June 9, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


How a podcast helped solve a grisly cold case: The Bear Brook podcast played a small role in identifying the victims of a serial killer (Andrew Liptak, Jun 9, 2019, The Verge)

On Thursday, New Hampshire authorities held a press conference where they identified three victims who had been killed by a serial killer in the late 1970s or early 1980s. The case was the subject of New Hampshire Public Radio's true crime podcast Bear Brook, and it played a small role in helping to identify the victims. [...]

According to Moon, this latest break from two unrelated efforts. An online investigator named Becky Heath had been following the case for more than a decade, trawling through an Ancestry.com forum where people were looking to reconnect with long-lost loved ones and comparing their stories against the profiles of the Bear Brook victims, hoping that a family member might have posted about them.

In 2017, she came across a name: Sarah McWaters. A woman had posted on the forum, noting her husband and his family had been looking for his half-sister and two family members, who had vanished in the 1970s. Heath was able to match the birthdates to the rough age ranges of the Bear Brook victims, but never followed up on the tip, until she began listening to the podcast. "I don't know why I didn't pursue it more the first time," Heath told Moon on the podcast. "I didn't really get feedback from anyone, so I didn't really pursue more." But when she began listening to the podcast last fall, she went back to her findings, and realized that she was onto something, and reached out to the author of the post, learning that Sarah's mother was married to a man named Rasmussen. She soon submitted a tip to law enforcement.

At the same time, a genetic genealogist named Barbara Rae-Venter had been working on trying to find some usable DNA from the victims. She was the one who had used DNA databases to link Rasmussen to the Bear Brook murders in 2017, and had used the same techniques to help identify the Golden State Killer last year.

But while she had been able to identify Rasmussen's identity, the bodies recovered in Bear Brook were badly decomposed. Forensics experts had been able to extract mitochondrial DNA from the remains, but to utilize Rae-Venter's techniques, they needed autosomal DNA. Rae-Venter learned of a new set of techniques that were pioneered by a UC Santa Cruz researcher named Richard Green, which would extract autosomal DNA from rootless hair.

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 AM


New rules give households right to sell solar power back to energy firms: Government also wants to encourage people with rooftop panels to install batteries (Jillian Ambrose, 9 Jun 2019, The Guardian)

Britain's biggest energy companies will have to buy renewable energy from their own customers under new laws to be introduced this week.

Homeowners who install new rooftop solar panels from 1 January 2020 will be able to lower their bills by selling the energy they do not need to their supplier.

A record was set at noon on a Friday in May 2017, when solar energy supplied around a quarter of the UK's electricity. However, solar panel owners are not always at home on sunny days to reap the benefit. The new rules will allow them to make money if they generate electricity for the grid. [...]

Chris Skidmore, the minister for energy and clean growth, said the government wanted to increase the number of small-scale generators without adding the cost of subsidies to energy bills. "The future of energy is local and the new smart export guarantee will ensure households that choose to become green energy generators will be guaranteed a payment for electricity supplied to the grid," he said. The government also hopes to encourage homes with solar panels to install batteries.

Greg Jackson, the founder of Octopus Energy, said: "These smart export tariffs are game-changing when it comes to harnessing the power of citizens to tackle climate change".

Posted by orrinj at 11:05 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:50 AM


In Russian Cities, Mock Gravestones Are Sounding Putin's Death Knell (Matthew Luxmoore, 6/09/19, Radio Liberty)

Yet another mock gravestone bearing the name and image of President Vladimir Putin has appeared in Russia -- this time in the southwestern city of Voronezh.

"Incredible thief and liar. Political corpse," read the accompanying text featuring Putin's surname, initials, and birth year, and listing 2019 as the year of death.

Images of the installation appeared on June 5 on the Twitter account of Agit Rossia, a group that calls itself a "federal channel of agitation, news, and street protests in Russia."

Sanctions and Syria worked just as promised.

Posted by orrinj at 10:44 AM


America's Political Mood Is Now the 'Most Liberal Ever Recorded' (Eric Levitz, 6/09/19, New York)

The American public is in the mood for "big government." According to the distinguished political scientist James Stimson's "Public Policy Mood estimate" -- a widely respected tool for measuring shifts in ideological opinion across time -- the U.S. electorate is more sympathetic to left-wing economic policy today than at anytime in the past 68 years (which is as far back as Stimson's data goes).

Posted by orrinj at 10:41 AM


Koch network willing to back Democrats in 2020 (Caitlin Yilek, June 07, 2019, Washington examiner)

The influential Koch network is open to backing Democrats in the 2020 election cycle.

A memo from Emily Seidel, the CEO of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers' political organization, said the group would "support the primary election of lawmakers, regardless of political party, who stick their necks out to lead diverse policy coalitions."

It's a shift in how the network has operated in past elections, donating tens of millions of dollars to support Republican candidates.

