Jam-packed with fantastic character actors, full of ridiculously insane fight scenes, and centered on a functionally impossible piece of technology, xXx: Return of Xander Cage is everything you need from an action flick. There's a thin scrim of a plot involving an evil laptop called Pandora's Box, whose superpowers involve "spying on everybody," "controlling satellites," and injecting hostile poop emojis into Web sessions. Just kidding about that last bit. This movie does not know about Web sessions. But I'm not kidding about how Vin Diesel's performance as "underground blogger" Xander Cage is goofily badass, and the hijinks of his crew are equally fun.
This is the third xXx film, though only the second with Vin Diesel. Ice Cube took the X helm for the second movie, and this flick picks up basically a few years after that. There's still a secret international X program associated with various intelligence agencies, and the X agents are all underground rebel celebs who do things like skateboard for great justice.
Over at the Guardian, Richard Wolffe makes a strong case as to why it could be all downhill from now on for the Trump Presidency. Now he has to take responsibility for his ramblings on Twitter, for his relationship with Vladimir Putin and his corporate dealings, in a way that not only leaves him open to impeachment but also could affect his polls and his consequential influence as President.
If he is unpopular as President then it becomes harder, even with a Republican Congress and Senate to get things done. It also makes it more likely that mid-term elections in two years time could go against his party.
And we should not forget that he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes whilst his poll ratings on the eve of inauguration are at an historic low for a man in his position. The latest poll shows that 37 percent of Americans approve of Trump ahead of his inauguration, while 54 percent do not.
As Richard Wolffe says: This is the high-water mark of every president’s approval ratings – before they do the tough stuff of governing and encounter one of the many fast-moving crises that pass through the West Wing. At the height of his popularity, Donald Trump is polling as badly as George W Bush at the end of his doomed presidency, after the catastrophic collapse of the economy and the bloody disaster of the Iraq war.
A bumper crop of pre-inauguration polls tell the story of how deeply unpopular the 45th president is already. His personal popularity is as low as 32% compared to 61% favorability for President Obama.
Approval of his transition shows him trailing Obama by an even greater margin: just 40% like the way Trump has performed since November, compared to 84% for Obama’s transition eight years ago. Even George W Bush, elected after the extraordinary recount and legal coup in 2000, earned a 61% rating for his transition.
However, the nub of the article is that the greatest threat, both to his presidency and the republic, comes from Trump himself:
Somewhere near the top of the list is potential profiteering from the presidency through his continued ownership of the Trump Organization. It seems Trump will be in breach of the government lease on his new Washington hotel as soon as he is sworn into office today. His efforts to hold onto the lease – which specifically prohibits government officials from holding it – will reveal his true priorities in office.
According to his personal attorney, Trump has drawn an ethical line by appointing his own ethics officer inside his own company. This is a quaint arrangement favored by foxes guarding henhouses. The ethics of the Trump Organization are irrelevant; the ethics of the presidency, however, are governed by article one of the constitution, which prohibits gifts of any kind from foreign powers.
Even under his own sham scheme, the new president has already breached his so-called ethical standards. “President-elect Trump first ordered that all pending deals be terminated,” Trump’s attorney Sheri Dillon told the press last week. “The trust agreement as directed by President Trump imposes severe restrictions on new deals. No new foreign deals will be made whatsoever during the duration of President Trump’s presidency.”
This will come as news to the good people of Aberdeen who are about to witness the dramatic expansion of the Trump golf course in Scotland. That expansion, confirmed just this week, involves another 18 holes, a new 450-room hotel, a timeshare complex and a private housing estate.
Trump’s staff brush aside these niceties by saying the Scottish deal is just a wafer-thin mint of an expansion of an existing deal.
Sadly the constitution doesn’t distinguish between new and existing deals when it strictly prohibits the president from drawing any benefits from foreign powers. It just says they are all unconstitutional.
