Donald Trump on the Brussels terror attack: Look at my polls.

One thing you didn’t hear very much about was the victims. 

Instead, Trump called in to Fox & Friends and Today to chastise Belgian authorities for being too weak to stop the attacks on the city’s airport and subway system, and to claim that Brussels had transformed into a hub of radical Islam and Sharia law. Within the first 30 seconds of his call to Today, Trump was talking about his polls, saying that the reason he was doing so well was that he was stronger on terrorism than any of the other candidates. 

Far from being his “3 a.m. moment,” this was just another campaign stop. The polls were evidence that his foreign policy was right. He warned of the decline of Brussels, now a “catastrophic, very dangerous city where police have no control.” He suggested that he had seen this coming all along. He said he’d prevent a terrorist attack by closing the borders and making sure that refugees and immigrants had “proper documentation.” 

On CBS, he warned: “This is going to happen in the United States.” And, when pressed by Today’s Matt Lauer, he said that if it were up to him, Paris terror suspect Salah Abdeslam would have been tortured, or worse. “I am in the camp that torture works,” Trump said. “I am in the camp where you have to get the information.” 

March 23, 2018

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John Bolton is now part of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Speaking at CPAC in 2017, John Bolton boasted that his Super PAC’s implementation of “advanced psychographic data” would help elect “filibuster majorities” in 2018. According to a New York Times report published on Friday, Bolton’s Super PAC paid $1.2 million to Cambridge Analytica, the British firm that has come under scrutiny for its misuse of Facebook data to influence voters. Bolton’s Super PAC, moreover, was heavily funded by the Mercer family, who gave millions to Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 presidential campaign.

There is no indication that Bolton was aware that Cambridge Analytica was exploiting the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users—but he was certainly aware that it was using an extensive trove of personal data to target voters. “The data and modeling Bolton’s PAC received was derived from the Facebook data,” Christopher Wylie, the co-founder of Cambridge Analytica turned whistleblower, told the Times. “We definitely told them about how we were doing it. We talked about it in conference calls, in meetings.”

What Bolton was paying Cambridge Analytica to do is, perhaps, more damning than his use of the shady data firm. “The Bolton PAC was obsessed with how America was becoming limp wristed and spineless and it wanted research and messaging for national security issues,” Wylie told the Times. “That really meant making people more militaristic in their worldview,” he added. “That’s what they said they wanted, anyway.” Cambridge Analytica produced fear-mongering advertisements aimed at drumming up support for Bolton and other hawkish  Republicans. The relationship between the firm and the Super PAC grew “so close that the firm was writing up talking points” for Bolton after only a few months of collaboration.  

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Congress may have just nixed a Supreme Court case on digital privacy.

Legislators stuffed the CLOUD Act—short for the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act—into the 2,232-page omnibus spending bill that’s headed to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature—or veto, as he threatened this morning. If signed into law, the act would rewrite the rules for how U.S. tech companies deal with law-enforcement requests for data across international borders.

The new legislation’s most immediate impact would be felt in the Supreme Court, where the justices are currently mulling United States v. Microsoft. The tech giant is contesting a warrant issued by federal prosecutors, under the Stored Communications Act of 1986, for data stored on servers at a Microsoft data center in Ireland. Microsoft argues that Congress didn’t intend for the 1986 law to apply to data held by U.S. companies overseas.

During oral arguments last month, some of the justices asked lawyers from both sides whether the court should simply wait for Congress to pass the CLOUD Act. The new law would resolve the extraterritoriality question in the government’s favor, likely rendering the Supreme Court case moot. Microsoft also backed the CLOUD Act because it clarifies how previous legal standards for computer searches apply to newer technologies. Because the 1986 law predates cloud computing or mass adoption of the internet, I noted last month that the justices’ task was essentially to “interpret a Bronze Age law for an Iron Age world.

While the CLOUD Act’s passage would satisfy both Microsoft and federal prosecutors, digital-privacy groups are far less thrilled. The new law also streamlines how foreign governments obtain data stored on U.S.-based servers, a move that’s raised concerns about lowered privacy standards for citizens and non-citizens inside the United States. Congress’s hasty incorporation of the CLOUD Act into a massive spending bill also drew criticism for short-circuiting a major policy debate. “Because of this failure, U.S. and foreign police will have new mechanisms to seize data across the globe,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation warned on Thursday night.

