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New Evidence Emerges of Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica’s Role in Brexit

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For two years, observers have speculated that the June, 2016, Brexit campaign in the U.K. served as a petri dish for Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign in the United States. Now there is new evidence that it did. Newly surfaced e-mails show that the former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and Cambridge Analytica, the Big Data company that he worked for at the time, were simultaneously incubating both nationalist political movements in 2015.

Emma Briant, an academic expert on disinformation at George Washington University, has unearthed new e-mails that appear to reveal the earliest documented role played by Bannon in Brexit. The e-mails, which date back to October of 2015, show that Bannon, who was then the vice-president of Cambridge Analytica, an American firm largely owned by the U.S. hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer, was in the loop on discussions taking place at the time between his company and the leaders of Leave.EU, a far-right nationalist organization. The following month, Leave.EU publicly launched a campaign aimed at convincing British voters to support a referendum in favor of exiting the European Union. The U.K. narrowly voted for the so-called Brexit in June, 2016. The tumultuous fallout has roiled the U.K. ever since, threatening the government of the Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May.

Bannon did not respond to requests for comment. But his name and private e-mail address appear on the chain of three e-mails in October, 2015, between Brittany Kaiser, the director of program development at Cambridge Analytica, and Arron Banks, who headed the Leave.EU campaign and referred to himself in the title of his memoir as one of “The Bad Boys of Brexit.” Banks could not be reached for comment regarding the e-mails, which were first published Saturday by the British Web site openDemocracy.

The precise role played by foreign entities in promoting and possibly funding Brexit has been clouded in mystery and controversy. British law forbids foreign contributions to its political campaigns—just as U.S. law bars foreign campaign contributions. The laws are designed to prevent international manipulation of domestic affairs. Executives working for Cambridge Analytica, which filed for bankruptcy this spring, have categorically denied that the firm was paid to do any work for the Leave.EU campaign. The new e-mails do not contradict that, but show that, even if the firm was not paid for its services, it laid some of the early groundwork for the Leave.EU campaign. The e-mails show that Banks and others in the Leave.EU leadership met with Cambridge Analytica executives in 2015, and discussed what Banks called a “two-stage process” that would “get CA”—Cambridge Analytica—“on the team.”

In an e-mail dated October 24, 2015, Banks also discussed tasking Cambridge Analytica with helping him raise funds through the U.S. for the Leave.EU campaign. In a note to the Cambridge Analytica executives with whom he had met, Banks wrote, “It’s clear that major donors are sitting on the fence, but we aim to do something about that.” Banks returns to the topic later in the note, adding, “We would like CA to come up with a strategy for fund raising in the states and engaging companies and special interest groups that might be affected by TTIP”—the pending Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Banks did not address the potential illegality of direct foreign donations, but suggested a strategy that might circumvent the letter of the campaign-finance laws, if not their intent. Banks suggested enlisting Cambridge Analytica’s help in reaching out to Americans “with family ties to the UK.” Evidently, by targeting Americans with British relatives, the hope was that they could avoid campaign-finance-law violations. He suggested that Cambridge Analytica, which boasted of having access to two hundred and thirty million Americans’ voter-registration data, as well as other personal information, could be solicited “to raise money and create SM [social media] activity.”

The following day, a Cambridge Analytica staffer sent an e-mail back to Banks, again with Bannon included on the chain, suggesting that the firm was on board with the idea of developing a proposal that would include “US-based fundraising strategies.”

Whether foreign funds secretly supported the Brexit movement has become the focus of intense speculation and investigation in the U.K. The British probes, in many respects, are parallel to the Robert Mueller investigation of possible Russian support for Trump’s 2016 campaign. Banks has drawn particular scrutiny because his business spent some nine million pounds supporting the Brexit campaign, making him the country’s single largest political-campaign donor by far, despite questions about whether he had the personal wealth to contribute that much on his own. Banks has insisted that his contributions were legal, and that foreign sources, including Russia, contributed no funds. But multiple British agencies have launched inquiries, including a criminal investigation into Banks’s role by the National Crime Agency, the U.K.’s equivalent to the F.B.I.

Brittany Kaiser, the former executive at Cambridge Analytica whose name appears on the new e-mails, has since become something of a whistle-blower, exposing the company’s role in the Brexit campaign to the press. Reached through a spokeswoman, she declined to comment.

