Russia. In this theory, advanced in two widely cited anonymous blogs, Guccifer 2.0 was the DNC posing as Russia posing as a Romanian hacker.
[Post edited 23 Mar 12:16]
|Welcome back psychoboy|
at 18:18 22 Mar 2018
See you've been busy doing what you do best.
Do you really not have anything better to do with your time?
|Cranks have turned the world upside down – it’s time to fight back|
at 08:17 18 Mar 2018
Cranks have turned the world upside down – it’s time to fight back
Conspiracy theories were once a fringe interest. In the era of populists, they’ve now gone mainstream
By Nick Cohen
Observer, Sat 17 Mar 2018 18.00 GMTLast modified on Sat 17 Mar 2018
Nothing makes the contented turn of the century feel further away than the indulgence with which the old world treated its cranks. Their prime purpose was to be entertaining freaks for the allegedly sane majority to laugh at. The BBC ran shows where Louis Theroux met religious zealots and white nationalists. As they watched, broadcasters and the audience had an unspoken pact that made sense 20 years ago but is meaningless today: however dangerous these people might be to those close to them, they could do no real harm.
The ironic documentaries of the 1990s now seem as remote as medieval frescoes. If producers wanted to commission a successor series, they would have to take their cameras to the White House, Kremlin, the office of the leader of the opposition in Westminster, the Sándor Palace in Budapest and Chancellery in Warsaw. They would have to ask how a Russia that has turned paranoid delusion into an instrument of foreign policy became the dominant power in the Middle East and a corrupting force in the west. They would have to acknowledge that conspiracy theorists rule nuclear-armed states and that the fake news and the loud-mouthed bombast of men once dismissed as clowns on Have I Got News for You pushed Britain out of the EU. It’s the clowns who are laughing now and the cranks who rule the world.
Beyond the well-explored reasons for the rise of demagogic movements lies an embarrassing failure. For once you have examined the effects of the crash, the stagnation of living standards, austerity, the mass movement of migrants, racism, globalisation, the influence of the web and Russian money, you still have to ask why mainstream society did not take demagogues seriously until it was too late.
Until the moment Trump was elected American politicians and journalists refused to believe that a man like him could possibly be their president. No senior conservative politician in office said the only way to preserve American democracy was for moderate Republicans to hold their noses and vote for Hillary Clinton. That they are cowards has been proved by their collusion since Trump came to power. But they seem as much fools as villains when you remember they thought he was doomed to lose. David Cameron called the Brexit vote with an unshakeable conviction that he would win and carry on in Downing Street. Centrist MPs turned Labour from a social democratic party into a playground for post-communist tyrannophiles when they put Corbyn on the ballot paper to “have a debate”, and then found they couldn’t debate him because they had never once tried to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the new far left.
All of us can mistake the familiar for the permanent and find change inexplicable. But there was a deeper fault. The comforting idea that conspiracy theorists didn’t matter was not confined to documentary-makers. When confronted with half-mad ideas that global warming was a lie or that the CIA destroyed the twin towers, intelligent people reassured themselves that these were delusions shared by a few people who needed the simple explanations global conspiracies gave them to make sense of life’s chaos.
Richard J Hofstadter’s classic essay of 1964, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, is still read today. But its conclusion was surprisingly optimistic. Although conspiracy theories were “a persistent psychic phenomenon”, they affected only a “modest minority of the population”. That Hofstadter could be so nonchalant when Nazi Germany was fresh in the memory and communists still ruled the Soviet Union and China shows that western parochialism is not a novel vice.
Grand historical objections aside, it is obvious to anyone who has argued with conspiracy theorists that their ideas are anything but simple. When you imagine global warming is a hoax you need hundreds of pieces of scaffolding to support your fantasy. You must believe that about 95% of climate scientists are lying and that none ever had or would ever have a crisis of conscience and confess “the truth”. The complexity of the delusion explains why conspiracy theory so often ends in fascism. For such a huge and devilish con to be pulled, true believers have to invoke a group with supernatural powers to arrange and conceal: the Jews or the “Zionists”, as they say today.
They also have to explain motive. This problem is haunting the Corbynite left and Faragist right as they struggle to explain why the attempted murder of a Russian double agent and his daughter is not the work of a Russian state which murders its critics as a matter of routine. They blame the Americans, the May administration, which doesn’t have the competence to conspire its way out of a paper bag and, inevitably, the Jews. Corbyn eggs them on by saying that “Russian mafia-like groups” may be behind it. But why would the mafia want to do it?
It’s easy to sink into despair now the cranks and creeps aren’t a “modest minority of the population”. When Hitler and Stalin controlled mainland Europe, Stefan Zweig looked back with nostalgia to a time 30 years before when “there was as little belief in the possibility of such barbaric declines as wars between the peoples of Europe as there was in witches and ghosts. Our fathers were comfortably saturated with confidence in the unfailing and binding power of tolerance and conciliation. They honestly believed that the divergences and boundaries between nations and sects would gradually melt away.”
Zweig committed suicide in 1942. The alternative to despair is to fight and find a pleasure in fighting. Many, myself included, are enjoying the grim satisfaction of engaging in arguments that have a significance the trivial pursuits of the millennium could never claim. No one can wake up now and say there are no good causes left. They need only look around to see dozens of deserving targets that demand to be hit.
|How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions|
at 17:59 17 Mar 2018
How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG, NICHOLAS CONFESSORE and CAROLE CADWALLADR
NY Times, MARCH 17, 2018
LONDON — As the upstart voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica prepared to wade into the 2014 American midterm elections, it had a problem.
The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work.
So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history. The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.
An examination by The New York Times and The Observer of London reveals how Cambridge Analytica’s drive to bring to market a potentially powerful new weapon put the firm — and wealthy conservative investors seeking to reshape politics — under scrutiny from investigators and lawmakers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Christopher Wylie, who helped found Cambridge and worked there until late 2014, said of its leaders: “Rules don’t matter for them. For them, this is a war, and it’s all fair.”
“They want to fight a culture war in America,” he added. “Cambridge Analytica was supposed to be the arsenal of weapons to fight that culture war.”
Details of Cambridge’s acquisition and use of Facebook data have surfaced in several accounts since the business began working on the 2016 campaign, setting off a furious debate about the merits of the firm’s so-called psychographic modeling techniques.
But the full scale of the data leak involving Americans has not been previously disclosed — and Facebook, until now, has not acknowledged it. Interviews with a half-dozen former employees and contractors, and a review of the firm’s emails and documents, have revealed that Cambridge not only relied on the private Facebook data but still possesses most or all of the trove.
