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With ‘The Breaks,’ VH1 revisits the ’90s hip-hop scene when success … – Los Angeles Times

Posted: February 19, 2017 at 11:12 am

Outside, the world is abuzz aboutDonald Trumps presidency and the latest Kanye controversy. But inside this downtown New York building, the clock has been turned back to the early days of hip-hop.

Cameras are rolling on the set of the new VH1 series The Breaks, as a miffed music manager has burst into the offices of the Village Voice.

Its not the sort of thing you do,the manager, Nikki, fumes to a reporter.

Im not you, Nikki, Im a journalist. The truth is non-negotiable,the music writer fires back.

A moment later, the episodes director pumps her fist.

Cut it, print it, kill it. You got it,says Neema Barnette. Then the directorturns to a reporter to offer some finer context on the divisions inhip-hop at the time.See, Im a Harlem girl. Biggie, thats Brooklyn. Jay Z. Well JayZ is Jay Z.

The Breaksis a time machine of sorts and not just because of the outsized influence of the Village Voice. Chronicling an era when hip-hops role as a spark for both mass protest and mass commerce was just an ember, the eight-part series marks a new entry in scripted televisions growing rap canon.Where Empiredropped a soap opera into the contemporary hip-hop world and The Get Downexamined a birth moment in the late 1970s, The Breakssplits the difference.

Set in New York in 1990, the show lands at the cusp of thegolden age ofhip-hop a genre too new for anyone to know where it wouldgo, but too promising (for some) not to believe that the destination would besomewhere significant.

That period was very violent and very rough, but also very innocent in a lot of ways, especially the music,saysSeith Mann, a veteran director of shows such as The Wireand a co-creatorof The Breaks. And thats what we want to capture in the show how hip-hop grew from that innocence to a dominating business, how people in the arc of a season try to make choices so that they can make art.

Some of them,he addsdryly, wont stay innocent.

Picking up where a 2016 VH1 original movie left off, The Breaksfollows the interlocking lives of a group of people with various roles in the burgeoning sphere. Theres a trio of strivers that includes a wannabe producer, Deevee (Mack Wilds), the management acolyte Nikki (Afton Williamson) and a rookie radio-station programmer David (David Call). They cross paths withvoluble mini-mogul Barry (Wood Harris), a talented but gang-affiliated MC (Antoine Harris, no relation to Wood) and the thirsty reporter, Damita (Melonie Diaz).

Inspired by Dan Charnasacclaimed nonfiction history The Big Payback(Mannsfellowco-creator),The Breaksincludes among its executive producers John J. Strauss, an executive producer on Mozart in the Jungle,another show about dogs eating dogs in a musical subculture.

As with that Amazon Prime video series, the multiple plot lines of The Breaks nearly all involve characters desperately seeking to carve out their place in a world Nikki trying to establish herself in Barrys company, Damita looking to be the genres go-to chronicler whose animating principle remains more passion than money (though the latter is not entirely absent).

The Breaksis set a few years before artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, De La Soul and Wu-Tang Clan began flexing their cultural influence and solidifying hip-hops East Coast movement.

I think theres something really romantic about it; it just seems like a more dreamy era,says Wood Harrisduring a break in shooting. It felt like a time anyone could be a mogul and with a beeper, which if you tell a young person about now, they will laugh,he says, chuckling as he gesturesto a prop on his belt. Or think its something that only exists on YouTube.

That’s hardly the only playful affect: “The Breaks” brings the dorkily endearing names of the era (“Chuck Chillout”) as well as the baggy and colorful fashions. Theres also another kind of wink-y appeal to The Breaks.Much of the show plays on the audiences familiarity with how much rap blew up.In the second episode, when Deevee argues with his hospital-worker father who wants to send Deevee to South Carolina because he doesnt think his son is involved in a real business the audience can nod knowinglyat the younger mans insistence on hip-hops bright future.

Still, the creators say theyre intent on driving home how precarious a moment it was for the genre.

It wasnt inevitable that hip-hop would become as massively popular as it did,Mann says. Hip-hop in those early days was dicey it could have gone the way of disco and go-go.

Nor was it clear who would document its ascent. Though hip-hop journalism at the time had a heavily male component, producers tip their Snapbacks to pioneers like Raquel Cepeda and dream hampton.I think what surprised me is how much women were involved in covering it and bringing the news to the wider world,Diaz says. Its just not something you hear about a lot.

Those looking for a heavy original musical component to the show may be only partly satisfied. While bits of new songs, written by former Little Brother member Phonte Coleman and produced by DJ Premier,are heard,the creators chose to focus more on dialogue and character than beats.

Overt references to real-life figures also are somewhat scant, though tracks from Public Enemy, already well-established by 1990, are present, as arefictional portrayals of new jack swing artists like Keith Sweat. (This fictionalization is by design, say Seith and Charnas, giving them freedom to create without becoming caught in a tangle of rights and legal action.)

Charnas says he actually pitched the series to Fox as far back as 2010, long before Empire,and was met with indifference and even confusion. He soon landed at the shows current venue.

