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Miscellaneous

Some stories don't really fit into a topic that we deal with, yet we think you'll find them interesting enough that we want you to see them.

This is where we catch stories that otherwise would fall through the cracks.

Later, if we find several of these stories that seem to fit together, we might create a new topic and combine those stories there.

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Lock her up? The risk of private email servers.

2019-Oct-28By: Barry Shatzman

The State Department has completed an investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State - determining that any security risk was minimal.

Clinton used the server to receive and send approximately 33,000 emails during her tenure at the State Department.

The investigation found that Clinton's use of the server increased the risk of compromising sensitive information - and that there were 91 security violations that could be attributed to 38 individuals.

It concluded, however, that the deliberate transmission of classified information via unclassified email was a "rare exception," and there was "no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information."

Clinton got attention, but wasn't alone

Clinton was not the only official to use personal email to conduct official government business.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and senior staff of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were found by the State Department to have used personal email accounts.

As governor of Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence also conducted official business using his personal email account. Though Pence's communications did not involve national security, his account was hacked.

Other members of Trump's administration - including his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner - have used private email accounts for official business.

Trump's security concerns

Donald Trump made the issue of a potential security breach by Clinton a focus of his successful 2016 presidential campaign

Yet Trump himself has shown little regard for national secrets, with actions including...

o Disclosing classified information to Russia.

o Posting a classified military photo on Twitter.

o Demanding that Jared Kushner be granted a security clearance despite being deemed a risk. Among other concerns, he failed to disclose meetings with Russians on his security clearance application.

o Using an unsecured personal cell phone that can be eavesdropped on by Russia and China.

A personal server makes public information difficult to trace

Using personal email accounts for government business also creates problems with non-classified communications.

In 2016, the State Department criticized Clinton's use of a personal server, which made it difficult to comply with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

That use, however, did not violate any laws. Clinton's use of her personal server took place prior to the 2014 Presidential and Federal Records Act Ammendments.

Even that law, which tightened restrictions on using non-government systems, can be enforced only by disciplinary actions.

Baseball considering better foul ball protection

2019-Jul-13By: (External links)

After Numerous Foul Ball Fan Injuries, Baseball Reconsiders Protective Netting

New pedophile charges against Trump friend Epstein

2019-Jul-08  (Updated: 2019-Aug-10)By: Rob Dennis and Barry Shatzman

Update 2019-Aug-10: Epstein died in jail. His death has initially been deemed to be a suicide.

Update 2019-Aug-30: A federal judge has formally dropped the new charges against Epstein due to Epstein's death.

A convicted sex-offender with links to President Donald Trump and members of his cabinet has now been charged with sex trafficking of girls as young as 14.

Jeffrey Epstein, a money manager for the wealthy, owns luxury properties around the world, including in New York; Palm Beach, Florida; and Paris. He also owns a private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Previous conviction resulted in lenient plea deal

In 2007 Epstein faced the possibility of life behind bars when he was accused of assembling a "large, cult-like network of underage girls - with the help of young female recruiters - to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day," the Miami Herald reported.

He instead pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges, and was sentenced to 13 months in a Palm Beach prison, where he was allowed to leave for 12 hours a day, six days a week. The deal also granted immunity to any of Epstein's potential co-conspirators.

The prosecutor who ultimately approved the deal was then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Alexander Acosta. Acosta now serves in Trump's cabinet as secretary of labor.

Plea ruled illegal, and repercussions still being felt

In February 2019, a federal judge ruled that Acosta and other prosecutors broke the law by failing to tell victims about the plea agreement.

In March 2019, an attorney for one of Epstein's victims claimed in federal court that attorney Alan Dershowitz, a member of the legal defense team that brokered the 2008 plea deal, was involved in Epstein's sex-trafficking ring. Dershowitz has denied the allegation.

Current charges against Epstein

The new indictment, unsealed in federal court on July 8, includes charges of sex trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion, and of conspiring to commit that crime.

