Amid Russia case, Internet group seeks higher standards for political ads

Oct. 31 (UPI) — An Internet lobbying group made recommendations to U.S. lawmakers Tuesday on increasing standards for political advertising on platforms like Facebook and Twitter — an issue that’s at the heart of Congress’ Russia investigation this week.

The Internet Association, a lobbying trade organization representing over 40 web companies — including Facebook, Twitter and Google — released what it called a list of principles it hopes will guide U.S. legislation.

The group’s recommendations call for legislation to give the Federal Elections Commission authority “to regulate and enforce online advertising disclosure obligations.” It also asks for a uniform standard of disclosure regarding political advertising, instead of singling out only a few companies on the Internet who accept payment for political ads.

Facebook, Twitter and Google became part of Congress’ Russia investigation after it was revealed that about 80,000 posts, created by 120 Russia-linked pages, were part of Internet news feeds and advertisements during the 2016 presidential election.

The Senate intelligence committee and U.S. intelligence agencies have said Russian entities tried to sway the election.

Existing FEC rules specify that paid political ads on third-party websites must include the buyer’s name. The regulatory agency approved Google’s request for a waiver in in 2010, provided that the ads included a link to the sponsor’s site — but did not approve a similar Facebook request in 2011.

The group’s list also recommends clarification for rules of responsibility on advertising platforms, clearer responsibility on the part of advertisers and strengthening Congress’ existing authority to prevent foreign involvement in U.S. elections. It also encourages lawmakers to “balance transparency and individuals’ privacy,” suggesting that any legislation should avoid public identification of individuals who purchase advertising.

The Internet association’s list was released on the same day attorneys and security directors from Google, Facebook and Google were set to testify before congressional committees on the issue of Russian interference.

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House intelligence Committee will all hold hearings beginning Tuesday.

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Mattis, Tillerson make case to Congress for continued authorization of military force

Oct. 31 (UPI) — Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday cemented White House reliance on a pair of 15-year-old authorizations for military force as the legal cornerstone permitting the executive branch to stage counter-terrorism operations.

The testimony on Capitol Hill late Monday is the third hearing on the AUMF since the summer to discuss the possibility of passing a new authorization for use of military force to replace the old ones, which were passed and signed into law in 2001 and 2002.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told reporters after the hearing that the committee is aiming to craft a new AUMF that would meet the needs Mattis and Tillerson outlined.

“The next step most logically is to attempt to move to a markup and to actually try to pass an [authorization for the use of military force] out of committee,” Corker said, noting that he plans to work with ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., to began a draft “fairly soon.”

“We want to discuss what provisions are most likely to make it through, but fairly soon,” he said. “I don’t know why we would wait. We had a great hearing. We had a good classified briefing. We all know the subject matter. If we’re ever going to attempt to do this, I don’t know why we would wait beyond the next several weeks.”

Mattis and Tillerson told senators that a new AUMF should not be time or geographically constrained due to the metastasizing nature of foreign terrorist organizations, as well as to avoid telegraphing a timeframe of U.S strategy or when that strategy will cease.

“Generally speaking, you don’t tell the enemy in advance what you’re not going to do,” Mattis told Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. “There’s no need to announce that to the enemy and relieve them of that concern.”

“We must recognize that we are in an era of frequent skirmishing, and we are more likely to end this fight sooner If we don’t tell our adversary the day we intend to stop fighting,” Mattis said.

The secretaries told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the current 2001 AUMF, which was instituted seven days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to authorize the Bush administration to go after al-Qaeda operatives and the Taliban in Afghanistan — along with the 2002 AUMF for the Iraq War — and Article II of the U.S. Constitution, give the Trump administration the proper legal authorities to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Mattis and Tillerson both testified to Congress, however, that if a new AUMF were drafted and passed, it should not repeal the current AUMFs until the new authorization is in place. The goal would be to avoid operational conflict and continue running of the detention center at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

A new AUMF proposal from Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is already on the table for the committee’s consideration. Corker said their version would sunset after five years and require the administration to notify Congress if it sends troops to new areas of operation not listed in it.

“I think they’ve done a pretty good job in laying that out,” Corker said of Kaine and Flake’s AUMF proposal. “Members are going to want to express themselves, and Sen. Cardin and I are two members that are going to want to do that also. Again, I think that the only area to me that left somewhat of a debate was the associated forces issue and just whether an actual sunset versus reversing that out and giving Congress an ability to weigh in.”

