Facebook’s new chief lawyer helped write the Patriot Act

Jennifer Newstead, a Trump appointee who served in the Justice Department under President Bush, will soon be taking over as general counsel of Facebook, the company announced in a press release Monday afternoon. Newstead will take over from Colin Stretch, who announced plans to retire last year.

“Jennifer is a seasoned leader whose global perspective and experience will help us fulfill our mission,” Sheryl Sandberg said in a statement included with the release.

But many are already troubled by Newstead’s history lobbying and legislating for more powerful electronic surveillance. As The Hill points out, a 2002 Justice Department press releasedescribes her as “helping craft” the legislation. Notorious Bush administration lawyer John Yoo described her as the “day-to-day manager of the Patriot Act in Congress” in his 2006 book.

Passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Patriot Act greatly expanded the scope of the government’s surveillance powers, enabling new techniques like roving wiretaps and so-called “sneak-and-peek” warrants. Section 215 of the Patriot Act was used to justify the bulk collection of telephone records from US carriers, although both the ruling and the legal interpretation that justified it remained secret until the Snowden leaks.




Apple face-recognition blamed by New York teen for false arrest

A New York student sued Apple Inc. for US$1 billion, claiming the company’s facial-recognition software falsely linked him to a series of thefts from Apple stores.

Ousmane Bah, 18, said he was arrested at his home in New York in November and charged with stealing from an Apple store. The arrest warrant included a photo that didn’t resemble Bah, he said in a lawsuit filed Monday. One of the thefts he was charged with, in Boston, took place on the day in June he was attending his senior prom in Manhattan, he said.

Bah said he had previously lost a non-photo learner’s permit, which may have been found or stolen by the real thief and used as identification in Apple stores. As a result, Bah claimed, his name may have been mistakenly connected to the thief’s face in Apple’s facial-recognition system, which he said the company uses in its stores to track people suspected of theft.

“He was forced to respond to multiple false allegations which led to severe stress and hardship,” Bah said in the complaint.

Apple and Security Industry Specialists Inc., a security firm that’s also named as a defendant, declined to comment on the suit.

The case is Bah v. Apple Inc., 19-cv-03539, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).



New York State Budget: Congestion Pricing Coming To Manhattan

It has worked in cities like London and Singapore and state lawmakers are hoping congestion pricing will decrease traffic in New York City, too.

CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez found out what Sunday’s historic news means for drivers.

Big Apple subway and buses will soon be getting some much-needed improvements at the expense of drivers heading into Manhattan.

“I think it’s a good idea,” one New Yorker said Sunday. “Every day it’s very, very (bad) traffic, so I think it can be better.”

Motorists entering Midtown Manhattan below 60th Street will be charged a toll, which is anticipated to raise more than $1 billion a year for the city’s ailing public transit system. A panel of experts will set the surcharges by the end of 2020, but sources told CBS2 drivers in cars will pay around $11.50 and truck drivers around $25.

“I work in Manhattan a lot and I don’t mind paying for it to get in there and if it helps congestion, even better,” Long Island resident Ed Crescimanni said.

Congestion pricing will be an added hardship for Charles Alvarez, who lives in the toll zone but needs to visit his mother in a Queens nursing home.

“That’s crazy. I can’t imagine doing that. But I have to see my mother and it’s something that would greatly impact me,” Alvarez said.

MORE: Gov. Cuomo Proud Of State Budget, Calling It “Probably The Strongest Progressive Statement That We’ve Made”

Traffic expert Sam Schwartz told CBS2 he thinks the system will make difference.

“The bottom line is the city is a competitive city. It is a world city. We can’t have a world city if our transit system is running 65 percent on time and our traffic is moving at 4.7 mph. This will get us back in the ball game to be a world-class city.”

It’s important to note that drivers will not be charged the toll more than once per day and the FDR and West Side highways will not be included.



Gun owners in New Zealand brace for big changes to their right to carry

Some rushed to their trusted online dealers and stores to stock up on semiautomatic assault rifles. Others unlocked their secure cabinets, picked up their firearms and turned them into police stations, no questions asked.

The estimated quarter of a million gun owners across this largely quiet, peaceful South Pacific country, many of them dedicated hunters, are bracing for what are likely to be significant reforms to New Zealand’s firearm laws. Leaders have hinted the changes will impact the proliferation and availability of semiautomatic weapons in particular.

The changes, agreed to in principle by the country’s coalition government Monday – just 72 hours after the deadliest act of gun violence in New Zealand history – put the country in line with others that have taken swift action following tragedy within their borders. Details of the changes will be announced within the week, and must be passed by parliament.