A court filing alleges Epstein abused dozens of minor victims in New York and dozens more in Florida. The alleged crimes, which occurred from 2002 to 2005, are punishable by up to 45 years in prison. Epstein has pleaded not guilty.

A raid on Epstein's Manhattan mansion found "hundreds - and perhaps thousands - of sexually suggestive photographs of fully- or partially-nude females," some of whom appear to be underage, according to the court filing.

The case is being handled by the Southern District of New York's Public Corruption Unit.

Friends in high palaces

Epstein's "little black book" included the names and phone numbers of former president Bill Clinton, the United Kingdom's Prince Andrew, actor Kevin Spacey, and Trump.

They joined Epstein for flights on his private jet, dubbed the "Lolita Express."

In a lawsuit, one woman claimed she was lured into sexual slavery when she was 15 in 1999 by Epstein's then-girlfriend at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, an unidentified woman sued Trump, claiming he raped her at one of Epstein's parties when she was 13. Trump denied the allegation. The woman dropped the suit months later.

Reaction from administration officials

The day following the indictment, Acosta wrote on his official Twitter page that "the crimes committed by Epstein are horrific." He said he is happy that the case is now being pursued.

Prior to becoming attorney general, William Barr was an attorney at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, which helped secure Epstein's 2007 plea deal. Epstein also has taught calculus and physics at Dalton School - a New York private college-preparatory school of which Barr's father Donald was headmaster at the time.

Barr has said he will recuse himself from reviews of the plea deal, but not from the current case against Epstein.

Reaction from Trump

Trump defended Acosta, but said he would "look closely" at the circumstances surrounding the plea deal for Epstein that he approved.

Trump said that he and Epstein "had a falling out" about 15 years ago.

In 2002, Trump told New York magazine, "I've known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it - Jeffrey enjoys his social life."

Much chocolate the product of child labor

2019-Jun-06By: (External links)

Cocoa's child laborers

Is teen sexting video of oneself child porn?

2019-Jun-06By: (External links)

A teenage girl texted her friends a graphic video of herself. A court said she'd shared child pornography.

Why most new apartment buildings all look the same

2019-Apr-15By: (External links)

Why America's New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same

WikiLeaks founder indicted, removed from embassy in England

2019-Apr-12  (Updated: 2019-Apr-15)By: Rob Dennis

Julian Assange has been indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

The indictment claims that in 2010 Assange - the founder of WikiLeaks - conspired with then Army intelligence analyst Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning to crack a database password in order to access classified information.

Manning had given stolen classified documents to WikiLeaks earlier that year.

The indictment does not charge Assange with publishing classified information.

Where has Assange been?

For the past seven years, Assange had been residing in the Ecuadorian Embassy in England to avoid extradition to Sweden to face sexual assault allegations.

He was arrested by British police after Ecuador revoked his political asylum. The same day, he was found guilty of failing to surrender to a British court. He faces up to a year in prison for that offense.

The U.S. is seeking Assange's extradition. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

Inexpensive kamikaze drone could change warfare

2019-Feb-23By: (External links)

The Kalashnikov assault rifle changed the world. Now there's a Kalashnikov kamikaze drone.

Conviction for leaving food in desert for migrants

2019-Jan-19By: (External links)

Arizona: Four women convicted after leaving food and water in desert for migrants

Should you evacuate during Hurricane Florence?

2018-Sep-11By: (External links)

How To Convince Your Family To Evacuate During Hurricane Florence

Life expectancy by social status

2018-Aug-19By: (External links)

The bad news is we're dying early in Britain - and it's all down to "shit-life syndrome"

Cohen's recordings of Trump and the history of secret microphones

2018-Jul-26By: (External links)

Michael Cohen's Trump recordings and the secret history of secret microphones

Facebook looks to know more about you than you do

2018-Jun-25By: Barry Shatzman

Wanna know when your friends will die? Facebook does.

Among the patents the social media company has applied for is a method to use information such as what you buy and where you buy it, as well as your posts and messages, to predict future life events - including death.