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM


Death on the Rio Grande: A Look at a Perilous Migrant Route (Zolan Kanno-Youngs, June 8, 2019, NY Times)

EAGLE PASS, Tex. -- The 19-year-old pregnant migrant waded toward the American shore, deep enough in the Rio Grande for waves to splash against her waist. Pushing through the river's current, and mindful of an alligator lingering upriver, she guided her friend's crying 10-year-old boy toward a Border Patrol rescue boat.

As the boat carried them on the final leg of their journey last month to the United States from Honduras, the young woman waved back to a group on Mexico's riverbank cheering her rescue.

The day before, Border Patrol agents at the Eagle Pass river crossing in South Texas had found the body of a man too decomposed to be easily identified. A couple of days earlier, a video of a man desperately trying to swim against the current before going limp and sinking circulated in Mexican news media.

And in early May, Border Patrol agents at Eagle Pass pulled the body of a 10-month-old baby from the Rio Grande after a raft carrying nine migrants overturned. Only five survived.

"The sad moments are the deaths. Unfortunately, we've seen some of those," said Bryan Kemmett, the Border Patrol agent in charge of Eagle Pass, a town of 29,000 about an hour from the larger Del Rio, Tex. "The more troubling ones, the ones more recently, are the small infants. When you see the small infant and you hear the infant dying, you think about your own children."

Posted by orrinj at 10:25 AM


Four Reasons the European Left Lost (WOLFGANG STREECK, 6/05/19, Jacobin)

[W]hen should the Left expect to make electoral progress among European workers and reformist sections of the middle class, if not now? There is an urgent need to explain the Left's disastrous failure to do this. Four reasons come to mind -- certainly, there are more.

The first and most basic reason is the seemingly total absence of a realistic anticapitalist, or at least anti-neoliberal, left-wing political strategy related to the European Union.

There is not even a debate on the crucial issue of whether the European Union can at all be a vehicle for anticapitalist politics. Instead, there is a naïve or opportunistic acceptance -- and it's hard to say which is worse -- of the feel-good "Europeanism" so popular among young people and so useful for both Green electioneering and European technocrats seeking legitimacy for their neoliberal regime.

In particular, on the Left, there's no mention of the way in which the European Union's de facto constitution limits the political space for any anticapitalist or even pro-labor program, with its safely enshrined free markets (the "four freedoms"), the de facto dictatorship of the European Court, and the balanced budget provisions under European Monetary Union, imposing austerity on countries and citizens.

In particular, any critical discussion of the European Union's central social policy -- the free movement of labor between the now economically extremely different member countries -- is strictly avoided, combined with hints of sympathy for open borders generally, including those with the outside world. This does nothing but validate the image spread by the Greens and the center-left middle-class parties of Europe being mainly about young people traveling without border controls and not needing to change money.

Moreover, this goes in tandem with entirely illusory policy projects, for example a European minimum wage. Only after insistent questioning is it admitted that a European minimum wage would in fact have to be differentiated by country. Predictably, this proposal has found no support whatsoever either in the poor countries of the union, where people find it too good to be true, or in the rich countries, where workers in particular fear that somehow they are the ones who will have to foot the bill for the Left's "European solidarity."

The EU is a capitalist project, a trade union.

Posted by orrinj at 10:20 AM


California has too much solar power. That might be good for ratepayers (SAMMY ROTH, JUN 05, 2019, Los Angeles Times)

California set two renewable energy records last week: the most solar power ever flowing on the state's main electric grid, and the most solar power ever taken offline because it wasn't needed.

There's no contradiction: As California utilities buy more and more solar power as part of the state's quest to confront climate change, supply and demand are increasingly out of sync. The state's fleet of solar farms and rooftop panels frequently generate more electricity than Californians use during the middle of the day -- a phenomenon that has sent lawmakers and some climate advocates scrambling to find ways to save the extra sunlight rather than let it go to waste.

But for ratepayers, an oversupply of solar power might actually be a good thing.

New research published in the peer-reviewed journal Solar Energy suggests California should embrace the idea of building more solar panels than it can consistently use, rather than treating oversupply as a problem to be solved. It sounds counterintuitive, but intentionally overbuilding solar facilities -- and accepting they'll often need to be dialed down in the absence of sufficient demand -- may be the best way to keep electricity prices low on a power grid dominated by renewable energy, the research found.

In a study published in March, New York-based researchers Richard Perez and Karl Rábago argue that solar power has gotten so inexpensive that overbuilding it will probably be the cheapest way to keep the lights on during cloudy or overcast days -- cheaper than relying entirely on batteries. Solar power can meet high levels of daytime electricity demand without energy storage, the researchers say, as long as there are enough solar panels on the grid during times when none of them are producing at full capacity.

Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


How the Watergate crisis eroded public support for Richard Nixon (ANDREW KOHUT, 8/08/14, Pew Research)

The televised Watergate hearings that began in May 1973, chaired by Senator Samuel Ervin, commanded a large national audience -- 71% told Gallup they watched the hearings live. And as many as 21% reported watching 10 hours or more of the Ervin proceedings. Not too surprisingly, Nixon's popularity took a severe hit. His ratings fell as low as 31%, in Gallup's early August survey. 

The public had changed its view of the scandal. A 53% majority came to the view that Watergate was a serious matter, not just politics, up from 31% who believed that before the hearings. Indeed, an overwhelming percentage of the public (71%) had come to see Nixon as culpable in the wrongdoing, at least to some extent. About four-in-ten (37%) thought he found out about the bugging and tried to cover it up; 29% went further in saying that he knew about the bugging beforehand, but did not plan it; and 8% went all the way, saying he planned it from beginning to end. Only 15% of Americans thought that the president had no prior knowledge and spoke up as soon as he learned of it.

Yet, despite the increasingly negative views of Nixon at that time, most Americans continued to reject the notion that Nixon should leave office, according to Gallup. Just 26% thought he should be impeached and forced to resign, while 61% did not.

A lot of key scandal events were to follow that year and into 1974, but public opinion about Watergate was slow to change further, despite the high drama of what was taking place. For example, October 1973 was a crucial month as the courts ruled that the president had to turn over his taped conversations to special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and subsequently Nixon ordered for the dismissal of Cox in what came to be known as the Saturday Night Massacre. The public reacted, but in a measured way. In November, Gallup showed the percentage of Americans thinking that the president should leave office jumping from 19% in June to 38%, but still, 51% did not support impeachment and an end to Nixon's presidency.

In the spring of 1974, despite the indictment of top former White House aides, and Nixon's release of what were seen as "heavily edited" transcripts of tapes of his aides plotting to get White House enemies, the public was still divided over what to do about the president. For example, by June, 44% in the Gallup Poll thought he should be removed from office, while 41% disagreed.

Only in early August, following the House Judiciary Committee's recommendation in July that Nixon be impeached and the Supreme Court's decision that he surrender his audio tapes, did a clear majority - 57% - come to the view that the president should be removed from office.

Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM



IN 2018, PRESIDENT Donald Trump was seeking to jettison the landmark nuclear deal that his predecessor had signed with Iran in 2015, and he was looking for ways to win over a skeptical press. The White House claimed that the nuclear deal had allowed Iran to increase its military budget, and Washington Post reporters Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly asked for a source. In response, the White House passed along an article published in Forbes by a writer named Heshmat Alavi. [...]

"Heshmat Alavi is a persona run by a team of people from the political wing of the MEK," said Hassan Heyrani, a high-ranking defector from the MEK who said he had direct knowledge of the operation. "They write whatever they are directed by their commanders and use this name to place articles in the press. This is not and has never been a real person."

Heyrani said the fake persona has been managed by a team of MEK operatives in Albania, where the group has one of its bases, and is used to spread its message online. Heyrani's account is echoed by Sara Zahiri, a Farsi-language researcher who focuses on the MEK. Zahiri, who has sources among Iranian government cybersecurity officials, said that Alavi is known inside Iran to be a "group account" run by a team of MEK members and that Alavi himself does not exist.

Alavi, whose contributor biography on the Forbes website identifies him as "an Iranian activist with a passion for equal rights," has published scores of articles on Iran over the past few years at Forbes, The Hill, the Daily Caller, The Federalist, Saudi-owned al-Arabiya English, and other outlets. (Alavi did not respond to The Intercept's requests for comment by Twitter direct messages or at the Gmail address he used to correspond with news outlets.)

The articles published under Alavi's name, as well as his social media presence, appear to have been a boon for the MEK. An opposition group deeply unpopular in Iran and known for its sophisticated propaganda, the MEK has over the past decade turned its attention to English-language audiences -- especially in countries like the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom, whose foreign policies are crucial nodes in the MEK's central goal of overthrowing the Iranian regime.

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


Gaudí's Sagrada Família wins a building permit - 137 years after work began (Associated Press,  8 Jun 2019)

Property owners have a new yardstick for measuring their frustration over building permit requests that are lost in the labyrinth of local government bureaucracy.

Barcelona city hall has finally issued a work permit for the unfinished church designed by the architect Antoni Gaudí, 137 years after construction started on the Sagrada Família basilica.

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 AM


Ilhan Omar violated Minnesota campaign finance rules, state officials say (AP and TOI, 6/09/19)

US Rep. Ilhan Omar violated state rules when she used campaign funds to pay for personal out-of-state travel and help on her tax returns and must reimburse her former campaign committee nearly $3,500, Minnesota campaign finance officials ruled this week.

The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board said the first-term Democratic congresswoman also must pay the state a $500 civil penalty for using campaign money to travel to Florida, where she accepted an honorarium. [...]

In a statement, her congressional campaign said she is "glad this process is complete" and that she intends to comply with the board's findings.

What, no hoax?