Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Sept. 29 2014 8:16 PM

This Month the U.S. Could Pass Saudi Arabia as the World’s Biggest Petroleum Producer

The idea of "going green" in the U.S. may have picked up steam over the last decade, but so has the idea of simply pumping out more oil. While the Rockefellers—America’s first family of petroleum—may be looking to cleaner, greener pastures dotted by wind turbines and other sources of renewable energy, the U.S. as a whole is, in fact, experiencing an oil boom.

The spike in American production has been so profound the U.S. is set to displace Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest producer of liquid petroleum. How soon are we talking? “With US production continuing to boom, its output is set to exceed Saudi Arabia’s this month or next for the first time since 1991,” the Financial Times reports. As a result, the FT notes, “imports are expected to provide just 21 percent of US liquid fuel consumption next year, down from 60 percent in 2005.”

Here’s more on America’s petroleum rush from the FT:

Riyadh has stressed that the rise of the US should not detract from its own critical role in oil markets… The US industry has been transformed by the shale revolution, with advances in the techniques of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling enabling the exploitation of oilfields, particularly in Texas and North Dakota, that were long considered uncommercial. Crude prices that are high by the standards of a decade or more ago have made it profitable to use those techniques to extract oil.
US crude oil production in August was still lower than either Saudi Arabia’s, at about 9.7m b/d, or Russia’s at 10.1m b/d. The overall US leadership in petroleum is accounted for by its higher production of natural gas liquids such as ethane and propane, which have a lower energy content and are often used as feedstocks for the petrochemical industry rather than for fuel.
Still, on current trends the US is could catch up with Saudi Arabia and Russia on crude production alone by the end of the decade.
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Sept. 29 2014 5:11 PM

White House Intruder Said to Have Been Captured at Door Actually Ran Through Agent, Into Building

The Washington Post reports that Omar Gonzalez, the Iraq veteran armed with a knife who jumped over the White House fence on Sept. 19, overpowered a Secret Service agent at the building's front door and sprinted into the East Room before he was subdued—directly contradicting the Secret Service's statements that Gonzalez had been apprehended immediately after entering the premises.

After barrelling past the guard immediately inside the door, Gonzalez, who was carrying a knife, dashed past the stairway leading a half-flight up to the first family’s living quarters. He then ran into the 80-foot-long East Room, an ornate space often used for receptions or presidential addresses.
Gonzalez was tackled by a counter-assault agent at the far southern end of the East Room. The intruder reached the doorway to the Green Room, a parlor overlooking the South Lawn with artwork and antique furniture, according to three people familiar with the incident...
Secret Service officials had earlier said he was quickly detained at the main entry.

Here, from C-SPAN, is the relevant floor plan:



Gonzalez entered the building through the North Portico.

Sept. 29 2014 4:10 PM

U.K. Pol Resigns After Reportedly Sending “X-Rated” Pic to Reporter Posing as Young Woman

Brooks Newmark, a British Cabinet Office minister, resigned this weekend shortly before a tabloid (the Sunday Mirror) published a story asserting that he'd sent graphic photos of himself to a reporter posing as a young woman. From the Guardian:

After being told that the story would appear in a Sunday newspaper, the Conservative MP for Braintree and campaigner to increase the role and number of women in politics issued a statement saying he was quitting. He appealed for privacy for himself and his family.

The Sunday Mirror's story says a freelance journalist created an online identity as a young Conservative operative named Sophie. "Sophie" was privately contacted by Newmark after they interacted on Twitter. Things (allegedly) went from there, as they do:

The pair discussed taking “it to the next level” before Sophie replied with an explicit naked picture and asked him to promise not to show anyone.
Newmark wrote: “You must be kidding! I’d never do that. But resend without your hand in the way and legs parted and I will send something in return. That way we both have a secret.” He added: “Assuming it meets my request and I reciprocate you MUST swear on a stack of Bibles you won’t show pics as I promise not to show pics of you? OK?”
The MP then sent a graphic image of himself to the reporter.

The Swedish model whose photo was used as "Sophie's" profile picture has said she did not give the paper permission to use her image. This legal blog also raises the possibility that the Sunday Mirror could face criminal charges for "causing a person to indulge in sexual activity without consent," mentioning a comparable incident in which a man tricked his daughter's ex-boyfriend into masturbating on camera by posing as a young woman.

Sept. 29 2014 2:25 PM

At Least 38 Employees of Pa. Attorney General’s Office Sent or Received Porn on Work Email

It is fairly commonly known these days that:

  • Employers can monitor employees' email.
  • Law enforcement officials can search almost anyone's email.
  • Government employees' email is subject to being made public.

One place you might think those principles were especially well-known would be at a prosecutor's office. Not so for at least 38 current and former employees of the Pennsylvania attorney general, including several powerful public figures, who sent or received pornography using their work email. From the Associated Press:

At least eight prominent Pennsylvania officials — including the current head of the state police, Pennsylvania's top environmental regulator, and a former spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett — were among the commonwealth employees who sent or received hundreds of sexually explicit photos, videos and messages from state email accounts between 2008 and 2012, according to documents made available Thursday by the state Attorney General's Office.

