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Today’s News: April 26, 2019

World News

Macron offers tax cut to French workers to quell anger

AP – French President Emmanuel Macron announced tax cuts for middle-class workers and plans for a more representative parliament Thursday as part of a promised response to the weekly yellow vest protests that damaged his presidency.

In a nationally televised speech followed up by a news conference, the French leader also said France and Europe must do more to fight illegal migration.

Macron spoke to the nation from the presidential Elysée Palace after he convened nationwide meetings where communities could debate how to address economic concerns raised by the yellow vest movement, including high taxes, unemployment and stagnant wages.

U.S. News, Politics & Government

FBI raids Baltimore City Hall, home of Mayor

Baltimore Sun – FBI raids Baltimore City Hall, home of Mayor Catherine Pugh, her attorney’s office and three other locations

Federal law enforcement agents fanned out Thursday across Baltimore, raiding City Hall, the home of embattled Mayor Catherine Pugh and several other locations as the investigation into the mayor’s business dealings widened.

Dave Fitz, an FBI spokesman, confirmed agents from the Baltimore FBI office and the Washington IRS office were executing search warrants at those locations Thursday morning, as well as at least three other addresses associated with the Democratic mayor. It was the first confirmation that federal authorities, as well as state officials, were investigating the mayor’s activities.

Pugh remained inside her home during the raids, a police source confirmed.

Army cuts power for thousands to test ‘real-world reactions’ to cyber-attacks

Charlotte’s Observe – Fort Bragg in North Carolina says the Army base had a “blackout” for more than 12 hours overnight Wednesday as part of a cyber-attack military exercise that came as a complete surprise to its tens of thousands of residents.

The fort, which the Army says is the world’s largest military base, says it cut off the electricity “to identify shortcomings in our infrastructure, operations and security.”

“Fort Bragg has to train for any possible threats to the installation in order to remain mission capable,” said a post on Fort Bragg’s Facebook page just after 11 a.m.

“This exercise was not announced in order to replicate likely real-world reactions by everyone directly associated with the installation. In today’s world, cyber-attacks are very likely. This exercise is exactly what we needed to do to identify our vulnerabilities and work to improve our security and deployment posture.”

The first of the power outages went into effect around 10 p.m. Wednesday. Power began returning to some parts of the base around 11 a.m. Thursday. Fort Bragg officials said it could be 4 p.m. before base operations would return to normal Thursday. Mandatory water restrictions also remained in effect Thursday afternoon.

Massachusetts judge faces federal charges for blocking immigration arrest

Reuters – U.S. federal prosecutors on Thursday charged a Massachusetts judge and court officer with conspiracy and obstruction, saying they blocked an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer from arresting an illegal immigrant at a 2018 court proceeding.

The move marks the latest skirmish over immigration between President Donald Trump’s administration and local governments who have resisted his crackdown. The state’s Democratic attorney general called the charges “politically motivated.”

The charges target Massachusetts District Court Judge Shelley Joseph, 51, and Massachusetts Trial Court Officer Wesley MacGregor, 56.

They focus on an April 2018 hearing in Newton District Court, outside Boston, where an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer intended to arrest an unidentified suspected illegal immigrant from the Dominican Republic facing a drug charge.

They described a huddled conversation between the judge and the defendant’s lawyer in which Joseph asks, “ICE is gonna get him?” and later says, “I’m not gonna allow them to come in here.”

She then arranged for the suspect to be released through the court’s rear door while the ICE agent waited in the courtroom’s lobby for him to emerge.

Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, a Trump appointee, said the case was not intended to send a political message.

Feds Dropping Child Porn Cases to Avoid Revealing Surveillance Systems Info

Reason – The Department of Justice has been dismissing child pornography cases in order to not reveal information about the software programs used as the basis for the charges.

An array of cases suggest serious problems with the tech tools used by federal authorities. But the private entities who developed these tools won’t submit them for independent inspection or hand over hardly any information about how they work, their error rates, or other critical information. As a result, potentially innocent people are being smeared as pedophiles and prosecuted as child porn collectors, while potentially guilty people are going free so these companies can protect “trade secrets.”

