What is the US National Archives?

When John Carlin started his job at the head of the U.S. National Archives back in June of 1995, he was shocked to learn that government emails were not being preserved.  “They, at that time, did not consider email as a record, and I said, ‘Folks, I may not be an archivist, but those are records,’” says Carlin, who served as archivist for a decade. “By September I was able to go through the process of getting that changed. More and more records now are coming in the archives in the electronic form.”  The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the official records keeper of the United States government. Among the records in its possession are presidential papers and materials, which former president Donald Trump is trying to keep out of the hands of the congressional committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Presidential libraries are part of the National Archives and White House records are kept forever.  “Authentic history is not possible without records that have been kept and preserved so their authenticity is backed up 100 percent,” Carlin says. “Accountability goes forward for a long time and people who work for the White House including the president, him or herself, can and should be held accountable. And, without those records, that cannot be done. Overall, only 1%-3% of all of the materials created by the U.S. government during the course of conducting its business are considered important enough, for legal or historical reasons, to preserve for all time. “The National Archives holds over 15 billion pages of textual records, over 18 million maps, charts and architectural drawings, more than 43 million images, more than 365,000 reels of film and over 110,000 videotapes, to say nothing of the billions of electronic records,” says Meghan Ryan Guthorn, acting deputy chief operating officer of the agency. “We’re focused on openness, cultivating public participation, and strengthening our nation’s democracy through public access to high-value government records. I kind of like to think of the agency like the nation’s filing cabinet.” NARA keeps its holdings in 44 locations across the country, including the iconic National Archives building in Washington. For Carlin, the former archivist, some of the most memorable materials include those related to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.   “I mean, literally, they tore apart the room that JFK died in from the assassination on that day in Dallas. Everything was kept,” Carlin says. “Everything in the … Continue reading “What is the US National Archives?”

US, West Blast Taliban Over Reported ‘Summary Killings’ of Ex-Security Forces

The United States on Saturday led a group of Western nations and allies in condemnation of the Taliban over the “summary killings” of former members of the Afghan security forces, reported by rights groups, and demanded quick investigations. “We are deeply concerned by reports of summary killings and enforced disappearances of former members of the Afghan security forces as documented by Human Rights Watch and others,” read a statement by the United States, the European Union, Australia, Britain, Japan and others, which was released by the State Department. “We underline that the alleged actions constitute serious human rights abuses and contradict the Taliban’s announced amnesty,” the group of nations said, as it called on Afghanistan’s new rulers to ensure the amnesty is enforced and “upheld across the country and throughout their ranks.” Early this week Human Rights Watch released a report that it says documents the summary execution or enforced disappearance of 47 former members of the Afghan National Security Forces, other military personnel, police and intelligence agents “who had surrendered to or were apprehended by Taliban forces” from mid-August through October. “Reported cases must be investigated promptly and in a transparent manner, those responsible must be held accountable, and these steps must be clearly publicized as an immediate deterrent to further killings and disappearances,” the countries, which include Canada, New Zealand, Romania, Ukraine and several European nations, said in their statement. The Taliban took power in Afghanistan in mid-August as the U.S.-backed government in Kabul and the country’s military collapsed. Washington held talks with Taliban officials earlier this week when it urged the hardline Islamist group to provide access to education for women and girls across the country. It also “expressed deep concern regarding allegations of human rights abuses,” a U.S. spokesperson said.  …

