New York’s Cardinal Dolan: Democrats have abandoned Catholics

A couple of events over the past few weeks brought to mind two towering people who had a tremendous effect on the Archdiocese of New York and the U.S. more broadly. Their witness is worth remembering, especially in this political moment.

Last Saturday’s feast of St. Patrick, the patron saint of our cathedral and archdiocese, reminded me of Archbishop John Hughes. As the first archbishop of New York (1842-64), “Dagger John” displayed dramatic reverence for the dignity of Irish immigrants. Thousands arrived daily in New York — penniless, starving and sometimes ill — only to be met with hostility, bigotry and injustice.

An immigrant himself, Hughes prophetically and vigorously defended their dignity. Because the schools at the time were hostile to these immigrants, he initiated Catholic schools to provide children with a good education sensitive to their religion and to prepare them as responsible, patriotic citizens. The schools worked. Many remain open to this day, their mission unchanged.

The second event was the recent funeral of a great African-American woman, Dolores Grier. A convert to Catholicism, she was named vice chancellor of the archdiocese three decades ago by Cardinal John O’Connor; she was the first layperson and first woman to hold the prestigious position. Grier was passionate about civil rights, especially the right to life of babies in the womb. She never missed an opportunity to defend, lovingly but forcefully, their right to life.

Grier attributed her pro-life sensitivity to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who preached that abortion was an act of genocide against minorities. No wonder, she often observed, abortuaries were clustered in poor black and brown neighborhoods. The statistics today confirm her observation: In 2013 there were more black babies aborted in New York City (29,007) than were born here (24,758), according to a report from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

In 2013 there were more black babies aborted in New York City (29,007) than were born here (24,758).

The values Archbishop Hughes and Dolores Grier cherished — the dignity and sanctity of human life, the importance of Catholic schools, the defense of a baby’s civil rights — were, and still are, widely embraced by Catholics. This often led Catholics to become loyal Democrats. I remember my own grandmother whispering to me, “We Catholics don’t trust those Republicans.”

Such is no longer the case, a cause of sadness to many Catholics, me included. The two causes so vigorously promoted by Hughes and Grier—the needs of poor and middle-class children in Catholic schools, and the right to life of the baby in the womb — largely have been rejected by the party of our youth. An esteemed pro-life Democrat in Illinois, Rep. Dan Lipinski, effectively was blacklisted by his own party. Last year, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez insisted that pro-life candidates have no place in the modern Democratic Party.

Last year, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez insisted that pro-life candidates have no place in the modern Democratic Party.

It is particularly chilly for us here in the state Hughes and Grier proudly called their earthly home. In recent years, some Democrats in the New York state Assembly repeatedly blocked education tax credit legislation, which would have helped middle-class and low-income families make the choice to select Catholic or other nonpublic schools for their children. Opposing the bill reduces the ability of fine Catholic schools across the state to continue their mission of serving the poor, many of them immigrants.

More sobering, what is already the most radical abortion license in the country may soon be even more morbidly expanded. For instance, under the proposed Reproductive Health Act, doctors would not be required to care for a baby who survives an abortion. The newborn simply would be allowed to die without any legal implications. And abortions would be legal up to the moment of birth.

The “big tent” of the Democratic Party now seems a pup tent. Annafi Wahed, a former staffer to Hillary Clinton, recently wrote in this newspaper about her experience attending the Conservative Political Action Conference. She complimented the conservative attendees, pointing out that most made her feel welcome at their meeting. They listened attentively to her views — a courtesy, she had to admit, that would not be given to them at a meeting of political liberals.

The “big tent” of the Democratic Party now seems a pup tent.

I’m a pastor, not a politician, and I’ve certainly had spats and disappointments with politicians from both of America’s leading parties. But it saddens me, and weakens the democracy millions of Americans cherish, when the party that once embraced Catholics now slams the door on us.

To Archbishop Hughes, Dolores Grier, and Grandma Dolan, I’m sorry to have to write this. But not as sad as you are to know it is true.

Cardinal Dolan is archbishop of New York.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2018/03/24/new-yorks-cardinal-dolan-democrats-have-abandoned-catholics.html

Why Zuckerbergs 14-Year Apology Tour Hasnt Fixed Facebook

In 2003, one year before Facebook was founded, a website called Facemash began nonconsensually scraping pictures of students at Harvard from the school’s intranet and asking users to rate their hotness. Obviously, it caused an outcry. The website’s developer quickly proffered an apology. "I hope you understand, this is not how I meant for things to go, and I apologize for any harm done as a result of my neglect to consider how quickly the site would spread and its consequences thereafter,” wrote a young Mark Zuckerberg. “I definitely see how my intentions could be seen in the wrong light.”

In 2004 Zuckerberg cofounded Facebook, which rapidly spread from Harvard to other universities. And in 2006 the young company blindsided its users with the launch of News Feed, which collated and presented in one place information that people had previously had to search for piecemeal. Many users were shocked and alarmed that there was no warning and that there were no privacy controls. Zuckerberg apologized. “This was a big mistake on our part, and I'm sorry for it,” he wrote on Facebook’s blog. "We really messed this one up," he said. "We did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them."

Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina and an opinion writer for The New York Times. She recently wrote about the (democracy-poisoning) golden age of free speech.

Then in 2007, Facebook’s Beacon advertising system, which was launched without proper controls or consent, ended up compromising user privacy by making people’s purchases public. Fifty thousand Facebook users signed an e-petition titled “Facebook: Stop invading my privacy.” Zuckerberg responded with an apology: “We simply did a bad job with this release and I apologize for it." He promised to improve. “I'm not proud of the way we've handled this situation and I know we can do better,” he wrote.

By 2008, Zuckerberg had written only four posts on Facebook’s blog: Every single one of them was an apology or an attempt to explain a decision that had upset users.