Cambridge paid to acquire the personal information through an outside researcher who, Facebook says, claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.
During a week of inquiries from The Times, Facebook downplayed the scope of the leak and questioned whether any of the data still remained out of its control. But on Friday, the company posted a statement expressing alarm and promising to take action.
“This was a scam — and a fraud,” Paul Grewal, a vice president and deputy general counsel at the social network, said in a statement to The Times earlier on Friday. He added that the company was suspending Cambridge Analytica, Mr. Wylie and the researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American academic, from Facebook. “We will take whatever steps are required to see that the data in question is deleted once and for all — and take action against all offending parties,” Mr. Grewal said.
Alexander Nix, the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, and other officials had repeatedly denied obtaining or using Facebook data, most recently during a parliamentary hearing last month. But in a statement to The Times, the company acknowledged that it had acquired the data, though it blamed Mr. Kogan for violating Facebook’s rules and said it had deleted the information as soon as it learned of the problem two years ago.
In Britain, Cambridge Analytica is facing intertwined investigations by Parliament and government regulators into allegations that it performed illegal work on the “Brexit” campaign. The country has strict privacy laws, and its information commissioner announced on Saturday that she was looking into whether the Facebook data was “illegally acquired and used.”
In the United States, Mr. Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, a board member, Mr. Bannon and Mr. Nix received warnings from their lawyer that it was illegal to employ foreigners in political campaigns, according to company documents and former employees.
Congressional investigators have questioned Mr. Nix about the company’s role in the Trump campaign. And the Justice Department’s special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has demanded the emails of Cambridge Analytica employees who worked for the Trump team as part of his investigation into Russian interference in the election.
While the substance of Mr. Mueller’s interest is a closely guarded secret, documents viewed by The Times indicate that the firm’s British affiliate claims to have worked in Russia and Ukraine. And the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, disclosed in October that Mr. Nix had reached out to him during the campaign in hopes of obtaining private emails belonging to Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The documents also raise new questions about Facebook, which is already grappling with intense criticism over the spread of Russian propaganda and fake news. The data Cambridge collected from profiles, a portion of which was viewed by The Times, included details on users’ identities, friend networks and “likes.” Only a tiny fraction of the users had agreed to release their information to a third party.
“Protecting people’s information is at the heart of everything we do,” Mr. Grewal said. “No systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.”
Still, he added, “it’s a serious abuse of our rules.”
Reading Voters’ Minds
The Bordeaux flowed freely as Mr. Nix and several colleagues sat down for dinner at the Palace Hotel in Manhattan in late 2013, Mr. Wylie recalled in an interview. They had much to celebrate.
Mr. Nix, a brash salesman, led the small elections division at SCL Group, a political and defense contractor. He had spent much of the year trying to break into the lucrative new world of political data, recruiting Mr. Wylie, then a 24-year-old political operative with ties to veterans of President Obama’s campaigns. Mr. Wylie was interested in using inherent
psychological traits to affect voters’ behavior and had assembled a teamof psychologists and data scientists, some of them affiliated with Cambridge University.
The group experimented abroad, including in the Caribbean and Africa, where privacy rules were lax or nonexistent and politicians employing SCL were happy to provide government-held data, former employees said.
Then a chance meeting bought Mr. Nix into contact with Mr. Bannon, the Breitbart News firebrand who would later become a Trump campaign and White House adviser, and with Mr. Mercer, one of the richest men on earth.
Mr. Nix and his colleagues courted Mr. Mercer, who believed a sophisticated data company could make him a kingmaker in Republican politics, and his daughter Rebekah, who shared his conservative views. Mr. Bannon was intrigued by the possibility of using personality profiling to shift America’s culture and rewire its politics, recalled Mr. Wylie and other former employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had signed nondisclosure agreements. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Bannon declined to comment.
Mr. Mercer agreed to help finance a $1.5 million pilot project to poll voters and test psychographic messaging in Virginia’s gubernatorial race in November 2013, where the Republican attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, ran against Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic fund-raiser. Though Mr. Cuccinelli lost, Mr. Mercer committed to moving forward.
The Mercers wanted results quickly, and more business beckoned. In early 2014, the investor Toby Neugebauer and other wealthy conservatives were preparing to put tens of millions of dollars behind a presidential campaign for Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, work that Mr. Nix was eager to win.
When Mr. Wylie’s colleagues failed to produce a memo explaining their work to Mr. Neugebauer, Mr. Nix castigated them over email.
“ITS 2 PAGES!! 4 hours work max (or an hour each). What have you all been doing??” he wrote.
Mr. Wylie’s team had a bigger problem. Building psychographic profiles on a national scale required data the company could not gather without huge expense. Traditional analytics firms used voting records and consumer purchase histories to try to predict political beliefs and voting behavior.
But those kinds of records were useless for figuring out whether a particular voter was, say, a neurotic introvert, a religious extrovert, a fair-minded liberal or a fan of the occult. Those were among the psychological traits the firm claimed would provide a uniquely powerful means of designing political messages.
Mr. Wylie found a solution at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre. Researchers there had developed a technique to map personality traits based on what people had liked on Facebook. The researchers paid users small sums to take a personality quiz and download an app, which would scrape some private information from their profiles and those of their friends, activity that Facebook permitted at the time. The approach, the scientists said, could reveal more about a person than their parents or romantic partners knew — a claim that has been disputed.
When the Psychometrics Centre declined to work with the firm, Mr. Wylie found someone who would: Dr. Kogan, who was then a psychology professor at the university and knew of the techniques. Dr. Kogan built his own app and in June 2014 began harvesting data for Cambridge Analytica. The business covered the costs — more than $800,000 — and allowed him to keep a copy for his own research, according to company emails and financial records.
All he divulged to Facebook, and to users in fine print, was that he was collecting information for academic purposes, the social network said. It did not verify his claim. Dr. Kogan declined to provide details of what happened, citing nondisclosure agreements with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, though he maintained that his program was “a very standard vanilla Facebook app.”
He ultimately provided over 50 million raw profiles to the firm, Mr. Wylie said, a number confirmed by a company email and a former colleague. Of those, roughly 30 million contained enough information, including places of residence, that the company could match users to other records and build psychographic profiles. Only about 270,000 users — those who participated in the survey — had consented to having their data harvested.
Mr. Wylie said the Facebook data was “the saving grace” that let his team deliver the models it had promised the Mercers.
