Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Sept. 30 2014 11:24 AM

Hamas Drops Back to Nearly Even With Fatah in Poll of Palestinians

After surging during a 50-day war with Israel, Hamas's popularity among Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank has fallen back and is now nearly even with support for the more moderate Fatah party, a new poll shows. From Haaretz:

Some 39 percent of those surveyed said they would vote for Hamas if parliamentary elections were held today, compared to 46 percent one month ago. In contrast, those who would vote in favor of Fatah has risen to 36 percent from 31 percent one month ago, the poll showed.
Before the Gaza war, Fatah led against Hamas in the poll, 40 to 32 percent.

The poll was conducted by the West Bank-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. Despite the result above, Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh would still defeat Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas 55 percent to 38 percent in a hypothetical presidential election, the Center found.

When Hamas and Fatah announced a Palestinian unity government in June (before Gaza hostilities), they said national elections would be held within six months, but none are currently scheduled.

Also of note: the poll found that only 42 percent of Gaza residents oppose the disarmament of Gaza militant groups. And that 80 percent of Palestinians think the Palestinian Authority is corrupt and that most Palestinians are afraid of criticizing their own leaders. Actually, you know what? Just go read the entire poll.

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Sept. 30 2014 10:03 AM

Michigan Admits in 1 a.m. News Release That Quarterback Likely Played With Concussion

Over the weekend and into Monday, a college sports story turned into national news as Michigan's football team repeatedly insisted it had not reinserted quarterback Shane Morris in a game with a concussion despite what seemed like clear evidence that Morris was, at the least, never fully checked for concussion symptoms. Coach Brady Hoke released two statements asserting that he had not played Morris without medical clearance and said as much again in a press conference yesterday. But at sometime around 1 a.m. this morning, Michigan's athletic director released a statement confirming that Morris had likely been concussed during the game:

Following the game, a comprehensive concussion evaluation was completed and Shane has been evaluated twice since the game. As of Sunday, Shane was diagnosed with a probable, mild concussion, and a high ankle sprain. That probable concussion diagnosis was not at all clear on the field on Saturday or in the examination that was conducted post-game.

The statement blamed the in-game failure on poor communication between coaches and medical staff, asserting that trainers did not realize Morris had taken a hit to the head area and were instead checking his ankle. Butt's still unclear why, on Monday, no one had yet told Michigan's football coach that Morris had been diagnosed with a likely concussion on Sunday.

Here's video from the game in question.

Sept. 29 2014 10:23 PM

New York City to End Use of Solitary Confinement on Juveniles

Soon New York City prisons will no longer be allowed to send juvenile inmates to solitary confinement. News of the policy change in the nation’s second largest prison system came from an internal memo from city correction commissioner Joseph Ponte to Mayor Bill de Blasio obtained the New York Times. The policy change will be implemented by the end of the year and will prohibit inmates under the age of 18 to be held in solitary.

The policy change comes as criticism of the New York City Correction Department mounted following a scathing report on the department’s handling of inmates, particularly juveniles, at Rikers Island prison. “Although experts have spoken for years about the devastating effects of solitary confinement on the mental health of adolescent prisoners, such seclusion has long been the primary form of punishment at the Rikers Island jail complex, where inmates as young as 16 can spend days, weeks and sometimes months locked in a cell for over 23 hours a day,” the Times reports.


“In one 21-month period, that review found, an average of 150 young inmates received solitary time each month, resulting in a total of 143,823 days in isolation,” the Associated Press reports. “About 300 of the 11,500 daily inmates in city jails are 16 and 17 years old, according to the Department of Correction. Of the roughly 530 inmates in solitary on any given day, around 50 of them are teens.”

Sept. 29 2014 9:39 PM

Iceland Announces Men-Only U.N. Conference to Address Gender Equality

Iceland announced on Monday an unusual plan to tackle the problematic state of gender equality in the world, particularly violence against women. The plan, as explained by the country’s foreign minister, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, to the U.N. General Assembly is to hold a conference on the issue in January. The twist: Only men and boys are invited to participate.

[W]e want to bring men and boys to the table on gender equality in a positive way. Iceland and Suriname will convene a “Barbershop” conference in January 2015 where men will discuss gender equality with other men, with a special focus on addressing violence against women. This will be a unique conference as it will be the first time at the United Nations that we bring together only men leaders to discuss gender equality.

“The unusual conference is part of a global campaign launched this month to get 100,000 men and boys involved in the fight for gender equality, which the United Nations had hoped would be achieved by 2015,” the Associated Press reports. Iceland and Suriname fall at different ends of the spectrum when it comes to women’s rights. “The Global Gender Gap Report 2013 compiled by the World Economic Forum ranked Iceland top in gender equality in economic, health and other matters. Suriname, the tiny South American country, was ranked 110th,” according to the AP.

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.

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.