The current attorney general, Kathleen Kane, released the names of some of the implicated individuals last week. Kane's office did not say how many employees had actively sent or forwarded the messages vis a vis the number who had received them.

The emails include explicit photos and videos of women and men engaged in oral sex, anal sex and intercourse. The videos had titles such as "Cigar," "Chin strap," "Golf Ball washer," "Nascar victory" and "Rocking Horse."
The photographs included naked women and motivational posters with slogans such as "Devotion" and "Willingness" that depicted women performing sexual acts on their male bosses.

The emails were discovered during a review conducted by Kane into the office's handling of the Jerry Sandusky case.

Sept. 29 2014 1:17 PM

Drinking 5,600 Beers a Day Could Make You Smarter

Crucial beer news via Quartz:

Researchers at Oregon State University discovered that doses of xanthohumol, a flavonoid found in hops, improved memory and thinking in a lucky group of mice.

Hops are used to make beer. Will drinking beer therefore make you smarter?

... it would require drinking 2,000 liters of beer a day (or 5,636 bottles of beer) to ingest the amount of xanthohumol used in the study.

Sounds like an emphatic "yes." What time is it right now, like 1:30? 1:30 is beer-30 (is IQ-30).

Sept. 29 2014 12:46 PM

Ferguson Officers Still Not All Wearing Identification After Two Justice Deparment Orders

Many of the police officers present during protests that followed the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, did not wear nametags and refused to identify themselves to members of the public when asked, a practice that is prohbited by law in some places and by department policy in many others. Per a Department of Justice letter sent to Ferguson police on Tuesday, Ferguson officers are in fact required to wear identification by the department's own regulations. The DOJ instructed officers to begin following this requirement immediately. From Reuters:  

... the Justice Department said its investigators had observed Ferguson police officers not wearing, or obscuring, their name tags on their uniforms, a violation of the police department's rules.
"The failure to wear name plates conveys a message to community members that, through anonymity, officers may seek to act with impunity," the letter said.

The Justice Department then reiterated the identification requirement in a second letter to Ferguson police (whose main purpose was demanding that officers stop wearing "I Am Darren Wilson" solidarity bracelets):

It further was reported to us that some officers affirmatively displaying these bracelets had black tape over their name plates. The practice of not wearing, or obscuring, name plates violates your own department's policies, which we advised you earlier this week when we requested that you end the practice imrnediately.

The second letter is dated Friday. Here's an excerpt from a New York Times account of events in Ferguson on Sunday:

A gaggle of journalists standing near the protest spotted a police officer who was not wearing a name tag. When a cameraman asked his name, the officer refused to give it and left the area.

Maybe the third time will be the charm when it comes to the Justice Department reminding Ferguson to follow their own rules.

Sept. 29 2014 10:37 AM

Protests Continue in Hong Kong as China Blocks Social Media

Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong continued today and are expected to escalate through China's National Day holiday on Wednesday. Chinese authorities have called the "Occupy Central" demonstrations illegal, blocking that phrase on the Twitterlike service Weibo and shutting down Instagram on the mainland. The number of censored posts on Weibo, by one account, was twice as great over the weekend as during this 25th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square massacre earlier this year. (Social media appears to be running unfettered in Hong Kong itself.) From Reuters:

Organisers have said that as many as 80,000 people have thronged the streets after the protests flared on Friday night. No independent estimate of numbers was available.
The protests, with no single identifiable leader, bring together a mass movement of mostly tech-savvy students who have grown up with freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China...
Protesters say there should be open nominations for candidates for Hong Kong's 2017 leadership election. China's rubber-stamp parliament endorsed a framework on Aug. 31 that ensured only pro-Beijing candidates.

The Chinese government warned other nations not to praise the movement:

"We are resolutely opposed to any foreign country using any method to interfere in China's internal affairs. We are also resolutely opposed to any country, attempting in any way to support such illegal activities like 'Occupy Central'."

On National Day, demonstrators are also expected in nearby Macau, also a former foreign territory.

"If today I don't stand up, I will hate myself in future," a 55-year-old taxi driver in Hong Kong told Reuters about the protests, which have been nicknamed the "Umbrella Revolution" because of the items carried by activists to protect themselves against the sun (and against pepper spray and tear gas). "Even if I get a criminal record it will be a glorious one."

