White House Focuses Ire on Intelligence Leaks 

The White House is blaming intelligence officials who leaked information about an alleged Russian bounty program in Afghanistan for potentially blowing almost any chance of coming to a consensus on whether the threat was real. Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Tuesday criticized “rogue intelligence officers” for putting the lives of U.S. troops in danger, while defending the decision not to brief President Donald Trump on what she described as unverified intelligence. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks to the press on June 30, 2020, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington.McEnany also used her opening comments to berate The New York Times, which first broke the story about allegations Russia offered bounties to Taliban fighters to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan. “There is no good scenario as a result of this,” she told reporters. “Who’s going to want to cooperate with the United States intelligence community? Who’s going to want to be a source or an asset if they know that their identity could be disclosed?” McEnany further warned that the leaks, and the attention being given to the unproven allegations, is also weakening the country as a whole. “This level of controversy and discord plays directly into the hands of Russia, and unfortunately, serves their interests,” she said. The comments came as lawmakers and Trump’s likely opponent in November’s presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden, spent the day sounding off on new White House briefings as new details on the intelligence continued to emerge. Media outlets, including The New York Times and CNN, reported some of the information on the alleged Russian plot had been included in the Presidential Daily Brief, a daily summary of the top intelligence issues, in late February. Other reports suggest Trump was given written information about the matter earlier this year. Reporters sit socially-distanced as Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Alexis Dupont High School in Wilmington, Del., June 30, 2020.“The idea that somehow he didn’t know or isn’t being briefed, it is a dereliction of duty if that is the case,” Biden said, while taking questions from reporters after a speech in Wilmington, Delaware. Americans should “conclude that this man isn’t fit to be president of the United States of America,” he added. Other top Democrats also voiced frustration following briefings at the White House with Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. “Very concerning to me was that their initial response was that they just wanted to make sure we knew that the president didn’t know anything,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman, Rep. Adam Smith, told reporters. “That’s actually not normal.” “Based on what we heard today, it was information that (a), the president should have known about and (b), based on what we were told today, he did,” Smith added.  Other senior Democratic lawmakers also expressed concerns about the administration’s handling of the intelligence and specifically, its inclination to downplay the possible consequences. “Nothing in the briefing that we have just received led me to believe it is a hoax,” said House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer. Other Democrats said they were more concerned about what happens next. Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) talks to reporters on April 21, 2020 in Washington.”Instead of dithering about what he knew, what he didn’t know, he should have a plan,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. “And above all, go after (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.” Despite the criticism, the White House and some Republican lawmakers insisted the handling of intelligence suggesting Russian agents were offering to pay for the deaths of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan was handled properly. “What is briefed to the president is when there’s a strategic decision to be made,” McEnany said. “In this case, it was not briefed to the president. … It was not credible.” Sen. Jim Inhofe, the Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, agreed. “There’s some confusion as far as our own intelligence, and it just didn’t rise to the level of the president at that time,” he said. “Our intelligence agencies aren’t in complete agreement on this, even now.” Earlier today I received a briefing from the White House’s National Security Advisor, Chief of Staff, and the DNI regarding the New York Times article claiming Russia offered bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops and that President Trump was briefed on these matters.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) June 30, 2020In a statement late Monday, the top Defense Department spokesman said that while officials there were aware of the intelligence, the Pentagon “has no corroborating evidence” to back up the initial intelligence reports. UPDATE: @ChiefPentSpox statement from 11:26pm Monday on alleged #Russia|n bounties for US,coalition forces in #Afghanistan@DeptofDefense “continues to evaluate intelligence that Russian GRU operatives were engaged in malign activity …To date DoD has no corroborating evidence” pic.twitter.com/tbSSUOXLLY
— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) June 30, 2020Still, the Pentagon said it took additional precautions to protect troops. Other top intelligence officials also suggested the unverified intelligence was shared across the U.S. intelligence community and with allies whose troops were potentially at risk. MORE: @CIA “will continue to pursue every lead; analyze the information we collect with critical, objective eyes; and brief reliable intelligence to protect US forces deployed around the world” per Haspel
— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) June 30, 2020Additional media reports say intelligence about the alleged plot had been sent to the White House last year and focused on an April 2019 car bombing that killed three Marines. Some officials say Trump often does not read his daily briefing and instead prefers oral briefings several times a week. McEnany said Trump has now been briefed on “what’s unfortunately in the public domain.” “The president does read, and he also consumes intelligence verbally,” she added. “This president, I will tell you, is the most informed person on planet Earth when it comes to the threats that we face.” Katherine Gypson and Steve Herman contributed to this report.

