RT Anchor One Ups Co-Worker, Quits On Air
In the latest embarrassing moment for the network formerly known as Russia Today, RT anchor Liz Wahl resigned on-air this evening after picking up where her now-former colleague left off the day before.
"Last night, RT made international headlines when one of our anchors went on the record and said Russian intervention in Crimea is wrong," Wahl said in reference to Abby Martin's attention-grabbing comments decrying Russia's recent actions in Ukraine. After describing the "many ethical and moral challenges" she said she faced as an anchor for the Kremlin-funded network, Wahl then got down to business: "That is why personally I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin," she said. “I’m proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth, and that is why, after this newscast, I am resigning."
HBO is Trying to Attract "Multicultural" Audiences to Game of Thrones with a Rap Album
“I sit and think when I’m in my zone / This life is like a Game of Thrones,” is just one of the lines from the upcoming hip-hop mixtape Catch the Throne commissioned by the musical/marketing geniuses at HBO. The 10-track CD, a promotion for Game of Thrones, features some big names like Common, Big Boi, and Wale, rapping about dragons, swords, and other methods of mythical medieval warfare.
The mixtape is part of an effort, perhaps a heavy-handed one, by the premium cable channel to attract minority viewers. Here’s the Wall Street Journal with more:
"Our multicultural audiences are a very important part of our subscribers, and we don't want to take them for granted," said Lucinda Martinez, HBO's senior vice president for multicultural marketing. …
Over the course of the third season, which aired in 2013, viewers of "Game of Thrones" prime-time telecasts were on average 13.2% black, 9.2% Hispanic and 76.6% white, according to Nielsen.
The Journal notes that the channel's prime-time black and Hispanic viewership has fallen in the past two years.
Slatest PM: The Return of the 1600 as a Perfect SAT Score
SAT Overhaul: Associated Press: "Essay optional. No penalties for wrong answers. The SAT college entrance exam is undergoing sweeping revisions. Changes in the annual test that millions of students take will also do away with some vocabulary words such as 'prevaricator' and 'sagacious' in favor of words more commonly used in school and on the job. College Board officials said Wednesday the update—the first since 2005—is needed to make the exam better representative of what students study in high school and the skills they need to succeed in college and afterward. ... The new exam will be rolled out in 2016, so this year's ninth graders will be the first to take it, in their junior year. The new SAT will continue to test reading, writing and math skills, with an emphasis on analysis. Scoring will return to a 1,600-point scale last used in 2004, with a separate score for the optional essay. ... One of the biggest changes is that the extra penalty for wrong answers, which discouraged guessing, will be eliminated."
Taking Aim at Test Prep: Washington Post: "With these and other changes — such as asking students to analyze documents key to the nation’s founding — College Board officials said they want to make the SAT more accessible, straightforward and grounded in what is taught in high school. Experts say SAT scores have long been strongly correlated to family income, a dynamic the College Board hopes to shake up. Its initiative comes as the 88-year-old test in recent years has slipped behind the rival ACT — a shorter exam with an optional essay — in total student customers. ... At the same time, [College Board president David] Coleman fired a broadside at a test-prep industry that sells books, flashcards and courses to help students raise their scores in the hopes of gaining an edge in competitive college admissions and scholarships. Coleman said the New York-based organization will team with the nonprofit Khan Academy, which delivers free tutorials in math and other subjects via a popular Web site of the same name, to provide free SAT prep for the world."
Under Pressure, Facebook Cracks Down on Posts Touting Illegal Gun Sales
Facebook announced today that it will crack down on posts promoting the sale of illegal guns, as well as those firearm-themed posts that target minors. The official announcement came in a somewhat convoluted post to the company's blog, but here's the Los Angeles Times with the translation of the topline takeaways:
Facebook said it would limit access to posts about gun sales and trades to people 18 and older. And it said it would require Facebook pages primarily used to promote the private sale of regulated goods and services to include language that reminds them to comply with laws and regulations and limit access to people 18 and older in the case of goods such as alcohol.
Any time Facebook receives a report about a post promoting the private sale of regulated goods such as guns, it will send a message to that user reminding him or her to comply with laws and regulations, Facebook said. Anyone searching on Instagram for sales of firearms will be shown similar reminders.