Sept. 28 2014 2:51 PM

Obama Acknowledges U.S. Underestimated ISIS

In one of his most candid comments yet on the issue, President Obama told 60 Minutes that the United States underestimated the strength of ISIS. The president told journalist Steve Kroft that it was “absolutely true” the intelligence community had also overestimated the ability of the Iraqi military to fight the extremist group. “Jim Clappper has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said, in reference to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

The chaos of the Syrian civil war allowed meant that it “became ground zero for jihadists around the world,” Obama added, noting the extremist group was able to “attract foreign fighters who believed in their jihadist nonsense.” Their recruitment drive was helped by a “very savvy” social media campaign, Obama said, according to an excerpt of the interview released Sunday afternoon. But part of the problem is that the extremists have also been able to enjoy some “traditional military capacity” thanks to members of Saddam Hussein’s former military.

“That's why it's so important for us to recognize part of the solution here is gonna be military,” Obama said. “We just have to push them back, and shrink their space, and go after their command and control, and their capacity, and their weapons, and their fueling, and cut off their financing, and work to eliminate the flow of foreign fighters.” But ultimately a lasting peace will require a political solution. “We have to come up with political solutions in Iraq and Syria, in particular, but in the Middle East generally that arrive in the combination between Sunni and Shia populations that right now are the biggest cause of conflict, not just in the Middle East, but in the world.”

Sept. 28 2014 1:50 PM

Hong Kong Police Help “New Era” of Civil Disobedience Grow by Firing Tear Gas on Protesters

Police in Hong Kong tried to clear out thousands of pro-democracy protesters that had blocked traffic in some of the busiest areas of downtown with the harshest response against demonstrators since the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997, according to Bloomberg. It seems their efforts failed spectacularly and actually ended up backfiring. Whereas the pro-democracy protesters were tightly concentrated before, the tear gas made them spread out from downtown “across three of Hong Kong’s most important commercial neighborhoods,” reports the Wall Street Journal. The protesters were trying to join a sit-in outside government headquarters that was calling for democratic reforms. First launched by students, members of the broader Occupy Central movement said Saturday night they would join them to launch the long-threatened era of civil disobedience.

Protesters came to the demonstration well-prepared on Sunday. “Many arrived sporting raincoats or wrapped in plastic with swimming goggles over their eyes—items chosen to protest against the sting of tear gas and pepper spray,” notes the BBC’s Juliana Liu. The tear gas, however, seems to have surprised everyone.

Police say they have arrested 78 people in the largely peaceful protests and at least 26 people were injured and hospitalized, reports CNN. That comes after 70 people were arrested Saturday. In addition to the tear gas, police had already used batons and pepper spray to try to disperse protesters although all the efforts appeared to have the opposite effect and got more people to join the demonstrators. The police warned a harsher response could be imminent. “Police will use a higher level of force in order to restore public order and safeguard public safety,” the police said in a statement that urged demonstrators to leave, reports the Associated Press. They were hardly alone. Protest organizers also called on demonstrators to leave the sit-in, saying police could start using rubber bullets, but it seems few have budged.

One of the organizers of the protest warned the demonstrations would now be unstoppable, saying the only way to end them would be for Beijing to backtrack on its decisions on political reform, reports the South China Morning Post. The protesters have been demanding that Hong Kong be able to elect its leaders without the interference of Beijing. Last month, China said that any candidate for the 2017 election of chief executive, as Hong Kong’s leader is known, had to be vetted by a central committee, effectively assuring Beijing would have veto power.

A live video feed of the protests is available here:

Sept. 28 2014 11:31 AM

It Took Secret Service Four Days to Realize Someone Fired Seven Shots at the White House

When a man carrying a knife was able to jump the fence and sprint into the front door of the White House, many said it was symptomatic of larger issues with the Secret Service. A fascinating Washington Post piece today makes it clear just how true that is, recounting how it took four days for the Secret Service to even realize that someone had fired shots at the White House and that seven bullets had struck the upstairs residence in 2011. President Obama and his wife were out of town at the time but their younger daughter Sasha was at home with Michelle Obama’s mother. And Malia was expected back home any minute.

When Oscar Ortega-Hernandez, a man who appeared increasingly paranoid about the U.S. government and seemingly obsessed with how President Obama “had to be stopped,” fired his semiautomatic rifle out of his car, Secret Service agents were quick to respond. But they were told to stand down, with superiors saying no shots had actually been fired. Even though agents seemed to know that was clearly not true—a pair of agents said they could smell gunpowder while another had heard debris fall from the Truman balcony—they stayed quiet, apparently out of fear of angering their superiors. In the end the conclusion was that two rival gangs had gotten into a gunfight near the White House lawn.

It was only when a housekeeper found a broken window and a piece of concrete days later that agents began to realize what had happened. The president and first lady were understandably furious. Once the Secret Service actually started investigating, they quickly realized this was no small matter, finding $97,000 worth of damage. At the time, Ortega’s arrest did receive attention but all of the problems with the investigation—and the potential danger to the first family—had been kept under wraps. The way it is coming to light now suggests some powerful people want to speed up changes at the agency that has suffered numerous embarrassments in recent years.

Ortega-Hernandez was sentenced to 25 years in prison earlier this year for what his lawyers described as a "misguided effort to make the public aware of what he believed to be the coming Armageddon."