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Aug. 31 2015 11:57 PM

A Running Tally of the Best Hillary Clinton Emails From the Latest State Department Release

The State Department released on Monday another round of emails from Hillary Clinton’s private account during her time as Secretary of State. After Monday's disclosure, State has released a total of some 7,000 pages of emails. It’s a lot, but only about a quarter of what the Clinton team turned over. Here’s a tally of some of the best of the bunch.

The Gefilte fish issue, unfortunately, is not the Secretary of State asking after an order from a Foggy Bottom deli. In 2010, a 400,000 pound shipment of carp from Illinois arrived in Israel and was not allowed to enter the country setting off a round of political and diplomatic hand-wringing. 

*This post has been updated with new information as it became available.

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Aug. 31 2015 8:49 PM

Iceland Caps Syrian Refugees at 50; 10,000 Icelanders Respond by Offering Up Their Homes

Iceland recently announced it was willing to help with the growing humanitarian disaster in Syria that is sending Syrians fleeing for safety by the thousand to Turkey, Europe, and beyond. The Icelandic government offered to take 50 Syrian refugees in Iceland a country of some 330,000 people. As far as offers of help go, it didn't come off as particularly heartfelt or overwhelming.

In response to their government’s paltry offer, Icelanders stepped up to try to fill the humanitarian void. Spurred on by a plea from a leading Icelandic author, more than 10,000 people in Iceland offered to host Syrian refugees on a Facebook page called “Syria is calling.

Here are a couple of examples of the offers that flooded in over a 24-hour period via the Iceland Review Online:

“I’m happy to look after children, take them to kindergarten, school and wherever they need. I can cook for people and show them friendship and warmth. I can pay the airfare for one small family. I can contribute with my expertise and assist pregnant women with pre-natal care.”
“I have an extra room in a spacious apartment which I am more than happy to share along with my time and overall support.”

"I'm a single mother with a 6-year-old son... We can take a child in need. I'm a teacher and would teach the child to speak, read and write Icelandic and adjust to Icelandic society. We have clothes, a bed, toys and everything a child needs. I would of course pay for the airplane ticket," Hekla Stefansdottir wrote in another post, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Icelandic government, responding to the posts, said it would consider raising the quota on Syrian refugees. “I believe there is solidarity on that we should do more to respond to the problem, we just have to find out the best way to do it,” Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson said.

Aug. 31 2015 6:42 PM

Donald Trump Hits Jeb Bush With Nasty "Willie Horton"-Style Attack Ad

Donald Trump and Jeb Bush's ongoing feud reached a new low on Monday with the two Republican hopefuls exchanging their latest round of attacks on social media. As shouldn’t surprise anyone by now, Jeb’s counter-punch looked downright civil compared to The Donald’s nasty haymaker.

Trump swung first and hardest on Instagram, opting for some old-fashioned fear mongering that was reminiscent of the infamous “Willie Horton” attack ad that George H.W. Bush backers used to help Jeb’s father defeat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 general election:

If you listen to the full Jeb quote that Trump cherrypicks, it’s clear that Bush wasn't talking about alleged murders (obviously) but instead immigrants who come to this country illegally for the sake of their families—though the reality of attack ads is that the audience rarely learns the full quote. “I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families,” Bush said last year.

Of course, even that moderate position looks incredibly out of place in the current immigration conversation being had by GOP hopefuls, which now includes talk of building a wall on both of our borders and tracking foreigners like they’re a FedEx package. Bush, likewise, sounds a whole lot less compassionate than he did a year ago now that he's trying to win over immigration hardliners by insulting Hispanics and Asians.

Shortly after Trump posted his 15-second video, Jeb responded with his latest RINO-themed dig at Trump, which likewise stoked unfounded sanctuary-city fears in the process:

In a different time, successfully linking your rival to Nancy Pelosi would be a small but significant political win for a conservative White House hopeful. In the summer of Trump, though? Not so much.

Aug. 31 2015 5:59 PM

Record-Setting Hurricanes Keep Coming. It’s Only Going to Get Worse. 

