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United States of America

Election 2016: Jeb Bush Got $1.3M Job At Lehman After Florida Shifted Pension Cash To Bank

IBT, By Matthew Cunningham-Cook, David Sirota, and Andrew Perez, August 19

For Florida taxpayers, the move by the administration of then-Gov. Jeb Bush to forge a relationship with Lehman Brothers would ultimately prove disastrous. Transactions in 2005 and 2006 put the Wall Street investment bank in charge of some $250 million worth of pension funds for Florida cops, teachers and firefighters. Lehman would capture more than $5 million in fees on these deals, while gaining additional contracts to manage another $1.2 billion of Florida’s money. Then, in the fall of 2008, Lehman collapsed into bankruptcy, leaving Florida facing up to $1 billion in losses.

But for Jeb Bush personally, his enduring relationship with Lehman would prove lucrative. In 2007, just as he left office, Bush secured a job as a Lehman consultant for $1.3 million a year, Bloomberg reported.

Weeks after Bush took the Lehman job, the Florida State Board of Administration (SBA) — a three-member body that makes investment decisions about state pension funds and whose ranks had recently included one Jeb Bush — gave Lehman additional business: SBA purchased $842 million worth of separate investments in Lehman’s mortgage-backed securities. Over the course of one year from June 2007 to June 2008, the SBA would shift an additional $420 million of pension money into the same fund in which the state had begun investing under Bush.

In short, during Bush’s first year working for Lehman, his former colleagues in Tallahassee, the state capital, moved vast sums of Florida pension money into the doomed Wall Street investment bank, even as warnings about its financial troubles began to emerge.

Heidi Klum hits back at Donald Trump after ‘no longer a 10’ comment

Supermodel posts video shrugging off comments made by Republican presidential frontrunner in the New York Times that her looks were fading.

The Guardian, By Mahita Gajanan, August 18

New York – With not much more than a gasp and a shrug, supermodel Heidi Klum has hit back at Donald Trump after the Republican frontrunner declared her no longer a “10”.

Trump told the New York Times the supermodel’s looks were fading in a discussion about the fact that he sometimes goes “a little bit far”. “Heidi Klum. Sadly, she’s no longer a 10,” the businessman and TV star said.

Klum responded on Monday with a 12-second video posted to her Twitter and Instagram pages.

In the video, Klum poses for a photographer in a cut-off white T-shirt that says “10”. A man in a Trump mask rips off the “10”, revealing “9.99”, and everyone gasps.

Klum looks down, shrugs and smiles, as the video fades to black and #HeidiTrumpsTrump appears on screen.

Klum tweeted seven other hashtags with the video, including #TrumpHasSpoken, #NoLongerA10, #IHadAGoodRun and #BeautyIsInTheEyeOfTheBeheld.

First almost fully-formed human brain grown in lab, researchers claim

The Guardian, By Helen Thomson, August 18

Research team say tiny brain could be used to test drugs and study diseases, but scientific peers urge caution as data on breakthrough kept under wraps.

An almost fully-formed human brain has been grown in a lab for the first time, claim scientists from Ohio State University. The team behind the feat hope the brain could transform our understanding of neurological disease.

Though not conscious the miniature brain, which resembles that of a five-week-old foetus, could potentially be useful for scientists who want to study the progression of developmental diseases. It could also be used to test drugs for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, since the regions they affect are in place during an early stage of brain development.

The brain, which is about the size of a pencil eraser, is engineered from adult human skin cells and is the most complete human brain model yet developed, claimed Rene Anand of Ohio State University, Columbus, who presented the work today at the Military Health System Research Symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Previous attempts at growing whole brains have at best achieved mini-organs that resemble those of nine-week-old foetuses, although these “cerebral organoids” were not complete and only contained certain aspects of the brain. “We have grown the entire brain from the get-go,” said Anand.

St. Louis police use tear gas on demonstrators protesting fatal shooting

CNN, By Ben Brumfield & Dana Ford, August 19

Police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators and made nine arrests Wednesday night in north St. Louis as protests continued over an officer-involved fatal shooting of a young African-American man earlier in the day.

Police said Mansur Ball-Bey, 18, pointed a gun at them before officers opened fire.