March 22, 2018

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John Bolton, who has advocated strikes against Iran and North Korea, is Trump’s new national security advisor.

We’ve known for months that H.R. McMaster, who replaced Michael Flynn as Trump’s national security advisor in February of last year, was not long for this administration. He and the president simply didn’t get along, and by the fall of 2017 McMaster had even lost the support of his closest allies in the cabinet, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and (now former) Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The last straw may have been a public fight about whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election, but it’s possible that the author of a book about how important it is for advisers to tell the president hard truths never had a chance.

McMaster’s replacement will be Bolton, the mustachioed cable news fixture. Bolton has been particularly vocal about the need for military action against both Iran and North Korea, suggesting that the nuclear agreement the U.S. signed with the former and the upcoming talks with the latter may be doomed.

Previously, Bolton had been accused of manipulating intelligence during the lead-up to the Iraq War when he worked in George W. Bush’s State Department. Bolton later served for two years as the Bush administration’s ambassador to the United Nations. A neoconservative who believes the U.S. is being infiltrated by Islamists, Bolton can be expected to ratchet up tensions around the globe—and to create disturbances with allies and with members of both parties in Congress.

Bolton’s appointment is the culmination of Trump’s cabinet shakeup. The Trump Cabinet 1.0 was filled with compromise picks aimed at winning over the Republican establishment. The second cabinet is filled with loyalists and extremist hawks.

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Footage of the fatal self-driving Uber crash raises new questions about legal liability.

Last weekend, a 49-year-old woman was struck and killed by an autonomous Uber—which had an operator in the driver’s seat—while she was walking a bike across a road in Tempe, Arizona. As I wrote on Tuesday, it wasn’t clear who would be responsible for her death under current Arizona law, given the state lax approach to regulating  the new technology.

Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir told newspapers earlier this week that an initial probe showed no fault on Uber’s part because the pedestrian came into the street “like a flash.” Dash-cam footage released earlier today, however, paints a slightly different picture of events.

The footage cuts off before showing the car striking the pedestrian, but captures the events immediately leading up to the crash. Early reports suggested the woman had entered the road when the Uber vehicle approached, but the car’s headlights show her already in the middle of the road less than two seconds before the collision. That may have been too slow for a human driver to respond at those speeds, but it raises questions about whether or not the self-driving car’s sensors detected her at all.

One expert told the Associated Press that the short clip “is strongly suggestive of multiple failures of Uber and its system, its automated system, and its safety driver.” Another expert told CNN that, even in the dark, the pedestrian “should have been in [Uber’s] system purview to pick up.”

The footage could prompt Arizona officials to adopt new regulations for future tests in the state. It’s impossible to know if any single rule would have changed this accident’s outcome, but other jurisdictions had taken steps to prevent similar collisions. Under Nevada law, for example, self-driving cars undergoing open-road tests must be accompanied by a pilot car driven by a human operator.

Sacramento Police

Body-cam footage shows Sacramento police killing an unarmed black man.

In an article I wrote about the harms of jaywalking laws last week, I highlighted the case of Nandi Cain Jr., a black man beaten last year by a Sacramento police officer who had stopped him for crossing a street outside of a crosswalk. An investigation by The Sacramento Bee later found that the city’s black residents are five times more likely to be cited for jaywalking than other members of the community.

Cain ultimately survived his encounter with the police. Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old black man also from Sacramento, did not. Two police officers fatally shot him in his backyard on Sunday night while investigating reports of a man breaking car windows. Police initially told the Bee that Clark approached the officers while holding an “object,” which at first they said was a “tool bar” they had mistaken for a gun. Police later said that Clark was carrying a cell phone.

Body-cam footage released on Wednesday night shows only a brief encounter between Clark and the officers before they opened fire on him. The two officers yelled “Gun! Gun! Gun!” and “Show me your hands!” before firing 20 shots. (There was no gun.) The nighttime footage doesn’t show what Clark was doing when police opened fire. Helicopter footage, which only captured part of the encounter, shows Clark staggering forward while the officers shoot at him before he collapses to the ground.

