Posts tagged with "The Washington Post"

Invisible man: House Dems consider extraordinary steps to conceal whistleblower’s identity from GOP

October 9, 2019

House Democrats are weighing extraordinary steps to secure testimony from the whistleblower whose complaint prompted their impeachment inquiry—considering masking his identity to prevent President Donald Trump’s congressional allies from exposing him, according to three officials familiar with the deliberations, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.

As the GOP continues its political posturing and plotting, as well as obstruction of witness testimony, Democrats deem it imperative to have the whistleblower testify from a remote location; and to conceal his appearance and voice, these officials told the DC-based news outlet. Two other possibilities include having the whistleblower sit behind a screen or partition or conducting audio-only testimony.

“Schiff does not want to burn his identity,” a senior congressional official told the newspaper.

“There are lots of different protocols and procedures we’re looking into to find out what works and doesn’t work to protect the identity of the whistleblower,” a person familiar with the talks told the news outlet. “That is paramount.”

The whistleblower’s complaint centered on Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump pressed the new leader eight times to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, and his son Hunter.

On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee was told that the testimony of Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, had been blocked b y the State Department. The whistleblower said that Sondland met with Zelensky to give “advice” about how to “navigate” Trump’s demands, working behind the scenes to carry out the president’s wishes in a country that’s not a member of the European Union.

In text messages provided to Congress, Sondland insisted that Trump’s decision to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine was not a quid pro quo—as diplomat William B. “Bill” Taylor had said he feared.

Trump told Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, to hold back the military aid for Ukraine shortly before his July call. Trump has repeatedly denied that there was a “quid pro quo” between the military assistance and the request to investigate the Bidens.

At the White House on Monday, Trump lashed out at Democrats over their impeachment inquiry.

“You can’t impeach a president for doing a great job. . . . This is a scam,” he said at an event on trade with Japan.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Graham will ask Australia, Italy, and UK to aid and abet AG Barr’s probe into Russia investigation

October 2, 2019

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) obviously is “drinking the Kool-Aid,” along with the president, the attorney general, and the secretary of state.

On October 1, The Hill reports, Graham laid out plans to send a letter asking other nations to cooperate with the Justice Department’s probe into the origins of the Mueller investigation.

Graham, during an on-air interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Monday, knocked a report by The New York Times that alleged that President Donald Trump had asked the Australian government to assist Attorney General William Barr as part of the DOJ investigation.

“Barr should be talking to Australia. He should be talking to Italy. He should be talking to the U.K. to find out if their intelligence services worked with our intelligence services improperly to open up a counterintelligence investigation of Trump’s campaign. If he’s not doing that he’s not doing his job,” Graham said according to The Hill. 

“So I’m going to write a letter to all three countries … asking them to cooperate with Barr,” he added. 

Graham’s Fox News interview comes after The New York Times reported that Trump urged Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to help Barr, according to two officials with knowledge of the call. The Justice Department subsequently confirmed that Trump had contacted foreign governments at Barr’s request.

Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and has emerged as a Trump crony, blasted the Times piece, The Hill said—characterizing it as “the beginning of an effort to shut down Barr’s investigation.”

“This New York Times article is an effort to stop Barr. … What are they afraid of? This really bothers me a lot that the left is going to try to say there’s something wrong with Barr talking to Australia, Italy and the United Kingdom,” he added.

In addition to the Times story, The Washington Post reported on Monday that Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham of the District of Connecticut, who is leading the DOJ’s inquiry, met with senior Italian officials.

Barr also has reportedly requested assistance from British intelligence officials in connection with the inquiry.

Research contact: @thehill

Meteorologist-in-chief? NOAA staff warned in September 1 directive not to contradict Trump

September 10, 2019

The POTUS is reaping the whirlwind in Washington, DC, as Hurricane Dorian weakens to a tropical storm and exits Canada.

Indeed, President Donald Trump has continued to insist loudly and implacably within the past few days that a map of the projected path of Hurricane Dorian showed that Alabama “would most likely be hit” by the storm.

To prove his point, the president had gone so far as to redraw the official map of the storm’s footprint with his own Sharpie on September 4—and had sent out a volley of tweets within the past week.

Rather than allowing the controversy to persist, a top National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) official warned his staff not to contradict the White House, The Washington Post reported.