your ad here

read more

While COVID-19 Rages, Don’t Forget About Pandemic Flu

Don’t panic, but there is another virus out there that could cause a pandemic.  This one is an influenza strain circulating in pigs and their caretakers in China.  It is not currently causing widespread illness, and it may never do so. But it has “all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,” according to the authors of a new study in the FILE – A patient receives a flu vaccination in Mesquite, Texas, January 23, 2020.‘Good news, bad news’ “There’s good news and bad here,” Pavia said. “I think the bad news is that once again, it looks as if we’re identifying strains of flu that are emerging in populations with the potential to jump to humans.”However, only a handful of serious cases have been reported.”The severity remains low. That’s good news,” Pavia said, adding, “there’s no guarantee that it’s going to stay that way.”Other factors also must change before alarm bells really go off, experts note.”What is really important for influenza pandemic emergence, as well as for any viral pandemic emergence, is sustained airborne transmission,” said University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine microbiologist and molecular geneticist Seema Lakdawala, who was not part of the research team.While a few people are getting infected, she said there is no sign now of sustained transmission.Food animals are a common source of new flu viruses. Birds, pigs and humans can all exchange flu strains. Pigs are especially welcoming environments for influenza viruses to reinvent themselves. Multiple strains can infect one animal, swap genes and emerge as a novel strain.Unpredictable There is no telling when the right combination of genes will fall into place and produce a virulent, transmissible virus.A lethal strain called H5N1 first appeared in poultry in Hong Kong in 1997 and resurfaced in 2003. It kills more than half the people it infects. But for reasons scientists do not understand, it has not gone pandemic.”It’s still a concern. It has caused hundreds of deaths,” said senior scholar Gigi Gronvall at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, who was not involved with the research. “But for whatever reason, even though all eyes were on that, it was this other virus that took off in 2009.” FILE – Researchers of the Veterinary Institute under the Academy of Agricultural Research check on African Swine Flu at Ryongsong District in Pyongyang, North Korea, June 10, 2019.That year, H1N1 emerged from pigs and sparked a pandemic. Researchers estimate that nearly 300,000 people died from it in the first year. Since then, health officials have increased efforts to monitor livestock farms and markets for new viruses.”There’s been a big improvement, but it’s far from complete,” Pavia said. “The challenge is enormous. Influenza circulates among ducks, turkeys, swine – not to mention there are strains that infect everything from horses to dogs. And tracking all of these is an enormous task.”The effort is understaffed and underfunded, “like so many things in public health,” he said.And that’s dangerous. “We’ve seen the consequences of inadequate public health surveillance in the emergence and failure to control COVID-19,” Pavia noted. Flu tools Unlike COVID-19, health experts have tools against influenza that might help if the new strain were to launch a new pandemic.  “We know how to test for influenza viruses,” Lakdawala said. Flu antivirals are only partly effective, “but we do at least have antivirals that can limit the severity of disease. We have a number of them. We also have a vaccine platform that is already approved and safe.”  A vaccine could be available in a matter of months.  But there is no way to know whether the newly identified strain will spark a pandemic.”The more you study flu, the more you realize we just don’t know how to predict that,” Pavia said.  

your ad here

read more

Facebook Bans Violent ‘Boogaloo’ Groups, Not the Term Itself

Facebook has banned an extremist anti-government network loosely associated with the broader “boogaloo” movement, a slang term supporters use to refer to a second Civil War or a collapse of civilization. But the platform didn’t try to name the group, underscoring the difficulty of grappling with an amorphous network linked to a string of domestic terror plots that appears to obfuscate its existence. Among other complications, its internet-savvy members tend to keep their distance from one another, frequently change their symbols and catch phrases and mask their intentions with sarcasm. The move by Facebook designates this group as a dangerous organization similar to the Islamic State group and white supremacists, both of which are already banned from its service. The social network is not banning all references to “boogaloo” and said it is only removing groups, accounts and pages when they have a “clear connection to violence or a credible threat to public safety.”  The loose movement is named after “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo,” a 1984 sequel to a movie about breakdancing. Boogaloo supporters have shown up at protests over COVID-19 lockdown orders, carrying rifles and wearing tactical gear over Hawaiian shirts – a reference to “big luau,” a homophone for “boogaloo” sometimes favored by group members. Facebook said that the movement dates to 2012 and that it has been tracking it closely since last year.  FILE – Steven Carrillo is seen in a booking photo from the Santa Cruz County (California) Sheriff’s Office, June 7, 2020.Earlier in June, Steven Carrillo, an Air Force sergeant with ties to the boogaloo movement, fatally shot a federal security officer and wounded his partner outside a U.S. courthouse, ambushed and killed a California sheriff’s deputy, and injured four other officers in Oakland, California. According to the criminal complaint, Carrillo posted in a Facebook group, “It’s on our coast now, this needs to be nationwide. It’s a great opportunity to target the specialty soup bois. Keep that energy going.”  The statement was followed by two fire emojis and a link to a YouTube video showing a large crowd attacking two California Highway Patrol vehicles. According to the FBI, “soup bois” may be a term that followers of the boogaloo movement used to refer to federal law enforcement agents.  While the term “boogaloo'” has been embraced by white supremacist groups and other far-right extremists, many supporters insist they aren’t racist or truly advocating for violence. As part of Tuesday’s announcement, Facebook said it has removed 220 Facebook accounts, 95 Instagram accounts, 28 Pages and 106 groups that that comprise the violent Boogaloo-affiliated network. It also took down 400 other groups and 100 pages that hosted similar content as the violent network but were maintained by accounts outside of it. The company said it has so far found no evidence of foreign actors amplifying boogaloo-related material. Social media companies are facing a reckoning over hate speech on their platforms. Reddit, an online comment forum that is one of the world’s most popular websites, on Monday banned a forum that supported President Donald Trump as part of a crackdown on hate speech. Live-streaming site Twitch, which is owned by Amazon, temporarily suspended Trump’s campaign account for violating its hateful conduct rules. YouTube, meanwhile, banned several prominent white nationalist figures from its platform, including Stefan Molyneux, David Duke and Richard Spencer. Civil rights groups have called on large advertisers to stop Facebook ad campaigns during July, saying the social network isn’t doing enough to curtail racist and violent content on its platform, and several major advertisers have signed on to the boycott.  Violent and extremist groups are increasingly turning to encrypted communications networks and fringe social platforms with no content moderation, which makes them more difficult to track.  