Relations have been tense between police and some residents in St. Louis for some time now. And protesters did not appear ready to give police the benefit of a doubt a year after Michael Brown, a black teenager, was shot and killed by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis.

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Washington Post: St. Louis police fatally shoot black man — on anniversary of another deadly officer-involved shooting

On the anniversary of another officer-involved deadly shooting, St. Louis city police shot and killed an armed black man while executing a search warrant on Wednesday, Police Chief Sam Dotson said at a news conference, according to KMOV.

The shooting occurred exactly one year after the shooting death of another black man by police, also on the city’s north side: Kajieme Powell, 25, was shot to death by police officers on Aug. 19, 2014, just 10 days after Michael Brown was shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb.

There was a police killing incident on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s killing, too.

U.S. Official: Saudis Have Used Cluster Bombs in Yemen

Deployment of the weapons comes as the U.S. has taken a more hands-off approach to conflicts in the region.

US News & World Report, By Paul D. Shinkman, August 19

The U.S. knows the Saudi government has employed cluster bombs in its ongoing war against Shiite Muslim rebels in neighboring Yemen, but has done little if anything to stop the use of the indiscriminate and deadly weapons during what has become a human rights catastrophe in one of the Arab world’s poorest countries.

With watchdog groups warning of war crimes and attacks striking civilians in Yemen, the Pentagon declined to comment publicly on whether it has discussed cluster bombs with Saudi Arabia or encouraged its military to cease using them, deferring all such questions to the State Department. But a Pentagon official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, tells U.S. News “the U.S. is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions in Yemen.”

Deferrals by the Pentagon on the topic are nothing new, though the use of the weapons by the Saudis – some of which were reportedly supplied by the U.S. – appears to be only a recent tactic. Former spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters in May the Defense Department was looking into claims the Saudis were using cluster munitions and called on all sides to “comply with international humanitarian law, including the obligation to take all feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians.” Warren’s successor, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, was asked about similar reports in July and did not at that time have any new information.

Multiple groups are fighting in Yemen, but the heart of the conflict lies between forces loyal to U.S.- and Saudi-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled from Yemen to Saudi Arabia earlier this year. They’re fighting against Shiite Houthi rebels aligned with, if not directly backed by, chief Saudi rival Iran. Deposed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has also re-emerged and allied himself with the Houthis.

Via Anti-War: US Confirms Saudis Using Cluster Bombs in Yemen

John Brennan’s Unsent Letter: ‘I Apologize for the Actions of CIA Officers’

New documents obtained by Vice’s Jason Leopold shed light on the actions of the intelligence agency after it was caught spying on its Senate overseers.

The Atlantic, By Conor Friedersdorf, August 13

When the CIA got caught spying on its Senate overseers, John Brennan, its director, at first defended the scandal-prone agency, dismissing the possibility of an act so unthinkable. Later, the CIA admitted breaking into computers being used by Senate intelligence committee staffers as they studied the agency’s brutal torture of prisoners. Two senators called on Brennan to resign. Others demanded a formal apology.

Now, newly released documents reveal that Brennan drafted a formal apology to Senators Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss, co-chairs of the intelligence committee.

“I apologize for the actions of CIA officers,” he wrote.

But Brennan never sent that letter. Instead, he sent a different draft with no apology. Jason Leopold of Vice News reports:

The draft apology letter Brennan wrote to Feinstein and Chambliss are two of more than 300 pages of documents VICE News obtained in response to a joint Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against the CIA with Ryan Shapiro, a historian and doctoral candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. We sued the CIA seeking a wide range of documents related to the allegations that the agency had spied on the Intelligence Committee and hacked into their computer network. While the CIA turned over some records, it also withheld thousands of pages, citing nearly every exemption under FOIA.

Here’s the best part:

After VICE News received the documents, the CIA contacted us and said Brennan’s draft letter had been released by mistake. The agency asked that we refrain from posting it.