The “associated forces” issue refers to groups that align themselves with terrorist organizations named under the original AUMF, such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Kaine and Flake’s AUMF draft defines associated forces as any group that supports al-Qaeda, ISIS or the Taliban and is engaged in hostilities against the United States. The bill also requires congressional notification when the administration adds a new terrorist group to the list.

Mattis told Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., that even though a group like Boko Haram — which operates out of Niger and Chad — is not named in the original AUMF, the current AUMF authorizes targeting of the group because Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, which is named in the original 2001 AUMF.

Corker said he plans to hold more hearings on the issue in months to come, but admitted he sees little hope for progress.

“Moving ahead without significant bipartisan support would be a mistake in my opinion,” Corker said. “And right now, we are unable to bridge that gap.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said last week that he is working with Democratic members on crafting a bipartisan AUMF compromise, adding that he expects the results of those negotiations to be reveal in the near future.

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Scientists accelerate evolution to produce wide array of natural compounds

Oct. 31 (UPI) — Scientists have found a way to trigger the evolutionary process in bacteria that yields a variety of natural compounds — but at accelerated pace.

The bioengineering feat, dubbed Accelerated Evolution, could allow researchers to generate “libraries” of useful compounds, some of which could be adapted into new drug therapies.

“For 20 years we have been using rational bioengineering to modify the chemical structures of clinically important natural products — using genetics to make a new molecule in a process that parallels medicinal chemistry — and that’s what we were doing when we stumbled upon this,” Barrie Wilkinson, a professor at the John Innes Centre, said in a news release. “We have discovered a completely new way of doing things, one that will also teach us how to better bioengineer systems in a rational manner.”

Scientists were perfecting techniques for producing new versions of rapamycin, a compound used to treat some cancers and prevent the rejection of organs during transplants.

Rapamycin is a type of polyketide, a group of metabolites produced by bacteria and fungi to fend off pathogens and mine resources.

In an attempt to produce a new type of bacteria and new type of rapamycin, scientists installed a temperature sensitive replicon — a self-replicating DNA or RNA molecules — in the genome of a strain of soil bacteria called Streptomyces rapamycinicus.

Instead of a single augmented strain of bacteria and a new version of rapamycin, their genetic manipulation yielded a variety of new bacterial strains, each producing new compounds. The scientists realized further genetic tweaking could yield an even greater variety of natural products.

Scientists believe their insertion of a replicon triggered homologous replication, a DNA repair mechanism. The repair process spit out the replicon and rearranged the genes. In other words, scientists found a way to trigger accelerated evolution.

“We think this process mimics and accelerates the processes that are prevalent during natural polyketide evolution,” Wilkinson said.

Researchers believe their findings — detailed this week in the journal Nature Communications — could prove a game-changer in the field of drug discovery and synthetic biology.

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Monster exoplanet upends planet formation theory

Oct. 31 (UPI) — According to planet formation theory, NGTS-1b should not exist. The exoplanet is too big — so big that scientists are calling it a “monster” planet.

NGTS-1b is a gas giant commonly known as a “hot Jupiter.” Hot gas giants aren’t uncommon, but according to planet formation theory, such a massive planet shouldn’t be circling such a small star.

The gravity of small stars can accumulate enough material to form small rocky planets, but not enough to birth massive gas planets.

Unlike Jupiter, NGTS-1b orbits extremely close to its host star. The distance between NGTS-1b and its host star comprises just 3 percent of the distance between Earth and the sun. It takes the hot Jupiter just 2.6 days to complete an orbit around its host star.

“Despite being a monster of a planet, NGTS-1b was difficult to find because its parent star is so small and faint,” Peter Wheatley, professor at the University of Warwick, said in a news release.

While NGTS-1b is the first such gas giant found so close to a faint star, astronomers suggest there could be many scattered throughout the cosmos.

“Small stars like this red M-dwarf are actually the most common in the universe, so it is possible that there are many of these giant planets waiting to be found,” Wheatley said.

The repetitive dip in red light caused the by the transit of NGTS-1b across the face of its host star was picked up the telescopes participating in the Next-Generation Transit Survey. Spectral data collected by the telescopes helped scientists estimate the planet’s size and orbit.

Researchers detailed their findings in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“The discovery of NGTS-1b was a complete surprise to us — such massive planets were not thought to exist around such small stars — importantly, our challenge now is to find out how common these types of planets are in the galaxy, and with the new Next-Generation Transit Survey facility we are well-placed to do just that.”