Everyone at VH1 got it right away,saysthe author, who often serves a truth-checking role on setthat has ledcolleagues to dub himthe Treasurer of the authenticity bank account.

The Breaksmakesa lot of sense for the network,said Chris McCarthy, president of MTV, VH1 and Logo.VH1 has always been comfortable both with looking back and celebrating the present.So, hip-hop in the 90s is a very natural place to be.

In recent years, the network has developed a programming slate that draws a large female African American audience, including reality franchises such as Love &Hip-Hopand Basketball Wives.But scripted is a more expensive undertaking, and if the appeal for a hip-hop show stretches into broader demographics, the accompanying risk grows too.

Also debatable is whether televisions hip-hop era has reached its saturation point.

After a breakout first season, Empirefell off a cliff both in the ratings and, to many observers, creatively, while The Get-Downmade a comparatively small splash in Netflixs zeitgeist pool. Hip-hop may now be such a cultural given that the idea of how it emergedis only of modest interest.

Creators of The Breakssay anyone taking that view ismaking a mistake.

I dont think Obama is president without hip-hop it brought so much into the mainstream,saysCharnas, who underscored that connection in The Big Payback.

What’s interesting about the time and hopefully the show is the unwitting heroes in hip-hop. A lot of people who werent setting out to change the world were the ones who did.

The Breaks

Where: VH1

When: 9 p.m. Monday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

See the most-read stories in Entertainment this hour

steve.zeitchik@latimes.com

Twitter:@ZeitchikLAT

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With ‘The Breaks,’ VH1 revisits the ’90s hip-hop scene when success … – Los Angeles Times

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Court Says Google Has A First Amendment Right To Delist Competitor’s ‘Spammy’ Content – Above the Law

Posted: at 10:55 am

Last summer, a Florida federal court reachedsome unusual conclusionsin a lawsuit filed by SEO company e-ventures, which felt Google had overstepped its bounds in delisting a lot of its links. Google defended itself, citing both Section 230 and the First Amendment. The court disagreed with both arguments.

As to Section 230, the court found that Googles delisting efforts werent in good faith. The reason cited was e-ventures claim that the delisting was in bad faith. So much for this seldom-used aspect of Section 230: the Good Samaritan clause which states no third-party company can be found liable for actions it takes to remove content it finds questionable. And so much for viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Apparently, Googles long history of spam-fighting efforts is nothing compared to an SEO wranglers pained assertions.

The court also said Google had no First Amendment right to handle its search rankings however it saw fit, which is more than a little problematic. While it admitted Googles search rankings were protected speech, its statements about how it handled search engines werent. And, for some reason, the court felt that Googles ads undermined its First Amendment protections because its desire to turn a profit somehow nullified its editorial judgment.

It was a strange decision and one that suggested this court might be considering getting into the business of telling service providers how to run their businesses. It also suggested this court believed the more successful the business was, the fewer rights and protections it had. These dubious conclusions prevented Google from having the case dismissed.

Fortunately, this wasnt the final decision. As Eric Goldman points out, last years denial only delayed the inevitable. After a few more rounds of arguments and legal paperwork, Google has prevailed. But theres not much to celebrate in this decision as the court has (again) decided toroute around Googles Section 230 Good Samaritan defense.

Regarding 230(c)(2), the court says spam can qualify as harassing or objectionable content (cite toe360insightwith a but-see to theSong Ficase). Still, the court says e-ventures brought forward enough circumstantial evidence about Googles motivations to send the case to a trial. By making it so Google cant even win on summary judgment, rulings like this just reinforce how Section 230(c)(2) is a useless safe harbor.

Had it ended there, Google would be still be facing e-ventures claims. But it didnt. The court takes another look at Googles First Amendment claims and finds that the search engine provider does actually have the right to remove spammy links. Beyond that, it finds Google even has the First Amendment right to remove competitors content. From theorder[PDF]:

[T]he First Amendment protects as speech the results produced by an Internet search engine. Zhang v. Baidu.com, Inc., 10 F. Supp. 3d 433, 435 (S.D.N.Y. 2014). A search engine is akin to a publisher, whose judgments about what to publish and what not to publish are absolutely protected by the First Amendment. See Miami Herald Publg Co. v. Tornillo, 418 U.S. 241, 258 (1974) (The choice of material to go into a newspaper . . .whether fair or unfairconstitute[s] the exercise of editorial control and judgment that the First Amendment protects.) The presumption that editorial judgments, no matter the motive, are protected expression is too high a bar for e-ventures to overcome.

And the court walks back its earlier conclusion the one that seemed to find profit-motivated editorial judgment to be unworthy of First Amendment protections.

Googles actions in formulating rankings for its search engine and in determining whether certain websites are contrary to Googles guidelines and thereby subject to removal are the same as decisions by a newspaper editor regarding which content to publish, which article belongs on the front page, and which article is unworthy of publication. The First Amendment protects these decisions, whether they are fair or unfair, or motivated by profit or altruism.