Stuck Jet Stream, La Nina Causing Weird Weather

America’s winter wonderland is starting out this season as anything but traditional.  The calendar says December, but for much of the country, temperatures beckon for sandals. Umbrellas, if not arks, are needed in the Pacific Northwest, while snow shovels are gathering cobwebs in the Rockies.  Meteorologists attribute the latest batch of record-shattering weather extremes to a stuck jet stream and the effects of a La Nina weather pattern from cooling waters in the equatorial Pacific. It’s still fall astronomically, but winter starts December 1 for meteorologists. This year, no one told the weather that.  On Thursday, 65 weather stations across the nation set record high temperature marks for December 2, including Springfield, Missouri, hitting 24 Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) and Roanoke, Virginia, 22 Celsius (72 degrees Fahrenheit). Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Billings, Montana, broke long-time high-temperature records by 6 degrees.  Parts of Canada and Montana have seen their highest December temperatures in recorded history. On Friday, parts of South Carolina and Georgia hit record highs.  In Washington state, Seattle, Bellingham and Quillayute all set 90-day fall records for rainfall. Bellingham was doused by nearly 60 centimeters (nearly 24 inches) of rain. The Olympic and Cascade mountains got hit harder, with more than 127 centimeters (50 inches) in three months, according to the National Weather Service. Forks, Washington, received more rain in 90 days than Las Vegas gets in 13 years. On top of that, there is a blizzard warning on Hawaii’s Big Island summits with up to 30.5 centimeters (12 inches) of snow expected and wind gusts of more than 161 kilometers per hour (100 miles per hour).  Meantime, snow has gone missing in Colorado. Before this year, the latest first measurable snowfall on record in Denver was November 21, in 1934. There’s a slight possibility of snow Monday night, according to the weather service. Yet, with no snow since April 22, this is the third-longest stretch the city has gone without it. Stationary stream One big factor: The jet stream — the river of air that moves weather from west to east on a roller coaster-like path — has just been stuck. That means low pressure on one part of the stream is bringing rain to the Pacific Northwest, while high pressure hovering over about two-thirds of the nation produces dry and warmer weather, said Brian Hurley, a senior meteorologist at the weather service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, … Continue reading “Stuck Jet Stream, La Nina Causing Weird Weather”

CNN Fires Chris Cuomo for Helping Brother Deal With Scandal

CNN has fired anchor Chris Cuomo after details emerged about how he assisted his brother, former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, as the politician faced sexual harassment allegations earlier this year.  The network suspended Chris Cuomo earlier in the week to investigate his involvement with his brother’s defense.  “We have retained a respected law firm to conduct the review, and have terminated him, effective immediately,” CNN said in a statement. “While in the process of that review, additional information has come to light. Despite the termination, we will investigate as appropriate.”  The network did not immediately release additional details.  Chris Cuomo said on Twitter that he was proud of the work he did at the network.  “This is not how I want my time at CNN to end but I have already told you why and how I helped my brother. So let me now say as disappointing as this is, I could not be more proud of the team at Cuomo Prime Time and the work we did as CNN’s #1 show in the most competitive time slot,” he said.  As women came forward accusing former Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment, his brother, despite being a CNN anchor, pressed sources for information on the accusers and reported back to the governor’s staff on what he was learning.  He was active in helping craft their response to the charges, according to emails and a transcript of his testimony to investigators working for state Attorney General Letitia James. Her office found Andrew Cuomo had sexually harassed at least 11 women.  Chris Cuomo previously acknowledged talking to his brother and offering advice when the governor faced harassment charges. But more detail has emerged about the help he gave. Andrew Cuomo resigned in August to avoid a likely impeachment trial. …

US Official Accuses Iran of Reneging on Nuclear Compromises

A senior U.S. State Department official on Saturday accused Iran of reneging on the compromises it made in the last round of talks to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement and making more demands in its most recent proposals. “We can’t accept a situation in which Iran accelerates its nuclear program and slow-walks its nuclear diplomacy,” the official said, speaking on background. The official said that the U.S. remained committed to the talks in Vienna but that Iranian negotiators “are going to have to change the posture that they take.” “They are not going to get a better JCPOA deal out of these talks,” the official predicted, referring to the 2015 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The State Department official’s assessment of the negotiations came one day after diplomats negotiating to revive the deal that curbed the Iranian nuclear program paused the talks until next week, with officials from the United States and Europe criticizing Iran for a lack of progress. “What we’ve seen in the last couple of days is that Iran right now does not seem to be serious about doing what’s necessary to return to compliance, which is why we ended this round of talks in Vienna,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday, addressing a virtual conference of world leaders organized by the Reuters news agency. “If the path to a return to compliance with the agreement turns out to be a dead end, we will pursue other options,” he added, without elaborating. Earlier progress A U.S. State Department spokesman said Friday on background that earlier rounds of negotiations with Iran “made progress, finding creative compromise solutions to many of the hardest issues that were difficult for all sides.” But, he said, “Iran’s approach this week was not, unfortunately, to try to resolve the remaining issues.” European officials also expressed frustration with Iran over the talks. A statement Friday from senior officials from France, Britain and Germany — the three European powers acting as mediators in the nuclear talks — said, “This week, [Iran] has backtracked on diplomatic progress made.” The United States and Iran resumed indirect negotiations in Vienna on Monday, with the mediators seeking to bring both sides back into compliance with the 2015 JCPOA deal. U.S. and Iranian negotiators previously held six inconclusive rounds of indirect talks in Vienna from April to June, when Iran suspended the negotiations ahead of … Continue reading “US Official Accuses Iran of Reneging on Nuclear Compromises”

Explainer: How Unusual to Charge Parents in School Shooting?