This weekend, amid an already record-shattering Pacific tropical cyclone season boosted by a potentially historic El Niño, three simultaneous Category 4 hurricanes lined up like a string of deadly pearls across the Pacific. Such a configuration has never occurred before, at least since the 1850s when reliable records of strong cyclones began.

As seen from the space station on Sunday, Hurricane Jimena was truly massive.

Thankfully, none of these monster storms should affect land, and the center one, Ignacio, has since weakened considerably.

On Monday, another hurricane—Hurricane Fred—became the easternmost forming hurricane in the Atlantic on record, bringing a very rare threat to the Cape Verde islands. It may prove to be the most expensive natural disaster in history on the islands.

But it’s not these storms that have scientists worried. In a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change on Monday, Ning Lin of Princeton and Kerry Emanuel of MIT conclude that, if you factor in the effect of climate change, the risk of truly catastrophic hurricane disasters could increase by more than 10-fold this century.

The new study embeds a high-quality hurricane model into a broader scale climate change model, in an attempt to look at how the worst-case scenario storms may change in the decades to come. The authors call the future megastorms “grey swan” events: Disaster scenarios that aren’t totally unpredictable, like black swan stock market crashes or terrorist attacks, but are still unprecedented.

“What that really translates to is, you’re going to see an increased frequency of the most extreme events,” Emanuel said in a release. “That means you’re going to start seeing hurricanes that you’ve never seen before.”

While the study looked at only three locations—Tampa, Florida; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Cairns, Australia—it provides a broader forecast: Storms of unprecedented magnitude will probably happen more often given the effects of climate change. The study doesn’t even factor in the growing effect of sea level rise, which would increase the risk of coastal flooding from these storms even more.

Aug. 31 2015 5:39 PM

Mardy Fish Returns to the U.S. Open Years After Anxiety Attack, Wins in First Round 

The most important tennis match in American Mardy Fish’s career is one that never happened. On September 3, 2012, facing a severe anxiety attack, the former top-10 player abruptly pulled out from the fourth round of the U.S. Open against Roger Federer. Fish has called it one of the most difficult days of his life, and told USA Today last summer that keeping his anxiety at bay is still “a daily struggle and a daily battle.”

Today, Fish returned to the U.S. Open to play in what he says will be his final tournament. And he won. Fish beat 102nd-ranked Marco Cecchinato of Italy in the first round 6-7 (7-5), 6-3, 6-1, 6-3. “This is a special place,” Fish told the crowd. “I’m glad I got to come out here one more time.”

Over the past three years, Fish has talked openly about his struggle with severe anxiety disorder. "I was at the bottom, man. I was in a deep, deep place,” he explained to ESPN earlier this year. “It wasn't like I needed a little bit of medication and a couple of therapy sessions, and then we're back." 

Fish says he will continue to speak openly about his struggle. “I just want to share my story so maybe one person or 10 people or 100 people, whatever it is, can have something to fall back on and say, ‘Hey, there’s someone who went through what I went through and got through it,’” he told the Associated Press last week. He now moves on to the second round.

Aug. 31 2015 5:35 PM

Clinton’s “Classified” Problem Just Got Worse

This month’s batch of Hillary Clinton emails might not create any new legal headaches for the Democratic frontrunner—but it will make her current political one even more painful.

According to the State Department, the tranche of Clinton’s previously private emails set to be released at 9 p.m. on Monday includes roughly 150 messages that contained information that has since been deemed classified. “We look at these emails and we upgrade them as necessary as we see fit,” State spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on Monday. “We stand by our position that the information we upgraded was not marked classified at the time it was sent.”

The since-redacted information, according to the agency, has been classified as “confidential,” not at the higher “top secret” level.

After Monday’s release of roughly 7,000 pages worth of emails, the State Department will have made public roughly a quarter of the 55,000 or so pages that Clinton and her team turned over to the agency late last year. By court order, the department has until Jan. 29, 2016—the Friday before the Iowa Caucus—to release all of the emails. That timetable all but ensures a steady drip-drip-drip of unfavorable coverage for the Democratic frontrunner between now and 2016’s first nominating contest.