Virtually all of Facebook's revenue comes from advertising, and predictions such as this would help them target ads to you that you're more likely to respond to.

Other patents Facebook has applied for include...

o Using your phone's front-facing camera to ascertain your reaction to what you just read, and its microphone to determine what you're watching on TV (and even whether ads are muted).

o Classifying your personality - including your degree of emotional stability.

o Using your phone's location in the middle of the night to determine where you live.

Obtaining a patent does not necessarily mean that the feature will ever be used. Overall, Facebook has applied for thousands of patents. And some patents are obtained defensively - simply to prevent someone else from using the technology.

Taken together, however, "Facebook's patents show a commitment to collecting personal information," the New York Times' Sahil Chinoy wrote in an opinion article.

Nobody wants your autograph

2018-Apr-11By: Barry Shatzman

You may have noticed that your signature isn't needed as often when using a credit card. By next month, you'll need it even less.

Credit card companies are dropping the signature requirement for most purchases, the New York Times reported.

The reason is that technology has made signatures obsolete.

Signatures used to be used by merchants to verify the card's owner actually made the purchase. But microchips embedded in credit cards now make them almost impossible to duplicate. And other types of purchases - such as online or with a smartphone - often don't use signatures anyway.

In some instances not requiring a signature could just be a small convenience. But it also might speed up a checkout line.

Some businesses might still choose to require signatures - such as a restaurant that might be worried about losing tips.

Strange replacement for Sessions' Senate seat

2017-Feb-09By: Barry Shatzman

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has named Luther Strange to replace Sen. Jeff Sessions in the Senate, after Sessions was confirmed to be Attorney General.

As Alabama's attorney general, Strange had been investigating a sex scandal involving Bentley. The Alabama legislature was working on impeachment proceedings against the governor. In November 2016, Strange requested that the legislature delay the proceedings.

Bentley will choose Strange's replacement for state attorney general also.

Fla. Rep wants U.S. to inhabit the moon

2017-Feb-03  (Updated: 2017-Feb-20)By: Barry Shatzman

Rep. Bill Posey has introduced a bill that would direct the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to work toward establishing a sustained human presence on the moon.

The Reasserting American Leadership in Space Act lists reasons for doing so...

o It would allow researchers to "leverage new technologies in addressing the challenges of sustaining life on another celestial body, lessons which are necessary and applicable as we explore further into our solar system, to Mars and beyond."

o It would motivate young people to "excel in the vital subjects of math and science, subjects in which American students lag behind our international competitors."

o It would enhance "commercial interest among United States companies in developing systems, like landers, habitats and surveying technology..."

o It would enhance our national security, allowing the United States to "possess and maintain the capabilities of unfettered operation in the cislunar space domain, and not cede this domain to other nations."

Posey's Florida district is the home of NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Trump: Religions should be able to endorse candidates

2017-Feb-02By: Barry Shatzman

President Trump announced at the National Prayer Breakfast that he would work to eliminate the law prohibiting churches and charities from participating in political campaigns.

The 1954 Johnson Amendment prohibits tax-exempt organizations from supporting (or opposing) candidates in elections.

Constitutional amendment proposed to prohibit flag desecration

2017-Feb-02By: Barry Shatzman

Rep. Steve Womack has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would allow Congress to prohibit the physical desecration of the U.S. flag.

Living near a freeway may cause dementia

2017-Jan-05By: Barry Shatzman

How susceptible are you to dementia later in life? Your risk could depend on how close you live to a freeway.

A 10-year study of 2 million people in Canada showed those living within 200 feet of a major road were more than 5 percent likely to become a victim of dementia.

Researchers did not determine the reason - whether air pollution, noise, or something else.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that 3 million people die every year from air pollution.

Trump may keep private security while president

2016-Dec-20  (Updated: 2017-Jan-04)By: Rob Dennis

President-elect Donald Trump plans to keep at least some of his private security staff after he takes office, according to a report by Politico.com.