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Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones: Ezekiel Elliott paying for NFL's past mistakes

Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones said running back Ezekiel Elliott is paying for the mistakes made by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the heels of Ray Rice‘s domestic violence situation in 2014.

“Zeke is a victim of an overcorrection,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.

Jones’ comments come one day after Elliott lost his bid for a preliminary injunction that would have stayed the NFL’s six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Elliott will not be on the field again until Dec. 17 against the Oakland Raiders, pending a potential appeal.

“(Goodell’s) swing of judgment has been unbelievable from the Ray Rice thing (from) one or two games all the way up to a six-game suspension when you truly have got a debate,” Jones said. “Even this judge said it shows that very reasonably people could possibly come down on both sides of this. Well, under our legal system it has to be stronger than that for someone to have done it. Now, we all know we were not there to see it, but I do have every point of contention on both sides and in our system in this country, Zeke would not have any issue here as to his work place.

“With the knowledge that I have, the circumstances aren’t treating him fair. Two years ago this wouldn’t be an issue, before Ray Rice.”

Rice initially was banned two games but was later suspended indefinitely when a video of the incident emerged. Jones contends the league’s change in stance when it came to Elliott was to appeal to the public.

“They swung from where this, two years ago by the same collective bargaining agreement, in my mind, (Elliott) would be playing,” Jones said. “Now he goes to where he’s got the extreme penalty of six. Now there’s a bigger penalty. You can be suspended. But still this is the max … Anybody that has really looked at the facts of the case, has really looked at it, knows there was divisive and difference of opinion within the league itself.”

Judge Katherine Failla of the Southern District of New York said Elliott and his NFL Players Association legal team failed to demonstrate a substantial question warranting the extraordinary remedy of injunctive relief, forcing him to begin his six-game suspension immediately.

Moreover, the court ruled that the NFL was fair in its investigation and arbitration process per the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and the league’s personal conduct policy.

Elliott, who currently ranks third in the league in rushing with 690 yards, had a career-high 33 carries for 150 yards in Sunday’s 33-19 victory against the Washington Redskins. It was his third straight 100-yard game and third career game over 150 yards dating back to last season.

The Cowboys (4-3) will go with Alfred Morris, Rod Smith and Darren McFadden in place of the suspended Elliott.

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Joe Girardi surprised, disappointed with exit from New York Yankees

Joe Girardi said he is “surprised” and “disappointed” with the New York Yankees‘ decision to opt against his return as the team’s manager next season.

Girardi expressed his feelings to The Athletic in his first interview since being dismissed as the Yankees’ manager on Thursday.

The 53-year-old Girardi said his conversation with Brian Cashman was “fairly quick” when the general manager told him that he would not be returning to the club.

“Brian told me as an organization they had decided to go in a different direction,” Girardi said. “We talked for a few minutes and we talked later on for a little bit longer. For me, there was disappointment because I kind of wanted to finish what we had started this year. And I was looking forward to the growth of the organization, the young players, the more young players with the veterans we had.

“I was very excited about 2018. But in a lot of respects, I’m really thankful. I was there for 10 years. How many managers, head coaches in the NFL, NBA, NHL, college football coaches, college basketball coaches, get to spend 10 years in one place?”

Girardi concluded a four-year, $ 16 million contract with the Yankees, who fell one win shy of advancing to the World Series this year — losing Game 7 of the American League Championship Series to the Houston Astros.

After the Yankees lost in the ALCS, Girardi said he would once again discuss his situation with his wife and three children.

ESPN’s Buster Olney, citing sources, said that Cashman recommended to owner Hal Steinbrenner that the team change managers.

Girardi took significant criticism for his team’s loss in Game 2 of the ALDS versus the Cleveland Indians after failing to ask for a replay review on a strikeout that was incorrectly called a hit batsman.

Girardi managed the then-Florida Marlins for one year before taking over with the Yankees in 2008. He guided the club to the World Series title in 2009 and six playoff appearances.

Girardi owns a record of 910-710 with the Yankees. His win total ranks sixth in franchise history, trailing only Joe McCarthy (1,460), Joe Torre (1,173), Casey Stengel (1,149), Miller Huggins (1,067) and Ralph Houk (944).

As a catcher, Girardi played for 15 seasons with three World Series titles in four years as a member of the Yankees.

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