The case is now dismissed with prejudice which bars e-ventures from complaining about Googles delisting efforts in federal court. e-ventures has gone this far already in hopes of seeing its terms-violating content reinstated, so it will likely attempt to appeal this decision. But it really shouldnt. Its unlikely another set of judges will help it clear the First Amendment hurdle. Not only that, but this area of law should be well-settled by now, as Goldman points out:

Of course Google can de-index sites it thinks are spam. Its hard to believe were still litigating that issue in 2017; these issues were explored in suits likeSearchKingandKinderStartfrom over a decade ago.

The plaintiff was given a long leash by the court, which should have tossed last year. Even with the extra time and the court doings its Section 230 circumvention work for it, e-ventures still couldnt prevail.

Court Says Google Has A First Amendment Right To Delist Competitors Spammy Content

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Libertarian-leaning Republican Mark Sanford isn’t afraid to criticize President Trump – Rare.us

Posted: February 18, 2017 at 4:44 am

On the same day Donald Trump is visiting Boeing in South Carolina, one of that states most prominent congressmen is making it known that just because they belong to the same party, that doesnt mean the president will get a free pass.

In a lengthy profile of Rep. Mark Sanford published Friday, Politico explores the congressmans openness in discussing the 2009 controversy over his extra-marital affair when he was governor of South Carolina. But the congressmans take on President Trump, particularly within the context of the unique freedom Sanfordbelieves he has given his past, is perhaps most interesting.

RELATED:Rep. Mark Sanford: Heres my plan to repeal and replace Obamacare

All this gives Sanford a unique sense of liberation to speak his mind about a president whose substance and style he considers a danger to democracy, writes Politicos Tim Alberta. Im a dead man walking, (Sanford) tells me, smiling. If youve already been dead, you dont fear it as much. Ive been dead politically.’ []

Politico continues:

Sanford swears he has nothing personal against the new president; in fact, hes heard good things about him personally from several mutual acquaintances. But, he says, he cant look the other way as Trump peddles false information to suit his political aims. I believe in a war of ideas and I tell the staff all the time: Look, were in the business of crafting and refining our arguments that are hopefully based on the truth, he adds. Truth matters. Not hyperbole, not wild suggestion, but actual truth.

He stops himself. Our republic was based on reason. The Founding Fathers were wed to this notion of reason. It was a reason-based system. And if you go to a point wherein it doesnt matter, I mean, that has huge implications in terms of where we go next as a society.

You want to give anybody the benefit of the doubt. I mean, Ive learned that through my own trials and tribulations, Sanford told Politico referring to President Trump, while also citing the Appalachian Trail episode of 2009. But if you see a pattern of over and over and over again, wherein facts dont matter and you can just make up anything

RELATED:Rand Paul: I dont think ObamaCare-lite is what we should do

Sanfords record as a congressman in the 1990s, South Carolinas governor nearly a decade ago and representing that states1st Congressional District today reveals a voting record that is line with some of the most libertarian members of Congress, on everything from foreign policy to civil liberties to spending. Former Texas Congressman Ron Paul has noted that often the only two no votes coming from Republicans in the 90s against military intervention or big government expansions came from himself and Sanford.

Politico speculates whether Sanfords controversial history combined with his libertarian Republican brand might pose a challenge to one of South Carolinas sitting senators:

The scenario of Sanford challenging Lindsey Graham in a 2020 Republican primary has been the subject of excited whispers in Columbia and Washington since Trumps inauguration. Blackstone, Sanfords longtime friend, former staffer and the current Chamber of Commerce chief, brings it up unsolicited when I ask about the possibility of Sanford running for governor. Deep down hes an adventurer, he likes to try different things. So quite frankly youve got to look at other races, Blakstone tells me. Lindsey is always going to be vulnerable to his right. And Sanfords got the conservative credentials. Hes got baggage as well.

When I ask whether hell rule out running against Graham, Sanford is less than equivocal, Politico notes. I dont know where life goes, he says. All I know is that I believe Im supposed to try and be the greatest House member that I can be for the 1st Congressional District, and thats where Im focused.

Libertarian Republican Rep. Justin Amash, who also has often been an outspoken Trump critic, emphasized to Politico how dedicated the South Carolina congressman is to conservative principles. Sanford will never back down, Amash said.

On Tuesday, Sanford penned an op-ed for Rare announcing his plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. His bill is the companion legislation to Sen. Rand Paulsplan to replace the Affordable Care Act.

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Where’s the liberal outrage over civil liberties in the Flynn case? – Minneapolis Star Tribune

Posted: at 4:42 am

Whatever happened to liberal Democrats, with their concerns about civil liberties and government surveillance of American citizens?

Liberals once hated the CIA. And they loved the Russians. You can look it up. Their liberal friends in Hollywood made movie after movie about the dangers of The Deep State and its awesome surveillance powers. One of the best was Three Days of the Condor, with liberal icon Robert Redford fighting the malevolent CIA boss John Houseman, who longed for the clarity of world war.

Years later, Edward Snowden became the liberal demigod and WikiLeaks their winged chariot of truth. Liberals fretted about the powers of the intelligence community being used on citizens for political reasons.

So what happened to the ideals of these liberal Democrats? Donald Trump was elected president, thats what.