AT&T Helped U.S. Spy on Internet on a Vast Scale

AT&T Helped U.S. Spy on Internet on a Vast Scale

The New York Times, By Julia Angwin, Charlie Savage, Jeff Larson, Henrik Moltke, Laura Poitras & James Risen, August 15

The National Security Agency’s ability to spy on vast quantities of Internet traffic passing through the United States has relied on its extraordinary, decades-long partnership with a single company: the telecom giant AT&T.

While it has been long known that American telecommunications companies worked closely with the spy agency, newly disclosed N.S.A. documents show that the relationship with AT&T has been considered unique and especially productive. One document described it as “highly collaborative,” while another lauded the company’s “extreme willingness to help.”

AT&T’s cooperation has involved a broad range of classified activities, according to the documents, which date from 2003 to 2013. AT&T has given the N.S.A. access, through several methods covered under different legal rules, to billions of emails as they have flowed across its domestic networks. It provided technical assistance in carrying out a secret court order permitting the wiretapping of all Internet communications at the United Nations headquarters, a customer of AT&T.

The N.S.A.’s top-secret budget in 2013 for the AT&T partnership was more than twice that of the next-largest such program, according to the documents. The company installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs on American soil, far more than its similarly sized competitor, Verizon. And its engineers were the first to try out new surveillance technologies invented by the eavesdropping agency.

One document reminds N.S.A. officials to be polite when visiting AT&T facilities, noting, “This is a partnership, not a contractual relationship.”

With ProPublica: NSA Spying Relies on AT&T’s ‘Extreme Willingness to Help’
Informed Consent: New Proof: AT&T and NSA’s Long Surveillance Partnership shredded 4th Amendment, By Mark Rumold, EFF
Wired: What We Know About the NSA and AT&T’s Spying Pact

Cuban migration to US rises amid historic thaw in relations

Fears grow that US will end ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy granting legal status to Cubans who reach Florida shores

Al Jazeera, By Ben Piven, August 14

The lines outside the former Swiss-supervised U.S. interests section in Havana were notoriously long for decades, with Cubans applying for a legal path to what they hoped would be a better life.

But since the U.S. diplomatic facility was formally upgraded to an embassy on July 20, the United States and Cuba are perhaps one step closer to modifying an immigration arrangement that affords Cubans special status — whether they arrive stateside legally or not.

Under the Cuban Adjustment Act’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy dating back to 1994 migration accords, any Cuban who reaches the U.S. is permitted to stay in the country.

Although U.S. officials say unique migration laws are not going to be scrapped, the Cuban government is calling for reforms to a policy they argue results in brain drain.

Meanwhile, increasing emigration rates during the last year suggest popular perceptions are that the U.S. will soon make it more difficult for new immigrants to be automatically recognized as political refugees.

Fifteen states seek to block EPA carbon rule

State attorneys general argue the EPA has overstepped its regulatory authority

Al Jazeera, August 13

Fifteen state attorneys general filed a court petition in Washington on Thursday to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules to curb carbon emissions from power plants, in the first of several expected legal challenges to the Obama administration measure.

States from Alabama to West Virginia that oppose the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan filed for the stay in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and asked for a ruling by Sept. 8, one year before states need to submit compliance plans to the EPA.

“This rule is the most far-reaching energy regulation in the nation’s history, and the EPA simply does not have the legal authority to carry it out,” said West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

No-fly list uses ‘predictive assessments’ instead of hard evidence, US admits

In May filing, Justice Department and FBI officials admit stopping US and other citizens from traveling is based on what the government believes they might do.

The Guardian, By Spencer Ackerman, August 10

New York – The Obama administration’s no-fly lists and broader watch-listing system is based on predicting crimes rather than relying on records of demonstrated offenses, the government has been forced to admit in court.

In a little-noticed filing before an Oregon federal judge, the US Justice Department and the FBI conceded that stopping US and other citizens from traveling on airplanes is a matter of “predictive assessments about potential threats”, the government asserted in May.

“By its very nature, identifying individuals who ‘may be a threat to civil aviation or national security’ is a predictive judgment intended to prevent future acts of terrorism in an uncertain context,” Justice Department officials Benjamin C Mizer and Anthony J Coppolino told the court on 28 May.

“Judgments concerning such potential threats to aviation and national security call upon the unique prerogatives of the Executive in assessing such threats.”

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