Guns used in U.S. school shootings have often come from the homes of young perpetrators, but parents are rarely charged for the violence that occurs, experts say. That’s what makes the case against Ethan Crumbley’s parents uncommon, following the fatal shooting of four students at Oxford High School in southeastern Michigan. Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said Jennifer and James Crumbley ignored opportunities to intervene, just a few hours before the bloodshed. Jennifer and James Crumbley are charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, while their son, Ethan Crumbley, 15, is charged as an adult with murder, terrorism and other crimes.  The Crumbley parents, who were taken into custody early Saturday, and their lawyers haven’t commented on the shooting or the charges. Here’s a look at the issues facing the parents: What do we know about the gun? The semi-automatic handgun used in the shooting Tuesday was purchased by James Crumbley on November 26 while his son stood by at the shop, according to investigators. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, Jennifer Crumbley referred to it on social media as a “Christmas present” for her son, and Ethan posted a picture of it on social media, calling it his “new beauty,” McDonald said. With some very limited exceptions, minors in Michigan aren’t allowed to possess guns. But there is no Michigan law that requires owners to keep guns locked away from kids. “So many states do. There’s 23 states plus Washington, D.C., that have some form of a secure storage law,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said. Will involuntary manslaughter be tough to prove? “It’s an unusual charge to bring,” said Eve Brensike Primus, who teaches criminal procedure at University of Michigan law school. Police said Ethan Crumbley emerged from a bathroom and started shooting other students in the hallway at Oxford High. A few hours earlier, he and his parents had met with school officials. A teacher had found a drawing on his desk with a gun pointing at the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” according to the prosecutor. Ethan Crumbley, who had no disciplinary record, was told to get counseling but was allowed to stay in school. His backpack was not checked for a weapon, McDonald said. Primus said authorities must show gross negligence by the parents and causation, or the act of causing something.  “The prosecutor is going to need facts to support the argument that these … Continue reading “Explainer: How Unusual to Charge Parents in School Shooting?”

US Not Panicking Over China’s Newfound Military Might

Top U.S. defense officials admit recent Chinese military advancements, including the test of a hypersonic weapon system, are reason to worry, only the secretary of defense says if Beijing was hoping to intimidate or scare the U.S., that is not happening. “America isn’t a country that fears competition,” Lloyd Austin is set to tell government officials and defense companies in a speech later Saturday at the Regan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California. “We’re facing a formidable challenge,” he says in prepared remarks. “And we’re going to meet this one with confidence and resolve—not panic and pessimism.” Top U.S. military officials have repeatedly raised concerns for months, warning Beijing is “closing the gap” as it aims to surpass the United States as the world’s preeminent military power in the coming decade. Washington’s senior-most military officer, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went as far as to compare China’s hypersonic test this past July to Russia’s launch of the world’s first artificial satellite in the 1950s, which sparked the space race that dominated the next several decades. “I don’t know if it’s quite a Sputnik moment, but I think it’s very close to that,” Milley told Bloomberg Television last month. “It has all of our attention.” A Pentagon report released last month on China’s military power concluded that Beijing is “increasingly willing to confront the United States and other countries in areas where interest diverge,” and warned that China is likely to have at least 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030. Only Defense Secretary Austin, just back from a trip to Seoul where he met with his South Korean counterpart, has been seeking to lessen the anxiety that has been growing in Washington and elsewhere. During a joint news conference with South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook this past Wednesday, Austin called China’s hypersonic test “a capability but certainly not the only capability.” “We have concerns,” he said, adding, “My job is to focus on the broader picture.” In prepared remarks Saturday, Austin says the U.S. “has been stepping up its efforts” to counter China’s rise as a military power, looking to pour more money into research and development, and testing, of new systems that will allow the U.S. to be more lethal from afar. He also says money is being spent on drone and stealth technologies, and efforts are being made to make sure existing … Continue reading “US Not Panicking Over China’s Newfound Military Might”

