The Largest Bribery Scheme | Early Detection Technology | Censoring the Census
July 22, 2020
We’re back with a more in-depth review of the results from last week’s school survey. Take a look at readers’ answers to our questions about the return to school, as well as select quotes from parents, teachers, students, and other readers.
The Good News:
- Coronavirus: Smokers quit in highest numbers in a decade (BBC)
- Portugal ends coal burning two years ahead of schedule (Climate Change News)
- Red kite 30-year Chilterns project a ‘conservation success’ (BBC)
- Red Sea corals’ heat tolerance offers hope for climate crisis (Guardian)
“Good governance never depends upon laws, but upon the personal qualities of those who govern. The machinery of government is always subordinate to the will of those who administer that machinery. The most important element of government, therefore, is the method of choosing leaders.” – Frank Herbert
Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder was arrested Tuesday morning in what prosecutors called the “largest bribery scheme” in state history. Householder’s longtime political strategist Jeffrey Longstreth, former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matthew Borges, prominent lobbyists Juan Cespedes, and former budget director for the Ohio Republican Caucus Neil Clark, were also taken into custody.
The five defendants are being charged with conspiracy to violate a federal racketeering statute through wire fraud, accepting millions of dollars in bribes, and money laundering. They are alleged to have received millions of dollars in exchange for their help in passing controversial House Bill 6, which bailed out two nuclear power plants in northern Ohio to the tune of $1.5 billion, created additional subsidies for two coal plants, and gutted subsidies for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
At the center of the scheme was the formation of a tax-free non-profit called Generation Now, which was labeled as a social service organization. The criminal complaint describes Generation Now as “a 501(c)(4) entity secretly controlled by Householder.” An unnamed energy company — apparently regional electric utility company FirstEnergy Solutions — put $60 million into Householder’s Generation Now between March 2017 and March 2020. The defendants are said to have spent the “dark money” to support Householder’s bid to become speaker, support approximately 21 different state candidates they believed would back Householder, and for their own personal benefit.
Householder won the speakership in January 2019; House Bill 6 passed in July, and went into effect in October 2019. The bailout includes new fees on electricity bills, and directs more than $150 million annually through 2026 to the plants near Cleveland and Toledo. After Householder’s arrest, Ohio’s Republican governor Mike DeWine called for the speaker’s immediate resignation.
Turning the Red Sea Black
(Saleh Al Obeidi via Getty Images)
- A decaying oil storage tanker off the coast of Yemen is threatening to dump 1.1 million barrels of oil into the Red Sea, which would create an environmental catastrophe worse than 1989’s Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster off Alaska, which is considered one of the worst oil spills in history. The SAFER FSO tanker has been stranded off the Yemeni port of Ras Isa since 2015.
- Last week, Inger Andersen, the United Nation’s environmental chief, told the Security Council the ship could release four times more oil than the Exxon Valdez, and that time was running out to “prevent a looming environmental, economic, and humanitarian catastrophe.” She said seawater flooded the tanker’s engine room in May, and that a technical assessment and light repairs on the vessel were needed immediately.
- The best long-term option would be to offload the oil, then tow the ship to a safe location for inspection and dismantling. Andersen warned that the international community will also have to come up with a response should an oil spill occur; neither war-torn Yemen nor its neighbors have the capacity to manage the consequences of a huge spill, which would wreck the biodiversity of the Red Sea and affect the livelihoods of the 28 million people who rely on the inlet.
- The major stumbling block is that Iran-backed Houthi rebels control the area where the ship is located. The stored oil is estimated to be worth $40 million, and the Houthi government wants to be able sell any oil extracted from the vessel — an impossibility due to international sanctions. (CNN)
China Draws First Blood
- Researchers based in China say they have developed a blood test that can detect cancer years before symptoms appear. This type of test, known as a liquid biopsy, offers a non-invasive way to screen patients. Writing about their new discovery in the journal Nature Communications, the team of researchers said: “We demonstrated that five types of cancer can be detected through a DNA methylation-based blood test up to four years before conventional diagnosis.”
- The new test — called PanSeer — is not predicting cancer, but picking up on cancerous growths that haven’t caused symptoms yet or been spotted by other methods. PanSeer screens particular regions of DNA found in blood plasma for telltale tags, called methyl groups, that often crop up in tumor DNA. The team said they used techniques that allowed them to pick up even very small levels of such DNA. They then used machine learning algorithms to develop a system that could determine whether any DNA found circulating in the blood was being shed by tumors, based on the presence of these methyl groups.