“We wanted as much as we could get,” he acknowledged. “Where it came from, who said we could have it — we weren’t really asking.”
Mr. Nix tells a different story. Appearing before a parliamentary committee last month, he described Dr. Kogan’s contributions as “fruitless.”
An International Effort
Just as Dr. Kogan’s efforts were getting underway, Mr. Mercer agreed to invest $15 million in a joint venture with SCL’s elections division. The partners devised a convoluted corporate structure, forming a new American company, owned almost entirely by Mr. Mercer, with a license to the psychographics platform developed by Mr. Wylie’s team, according to company documents. Mr. Bannon, who became a board member and investor, chose the name: Cambridge Analytica.
The firm was effectively a shell. According to the documents and former employees, any contracts won by Cambridge, originally incorporated in Delaware, would be serviced by London-based SCL and overseen by Mr. Nix, a British citizen who held dual appointments at Cambridge Analytica and SCL. Most SCL employees and contractors were Canadian, like Mr. Wylie, or European.
But in July 2014, an American election lawyer advising the company, Laurence Levy, warned that the arrangement could violate laws limiting the involvement of foreign nationals in American elections.
In a memo to Mr. Bannon, Ms. Mercer and Mr. Nix, the lawyer, then at the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, warned that Mr. Nix would have to recuse himself “from substantive management” of any clients involved in United States elections. The data firm would also have to find American citizens or green card holders, Mr. Levy wrote, “to manage the work and decision making functions, relative to campaign messaging and expenditures.”
In summer and fall 2014, Cambridge Analytica dived into the American midterm elections, mobilizing SCL contractors and employees around the country. Few Americans were involved in the work, which included polling, focus groups and message development for the John Bolton Super PAC, conservative groups in Colorado and the campaign of Senator Thom Tillis, the North Carolina Republican.
Cambridge Analytica, in its statement to The Times, said that all “personnel in strategic roles were U.S. nationals or green card holders.” Mr. Nix “never had any strategic or operational role” in an American election campaign, the company said.
Whether the company’s American ventures violated election laws would depend on foreign employees’ roles in each campaign, and on whether their work counted as strategic advice under Federal Election Commission rules.
Cambridge Analytica appears to have exhibited a similar pattern in the 2016 election cycle, when the company worked for the campaigns of Mr. Cruz and then Mr. Trump. While Cambridge hired more Americans to work on the races that year, most of its data scientists were citizens of the United Kingdom or other European countries, according to two former employees.
Under the guidance of Brad Parscale, Mr. Trump’s digital director in 2016 and now the campaign manager for his 2020 re-election effort, Cambridge performed a variety of services, former campaign officials said. That included designing target audiences for digital ads and fund-raising appeals, modeling voter turnout, buying $5 million in television ads and determining where Mr. Trump should travel to best drum up support.
Cambridge executives have offered conflicting accounts about the use of psychographic data on the campaign. Mr. Nix has said that the firm’s profiles helped shape Mr. Trump’s strategy — statements disputed by other campaign officials — but also that Cambridge did not have enough time to comprehensively model Trump voters.
In a BBC interview last December, Mr. Nix said that the Trump efforts drew on “legacy psychographics” built for the Cruz campaign.
After the Leak
By early 2015, Mr. Wylie and more than half his original team of about a dozen people had left the company. Most were liberal-leaning, and had grown disenchanted with working on behalf of the hard-right candidates the Mercer family favored.
Cambridge Analytica, in its statement, said that Mr. Wylie had left to start a rival firm, and that it later took legal action against him to enforce intellectual property claims. It characterized Mr. Wylie and other former “contractors” as engaging in “what is clearly a malicious attempt to hurt the company.”
Near the end of that year, a report in The Guardian revealed that Cambridge Analytica was using private Facebook data on the Cruz campaign, sending Facebook scrambling. In a statement at the time, Facebook promised that it was “carefully investigating this situation” and would require any company misusing its data to destroy it.
Facebook verified the leak and — without publicly acknowledging it — sought to secure the information, efforts that continued as recently as August 2016. That month, lawyers for the social network reached out to Cambridge Analytica contractors. “This data was obtained and used without permission,” said a letter that was obtained by the Times. “It cannot be used legitimately in the future and must be deleted immediately.”
Mr. Grewal, the Facebook deputy general counsel, said in a statement that both Dr. Kogan and “SCL Group and Cambridge Analytica certified to us that they destroyed the data in question.”
But copies of the data still remain beyond Facebook’s control. The Times viewed a set of raw data from the profiles Cambridge Analytica obtained.
While Mr. Nix has told lawmakers that the company does not have Facebook data, a former employee said that he had recently seen hundreds of gigabytes on Cambridge servers, and that the files were not encrypted.
Today, as Cambridge Analytica seeks to expand its business in the United States and overseas, Mr. Nix has mentioned some questionable practices. This January, in undercover footage filmed by Channel 4 News in Britain and viewed by The Times, he boasted of employing front companies and former spies on behalf of political clients around the world, and even suggested ways to entrap politicians in compromising situations.
All the scrutiny appears to have damaged Cambridge Analytica’s political business. No American campaigns or “super PACs” have yet reported paying the company for work in the 2018 midterms, and it is unclear whether Cambridge will be asked to join Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign.
In the meantime, Mr. Nix is seeking to take psychographics to the commercial advertising market. He has repositioned himself as a guru for the digital ad age — a “Math Man,” he puts it. In the United States last year, a former employee said, Cambridge pitched Mercedes-Benz, MetLife and the brewer AB InBev, but has not signed them on.
Matthew Rosenberg, Nicholas Confessore and Carole Cadwalladr reported from London. Gabriel J.X. Dance contributed reporting from London, and Danny Hakim from New York.
[Post edited 17 Mar 17:59]
|Let them eat . . .Pizza|
at 10:03 15 Mar 2018
Best study ever claims pizza can make you more productive at work
NY Daily News · Mar 13, 2018 9:23 AM
A recent study claims that pizza is a bigger motivator than cash and can make people more productive at work when used as a stimulus. The discovery was made by psychologist Dan Ariely and detailed in his book Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations.
Ariely’s experiment offered four separate groups of employees at an Intel semiconductor factory in Israel rewards for increased productivity. One group was offered a bonus of about $30, another pizza, another a compliment from their boss, and the last group was offered nothing. Ariely found that pizza, as opposed to cash and compliments, was the biggest initial motivator. As reported by The Cut, the study stated that the promise of pizza increased productivity by 6.7 percent on the first day. That means that employees dreaming of gooey, saucy pizza worked 6.7 percent harder, all for some carbs. (Who can’t relate?)