The previously released batches of Clinton’s emails included 63 messages that had been partially redacted due to security concerns, according to Politico’s Josh Gerstein. The State Department has maintained that all of that information was classified only after-the-fact as well—although intelligence community watchdogs have disputed that claim. In that regard, then, the newest revelation that Clinton sent or received sensitive information on her private account doesn’t raise new questions as much it re-raises the same ones: Did Clinton know the information was sensitive at the time she handled it? Should she have known that it would one day be classified?

The first question is likely unanswerable by reporters—and Clinton will almost certainly be shielded from prosecution as a result. It is illegal for someone to “knowingly” receive classified material and then turn around and send along that info in an unclassified email. But as long as Clinton can say she did not know that any classified information that crossed her server was classified at the time, many legal experts agree, she’s unlikely to face criminal charges. The second question, though, will continue to bring with it political repercussions: Claiming ignorance or indifference to how the intelligence community works may provide legal cover but it’s hardly a case for competence.

For (much!) more on Clinton’s private email saga, check out this detailed Slate explainer from earlier this month.

Aug. 31 2015 4:00 PM

Turkey Charges Vice Reporters With Aiding ISIS

Two British journalists and an Iraqi fixer working for Vice News were charged today with “engaging in terror activity" on behalf of ISIS by a court in southeastern Turkey last week. Jake Hanrahan, Philip Pendlebury, and the fixer were arrested last Thursday while filming clashes between Turkish security forces and members of the Kurdish militant group PKK in the city of Diyarbakir, part of the government’s renewed crackdown against the banned group. They were initially charged with filming without government accreditation, but then "accused of supporting the so-called Islamic State (IS)," according to a Vice statement. They have now been taken to jail and are awaiting trial.

There has been no evidence released so far of links between the journalists and ISIS, and Amnesty International dismissed the charges against them as “outrageous and bizarre,” calling the case "yet another example of the Turkish authorities suppressing the reporting of stories that are embarrassing to them."

International human rights groups have decried President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government for attacks on the press and free speech over the past few years. Turkey was the world’s worst jailer of journalists in 2012 and 2013, though it was overtaken in that horrible contest by China last year. Erdogan has pushed back hard against this criticism, claiming dubiously last year that "Nowhere in the world is the press freer than it is in Turkey.”

The state’s crackdowns on the media have generally focused on domestic rather than foreign reporters, but even before the Vice arrests, there had been unsettling signs that was changing. Erdogan has accused the international media of fomenting unrest in Turkey, particularly surrounding the Kurdish conflict, and in April, Dutch reporter Frederike Geerdink, the only foreign journalist based in Diyarbakir, became the first foreign journalist to face trial in the country in more than a decade when she was accused of aiding the PKK. She was eventually acquitted, but the government can still appeal the case.

The dubious charges against the Vice reporters come just a couple of days after an Egyptian court unexpectedly sentenced three Al Jazeera reporters to three years in prison for having broadcast “false news” about the country. The case had attracted international attention, and the men were widely expected to be exonerated or let off with time served.

One additional way this trend is quite troubling: Egypt and Turkey both serve as home bases for many reporters covering not just those countries but the wider Middle East. Taken together, these cases are a disturbing sign that even the safe countries in the region aren’t so safe for foreign journalists anymore.

Update, Sept. 1, 2015: This post has been updated and the name of the Iraqi fixer has been removed for his safety at Vice's request. 

Aug. 31 2015 3:53 PM

New Study: Testosterone Changes the Brain 

However much we’d like to think of gender as a social construct, science suggests that real differences do exist between female and male brains. The latest evidence: a first-of-its-kind European study that finds that the female brain can be drastically reshaped by treating it with testosterone over time. 