The company also said it would no longer allower users to post offers to sell unregulated goods "that indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law," nor will they permit offers to sell guns across state lines without first going through a licensed firearms dealer.
Facebook's previous policy of allowing users to promote personal gun sales with little oversight drew the ire of multiple pro-gun control groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which began pressuring the social giant to tighten its rules.
The announcement also follows an investigation last week by VentureBeat, which arranged to buy a gun illegally on Facebook in about 15 minutes, and similar question-raising report from the Wall Street Journal, which found assault-weapons parts and concealed-carry weapon holsters had been advertised to teens on the site.
"We believe these collective efforts represent the right approach in balancing people's desire to express themselves while promoting a safe, responsible community," the company said in its blog post. The early reaction from the pro-gun control groups was that the policy changes were "meaningful." "We believe these changes are a major step toward making sure people who buy or sell guns on their platforms know the law, and follow it," Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, told the Times.
There's At Least One Place the U.S. and Russia Are Still Getting Along (Hint: It's Not on Earth)
The ever-increasing tension between the United States and Russia does not, according to NASA, extend to outer space, via the Washington Post:
“Everything is nominal right now with our relationship with the Russians,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden during a teleconference Tuesday. With the space shuttle retired, the U.S. relies on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to get to and from the space station. Russia charges about $71 million per seat. There is no other way for American astronauts to get back to Earth.
Tuesday’s teleconference was set up to allow Bolden to discuss the White House’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget request, but he wound up fielding numerous inquiries from reporters about whether the Ukraine crisis has affected NASA’s strategic planning. No, Bolden said repeatedly. He noted that past flare-ups between the U.S. and Russia have not affected operations in space. “We have weathered the storm through lots of contingencies here,” Bolden said.
ISS is jointly operated by the U.S., Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan. Currently, there are three Russians, two Americans, and one Japanese astronaut on board the station currently orbiting earth. Roughly 250 miles below, however, the relationship between the two superpowers is a good deal different, with Vladimir Putin refusing to rule out using military force in Ukraine and the Obama administration accusing the Russians of creating a "pretext to invade."
For more on the earthly crisis head on over to The World, where Joshua Keating has you covered and then some.
With Ex-IRS Official Taking the Fifth, Lawmakers Fill the Silence and Then Some
Forner IRS official Lois Lerner this morning asserted her Fifth Amendment right not to testify in front of the House Oversight Committee investigating the department's increased scrutiny of certain tax-exempt organizations. She did the same thing this past May when she was first called to testify by Chairman Darrell Issa, so today's decision to keep her mouth shut this wasn't exactly a surprise (even if there had been some dispute as to whether she'd be willing to talk this time around). But what was something of a shock for observers used to seeing hearings that largely stick to a script: The impromptu grandstanding one-upmanship that then followed by Issa and Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the panel.
As you can see in the clip above, Issa wanted to take his gavel and go home after Lerner made her intentions not to talk clear, saying that he saw "no point in going further." Cummings, however, saw things differently. "I am a member of the Congress of the United States of America. I am tired of this," the Democrat shouted as his mic was cut off. "You cannot just have a one-sided investigation. There is something absolutely wrong with that. It is absolutely un-American." After a little more back and forth, Issa eventually left, gavel in hand, prompting a 1-2 parting punch from Cummings and fellow Democrat Gerry Connolly. "What are you hiding?" Cummings asked Issa as he was leaving. To which Connolly quipped: "He's taking the Fifth, Elijah."
Shortly after the hearing, House Speaker John Boehner suggested that Lerner should testify or be held in contempt of Congress, adding that he'll wait for a full report from Issa on today's action, according to the Washington Post. Issa, meanwhile, conceded that his investigation may have nowhere else to go. "At this point, roads lead to Ms. Lerner," he told reporters after leaving the hearing. "Had she been willing to explain those emails which were provided through separate subpoenas, then we could have perhaps brought this to a close. Without that, it may dead end with Ms. Lerner."
