The Next Big Focus In The Russia Investigations: Social Media – NPR

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Facebook and Twitter appear to be key platforms in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election; investigators want to know more.

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For more than nine months, Twitter and Facebook have tried to dodge the intense public scrutiny involved with the investigation into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election.

Now they’re in the spotlight.

Congressional investigators are digging in on Russia’s use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies to try to influence the 2016 campaign.

And after a series of escalating complaints by the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Facebook said Thursday it was handing over the content of more than 3,000 ads believed to be linked with Moscow’s attack on the election.

“We support Congress in deciding how to best use this information to inform the public, and we expect the government to publish its findings when their investigation is complete,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

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And there’ll be much more: The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee has said he wants to hold a public hearing next month on Moscow’s efforts to manipulate social media as part of its election interference.

Before that, representatives from Twitter are scheduled to meet with Intelligence Committee staff members next week to talk about the role their company played.

The moves on Capitol Hill follow concerns that the social media giants have been less than forthcoming about how Russia may have used their platforms to try to undermine the American election.

Facebook has acknowledged that it sold ads to some 500 fake Russia-linked accounts between 2015 and 2017. The ads addressed socially divisive issues like gun control, immigration and race relations. It also conceded in a statement that it may discover more.

Facebook has briefed congressional investigators about the ads, and it has provided the ad content to Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.

Lawmakers have complained, however, that the company had refused to hand over copies of the documents to the congressional committees. The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner of Virginia, said this week that he expects the company to be more cooperative in the future.

Facebook said its decision Thursday represented a step in that direction. Zuckerberg said in a video statement that the company is limited about what it can discuss publicly, but that he directed his team to provide the ads to Congress.

Zuckerberg also said that Facebook would continue its own investigation into what transpired on the platform during the campaign.

“We are looking into foreign actors, including additional Russian groups and other former Soviet states, as well as organizations like the campaigns, to further our understanding of how they used our tools,” he said. “These investigations will take some time, but we will continue our thorough review.”

He also disclosed a nine-step plan to try to prevent governments from using Facebook to interfere in elections.

“I wish I could tell you we’re going to be able to stop all interference, but that wouldn’t be realistic,” he said. “There will always be bad people in the world, and we can’t prevent all governments from all interference. But we can make it harder. We can make it a lot harder. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

Over the next few months, he said, Facebook will make political advertising more transparent by implementing disclosure requirements.

“Not only will you have to disclose which page paid for an ad, but we will also make it so you can visit an advertiser’s page and see the ads they’re currently running to any audience on Facebook,” he said.

Other steps include sharing more cyberthreat information with other technology companies, and expanding its cooperation with election commissions around the world.

Twitter is much smaller than Facebook in terms of users and the scale of business it conducts, but it’s also highly visible in key areas — and the favorite tool for celebrities and other high-profile people, including the president of the United States, to talk directly with their fans and followers.

“Twitter deeply respects the integrity of the election process, a cornerstone of all democracies, and will continue to strengthen our platform against bots and other forms of manipulation that violate our Terms of Service,” the company said.

The U.S. intelligence community’s unclassified assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 election says that Moscow’s operation included a messaging strategy that blended covert intelligence efforts with overt ones by “state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls.’ “

So Congress and the special counsel are now turning to U.S. social media companies for more answers.

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Hurricane Maria lashes the Turks and Caicos on path toward Bahamas – Washington Post

Satellite imagery of Hurricane Maria on Thursday morning. (NOAA)

This story has been updated to include information from the 5 a.m. National Hurricane Center report.

Hurricane Maria rolled over the Turks and Caicos islands Friday, bringing dangerous storm surges and possibly dumping up to 20 inches of rain in some areas on a path that next takes aim on the Bahamas before moving north into the Atlantic.

The weekend course for Maria remains uncertain. Forecasts by the National Hurricane Center have the hurricane moving between Bermuda and the U.S. coast, but other weather systems are at play on whether Maria strays closer to the Atlantic seaboard.

At 5 a.m. Friday, Hurricane Maria had winds of 125 mph, which made the storm a Category 3. It’s expected to at least maintain that intensity — and possibly strengthen — in the coming days as it tracks northwest.

Hurricane Maria is pushing off the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic as a Category 3 storm after slamming into Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. (AP)

Impacts in the Turks and Caicos and Southeast Bahamas include torrential rainfall — widespread totals of 8 to 16 inches with up to 20 inches in the high elevations. This could lead to deadly flash flooding and mudslides in the mountainous areas of Hispaniola.

The storm surge is forecast to reach 4 to 6 feet above normally dry land in the northeast Dominican Republic and up to a devastating 10 to 15 feet in the southeast Bahamas and Turks and Caicos, near and just north of where the center passes.