Over the course of the weeklong study, the success of the pizza group dropped off and the most successful group ended up being the group that received compliments. As stated in his book, Ariely feels that pizza would have been the overall winner if he had been able to parcel out the reward via home delivery. “This way … we not only would give them a gift, but we would also make them heroes in the eyes of their families,” he wrote.
As if you needed more reasons to enjoy pizza (besides it being a great motivator and making you more productive at work): It’s also healthier than most breakfast cereals. Looking for the tastiest pie near you? Here’s a list of the 101 best pizzas in America.
|Other US News:|
at 18:33 7 Mar 2018
Gary Cohn Risked So Much for Trump. What Did He Gain?
By Jack Holmes
Esquire, Mar 7, 2018
There are few more potent symbols of the bankruptcy of Donald Trump's "populist" rhetoric than the appointment of various Goldman Sachs-Americans to top positions in his administration.
During the campaign, Trump's Man-of-the-People shtick involved telling crowds that Wall Street is "getting away with murder," and suggesting the rich should pay higher taxes. Trump's final campaign ad, CNN reminds us, "showed ominous photos of the New York Stock Exchange and the CEO of Goldman Sachs and proclaimed it was time to put an end to the political and business elites that have 'bled our country dry.'" Yet, when President Trump's cabinet was announced, it featured such Main Street everymen as Steve Mnuchin and Wilbur Ross.
Now, however, the Trump administration will soon be down one Wall Street titan in Gary Cohn. The former president of Goldman Sachs announced he would depart his position as head of the National Economic Council after he lost an internal administration battle over whether to impose tariffs on foreign imports of steel and aluminum. Cohn has apparently been locked in combat with Trump's nationalist and/or protectionist economic advisers, like Peter Navarro, from day one. That crew has advocated withdrawing from NAFTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and a free trade agreement with South Korea. Of those, Cohn successfully blocked a U.S. exit from all but the TPP.
Cohn's departure has been met with despair on Wall Street. Taken with the tariff announcement, Cohn leaving seems to indicate a higher risk of Trump escalating a trade war with Europe and taking a hardline stance on China. Markets fell significantly on news of the tariffs, and they're expected to fall again. (They fell briefly when we learned Cohn was threatening to resign last week.) There's little evidence Cohn was fighting tirelessly for working-class Americans; his greatest achievement was the tax reform bill, which overwhelmingly benefits the rich over a ten-year period and will likely exacerbate already soaring levels of inequality. But signs are he was a sort of dam that stopped some of the worst ideas floating through the White House from escaping into the outside world as official U.S. policy.
The tariffs, for instance, are an objectively dreadful idea—and not just because the decision was made to implement them before their effects on the economy at large were completely reviewed, and before the relevant branches of the federal government, like Treasury, were even notified it was happening. Apparently, it was the result of a rage spasm from President Adult Man, who was upset at the Russia probe, the departure of Hope Hicks, and associated negative cable news coverage.
Former Clinton Treasury Secretary Larry Summers—who also held Cohn's role as head of the National Economic Council for the first part of Barack Obama's presidency—made a stunning case against the tariffs on CNN:
"There are 50 times as many people in the United States who work in steel-using industries as there in steel-producing industries," Summers told Christiane Amanpour. "50 times. And all of them are losing because the firms they work for are now going to have 25 percent more expensive inputs. That can't be rational policy."
Summers reminded viewers that the tariffs were justified on national security grounds, despite the fact they were opposed by Defense Secretary James Mattis, and that our biggest trade partners on steel are Canada and Europe. Essentially, it's a "national security" measure targeting some of our closest allies. The move was portrayed by its backers as hardline posturing towards China, but the U.S. constitutes about 2 percent of China's steel export market.
"This is even before you take account of what's going to happen when the rest of the world responds," Summers continued. "It is no accident that stocks lost $400 billion in the hour after this decision was announced. It is shooting our economy in the foot...This is really crazy, dumb protectionism, even if you accepted—which I don't—the idea that protectionism was a reasonable thing."
There's a real debate to be had over free trade and its effects on the American worker. There is little debate left over whether there are any true friends to working men and women in this administration. But like it or not, most of the people in this White House who have any idea what they're talking about on these issues are the Wall Street elites, who at least have an understanding of how trade policy impacts global financial markets. The president, we have thoroughly learned, knows nothing about anything and cares less. Cohn's tenure will have done little to help the single mother working at Walmart, even with the (temporary) tax break she got as part of the reform bill. But there's little indication his departure—which brings the turnover of top Trump administration officials to 43 percent—will help her, either. With the re-elevation of people like The Mooch, all that seems to beckon is chaos.
Certainly, Cohn running for the hills won't help the Dow or the S&P. When he made noises about doing the same in August, it "sent the financial markets tumbling" according to The New York Times. Of course, that time Cohn wasn't put off by a dispute over trade policy. The president had just suggested that "there were very fine people on both sides" after a group of Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, white supremacists, and others who think it's a good idea to rub shoulders with them marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. One in their number murdered a protester with his car in what Attorney General Jeff Sessions called an act of domestic terrorism.
Cohn, who is Jewish, was understandably appalled by the sight and sound of the President of the United States serving as an apologist for those who march in the night with torches, chanting, "Jews will not replace us." But it was not enough to drive him away from serving that president. Perhaps it was because the tax bill hadn't yet made it through Congress. Either way, the fact remains that Gary Cohn could stomach the president's sympathy for white supremacists, but not for aluminum tariffs. The same apparently goes for Speaker Paul Ryan. In the ultimate symbol of the American economic elite's divorce from the most onerous moral and practical consequences of Donald Trump's presidency, these men were more appalled by an assault on free trade than the rise of American Nazism.
As if to drive home that last reality, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney issued a statement on Cohn's departure that was meant as a cordial and appreciative missive. Yet one word in particular stood out:
Here's a White House official using the most popular anti-Semitic code word of the moment—"globalist"—in reference to a departing Jewish colleague. Maybe Mulvaney meant it all in good sport, and he does genuinely seem to appreciate the work of Cohn, one of the few administration officials who can consistently tie his own shoes. But the dark forces that Donald Trump awoke in this country, and that reared their heads in Charlottesville, are far too close to the Oval Office already. Cohn, were he not so deeply ensconced behind the wall of privilege offered by his money and his power, might have heeded that earlier. He will always have the money. But he has offered up his reputation, and perhaps the first line of his obituary, to the mad king. What did he get in return?
|Legal news: Porn star sues Trump over confidentiality agreement|
at 09:47 7 Mar 2018
Stormy Daniels sues Trump, says 'hush agreement' invalid because he never signed
NBC, Mar 7 2018, 2:22 am ET
Adult film star Stormy Daniels sued Donald Trump Tuesday, alleging that he never signed the nondisclosure agreement that his lawyer had arranged with her.