While the e-mail chain includes Bannon, there is no evidence that he read or commented on the exchange between the Leave.EU leaders and the Cambridge Analytica executives. In the fall of 2015, Bannon was busy setting up a new office for Cambridge Analytica in Alexandria, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., and pitching the firm’s services to Republican candidates, including Donald Trump. The firm initially worked for Ted Cruz’s Presidential campaign. But, when Trump won the Republican nomination, the Mercer family, which had financially supported Trump’s Presidential bid, insisted that Trump put Bannon in charge of the campaign and bring in Cambridge Analytica, in which the family was heavily invested, as well.

Executives at Cambridge Analytica claimed that they had access to unprecedented quantities of advanced “psychographic” data that enabled the Trump campaign to micro-target its pitch to voters. But, this past May, the company filed for bankruptcy in the wake of allegations—denied by Cambridge Analytica executives—that it had improperly obtained millions of people’s personal data from Facebook, without the users’ permission, in violation of the company’s regulations.

The possibility that both Brexit and the Trump campaign simultaneously relied upon the same social-media company and its transgressive tactics, as well as some of the same advisers, to further far-right nationalist campaigns, set off alarm bells on both sides of the Atlantic. Damian Collins, a member of Parliament, and chair of its Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which held an inquiry into fake news, told the Observer, which has broken much of the news about Cambridge Analytica in the U.K., that the new e-mails “suggest that the role of Bannon and Mercer is far deeper and more complex than we realised. There’s a big question about whether Mercer’s money was used in the Brexit campaign and it absolutely underscores why Britain needs a proper Mueller-style investigation. There are direct links between the political movements behind Brexit and Trump. We’ve got to recognise the bigger picture here. This is being coordinated across national borders by very wealthy people in a way we haven’t seen before."

The American investigations into foreign interference in Trump’s election, and British probes into Brexit, have increasingly become interwoven. The role of the Russian Ambassador to the U.K., Alexander Yakovenko, has reportedly been the subject of interest both to Mueller’s investigators and to those in the U.K., who have examined his relationship to Banks. The role of Nigel Farage, the former leader of the far-right, Euroskeptic U.K. Independence Party, who has been an ally of Bannon and Trump, has also reportedly stirred the interest of investigators in both countries, especially after he was spotted in 2017 leaving the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, in which Julian Assange has taken refuge. Assange’s media platform, WikiLeaks, published many of the e-mails stolen by Russia from the Hillary Clinton campaign during the 2016 election season.

How and whether all of these pieces fit together is the subject of Mueller’s investigation, but the lack of a similar single, overarching investigation in the U.K. has led critics to call for one. Emma Briant, for instance, who has submitted the new e-mails to the British government for further investigation, told openDemocracy that “this evidence shows that Banks was seeking foreign funding for Brexit from the very beginning.” She argued that the U.K. inquiry, like the U.S. one, needed to follow the money and the potential manipulation of public opinion as nationalist policies rose on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Washington unemployment rate drops to 4.3 percent

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The state's jobless rate has been setting new monthly lows since May, and that October's rate establishes the latest historic low for unemployment since comparable record-keeping began in 1976.

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — State officials say Washington’s jobless rate dropped to 4.3 percent last month, continuing a trend of the state’s unemployment rate dropping to historic lows.

The unemployment rate dipped slightly from September’s 4.4 percent, according to numbers released Wednesday by the Employment Security Department. The state also added 12,400 jobs in October, officials said.

Paul Turek, labor economist for the department, noted that the rate has been setting new monthly lows since May, and that October’s rate establishes the latest historic low for unemployment since comparable record-keeping began in 1976.

“It’s definitely a trend,” he said. “What we’re looking at is essentially an economic expansion coming out of the recession.”

During the recession, the state’s unemployment rate soared as high as 10.4 percent in December 2009, Turek said. A year ago this time, the state rate was at 4.7 percent.

The state has added an estimated 119,200 jobs since October 2017, with the private sector adding 112,100 jobs and the public sector gaining 7,100.

The largest job gains last month were seen in construction, leisure and hospitality, and information. The only industry that saw job losses was the retail trade sector.

Job gains and losses are estimates based on a survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate counts the percentage of people who are unemployed and actively looking for work, and it doesn’t include those who have stopped looking for work.