Referencing archived hurricane advisories, the NOAA official said that information provided to the president and the public between August 28 and September 2 “demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama.”

He told NOAA staff to “only stick with official National Hurricane Center forecasts if questions arise from some national level social media posts which hit the news this afternoon.” They were also told not to “provide any opinion,” according to a copy of the email obtained by The Washington Post.

A NOAA meteorologist who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution told the Post that the note, understood internally to be referring to Trump, came after the National Weather Service office in Birmingham contradicted Trump by tweeting Alabama would “NOT see any impacts from the hurricane.”

The Birmingham office sent the tweet after receiving a flurry of phone calls from concerned residents following Trump’s message.

The agency sent a similar message warning scientists and meteorologists not to speak out on September 4, after Trump showed the doctored hurricane map.mu

“This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast,” the meteorologist said. “It’s hard for me to wrap my head around. One of the things we train on is to dispel inaccurate rumors and ultimately that is what was occurring—ultimately what the Alabama office did is provide a forecast with their tweet, that is what they get paid to do.”

The NOAA statement set off a firestorm among scientists, who attacked NOAA officials for bending to Trump’s will.“This looks like classic politically motivated obfuscation to justify inaccurate statements made by the boss. It is truly sad to see political appointees undermining the superb, lifesaving work of NOAA’s talented and dedicated career servant,” Jane Lubchenco, who served as NOAA administrator under President Barack Obama, told the Post..

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Michigan is first U.S. state to ban flavored e-cigarettes

September 5, 2019

Just a couple of weeks following the first U.S. death to be officially attributed to vaping, Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a Democrat, has announced her decision to institute a statewide prohibition on all flavored electronic cigarettes, including the sweet, fruity, and menthol varieties.

The ban is due to go into effect today, but retailers will have 30 days to comply, according to a report by The Huffington Post.

Michigan, thus, becomes the first state to prohibit flavored e-cigarettes, which preliminary studies have shown are more likely to get young people hooked on vaping, according to The Washington Post.

 “My number one priority is keeping our kids safe and protecting the health of the people of Michigan,” Whitmer told the DC-based newspaper of misleading descriptions like “safe” and “healthy” to advertise vaping products.

Whitmer noted that she’d been compelled to take action after the state Department of Health and Human Services declared vaping among young people a public health emergency.

And it’s not the only one to do so.

On Friday, August 23, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported the death of an individual who had recently vaped and had been hospitalized with a severe respiratory illness. A total of 22 people, ranging in age from 17 to 38, have so far been diagnosed with the illness and IDPH officials are working with local health departments to investigate 12 more individuals. The Illinois department has requested help from the Centers for Disease control to track and address the disease.

Several U.S. cities also have taken steps in recent months to place limits on vaping.  San Francisco in June became the first major U.S. city to ban the sale of all e-cigarettes. Last week, Boulder, Colorado, finalized a ban on flavored e-cigarette products. Sacramento, California, has also approved a similar ban.

In March, The HuffPost reports, the Food and Drug Administration proposed restricting the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, except for menthol, mint and tobacco flavors. The FDA proposal has not been finalized.

Research contact: @HuffPost

Bill Flores joins exodus of House Republican members

September 5, 2019

Another one bites the dust: U.S. Representative Bill Flores (Texas’ 17th District) today became the 15th House Republican—and the fifth from the state of Texas—to announce he plans to retire at the end of his term and not seek re-election in 2020, claiming in a personal statement that he wants to spend more time with his family and resume private-sector business activities.

“After much prayer over the past few days and following conversations with my wife, Gina, during that time, I have decided that my current term will be my last,” Flores, 65, who was first elected in 2010, said in the statement, posted on his House website.

So far, only three House Democrats have said they will not run again. By contrast, in 2018, 18 House Democrats did not seek reelection and 34 House Republicans opted out, according to Ballotpedia.

The other House members from the Lone Star State who have confirmed that they will not run for reelection include Representatives Mike Conaway (Texas’11th District), Will Hurd (Texas’ 23rd), Kenny Marchant (Texas’ 24th), and Pete Olson (Texas’22nd),  Ballotpedia reports.

Flores, a retired oil and gas executive, s serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and has been active in the Republican Study Committee, which had been the caucus of the House’s most conservative members.

Several of the Republican retirements have been in increasingly competitive districts; in three of them, GOP incumbents won reelection by fewer than five percentage points in 2018. But others are in “safer” districts, The Washington Post opined.