L.A. City Council Votes to Ban E-Cigarettes From Bars, Restaurants, Parks
If the Los Angeles City Council gets its way, e-cigarettes will be banned from restaurants, bars, workplaces, parks, beaches and other public spaces. If signed into law by Mayor Eric Garcetti, the ban, which was agreed upon unanimously on Tuesday, will take effect in 30 days. E-cigarettes will still be allowed in so-called vaping lounges, a small concession for supporters of the nicotine devices.
The main concern, as has been, seems to be “vaping” as a gateway to smoking. Here’s the LA Times:
Council President Herb Wesson, in the most passionate speech of the day, described his decades-long addiction to cigarettes, a habit he told his colleagues would almost certainly kill him one day.
Wesson said he began smoking because he wanted to be cool.
"When you’re 15, you want to be cool," he said. "And I will not support anything -- anything -- that might attract one new smoker."
Yet, other lawmakers noted things could go the other way, with smokers using e-cigarettes to quit. In any case, the ban would add Los Angeles to cities like New York and Chicago that also restrict the use of e-cigarettes. As Bloomberg Businessweek notes, the future of the $1.5 billion e-cigarette industry, which remains unregulated by the FDA, does not look hot.
Snowden to Speak at SXSW on NSA, Privacy
Mark your calendars, Edward Snowden will be speaking by videoconference at South by Southwest next Monday at 11:00am Central. The session, “A Virtual Conversation with Edward Snowden,” will be live streamed by The Texas Tribune and organizers have promised audience members the opportunity to ask questions.
Snowden, who will be joined by his legal adviser and the ACLU, will discuss the impact of NSA surveillance and what the tech community can do to preserve privacy. Here’s the blurb provided by SXSW:
Just as technology has enabled our modern surveillance state, so too can technology protect us. But regular users cannot make privacy-preserving tools themselves. The technology industry and the tech community can and must do more to secure the private data of the billions of people who rely on the tools and services that we build.
Did Dennis Rodman Violate U.N. Sanctions on North Korea?
While the rest of the world debates sanctions on Russia, a sanctions panel at the United Nations is casting its eye on Dennis Rodman. Under investigation is whether Rodman brought or received gifts during his recent trips to North Korea, an action which may violate U.N. restrictions of luxury goods on Pyongyang. Here’s Reuters with details on the reported gift exchange:
"Media reports ... corroborated by the panel indicate that among items taken by Dennis Rodman and his party during their visits were sporting goods from various countries, five bottles of vodka (United States) taken by Rodman and one bottle of whiskey (Ireland)," the report says.
In an excerpt seen by Reuters, the report also refers to other gifts, including "two whiskey glasses and one whiskey decanter (Ireland), and a Mulberry handbag (United Kingdom)…”
Rodman, who has traveled to North Korea several times, visited the ostracized country in 2013 to promote his vodka brand, according to Reuters. For those who need a refresher, Rodman came under fire for his latest trip to North Korea in January of 2014 which included an exhibition basketball game to celebrate leader Kim Jong-un’s birthday. It also ended with a messy apology from Rodman for “drunken” comments he made about Kenneth Bae, a captive American citizen in North Korea. After the incident, Rodman checked himself into a rehab facility for substance abuse.
The New York Times Corrects 161-year-old Spelling Error
The New York Times has occasionally become famous not just for its reporting, but for reporting its errors. Today the Times published a correction to a 161-year-old article about Solomon Northup, whose memoir served as the basis for the Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave.
The story, published on January 20, 1853, misspelled Northup’s last name. Here’s the Times’ correction:
An article on Jan. 20, 1853, recounting the story of Solomon Northup, whose memoir “12 Years a Slave” became a movie 160 years later that won the best picture Oscar at the 86th Academy Awards on Sunday night, misspelled his surname as Northrop. And the headline misspelled it as Northrup. The errors came to light on Monday after a Twitter user pointed out the article in The Times archives. (The errors notwithstanding, The Times described the article as “a more complete and authentic record than has yet appeared.”)
That Twitter user was science writer and best-selling author Rebecca Skloot, who tweeted about the spelling discrepancy on Monday.
Originally typing 1953 instead of 1853, Skloot later corrected herself, "Uh, make that 1853."
Elsewhere in Slate: What's it like to work at the New York Times?