The civil suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and obtained by NBC News, alleges that her agreement not to disclose her "intimate" relationship with Trump is not valid because while both Daniels and Trump's attorney Michael Cohen signed it, Trump never did.
Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels, signed both the agreement and a side letter agreement using her professional name on October 28, 2016, just days before the 2016 presidential election. Cohen signed the document the same day. Both agreements are appended to the lawsuit as Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 2.
Click here to read the "Hush Agreement" and the side letter agreement
The "hush agreement," as it's called in the suit, refers to Trump throughout as David Dennison, and Clifford as Peggy Peterson. In the side letter agreement, the true identity of DD is blacked out, but Clifford's attorney, Michael Avenatti, says the individual is Trump.
Each document includes a blank where "DD" is supposed to sign, but neither blank is signed.
According to the lawsuit, which Avenatti announced in a tweet, Clifford and Trump had an intimate relationship that lasted from summer 2006 "well into the year 2007." The relationship allegedly included meetings in Lake Tahoe and at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The 2016 hush agreement directed that $130,000 be paid into the trust account of Clifford's then-attorney. In return, Clifford was not to disclose any confidential information about Trump or his sexual partners to anyone beyond a short list of individuals she'd already told about the relationship, or share any texts or photos from Trump.
The suit alleges that Cohen has tried to keep Clifford from talking about the relationship as recently as Feb. 27, 2018.
"To be clear, the attempts to intimidate Ms. Clifford into silence and 'shut her up' in order to 'protect Mr. Trump' continue unabated," says the suit. "On or about February 27, 2018, Mr. Trump's attorney Mr. Cohen surreptitiously initiated a bogus arbitration proceeding against Ms. Clifford in Los Angeles." Binding arbitration is specified as a means of dispute resolution.
Clifford and her attorney, Michael Avenatti, are asking the Los Angeles County Superior Court to declare that both the hush agreement and the side agreement "were never formed, and therefore do not exist, because, among other things, Mr. Trump never signed the agreements."
"In the alternative, Plaintiff seeks an order of this Court declaring that the agreements in the forms set out in Exhibits 1 and 2 are invalid, unenforceable, and/or void under the doctrine of unconscionability."
The suit also says that Trump must know that Cohen is trying to silence Clifford, since rules for the New York bar, of which Cohen is a member, require him to keep his client informed at all times. "t strains credulity to conclude that Mr. Cohen is acting on his own accord and without the express approval and knowledge of his client Mr. Trump."
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. President Trump's outside attorney, John Dowd, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Trump has never addressed the alleged relationship publicly, and White House spokesperson Raj Shah told members of the press he had never asked the president about the alleged relationship. Cohen has acknowledged the payment, but has repeatedly declined to tell NBC News what the payment was for.
Clifford had previously given conflicting accounts of her relationship with Trump. In the lawsuit, Clifford alleges that in January 2018, Cohen, "concerned the truth would be disclosed ... through intimidation and coercive tactics, forced Ms. Clifford into signing a false statement wherein she stated that reports of her relationship with Mr. Trump were false."
|Know your crims:|
at 11:40 25 Feb 2018
Police reveal most common criminal names in Wales
They say you cannot judge a book by its cover - but if you know a Daniel or a Sarah, chances are they might have had a brush with the law.
Two of Wales' police forces have revealed the most common names for criminals from 2016, responding to a Freedom of Information request.
John and Nicola were the names giving Gwent Police the most trouble.
Meanwhile, those most likely to have had their collars felt by North Wales Police officers were David and Sarah.
The worst offenders overall were men called Daniel - accounting for 461 crimes - while Sarah topped the list for women with 104.
South Wales Police and Dyfed-Powys Police did not provide the information.
The top 10 male and female criminal names in Gwent accounted for 6.8% of the 39,109 crimes committed in 2016.
In north Wales, those 20 names made up 5% of the force's 40,520 recorded crimes.
Across the two forces, Daniel, David and James were the top three names for criminals - racking up 1,364 crimes between them.
Women keeping the police most busy were those called Sarah, Nicola and Claire with 219 crimes.
1. Nicola (28 people committing 35 crimes)
2. Samantha (26 people committing 50 crimes)
3. Sarah (26 people committing 36 crimes)
4. Claire (23 people committing 29 crimes)
5. Rachel (23 people committing 47 crimes)
6. Chloe (21 people committing 31 crimes)
7. Rebecca (22 people committing 30 crimes)
8. Leanne (20 people committing 37 crimes)
9. Emma (20 people committing 31 crimes)
10. Kate (20 people committing 31 crimes)
1. John (151 people committing 272 crimes)
2. James (143 people committing 265 crimes)
3. Daniel (136 people committing 300 crimes)
4. David (128 people committing 225 crimes)
5. Michael (116 people committing 215 crimes)
6. Richard (116 people committing 191 crimes)
7. Mark (115 people committing 190 crimes)
8. Andrew (112 people committing 192 crimes)
9. Stephen (111 people committing 218 crimes)
10. Gareth (110 people committing 224 crimes)
North Wales Police
1. Sarah (68 crimes)
2. Hannah (33)
3. Louise (29)
4. Nicola (28)
5. Karen (28)
6. Michelle (27)
7. Kelly (26)
8. Stacey (25)
9. Katie (23)
10. Claire (23)
1. David (232)
2. Paul (198)
3. Michael (193)
4. James (181)
5. John (168)
6. Daniel (161)
7. Stephen (158)
8. Richard (156)
9. Mark (155)
10. Steven (129)
|Carney: People earning 3.5% less than estimated before EU vote|
at 16:48 21 Feb 2018
Mark Carney: People are earning 3.5% less than we estimated before the EU referendum
Business Insider, 21st February, 2018
LONDON — Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said on Wednesday that real incomes are set to be 5% below pre-referendum forecasts by the end of this year.
Appearing before the Treasury Select Committee on Wednesday, Carney said that British incomes are currently 3.5% below where the central bank had forecast them to be prior to the June 2016 vote to leave the European Union.
Economists' forecasts have been ridiculed for their inaccuracy in many pro-Brexit circles but Carney said the figures were "to be expected" given the effects of the Brexit vote on the economy.