your ad here

read more

New Study Suggests Weightlifting Changes Brain as Well as Muscles

A new study published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests weightlifting affects a person’s brain weeks before there is a noticeable change in muscles. The study, conducted by researchers at New Castle University in northeast Britain, used macaque monkeys, whose brain systems are similar to humans in regard to movement.   The researchers trained the monkeys to pull a weighted handle with one arm by rewarding them with food. Over the course of three months, researchers increased the resistance of a weighted handle week by week. The monkeys completed daily strength training sessions, including 50 weighted pulls (moving the handle at least 4 centimeters). FILE – Russia’s Andrey Demanov competes during the men’s 94kg group A weightlifting event of the London 2012 Olympic Games at The Excel Centre in London on August 4, 2012.The experiment revealed that weightlifting strengthens the nervous system through a motor tract called the reticulospinal tract, and this change occurs weeks before any muscle is added. Newcastle University researcher Isabel Glover, co-author of the study, explained that when people lift weights, they get stronger because the neural input to the muscles increases.  “It’s a few weeks later that the muscles themselves start to get bigger,” Glover said. Professor Stuart Baker, the study’s other co-author, said this change in the nervous system helps weightlifters activate their existing muscles more efficiently. Baker said these neural changes in the brain also have other physiological benefits. “If we understand the neural mechanisms of strength, then we can start to think about how to help individuals suffering from a loss of strength, such as following a stroke,” he said.  

your ad here

read more

Measles Mumps and Rubella Vaccine May Protect Some People from COVID-19

Something data crunchers have noticed during the coronavirus pandemic: countries with recent outbreaks of measles have fewer deaths and serious illnesses from the coronavirus. Is this a coincidence? Or is there something about the measles mumps and rubella vaccine that protects against the worst outcomes of the coronavirus? We learn more from VOA’s Carol Pearson.Produced by: Barry Unger

your ad here

read more

Former US Fighter Pilot Wins Kentucky Democratic Senate Primary

Former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath won the Senate Democratic nomination in the U.S. state of Kentucky Tuesday, setting up a November contest against one of the most powerful political figures in the country, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
 
A week after voting ended and with the extended vote count nearly completed, McGrath defeated state lawmaker Charles Booker by a margin of about 45% to 43%, with other minor candidates splitting the remainder of the ballots.
 
McGrath, who lost a bid for a House of Representatives seat in 2018, faces an uphill fight against McConnell, a long-standing political fixture in the mid-South state and staunch supporter of President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda in Washington. But numerous national Democratic leaders, including Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, are supporting her.
 
McGrath raised millions of dollars more than Booker, an African American, in campaign funds. But he drew close in the final weeks before the June 23 vote after national progressive Democratic politicians endorsed him in the wake of national protests against police abuse of minorities.  
 
McGrath and Booker had traded small leads since election day as local jurisdictions turned in their results from mail-in voting.
 
Kentucky received requests for nearly 900,000 such ballots, an unusually high number that came in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with voters opting to not risk their health by going to polling places.  
 
Some election experts are already saying that the extended vote counts in party primaries that have turned Election Nights into Election Weeks in the U.S. are a harbinger of what could happen in the Nov. 3 national election, when Trump is seeking reelection against his presumptive Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.
 
Other slow vote counts because of mail-in ballots in the June 23 Democratic congressional primaries in New York have left the political fate of two longtime House members in doubt.
 
Before counting the mail-in votes, former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman, who had never run for office before, held a lead of 61% to 36% over Congressman Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  
 
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, held a slight lead over lawyer and activist Suraj Patel before the mail-in ballots were counted in their race.
 
Results in both of the New York races could be announced later Tuesday.
 
Voters are headed to the polls in three other states Tuesday, with party primary elections in Colorado, Utah and Oklahoma.
 

your ad here

read more