In 2010, after Facebook violated users' privacy by making key types of information public without proper consent or warning, Zuckerberg again responded with an apology—this time published in an op-ed in The Washington Post. “We just missed the mark,” he said. “We heard the feedback,” he added. “There needs to be a simpler way to control your information.” “In the coming weeks, we will add privacy controls that are much simpler to use,” he promised.

I’m going to run out of space here, so let’s jump to 2018 and skip over all the other mishaps and apologies and promises to do better—oh yeah, and the consent decree that the Federal Trade Commission made Facebook sign in 2011, charging that the company had deceptively promised privacy to its users and then repeatedly broken that promise—in the intervening years.

Last month, Facebook once again garnered widespread attention with a privacy related backlash when it became widely known that, between 2008 and 2015, it had allowed hundreds, maybe thousands, of apps to scrape voluminous data from Facebook users—not just from the users who had downloaded the apps, but detailed information from all their friends as well. One such app was run by a Cambridge University academic named Aleksandr Kogan, who apparently siphoned up detailed data on up to 87 million users in the United States and then surreptitiously forwarded the loot to the political data firm Cambridge Analytica. The incident caused a lot of turmoil because it connects to the rolling story of distortions in the 2016 US presidential election. But in reality, Kogan’s app was just one among many, many apps that amassed a huge amount of information in a way most Facebook users were completely unaware of.

At first Facebook indignantly defended itself, claiming that people had consented to these terms; after all, the disclosures were buried somewhere in the dense language surrounding obscure user privacy controls. People were asking for it, in other words.

But the backlash wouldn’t die down. Attempting to respond to the growing outrage, Facebook announced changes. “It’s Time to Make Our Privacy Tools Easier to Find”, the company announced without a hint of irony—or any other kind of hint—that Zuckerberg had promised to do just that in the “coming few weeks” eight full years ago. On the company blog, Facebook’s chief privacy editor wrote that instead of being “spread across nearly 20 different screens” (why were they ever spread all over the place?), the controls would now finally be in one place.

Zuckerberg again went on an apology tour, giving interviews to The New York Times, CNN, Recode, WIRED, and Vox (but not to the Guardian and Observer reporters who broke the story). In each interview he apologized. “I’m really sorry that this happened,” he told CNN. “This was certainly a breach of trust.”

But Zuckerberg didn’t stop at an apology this time. He also defended Facebook as an “idealistic company” that cares about its users and spoke disparagingly about rival companies that charge users money for their products while maintaining a strong record in protecting user privacy. In his interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein, Zuckerberg said that anyone who believes Apple cares more about users than Facebook does has “Stockholm syndrome”—the phenomenon whereby hostages start sympathizing and identifying with their captors.

This is an interesting argument coming from the CEO of Facebook, a company that essentially holds its users' data hostage. Yes, Apple charges handsomely for its products, but it also includes advanced encryption hardware on all its phones, delivers timely security updates to its whole user base, and has largely locked itself out of user data—to the chagrin of many governments, including that of the United States, and of Facebook itself.

Most Android phones, by contrast, gravely lag behind in receiving security updates, have no specialized encryption hardware, and often handle privacy controls in a way that is detrimental to user interests. Few governments or companies complain about Android phones. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it came to light that Facebook had been downloading and keeping all the text messages of its users on the Android platform—their content as well as their metadata. “The users consented!” Facebook again cried out. But people were soon posting screenshots that showed how difficult it was for a mere mortal to discern that’s what was going on, let alone figure out how to opt out, on the vague permission screen that flashed before users.

On Apple phones, however, Facebook couldn’t harvest people’s text messages because the permissions wouldn’t allow it.

In the same interview, Zuckerberg took wide aim at the oft-repeated notion that, if an online service is free, you—the user—are the product. He said that he found the argument that “if you’re not paying that somehow we can’t care about you, to be extremely glib and not at all aligned with the truth.” His rebuttal to that accusation, however, was itself glib; and as for whether it was aligned with the truth—well, we just have to take his word for it. “To the dissatisfaction of our sales team here,” he said, “I make all of our decisions based on what’s going to matter to our community and focus much less on the advertising side of the business.”

As far as I can tell, not once in his apology tour was Zuckerberg asked what on earth he means when he refers to Facebook’s 2 billion-plus users as “a community” or “the Facebook community.” A community is a set of people with reciprocal rights, powers, and responsibilities. If Facebook really were a community, Zuckerberg would not be able to make so many statements about unilateral decisions he has made—often, as he boasts in many interviews, in defiance of Facebook’s shareholders and various factions of the company’s workforce. Zuckerberg’s decisions are final, since he controls all the voting stock in Facebook, and always will until he decides not to—it’s just the way he has structured the company.

This isn’t a community; this is a regime of one-sided, highly profitable surveillance, carried out on a scale that has made Facebook one of the largest companies in the world by market capitalization.

Facebook’s 2 billion users are not Facebook’s “community.” They are its user base, and they have been repeatedly carried along by the decisions of the one person who controls the platform. These users have invested time and money in building their social networks on Facebook, yet they have no means to port the connectivity elsewhere. Whenever a serious competitor to Facebook has arisen, the company has quickly copied it (Snapchat) or purchased it (WhatsApp, Instagram), often at a mind-boggling price that only a behemoth with massive cash reserves could afford. Nor do people have any means to completely stop being tracked by Facebook. The surveillance follows them not just on the platform, but elsewhere on the internet—some of them apparently can’t even text their friends without Facebook trying to snoop in on the conversation. Facebook doesn’t just collect data itself; it has purchased external data from data brokers; it creates “shadow profiles” of nonusers and is now attempting to match offline data to its online profiles.