"We're in a transition period or a pre-transition period is perhaps a better way to put it," Carney told the Treasury Select Committee.
The pound sank to multi-year lows against both the euro and dollar in the wake of the vote, which has led to high inflation. Inflation rose rapidly after the vote and currently sits at 3%, well above the Bank of England's target of 2%.
Meanwhile, investment and wage growth have failed to keep pace. Wage data also out on Wednesday shows pay packets increased by 2.5% in January — meaning people are effectively seeing real wage declines of 0.5%.
The cumulative effect is British people have less money in their pockets than the Bank had expected them to have at this point in time.
Carney said the 5% lag at the end of the year is expected to be the peak in divergence from the Bank's pre-referendum forecasts. Inflation is predicted to ease and wage growth is expected to overtake inflation later this year.
Andy Haldane, the Bank of England's chief economist, told the Treasury Select Committee: "It is very likely average weekly earnings growth will nudge up to have a 3 in front of it [from next month]."
|PS Mental Health Awareness week Subject 1:|
at 12:27 9 Feb 2018
A messiah complex (also known as the Christ complex or savior complex) is a state of mind in which an individual holds a belief that they are destined to become a savior. The term can also refer to a state of mind in which an individual believes that he or she is responsible for saving or assisting others.
. . .the symptoms of the disorder closely resemble those found in individuals suffering from grandiose delusions or delusions of grandeur. This form of delusional belief is most often reported in patients suffering from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia
|Long arms of the law: |
at 09:43 1 Feb 2018
Two Toronto cops suspended for ingesting cannabis edibles on-duty, sources say
Rachael D'Amore, CTV News Toronto Last Updated Monday, January 29, 2018 8:44PM EST
Two Toronto police officers have been suspended after they allegedly consumed cannabis edibles while on-duty, CTV News Toronto has learned.
Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash confirmed that two officers are being investigated by the Professional Standards Committee, which is responsible for “promoting and supporting professionalism,” according to their website.
Multiple sources have told CTV News Toronto that the two officers were doing surveillance in a cruiser near Vaughan Road and Oakwood Avenue at around 1 a.m. on Sunday when they ingested the edibles and reportedly started to hallucinate. At some point, one of the officers left the vehicle prompting the second officer to radio call for help to search the area.
According to a source, a female officer that responded to the call slipped on ice and hit her head while trying to help one of the officers who was reportedly up in a tree. The Toronto Police association confirms that the officer was taken to hospital with a concussion but is now doing okay.
Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack would not confirm the details of the allegations, but sources have told CTV News Toronto that investigators are also looking into whether the edibles were stolen during a raid on a marijuana dispensary.
The officers in question, identified by sources as Const. Vito Dominelli and Const. Jamie Young, have both been suspended with pay pending the investigation.
“Our professional standards unit is doing the investigation so I’m not going to comment on the investigation, McCormack said.
Dominelli is known for his social media accounts, where he often posts videos of him dancing and lip synching to music while in uniform. As of recently, his Twitter account has been made private and his Instagram account wiped clean.
McCormack said there have been concerns in the past regarding officers’ public social media accounts. McCormack ramped up a campaign last week which blamed Mayor John Tory and Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders for an increase in wait times on 9-1-1 calls. McCormack has also been vocal on the apparent reduction of front-line officers as part of an ongoing modernization effort of the force.
“It’s very challenging for us when we are facing a crisis on frontline policing and not having enough police officers,” he said. “ I don’t want the public to have the misconception that our officers have nothing to do but be on social media.”
|Brexit Britain’s nervous breakdown|
at 09:40 1 Feb 2018
Brexit Britain’s nervous breakdown
By Philip Stephens
FT, 1st February, 2018
[caption] UK prime minister Theresa May dare not set out her preferred course for a post-Brexit settlement lest she be toppled by her own Tory MPs © Bloomberg
Familiarity is a distorting prism. All too easily the extraordinary becomes the unremarkable, the aberrant the commonplace. This is what has happened in Britain following the referendum decision to leave the EU. The attempt to wrench the nation out of its own continent has triggered a national nervous breakdown. Only the British cannot see it.
Open plotting against an enfeebled prime minister, civil war in the cabinet, a ruling Conservative party riven by faction, a Labour opposition led by a life-long admirer of Fidel Castro, parliament imprisoned by the referendum result, paralysis at the heart of government — all have become the stuff of everyday politics. Britain was once a sturdy, stable democracy. Anger and acrimony are the new normal, as likely to elicit a weary shrug as incredulity.
Historians will scratch their heads in wonder. These are truly extraordinary times. Britain is upending the economic and foreign policies that have set its national course for half a century. Nothing in modern peacetime matches the upheaval. The impact on the nation’s prosperity, security and role in international affairs will be felt for a generation and beyond.
Unwrapping decades of integration is a task of huge complexity.
And yet Theresa May, the prime minister, dare not set out her preferred course for a post-Brexit settlement lest she be toppled by her own Tory MPs. Instead she pleads with Germany’s Angela Merkel to tell her what Berlin might offer in terms of a future relationship. The humiliation is excruciating.
With each step back from the melee, the picture becomes all the more incredible. Most MPs in the House of Commons consider Brexit an act of folly. They will vote against their judgment because the referendum, with its narrow majority for leave, has been invested with an absurd, almost mystical status. Let no one dare question “the will of the people”. With the odd, honourable exception, Tory and Labour pro-Europeans seem inclined to let Britain sink rather than make common cause across party lines. A nation that calls itself the mother of parliaments has somehow mislaid the meaning of representative democracy.
They [MPs] will vote against their judgment because the referendum, with its narrow majority for leave, has been invested with an absurd, almost mystical status
Brexit is an act of protectionism promulgated by English nationalists who inexplicably style themselves free-marketeers. Every study produced in Whitehall suggests departure from the single market will leave Britain poorer and less able to promote its interests overseas. Throwing up barriers across the Channel will weaken its voice across the Atlantic.
Only this week Mrs May sought unsuccessfully to suppress an official analysis showing the alternatives to EU membership will reduce growth and cut living standards. Tory Brexiters are unmoved. The cabinet Brexiter Michael Gove sets the intellectual tone when he pours scorn on the insights of experts.
Baffled historians will search in vain to find a single official in the high echelons of Whitehall — from the cabinet secretary down — who thinks Brexit is anything less than a catastrophe. But what of “global Britain”, the bold Elizabethan future imagined by the Brexiters? Alas, the historians will discover, the vision amounted to no more than rhetorical flatulence on the part of Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary.