And now you can clearly see the change in them as Trumps now-former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has become feast for the crows.

Flynn deserves his punishment. Make no mistake about that. He reportedly lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his phone conversations with a Russian ambassador that included discussion of the Obama administrations sanctions against Russia.

As a former general officer, as a former Defense Intelligence Agency boss, Flynn understands the chain of command. There is no lying to a superior officer.

So Flynn is gone, forced to resign, his head high on a spike upon the Democratic Party ramparts.

Democrats jeer at his head up there. Its as if this episode were street theater in olde England, with Punch and Judy entertaining the small folk.

But what victory are they celebrating, exactly? And at what cost to the republic?

What would have been bothersome to liberals of old (the pre-Trump kind) is that Flynn may have been targeted for a takedown by the Deep State intelligence operatives liberals once loathed.

Flynn and Trump warred with the intelligence community during the campaign, and Trump called out the CIA, tweeting at them, provoking them.

Most recently, Trump was furious that his private conversations with the Australian prime minister became public and were used as a club to pound him in the pages of the Never Trump Washington Post and other establishment newspapers.

The damning news was that there are reportedly transcripts of Flynn speaking with the Russian ambassador before Trump was inaugurated president. This indicates that Flynn was most likely the subject of a warrant issued by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. His conversations were recorded. The American public should know what this is about.

Whats astounding about this is that news reports on Flynns conversations with the Russian ambassador also mentioned something else. They mentioned the existence of many intelligence community sources, and these many intelligence sources presumably read the transcripts and leaked their contents to reporters.

The intelligence community records the conversations of a private citizen and leaks them to damage a president. And liberals who once prided themselves on being civil libertarians are overjoyed. They dont question their good fortune. They celebrate.

Now Trump is in open, public war with American intelligence, and liberals cheer on the intelligence community leakers.

Democrats are on the outs, so they love this story about Flynn. It feeds into their belief that Trump is some tool of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Its not whether they believe this that matters. What matters is that they see a way to sear this deeply upon the American mind before the 2018 elections.

Democrats will continue to push this theme, even if it means celebrating a possible takedown of administration officials by American intelligence, and the many sources of those reports.

Why arent liberals more concerned, when once theyd be outraged about authoritarian tactics?

For the same reasons they werent concerned about presidential overreach when their guy was president, with his imperial pen and his phone.

Because for many Democrats, just like for many Republicans, its all about power, isnt it? And ideals even those that help preserve the republic be damned.

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US Economic Freedom Hits Historic Low – theTrumpet.com

Posted: at 4:42 am

The United States is no longer among the worlds top 15 freest economies. In fact, according to an annual index released by the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday, the U.S. fell from being the sixth-freest economy in the world when President Barack Obama took office in 2009 to being the 17th freest economy in the world today.

The U.S. economic freedom score for 2017 was 75.1 out of 100. This means economic freedom in the U.S. has fallen to its lowest level since the Heritage Foundation started keeping track in 1995. America now ranks behind such nations as Chile, Estonia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. Since the Heritage Foundation ranks countries with scores above 80 as economically free, it has only ranked the U.S. as mostly free since 2009.

The Heritage economic freedom index is calculated based on 12 factors of economic freedom, including property rights, government spending, freedom from corruption, fiscal freedom, monetary freedom, business freedom, labor freedom, trade freedom, investment freedom and financial freedom. The 2017 report lists large budget deficits, an enormous national debt, a substantial expansion of government bureaucracy and an increased tax burden as contributing factors to the decline in Americas economic freedom.

Another index of economic freedom, published by the Fraser Institute, shows that the U.S. fell from being second freest economy in 1980 to being the 16th freest economy in 2014. According to this assessment, U.S. economic freedom actually rose from 1980 to 2000 but has been in steady decline since the turn of the millennium.

The Fraser Institute reports that the U.S. economic freedom index fell from 8.07 to 7.75 between 1980 and 2014, while Chinas economic freedom index rose from 3.64 to 6.45 during the same time period. As the U.S. turns its back on Adam Smith-style capitalism and China turns its back on Mao Zedong-style communism, both nations are adopting a mixed socialist market economy where property is privately owned but micromanaged by government bureaucrats.

Germany and most members of the European Union also have economic freedom scores in the moderately free zone, a category associated with mixed socialist market economies and authoritarian bureaucracies.

For the past two centuries, the form of government championed by Britain and Americaa form of government that has at its heart some important biblical principleshas spread throughout the Western world. Yet, in recent years, nations around the globe have been turning their back on the Anglo-American methods of economic management.

Even many key American officials have adopted an approach similar to Barack Obamas philosophy that nations should not debate the ideologies of capitalism and communism, but instead should pursue a mixed economy that uses bits of Communist theory and bits of capitalist theory.

To see where this dangerous decline in economic freedom is leading, please read Democracy Is Dying.

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11 Times Barack Obama Abused Press Freedom – Breitbart News

Posted: at 4:07 am

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Perhaps the mainstream media Brahmins have short memories or selective memories. Because when President Barack Obama took direct aim at the media and press freedom, few complained. And when they did, the media soon went back to giving him fawning coverage.