Again, this isn’t a community; this is a regime of one-sided, highly profitable surveillance, carried out on a scale that has made Facebook one of the largest companies in the world by market capitalization.

There is no other way to interpret Facebook’s privacy invading moves over the years—even if it’s time to simplify! finally!―as anything other than decisions driven by a combination of self-serving impulses: namely, profit motives, the structural incentives inherent to the company’s business model, and the one-sided ideology of its founders and some executives. All these are forces over which the users themselves have little input, aside from the regular opportunity to grouse through repeated scandals. And even the ideology—a vague philosophy that purports to prize openness and connectivity with little to say about privacy and other values—is one that does not seem to apply to people who run Facebook or work for it. Zuckerberg buys houses surrounding his and tapes over his computer’s camera to preserve his own privacy, and company employees went up in arms when a controversial internal memo that made an argument for growth at all costs was recently leaked to the press—a nonconsensual, surprising, and uncomfortable disclosure of the kind that Facebook has routinely imposed upon its billions of users over the years.

This isn’t to say Facebook doesn’t provide real value to its users, even as it locks them in through network effects and by crushing, buying, and copying its competition. I wrote a whole book in which I document, among other things, how useful Facebook has been to anticensorship efforts around the world. It doesn’t even mean that Facebook executives make all decisions merely to increase the company valuation or profit, or that they don’t care about users. But multiple things can be true at the same time; all of this is quite complicated. And fundamentally, Facebook’s business model and reckless mode of operating are a giant dagger threatening the health and well-being of the public sphere and the privacy of its users in many countries.

So, here’s the thing. There is indeed a case of Stockholm syndrome here. There are very few other contexts in which a person would be allowed to make a series of decisions that have obviously enriched them while eroding the privacy and well-being of billions of people; to make basically the same apology for those decisions countless times over the space of just 14 years; and then to profess innocence, idealism, and complete independence from the obvious structural incentives that have shaped the whole process. This should ordinarily cause all the other educated, literate, and smart people in the room to break into howls of protest or laughter. Or maybe tears.

Facebook has tens of thousands of employees, and reportedly an open culture with strong internal forums. Insiders often talk of how free employees feel to speak up, and indeed I’ve repeatedly been told how they are encouraged to disagree and discuss all the key issues. Facebook has an educated workforce.

By now, it ought to be plain to them, and to everyone, that Facebook’s 2 billion-plus users are surveilled and profiled, that their attention is then sold to advertisers and, it seems, practically anyone else who will pay Facebook—including unsavory dictators like the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte. That is Facebook’s business model. That is why the company has an almost half-a-trillion-dollar market capitalization, along with billions in spare cash to buy competitors.

These are such readily apparent facts that any denial of them is quite astounding.

And yet, it appears that nobody around Facebook’s sovereign and singular ruler has managed to convince their leader that these are blindingly obvious truths whose acceptance may well provide us with some hints of a healthier way forward. That the repeated word of the use “community” to refer Facebook’s users is not appropriate and is, in fact, misleading. That the constant repetition of “sorry” and “we meant well” and “we will fix it this time!” to refer to what is basically the same betrayal over 14 years should no longer be accepted as a promise to do better, but should instead be seen as but one symptom of a profound crisis of accountability. When a large chorus of people outside the company raises alarms on a regular basis, it’s not a sufficient explanation to say, “Oh we were blindsided (again).”

Maybe, just maybe, that is the case of Stockholm syndrome we should be focusing on.

Zuckerberg’s outright denial that Facebook’s business interests play a powerful role in shaping its behavior doesn’t bode well for Facebook’s chances of doing better in the future. I don’t doubt that the company has, on occasion, held itself back from bad behavior. That doesn’t make Facebook that exceptional, nor does it excuse its existing choices, nor does it alter the fact that its business model is fundamentally driving its actions.

At a minimum, Facebook has long needed an ombudsman’s office with real teeth and power: an institution within the company that can act as a check on its worst impulses and to protect its users. And it needs a lot more employees whose task is to keep the platform healthier. But what would truly be disruptive and innovative would be for Facebook to alter its business model. Such a change could come from within, or it could be driven by regulations on data retention and opaque, surveillance-based targeting—regulations that would make such practices less profitable or even forbidden.

Facebook will respond to the latest crisis by keeping more of its data within its own walls (of course, that fits well with the business of charging third parties for access to users based on extensive profiling with data held by Facebook, so this is no sacrifice). Sure, it’s good that Facebook is now promising not to leak user data to unscrupulous third parties; but it should finally allow truly independent researchers better (and secure, not reckless) access to the company’s data in order to investigate the true effects of the platform. Thus far, Facebook has not cooperated with independent researchers who want to study it. Such investigation would be essential to informing the kind of political discussion we need to have about the trade-offs inherent in how Facebook, and indeed all of social media, operate.

Even without that independent investigation, one thing is clear: Facebook’s sole sovereign is neither equipped to, nor should he be in a position to, make all these decisions by himself, and Facebook’s long reign of unaccountability should end.


Facebook in Crisis

  • Initially, Facebook said that Cambridge Analytica got unauthorized access to some 50 million users' data. The social network has now raised that number to 87 million.
  • Next week, Mark Zuckerberg will testify before Congress. The question on our minds: How can Facebook prevent the next crisis if its guiding principle is and always has been connection at all cost?
  • Facebook has a long history of privacy gaffes. Here are just a few.

Photograph by WIRED/Getty Images

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/why-zuckerberg-15-year-apology-tour-hasnt-fixed-facebook/

Stephen Hawking Dies At 76, And Heres How The Internet Responds

British Physicist Stephen Hawking, the most iconic and brilliant scientist of his generation, has died aged 76.

Despite a long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks the nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain, leading to paralysis, Hawking was able to bring to light several groundbreaking theories in the field of quantum physics, while making the complex field accessible to millions through a series of bestselling books.