Where all this leads, it is impossible to say. Mr Johnson, whose calculated mendacity is matched only by inflated self-regard, is determined Mrs May should be ousted. Personal ambition burns more brightly here than any convictions. The foreign secretary has no project or purpose in mind. He wants to be prime minister because, well, he wants to be prime minister. Parallels with US president Donald Trump are not far-fetched.
Mrs May could survive. But to what end? Without the confidence of her cabinet and deprived of a majority in the House of Commons by an ill-judged general election, Mrs May has neither the wit nor the authority to reach a sensible agreement with the EU27. Most MPs would back a “soft” Brexit, leaving Britain’s economy closely connected to Europe. Mrs May feels threatened by the English nationalists. Her strategy, if you could call it that, is to leave all the serious decisions until after Britain’s departure from the EU in March 2019.
In other circumstances Her Majesty’s loyal opposition might offer a counterpoint of stability. Instead Labour is led by Jeremy Corbyn, a 1970s hardline socialist who sees the EU as a capitalist conspiracy. Mr Corbyn may launch opportunistic strikes against the government but shows no enthusiasm for a close relationship with the EU27.
As for the voters, some may have changed their minds. Polls suggest the 52:48 per cent tally in favour of Leave would be reversed in a second referendum. Maybe. But these numbers are well within the margin for error. Why anyway should people take a different view before they have seen the deal on offer from Britain’s erstwhile partners and, pace Mr Gove, have weighed the evidence as to the likely effect on living standards?
If there is a slim hope that Britain can emerge wounded rather than broken, it lies in the possibility that things will get still worse in the short term. Mendacity, chaos and division could end in complete paralysis — with parliament failing to agree on any form of Brexit. If Britain does remain part of the EU after all this, it will be because, in its present state, it is simply incapable of leaving.
|How Shrooms Saved the World:|
at 09:09 25 Dec 2017
How Fungi Saved the World
A long time ago, back before the dinosaurs were even a twinkle in a primitive reptile's eye and before that reptile's ancestor was even a twinkle in a primitive amphibian's eye, before plants thought seeds were a neat idea and invertebrates were disquietingly large, terrestrial life found itself with a bit of a problem. We're in the Carboniferous period, and the world's biggest coal deposits are being laid down in the first forests. The atmosphere is much different than in modern times: carbon dioxide concentrations are approaching disastrously low levels, and oxygen is soaring. The foot-long dragonflies that flit through this dense, breathable atmosphere are having a good time, but we're on the brink of a major ice age caused by global cooling.
The culprits of this looming disaster are the last we'd suspect: trees. To understand why, we need to turn back the clock even further. Around 90 million years before the Carboniferous period and 430 million years before present, the first vascular plants emerged from early tide pools. In order to stay upright, these plants employed cellulose, a chain of simple sugars known as glucose (two glucose molecules make up sucrose, or table sugar). This was great for plants, as it was easy easy to make and offered rigid yet flexible support, but it made life difficult for decomposers, who needed an enzyme that could turn cellulose back to digestible glucose. Bacteria and fungi eventually evolved this ability, but animals never would, and they became dependent on symbioses with these simpler organisms.
By the dawn of the Carboniferous period, plants developed a new kind of support material, called lignin. Lignin was an improvement development over cellulose in several ways: it was harder, more rigid, and, being more complex, almost impossible to digest, which made it ideal for protecting cellulose. With lignin, plants could make wood, and it lead to the first treelike growth form. One of the early founders of these primeval forests was Lepidodendron (from the Greek lepido meaning “scale” and dendron meaning “tree,” so named for the leaf scars that resulted in a scaly trunk).
Lepidodendron wasn't a true tree but a member of an early offshoot of the higher plants known as lycopods, today comprised of the much smaller club mosses and quillworts. Based on reconstructions of the fossils, it is estimated that Lepidodendron stood a stately 100 feet tall, putting it at the very top range of the early flora and head and shoulders above many trees that exist today. As the Carboniferous period continued, Lepidodendron and its cousins spanned the tropics in vast forested swamps.
Here is the crux of our problem: lignin made the lycopod trees a little too successful. Because their leaves were lofted above many herbivores and their trunks were made inedible by lignin, lycopods were virtually impervious to harm. They grew and died in vast quantities, and their trunks piled up in swamps, eventually becoming submerged and locking huge quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere for good in the form of coal. Without any decomposition to recycle this carbon, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels crashed, leading to global cooling and making it much harder for plants to grow. Atmospheric oxygen concentration, in turn, soared to an estimated 35%, much higher than the 20% of modern times.
But why was all this lignin laying around in the first place? Plenty of organisms had found a way to make use of cellulose, so why didn't they jump on this new source of energy that was laying around free for the taking? The are several reasons: first, whereas cellulose was made of glucose, which can be readily converted to energy, lignin was based on phenol, a derivative of benzene, which is only a good energy source when it's on fire. This isn't a solution for your average bacterium. Digesting lignin was so difficult that lycopods had free reign over the planet for over 40 million years, leading to the world's first and only wood pollution crisis.
Finally, however, a fungus belonging to the class Agaricomycetes – making it a distant cousin of button mushrooms – did find a crude way to break down lignin. Rather than devise an enzyme to unstitch the lignin molecule, however, it was forced to adapt a more direct strategy. Using a class of enyzmes called peroxidases, the fungus bombarded the wood with highly reactive oxygen molecules, in much the same way one might untie a knot using a flamethrower. This strategy reduced the wood to a carbohydrate-rich slurry from which the fungus could slurp up the edible cellulose.
This was the one and only time in the last 300 million years that the wood-rotting ability evolved. All the fungi today that can digest wood (and a few that can't) are the descendants of that enterprising fungus. Its strategy may have been inelegant, but wood decay played a crucial role in reversing the loss of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and bringing about the end of the Carboniferous period.
What would have happened if white rot fungi had never evolved? We can only speculate, but it's possible the world of today would look a lot like the world at the end of the Carboniferous period – cooler, high in oxygen, and with a denser atmosphere. Dragonflies with foot-and-a-half wingspans might still roam the forests, but the plant life might still be primeval, stifled by the lower carbon dioxide concentrations. Many a homeowner may disagree, but we're lucky wood-rotting fungi evolved.
Andrew Tomes is an MS student at SUNY-ESF in Syracuse whose work focuses on the mycorrhizal partners of the American chestnut. He earned his B.S. in Botany from the University of Maine, where he worked on wetland restoration. When not in the field, the lab, or the classroom, he can often be found in the kitchen baking bread.