The situation suggests some of the many problems that can arise around public-private partnerships in catching criminals and the secretive digital surveillance software that it entails (software that’s being employed for far more than catching child predators).

With the child pornography cases, “the defendants are hardly the most sympathetic,” notes Tim Cushing at Techdirt. Yet that’s all the more reason why the government’s antics here are disturbing. Either the feds initially brought bad cases against people whom they just didn’t think would fight back, or they’re willing to let bad behavior go rather than face some public scrutiny.

An extensive investigation by ProPublica “found more than a dozen cases since 2011 that were dismissed either because of challenges to the software’s findings, or the refusal by the government or the maker to share the computer programs with defense attorneys, or both,” writes Jack Gillum. Many more cases raised issues with the software as a defense.

“Defense attorneys have long complained that the government’s secrecy claims may hamstring suspects seeking to prove that the software wrongly identified them,” notes Gillum. “But the growing success of their counterattack is also raising concerns that, by questioning the software used by investigators, some who trade in child pornography can avoid punishment.”

Economy & Business

How Amazon automatically tracks and fires warehouse workers for ‘productivity’

The Verge – Amazon’s fulfillment centers are the engine of the company — massive warehouses where workers track, pack, sort, and shuffle each order before sending it on its way to the buyer’s door.

Critics say those fulfillment center workers face strenuous conditions: workers are pressed to “make rate,” with some packing hundreds of boxes per hour, and losing their job if they don’t move fast enough. “You’ve always got somebody right behind you who’s ready to take your job,” says Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and a prominent Amazon critic.

Documents obtained by The Verge show those productivity firings are far more common than outsiders realize. In a signed letter last year, an attorney representing Amazon said the company fired “hundreds” of employees at a single facility between August of 2017 and September 2018 for failing to meet productivity quotas. A spokesperson for the company said that, over that time, roughly 300 full-time associates were terminated for inefficiency.

Brent slips from $75 per barrel as investors doubt rally will endure

Reuters – Oil prices eased after Brent touched $75 per barrel on Thursday for the first time in nearly six months on the suspension of some Russian crude exports to Europe as investors second-guessed the market’s ability to rally further.

AMAZON tops ‘dirty dozen’ list of most dangerous workplaces

Daily Mail – Amazon and Facebook have been named among the most dangerous places to work in America, with Jeff Bezos’ company featuring on the list for the second year in a row.

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) released its annual ‘dirty dozen’ list on Thursday, naming the employers responsible for operating some of the most dangerous workplaces in America.

Amazon retained its unfavorable place on the list for the second year running, after the company recorded six worker deaths across a seven month span.

David-Jamel Williams, a former Amazon warehouse picker, told Gizmodo he saw workers ‘pushed to the brink of exhaustion’, and said those who spoke out about the working environment were ‘pressured to be quiet’.

Williams claims that while he was working at the e-commerce company, a box of chemicals that was improperly stored in a bin spilled on his face and injured his eyes.

Americans abandoning high-tax states

Fox – Tax burdens Opens a New Window. continue to weigh on the minds of the nation’s residents, as the highest-tax states Opens a New Window. saw large outflows of residents last year.

“About 0.47 percent of people have migrated out of New York Opens a New Window. , which is the highest of any of the 50 states … it’s like 40,000 people,”  Dolly Lenz Real Estate Managing Director Jenny Lenz told FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo, adding that many of them are moving to Florida because “the taxes are so low.”

Science & Technology

NASA Prepares For Asteroid Armageddon With Simulation Exercises

International Business Times – NASA, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and their international partners are conducting planetary defense exercises for a potential asteroid impact.

For over two decades, NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO), European Space Agency’s Situational Awareness-NEO Segment and the International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN) have been identifying NEOs (Near-Earth Objects), asteroids and comets that orbit the Sun and Earth as their highest priority.