Hawking was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 1963, after experiencing difficulties with his movements in his final year at Oxford University. He was given just two years to live by doctors at the time, but went on to live with it for more than 50 years, an incredibly long time for an ALS sufferer. Unfortunately there is still very little known about the causes of ALS, and currently no cure. You may remember the successful awareness raising campaign for ALS that went viral a couple of years back, the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge.’ $115 million dollars were raised for research into the disease, resulting in some important discoveries.

Devastated by his diagnosis, Hawking nevertheless continued his work while his physical capabilities declined. Despite all of the setbacks he encountered, he always found ways to overcome them. He got around in a motorized wheelchair, and was able to communicate through an automated speech system, which gave him his iconic, computerized voice.

As well as his achievements in the field of quantum physics, and his determined quest to find a ‘unified theory’ that would aid us in our goal to gain a ‘complete understanding of the events around us, and of our own existence,’ Hawking’s celebrity helped to popularize and bring cosmology to a whole new generation of people.

His bestselling books and appearances on TV shows such as The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory helped to promote an enthusiasm for science that will endure well beyond his passing. He has opened the door for present and future scientists through his brilliant theories and discoveries, his determination in the face of adversity, and his inspiration to millions of people all over the world. He will be sorely missed.

Stephen Hawking has passed away at age 76

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Read more: http://www.boredpanda.com/stephen-hawking-died-world-pays-tribute/

Stem cell transplant ‘game changer’ for MS patients

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Media caption“I’d given up hope”: Louise Willetts says she is completely well following her treatment

Doctors say a stem cell transplant could be a “game changer” for many patients with multiple sclerosis.

Results from an international trial show that it was able to stop the disease and improve symptoms.

It involves wiping out a patient’s immune system using cancer drugs and then rebooting it with a stem cell transplant.

Louise Willetts, 36, from Rotherham, is now symptom-free and told me: “It feels like a miracle.”

A total of 100,000 people in the UK have MS, which attacks nerves in the brain and spinal cord.

Just over 100 patients took part in the trial, in hospitals in Chicago, Sheffield, Uppsala in Sweden and Sao Paolo in Brazil.

They all had relapsing remitting MS – where attacks or relapses are followed by periods of remission.

The interim results were released at the annual meeting of the European Society for Bone and Marrow Transplantation in Lisbon.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Nerve connections become damaged in people with MS

The patients received either haematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) or drug treatment.

After one year, only one relapse occurred among the stem cell group compared with 39 in the drug group.

After an average follow-up of three years, the transplants had failed in three out of 52 patients (6%), compared with 30 of 50 (60%) in the control group.

Those in the transplant group experienced a reduction in disability, whereas symptoms worsened in the drug group.

Prof Richard Burt, lead investigator, Northwestern University Chicago, told me: “The data is stunningly in favour of transplant against the best available drugs – the neurological community has been sceptical about this treatment, but these results will change that.”


Multiple sclerosis

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition which can affect the brain and/or spinal cord
  • It can cause problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance
  • Average life expectancy is slightly reduced
  • It is estimated that there are more than 100,000 people diagnosed with MS in the UK

Source: NHS


The treatment uses chemotherapy to destroy the faulty immune system.

Stem cells taken from the patient’s blood and bone marrow are then re-infused.

These are unaffected by MS and they rebuild the immune system.

Prof John Snowden, director of blood and bone marrow transplantation at Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital, told me: “We are thrilled with the results – they are a game changer for patients with drug resistant and disabling multiple sclerosis”.

Prof Basil Sharrock, neurologist at Royal Hallamshire Hospital, told me: “This is interim analysis, but with that caveat, this is the best result I have seen in any trial for multiple sclerosis.”

‘Lived in fear’

Louise was diagnosed with MS in 2010 when she was only 28.

She told me: “MS ruled my life and I lived in fear of the next relapse.

“The worst time was not being able to get out of bed because I had no stability in my body – I struggled to walk and even spent time in a wheelchair.

“It also affected my cognition – it was like a brain fog and I misread words and struggled to keep up with conversations.”

The BBC’s Panorama filmed her undergoing her transplant in October 2015 and she is now back to full health.

She got married to her partner Steve, on the first anniversary of her transplant, and their baby daughter Joy is now a month old.

“I feel like my diagnosis was just a bad dream. I live every day as I want to, rather than planning my life around my MS.”

The transplant costs around £30,000, about the same as the annual price of some MS drugs.

Doctors stress it is not suitable for all MS patients and the process can be gruelling, involving chemotherapy and a few weeks in isolation in hospital.

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, director of research at the MS Society, said the stem cell transplant HSCT “will soon be recognised as an established treatment in England – and when that happens our priority will be making sure those who could benefit can actually get it”.

She added: “We’ve seen life-changing results for some people and having that opportunity can’t depend on your postcode.”

Follow Fergus on Twitter.

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-43435868

31 Ridiculous Things Husbands Have Said to Their Wives That Will Have You Saying, Been There

One of the most important things about marriage is to have a sense of humor through better or worse, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall tweet. And for these hilarious husbands, they seem to have gotten the memo.

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Read more: http://twentytwowords.com/ridiculous-things-husbands-have-said-to-their-wives-that-will-have-you-saying-been-there-ia/

EPA Chiefs $50-a-Night Rental Raises White House Angst

  • Pruitt apartment questions follow first-class flight reports
  • Washington lease is compared to an Airbnb-style arrangement

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt leased a Washington apartment owned by a lobbyist friend last year under terms that allowed him to pay $50 a night for a single bedroom — but only on the nights when he actually slept there.