- PanSeer flagged cancer in 88 percent of participants already diagnosed with stomach, colorectal, liver, lung or oesophageal cancer, and in 95 percent of participants not diagnosed with cancer but who later went on to develop the disease. The test correctly identified those without cancer 96 percent of the time. The test cannot, however, identify which type of cancer an individual has. (Guardian)
Additional World News
- Russia report reveals UK government failed to investigate Kremlin interference (Guardian)
- US accuses Chinese hackers in targeting of COVID-19 research (AP News)
- Reading between the lines: Secret Morse code tune sees game removed in China (BBC)
- ‘It was dehumanising’: Jessica Shuran Yu condemns training abuse in China (Guardian)
- Hostage siege ends after Ukrainian president endorses Joaquin Phoenix film (Guardian)
- Angela Merkel Guides the E.U. to a Deal, However Imperfect (NYT, $)
- Germany’s Economy Will Triumph in the Post-Covid-19 World (NYT, $)
- Apple, Facing Pressure on Climate, Says It’ll Go Carbon-Neutral (NYT, $)
- The African continent is very slowly peeling apart. Scientists say a new ocean is being born. (NBC)
- First active leak of sea-bed methane discovered in Antarctica (Guardian)
- Make sure you’re reading the right news and information: How to Identify Flawed Covid-19 Research Before It’s Too Late (NYT)
- Covid-19 Vaccines With ‘Minor Side Effects’ Could Still Be Pretty Bad (Wired, $) As the world rushes towards a vaccine in the hopes of a return to normalcy, we still need to be cautious of that miracle cure.
- Almost all Covid-19 patients with symptoms had at least one of these three, small CDC survey says (CNN)
- Lawmakers perplexed by billions in unspent Covid-19 testing money (CNN)
- It’s becoming clear why the US’ response to COVID-19 is terrible (Ars Technica)
- ‘Flying blind’: US failure to report vital coronavirus data is hobbling response (Guardian)
- The mask debate is still raging in the US, but much of the world has moved on (CNN)
- Rise in Virus Cases Near Bases in U.S. and Abroad Pose Test for Military (NYT, $)
- Coronavirus orphans: Michigan kids lose both parents to covid-19 (WaPo, $)
- The Pandemic Has Pushed Aside City Planning Rules. But to Whose Benefit? (NYT, $)
- Trump admits pandemic will ‘get worse’ at first Covid-19 briefing in months (Guardian)
- ‘Less Optimistic’ and ‘More Cautious’: Top C.E.O.s Fret as Virus Cases Rise (NYT, $)
- By now we know all too well that masks are necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19. Everybody should have and use a mask, but not all masks are created equal, and most masks aren’t respirators.
- O2 Canada’s Curve Respirator is the next step in the personal protection equipment game. With its interchangeable ergonomic shell, medical-grade silicone seal, and replaceable electrostatic filters, the O2 Canada Curve Respirator is the perfect solution for protecting yourself.
- The O2 Curve’s replaceable filter blocks out 95 percent of particulate 0.5 micron and larger and is reusable for up to 2 weeks, cutting out one-time use masks while keeping you confident in your safety. The respirator’s silicone seals sit comfortably on your face while ensuring that all the air you breath is filtered.
- The Curve is in stock now, and orders ship within 3 business days with a free pack of 3 electrostatic filters. Get yours now.
Censoring the Census
(Mandel Ngan via Getty Images)
- The constitution calls for every person living in the US to be counted on a census taken every ten years. The numbers are used to divide up seats in Congress among the states. Census results are legally required to be reported to the president. For the 2020 census, President Trump wanted to include a citizenship question so noncitizens could be excluded from the count.
- A legal challenge resulted in a court order preventing him from doing that. Now Trump is trying to circumvent the law and the court order, issuing a memorandum on Tuesday instructing Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department is responsible for the head count, to enable him to leave out the number of immigrants living in the US without authorization from the apportionment count.