What kind of deals might breach the now famous emoluments clause? As ProPublica has detailed, there’s the Indian deal in Mumbai that involves the vice-president of the ruling BJP party, who is also an elected official. There’s a deal in Bali, Indonesia, with an Indonesian politician, who has partnered with state-owned companies from China and South Korea. And there’s a deal in Manila with a man recently named as an economic envoy to the US by the murderous President Duterte of the Philippines.
You don’t have to be a constitutional law professor to appreciate the legal and political jeopardy for Trump. President Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about sex, a supposedly high crime and misdemeanor that is not actually cited by the constitution. Unlike making money from foreign officials, which is.
Finally there’s the noose that’s tightening around Trump’s alleged Russian relationships. You know, the ones the new president said IN ALL CAPS absolutely don’t exist and never have, not ever, oh no.
The FBI and five other agencies are now investigating whether Russia covertly transferred cash to pay email hackers in the United States as part of a broader Kremlin plot to influence the presidential campaign in Trump’s favor.
We also know that counter-intelligence officials are investigating possible contacts and ties between Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Russian officials.
Almost every scandal gets compared to Watergate, but very few genuinely deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. Of course, Watergate wasn’t potentially financed by our mortal enemies in Moscow, even if it did involve undermining a presidential election.
These are not matters that can be overcome in a late-night Twitter spat. They are serious matters that could overshadow Watergate and Iran-Contra in terms of their impact. And the really depressing news is that if Trump does go, he will be succeeded by Mike Pence, a former member of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress.
Note: In the UK, EpiPens (sold by Meda Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired by Mylan in 2016), can be acquired for just £45 a piece online. Drug pricing in the US is a rather different beast.
As public outcry over the skyrocketing price of Mylan’s EpiPens hit fever pitch last fall, Ars noted that there was an upcoming competitor: Auvi-Q by Kaléo. But we were pretty confident back then that Kaléo was not going to offer an affordable epinephrine auto-injector alternative, given that the company has a well-documented history of price gouging on life-saving medications, too. Nevertheless, Auvi-Q’s price may still send some jaws toward the floor.
In an announcement Thursday, the company revealed that Auvi-Q will have a $4,500 list price for a two-pack and will be available February 14 for anyone who wants to buy one.
Auvi-Qs were initially introduced in 2013 but were pulled from the market following dosage issues. The devices are slim and rectangular, easy to slip into pockets, and provide a voice-prompt system to guide through a life-saving epinephrine injection. At the time of their initial release, Auvi-Qs were listed at around $200 for a two-pack. By early 2015, when they were pulled, that price had floated up to $500, largely in step with Mylan’s pricing.
A new year, a new committee and a new chair. However this first meeting of the English Lib Dem Executive will be a surprisingly short one. First, with many of the other party bodies having taken a rest over Christmas and the New Year, and even more so this year given the membership of most regional and federal committees having only just been elected, it’s been a fairly quiet time. Secondly though, and more significantly from an English Lib Dem point of view, this meeting of the English Executive is being condensed in to the first half of the day so that the English Review Group, which is considering how the party should be structured in England, can meet in the afternoon. I explained the process of the English Review Group in my report on December’s English Council and so I won’t run through it again, but essentially this get together today will be a facilitated discussion that will come up with a set of options that will be put to the members for discussion over the coming months and which will then be turned in to some more concrete options in time for the next English Council in June. The membership of the English Review Group (of which I am one) is one person from each English region and amongst this membership are a range of opinions on how things are best structured in the future from complete abolition to a variation on the current structure. I don’t think there’s anyone however who believes things should remain exactly as they are. It should be an interesting discussion.
One decision that will also be made at this first meeting of the English Executive is the membership of the English party’s sub-committees and the election of some of its other officers. I will provide a full list of these in the comments below this post after the meeting. That will also allow me to post the names of the new regional chairs as a few of these have changed this year and I don’t know the names of them all yet and all regional chairs are ex officio members of the English Executive.
Here, however, are a few (perhaps a few too many) bullet points from the reports that have come to today’s English Executive meeting:
- The party’s new Federal Board (which has replaced the Federal Executive) has had an away day to develop the party’s strategy. If you want to influence how the party is run over the next three years then there’s probably never been a better time to do it.