Most forecast models suggest that the storm will turn away from the East Coast early next week. As the remnants of Hurricane Jose stall near New England, its counterclockwise winds will help push Maria to the east.

However, it’s still too soon to say Maria is not a threat to the East Coast. If Jose weakens very quickly, or if it doesn’t stall the way forecast models are suggesting, Hurricane Maria would have the opportunity to track closer to the East Coast midweek.

In any case, dangerous surf and rip currents are likely along the East Coast beaches this weekend and into next week.

A group of simulations from the GFS (blue) and Euro (red) weather models (0Z Thursday). Each line represents a different simulation with slight tweaks to initial conditions. This gives us an approximation of the different possibilities in Maria’s future track. (

Maria devastates Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria tore across Puerto Rico on Wednesday, unleashing destructive winds, which knocked out power to the entire island, and “catastrophic” flooding.

Even though the winds had diminished somewhat Wednesday evening, torrential rain over Puerto Rico had emerged as the most severe danger. The National Weather Service in San Juan reported incredible rainfall rates of up to 5 to 7 inches per hour Wednesday morning. The Hurricane Center described ongoing flash flooding as “catastrophic.” Rivers on the island had rapidly risen, some reaching record levels in a matter of hours.

El río d nuestro barrio Borinquén d Guayama parece un animal

Posted by Cruz Rodriguez Keila on Wednesday, September 20, 2017

On Thursday morning, 10 of 27 river gauges on Puerto Rico were reporting “major flooding” and flash flood warnings covered all but the southwest portion of the island.

Rainfall estimates exceed 20 inches in most areas. Some gauges recorded amounts to around 30 inches, including 33.58 inches in La Plaza, and 28.70 inches in Cidra.

As the storm made landfall early Wednesday morning along the southeast coast of Puerto Rico, a National Ocean Service tide gauge at Yabucoa Harbor, Puerto Rico, reported a rise of 5.3 feet above the normal high tide.

Wind reports became scarce by 8 a.m. as wind sensors and/or their transmission signals failed, but numerous locations clocked gusts over 110 mph, including in San Juan.

Effects in St. Croix and U.S. Virgin Islands

Early Wednesday morning, sustained winds reached 106 mph and gusts were reported up to 137 mph in St. Croix. Between 10 and 11 p.m. Tuesday, St. Croix’s airport on the southwest part of the island reported gusts up to 92 mph before the wind sensor stopped reporting.

While St. Croix was hit hard and damage was extensive, the storm’s inner eyewall containing its most violent winds just missed to the south — sparing the island the worst of its fury.

The storm passed even farther to the south of St. Thomas, but social media photos showed significant flooding on the island:

Hurricane Maria’s place in history

When Maria slammed ashore near Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, at 6:15 a.m. Wednesday with 155 mph winds, it became the first Category 4 storm to directly strike the island since 1932. It was the first hurricane of any intensity to make landfall there since Georges in 1998.

Maria’s landfall pressure of 914 millibars in Puerto Rico was the third-lowest on a record for a hurricane striking the U.S. The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm.

On Tuesday evening, Maria’s pressure dropped to 909 millibars, ranking among the 10 lowest in recorded history in the Atlantic.

Here’s a list of lowest Atlantic pressure on record. #Maria at 909mb is lowest since Dean in 2007. All devastating storms on this list.

— Eric Fisher (@ericfisher) September 19, 2017

Its maximum sustained winds, which reached 175 mph, also ranked among the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record.

At 9:35 p.m. Monday, Maria became the first Category 5 storm to strike Dominica in recorded history, leaving behind widespread destruction.

[‘We have lost all what money can buy’: Hurricane Maria devastates Dominica]

In just 18 hours Monday, the storm strengthened from a minimal Category 1 storm to a Category 5 monster. Its pressure dropped 52 millibars in 18 hours, “one of the fastest deepening rates on record behind Ike, Rita, Gilbert, & Wilma,” tweeted Tomer Burg, an atmospheric science graduate student at SUNY-Albany.

Maria is the latest powerhouse storm in what has become a hyperactive hurricane season. The 2017 hurricane season has already featured four Category 4 or stronger storms; this has only happened four previous times by Sept. 18. Three of these storms made landfall in the U.S. at Category 4 intensity (Harvey, Irma and Maria), which is unprecedented in the modern record.

Brian Murphy contributed to this report.

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Zeeland Aerospace Supplier Expanding – WHTC

Friday, September 22, 2017 5:05 a.m. EDT by Mary Ellen Murphy

ZEELAND, MI (WHTC-AM/FM) –  Plascore In Zeeland is expanding. 

The manufacturer of honeycomb cores for aerospace, marine, mass transportation and construction industries building an approximate 73,500 square foot addition onto their current Aerospace Business Unit facility located at 500 E. Roosevelt in Zeeland.