A gunman who pledged allegiance to white nationalist causes killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch on Friday, and has been remanded on one charge of murder with more to follow. He has been identified by police as 28-year old Australian Brenton Tarrant who in one day killed more than all the people murdered across New Zealand in 2017.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern labeled the massacre “the worst act of terrorism on our shores” and immediately promised swift action, calling for gun laws to be changed. Her declarations have been celebrated by many in New Zealand, some of whom had no idea that military-style semiautomatic weapons were so prolific in a country famously known for its extremely low murder rate.

On Monday, the e-commerce website Trade Me, similar to eBay, halted the sale of semiautomatic weapons on its platform.

“We’ve had a lot of contact from Kiwis over the weekend about this issue, and many felt we should stop the sale of these items in the wake of this attack,” Trade Me said in a statement. “We’ve listened to these sentiments and we’ve put this ban in place while we await clear direction from the government.”

John Hart, a gun owner, said on Twitter he had given up his AR-15 rifle and ammunition because his “convenience doesn’t outweigh the risk of misuse.”

Still, some gun dealers have also bristled at the idea that they or the weapons they sell are culpable in Friday’s events, and have resented being put on the spot.

“We have good laws, we’ve always had good laws,” said Wayne Chapman, owner of The Gunshop in Upper Hutt, a city northeast of Wellington. His store, he said, “has not seen a surge or had any problems.”

David Tipple, managing director of Gun City, one of the largest firearms retailers in New Zealand, called a news conference Monday to announce that Tarrant had bought four guns from Gun City’s online store and had them delivered through mail.

Gun City has been the focus of criticism and has seen small protests outside their stores in recent days. Many on social media have said a billboard outside the store’s Christchurch outlet, which shows a man teaching two young children how to shoot, is in poor taste considering the country is in a state of mourning over the killings.

Tarrant, he said, had obtained his gun license in November 2017 and purchased his first firearm about a month later. He bought his last firearm from Gun City in March 2018, and had also purchased ammunition Tipple has shared this information with authorities.

But in a testy exchange with reporters, he pushed back on the charge that the guns he sold Tarrant were the exact ones used in his attacks. Tipple said the guns were “A-category” guns, which can be bought with the most basic weapons license.

Assault rifles are A-category guns as long as they have a magazine that holds only seven rounds. The weapons seen in a video of the massacre that Tarrant live-streamed had much larger magazines.

“I totally agree there should be a gun debate, but today is not the day,” said Tipple. “We are not a country of emotional responses, we are a country with laws [and] what we are doing is legal.”

New Zealand gun owners point out that it is exactly the loophole Tipple brought up – purchasing larger magazines – that enabled Tarrant’s shooting spree. One gun owner who owned several AR-15s, but has since given them up, said they only cost $1,200 in New Zealand, but would cost $25,000 or more in Australia on the black market, because they are effectively banned there.

“You can get an AR-15 from anywhere really, and while the [30-round magazine] is not allowed legally, they will fit and they will work,” said Pete Breidahl, a gun owner and former competition shooter who recently gave up his firearms license. “How, in 2019, can this still be going on? How has this loophole not been fixed?”

New Zealand, like the United States, also has no requirement for gun owners to register their weapons, unlike many countries in the world.

The tightened gun laws will put New Zealand in line with several other countries who have changed legislation in the wake of tragedy. The Port Arthur massacre in Australia in 1996 shook the continent, changed gun legislation the Pacific nation, strictly restricting self-loading rifles and other weapons.

A buyback program destroyed thousands of guns and high-capacity magazines. A shooting at a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland, that same year also prompted a campaign for tighter restrictions on firearms, which led to a virtual ban on civilian ownership of handguns.

Still, New Zealand has made the decision in almost record time. In Australia, it took 12 days after the mass shooting for the government to finalize changes to legislation. It took almost two years for the ban on handguns to become law in the United Kingdom in 1998. Ardern has promised details of changes within 10 days of the attack.

Experts argue that New Zealand has indeed been on the cusp of change in gun legislation for years, but never had political unity around the issue. After the country’s last mass shooting in 1990, where 13 people including local police were killed in the seaside town of Aramoana, changes were made to firearm legislation including some restrictions on semiautomatic firearms and the requirement for 10-year licenses.

Four inquiries have been undertaken by government in recent years. A 1997 review recommended that all guns should be registered and that the government institute a full buyback of all military-style assault weapons, similar to what was done in Australia.

These suggestions, said Philip Alpers, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Sydney and founding director of GunPolicy.org, “are all now back on the table.”

The government’s decision, he said, has been in part motivated by the frequency of mass shootings in the United States, which has among the most lax gun laws in the world.

“There is a baseline determination not to go down the American road,” he said.

– – –

The Washington Post’s Emanuel Stoakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, contributed to this report.



Iran Building Two New Nuclear Plants

Iranian leaders announced on Monday the construction of two new nuclear plants, and it remains unclear if the Trump administration views this as crossing a red line since its abandonment of the landmark nuclear deal, which included provisions permitting Iran to work on heavy water nuclear reactors that could provide a plutonium-based pathway to a bomb.