- Tim Farron has stated an aim to have 100,000 party members (at the end of 2016 the membership in England was 70,579 – the highest for well over a decade following floods of new members after the General Election, EU Referendum and Trump’s election). Recruiting and retaining these members will need significant support from regional parties, especially in the less active local parties. The party’s recent success with digital communications in by-elections has shown how much more the party can do on this front in other levels of the party although direct human contact is still vital.
- Compliance with election and political funding laws and with party membership rules is becoming increasingly complex and although many of the more difficult cases are handled at state level and by Federal party staff, regions are increasingly needed to give a lot of support to the process. The Electoral Commission fine was discussed in some detail by the Federal Board, although I’m not able to share any further details.
- The party has appointed regional spokespeople on Brexit. Whilst the individuals appointed have been largely welcomed, there has been some unhappiness that the first most regional parties knew of it was when they were mentioned in an article on Lib Dem Voice. A personal aside from me – I remain convinced that most of the problems or upset in the party come from people simply not talking to each other about something.
- The Federal Board has a number of vacancies to fill. More details here.
- The budget for the party’s G8 scheme which helps give financial support for campaigning at a local level has been given a one-off increase this year given the scale of next year’s English county and Scottish and Welsh local elections. Most of the money is being targeted at gains. In recent years G8 has also helped subsidise the excellent (I can say that now without being biased) Kickstart training weekends organised by ALDC, and this year the September weekend will be moved to July to give people even more of a head start for their 2018 and 2019 elections.
- The English Candidates’ Committee (ECC) would like regions to make available via regional newsletters etc. more information on the candidates process and how it will proceed once the current snap General Election candidates cease to be candidates in May. In particular there remains a need for more returning officers, assessors, facilitators and candidates themselves. Regions will also have a very busy 2017 considering areas such as the party’s diversity requirements and how this relates to specific seats, candidate compacts and boundary changes.
- ECC is considering how decisions on a snap General Election are communicated in the future. This time around a decision to put in candidates was made at Federal level which then had to be implemented by the state and regional parties, but there was considerable upset in some areas on how this was done.
- ECC is also grappling with the issue of how the party handles the seat where the Speaker is an MP as by convention this isn’t fought by the main parties (some people would like a rule that the party never stands in that seat, whereas others think it should be contested), how candidates get updated information on party policy and whether there should be a representative of party candidates who live abroad as others are co-ordinated either by their state or regional party which doesn’t apply to overseas members.
- Federal Policy Committee (FPC) has adopted standing orders for the first time and will also now be doing a regular report back on its activities following each meeting.
- FPC recently considered the proposals to have emerged from the party’s Nuclear Weapons Policy Working Group, and these will be going to Spring Conference. It is also creating a new group on Immigration and Identity. There will also be a motion going to conference on faith schools which it is felt to be a significant enough issue on its own to not be subsumed in to any policy papers on education in general.
- There is a proposal to this meeting of the English Executive that there should be a newsletter to members in England to include regional reports, candidate news, a financial update and simple information from the party within England.
Finally, I try and write these posts in as comprehensive and timely a fashion as possible and update anything I’ve said in them or that emerged at the meeting via the comments section below. Sometimes however life gets in the way of this and even though these posts can at times feel far too lengthy I’m happy to give more detail where I know it if I’m contacted directly (there’s a contact form on this blog). Where I don’t know an answer then I can put party members in touch with someone who does. Don’t forget there’s also a section on the members’ section of the Liberal Democrat website that includes reports and notes from party meetings at Federal and English level.
Around 3,500 BCE, the ancient Egyptians began to practice a ritual that has long perplexed archaeologists. They buried their dead in recycled ceramic food jars similar to Greek amphorae.
For decades, scholars believed that only the poor used these large storage containers, and they did so out of necessity. But in a recent article for the journal Antiquity, Ronika Power and Yann Tristant debunk that idea. They offer a new perspective on pot burial.