White House officials are growing dismayed about the questions surrounding Pruitt’s living arrangement, including his initial inability to produce any documentation about the lease or his actual payments, according to three officials. The landlord provided EPA officials with a copy of the lease and proof of the payments Pruitt made.

In all, Pruitt paid $6,100 to use the room for roughly six months, according to copies of rental checks reviewed by Bloomberg News. Those checks show varying amounts paid on sporadic dates — not a traditional monthly "rent payment" of the same amount each month.

That was because of the unusual rent schedule — not a single monthly amount, but a daily amount charged only for days used for a single bedroom in the two-bedroom unit just blocks from the Capitol. The building is at least partially owned by a health care lobbyist, Vicki Hart, via a limited liability corporation. Her husband J. Steven Hart, is also a lobbyist, whose firm represents clients in industries regulated by the EPA.

One person familiar with the lease compared it to an Airbnb-style arrangement, but Pruitt wasn’t a transient and instead made the apartment his home on nights he was in Washington. The lease — also reviewed by Bloomberg — says that he was charged $50 a night "based on days of actual occupancy."

Six Canceled Checks

Bloomberg reviewed six canceled checks paid by Pruitt totaling $6,100 from March 18 through Sept 1, 2017. He paid $450 on March 18, $900 on April 26, $850 on May 15, $700 on June 4, $1,500 on July 22 and $1,700 on Sept 1.

A sampling of current listings of apartments for rent near Pruitt’s temporary pad showed studio and one-bedroom offerings available for $1,350 to $1,975 a month. Some of the current Airbnb listings for rentals of single bedrooms inside apartments and homes on Capitol Hill ranged from $45 to $68 per night.

Justina Fugh, who has been ethics counsel at the EPA for a dozen years, said the arrangement wasn’t an ethics issue because Pruitt paid rent. An aide said the agency had not reviewed the arrangement in advance.

Pruitt’s Payments

The payments covered Pruitt’s room in the two-bedroom unit, but did not afford him liberal use of common areas, where the owners had dinner parties and other functions, according to a person familiar with the situation. According to the lease agreement, Pruitt’s bedroom could not be locked.

ABC reported Friday that Pruitt’s college-age daughter used another room in the condo while serving as a White House intern. An email to agency representatives seeking comment on the report were not immediately returned.

After ABC News reported the living arrangement on Thursday, EPA aides had to seek documentation from the building’s owners to prove he had paid rent, raising concerns at the White House, said two of the people, who asked not to be named discussing a sensitive matter involving a Cabinet secretary. Pruitt was in Wyoming on Thursday.

Related: Bumped? EPA Chief Signals He Will Be Flying Coach After Backlash

The disclosure follows revelations about Pruitt’s reliance on first-class flights to travel around the globe and a series of pricey trips, including a visit by Pruitt and agency staff to Italy that cost $120,249. EPA officials have defended Pruitt’s use of first-class flights on security grounds, but after a series of reports, he shifted to coach.

J. Steven Hart is the chairman of Williams & Jensen, a firm with a stable of energy industry clients including Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co., which paid the firm $400,000 in 2017, according to data compiled from the Environmental Integrity Project from disclosure forms.

Pruitt, the former attorney general of Oklahoma, has been an enthusiastic crusader against Obama-era regulations meant to combat climate change and limit air pollution. When Pruitt was in Oklahoma, he sued the EPA more than a dozen times.  

Hart’s individual lobbying clients include liquefied natural gas exporter Cheniere Energy Inc.
Pruitt traveled to Morocco to tout U.S. liquefied natural gas last December, though the Department of Energy — not the EPA — plays the major federal role overseeing LNG exports. It is not clear Hart had direct contact with the EPA on behalf of any of his lobbying clients in 2017, according to a Bloomberg News review of disclosures.

Other individual clients of his are the American Automotive Policy Council and Smithfield Foods Inc.

Hart, in a statement to the Associated Press, described Pruitt as a friend from Oklahoma with whom he had scant contact.

“Pruitt signed a market based, short-term lease for a condo owned partially by my wife,” Hart said in a statement. “Pruitt paid all rent owed as agreed to in the lease. My wife does not, and has not ever lobbied the EPA on any matters."

Critics said the unorthodox rental arrangement allowing Pruitt exclusive, reserved use of the room raised questions and could violate a ban on federal government employees accepting gifts valued at more than $20.

“At the very least, it doesn’t look good for the administrator of EPA to have rented an apartment from the wife of an energy industry lobbyist who represents companies regulated by EPA," said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project.

The government watchdog group Public Citizen asked EPA’s inspector general to investigate.

"This appears to be a gift from a lobbyist to the EPA administrator," Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, said in a news release. "Scott Pruitt seems to be renting at well below market value – from a family member of a lobbyist who has business before the EPA."

Messages left with the Inspector General’s office weren’t immediately returned on Friday.

Fugh, the EPA’s ethics counsel, said no gift was involved. It was a routine business arrangement between Pruitt and an individual, not a lobbying firm, she added.

"He paid a fair price for what amounts to just a room,” Fugh said. “So I don’t even think that the fact that the house is owned by a person whose job is to be a lobbyist causes us concern.”

Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-30/epa-chief-s-50-a-night-rental-said-to-raise-white-house-angst

Gay and Single? Bisexual? Transgender? The 2020 Census Still Erases You

Late last week, as NPR reported, the U.S. Census Bureau revealed in a congressional report that they will create a clear distinction on the 2020 Census between opposite-sex partners and same-sex partners.

But when it comes to LGBT inclusion on the Census and other federal surveys, that move appears to be the very least the governmental agency can do.

Although gaining a more accurate estimate of the number of same-sex couples will be an important milestone for both research and policymaking, the 2020 Census will still leave out most bisexual people, unpartnered gay men and lesbians, and transgender peopleor, in other words, the vast majority of the LGBT community.

