Pacifist sect controls a Mayan-inspired pyramid in North Dakota

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Fusion looks at the tensions between a pacifist religious sect and local North Dakota officials over an abandoned Cold War anti-missile complex that looks like something out of Illuminati conspiracies. The Hutterites won the auction for the giant pyramid on the prairie to the chagrin of local officials, who unsuccessfully tried to buy the decomissioned military facility. Read the rest

How a small group of geeks led the Syrian refugee surge

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In September 2015, President Obama raised the ceiling of refugees, many of them Syrian, who would be welcomed to the United States in the coming year from 70,000 to 85,000. While a wonderful humanitarian move, it also posed huge problems for the already-overwhelmed, byzantine systems in place to process refugee applications admissions. That's when the White House's crack tech team, the United States Digital Service, stepped in to help. The US Digital Service was born out of the disaster of Healthcare.gov, when the White House called in top-notch geeks from Silicon Valley and elsewhere to fix the disastrous Obamacare website. This year, they focused on how to get more refugees through the door. For a Webby Awards exclusive feature, I commissioned the talented journalist Lauren Smiley to tell the story of the US Digital Service and their sprint to bring in 85,000 refugees. From Lauren's feature:

When the photo of a Syrian toddler washed up on a Turkey beach appeared in his newsfeed, Jason Wu was getting restless. It was September of last year, and he’d just left his job as a product manager at Facebook’s Silicon Valley HQ—in some ways, exactly the kind of job he’d wanted back as a UC Berkeley computer science student. But at 29, having been ensconced in cush startup culture of T-shirt swag and free meals surrounding the challenging technical work, he was starting to mull a new question: “To what end?” Considering the options, he didn’t want to join one of the many mobile app companies proliferating in the valley that solved the problems of the same wealthy young people who make them.

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5 companies now control 80% of America's contracted spying

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America paid about $16 billion to five companies last year for 80% of our contracted domestic and international surveillance: Leidos Holdings, CSRA Inc., SAIC, CACI International, and Booz Allen Hamilton, recently in the news following an employee arrest on cyberweapons theft charges.

Tim Shorrock at The Nation did the legwork to to come up with the numbers.

“The problem with just five companies providing the lion’s share of contractors is that the client, the U.S. government, won’t have much alternative when a company screws up,” says David Isenberg, the author of Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq. [...] “There comes a point when the marketplace is so concentrated that the service provider simply becomes too big to fail, no matter how lousy their performance,” says Isenberg, who closely monitors the privatization of national-security work. “If that makes you think of the financial-services industry, well, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.”

5 Corporations Now Dominate Our Privatized Intelligence Industry (The Nation)

Image: Thomas Tolkein Read the rest

Congress makes public long-secret 28 pages of 9/11 report that detail possible Saudi link to Al Qaeda hijackers

Flowers on the reflecting pool of the 911 Memorial, February 26, 2016. REUTERS
Congress today publicly released 28 previously secret pages of its 9/11 inquiry that detail possible connections between officials in the Saudi government, and the hijackers who carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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TSA head of security 'removed from his position'

Kelly Hoggan, former head of security for TSA.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration asked its head of security to turn in his badge and bright blue gloves. Kelly Hoggan has been 'removed from his post.'

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TSA's full-body scanners in airports lead to more overall deaths, lawsuit claims

An airline passenger stands in a full-body scanner at an LAX TSA checkpoint in 2014. (Reuters)

People who fear the TSA's airport body scanners might start driving more instead of flying, and that will raise the number of traffic deaths. That's the argument behind a new legal challenge filed against the Transportation Security Administration today over the much-loathed airport security scanning machines. We have blogged about them zillion times here at Boing Boing. We hate them too.