- Said differently, Ross is to include in the census numbers given to Trump: “information permitting the President, to the extent practicable” to exclude illegal aliens “from the apportionment base.” However, it’s Congress, not the president, with final authority over the census, so the move is more likely to spur legal challenges and political spectacle as November’s election approaches. (NPR)
Food Stamp of Approval
- Economists call food stamps — formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — the “universal safety net.” SNAP benefits, paid by the federal government for states to administer, support young and old, healthy and disabled, the working and the unemployed. They’re the closest thing the US has to a guaranteed income, and state officials from both parties have called the program an essential antipoverty tool. The Trump administration tried for years to reduce SNAP usage, claiming it promotes dependency and waste.
- It took the COVID-19 pandemic for the administration to relax its rules so that enrollment could increase and speed up. In the first three months of the pandemic, more than six million people enrolled in the program. Benefits normally vary with income, but Congress temporarily expanded the program in March by offering all recipients the maximum aid for their household size.
- However, despite relaxing the rules and expanding enrollment, the top payment remained the same as it had been in the 2008 recession — $509 for three people. Surveys are now showing elevated rates of hunger, especially among families with young children. (NYT, $)
Additional USA News
- Donald Trump on Ghislaine Maxwell: ‘I wish her well’ (Guardian)
- Federal unemployment benefits run out a week sooner than everyone thought because of a dumb oversight by Congress. (Slate)
- We are sleepwalking toward economic catastrophe (Vox)
- Record Low Mortgage Rates Put More Cash In Pockets, But May Not Boost Economy Much (NPR)
- Does the Lincoln Project have a secret agenda? The answer is surprising. (WaPo, $)
- Out of Portland tear gas, an apparition emerges, capturing the imagination of protesters (LA Times)
- Trump’s Occupation of American Cities Has Begun (NYT, $)
- QAnon: Twitter bans accounts linked to conspiracy theory (BBC)
- Facebook labels Trump and Biden posts on voting (BBC)
- Big Polling Leads Have Tended to Erode. Is Biden’s Edge Different? (NYT, $)
- Joe Biden is foiling Donald Trump’s election strategy (Vox)
- Fox News’s Chris Wallace just exposed Trump as very few have (Wapo, $)
- Trump’s Request of an Ambassador: Get the British Open for Me (NYT, $)
- We Reviewed Police Tactics Seen in Nearly 400 Protest Videos. Here’s What We Found. (ProPublica)
- If humankind manages to go extinct in the next 1,000 years, you can take comfort in the fact that our advancements in computer science will live on. The world’s largest host of source code in the world, Github, recently completed a project to preserve 21 terabytes of digital human innovation by storing it in an underground Arctic vault.
- The endeavour comes as a part of the platform’s Archive Program, which is tasked with safeguarding our collective software advancements for future generations in case of disaster.
- Github — which can best be described as Google Drive for programmers — currently houses code that acts as the baseline for some of the world’s most important open source projects. Losing this software would prove detrimental to major tech companies and coding hobbyists alike, so creating a secure physical backup was important for the platform moving forward.
- Their solution? Transcribing all of their code onto 186 reels of photosensitive film, capable of being read by humans and computers alike. Project members chose a decommissioned coal mine in Svalbard, Norway as the final resting place of these precious reels. For the next thousand years, Github’s data will (hopefully) sit untouched hundreds of meters below the ice, accompanied by other touchstones of human progress, such as a geobank of crops and seeds. (Engadget)
- The Japanese-American Sculptor Who, Despite Persecution, Made Her Mark (NYT, $)
- Petition Urges Trader Joe’s to Get Rid of ‘Racist Branding’ (NYT, $)
- What to do when you can’t go out for romantic dates: How to Date During a Pandemic (NYT, $)
- How Sarah Cooper Trumped Donald Trump—Without Saying a Word (Vanity Fair)
- There Are Wasps in the Yard. You’d Better Get to Know Them. (NYT, $) Wasps get a bad rap sometimes, but they can be helpful in maintaining a healthy garden ecosystem.
- How to Manage Your Personal Finances With Microsoft’s ‘Money in Excel’ Feature (PC Mag)
- Airbnb Was Like a Family, Until the Layoffs Started (NYT, $)
- What Is the Pandemic Doing to Work Friendships? (Atlantic, $) With less face-to-face interactions and no watercooler talk, making friends at work may be a thing of the past.
- Being a leader has always been difficult, but maybe more now than ever: The stress of leading a start-up through the pandemic (BBC)
- Restorative justice is often touted as an alternative to the standard justice system. But does it really work?: The Limits of Restorative Justice in Jacksonville (Atlantic, $)
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