Bittersweet, is how Laura Durso, an LGBT researcher and the vice president of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, described the Census Bureaus announcement.

Its a good thing that we are now going to improve the way in which we ask people about their relationships, and whether theyre married, and to whom theyre married, she told The Daily Beast. And then, of course, that comes with real disappointment that we are still lacking questions about sexual orientation and gender identity that would let us see the full spectrum of the LGBT community.

Questions about sexual orientation and gender identity made a brief appearance on a 2020 Census proposal last March, shortly after President Trump took office.

But, as the Associated Press reported, the Census Bureau quickly withdrew the questions, saying that the document had inadvertently listed them. The withdrawal dashed the hopes of Durso and other advocates, who wanted to see more accurate federal data collection so that researchers and public policy makers could better serve the LGBT community.

Indeed, as The Daily Beast and other outlets have previously noted, we still have no way of knowing exactly how many LGBT people are in the country, relying instead on estimates derived from various federal surveys.

As it stands, researchers believe that LGBT people comprise about four percent of the population, of which the slight majority are bisexual.

But as demographer Gary Gates previously told The Daily Beast, that estimate is still incomplete and it could one day prove to be close to 10 percentan unsubstantiated figure once proposed by mid-century sexologist Alfred Kinsey as younger generations come out of the closet.

The same-sex couple question on the 2020 Census, while important, will not even come close to clarifying this figure.

Questions about relationship status wont capture gender identity, thereby omitting transgender people. And the lack of a distinct question about sexual orientation will also obscure the existence of bisexual people, most of whom find committed relationships with opposite-sex partners, according to the Pew Research Center.

If youre a bisexual person and youre in a different-sex relationship, weve lost you entirely, Durso explained, referring to data collection through the 2020 Census, adding that even if youre in a same-sex couple, we dont know, for example, whether a woman identifies as lesbian, bisexual, queer, or something else entirely.

Knowing same-sex couples tells us something but it doesnt tell us everything about all of the range of sexual orientation identities, she noted.

Indeed, researchers like Durso want to know much more than the raw total of LGBT Americans, because the people represented by each of the letters in that acronym have different needs.

Bisexual people, for example, tend to have worse mental health outcomes than gay and lesbian peers due to the heightened stigma against bisexual identity. And as the past year and a half has proved, we still lack hard data on the numbers of people that targeted anti-transgender initiativeslike the Trump administrations rollback of Obama-era school guidance or the more recent transgender troop banwill affect.

Data from the 2020 Census will tell us how many people are in same-sex partnerships and marriagesa fraction of the LGBT community with an unknown denominatorand thats about it. Still, says Durso, thats no small feat given how spotty this data has been in the past.

Its a good step and a long time coming, she told The Daily Beast, noting that although the Census has asked about unmarried partners since 1990, the lack of a distinct same-sex couple option left more room for human error.

Because some percentage of people incorrectly mark their own gender, Durso explained, a lot of different-sex couples were incorrectly classified as same-sex couples and thats not good for anyone.

In fact, as Pew noted in 2015, the Census Bureau had to revise an initial estimate of 252,000 same-sex marriages down to the 170,000 range due to various inaccuracies.

Having a clearer estimate of that numberespecially in 2020, which will mark five years since the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriagewill prove vital to policy makers and advocates who work on LGBT-related issues like adoption, childrearing, and income inequality.

Indeed, Durso suspects that one of the main reasons the relationship question will appear on the 2020 Census is because of the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, and the momentum that it put behind pre-existing efforts to pursue data collection on same-sex couples.

By contrast, Durso noted, with the sexual orientation and gender identity questions, because they really hadnt started too far down the road, political ideology was the thing that was able to stop them.

Political ideology, Durso added, also appears to be behind the decision, revealed last week, to re-introduce a citizenship question on the 2020 Census some 70 years after it was last asked.

But although she is dismayed by the inclusion of the citizenship question and the omission of questions about sexual orientation and gender identity, Durso hopes that the same-sex relationship checkbox will be a step toward a more inclusive Census.

It provides an entry point for people who might not understand what sexual orientation is or who the LGBTQ community is, she said. Even with these limitations, you can at least open the door to those kinds of conversations.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/gay-and-single-bisexual-transgender-the-2020-census-still-erases-you

Facebook to exclude North American users from some privacy enhancements

There’s no way to sugarcoat this message: Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg believes North America users of his platform deserve a lower data protection standard than people everywhere else in the world.

In a phone interview with Reuters yesterday Mark Zuckerberg declined to commit to universally implementing changes to the platform that are necessary to comply with the European Union’s incoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Rather, he said the company was working on a version of the law that would bring some European privacy guarantees worldwide — declining to specify to the reporter which parts of the law would not extend worldwide.

“We’re still nailing down details on this, but it should directionally be, in spirit, the whole thing,”  Reuters quotes Zuckerberg on the GDPR question.

This is a subtle shift of line. Facebook’s leadership has previously implied the product changes it’s making to comply with GDPR’s incoming data protection standard would be extended globally.

Back in January, COO Sheryl Sandberg said the company would be rolling out “a new privacy center globally” — putting “the core privacy settings for Facebook in one place and make it much easier for people to manage their data”.

A spokeswoman for Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch today that the changes it revealed late last month — including finally reducing its historical settings sprawl from 20 screens to just one — were what Sandberg was talking about in those earlier comments. Ergo, even those basic tweaks are a direct result of the EU regulation.

However that universal privacy center looks to be just one portion of the changes Facebook needs to make to comply with the new EU standard. And not all these changes are going to be made available to US and Canadian Facebook users — per Zuckerberg’s remarks.

In a blog about the new privacy center late last month, Facebook flagged additional incoming changes to its terms of service — including “commitments” to users, and the language it uses to explain how it’s processing people’s data.