There is no known precedent of a president keeping a private security staff working alongside Secret Service protection.

Members of his security staff have been accused by protesters of racial profiling and excessive force. But using security guards who have not undergone Secret Service training also can put the president in harms way. For instance, a law enforcement source cited by Politico said Trump's head of security Keith Schiller was "too slow" and blocked an evacuation route when a man rushed the stage at a Trump rally in March in Dayton, Ohio.



In the video, Schiller arrives from the right, about a second after agents.

Trump has indicated he might continue to hold rallies around the country after he becomes president, and that they might be paid for using private funding.

It's an important distinction. At an event paid for by the government, only law enforcement can remove protesters - and only if they break the law, American Civil Liberties Union senior staff attorney Lee Rowland told Politico. But at a private event, "the host can decide whether and when to revoke attendees' invitations," Rowland said. "That would make them trespassers and allow them to be legally removed."

Protesters have filed lawsuits against Trump and his campaign...

o In one suit, protester Henry Brousseau alleges that Trump supporters punched him in the stomach at a March rally in Louisville, Ky. Brousseau told Politico that Trump security guards "did not seem to be interested at all in public safety. They were there to keep the rally on message."

o Another lawsuit claims Trump security guards assaulted protesters on a public sidewalk outside Trump Tower in New York in September 2015. Click here to see a video of the incident.

Trump has chosen to make Trump Tower, where he lives and works, his headquarters during the campaign and now the transition period. New York City officials have asked the federal government to reimburse the city for an estimated $35 million in security costs through Inauguration Day.

Update 2017-Jan-04: Trump appointed Schiller deputy assistant to the president and director of Oval Office operations.

Our government (as we know it) turns 227 years old today

2016-Mar-04By: Barry Shatzman

The U.S. government as we know it turns 227 years old today.

It was on March 4, 1789 that Congress held its first session. It took over from the Confederation Congress that had operated under the Articles of Confederation since the country won its independence in the Revolutionary War.

Things did not start smoothly. Although the Confederate Congress chose the date for the change, the Constitution specified the first Monday in December as the day to begin business. It was a problem that would not be fully resolved until 1933 - when the 20th Amendment was ratified.

Textbook refers to slaves as "workers"

2015-Oct-05By: Barry Shatzman

Textbook publisher McGraw-Hill announced it will revise a history textbook which refers to slaves brought to the United States as "workers".

Though the correction will be made immediately in the digital version of the book and included in the next printing, classes might still use the current version for several years.

"Happy Birthday to You" is free to be played

2015-Sep-23By: Barry Shatzman

You soon may start hearing "Happy Birthday to You" in restaurants and on television more.

If you haven't had anyone sing it in a while , it's probably because somebody didn't want to pay a royalty to Warner Music Group. The company acquired the rights to the song in 1988 and has been bringing in about $2 million a year from licensing it.

But a federal judge has ruled that the copyright is not valid.

Judge George H. King ruled in Los Angeles that the company actually had acquired the rights to the song as it was published in 1893 - as "Good Morning to You" - and not to the subsequent change that made it the standard birthday song.

Unless the ruling is overturned, the song will become part of the public domain. The court now will need to decide if Warner Music Group will need to refund licensing fees it collected from those who used the song.

Mt. Mckinley renamed to Denali

2015-Aug-28By: Barry Shatzman

The Obama administration has renamed the tallest mountain in North America from Mt. McKinley to Denali.

Denali is a Native American word meaning "the great one". The Alaskan mountain, as well as the name, has been part of native Alaskan culture for thousands of years.

In 1896 a prospector exploring the mountain, William Andrews Dickey, named it in honor of William McKinley - before McKinley was inaugurated president in 1897. The government formally recognized the name in 1917 - ten years after McKinley was assassinated.

In 1975 by then Alaska Governor Jay S. Hammond asked the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN) to change the name, but the request wasn't acted on. In 1980 however, the national park it's located in was named Denali National Park and Preserve.