The national unemployment rate for October was 3.7 percent, and the rate in the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett region was 3.3 percent.

The latest numbers released Wednesday also include a broader unemployment measure released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That rate — called a U-6 rate — measures “unemployed, underemployed and those who are not looking but who want a job.” The U-6 rate for the fourth quarter of 2017 through the third quarter of 2018 was 8.4 percent in Washington state and 7.8 percent nationally during that same period.

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15 hours ago
Wait, it can’t possibly be true that all of the ideologues proclaiming that raising the minimum wage would destroy the economy were wrong again?
Washington, DC

Frog found in Cava salad: Here's the video the woman who found it took - The Washington Post

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When Naomi Stahl got home Friday night with her takeout order from Cava, she discovered an ingredient in her salad bowl that she had not ordered.

A live frog.

“It was jumping all around the bowl,” said Stahl, who lives in Northwest D.C. “Its legs were really long.”

Like mice parts that occasionally show up in fast-food burgers, the frog in Stahl’s salad was an invasive protein.

Cava, the fast-growing Mediterranean restaurant chain that started in Rockville, Md. and has dozens of locations around the country, does not offer frog legs on its menu — dead or alive.

Stahl had ordered chicken.

Was she alarmed? Yes. Yes, she was.

Alone in her Tenleytown apartment, Stahl stared through the clear lid and watched the frog crawling around the other ingredients she had ordered via the restaurant’s app: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, tzatziki sauce and a rather large sliced lemon.

She took a distressing video of it:

Cava executives said Saturday that the company was investigating how the frog wound up in Stahl’s salad.

Dan Jones, Cava’s chief operating officer, said in a statement that "we sincerely apologize for this incident as it does not live up to the quality or the standards we want and will be working with our team members to reinforce our standards to ensure this does not happen in the future.”

In theory, Stahl, 28, was better equipped to handle the situation than others. She is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at American University. Asked what coping skills she would suggest to a patient experiencing a similar situation, Stahl mentioned deep breathing and mindfulness exercises.

She did not use either strategy.

“I was in a full-on panic,” Stahl said.

Stahl called her boyfriend, Chris Lyford, who was still at work, and pleaded for him to come home.

“For a lack of a better term, she was freaking out,” Lyford recalled. “She doesn’t deal well with insects and rodents.”

And now she had a tiny frog on her hands. Well, not actually on her hands, because there was no way she was going to let the frog out of her salad.

Stahl secured the container by placing on its lid an appropriately heavy and Washington-ish coffee-table book: “Profiles of the Presidents: From FDR to Clinton.”

Still, even with the weight of presidents on the lid, she did not let her guard down.

“I was focused on watching it and making sure it wouldn’t jump out of the container,” she said. “But I also kept a safe distance away.”

When Lyford, a writer for a magazine called Psychotherapy Networker, got home, they took the container back to the restaurant, which is within walking distance of their apartment.

They showed the manager, who notified her bosses. Stahl received a call Saturday morning from an area manager for Cava, who told her the company was investigating the frog situation.

Jones, the company’s COO, said Cava takes the safety of its ingredients seriously.

“The quality and safety of our food is always of the utmost importance to us,” he said in his statement. “Being that we serve fresh produce that is delivered to our restaurants each morning, we have strict steps in place to ensure everything is washed and inspected before serving our guests.”

Stahl and Lyford left the restaurant without ordering another meal.

The frog, now partially covered in tzatziki sauce, was still in their custody. They pondered what to do with it — kill it or let it live. They settled on giving the frog another shot at life.

They took the salad container to a wooded area behind their apartment building, then let the frog go. They acknowledged it had a rough road ahead in the frigid weather.

The couple is finally able to start joking about the incident. Lyford had a good one — that this wouldn’t have happened if Stahl, like Lyford, had ordered a sandwich.

Evil salads!

Still, Lyford wasn’t taking any chances with sandwich superiority.

“I tossed it,” he said.

Read more:

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The brutal war and sweet patriotism that led to National Doughnut Day

A hungry congressman didn’t get the breakfast he ordered. So he shot the waiter.