Fugitive Parents of US Teen Accused in Deadly School Shooting Arrested

Police in the Midwestern U.S. state of Michigan say they have arrested the parents of a teenager charged with four counts of first-degree murder in a shooting Tuesday at his high school. Jennifer and James Crumbley were arrested early Saturday in Detroit, according to police. A prosecutor had filed involuntary manslaughter charges against the parents in connection with the deaths. The parents, however, failed to appear in court Friday, causing police to issue a fugitive warrant for the couple who were charged with four counts of manslaughter for ignoring warning signs ahead of the school shooting and giving their son access to a gun. The couple’s lawyer, Shannon Smith, told authorities they left town earlier in the week for their own safety, according to the Associated Press. U.S. marshals had issued wanted posters for the parents, offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the couple’s arrest. The Crumbleys were charged three days after their 15-year-old son, Ethan, allegedly opened fire at Oxford High School in the town of Oxford, Michigan, killing four students and wounding seven other people. Karen McDonald, the chief prosecutor in Oakland County, Michigan, said in an interview with WJR-AM radio in Detroit, Michigan that the Crumbleys’ actions prior to the killings went “far beyond negligence.” Prosecutors said Ethan Crumbley had displayed several warning signs before the school shooting, including drawing a picture of a handgun and a bleeding figure with the words “Blood everywhere” and “The thoughts won’t stop — help me” written on the sheet. They also said a teacher had seen the teenager searching online for ammunition on his phone and alerted school officials. James and Jennifer Crumbley were summoned to the school a few hours before the shooting but “resisted” the idea of taking their son home from school, according to McDonald.   Parents in the U.S. are seldom charged in school shootings involving their children, experts say. If convicted, the Crumbleys could face up to 15 years in prison. Ethan Crumbley has been charged as an adult with two dozen crimes, including first-degree murder and terrorism, for allegedly killing the students with a semiautomatic gun that investigators said Crumbley’s father had bought legally last week. Michigan law does not require gun owners to keep weapons locked away from children. Tuesday’s attack was the deadliest shooting in a U.S. school this year, according to Education Week. It was also the latest in … Continue reading “Fugitive Parents of US Teen Accused in Deadly School Shooting Arrested”

Where’s the Snow? US Rockies Winter Starts With a Whimper

Denver’s winter has started with a whimper, and the parched mountains to the west aren’t faring much better. The Mile High City has already shattered its 87-year-old record for the latest measurable snowfall set on Nov. 21, 1934, and it’s a little more than a week away from breaking an 1887 record of 235 consecutive days without snow. The scenario is playing out across much of the Rocky Mountains, as far north as Montana and in the broader Western United States, which is experiencing a megadrought that studies link to human-caused climate change. It’s only the second time since 1976 that Salt Lake City has gone snowless through November, and amid the unseasonably warm weather in Montana, a late-season wildfire fueled by strong winds ripped through a tiny central Montana farming town this week. The warm and dry weather has drawn crowds to restaurant and bar patios in Denver, and the city’s parks and trails have been bustling with people basking in the sunshine in shorts, short sleeves and occasionally flip-flops. As enjoyable as the weather is, climate scientists and meteorologists are warning that prolonged drought could threaten the region’s water supply and agriculture industry. It also could hurt tourism, which relies heavily on skiers, snowboarders, rafters and anglers. “Every day that goes by that we don’t see precipitation show up and we see this year-to-year persistence of drought conditions, it just adds to a deficit. And we continue to add to this deficit year after year, particularly in the Colorado River Basin,” said Keith Musselman, a hydrologist at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Derek Greenough moved to Denver a few months ago and immediately bought a snowboard with the hope of soon hitting the slopes. But on Wednesday, he was enjoying the warm weather in a city park. “I’m from central New York so I expected it to be somewhat like there, which they have about 5 feet (1.5 meters) of snow right now,” said Greenough, 27, who was wearing a tank top and exercise shorts. “Today, I figured that on the first day of December it would be snowing, at least something, but here we are. It’s a nice day. … I don’t think I’ll be snowboarding anytime soon.” Denver’s high Wednesday hit 23 degrees Celsius, tying the record set in 1973. The National Weather Service is predicting similar conditions over the weekend with only a slight chance of … Continue reading “Where’s the Snow? US Rockies Winter Starts With a Whimper”