To make the change now, the administration used the 1947 Uniformity in Geographic Nomenclature law, which allows the Secretary of the Interior to take action "in any matter wherein the Board does not act within a reasonable time".

McKinley was from Ohio, and Ohio representatives in Congress objected to the name change.

"I'm certain (President Obama) didn't notify President McKinley's descendants, who find this outrageous," Rep Michael Turner said.
(McKinley had no descendants - both of his daughters died in childhood)

Amazon.com to test delivery drones outdoors

2015-Mar-19By: Barry Shatzman

Online retailer Amazon can can start outdoor testing of drones, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced. Until now, Amazon has been testing its drones indoors.

It still may be several years before the online retailer can use autonomous drones to deliver products to customers. The FAA has imposed several restrictions on the testing...

o The testing will take place over approved private property.
o The drone must be controlled by a licensed pilot.
o The drone must be flown in daylight, and must always be visible to the pilot.
o The drone cannot fly higher than 400 feet.

Amazon will be required to provide data to the FAA each month, including the number of flights and any malfunctions.

Study links fast food consumption to lower academic performance

2014-Dec-23By: Barry Shatzman

A new study links fast food consumption to lower test scores in children.

The Ohio State University study showed that eighth-grade students' math, science, and reading achievement could be predicted by the amount of fast food they ate in fifth-grade. The study accounted for other factors such as socioeconomic status, fitness, and TV watching.

The study did not point to a cause for the poor performance, nor did it prove that eating fast food causes poor learning. However, previous studies have linked the overall composition of fast food (high fat and cholesterol and low iron) to poorer brain development and memory.

Airlines sue website offering cheaper tickets to hidden cities

2014-Nov-19  (Updated: 2015-Jan-06)By: Barry Shatzman

United Airlines and online travel company Orbitz are suing a website that can give consumers lower fares.

The website, Skiplagged.com, takes advantage of the situation where an airline would charge a lower fare for a city on the same flight that is beyond your planned destination.

Take for example, a flight from Atlanta to Baltimore to Chicago. The airline might charge a lower fare for the longer flight to Chicago than the shorter flight to Baltimore. A passenger could save money by booking the flight to Chicago, and simply get off the plane in Baltimore.

It's completely legal, but most airlines will not knowingly allow you to do this, and travel agents are prohibited from selling these fares to hidden cities. Also, it only will work if you are not checking luggage, since checked luggage would continue all the way to the ticket's final destination. And it will not work for round-trips, as the airline may cancel your return trip if you do not continue to the ticketed destination.

United Airlines says there is more to this than the lost money. These itineraries make it difficult to obtain passenger head counts and cause delays if the airline holds a connecting flight for passengers who leave the airport rather than boarding.

Skiplagged doesn't book flights directly. Rather, it finds these hidden city flights, and provides a link directly to the airline or Orbitz for you to book the flight. The airline and Orbitz claim that this creates the false impression of an affiliation with Skiplagged.

Car thefts are decreasing

2014-Aug-12By: Barry Shatzman

Cars are being stolen less frequently these days.

One reason is technology. Newer cars have ignitions that won't allow the car to start without a microchip in the key that's programmed to match the car. Older cars still are as easy to steal, but their value is decreasing over time because of lower demand.

The Department of Justice also has played a large role. Car title information is maintained in the National Motor Vehicle Title Investigation System, making it easy to identify if a car being sold was stolen.

Racial bias shown at crosswalks

2014-May-22

How long does it take you to cross a busy street in a crosswalk? Turns out the answer has to do with your skin color.

A study by Portland State University and University of Arizona found that drivers were much more likely to stop for white pedestrians than for black ones. On the average, black pedestrians had to wait 30 percent longer for cars to stop for them.

This is more than just a matter of convenience. With fewer drivers stopping for them, minorities are more likely to take risks when crossing a street. The study reports that African Americans have a 60 percent higher rate of pedestrian deaths than whites.

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