It said these incoming changes would be “about transparency”.

And indeed transparency is a key underlying principle of GDPR, which places requirements on data controllers to clearly explain to people what personal data they intend to collect and for what exact purpose — in order to gain informed consent for processing the data (or, if not consent, another valid basis is required for the data processing to be legal).

What’s less clear is exactly which portions of GDPR Facebook believes it can safely separate out for users on its platform and not risk accidentally mishandling the personal data of an international user — say who might be visiting or living in the US — thereby running the risk of privacy complaints and, ultimately, financial sanctions (penalties for violations can be very large under GDPR).

Facebook did not respond to additional questions about its GDPR compliance intentions so we can but speculate at this stage.

It’s even just a risky strategy in pure PR terms. As we wrote in January in our GDPR explainer: “[S]ome US companies might prefer to swallow the hassle and expense of fragmenting their data handling processes… But doing so means managing multiple data regimes. And at very least runs the risk of bad PR if you’re outed as deliberately offering a lower privacy standard to your home users vs customers abroad.”

Safe to say, the calls for equal application of GDPR in the US have started already…

On the speculation front, consent under GDPR for processing personal data means offering individuals “genuine choice and control”, as the UK’s data watchdog explains it. So perhaps Facebook isn’t comfortable about giving North American users that kind of autonomy to revoke specific consents at will.

Or maybe Zuckerberg is unwilling to let Americans ask for their personal data in an adequately portable form — so they could go and plug it into a rival service. (Though it does already let users download their data.)

Or it could be that Facebook isn’t comfortable with what GDPR has to say about profiling — which is, after all, the core of the company’s ad targeting business model.

The regulation’s transparency requirements do extend to profiling — meaning Facebook will need to inform (at least its international) users they are being profiled when they use the platform, and explain what it means for them.

So perhaps Zuckerberg thinks Americans might balk if they really understood how pervasively it tracks them when it has to explain exactly what it’s doing — as indeed some Facebook users did recently, when they found out Messenger had been logging their call and SMS metadata, for example.

The EU regulation also places some restrictions on the practice of using data to profile individuals if the data is sensitive data — such as health data, political belief, religious affiliation and so on — requiring an even higher standard of explicit consent for doing so.

And of course, with the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal, we’ve seen how massive amounts of Facebook data were expressly used to try to infer US voters’ political beliefs.

Let’s not forget that Facebook itself ploughs its own resources into engaging politicians to use its platform for campaigning too. So perhaps it’s worried it might risk losing this chunk of elite business in the US if American Facebook users have to give explicit consent to their political leanings being fair game for ad targeting purposes. (And when many people would probably say ‘no thanks Mark; that’s none of your business’.)

But, as I say, we can but speculate what kind of GDPR carve outs Zuckerberg has planned for users on his home turf at this stage. The regulation comes into force on May 25 — so Facebookers don’t have long to wait to play a game of ‘spot the privacy standard discrepancy’.

What’s most curious about the Facebook founder demurring on a universal application of GDPR is the timing of it — in the midst of arguably the company’s biggest ever privacy scandal.

Facebook responds to data misuse

At a point when consumer groups are calling for new rules to control social media’s excesses and lawmakers are increasingly willing to listen. “Facebook will gather, analyze and monetize more data from US and other countries outside the GDPR,” Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, told us, giving his reaction to Zuckerberg’s comments. “There will be a ongoing weakening of consumer data protection rights as a consequence. NGOs intend to press Facebook, Google and others to adopt any GDPR changes worldwide.”

So if Zuckerberg feels North Americans’ privacy can be handled as a backburner consideration even now, by revealing he plans to work really hard to make sure domestic Facebook users are given second tier privacy status below everyone else in the rest of the world, well, you have to question the authenticity of his recent apology for the “mistakes” that he claimed led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Facebook was actually warned over app permissions in 2011, as we’ve reported before. Yet it did not shut down the developer access that was used to pass personal data on 50M+ Facebook users to Cambridge Analytica until mid 2015. So, frankly, if that was a mistake, it was a very, very, slow moving one.

Some might say it looks rather more like reluctance to comply with data protection standards.

Here’s one of the core architects of GDPR — European MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht — asking the key question now: How long will consumers in North America take being put in privacy coach class? Over to you…

This report was updated with additional comment

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/04/04/facebook-gdpr-wont-be-universal/

Palestinians hold day of mourning after 773 shot with live ammunition

At least 15 killed when Israeli soldiers open fire during mass demonstrations in Gaza

Gaza hospitals, running low on blood and overstretched by the huge number of wounded, were reeling after one of the enclaves bloodiest days outside of open war, in which Israeli soldiers shot 773 people with live ammunition, according to the ministry of health.

Fifteen of the wounded died, said the ministry spokesperson Dr Ashraf al-Qidra. Most of the dead were aged between 17 and 35 years old, he said. The injuries were on the upper part of the body. He added that the remainder of the wounded, some of whom were in a critical condition, had been shot with live ammunition.

The violence erupted on Friday after mass demonstrations took place demanding the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to land in Israel.

Tens of thousands of people, including women and children, had planned to camp several hundred metres from the Israeli frontier, which surrounds the 140-square-mile Gaza strip on two sides, on the first day of a peaceful, six-week protest.

But from the main camps, groups of mostly young men approached the border at several locations and started throwing stones and burning tyres. Soldiers responded by opening fire throughout the day.

More than 1,400 people were wounded, mostly by bullets but also rubber-coated rounds and tear-gas inhalation, the health ministry said. The Guardian was unable to independently verify the ministrys figures.

On Friday, in less than 30 minutes, reporters saw 10 people with bullet wounds carried away on stretchers at one of the demonstrations.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, declared Saturday a national day of mourning. More demonstrations are planned.