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Here are 11 moments Obama abused the press:

1. Campaign plane hijacking journalists. In 2008, the Obama campaign flew 25 members of the media to Chicago without telling them then-Sen. Obama was not, in fact, on board. CNN reported: [T]he press was essentially held hostage with no candidate and no choice but to fly to Chicago on a chartered plane.

2. Closing White House events to all but the official photographer. Obama barred the media from events including, ironically, an award ceremony where he was recognized for transparency and often restricted photographers access, only releasing images taken bythe official White House photographer.

3. Trying to shut out Fox News. The Obama administration targeted Fox News for isolation and marginalization, arguing that it was not a legitimate news organization but the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party. That served as a warning to other potentially critical outlets.

4. Stonewalling FOIA requests. The Obama administration set a record for failing to provide information requested by the press and the public under the Freedom of Information Act. The low point was Hillary Clintons email scandal, where tens of thousands of emails were hidden on a private server and deleted.

5. Prosecuting journalists and their sources. The Obama administration pursued Fox News reporter James Rosens private emails then misled Congress about it. CNNs Jake Tapper to his credit pointed out that Obama had used the Espionage Act against leakers more than all of his predecessors combined.

6. Wiretapping the Associated Press.After the Obama administrations snooping on the AP was exposed in 2013, a senior NBC correspondent excused President Obamaon the grounds that he would not have been nasty enough to alienate one of the presidents most important constituencies, the press.

7. Refusing to hold press conferences.For long stretches of his presidency, Obama refused to hold press conferencesat all, going 10 months without a formal press conference in a critical stretch from 2009 to 2010. He heeled the lowest average annual number of press conferences of any president since Ronald Reagan.

8. Filibustering at press conferences. When Obama did, finally, hold press conference, he often limited the number of questions by delivering long, rambling, often condescending answers. He wastes reporters time by refraining from answering questions with any candor, Jack Shafer complainedin Politico in 2016.

9. Attacking tough questions. When a Major Garrett of CBS actually asked a tough question about why the administration seemed not to be trying hard to free Americans held by Iran, includingWashington Post journalist Jason Rezaian Obama scolded him: Major, thats nonsense, and you should know better.

10. Appearing on fringe outlets. While media elitesgripe about conservative journalists being given a chance, Obama often restricted his appearances to fringe media:Inside Edition; Funny or Dies Between Two Ferns (which was then nominated for an Emmy); YouTube stars; anda radio show called Pimp with a Limp.

11. Iran deal echo chamber.The Obama administrationcreated fake news to support the Iran deal, setting up what it later boasted was an echo chamber of experts who would comment in the media to support the White House narrative on the negotiations. Meanwhile, key details were hidden from the public.

Through it all, President Obama regarded himself as a champion of press freedom, having run the most transparent administration ever.

Many mainstream media journalists ignoredthe Obama administrations abuses. A fewspoke out against them. But mostof them continued to paint him in glowing terms, regardless.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the most influential people in news media in 2016. His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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Merkel testifies on NSA spying affair – Deutsche Welle

Posted: at 3:57 am

German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared as a witness at the final hearing in the three-year existence of the parliamentary committee charged with investigating the 2013 NSA scandal. Although she admitted to technical and organizational mistakes, she parried suggestions that she knew or should have known about widespread American and German spying on allies at an early stage of the affair.

Merkels testimony was particularly anticipated not just because of her position as chancellor, but because of her high-profile statement in 2013: “Spying among friends – that simply isnt done.”

The chancellor, appearing relaxed, began with a 25-minute statement full of self-quotations from 2013-15. In it she tried to prove that she had consistently come out against intelligence surveillance of allies in the wake of the Snowden leaks in 2013. She also sought to show that she had only gradually learned about the extent of the NSAs spying on Germans and the German foreign intelligence service BNDs monitoring of German allies, which emerged after journalistic inquiries in 2015.

She said that she had complained to then US President Barack Obama about the US spying in 2013 and insisted that US intelligence services operating on German soil follow German law.

“Were not in the Cold War any more,” Merkel quoted herself as telling Obama.

Merkel said that the situation had been made more complicated by the complex and constantly evolving nature of surveillance technology.

“There are always some contradictions between freedom and security, and a balance must be maintained,” Merkel said.

Merkel downplayed the importance of so-called “handygate”

The cell phone affair

The conservative chairman of the committee Patrick Sensburg was far less aggressive in his questioning of Merkel than he had been grilling high-ranking chancellors office leaders on Monday. One main thread of his queries had to do with alleged NSA eavesdropping on Merkel’s cell phone.

Speaking without notes other than her opening remarks, Merkel said that it was never proven that the American intelligence service had listened in on her conversations. She added that she had received assurances from Obama that her phone was not tapped and wouldnt be in the future.

When asked why she didn’t have her cell phone forensically examined, she said that she didnt want to give additional insights into her communication habits. She said it was easier for her just to procure a new device.

Deficits or something more?

The Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Greens sought to suggest that Merkel had violated her own principle that allies shouldnt spy on one another by failing to pursue the matter vigorously enough with Washington and to ensure that similar practices by BND were discontinued.

Merkel says she didn’t know until 2015 that the BND spied on allies

In response to Merkel’s insistence that she only gradually learned about the BND’s use of so-called selectors, computer search terms, aimed at European political leaders and businesses, Christian Plisek of the SPD asked: “Is it responsible to demand things of intelligence services abroad, when youre not sure what our own ones are doing?”

When Plisek asked if she had inquired about where the BND got information it passed along to her, Merkel replied tersely: “I dont need information about sources of information.”

Merkel said that her assertion that “friends” should spy on one another was a statement of political belief and not an assertion that Germany didnt run surveillance on allies. When pressed why it took until March 2015 for the BND to discontinue using certain controversial selectors, the chancellor blamed “technical and organizational deficits.”

“You say that it cant be that friends spy on one another and yet the BND did precisely that over years,” objected Andr Hahn of the Left Party. “And that was just down to ‘technical and organizational deficits?'”

Merkel denied any deeper knowledge of German surveillance practices before 2015 and any responsibility for mistakes made by her subordinates. She said that she as chancellor set policy targets and trusted others to see that they were met.

Few tense moments

The mood at the hearing was fairly congenial

Konstantin von Notz of the Greens suggested that talk of a no-spy agreement between Germany and the US in 2013, which ultimately yielded no results, was a strategy to blunt the political damage of the NSA affair. Merkel denied that thiswas the case.

Notz also asked Merkel to name the reason why the former president of the BND Gerhard Schindler went into early retirement in 2015. The chancellor refused to do so, but said that she was happy thatGermanys foreign intelligence service was able to make a “new start.”

The committee succeeded in highlighting mistakes madein the BND and to a lesser extent in the chancellors office. But it didnt uncover evidence of any massive misdeeds by Merkel or her associates.

In a break in the testimony, Plisek told reporters that he believed that chancellor didn’t know about the practices within the BND when she made her “friends don’t spy on friends” remark, although he did add that she seemed to have erected a “protective wall” around herself to keep from knowing more than she absolutely had to.

Although Merkel appeared to grow slightly more irritable as the hearing wore on, none the questioners managed to provoke her into an unmeasured response. Indeed, during the break she joked with reporters as though at a social event rather than a parliamentary investigative hearing.

Merkel’s testimony ends the main investigative work of the committee, which was formed in March 2014. It now has until the second half of June to file its final report on the NSA-BND spying affair.

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Judicial Watch Planning to Sue FBI, NSA, CIA for Flynn Records – Breitbart News

Posted: at 3:57 am

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The group filed Freedom of Information Act requests for the records weeks ago but are planning to sue by next week for the records if they do not receive anything by then.

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Judicial Watch filed the requests with the FBI, NSA, CIA, and Treasury Department, according to the groups Director of Investigations and Research Chris Farrell.

The group is aiming to find out whether there was ever a warrant allowing the U.S. government to wiretap Flynns phone calls, and if so, who requested it and why.

If you have a warrant, attached to the warrant 99 percent of the time, there is an affidavit, a sworn declaration normally by a law enforcement officer or senior official, said Farrell.

Such a warrant could be classified, depending on the case, he said.

A wiretapped phone call between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was leaked to the Washington Post and revealed in a Feb. 9 story.

The leak, which took place in December, contradicted public assertions by Vice President Michael Pence that Flynn had never discussed sanctions with Kislyak, and led to Flynns eventual resignation on Monday.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA)highlighted this week that such wiretapping would only be legal if intelligence agencies obtained a warrant or happened upon the conversation while investigating a foreign official.

Nunes speculated that its pretty clear that there was no warrant.

Its pretty clear thats not the case, he said. Im pretty sure the FBI didnt have a warrant on Michael Flynn To listen to an Americans phone call you would have to go to a court, thered be all that paperwork there. So Im guessing that doesnt exist.

Nunes said even if it was inadvertent, there is a process that masks the Americans identity.

And if you were going to unmask it, it seems like you would immediately go get a warrant, he said.

Farrell, a former Army counterintelligence officer and adjunct professor at George Mason University, said that a warrant would only be requested or granted if the agents in question suspected Flynn of criminal activity.

The Trump administration has denied that Flynn broke any law.

Both Nunes and Farrell said the leaking of the phone call is illegal and harmful to national security.

Farrell said the contents of the call would be considered raw intelligence, typically handled in a SCIF, or a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility an enclosed area in a building used to process types of classified information.

All activity and conversation inside a SCIF is restricted from public disclosure.

It seems that certain government officials were either reading that out loud to a reporter or giving them copies of it Farrell said.

That theyre conveying that information to reporters in order to embarrass or smear General Flynn or people in the Trump administration is treasonous, he said. Its a crime its a national security crime. The FBI should presently be hunting down the likely suspects.

Farrell also said the leak compromised COMINT, or communications intelligence, a subset of SIGINT, or signals intelligence.