US State Department Phones Hacked With Israeli Company Spyware, Sources Say

Apple Inc. iPhones of at least nine U.S. State Department employees were hacked by an unknown assailant using sophisticated spyware developed by the Israel-based NSO Group, according to four people familiar with the matter. The hacks, which took place in the last several months, hit U.S. officials either based in Uganda or focused on matters concerning the East African country, two of the sources said. The intrusions, first reported here, represent the widest known hacks of U.S. officials through NSO technology. Previously, a list of numbers with potential targets including some American officials surfaced in reporting on NSO, but it was not clear whether intrusions were always tried or succeeded. Reuters could not determine who launched the latest cyberattacks. NSO Group said in a statement Thursday that it did not have any indication their tools were used but canceled access for the relevant customers and would investigate based on the Reuters inquiry. “If our investigation shall show these actions indeed happened with NSO’s tools, such customer will be terminated permanently and legal actions will take place,” said an NSO spokesperson, who added that NSO will also “cooperate with any relevant government authority and present the full information we will have.” NSO has long said it only sells its products to government law enforcement and intelligence clients, helping them to monitor security threats, and is not directly involved in surveillance operations. Officials at the Uganda Embassy in Washington did not comment. A spokesperson for Apple declined to comment. A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the intrusions, instead pointing to the Commerce Department’s recent decision to place the Israeli company on an entity list, making it harder for U.S. companies to do business with them. NSO Group and another spyware firm were “added to the Entity List based on a determination that they developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used this tool to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers,” the Commerce Department said in an announcement last month. Easily identifiable NSO software is capable of not only capturing encrypted messages, photos and other sensitive information from infected phones, but also turning them into recording devices to monitor surroundings, based on product manuals reviewed by Reuters. Apple’s alert to affected users did not name the creator of the spyware used in this hack. The victims notified by Apple included American citizens and were easily … Continue reading “US State Department Phones Hacked With Israeli Company Spyware, Sources Say”

UN Recap: November 28-December 3, 2021

Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch. Omicron travel bans  U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday that South Africa and seven nations surrounding it were being collectively punished for having been transparent about detecting and reporting infections from a new COVID-19 variant called omicron.  UN Chief Denounces COVID ‘Travel Apartheid’ Against Southern Africa Humanitarian crises The United Nations appealed Thursday for a record $41 billion to help 183 million of the world’s most vulnerable people suffering from multiple crises, including poverty, hunger, conflict and the impact of COVID-19. COVID, Conflicts Prompt UN to Make Record Appeal for Humanitarian Aid  Afghanistan, Myanmar representation  The nine countries who currently sit on the U.N. General Assembly committee that approves credentials for representatives at the world body decided Wednesday to postpone any action on competing claims for representatives for the Afghan and Myanmar seats. On December 6, the wider General Assembly is expected to approve their decision to let the current envoys stay put for now.  UN Committee: No Change for Now in Afghanistan, Myanmar Envoys  In brief — Humanitarian assistance has started to trickle into northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The U.N. said Friday that from November 24 to November 30, four convoys with 157 trucks loaded with humanitarian supplies arrived in the regional capital, Mekelle. They were the first deliveries since October 18. Fuel shortages continue to hamper the aid response. The U.N. says no fuel has reached the region since August 2. More than 5.2 million people in Tigray are in urgent need of assistance after months of a de facto government blockade on the region. — On Thursday, U.N. headquarters went on lockdown briefly as a man with a shotgun loaded with a single round of ammunition held to his chin caused a three-hour standoff with New York City police outside the gate. Later identified as William Tingler, 65, of Florida, he eventually surrendered peacefully to police when they agreed to take documents he wanted delivered to the United Nations. He was taken to an area hospital for psychiatric evaluation. Quote of note “Our concern is for a cease-fire. That absolutely must happen. Humanitarian aid needs to reach all those that have suffered from this conflict, and we absolutely need to resolve these problems through political discussions and through dialogue.” — Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African … Continue reading “UN Recap: November 28-December 3, 2021”

Parents of US Teen Accused in Deadly School Shooting Charged with Involuntary Manslaughter