Last year, the Post says, Flores prevailed with nearly 57% of the vote. During an interview Thursday on WTAW-AM radio in College Station, Texas, Flores expressed optimism that his district would remain in Republican hands.

“It’s a center-right district,” he said. “There are a lot of thoughtful conservative leaders out there, particularly next generation, that I think will decide to serve the public and to get engaged.”

In his statement, Flores said his family had “evolved substantially” in the nearly 10 years since he first ran for Congress.

“Gina lost her father, we picked up a daughter-in-law, added four awesome grandkids and watched my Mom and Dad move further along their senior years,” Flores said. “My job as Representative has made it difficult to spend as much time with Gina and the rest of my family as I would like.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Is your police department getting the feed from Amazon’s Ring cameras? See the interactive map!

September 4, 2019

More than 400 police agencies nationwide are working with the Amazon-owned Ring home surveillance system to track unlawful activities at our doorsteps and in our neighborhoods—and now you can check to see if your local department is one of them.

Ring disclosed the number today on August 28, according to the news outlet Quartz—and, at 400, it’s double what reports had previously revealed.

The security company also published an interactive map that shows which police departments can see all the Ring cameras in a given neighborhood, and can seamlessly request the footage from those cameras,

The map also provides information on when each department started working with Ring, along with a blog post about the Ring-law enforcement partnership. The company will be updating the map as new departments are added, it says.

The release coincided with an in-depth story by The Washington Post, which disclosed the full number of agencies for the first time. According to the report by the Post, “The number of police deals, which has not previously been reported, is likely to fuel broader questions about privacy, surveillance and the expanding reach of tech giants and local police. The rapid growth of the program, which began in spring 2018, surprised some civil liberties advocates, who thought that fewer than 300 agencies had signed on.”

The Ring system includes its surveillance cameras (most famously the motion-activated camera doorbells) as well as the Neighbors app (where people can share footage from their cameras and discuss crime in their areas) and the Neighborhood Portal (where police can see a map of Ring cameras and quickly submit a request for footage during an investigation).

In recent months, ViceCNET, and Gizmodo have reported on U.S. law enforcemnt’s close relationship with the company—which, for example, gives departments discounts or free cameras to distribute among local residents. In some cases, police have used the giveaways as leverage to demand that people hand over their footage, although Ring says it is supposed to be voluntary.

The company said in a statement sent to Quartz that “customers, not law enforcement, are in control of their videos.”

Ring added: “Videos are shared through the Neighbors program only if: 1) a customer chooses to post it publicly on the Neighbors app; 2) explicit consent is provided by the customer. Law enforcement agencies who participate in the Neighbors app must go through the Ring team when making a video request to customers. Customers can choose to opt out or decline any request, and law enforcement agencies have no visibility into which customers have received a request and which have opted out or declined.”

Research contact: @ring

Forget carpooling. Zūm, a ride-hailing company for kids, expands to six more U.S. cities

September 3, 2019

Reams of stories have been written about the stress inflicted on children in today’s over-scheduled society. But what about their parents, who must coordinate a schedule to transport or carpool the kids—from music instruction to the baseball diamond to dancing classes to language tutelage, to the stationery store for poster board and paints?

What’s worse, it only takes one hitch in the day to make the whole fraught agenda simply crash and burn. So what’s a parent to do?

Now there’s a company that wants to shuttle the kids for you—and, in doing so, to eliminate (totally or occasionally) your crushing duty to schlep. It’s a ride-hailing company for kids called Zūm.

In addition to being available to swamped moms and dads, Zūm has partnered with dozens of California school districts in recent years and is available to students at 2,000 schools in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, many of which still rely on yellow buses as well, the company recently told The Washington Post.

And on August 29, Zūm —which is accessible to parents through a mobile app and claims it has already completed 1 million rides—announced that it is expanding to a half-dozen other cities around the country, including San Diego, Miami, Phoenix, Dallas, Chicago and the Washington D.C. area. Rides will begin in those locations next month.

In Washington D.C., Zūm will compete with HopSkipDrive, ride-hailing service founded by three working mothers in Los Angeles for children ages 6 to 18 that arrived on the East Coast earlier this year.

 In Dallas, Zūm will compete with Bubbl, a ride service staffed by off-duty police officers and first responders—one of many small transportation companies that have popped up around the country in recent years seeking to fill a similar niche, the Post reports.