In line with the mitigation of a possible NEOs collision, NASA’s PDCO, other U.S. agencies and space science institutions, along with international partners, will participate in the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference to be held next week, from April 29 to May 3. The bi-annual conference brings together world experts to discuss the dangers posed by NEOs and actions that might be taken to deflect a threatening object.

Facebook hit with three privacy investigations in a single day

Tech Crunch – The social networking giant was hit Thursday by a trio of investigations over its privacy practices following a particularly tumultuous month of security lapses and privacy violations — the latest in a string of embarrassing and damaging breaches at the company, much of its own doing.

First came a probe by the Irish data protection authority looking into the breach of “hundreds of millions” of Facebook and Instagram user passwords that were stored in plaintext on its servers. The company will be investigated under the European GDPR data protection law, which could lead to fines of up to four percent of its global annual revenue for the infringing year — already some several billions of dollars.

Then, Canadian authorities confirmed that the beleaguered social networking giant broke its strict privacy laws, reports TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada said it plans to take Facebook to federal court to force the company to correct its “serious contraventions” of Canadian privacy law. The findings came in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which vacuumed up more than 600,000 profiles of Canadian citizens.

Lastly, and slightly closer to home, Facebook was hit by its third investigation — this time by New York attorney general Letitia James. The state chief law enforcer is looking into the recent “unauthorized collection” of 1.5 million user email addresses, which Facebook used for profile verification, but inadvertently also scraped their contact lists.

It is time Facebook is held accountable for how it handles consumers’ personal information,” said James in a statement. “Facebook has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of respect for consumers’ information while at the same time profiting from mining that data.”

Health

Study Found Plant-Based Diet Reduces Heart Failure Risk by 41%

Care2 – Before doctors dole out prescriptions for the prevention of heart failure and the conditions linked to heart disease, they may want to start writing “fruits and vegetables” on their prescription pads. That’s because new research shows that diets rich in fruits, vegetables and nuts, can dramatically reduce the risk of heart failure.

The new study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, assessed 16,068 participants with an average age of 64 to determine whether adherence to a plant-based diet had an effect on their heart failure risk. The participants included 58.7 percent women and 33.6 percent people of African-American descent.

They classified the diets of the study participants into different groups, including:

  • “Convenience” diets—which consisted of meat-heavy dishes, pasta, pizza and fast food;
  • “Southern” diets—which comprise a large amount of fried foods, processed meat, eggs, added fats and sugary drinks
  • “Alcohol/Salad” diets—which include plentiful amounts of wine, beer, hard liquor, beer, leafy greens and salad dressings
  • “Plant-Based” diets—which the study authors counted as largely vegetables, fruit, beans, as well as fish. The definition of plant-based varies from one person to another but essentially it means that plant-based foods dominate. Some people believe that plant-based equals a vegan diet, but it doesn’t necessarily have to.

The researchers found that those who ate a plant-based diet had a whopping 41 percent reduced risk of heart failure. Anything that reduces the risk of a serious condition like heart failure.

These Foods Are the Most Common Culprits of Food Poisoning

Care2  – Food poisoning is never a fun experience. And for some people, it can seriously threaten their health. So it’s important to know what might cause you to get sick — and how to avoid it. Here are some of the most common foodborne illnesses, as well as the foods most often contaminated. Plus, find out some best practices to protect yourself against food poisoning.

5 common foodborne illnesses

These were the five most common foodborne illnesses reported in the United States in 2016, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. For reference, the CDC defines an outbreak “as the occurrence of two or more cases of a similar illness resulting from ingestion of a common food.”

  1. Norovirus
  • Confirmed or suspected U.S. outbreaks in 2016: 322

“Noroviruses are the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis (infection of the stomach and intestines) in the United States,” according to FoodSafety.gov. The virus is easily spread — often through produce, shellfish and prepared foods — and the incubation period is about 12 to 48 hours. Symptoms last roughly one to three days and include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain. Patients should drink lots of fluids, rest and contact their doctor in severe cases.