The parents of the teenager who allegedly shot and killed four students at a U.S. high school have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the deaths.  Karen McDonald, the chief prosecutor in Oakland County, Michigan, charged Jennifer and James Crumbley on Friday with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, declaring their actions prior to the killings went “far beyond negligence.”  The Crumbleys were charged three days after their 15-year-old son, Ethan, allegedly opened fire at Oxford High School in the Midwestern town of Oxford, Michigan, killing four students and wounding seven other people.  Experts say parents in the U.S. are seldom charged in school shootings involving their children. If convicted, the Crumbleys could face up to 15 years in prison.  Ethan Crumbley has been charged as an adult with two dozen crimes, including murder and terrorism, for allegedly killing the students with a semi-automatic gun that investigators said was legally bought by his father last week.  Michigan law does not require gun owners to keep weapons locked away from children, but McDonald said that is no excuse.  “All I can say at this point is those actions on mom and dad’s behalf go far beyond negligence,” she in an interview with WJR-AM radio in Detroit, Michigan.  Tuesday’s attack was the deadliest shooting in a U.S. school this year, according to Education Week. It was also the latest in a long series of mass shootings at U.S. schools that spans decades. Information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.    …

US November Job Gains Fall Short of Expectations

U.S. employers added only 210,000 jobs in November, the Labor Department reported Friday, dampening hopes the economy is rebounding from a summer slowdown sparked by the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus and supply chain disruptions. Millions of Americans laid off during the pandemic-induced recession remained without work last month despite employers offering higher wages, expiring unemployment benefits and schools reopening. This has fueled questions among economists about whether some people are willing to reenter the workforce during the ongoing pandemic. The report fell far short of expectations of about 550,000 new jobs last month, according to economists polled by Reuters. Last month’s 210,000 new jobs were also far fewer than the 546,000 jobs added in October and the year’s monthly average of 555,000. There were 194,000 new hires in September. The unemployment rate in November fell to 4.2% from 4.6% the month before, inching closer to the pre-pandemic rate of 3.5 percent, the lowest rate in more than 50 years. “Our economy is markedly stronger than it was a year ago and today the incredible news (is) that our unemployment rate has fallen to 4.2%. At this point in the year, we’re looking at the sharpest one-year decline in unemployment ever. Simply put, America is back to work,” U.S. President Joe Biden said at the White House Friday. “The unemployment rate has now fallen by more than two percentage points since I took office,” Biden added. “That’s the fastest decline in a single year on record.”   November’s modest job gains and the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19 could weaken expectations for stronger economic growth in the fourth quarter. The economy is currently expected to grow at a 7% annual rate in the fourth quarter, a strong rebound from the 2.1% pace in the third quarter, when the delta variant stymied growth. While little is known about the omicron variant, some slowdown in hiring is likely, considering the delta variant triggered the slowest pace of economic growth in more than a year last quarter. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters. …

Facebook’s Struggle with Disinfo and the Gateway Pundit

The Gateway Pundit, a far-right news site, has used its Facebook page – with more than 630,000 followers – to post bogus stories alleging the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. Some commenters responded with threats of violence. After Gateway Pundit posted a June story on Facebook that included debunked claims of voter fraud in Arizona, a commenter said the governor and secretary of state should be “fed feet first through a woodchipper.” A story featuring false claims of vote-rigging in Fulton County, Georgia, drew comments on Facebook calling for an election worker to be hanged or “shot for treason.” For years, Facebook has imposed sanctions on Gateway Pundit’s account to limit the spread of its misinformation. But Gateway Pundit still uses its Facebook page to amplify its reporting and raise money: The page features a prominent appeal asking readers to buy subscriptions to support its “battle for survival.” Gateway Pundit’s continuing presence on Facebook illustrates the platform’s worldwide struggle to stop the spread of disinformation and to balance content-policing with free-speech concerns. Facebook has taken a barrage of criticism this year from critics and a company whistleblower who say its practices stoke anger and division to increase user engagement. In a statement to Reuters, Facebook said it seeks to label misinformation and “reduce its spread,” using fact checkers and artificial intelligence to identify false or misleading material and warning readers who try to share it. Facebook said repeat offenders, such as the Gateway Pundit, are subject to tougher sanctions, including having their posts pushed to the bottom of users’ news feeds (the lists of posts they see), and being barred from Facebook’s content-promotion services. But Facebook almost never removes the offending posts or shuts down the pages – that happens only in rare circumstances, such as posts pushing COVID misinformation, the company says. Sites that directly threaten violence also may be shut down, but account holders are not held responsible for comments on their pages. Twitter has taken a more aggressive approach with Gateway Pundit, permanently suspending the @gatewaypundit account of Jim Hoft, the site’s founder and editor, as well as the account of his twin brother, Joe Hoft, a writer. Jim Hoft declined a request for comment; Joe Hoft did not respond to comment requests. Facebook and Twitter both have been blasted by right-leaning politicians for what they call censorship of conservative voices. Jim Hoft … Continue reading “Facebook’s Struggle with Disinfo and the Gateway Pundit”