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15 hours ago
It’s not easy being green…
Washington, DC

What Trump has stopped talking about since Election Day

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(CNN) — From October 16 to November 6 -- aka Election Day -- President Donald Trump sent 45 tweets mentioning the "border" between the United States and Mexico. Between October 16 and October 31, he sent nine tweets referring to the "caravan" of migrants making their way across Mexico.

Here's a typical one: "Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border. Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!"
Since November 6 -- 8 days and counting -- Trump hasn't mentioned the so-called caravan once in a tweet. He has used the word "border" a single time -- in a tweet on November 9 in which Trump tweeted out a link to a "Presidential Proclamation Addressing Mass Migration Through the Southern Border of the United States" that said, essentially, that he was trying to push people entering the country illegally to specified ports of entry.

That discrepancy between Trump's rhetoric in the runup to the election and his rhetoric after it exposes, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what most neutral observers initially suspected: That Trump's decision to seize on the caravan of migrants making their way across Mexico in hopes of entering the United States was 100% a political ploy to rev up his base.

To read Trump's tweets or listen to one of his speeches at the slew of campaign rallies in the final week of the midterm campaign, you would have thought that the caravan -- a horde of pillaging intruders -- was on the verge of crossing into the United States, intent on destroying everything in its path.

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22 hours ago
It’s probably too much to hope that journalists will be less gullible for the next trumped up story?
Washington, DC

Heck of a resumé you got there

Matthew G. Whitaker, Acting Attorney General:

In November 2014, a Miami Beach-based firm, World Patent Marketing, announced the "marketing launch" of a "MASCULINE TOILET," which boasted a specially designed bowl to help "well-endowed men" avoid unwanted contact with porcelain or water. "The average male genitalia is between 5″ and 6″," the firm's press release said. "However, this invention is designed for those of us who measure longer than that." [...]

The special toilet was not the firm's only notable offering. It marketed a slew of oddball inventions, including a "theoretical time travel commodity tied directly to price of Bitcoin." Called Time Travel X and marketed as "a technology, an investment vehicle and a community of users," the cryptocurrency never materialized.

The firm also pitched Sasquatch dolls, promoting them with a video claiming that "DNA evidence collected in 2013 proves that Bigfoot does exist."

Federal authorities say World Patent Marketing was scam. A federal judge shut down the company last year and fined it $26 million after the Federal Trade Commission found it had "bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars" in fees it charged clients based on phony promises of lucrative patent deals. The company is under investigation by the FBI. [...]

In a December 2014 news release, Whitaker defended the firm. "As a former US Attorney, I would only align myself with a first class organization," he stated. [...]

In an August 2015 email, Whitaker invoked his status as a former US attorney to threaten a man who was planning to file a Better Business Bureau complaint against the company. "There could be serious civil and criminal consequences for you," Whitaker wrote in the email. [...]

The Washington Post reported Friday that Whitaker "played a role in trying to help the company silence critics" penned "a series of letters" threatening legal action while acting as outside counsel for the firm. [...] Whitaker refused to comply with an October 2017 FTC subpoena seeking his records related to the company. [...] The FTC's investigation concluded that World Patent Marketing suppressed complaints about the company through "threats, intimidation and gag clauses."

I rate him ten Scaramuccis out of a possible ten Scaramuccis.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

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3 days ago
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Organisms found on hike in the woods are like no other life on Earth | CBC News


Canadian researchers have discovered a new kind of organism that's so different from other living things that it doesn't fit into the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom, or any other kingdom used to classify known organisms.

Two species of the microscopic organisms, called hemimastigotes, were found in dirt collected on a whim during a hike in Nova Scotia by Dalhousie University graduate student Yana Eglit.

A genetic analysis shows they're more different from other organisms than animals and fungi (which are in different kingdoms) are from each other, representing a completely new part of the tree of life, Eglit and her colleagues report this week in the journal Nature.

"They represent a major branch… that we didn't know we were missing," said Dalhousie biology professor Alastair Simpson, Eglit's supervisor and co-author of the new study.

"There's nothing we know that's closely related to them."

In fact, he estimates you'd have to go back a billion years — about 500 million years before the first animals arose — before you could find a common ancestor of hemimastigotes and any other known living things.