Floudas D, et al. Science 336: 1715-1719 (2012)
Graham BJ, et al. Nature 375: 117-120 (1995)
Robinson JM. Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. 97: 51-62 (1991)
|Smoke 'em if you got 'em:|
at 13:06 16 Nov 2017
DUI lawyer is busted for drugs after barging into stranger’s home in high heels, no pants
By Joshua Rhett Miller
November 14, 2017 | 4:29pm
A New Jersey attorney nude from the waist down save for a pair of high heels strutted into a stranger’s Rutherford home and announced “I’m here,” police said.
Justin Christodoro, 39, of Hackensack, subsequently was arrested in neighboring Lyndhurst on Saturday after a resident returned home to find an unknown car with an unconscious man inside parked in his driveway, NorthJersey.com reports.
“It was occupied by a man sitting in the front passenger seat wearing only a black shirt and black high-heeled shoes,” Lyndhurst police Capt. John Valente told the website.
A cop from Rutherford who responded to the scene as backup recognized the man’s clothing as being similar to a report from an earlier incident at a home on Eastern Way.
The homeowners told police they were home at about 4:45 p.m. Saturday when someone walked in an unlocked back door. The man, wearing only a tight T-shirt and black high heels, then realized he was at the wrong house and left, according to Rutherford police Capt. Patrick Feliciano.
Christodoro, who was disoriented after being awakened by police, said he didn’t know how he ended up in Lyndhurst and put on a pair of sweatpants he had inside his car, according to Valente. He was then arrested after officers found a plastic bag inside the car containing what police suspected was pure MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy, police said.
Christodoro, who could not be reached for comment, was charged by police in Rutherford with criminal trespass in connection with the first incident and also faces a drug possession charge in Lyndhurst. Valente confirmed to The Post that Christodoro identified himself as an attorney, according to an arrest report.
Christodoro, according to the New Jersey court system’s website, was admitted to the state bar in 2004. In an ad for his practice posted on YouTube he says he specializes in drug offenses, drunk driving cases and child support litigation. He could not be reached for comment at the number listed on NJCourts.gov.
|Automotive industry remoaners; Get on with it!|
at 10:38 15 Nov 2017
Honda UK warns MPs of consequences of leaving EU customs union
Motor industry says threatened new tariffs could add £1,500 to price of an imported car, and make exports more expensive too
Dan Roberts Brexit policy editor
Published: 19:10 GMT+00:00 Tue 14 November 2017
The devastating impact of a hard Brexit on the UK car industry was laid bare on Tuesday to MPs, who were told every 15 minutes of customs delays would cost some manufacturers up to £850,000 a year.
Presenting the industry’s most detailed evidence yet to the business select committee, Honda UK said it relied on 350 trucks a day arriving from Europe to keep its giant Swindon factory operating, with just an hour’s worth of parts being held on the production line.
The Japanese-owned company said it would take 18 months to set up new procedures and warehouses if Britain left the customs union but that, with 2m daily component movements, even minor delays at Dover and the Channel tunnel would force hundreds of its trucks to wait for the equivalent of 90 hours a day.
“Outside of the customs union, there is no such thing as a frictionless border,” said Honda’s government affairs manager, Patrick Keating.
“I wouldn’t say that the just-in-time manufacturing model wouldn’t work, but it would certainly be very challenging.”
Brexit: failure to update customs system could be 'catastrophic'
Until now, many large multinationals have chosen to present such commercially-sensitive data to the government in private, but with MPs still struggling to force disclosure of 58 sectoral analysis reports produced by Whitehall officials, there is growing demand for the impact of leaving without a deal to be spelled out.
Witnesses said new tariffs would add an estimated £1,500 to the price of an imported car, and Rachel Reeves, the Labour MP and former Bank of England economist who led Tuesday’s hearing, encouraged the executives to outline how exporters might also face a possible £300 cost due to tariffs on their imported components.
If Britain leaves without a trade deal, ministers plan to apply World Trade Organization tariffs that stand at 10% for finished vehicles and about 4.5% for automotive components. More than a third of the 690 cars a day produced by Honda in Swindon are sold in Europe, which is also the source of 40% of the company’s parts.
Honda and other witnesses from Aston Martin and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) argued that customs and trade threats were only the start of their concerns.
Aston Martin also feared a “semi-catastrophic” end to EU recognition of UK regulatory approval, something Keating revealed Brussels was now threatening in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit.
Honda pointed to a recent study suggesting the cost of converting an EU car to match US standards is equivalent to another 26% tariff increase.
The industry also fears the impact of new immigration rules for EU nationals. Already 14% of Honda’s 3,500 to 4,000-strong Swindon workforce are from other EU countries, but this is growing fast: of the 600 extra workers hired to build new Civic model last year, 40% were EU workers, as are 30% of the staff at the company’s European HQ in Bracknell.
On Monday, European business leaders including Britain’s CBI warned that the government had just two weeks to make progress on a Brexit divorce agreement if they were to get the clarity they urgently need by the anniversary of article 50 being invoked in March.
“People are sitting on their hands waiting for more clarity about the likely trading relationship with our biggest partner,” Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the SMMT, told the business committee on Tuesday.
Though Honda declined to discuss its UK profitability in public, the SMMT said car manufacturing was a low-margin business, yielding an average 2-4% return on investment.
EU business leaders tell PM: agree Brexit deal or face collapse in confidence
“You are pretty quickly getting into negative territory,” said Hawes when asked what this would mean in the event of a hard Brexit. “If we went on to WTO terms, it would be incredibly difficult.”
He predicted there may be a diminished choice of cars on sale for British consumers if there is divergence in regulatory standards as some niche importers would not bother to have additional testing just for the UK market.
“If there is any sort of divergence, manufacturers will have to decide whether they want type approval on that UK vehicle, so there might be a contraction in terms of choice,” explained the SMMT boss.
And the industry leaders dismissed arguments that mutual interest among European manufacturers would be enough to automatically force a solution.
While 56% of British car exports go to Europe, just 7% of EU exports go the UK. “The UK is an important market but what matters more is protecting the EU single market,” said Hawes.
Although 10% of the SMMT’s 800 members were revealed in a survey to have supported Brexit during the referendum, its chief executive said he had yet to meet a member who supported leaving now.
“This is a fiercely competitive industry, yet this is a subject that is pretty unifying across the industry,” he told MPs.
|Forum Votes: ||56|
|Comment Votes: ||0|
|Prediction League: ||0|