US Says it Will Determine Quickly if Iran is Serious in Nuclear Talks

U.S. officials are increasing pressure on Iran to make progress in reviving a 2015 deal that curbed the Iranian nuclear program, saying they will determine within days if Tehran is serious about negotiations with world powers in Vienna. “We’re going to know very, very quickly, I think in the next day or two, whether Iran is serious or not,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday, speaking to reporters before leaving Stockholm. Some analysts said Iran may deflect such pressure by using negotiating tactics to try to prolong the talks, which are aimed at reviving the 2015 deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The United States and Iran resumed indirect negotiations in Vienna on Monday, with other countries acting as mediators and seeking to bring both sides back into compliance with the JCPOA. U.S. and Iranian negotiators previously held five inconclusive rounds of indirect talks in Vienna from April to June, when Iran suspended the negotiations ahead of its presidential election that month. Under the JCPOA, Iran promised it would curb nuclear activities that could be weaponized in return for international sanctions relief. Tehran denies seeking nuclear weapons. The prior U.S. administration of former President Donald Trump quit the JCPOA in 2018, saying it was not tough enough on Iran, and reimposed U.S. sanctions. Iran retaliated a year later by starting to publicly exceed JCPOA limits on its nuclear activities. Trump’s successor, President Joe Biden, has said he wants to honor the deal again if Iran does the same. The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Iran’s latest breach of JCPOA limits on Wednesday, saying it has begun using advanced centrifuges at its underground nuclear facility in Fordo to enrich uranium up to 20% purity, a short step away from weapons-grade levels. Israel, a key U.S. ally whose destruction Iran has vowed to pursue, reacted to that news with alarm. The Israeli government said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke by phone with Blinken on Thursday and accused Tehran of using its Fordo advances as “nuclear blackmail” in the JCPOA talks. It said Bennett urged the United States and other world powers to respond by stopping the negotiations immediately. Blinken made his comment about determining the Iranian negotiators’ seriousness in “the next day or two” as he responded to a reporter asking what he thought of Bennett’s appeal. “We will not accept the status quo of Iran building … Continue reading “US Says it Will Determine Quickly if Iran is Serious in Nuclear Talks”

China Gives Long-Awaited Approval to Boeing 737 MAX After Crashes

Chinese authorities have approved the Boeing 737 MAX to resume service after making a series of safety adjustments, removing a major uncertainty surrounding the American aviation giant’s comeback after a lengthy slump. A directive from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) deeming the model “airworthy” sets the stage for the jet to return to airline schedules in the country next year, following months of negotiations between Beijing and Boeing. Shares of Boeing rocketed after the decision, which also clears the way for it to deliver more than 100 MAX aircraft to Chinese carriers that were produced during the more than two years the plane was grounded in China following two deadly crashes. The CAAC said in a further statement Friday that it expects “commercial operation of the existing domestic fleet will be resumed progressively at the end of this year or early next year.” News of the decision had initially emerged on Thursday, when AFP saw a government directive showing China was giving the green light to the 737 MAX after taking “corrective actions.” The CAAC statement on Friday confirmed the decision. The CAAC’s move also confirms a place for the US plane maker in the country — an essential growth market in aviation — despite persistent trade and political tensions between Washington and Beijing. “This will give Boeing the assurance to begin to ramp plane production back up,” said Michel Merluzeau, an analyst at AIR consultancy, adding that the action amounts to the “light at the end of the tunnel” for the MAX. Protracted process China is the last major travel market to bring the MAX back into use after it was grounded globally in March 2019 following two crashes that together claimed 346 lives. Investigators said a main cause of both tragedies was a faulty flight handling system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). Boeing won approval from the United States in November 2020 and from most other leading aviation authorities soon after to resume service. But the process was far more protracted in China, with the CAAC only conducting a test flight of the model in the third quarter of this year. Analysts said delays may have been a consequence of tensions with Washington. But on Thursday, Chinese authorities gave the green light after requiring upgrades to planes, including installing new software programs to address the defect and updating the flight manual. “After conducting … Continue reading “China Gives Long-Awaited Approval to Boeing 737 MAX After Crashes”