Research has shown that women have the advantage when it comes to memory and language, while men tend to have stronger spatial skills (though this too has been disputed). But due to ethical restrictions, no study had been able to track the direct effect that testosterone exposure has on the brain—until now. Using neuroimaging, Dutch and Austrian researchers found that an increase in this potent hormone led to shrinkage in key areas of the female (transitioning to male) brain associated with language. They presented their findings at last week’s annual meeting of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology in Amsterdam.

For the study, researchers scanned the brains of 18 individuals receiving high doses of testosterone as part of female-to-male gender reassignment surgery before and after hormone treatment. After just four weeks of receiving testosterone, participants had lost gray matter (which mainly processes information) in the regions of the brain that are used for language processing. That change amounted to a “real, quantitative difference in brain structure,” said researcher Rupert Lanzenberger of the Medical University of Vienna.

The study, while small, provides tantalizing new evidence of how hormones can influence brain chemistry. As Lanzenberger says, “these findings may suggest that the genuine difference between the brains of women and men is substantially attributable to the effects of circulating sex hormones.” 

Aug. 31 2015 3:15 PM

Obama Is a Climate Hypocrite. His Trip to Alaska Proves It. 

On Monday morning President Obama headed to Alaska—the front lines of climate change—for a trip the White House is calling “a spotlight on what Alaskans in particular have come to know: Climate change is one of the biggest threats we face, it is being driven by human activity, and it is disrupting Americans’ lives right now.”

Problem is, those words fall flat when compared with Obama’s mixed record on climate. The widely publicized trip comes at a delicate moment for the president. Barely two weeks ago, his administration gave Royal Dutch Shell final approval to drill for oil offshore Alaska’s northwest Arctic coast—not exactly the sort of thing you’d expect from someone who professes to be “leading by example.”

The leases that allow Shell to drill in the Arctic were awarded by the George W. Bush administration, and the president had limited options to block them. Still, as ThinkProgress notes, Obama could have outright canceled Shell’s lease, or begun a process to declare the region a marine protected area, making future leases nearly impossible. Neither of these actions would be easy to do, but either would have sent a powerful message to industry: Starting now, climate change concerns trump energy exploration, period.

Climate activists vociferously opposed the approval of Shell’s permit: Last month a group of protesters in kayaks briefly blockaded an Arctic-bound Shell support ship while it was in a Portland, Oregon, port. In recent days Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate for president, has also voiced her opposition.

One progressive activist group, Credo Action, has called the unfortunate juxtaposition of Obama’s words and actions his “Mission Accomplished” moment, in reference to Bush’s declaration of victory in the Iraq war. I agree.

“It's such an odd own goal to first hand Shell a shovel and then go for a visit,” climate activist Bill McKibben told me today. Earlier this year McKibben wrote in the New York Times that the president was guilty of “climate denial of the status quo sort” should Shell’s drilling permit be approved. “Even in this most extreme circumstance, no one seems able to stand up to the power of the fossil fuel industry. No one ever says no,” McKibben wrote.

After decades of delay, scientists now say the world—especially countries like the United States with historically high emissions—needs to immediately embark on a radical path of truly bold action on climate change. So far, Obama’s plan for carbon cutting, despite being loudly trumpeted by the administration, has been middling at best. For many environmental activists, Obama’s approval of Shell’s Arctic drilling permit is the icing on an extremely hypocritical cake.

Credo’s Elijah Zarlin, who worked for Obama’s 2008 election campaign, calls the rhetoric from the White House surrounding Obama’s visit to Alaska “stunningly brazen,” given the go-ahead for Shell to drill in the Arctic.  

“The hypocrisy just speaks for itself when you hear him saying things like ‘this is our wakeup call,’ given his record on oil, gas, and coal extraction,” Zarlin said. “His words [on climate change], which are powerful, just ring more and more hollow. Ultimately, it just makes me sad, because I believed in the guy.”

On the trip, Obama will become the first sitting American president to visit the Alaskan Arctic. He’ll travel to the coastal village of Kotzebue, where Shell has some drilling equipment stationed, to view the effects of rising seas and melting permafrost firsthand. He’ll also film an episode of Running Wild With Bear Grylls, in which he will discuss climate change and receive a “crash course in survival techniques,” according to a statement from NBC.