On the same day it announced these new nuclear reactors, which are being built in conjunction with Russia, Iran announced it would be filing papers accusing the United States of “crimes against humanity.”

The new nuclear moves are rattling congressional Iran hawks, who have been critical of a series of waivers issued by the Trump administration permitting Iran to continue engaging in nuclear research, including at an underground site that once housed the regime’s nuclear weapons program.

It remains unclear if the Trump administration will move to block this activity and sanction any international company that aids Iran in the construction of the new nuclear reactors.

“If the State Department is even considering waivers for Iran to expand its nuclear program, if those are even a little bit in play, you have to ask yourself what else is already a done deal and why that isn’t public yet,” one veteran Republican official, reflecting the views of many Iran hawks, told the Washington Free Beacon.

“You also have to ask yourself if the State Department knows that Republicans won the last presidential election or whether we’re all just going to pretend it’s Obama’s third term and the Iran deal is still in place,” the source said.

Ali Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, announced on Monday that construction of the two new nuclear plants have begun in the southern Iranian city of Bushehr.

“Everything is moving ahead in an excellent manner,” Salehi was quoted as saying in the country’s state-controlled press. “I was in Bushehr two or three days ago and the Bushehr 2 and Bushehr 3 power plants are being constructed.”

The State Department would not respond to questions about its policy on Iran’s nuclear construction.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced on Monday that Iran had begun filing paperwork accusing the United States of “crimes against humanity” for its reimposition of harsh sanctions on Tehran.

“The presidential office’s legal department, the justice minister, and foreign minister are required to compile a bill of complaint on crime against humanity against the Americans and those who were involved in sanctions and implementation of sanctions so that we can take it to a competent court for prosecution,” Rouhani was quoted as saying.

“The world should know that the U.S. move [sanctions] is not aimed at the Iranian government and nuclear technology but it is against the Iranian people’s health, environment, ordinary life, foodstuff and medicine,” Rouhani said.

However, it is the nuclear reactors that are eliciting outrage within the Trump administration and on Capitol Hill.

The news comes amid an ongoing inter-agency battle over how far to go in sanctioning Iran and its illicit activities. Some elements of the Trump administration are angling to keep issuing waivers to permit Iran’s nuclear work, as well as its production of lucrative crude oil.

The debate has been raging inside the administration for months, with some hardline officials expressing frustration at some colleagues for seeking to preserve the nuclear deal and keep it on life support, despite President Donald Trump’s vocal commitment to a policy he describes as “maximum pressure.”

Some administration officials in the State Department have made clear that these various waivers exempting countries from sanctions are necessary to preserve the framework of the Iran nuclear deal.

“Even as we have been systematically re-imposing sanctions related to Iran in pursuit of the better, ‘win-win’ deal of which I speak, we have carefully refrained from restoring sanctions in such a way as to obstruct international cooperation with Iran on a number of projects contemplated under the JCPOA that provide Iran opportunities to benefit from nuclear technology in ways not raising proliferation risks,” Chris Ford, assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, said in December in comments that rankled some Iran hawks.

“To accomplish this, the secretary of state waived the imposition of certain sanctions to the extent necessary to enable specified nonproliferation activities involving Iran,” Ford explained.



Christchurch mosques shooting: 49 killed in New Zealand attacks

At least 49 people have been killed and 20 seriously injured after mass shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch Friday, in a carefully planned and unprecedented attack that has shocked the usually peaceful nation.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, called the incident a terrorist attack in a Friday press conference, saying the suspects held “extremist views” that have no place in New Zealand or the world.



Putin threatens to target the US if it deploys new missiles in European nations

President Vladimir Putin warned of a resolute response if the U.S. decides to station missiles in neighboring countries to Russia.

Putin, at his annual address to parliament on Wednesday, said his country would not seek confrontation and would not take the first step in deploying missiles after the suspension of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

However, he said Russia would respond to any deployment of new intermediate-range missiles in Europe by targeting the United States itself and not just the countries were they were held, according to a Reuters translation. He said he would field new weapons that would target U.S. decision-making centers.

He warned U.S. policymakers, some of whom he said were obsessed with U.S. exceptionalism, about being careful before taking new measures.

“It’s their right to think how they want. But can they count? I’m sure they can. Let them count the speed and the range of the weapons systems we are developing,” Putin said to applause, according to Reuters.

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Neuroscientists Say They’ve Found an Entirely New Form of Neural Communication

Scientists think they’ve identified a previously unknown form of neural communication that self-propagates across brain tissue, and can leap wirelessly from neurons in one section of brain tissue to another – even if they’ve been surgically severed.