Such companies could usher in a new era of safer, greener and more data-rich transportation for students that can be tracked by parents in real time.

Investors know that ride-hailing has already been widely adopted by young people, but with a serious caveat that could play into Zūm’s favor: Unaccompanied minors are prohibited from using services like Uber and Lyft, although experts warn that it can be difficult to verify a rider’s age.

Indeed, according to the Post, data from a teen debit card company reveal that “ride-sharing services combined to capture 84% of teen spending on taxi services.” Despite age restrictions, some teenagers use drivers with specialized insurance that allows them to drive younger passengers, the study notes. Unlike Uber or Lyft, Zūm rides are booked the day before and the service is not designed to be on-demand.

Zūm claims its drivers have three years or more of childcare experience. They undergo background checks and SafeSchools training courses and claim their safety protocols are reviewed by KidsAndCars.org, a national non-profit child safety organization. The company says its business model is fundamentally dependent on its ability to keep students safe.

When used by families outside of school, Zūm starts at $10 for carpool rides (per child for a one-way trip) and $16 for a single (non-carpool) ride. But like Uber or Lyft, the company says, prices vary depending on location and time of day. At about $20 a ride, HopSkipDrive is also more expensive than alternatives like Uber and Lyft, but also offers carpooling options that lower prices.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Democrats alarmed by Trump’s offer of pardons to those who break law to build the border wall

August 30, 2019

“If he builds it, they will come.” Just as the famous line from the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams promised, President Donald Trump now believes that if he builds the wall at the border, they—his voter base—will come to the polls for him.

And he’s willing to do almost anything to accomplish his goal. Indeed, he is supposedly considering using funding originally designated for disaster aid within the United States; urging subordinates to seize land unlawfully, and offering pardons to those who get in trouble on his behalf.

The notion of pardoning those who use illegal means to build a border wall has alarmed congressional Democrats, who had been investigating potential obstruction of justice on Trump’s part as the House continues to weigh whether to launch impeachment proceedings once lawmakers return to the Capitol next month, The Washington Post reported on August 28. 

Representative David Cicilline (Rhode Island), a member of the House Democratic leadership and the House Judiciary Committee, said any suggestion that Trump would encourage subordinates to break the law by promising pardons is “appalling” and worthy of further investigation by the panel.

 “Sadly, this is just one more instance of a president who undermines the rule of law and behaves as if he’s a king and not governed by the laws of this country,” Cicilline said in an interview with the Post on Wednesday. “He is not a king, he is accountable … I think it just adds to the ongoing proceeding before the Judiciary Committee as we consider whether to recommend articles of impeachment against the president.”

Trump on Wednesday denied that he had made those private assurances, first reported Tuesday evening by The Washington Post. Yet a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in advance of the report did not deny it and said Trump is joking when he makes such statements about pardons.

“Another totally Fake story in the Amazon Washington Post (lobbyist) which states that if my Aides broke the law to build the Wall (which is going up rapidly), I would give them a Pardon,” Trump tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “This was made up by The Washington Post only in order to demean and disparage — FAKE NEWS!” 

The wall discussions are not the first time that Trump has reportedly promised a pardon to a subordinate for doing something potentially illegal, according to the news outlet.

In April, The New York Times reported that Trump told Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan that he would pardon him if he directed his personnel to illegally deny asylum to migrants who request it at the southern border. Trump later denied doing so in a tweet, calling it “Another Fake Story.”

Cicilline said it did not matter whether Trump’s subordinates ultimately carried out his illegal directives. “It’s an abuse of the pardon power, it’s an abuse of the president’s authority, and it’s very likely illegal,” he said. “So whether anyone actually does it or not—that idea that the president of the United States, responsible for enforcing and upholding the rule of law in this country, is making a statement like that is just appalling.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Rain check: The ClimaCell weather app alerts you to when it will rain in your town, down to the minute

August 14, 2019

Is a cloud about to burst in your immediate vicinity? Now there’s an easy and accurate way to find out.

ClimaCell, a four-year-old weather technology company based in Boston, “is on a mission to map all of the weather data in the world—and to become the “default microweather platform of the emerging technology.”

The firm—founded by a team of former military officers from the Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan—launched its weather app on August 12, offering meteorological notifications for exact locations in more than 50 countries.