Israel said it has positioned snipers and responded to rioting Palestinians with dispersal means and firing towards main instigators. It said the movement was a Hamas-orchestrated ploy and it was identifying terror attacks under the camouflage of riots.

The military pointed to what it said was an attempted shooting attack by a terror cell in the northern part of the Gaza strip on Friday. It added that it had responded with gunfire and by targeting three nearby Hamas sites with tanks and fighter jets. The military sent a video to journalists showing men appearing to tamper with the separation fence and said that Hamas had earlier sent a seven-year-old girl across the border, whom Israeli soldiers returned to her parents.

The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, said: The international community must not be deceived by what he called a well-organised and violent terror gathering.

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Gaza-Israel border calm one day after deadly protests video

Hamas, which backed the protest, has fought three wars with Israel since 2008. In the past few weeks, Israeli forces say they have caught people attempting to cut through the frontier to launch attacks.

The UN security council held emergency talks to discuss the risks of further escalation but failed to agree on a statement. There is fear that the situation might deteriorate in the coming days, said the assistant UN secretary general for political affairs, Tay-Brook Zerihoun.

The UN secretary general, Antnio Guterres, has called for an independent and transparent investigation into the violence, according to his spokesman Farhan Haq.

The Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, said what happened in Gaza was a heinous massacre. He said Palestinians expect the security council to shoulder its responsibility and defuse this volatile situation, which clearly constitutes a threat to international peace and security.

Fridays death toll stood at 16 and included a farmer killed by an Israeli tank shell before dawn as he picked parsley near the border, according to the health ministry. An Israeli army spokesman said the man was operating suspiciously.

Al-Qidra said hospitals were running low on several blood types.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/31/palestinians-hold-day-of-mourning-after-773-shot-with-live-ammunition

The CDC Can’t Fund Gun Research. What if that Changed?

America doesn't have good data on guns. Blame the Dickey amendment. First introduced in 1996, the legislation didn't ban gun investigations explicitly (it forbade the use of federal dollars in the advocacy or promotion of gun control), but Congress that year also cut the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by the exact amount it had previously devoted to firearm research. It's had a chilling effect on the field ever since. (While some states and private foundations are conducting peer reviewed studies on gun violence, the federal government has been AWOL.) That means policymakers in Washington have little information about what causes gun violence, how it can be prevented or reduced, and who is most at risk.

But that could change. The February 14 killings in Parkland, Florida led a bipartisan group of lawmakers to consider repealing the Dickey amendment and resuming government-backed gun-research. Which raises a pressing question: If the CDC were to resume funding studies on the epidemiology of firearm violence, what questions would they want to answer right now?

"We don't know enough about the risk factors, for either the perpetrators or victims of gun violence," says Garen Wintemute, an ER physician and director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program.

Wintemute says that one of the big predictors of future gun violence is a history of other forms of violence, like domestic abuse. But connecting the dots between prior behavior and future threat is difficult—especially on an individual basis. That said, researchers think that by identifying early signals and studying them more closely, they could help police and social service agents make better decisions about when to intervene.

He also wants to study the psychological impact that high rates of gun violence can have on communities. Does living in place where gunfire or gun violence is common make someone more or less likely to use a gun in the future? Social scientists say they don't know the answer yet.

As for preventing the next mass shooting, experts say they don't know enough about the effectiveness of proposed interventions. Take, for instance, the "gun restraining order" laws recently enacted in California, Oregon and Washington. Such regulations allow family members as well as law enforcement to ask a judge to confiscate guns from people deemed to pose "a serious risk of harm." (In San Diego County, ten gun owners recently received court orders to surrender their weapons under the new law.) It sounds like a good idea in theory, but to expand such laws to other states, or the federal level, policymakers would need to make a case for their effectiveness. And at least for now, the data on whether the laws have a measurable impact on either suicides or murders just doesn't exist.

“There isn’t any information other than anecdotal,” says Shannon Frattaroli, associate professor of health policy at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Gun Policy and Research.

Frattaroli says a key factor, when it comes to studying the effectiveness of firearm policies, is being able to follow weapons. One way to track how violence spreads is by tracing implicated weapons to their source. In big cities plagued by gun violence, these weapons are often bought and sold illegally. "We need to understand where guns are coming from, how they get from the legal market to the hands of people who are prohibited to purchase them," Frattaroli says. "That’s important to know if we want to get a handle on the flow of guns."

Doing so will require a lot more money, time, and resources than researchers currently possess. That’s where the CDC might serve as both a deep-pocketed grant-making agency, as well as a clearinghouse for various databases on gun violence and gun ownership. A boost in funding would also attract more and better scientists to the field, whose numbers have dwindled since the Dickey amendment went into effect. “As I recruit new investigators, it has been a critical question for applicants: 'Will I have a job in a couple years, or will I have to look for a job in another field because there’s no funding,'" Wintemute says.

Social scientist and ER docs like Frattaroli and Wintemute are encouraged by the possibility that Congress might direct the CDC to renew gun research. President Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources, Alex Azar, said the day after the Florida shootings that he backs such efforts. But this shift might take a while. The agency has been without a leader since January, when director Brenda Fitzgerald resigned after news reports that she purchased tobacco stocks after taking office. Any big change in the status quo of the amendment—and more money for gun violence research—will probably have to wait for a change in control of Congress.

Gun Shy

  • The United States has never funded a research center to study gun violence—so last year, California started one on its own.

  • If the CDC's commitment to gun violence research expands, it could be a surprise to these researchers, who raced to protect the little data they had from the Trump administration.

  • If it doesn't, though, researchers will continue to find novel ways to work around their utter lack of data, like this group that rifled through old gun magazines for information.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/story/what-if-the-cdc-could-fund-gun-research/