There’s a connection between overpolicing—excessive low-level enforcement—and the rates of police shootings. Research shows that police officers are disproportionately likely to use force against black Americans. Communities of color are also more likely to be overpoliced, raising the overall number of encounters between black Americans and police officers. The confluence of those two forces can have tragic results. For Nandi Cain Jr., it was a beating. For Stephon Clark, it was his life.

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The 71-year-old president is tweeting about fighting 75-year-old Joe Biden.

It’s been a typically chaotic week at the White House, as Donald Trump and Congress have struggled to finalize an omnibus spending bill and aides have dealt with the fallout from the president’s decision to congratulate Vladimir Putin for winning a rigged election. Facing these issues and a budding trade war with China, the president spent the early morning tweeting about how he would beat Biden in a fight.

Trump appears to be responding to a remark from Biden, who told a crowd in Miami this week: “When a guy who ended up becoming our national leader said, ‘I can grab a woman anywhere and she likes it’ and then said, ‘I made a mistake. ... They asked me would I like to debate this gentleman, and I said no. I said, ‘If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.’”

As far as trash talk goes, it’s pretty convoluted: Biden says he would have beaten up Trump if the two were in high school together and Trump made the kinds of comments that he made in the Access Hollywood tape. In the same speech, Biden also took aim at Trump’s “locker room talk” defense, saying, “I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms my whole life. I’m a pretty damn good athlete. Any guy who talked that way was usually the fattest, ugliest S.O.B. in the room.”

Biden, who may be preparing to run for president in 2020, has a certain knack, I guess, for sinking to Trump’s level. But setting aside the very sad thought of two septuagenarians trading blows behind a high school gym, Trump’s tweets are revealing. He will respond to every challenge, no matter how dumb.

March 21, 2018

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The Austin bombing suspect was a homeschooled Christian conservative.

Mark Anthony Conditt, a 23-year-old white male from Pflugerville, Texas, blew himself up early Wednesday morning after a confrontation with police. Authorities have since confirmed that Conditt is responsible for the serial bombings that have plagued Austin since March 2, though they have not ruled out the possibility that he had help. Police haven’t released his motive, but we do know more about his background.

BuzzFeed reports that Conditt grew up in an evangelical homeschooling family in Pflugerville, and that the family was reportedly active in their local homeschooling community:

An acquaintance of Conditt’s, who did not wish to be identified, told BuzzFeed News that she and Conditt were in the same homeschool community in Pflugerville between the ages of 8 and 13. She said that she had playdates with Conditt, who “seemed like a regular boy who liked to have fun and play games.”

“His family seemed very nice,” she said. “I was completely shocked when I heard—I had no idea it would be someone I knew.”

Cassia Schultz, 21, told BuzzFeed News that she ran in the same conservative survivalist circles in high school as Conditt.

Schultz said they were both involved in a group called Righteous Invasion of Truth (RIOT), a Bible study and outdoors group for homeschooled kids that included monthly activities such as archery, gun skills, and water balloon fights. Conditt and his younger sister would usually attend the activities along with 15 to 20 other kids, according to Schultz.

RIOT appears to take its name from “Righteous Invasion of Truth,” a 1995 album by Carman, a Christian rock artist. It’s not unusual for homeschooling families to create organizations like RIOT that provide socialization and skills-building opportunities for their children. A blog confirmed to belong to Conditt indicates that he held socially conservative views as of 2012. But without more information about his motive for the bombings, it’s impossible to know how Conditt’s background influenced his violence, if it was an influence at all.

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The EPA’s Scott Pruitt spends $2,261 per week on travel.

Or, if you prefer, $323 per day. That’s the rough average based on The Washington Post’s Tuesday report detailing seven months of travel costs for the Environmental Protection Agency administrator. Based on documents requested by House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, the Post revealed that Pruitt spent nearly $68,000 in taxpayer dollars on first-class flights and hotels from August to February. The figure “includes stays at high-priced hotels in New York City and Paris,” and “does not include the travel expenditures of the personal security detail and aides who typically accompany him.”