It promises “street-by-street, minute-by-minute short-term forecasts, according to a report by The Washington Post.

But how does the company provide such on-target, on-time forecasts?

 ClimaCell has developed a global network of weather data that marries traditional observations of pressure, temperature, precipitation and wind with information drawn from wireless signals, satellites, connected cars, airplanes, street cameras, drones and other electronic sources, the Post reports. Millions of pieces of weather data can be derived from these technologies. It’s what the company describes as the “weather of things” (versus “the Internet of things).

This mix of data is fed into ClimaCell’s forecast models, operated in Boulder, Colorado The company created the NowCast model that gives highly specific, minute-by-minute forecasts out to six hours—as well as a longer-term model, known as CBAM, that produces forecasts out to six days.

These models are designed to provide forecasts to help businesses solve problems in which “extra accuracy” is needed, according to CE0 Shimon Elkabetz.

Many of the weather companies operating today, founded in the 1960s and 1970s, just take model forecasts from different governments, blend them, and use statistical techniques to try to make them better. But ClimaCell is creating its forecasts from scratch.

Elkabetz said early results on its accuracy are promising. Compared with government forecasts, “we’ve been able to improve almost every parameter in every time frame,” Elkabetz said.

ClimaCell has also created a software platform that allows its forecasts to be optimized and tuned to customers’ needs. Elkabetz said it can generate forecast output for any weather variable of interest, at any location and at different degrees of specificity.

The forecasts are updated or “refreshed” constantly, which is the “best way” to increase their accuracy, according to Daniel Rothenberg, ClimaCell’s chief scientist. “In our U.S. precipitation NowCast, we refresh [the forecast] end to end in under five minutes,” he told The Washington Post.

By comparison, the U.S. government model used for short-range precipitation prediction, known as the HRRR (high-resolution rapid refresh model) updates hourly.

To date, the company has worked with airlines, energy, and on-demand transportation companies, and even with the New England Patriots. JetBlue, initially a customer, was so impressed by the results that it became an investor.

“We’re trying to become the leading private company in the weather space,” Elkabetz said.

The app is available on the AppStore for iOS devices, and an Android version is to be launched in September. The app is free and does not contain advertisements, but ClimaCell does plan to charge for certain features, such as notifications for precipitation beyond a certain time.

Research contact: @ClimaCell

More than 200 U.S. mayors demand that Senate reconvene to pass background check bills

August 9, 2019

More than 200 U.S. mayors—including a half-dozen whose cities have experienced recent high-profile mass shootings—wrote a letter to Senate leaders on Thursday, August 8, urging Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) to reconvene he lawmakers in order to pass legislation strengthening background checks for gun buyers, The Washington Post reported.

On behalf of The United States Conference of Mayors, we urge you to immediately call the Senate back to Washington to take action on bipartisan gun safety legislation,” they said. The conference is the official non-partisan organization of American cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are 1,408 such cities nationwide—each of them represented by a mayor.

Those who signed include El Paso Mayor Dee Margo (R) and Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley (D). Separate shootings left 31 dead in their two cities over the weekend, the news outlet stated.

The mayors of several other cities that have experienced mass shootings in recent years were also on-board with the missive, including those of Annapolis, Orlando, Parkland, Florida, and Pittsburgh.

Specifically, the Post reported, the mayors are asking the Senate to return from August recess to pass two bills that were approved earlier this year by the Democratic-led House but that have not been advanced in the Republican-led Senate by McConnell, who has been nicknamed the Grim Reaper.

A spokesperson for McConnell did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the letter from the Post. Earlier this week, McConnell issued a statement saying Senate Republicans were prepared to “do our part” to address mass shootings, but the statement made no mention of the House-passed bills.

In the aftermath of the weekend shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) urged McConnell to call senators back to Washington.

“To @SenateMajLdr McConnell, we say #EnoughIsEnough. Stop blocking gun safety reforms over 90% of Americans support. Gavel the Senate into emergency session to take immediate action on the bipartisan, House-passed universal background checks legislation.”

Trump has threatened to veto the two bills, saying they do not sufficiently protect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.

Since the weekend shootings, however, the Post reports, Trump has expressed a new openness to considering background checks. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, he said that there “was great appetite for background checks” and that he was “looking to do background checks.” He did not specifically mention the House-passed bills.

Research contact: @washingtonpost