The discovery offers some radical new insights about the way neurons might be talking to one another, via a mysterious process unrelated to conventionally understood mechanisms, such as synaptic transmission, axonal transport, and gap junction connections.

“We don’t know yet the ‘So what?’ part of this discovery entirely,” says neural and biomedical engineer Dominique Durand from Case Western Reserve University.

“But we do know that this seems to be an entirely new form of communication in the brain, so we are very excited about this.”

Before this, scientists already knew there was more to neural communication than the above-mentioned connections that have been studied in detail, such as synaptic transmission.

For example, researchers have been aware for decades that the brain exhibits slow waves of neural oscillations whose purpose we don’t understand, but which appear in the cortex and hippocampus when we sleep, and so are hypothesised to play a part in memory consolidation.

“The functional relevance of this input‐ and output‐decoupled slow network rhythm remains a mystery,” explains neuroscientist Clayton Dickinson from the University of Alberta, who wasn’t involved in the new research but has discussed it in a perspective article.

“But [it’s] one that will probably be solved by an elucidation of both the cellular and the inter‐cellular mechanisms giving rise to it in the first place.”

To that end, Durand and his team investigated slow periodic activity in vitro, studying the brain waves in hippocampal slices extracted from decapitated mice.

What they found was that slow periodic activity can generate electric fields which in turn activate neighbouring cells, constituting a form of neural communication without chemical synaptic transmission or gap junctions.

“We’ve known about these waves for a long time, but no one knows their exact function and no one believed they could spontaneously propagate,” Durand says.

“I’ve been studying the hippocampus, itself just one small part of the brain, for 40 years and it keeps surprising me.”

This neural activity can actually be modulated – strengthened or blocked – by applying weak electrical fields and could be an analogue form of another cell communication method, called ephaptic coupling.

The team’s most radical finding was that these electrical fields can activate neurons through a complete gap in severed brain tissue, when the two pieces remain in close physical proximity.

“To ensure that the slice was completely cut, the two pieces of tissue were separated and then rejoined while a clear gap was observed under the surgical microscope,” the authors explain in their paper.

“The slow hippocampal periodic activity could indeed generate an event on the other side of a complete cut through the whole slice.”

If you think that sounds freaky, you’re not the only one. The review committee at The Journal of Physiology– in which the research has been published – insisted the experiments be completed again before agreeing to print the study.

Durand et al. dutifully complied, but sound pretty understanding of the cautiousness, all things considered, given the unprecedented weirdness of the observation they’re reporting.

“It was a jaw-dropping moment,” Durand says, “for us and for every scientist we told about this so far.”

“But every experiment we’ve done since to test it has confirmed it so far.”

It’ll take a lot more research to figure out if this bizarre form of neural communication is taking place in human brains – let alone decoding what exact function it performs – but for now, we’ve got new science that’s shocking in all kinds of ways, as Dickson adroitly observes.

“While it remains to be seen if the [findings] are relevant to spontaneous slow rhythms that occur in both cortical and hippocampal tissue in situduring sleep and sleep‐like states,” Dickson writes, “they should probably (and quite literally) electrify the field.”



It Begins: Man Spared Charge For Stabbing Unborn Baby Due To New York Abortion Law

A Queens man who beat and stabbed his pregnant girlfriend and her baby to death was spared abortion charges thanks to New York’s recently-enacted abortion law.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown initially released a statement saying 48-year-old Anthony Hobson would be charged with murder and abortion for the fatal stabbing of his girlfriend Jennifer Irigoyen earlier this month.

“A woman was brutally stabbed — killing her and the unborn child,” Brown said in the statement. “The defendant is alleged to have shown no mercy and no regard for human life when he repeatedly and purposely plunged a knife into this expectant mother’s abdomen, torso and neck.”

But a DA spokesperson later revised the charges, noting that the abortion charge “was repealed by the Legislature, and this is the law as it exists today.”

Authorities believe Hobson was directly targeting the baby because he didn’t want to be a father.

Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the “Reproductive Health Act” into law – to a chorus of applause on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion up to the moment of a full-term delivery.

Additionally, the updated legislation removes the state fetal homicide law from the criminal code.

“As I said in my floor speech, being assaulted (or in this case murdered) and losing your baby is not ‘a woman’s choice,’” said Republican New York Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.



Labor Unions Fear ‘Green New Deal’ a Job Killer

Labor unions say they are withholding support for a Green New Deal unveiled by Democrats last week to transition the American economy away from fossil fuels, arguing the loosely-defined plan could kill jobs if its architects aren’t careful.

The cool response from unions underscores the challenge facing Democratic presidential hopefuls who support aggressive action on climate change but must also win back the blue-collar voters that swept President Donald Trump to victory in 2016.

Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Green New Deal is a non-binding Congressional resolution introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey that would legislate government-led investment in clean energy infrastructure with the goal of making America carbon neutral within a decade.

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