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House resolution to recognize magic as national treasure

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US Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX) introduced a House resolution to recognize magic as a "rare and valuable art form and national treasure." Yesterday, the bill (H.Res.642) was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Here is the Resolution of H.Res.642:

Whereas magic is an art form with the unique power and potential to impact the lives of all people;

Whereas magic enables people to experience the impossible;

Whereas magic is used to inspire and bring wonder and happiness to others;

Whereas magic has had a significant impact on other art forms;

Whereas magic, like the great art forms of dance, literature, theater, film, and the visual arts, allows people to experience something that transcends the written word;

Whereas many technological advances can be directly traced to the influential work of magicians;

Whereas futurist Arthur C. Clarke claimed that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic;

Whereas one of the greatest artists of all time, Leonardo da Vinci, was inspired by magic and co-wrote one of the very first books on magic in the late 15th century;

Whereas modern cinema would not exist today without the innovative work of the accomplished magician Georges Méliès;

Whereas magicians are visual storytellers who seamlessly interweave elements of mystery, wonder, emotion, and expression;

Whereas magic is an outstanding artistic model of individual expression;

Whereas magic fulfills some of the highest ideals and aspirations of our country by encouraging people to question what they believe and see;

Whereas magic is a unifying force across cultural, religious, ethnic, and age differences in our diverse Nation;

Whereas magic is an art that transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary;

Whereas the American magicians Harry Houdini and David Copperfield have been the most successful magicians of the past two centuries;

Whereas David Copperfield, introduced to magic as a boy growing up in New Jersey, has been named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress;

Whereas David Copperfield, with 21 Emmy Awards, 11 Guinness World Records, and over four billion dollars in ticket sales, has impacted every aspect of the global entertainment industry;

Whereas David Copperfield, through his magic, inspires great positive change in the lives of Americans;

Whereas people consistently leave David Copperfield’s live magic show with a different perspective than when they entered;

Whereas Rebecca Brown of Portland, Oregon, left a David Copperfield magic show with a newfound inspiration to pursue her lifelong, unfulfilled passion for dance;

Whereas three months after Rebecca Brown attended the David Copperfield magic show, she performed her first choreographed recital in Portland, Oregon’s Pioneer Square;

Whereas programs such as Project Magic, created by David Copperfield, use magic as a form of therapy for children with physical, psychological, and social disabilities;

Whereas learning magic through programs such as Project Magic can help these children improve their physical and mental dexterity and increase their confidence;

Whereas learning magic through programs such as Project Magic helps these children realize that they are no longer less able than their peers;

Whereas programs such as Project Magic teach these children that they are more capable and have a newfound ability to do what others cannot;

Whereas cities such as Wylie, Texas, and its mayor, Eric Hogue, recognize and promote the art of magic with official proclamations, summer educational programs, and the first festival dedicated to the art of magic in the State of Texas;

Whereas Mayor Eric Hogue, who learned the art of magic as a child, continues to use those skills to teach elementary school students about the different roles and responsibilities of local government;

Whereas magic is timeless in appeal and requires only the capacity to dream;

Whereas magic transcends any barrier of race, religion, language, or culture;

Whereas magic has not been properly recognized as a great American art form, nor has it been accorded the institutional status on a national level commensurate with its value and importance;

Whereas there is not an effective national effort to support and preserve magic;

Whereas documentation and archival support required by such a great art form has yet to be systematically applied to the field of magic; and

Whereas it is in the best interest of the national welfare to preserve and celebrate the unique art form of magic: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

(1) recognizes magic as a rare and valuable art form and national treasure; and

(2) supports efforts to make certain that magic is preserved, understood, and promulgated.

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U.S. Highway Administration orders return to vintage typeface

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In 2004, a more legible typeface, Clearview, was approved to improve America's road signs. But after a decade of use, U.S. Federal Highway Administration has decided to return to the old typeface, publicly available as Highway Gothic.

The reasoning isn't clear—they claim that it's actually more legible than Clearview, but are yet to explain why or offer research to back up the decision. Highway Gothic, designed in the 1940s, has peculiarities held to compromise its legibility. Clearview's letter forms were designed to be visible at greater distances and under less favorable lighting and weather conditions.

“Helen Keller can tell you from the grave that Clearview looks better,” (designer) Meeker says. At the time, the FHWA agreed. In its 2004 approval memo, the agency noted that Clearview boosted highway-sign legibility for drivers traveling at 45 miles per hour by 80 feet of reading distance—or 1.2 seconds of bonus reading time… From the start, Clearview was greeted as a civic, social, and design success. Around 30 states have adopted the font, making it arguably the dominant design paradigm on U.S. roads. Print magazine called it one of the 10 typefaces of the decade in 2010. The Clearview typeface family was the first digital font ever acquired by the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. People behind the font spoke about it with swagger.