This is the part of the Bluff Wilderness Trail in Nova Scotia where graduate student Yana Eglit collected some dirt that ended up containing two species of rare hemimastigotes. (Submitted by Yana Eglit)

The hemimastigotes analyzed by the Dalhousie team were found by Eglit during a spring hike with some other students along the Bluff Wilderness Trail outside Halifax a couple of years ago. She often has empty sample vials in her pockets or bags, and scooped a few tablespoons of dirt into one of them from the side of the trail.

Back at the lab, she soaked the soil in water, which often revives microbes that have gone dormant, waiting for the next big rainstorm. Over the next few weeks, she checked on the dish through a microscope to see what might be swimming around.

Strange movements

Then, one day, about three weeks later, she saw something that caught her eye — something shaped like the partially opened shell of a pistachio. It had lots of hairs, called flagella, sticking out. Most known microbes with lots of flagella move them in co-ordinated waves, but not this one, which waved them in a more random fashion. 

"It's as if these cells never really learned that they have many flagella," Eglit said with a laugh. She had seen something with that strange motion once before, a few years ago, and recognized it as a rare hemimastigote.

Hemimastigotes were first seen and described in the 19th century. But at that time, no one could figure out how they fit into the evolutionary tree of life. Consequently, they've been "a tantalizing mystery" to microbiologists for quite a long time, Eglit said.

Light microscopes show the two hemimastigotes, Spironema, left, and Hemimastix kukwesjijk, found in the same dish. (Yana Eglit/Nature)

Like animals, plants, fungi and ameobas — but unlike bacteria — hemimastigotes have complex cells with mini-organs called organelles, making them part of the "domain" of organisms called eukaryotes rather than bacteria or archaea.

About 10 species of hemimastigotes have been described over more than 100 years. But up until now, no one had been able to do a genetic analysis to see how they were related to other living things.

Realizing that she had something very rare and special, Eglit flagged another graduate student Gordon Lax, who specializes in genetic analyses of individual microbes — a new and tricky technique — to see where they fit in the evolutionary tree. The pair dropped everything to analyze the new microbe.

The co-authors of the new study include, left to right, Dalhousie University postdoctoral researcher Laura Eme, Eglit and fellow graduate student Gordon Lax. (Michelle Léger)

New species

Eglit wanted to see if she could find more of the creatures in the dish, and, as she was looking, she spotted another kind of hemimastigote.

"To our tremendous surprise, two of these extremely rarely seen organisms ended up in one dish."

There were more of the second kind, which turned out to be a new species.

The researchers named itHemimastix kukwesjijk after Kukwes, a greedy, hairy ogre from the mythology of the local Mi'kmaq people. (The suffix "jijk" means "little.")

Eglit watched carefully as it hunted. Hemimastix shoots little harpoons called extrusomes to attack prey such as Spumella, a relative of aquatic microbes called diatoms. It grasps its prey by curling its flagella around it, bringing it to a "mouth" on one end of the cell called a capitulum "as it presumably sucks its cytoplasm out," Eglit said.

Hemimastix kukwesjijk feeds on its prey in this microscope image. It attacks the prey with harpoon-like organs, then uses its flagella to bring the prey to its mouth, called a capitulum, and sucks out the juices or cytoplasm. (Yana Eglit/Nature)

Once she knew what it ate, she reared its prey in captivity so she could also feed and breed captive Hemimastix: "We were able to domesticate it, in a way."

That means scientists can now give captive specimens to other scientists to study, and their rarity is not the issue it was before.

Based on the genetic analysis they've done so far, the Dalhousie team has determined that hemimastigotes are unique and different enough from other organisms to form their own "supra-kingdom" — a grouping so big that animals and fungi, which have their own kingdoms, are considered similar enough to be part of the same supra-kingdom.

They are now doing a more complete genetic analysis of Hemimastix. That's expected to turn up new data that will help scientists piece together the evolutionary history of life on Earth with more detail and more accuracy.

Eglit says it's "extremely exciting" that it's still possible to discover something so different from all known life on Earth.

"It really shows how much more there is out there."

But Simpson noted that discoveries like this one are pretty rare: "It'll be the one time in my lifetime that we find this sort of thing."

Biology professor Alastair Simpson tells Mainstreet host Bob Murphy how a microbe found in a dirt sample from the Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail near Halifax led to the discovery of a previously unknown branch in the evolutionary 'Tree Of Life.' The research has just been published in the journal Nature. 8:23
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