It appears that these various officials that are reportedly so concerned about national security that they are recklessly making COMINT disclosures, he said. They are compromising sources, intelligence, and methods.

The irony is rich, he said.

Democratic lawmakers and officials in the Obama administration blame Russia for hacking into servers belonging to the Democratic National Committee and top Hillary Clinton aide John Podesta and leaking them to Wikileaks.

The hacks prompted intelligence investigations, which concluded that Russia was responsible. Trump dismissed suggestions that Russias involvement helped him win, and criticized the intelligence community, setting up a contentious relationship that has continued throughout his first weeks in office.

Farrell said he believes embedded political operatives within the various agencies and departments are likely responsible for the leaked Flynn call.

Youve got political appointees who converted to civil service slots, he said. Theres a legion of Sally Yates out thereat lower levels or at different departments and agencies who are either overtly or subversively attempting to undermine not just Gen. Flynn and aiming at President Trump.

Its an incremental attack. They will try to pick off one by one people close to the president. I refer to this as really as a soft coup, he said.

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Judicial Watch Planning to Sue FBI, NSA, CIA for Flynn Records – Breitbart News

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China’s Artificial-Intelligence Boom – The Atlantic

Posted: February 17, 2017 at 1:21 am

Each winter, hundreds of AI researchers from around the world convene at the annual meeting of the Association of the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. Last year, a minor crisis erupted over the schedule, when AAAI announced that 2017s meeting would take place in New Orleans in late January. The location was fine. The dates happened to conflict with Chinese New Year.

The holiday might not have been a deal breaker in the past, but Chinese researchers have become so integral to the meeting, it could not go on without them. They had to reschedule. Nobody would have put AAAI on Christmas day, says current AAAI president Subbarao Kambhampati. Our organization had to almost turn on a dime and change the conference venue to hold it a week later.

The 2017 AAAI meetingwhich ultimately relocated to San Franciscowrapped up just last week. And as expected, Chinese researchers had a strong showing in the historically U.S.-dominated conference. A nearly equal number of accepted papers came from researchers based in China and the U.S. This is pretty surprising and impressive given how different it was even three, four years back, says Rao.

Chinas rapid rise up the ranks of AI research has people taking notice. In October, the Obama White House released a strategic plan for AI research, which noted that the U.S. no longer leads the world in journal articles on deep learning, a particularly hot subset of AI research right now. The country that had overtaken the U.S.? China, of course.

Its not just academic research. Chinese tech companies are betting on AI, too. Baidu (a Chinese search-engine company often likened to Google), Didi (often likened to Uber), and Tencent (maker of the mega-popular messaging app WeChat) have all set up their own AI research labs. With millions of customers, these companies have access to the huge amount of data that training AI to detect patterns requires.

Like the Microsofts and Googles of the world, Chinese tech companies see enormous potential in AI. It could undergird a whole set of transformative technologies in the coming decades, from facial recognition to autonomous cars.I have a hard time thinking of an industry we cannot transform with AI, says Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Baidu. Ng previously cofounded Coursera and Google Brain, the companys deep learning project. Now he directs Baidus AI research out of Sunnyvale, California, right in Silicon Valley.

* * *

Chinas success in AI has been partly fueled by the governments overall investment in scientific research at its universities. Over the past decade, government spending on research has grown by double digits on average every year. Funding of science and technology research continues to be a major priority, as outlined by the the Five-Year Plan unveiled this past March.

When Rao first started seeing Chinese researchers at international AI meetings, he recalls they were usually from Tsinghua and Peking University, considered the MIT and Harvard of China. Now, he sees papers from researchers all over the country, not just the most elite schools. Machine learningwhich includes deep learninghas been an especially popular topic lately. The number of people who got interested in applied machine learning has tremendously increased across China, says Rao. This is the same uptick that the White House noticed in its report on a strategic plan for AI research.

Chinese tech companies are part of the infusion of research dollars to universities, too. At Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, computer scientist Qiang Yang collaborates with Tencent, which sponsors scholarships for students in his lab.

The students get access to mountains of data from WeChat, the messaging app from Tencent that is akin to Facebook, iMessage, and Venmo all rolled into one. (With AI, they cant do it without a lot of data and a platform to test it on, says Yang, which is why industry collaboration is so key.) In return, Tencent gets a direct line to some of the most innovative research coming out of academic labs. And of course, some of these students end up working at Tencent when they graduate.

The quantity of Chinese AI research has grown dramatically, but researchers in the U.S. are still responsible for a lot of the most fundamental groundbreaking work. The very clever ideas on changing network architecture, I see those in the U.S., says Ng. What Chinese researchers have been very good at doing is seizing on an idealike machine learningand cranking out papers on its different applications.

Yet as the research matures in China, Ng says, it is also becoming its own distinct community. After a recent international meeting in Barcelona, he recalls seeing Chinese language write-ups of the talks circulate right way. He never found any in English. The language issue creates a kind of asymmetry: Chinese researchers usually speak English so they have the benefit of access to all the work disseminated in English. The English-speaking community, on the other hand, is much less likely to have access to work within the Chinese AI community.