Burial in pots took many forms. Egyptians buried their dead in all types of ceramic vessels, and, sometimes, the body was simply placed underneath a pot in a grave. Though pot burials were popular, especially for children, people also used coffins and even stone-lined pits to inter their loved ones. The practice of pot burial probably came to Egypt from the Levant region, where pot burials date back to at least 2,000 years before the first known examples in Egypt.
Apple sued Qualcomm today, alleging that the chip company charges billions in patent royalties "for technologies they have nothing to do with."
In its complaint, Apple says that Qualcomm actually withheld $1 billion in payments it owes to Apple because Apple cooperated with the Korea Fair Trade Commission, or KFTC. Apple lawyers go on to make an extraordinary claim: that Qualcomm "attempted to extort Apple into changing its responses and providing false information to the KFTC in exchange for Qualcomm's release of those payments to Apple," but Apple refused.
Apple's lawsuit seeks unspecified damages while stating it has been "overcharged billions" by Qualcomm. The lawsuit notes that law enforcement agencies around the world are investigating Qualcomm, which "has been declared a monopolist by three separate governments" in the past two years. Last month, Korean regulators slapped Qualcomm with a $850 million fine over its patent-licensing practices. The US Federal Trade Commission sued Qualcomm earlier this week, again over patent issues.
There was some predictability in there, and characterisation not so great – I didn't really get an image or voice for anyone – and the use of Chekhov's Gun was frequent and obvious from the get go. OTOH, the plot, moved along nice and smoothly, even if I found myself skimming the bits where the estranged couple each don't want to get divorced but everything they say makes the other think that they do want it.
As an aside, no, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the film Gravity, bar the title and the ISS. Overall... It was OK. I dunno that I'd look out for other Gerritsen books generally, but I'd read a sequel to this if there was one.
He can’t govern in slogans but they’ll take him a long way
Inaugurations set the tone for a presidency and Trump undoubtedly set his yesterday: life will be different – for DC, for Europe, for China and for the world. In an extraordinarily pugnacious address, which might have been lifted direct from his campaign rallies, Trump served notice that the Old Order is dead as far as he is concerned. There will be no more Beltway politics, benefitting lobbyists and politicians at the expense of the public; no more Pax Americana, underwriting the global order.
Whether he can deliver on that is another matter. That he and the Washington elite kept the common folk waiting for over half an hour at the inaugural parade while they lunched was hardly a good pointer. His speech proclaimed that “we will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining, but never doing anything about it. The time for empty talk is over.” Yet the speech was just platitudes and slogans, and a litany of complaints about the state of the country without any detail on how to address them. By his own measure, he fell short.
Trump has however kept surprising pundits and commentators with his capacity to succeed by (or despite) doing the unexpected and unorthodox. We’re in that place again. He is relying on the people that he berated in his inaugural to pass his legislation and budgets – and relying on the lobbyists and donors who might feel differently not providing an equal counterweight.
One might expect that someone who really has little support in DC, who has no political experience and who doesn’t respect diplomatic niceties (whether domestic or foreign) to fail in delivering anything that congress doesn’t want. I wouldn’t be so sure.
Trump has three main cards he can play. The first is the simple fact of his election. It might be a weak mandate but it’s a mandate all the same. The establishment lost and for the time being, that means his opponents can’t be entirely sure that they’re on solid ground going against him. Secondly, he has initiative. He has set out his new direction for America and beyond and while others can respond, he’ll be setting the terms of debate.
But thirdly and most importantly, his America First platform will be difficult to argue against without sounding unpatriotic, and patriotism, while the last refuge of a scoundrel, is also the first claim of a politician – and in particular, an American politician. No matter that ‘America First’ as a slogan hardly has an unsullied past; no matter that the practical objections of limiting trade or building walls are evident to those prepared to think. Trump cannot fail politically now unless congress blocks him and congress has already made and won the case as to why America First is wrong – and that will be extremely hard.
Of course, Trump could fail elsewhere. His businesses give ample scope for conflicts of interest and his style of management is not one that is well suited to the office he now holds. He is without many friends internationally and those he has are in it solely for what they can get (which is not without irony).