Lakeshore Advantage says the $6 million dollar expansion will allow Plascore. to develop and install additional automated production equipment, facilitating capacity increases at competitive costs to meet their aerospace customers’ demands.10-15 jobs will be created over the next two years. 

Chuck DeGlopper, Vice President Aramid Honeycomb at Plascore, Inc says that due to the tremendous effort and attitude of their  employees, they have been able to meet the increased demand and win additional customers. He says the expansion will allow Plascore to continue pursuing new product innovations, while maintaining best-in-class lead times backed by outstanding customer service. 

Along with honeycomb cores, Plascore, Inc. manufactures honeycomb panels for many and varied composite structures where there is a need for greater structural strength with less weight, such as cleanroom walls and ceilings, light rail vehicles and yacht interiors. 

Lakeshore Advantage links area companies with the tools and resources needed for continued growth. In 2016, Lakeshore Advantage assisted with 26 growth projects resulting in over $205 million dollars in new private sector investment and 1,052 new jobs. 

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The World Poker Tour To Give Out Private Jet Rides – PokerTube

22 Sep

The WPT officially announced their strategic partnership with JetSmarter, ‘the world’s largest private air travel and style community.’

JetSmarter is a Private Jet subscription service that allows its members to reserve seats on over 50 routes across three continents and book private flights to virtually anywhere in the world.

The service also allows its members to network with each other, giving them an opportunity to find some influential friends. 

Earlier this week, WPT announced that Jetsmarter has become the ‘official private jet partner’ of the WPT Bogarta Poker Open Main Event. The deal adds a free JetSmarter membership valued in $5,000 for the winner of this year’s Main Event.

This isn’t the first time the WPT has added a sponsored product to the prize pool, the WPT Legends of Poker Main Event offered free Color Wine bottles to the first 47 spots.  However, a bottle of wine isn’t nearly as lavish as a private jet subscription, then again, it’s also not as practical.  

The value this would give to a professional poker player goes far beyond a baller private jet ride.

Travel expenses limit the number of tournaments a live pro can play in a year, taking away even a fraction of that cost would be a huge relief for the winner. It would allow them to play more WPT stops than they otherwise would.

In return, JetSmarter gets their name buzzing amongst the high stakes live poker community, which, besides pro poker players, also includes businessmen, day traders, Hollywood stars and other potential clients.

The more that you look into it the more this partnership makes sense for everyone involved, including the poker community.

If this move proves successful for JetSmarter, it might incentivize other Silicon Valley companies to invest in live poker promotion.


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Decoding Kim’s speech and the Pacific threat – BBC News

Pyongyang’s foreign minister has said the North is considering a nuclear test around the Pacific, after a personal statement from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to US President Donald Trump. Analyst Ankit Panda decodes this unprecedented statement – and what the Pacific threat could actually mean.

The threat follows another remarkable statement by the North, a first-person address from Mr Kim to Mr Trump.

Kim Jong-un’s statement – the first of its kind – came shortly after the North Korean delegation led by Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho arrived in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly debate.

As such it merits a close reading and serious consideration.

Why did it come now?

The statement was manifestly a response to the US leader’s braggadocio on Tuesday at the General Assembly, when he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if the United States was forced to defend itself or its allies.

It also marks what is perhaps the apotheosis of a slowly simmering war of words between the Trump administration and the North Korean regime.

In August, we watched as Kim Jong-un posed with a map threatening an enveloping ballistic missile strike on the US territory of Guam and Mr Trump promised “fire and fury” – possible nuclear first-use, in other words – to North Korea in exchange for continued threats.

While North Korea’s state media serve as a propaganda tool, more often than not the reclusive state’s regime tells us exactly what it wants and exactly what it is planning to do in these statements.

Could it be about Donald Trump, personally?

First, even readers unaccustomed to North Korea’s public messaging will note the wide range of ad hominem insults levied at Mr Trump in the statement.

Mr Kim lambasts the US leader – who’d dubbed him “Rocket Man” – as “mentally deranged,” a “dotard” and a “frightened dog”.

Second, notably, Kim Jong-un makes no reference to the US “hostile policy” in his statement.

The “hostile policy” is North Korea’s paramount grievance about the US’s East Asian alliances, permanently deployed military presence in South Korea and Japan, and provision of nuclear umbrella coverage to Seoul and Tokyo.

That Mr Kim chose to ignore it in a speech bemoaning the US president’s threat to “destroy” his country appears notable in combination with his personalised critique of Mr Trump.

The implication here is that Mr Kim may regard Mr Trump as a sui generis phenomenon – his threats count as an affront to North Korea’s dignity, but do not carry the weight of US policy.