The effects of global warming in Alaska continue to accelerate. This year’s off-the-charts wildfire season was a recordbreaker, burning through even the permafrost. Just last week, another startling “haul-out” of walruses was observed as thousands of animals were forced ashore by the lack of sea ice in the Alaskan Arctic, not far from where Obama will visit. On Sunday the administration announced that Alaska’s Mt. McKinley would be officially renamed Denali. What the president didn’t emphasize enough: Denali is losing its glaciers at a rapid clip.

In his weekly address on Saturday, Obama addressed the Shell controversy, saying “we don’t rubber-stamp permits.” But what the president seems to miss is that environmental activists aren’t as concerned with the potentially devastating impacts of an oil spill in the Arctic as the message it sends to the rest of the world: Bold action on climate change doesn’t look so different from the status quo. In reality, the scale of action that climate science demands is far beyond what Obama has put in place. America can’t solve climate change on its own, but it could offer a truly heroic leader. It just doesn’t seem like Obama is the person for the job.

Aug. 31 2015 1:30 PM

Fear Canada?

Continuing to grope his way toward a semi-coherent immigration policy, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker suggested Sunday that the idea of building a fence along America’s 5,525-mile border with Canada is a “legitimate issue.” Walker has stuck with his ridiculous position, saying he’s responding to concerns he’s heard from law enforcement.

The border fence idea may be Trump-inspired lunacy, but Walker is hardly the first U.S. politician to draw attention to the threat emanating from America’s neighbor to the north. The U.S.-Canada border was once described as the longest undefended border in the world, but that’s been increasingly inaccurate since 9/11, with tougher entry requirements, thousands more customs agents deployed from both governments, and a new $70 billion high-tech surveillance system announced last year including thermal imaging and drones.

Much of the “thickening” of the U.S.-Canada border is driven by concerns over terrorism. Here, security hawks actually have a case to make, but only up to a point. While American politicians often conflate the issues of immigration and terrorism by hyping the threat of al-Qaida or ISIS operatives entering the U.S. from Mexico, U.S. homeland security officials have described the Canadian border as a bigger counterterrorism concern than the U.S.-Mexico border. Unlike Mexico, Canada has had major recent attacks linked to international Islamist terrorism, and a significant number of citizens who have traveled to fight with ISIS. There has been at least one major terrorist plot in the U.S. involving someone crossing illegally into the U.S. from Canada—the attempted “Millennium Plot” to bomb several targets, including LAX airport. 

But the Canadian terrorist threat has also been overhyped. For one thing, U.S. politicians including Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and former Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano keep repeating the persistent but inaccurate claim that the 9/11 hijackers entered the U.S. from Canada. All  the hijackers entered via U.S. airports from non-North American countries. The vast majority of terrorist suspects entering the United States have done so through airports, not the border. The threat can also go both ways—a California man looking to travel to Syria to fight with ISIS was arrested crossing into Canada from Washington last year. (Despite this, don’t expect a chorus of support for Walker’s proposal from Canadian officials trying to keep out dangerous Americans.)

While the threat may be exaggerated, the consequences of the border security changes are real. A 2012 report by the Fraser Institute, a conservative Canadian think tank, found that trips by Americans to Canada dropped 53 percent from 2000 to 2009 thanks to post-9/11 security measures. The U.S. and Canada have the largest bilateral trade relationship in the world, but security measures have taken a toll. The Fraser Institute estimated that the combined drop in trade and tourism may cost Canada about $19.3 billion per year. This is one reason why Stephen Harper’s government, even as it has invested in new surveillance and security measures, has lobbied the U.S. to loosen border controls. U.S. exports to Canada also declined sharply after 9/11 following years of post-NAFTA growth.

Walker’s fence idea doesn’t seem like a particularly serious or well-thought-out proposal, but it suggests that American politicians are still willing to trade on highly exaggerated fears at the expense of America’s literally closest international relationship.