That foreign policy marks the biggest shift in priorities. The US is heading back towards isolationism, though Trump’s comments about fighting extremist Islam run counter to the general drift. All the same, the TPP is out, NAFTA may be out, co-operation on climate change is out – and NATO might well be out too. If radical Islam is the US’s number one perceived threat then the Kremlin is an ally rather than an opponent, while the European states are fighting the wrong war with someone else’s – his – soldiers. But Europe is rapidly becoming a backwater to the US’s strategic considerations. If radical Islam is the number one threat then China is number two. Again, Russia is a potential ally and Europe is of little consequence.
That shift in foreign priorities is unlikely to be unpopular in principle. In practice, ‘bringing jobs home’ is likely to be rather harder to achieve and putting up trade barriers will probably be counterproductive. But when emotions are running high, short-term politics trumps longer-term economics in decision-making.
However, as populists throughout the ages have discovered, the price of neglecting longer-term economic considerations will have to be paid eventually. And turning away from the industries of the 21st century in favour of those of the 19th and 20th is neglecting them. Regulations might bring cost but they also stimulate innovation.
For that reason, I expect Trump to lose in 2020. By then, the America First campaign is likely to have run out of steam and he’ll find it harder to hide. It’s rare for a party to hold the White House for a single term (Carter was the only example in the 20th century), but Trump is exceptional. He only just won this year against a very weak Democrat opponent and has set himself huge targets. I think he’ll get a longer run than many expect but will ultimately fail and against a stronger Democrat – there must be a moderate, sensible, successful governor thinking of having a go, surely? – will lose.
But until then, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.
On Friday, litigants announced a settlement to end a contentious copyright lawsuit over a short film and a proposed feature-length film based in the Star Trek universe. The lawsuit was filed last year and involves Star Trek fan-fiction producer Axanar Productions, Paramount Studios, and CBS.
The parties did not disclose all the details of the settlement, which is sealed from the public record. But a joint statement from Axanar and the plaintiffs noted that the defendants “acknowledge that both films were not approved by Paramount or CBS and that both works crossed boundaries acceptable to CBS and Paramount relating to copyright law.” A spokesperson from Axanar told Ars Technica in an e-mail “we’re not paying anything,” with respect to the settlement.
The settlement will also require the fanfic producer to “make substantial changes to Axanar to resolve this litigation.” According to a statement from Axanar, this includes changing the proposed feature-length film into two 15-minute short film episodes, which will be posted on YouTube without advertising from which Axanar could earn revenue. The 20-minute Prelude to Axanar will be allowed to stay on YouTube.
A security researcher has unearthed evidence showing that three browser-trusted certificate authorities owned and operated by Symantec improperly issued more than 100 unvalidated transport layer security certificates. In some cases, those certificates made it possible to spoof protected HTTPS-protected websites.
One of the most fundamental requirements Google and other major browser developers impose on CAs is that they issue certificates only to people who verify the rightful control of an affected domain name or company name. On multiple occasions last year and earlier this month, the Symantec-owned CAs issued 108 credentials that violated these strict industry guidelines, according to research published Thursday by Andrew Ayer, a security researcher and founder of a CA reseller known as SSLMate. These guidelines were put in place to ensure the integrity of the entire encrypted Web. Nine of the certificates were issued without the permission or knowledge of the affected domain owners. The remaining 99 certificates were issued without proper validation of the company information in the certificate.
Many of the improperly issued certificates—which contained the string "test" in various places in a likely indication they were created for test purposes—were revoked within an hour of being issued. Still, the move represents a major violation by Symantec, which in 2015 fired an undisclosed number of CA employees for doing much the same thing.
With President Donald Trump having taken office today, many government offices are in the midst of a major transition. In one office that's closely watched by technology and internet companies, however, the leadership looks to remain the same—the US Patent and Trademark Office.
There's been no official announcement about USPTO leadership from Trump's team, with the new president having been inaugurated earlier today. But The Hill reported yesterday that Michelle Lee, a former top lawyer at Google, will remain as USPTO director under President Trump. Politico reported the same news, sourcing it to statement from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and confirming it with other unnamed sources.