One possibility is that Clearview must be licensed on a per-user basis, making it too expensive. Also mentioned is its resemblance to other official signage typefaces such as Transport. Read the rest

Congressman requests approval to wear Aloha shirt on Fridays

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US Representative Mark Takai, a Democrat from Hawaii, formally requested that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan permit the wearing of Aloha shirts on the House floor on Fridays. The longstanding House dress code is "business attire." Aloha Friday has been a custom in Takai's native state since the 1960s.

"The Aloha shirt is a tangible symbol of the Aloha Spirit - it embraces diversity, inclusion and friendliness that pervades throughout the State of Hawaii," Takai wrote in his letter to Ryan. "Embracing the Aloha shirt will allow members to embrace the Aloha Spirit - something that Washington could use a little more of."

(AP) Read the rest

Meet the only lobbyist pushing for US government "disclosure" of E.T. visitation

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Stephen Bassett is the only lobbyist of his kind in Washington DC. He's working to get the government to admit that it has proof of extraterrestrials visiting our planet. “I want to see disclosure by the New Hampshire primary,” says Bassett who has been working the issue for nearly two decades. From the Washington Post:

...Getting appointments on Capitol Hill wasn’t easy for an advocate who believed that aliens landed at Roswell in 1947 and that the nation’s leaders created a “Truth Embargo” to keep information from getting out.

“Nobody there wanted to touch it,” Bassett said.

In 2013, unable to get anything close to a real congressional hearing, he created a fake one. With a $1 million donation from a Canadian believer, Bassett paid former members of Congress such as Alaskan senator Mike Gravel and Maryland representative Roscoe Bartlett $20,000 to spend a week at the National Press Club listening to testimony about UFOs.

The hours of testimony — from former Air Force officials who believe they saw spacecraft, or accounts of animals found dissected in pastures — led to some lighthearted stories but no movement with any current members of Congress. Then came the tweet heard round the world.

The message came from Podesta, the former top aide in Bill Clinton’s White House, as he stepped down after 11 months as special adviser for President Obama.

“My biggest failure of 2014: Once again not securing the ­#disclosure of the UFO files. #thetruthisstilloutthere,” he tweeted on Feb. 13.

It was retweeted thousands of times and picked up by mainstream media reporters across the country — most presenting it as a joke.

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Bernie Sanders playing the bongos at the Democratic presidential debate

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Bernie Sanders hit the skins for a perfect rendition of Ben Harper's "Burn one Down." The other candidates approve and the audience goes wild.

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How the White House is celebrating Back to the Future Day!

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Our man in the White House, Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, alerts us to the Administration's celebration of Back To The Future Day that includes:

* The release of President Obama's updated Strategy for American Innovation

* Tom's post on the White House blog about the power of imagination, titled "Science Fiction to Science Fact"

* A series of online conversations with scientists and innovators about the future! Read the rest

FBI investigating ‘teen stoner hack’ of CIA Director John Brennan

John Brennan. Photo: Reuters

A pair of self-described teen stoner hackers say they breached an AOL account used by CIA Director John Brennan, the New York Post reported today.

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Gentleman is suing a lot of people because a 16-pound pine cone fell on his head

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A 16-pound pine cone fell on Sean Mace's head in San Francisco, and crushed his skull.

He is suing the U.S. government, the National Park Service, the Department of the Interior, and the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park for $5 million.

(Image: Rodmunch99/Wikimedia. Bunya cone from Cumberland State Forest, Sydney, NSW, Australia on 28th January 2012)

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We're suing the Justice Department over FBI’s secret rules for using National Security Letters on journalists

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Freedom of the Press Foundation this week filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Justice Department over their unpublished rules for using National Security Letters and so-called informal “exigent letters” to conduct surveillance of journalists. Read the rest

With faked degrees, U.S. tech official ran law enforcement data systems for years. Then he resigned, got a new gov job.

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“A key Interior technology official who had access to sensitive systems for over five years had lied about his education, submitting falsified college transcripts produced by an online service.”

US says hackers stole Social Security numbers from 21.5 million people in OPM data breach

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The new number is a lot higher than the 14 million figure investigators offered last month.

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