China has a fairly deep awareness of whats happening in the English-speaking world, but the opposite is not true, says Ng. He points out that Baidu has rolled out machine translation and voice recognition services powered by AIbut when Google and Microsoft, respectively, did so later, the American companies got a lot more publicity.

And when it comes to actually shipping new features, China companies can move more quickly. The velocity of work is much faster in China than in most of Silicon Valley, says Ng. When you spot a business opportunity in China, the window of time you have to respond usually very shortshorter in China than the United States.

Yang chalks it up to Chinas highly competitive ecosystem. WeChat, for example, has built a set of features around QR codes (yes, really), chat, payments, and friend discovery that make it indispensable to daily life in China. American social media companies only wish they had that kind of loyalty. Product managers at Tencent have good sense of what customers want, and they can can quickly turn technology into reality, says Yang. This cycle is very short. And to stay competitive, theyre primed to integrate AI to improve their products. Whether Chinese tech companies use the AI wave to break into the international market remains to be seenbut theyre already using AI to compete for customers in China.

In the academic world, AAAI has now taken steps to make sure Chinese researchers have input on the meetings. The exact date of Chinese New Year changes every year, but its always in January or February, when the AAAI meeting usually takes place. Cant have them conflicting again.

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China’s Artificial-Intelligence Boom – The Atlantic

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Donald Trump touts promise progress at press conference – PolitiFact

Posted: at 1:12 am

President Donald Trump addressed a variety of topics during a Feb. 16, 2017, news conference in the East Room of the White House.

Were tracking more than 100 of President Donald Trumps campaign pledges on our Trump-O-Meter. In a lengthy press conference Feb. 16, Trump listed several actions hes taken since his Jan. 20 inauguration to meet these promises.

Heres a quick rundown of the promises he listed. (We fact-checked the press conference in a separate article.)

“We’ve withdrawn from the job-killing disaster known as Trans Pacific Partnership.”

We rated this a Promise Kept after Trump signed a presidential memoranda officially directing the United States to withdraw from the free trade deal. The TPP, negotiated by former President Barack Obama, had yet to be ratified by Congress and was unlikely to be. Trump’s withdrawal is a largely symbolic move but underscores the new administration’s very different outlook on global trade.

“We’ve imposed a hiring freeze on nonessential federal workers.”

We rated this promise In the Works, after Trump signed a presidential memorandum imposing a hiring freeze on federal employees, with exceptions for employees in national security, public safety and the military sectors. But the real measure of success for this pledge will come down to how much he is able to reduce the scope of the government through attrition.

“We’ve issued a game-changing new rule that says for each one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.”

We rated this a Promise Kept, when he signed a Jan. 30 executive order directing that for every new regulation, two be repealed. Several regulation categories are exempt from Trump’s order, including the military, foreign affairs and personnel management.

“We’ve begun preparing to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

We rated this claim In the Works after Trump signed a broad executive order to minimize the laws economic burden on his first day in office. However, the executive order did not repeal the former presidents signature health care law or offer executive branch agencies any new authority with regard to the policy.

“We have also taken steps to begin construction of the Keystone Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipelines.”

We rated Trumps promise to build the Keystone XL pipeline In the Works after he signed a presidential memorandum advancing the construction of the pipeline on Jan 25. He also signed another memorandum ordering the Army to “review and approve” the Dakota Access Pipeline. Both represent direct reversals of actions taken by the Obama administration, which took steps to halt construction of both pipelines.

We are “now in the process of beginning to build a promised wall on the southern border.”

We rated this promise as In the Works after Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 25 calling for the walls “immediate construction of a physical wall.” Trump didnt mention in the press conference a key component of his promise that Mexico would pay for for the wall. Mexican government officials say the country wont pay.

“We’ve ordered a crackdown on sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal law and that harbor criminal aliens.”

Trump promised to “end” sanctuary cities during his campaign. We rated this promise In the Works after he signed an executive order on Jan. 25 directing the attorney general’s office and the secretary of homeland security to withhold grant money from cities that protect undocumented immigrants.

“We have taken decisive action to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of our country.”

Trump promised to suspend immigration from terror-prone places. We rated this promise In the Works when he signed an executive order Jan. 27 temporarily halting entry into the United States of people from seven countries impacted by terrorism. The order is currently facing significant legal challenges.

“I’ve started by imposing a five-year lobbying ban on White House officials…

We rated this promise a Compromise. Trump signed an executive order Jan. 28 that will restrict some of the lobbying White House officials can do after they leave his team. But like most presidential crackdowns on ethics, it has caveats. For example, the order only bans White House officials from lobbying their former agency, not from becoming lobbyists.

and a lifetime ban on lobbying for a foreign government.”

We rated this a Promise Kept. Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 28 banning administration officials from ever lobbying the United States on behalf of a foreign government.

“I have kept my promise to the American people by nominating a justice of the United States Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, who is from my list of 20.”

We rated this a Promise Kept. Not even two weeks into his presidency, Trump nominated Gorsuch to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court. Gorsuch, a conservative, is currently a judge for the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit based in Colorado.

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Donald Trump touts promise progress at press conference – PolitiFact

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