Lee's remaining at USPTO is a a surprise victory for the technology sector, which offered scant support for President Trump while he was campaigning for office. She supported President Barack Obama's patent reform agenda, and Trump's views on patents are a cipher.
Even though bats and birds didn't evolve from a common ancestor, they both have wings. This phenomenon, called convergent evolution, sees species in similar ecological niches evolving similar adaptations—not because they’re closely related, but because they’re faced with the same evolutionary problems.
Giant pandas and red pandas are a great example of this. They diverged around 43 million years ago, with giant pandas in the family Ursidae along with other bears, and red pandas as the lonely living representatives of the family Ailuridae, more closely related to ferrets (take a look at giant pandas and red pandas on this zoomable tree of life). But both kinds of panda are unique among the carnivores in that they're exclusively herbivores.
That lifestyle choice has apparently left similar marks on their genomes, as a team of researchers found when they sequenced the red panda genome.
After a dramatic and historic day the world has changed and we have yet to fully appreciate what theFriday, January 20th, 2017 08:24 pm
Following such an extraordinary day it is very hard to fully assimilate what we have seen and heard in Washington. Certainly the new President has given strong indications about his direction of travel and that is going to have huge implications in many different parts of the world including the UK and Europe.
This was an inauguration speech like no other which very much reflects the individual personality of the new President.
At the same time it was quite moving seeing one administration and President being replaced by another one as a result solely of what has happened at the ballot box and and as a believer in democracy I find that a very good thing to observe.
One sure thing is that the new President speech today should have taken nobody by surprise. This was exactly the rhetoric and things that he has used consistently during the 18 month long election campaign that finished in November.
President Donald Trump will select Republican Ajit Pai to become chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Politico reported today.
"Two industry sources" who are familiar with the decision said an announcement could be made as soon as today, the report said. Pai would become chairman immediately, without needing to be confirmed by the Senate, because he is already a member of the commission. New commissioners must be approved by the Senate, but the president can select the chair from among the commissioners without any additional approvals.
Pai was widely expected to be appointed chairman on at least an interim basis, but Politico says Trump is appointing him as a long-term chair. That would mean Pai could lead the commission throughout Trump's four-year term in the White House.
The family health emergency mentioned yesterday is worse than I thought at first (and I thought it was bad). I’ll be doing family stuff for a while, and may not have the brain space for writing anything coherent this weekend. I’ll be back to posting properly next week some time, but the only posts for the next few days will be if some form of displacement activity makes me rant. Don’t expect anything else.
Also, America — my condolences to you all.
A brief post today, because I’ve been working hard on a book manuscript. Details to follow, but here’s a hint. I’ve had a wonderful time writing the book.
Nevertheless, a few bits of news and some links. I discussed the question “should economists be more like plumbers?” with my FT colleague Gemma Tetlow on Facebook Live.
Terrific feature article from Oliver Burkeman, Is Time Management Ruining Our Lives? I don’t agree with every word (here are my 10 email commandments) but I think that there’s an enormous amount of wisdom underneath the clickbaity headline.
Donald J. Trump won the US presidency in November on a campaign that repudiated both his opponent and the Obama administration. Today he took the oath of office and became the nation's 45th president—despite the political pundits and polls predicting victory for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
The Republican's ascendancy from billionaire real estate mogul to the world's most powerful elected official promises to usher in a new era, one that includes a remaking of the Supreme Court and alterations of US policy when it comes to space, broadband, healthcare, manufacturing, immigration, cyber defense, the environment, and even foreign relations (from diplomacy to the reliance on foreign labor enjoyed by companies like Apple). All of these potential changes only seem more imminent due to the fact that the newly inaugurated Trump, and his Vice President Mike Pence, enjoy a GOP-controlled House and Senate.
Space: The final frontier
As president-elect, Trump already named several key posts in his administration. But one pick that is still to come has star-gazers sitting uneasy—we don't currently know who will lead NASA and replace Charles Bolden.