  1. Salmonella
  • Confirmed or suspected U.S. outbreaks in 2016: 135

Salmonella is a frequent bacterial source of food poisoning. Eggs, meat, unpasteurized milk and produce often transmit salmonella — as do certain animals, including reptiles and amphibians, according to FoodSafety.gov. The sickness — which brings on diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps and vomiting — lasts about four to seven days, with a 12- to 72-hour incubation period. Drinking plenty of fluids is a must, and in some cases doctors might prescribe antibiotics.

  1. Clostridium perfringens
  • Confirmed or suspected U.S. outbreaks in 2016: 30

“C. perfringens infections often occur when foods are prepared in large quantities and are then kept warm for a long time before serving,” according to FoodSafety.gov. And outbreaks often are liked to institutions, such as hospitals and school cafeterias, or catered events. Beef, poultry and gravy are common culprits of C. perfringens outbreaks. The incubation period is six to 24 hours, and the illness usually lasts for less than a day (though severe cases might take weeks to resolve). Older adults and young children are most at risk. Patients should rest and consume lots of fluids.

  1. E. coli
  • Confirmed or suspected U.S. outbreaks in 2016: 27
  1. coli can come from several sources, including contaminated food (especially undercooked beef, unpasteurized milk and raw produce) and contaminated water, as well as animals and their environments, according to FoodSafety.gov. The incubation period can be long — at one to 10 days — often making it difficult to trace the origin. The illness lasts roughly five to 10 days and causes severe diarrhea and stomach pain, as well as vomiting. Fluids and rest are essential. And for severe infections (especially if there is blood in your stool), see a doctor, who might prescribe antibiotics.
  2. Campylobacter
  • Confirmed or suspected U.S. outbreaks in 2016: 25

Food poisoning from campylobacter often is traced to undercooked poultry, unpasteurized milk and contaminated water, according to FoodSafety.gov. The incubation period is two to five days, and the illness usually lasts about two to 10 days. Symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting and fever, which can be countered with plenty of rest and fluids. See a doctor if you’re at risk of dehydration or have severe symptoms. Antibiotics can shorten the duration of the illness and lessen some of the symptoms, especially if you catch it early.

Foods often linked to food poisoning

  1. Eggs

Eggs are commonly associated with salmonella, which can be lurking even if the egg appears clean and unbroken, according to the CDC. It is much more prevalent in undercooked eggs or unpasteurized egg products. And germs both might be on the shell, as well as inside the egg.

Safe handling tips: Avoid foods with undercooked or raw eggs. Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm. Keep eggs refrigerated. And wash your hands after handling raw eggs, as well as anything else that came in contact with them.

  1. Seafood

Seafood was the culprit in several outbreaks recorded in the 2016 report. Fish accounted for 26 outbreaks, and mollusks (such as oysters) accounted for 21. Raw seafood, such as sushi, especially puts people at risk of food poisoning.

Safe handling tips: Seafood should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit and reheated to 165 degrees. Avoid eating raw or undercooked seafood. “Oysters and other filter-feeding shellfish can contain viruses and bacteria that can cause illness or death,” the CDC says. So it’s important to cook this seafood well.

  1. Sprouts

“The warm, humid conditions needed to grow sprouts are also ideal for germs to grow,” according to the CDC. “Eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts, such as alfalfa, bean, or any other sprout may lead to food poisoning from Salmonella, E. coli, or Listeria.” In the 2016 report, sprouts accounted for five foodborne disease outbreaks.

Safe handling tips: Young children, older adults, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women should avoid eating raw sprouts. Cook sprouts thoroughly before eating. And make sure you’re aware if restaurants add raw sprouts to any dishes you order, as they can contaminate the whole meal.

  1. Raw flour

“Flour is typically a raw agricultural product that hasn’t been treated to kill germs,” the CDC says. “Harmful germs can contaminate grain while it’s still in the field or at other steps as flour is produced.” It takes you cooking anything made with flour to kill these germs.

Safe handling tips: Sorry, but you really shouldn’t consume raw dough. Plus, don’t put flour in dishes that won’t be cooked. Use separate kitchen utensils, such as measuring cups, for flour to prevent cross-contamination. And cook dishes thoroughly before consuming.