This report adds to Pruitt’s first-class travel scandal. He and his entourage racked up at least $120,000 in travel bills in two weeks last summer. Pruitt has been taking these trips to meet with the polluting industries he’s in charge of regulating, the Post reports:

The records also underscore how often and to what lengths Pruitt traveled to speak to industry groups. He addressed the Texas Oil & Gas Association in October before heading to Nebraska for media stops. First-class flights: $3,610. He headed to New Orleans to speak to the Louisiana Chemical Association. First-class flight: $2,265. In November, he flew to Chicago to address the Society of Industrial Gasoline Marketers annual conference, at a cost of $1,172. The next day, he headed to Charleston, S.C., for the American Chemistry Council. That brief trip cost $3,155.

Federal regulations dictate that government employees be “prudent” about travel and book “the least expensive class of travel that meets their needs.” The EPA is one of the smallest federal agencies in terms of budget, and Pruitt has defended slashing it even further. It should follow that his travel costs would reflect that, but the EPA has insisted that Pruitt needs to fly first class because of security threats. In the face of criticism, Pruitt has said he’ll now fly coach whenever possible. “There’s a change coming,” he told CBS News earlier this month. But the damage to his credibility has already been done.

Donald Trump congratulated Vladimir Putin because of course he did.

On Tuesday, Trump called Putin to discuss the Russian leader’s victory in a highly suspect election that has been criticized for a number of irregularities, including ballot stuffing and coercion. Because of international criticism of the election, Trump’s national security advisers apparently wrote “DO NOT CONGRATULATE”—in all-caps—in Trump’s briefing materials. And what did Trump do? Congratulate Putin, naturally. In the call, Trump also deviated from his briefing book by failing to address the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

Trump’s decision to congratulate Putin against the advice of, well, pretty much everyone, captures many of the pathologies of this administration. The fact that the details of their conversation leaked almost immediately suggests that the White House is just as porous as it was last January, when Trump’s phone calls with world leaders landed in the press within minutes of the president hanging up the phone.

Then, there’s Trump’s clear disregard for his aides, many of whom are expending an enormous amount of energy just trying to get him to follow rudimentary norms. “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” shows that advising the president is a hopeless task.

But the biggest problem is that Trump has a penchant for legitimizing dictators and strongmen. His affection for Putin is obvious. Given the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, you’d think that, for political reasons, Trump would try to score some easy points by distancing himself from Putin. But that hasn’t happened. Instead, Trump has dragged his feet on imposing congressionally mandated sanctions and taken nearly every opportunity to cozy up to Putin.

March 20, 2018

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Stormy Daniels’s polygraph test doesn’t reveal anything.

The porn actress, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, reportedly took a videotaped polygraph test in 2011 for Life & Style magazine when it investigated her allegations that she and Donald Trump had an affair early in his current marriage to Melania Trump, according to The Wall Street Journal. That tape is now part of her lawsuit against Trump over a $130,000 nondisclosure agreement she signed before th 2016 election.

According to the polygraph, Daniels was “truthful” in responding “yes” two questions: “Around July 2006, did you have vaginal intercourse with Donald Trump?” Around July 2006, did you have unprotected sex with Donald Trump?” The New York Daily News claimed this “shows Stormy Daniels was truthful about having ‘unprotected’ sex with Donald Trump.” NBC News reported, without skepticism, that the “Lie Detector Test Shows Stormy Daniels Truthful About Trump Affair.

But polygraph tests don’t really detect lies. As Vox’s Joseph Stromberg noted in 2014, “lie-detector” tests actually measure anxiety in the test-taker, which may (or may not) be related to whether that person is telling the truth. Accordingly, polygraph tests are inadmissible in American criminal trials and the Supreme Court determined in 1998 that there “is simply no consensus that polygraph evidence is reliable.” Both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Psychological Association have concluded that there is little scientific research supporting the tests’ accuracy.

Thanks to its frequent appearances in popular culture, however, the device’s mystique endures. It’s certainly possible that Daniels had an extramarital affair with Trump in 2006. (If nothing else, the videotaped test from 2011 proves her version of events predates Trump’s political career.) Giving credibility to a device that hasn’t earned it isn’t the way to prove her story, though.