Just as Donald Trump implied Kim Jong-un was irrational on Tuesday by noting that he was on a “suicide mission”, so does Mr Kim imply that Mr Trump, instead of making a mundane speech at the General Assembly, chose to deliver “unprecedented rude nonsense one has never heard from any of his predecessors”.

Finally, it’s noteworthy that despite the overall bellicosity of the statement, Kim Jong-un does not opt to threaten the American people or the country itself. If there’s a bottom line here it’s that now it’s personal.

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A pretext for a major provocation?

Doubling down, Mr Kim noted that Mr Trump’s open expression of the “will to ‘totally destroy’ a sovereign state… makes even those with normal thinking faculty think about discretion and composure”.

The implication here is clear – Kim Jong-un does not see Mr Trump as a man in possession of “normal thinking [faculties]”.

What then does Mr Kim propose to do with a leader that he clearly regards as unstable and irrational? Clearly angered by the threat to “destroy” his country, Mr Kim promises to “tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire”.

The hermeneutics involved here aren’t complex – Mr Kim is using this statement to provide a pretext for a spectacular provocation involving his ever more impressive ballistic missiles and his increasingly more powerful nuclear weapons.

These provocations could come in many forms. Kim Jong-un has already got his foot in the door in terms of overflying Japan with ballistic missile systems – he has done so twice in the past month.

He could endeavour to do so with North Korea’s Hwasong-14 intercontinental-range ballistic missile.

Separately, he could test-fire a longer-range submarine-launched ballistic missile or salvo-launch intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the direction of the US territory of Guam.

Finally, North Korea hasn’t carried out deliberate conventional attacks against the US or its allies since 2010, when it shelled a South Korean island and sunk a South Korean naval ship, killing more than 40 sailors. It could attempt to seize the initiative with new provocations of this kind.

The provocations do not stop there, however. Immediately after the release of Mr Kim’s statement, North Korea’s foreign minister told reporters that the “highest-level” action Kim Jong-un is considering is possibly the “strongest hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific”.

What could the Pacific threat really mean?

This raises a terrifying spectre – one that North Korea watchers have mulled for some time, but which did not seem realistic until this year.

Kim Jong-un could conduct an atmospheric nuclear detonation in the Pacific Ocean.

There are two mechanisms for a test like this. One is for Kim Jong-un to mount the nuclear device he showed the world before his 3 September nuclear test and fire it over Japan, into the Pacific Ocean, and demonstrate a credible thermonuclear capability.

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Presumably, witnessing this feat would “tame” Trump into accepting the “equilibrium” that North Korea alluded to earlier this week – a state of stable nuclear deterrence.

Given the inadequacy of existing US and Japanese ballistic missile defence systems, it is far from a sure thing that such a test could be intercepted.

Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert at the Middlebury Center of International Studies at Monterey, alluded to China’s fourth nuclear test as a reminder of why this logic may make sense to North Korea.

In the 1960s, US observers doubted Chinese nuclear capabilities until China placed a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile and carried out an atmospheric detonation. Only then were they “tamed” to accept China as a serious nuclear state.

The last atmospheric nuclear test on Earth took place on 16 October 1980, by China.

What could the consequences be?

Nevertheless, the risks with a test like this are immense. Civil aviators and mariners in the target area may perish, given that North Korea does not offer international warning of its missile launch plans unlike other states that routinely test ballistic missiles.

Moreover, the environmental damage and fallout could be catastrophic. Should the missile fail over Japan – or prematurely detonate – the consequences would effectively guarantee a nuclear war in retaliation.

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North Korea could choose not to use a missile for a test like this to mitigate some risk, but still demonstrate an awe-inspiring capability.

A second mechanism could be to sail a ship out to sea with a nuclear device and detonate it. Here, the odds that US intelligence would detect and interdict the North Korean vessel are higher.

What’s critical to recall here is that North Korea gives no assurances of any specific action. Mr Kim simply insults Mr Trump, defends the dignity of his country and promises to consider further action.

Similarly, the foreign minister’s words hint at one possible outcome of many.

An atmospheric nuclear test from North Korea would represent the apotheosis of its provocative testing behaviour. It could even spark a military conflict should Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo determine that no more could be tolerated.

Does the North recognise red lines?

Fortunately, North Korea has proven to be deliberate and incremental in its ballistic missile and nuclear testing and recognises the existence of “red lines” for the international community.

For instance, after its nuclear tests, it noted that no environmental damage occurred, a token gesture of “responsibility” despite its illegal and provocative behaviour.

Ultimately, Kim Jong-un likely saw this statement as an act of proportionality.

Donald Trump’s “unprecedented” threat to his country at the United Nations merited a proportionate response – an unprecedented first-person statement from him.

And so the war of words continues between the leader of the world’s foremost nuclear superpower and its newest nuclear state.

Ankit Panda is a North Korea expert and senior editor at The Diplomat.

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