The last of China's cave dwellers want nothing to do with modern housing

Before China came under the sway of Communist rule, many of the impoverished people of the country's southwestern Guizhou province opted to live in caves rather than face the frequent assaults by the region's criminal element. The cave complexes in Guizhou are massive, and until recently, were unknown to those who hailed from outside of the province. Its connection to the outside world is a small one. In order to enter Guizhou, visitors to the region need to navigate a narrow mountain footpath. The difficulties that getting to Guizhou poses has gifted its people with a rare commodity in our increasingly connected world: seclusion.

But of late, the region's cave dwellers have become less cloistered. Tourists eager to see cave dwellers' way of life have been making the trek to Guizhou. This is good news for Guizhou's cave dwellers: The tourists have proven happy to pay for the privilege of renting space in the caves. It's also bad news: the Chinese government has noted that some of its citizens are hiding out in caves. Because of the optics this presents, they've been encouraging the cave dwellers to move onto farm properties, complete with modest houses and a relocation payment – let's call it a bribe – of $9,500. Five of the cave dwelling families were totally into the deal. The other 18? Not so much.

From The Globe & Mail:

The remaining 18 families have held on stubbornly to their homes inside the cave. They say that the new homes are too small, that they fear losing access to their land, and that they alone, because of their historical connection to the cave, should have the right to independently control its small tourism economy.

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Senate confirms Paul Nakasone to head NSA and U.S. Cyber Command

The U.S. Senate today confirmed President Donald Trump’s selection to lead the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command. Paul Nakasone will replace Mike Rogers, who is retiring. Read the rest

Department of Homeland Security wants to build a database to track journalists and their sources

Well, this is creepy: According to Bloomberg Law, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is currently shopping for a contractor that can help it compile a list of editors, journalists, and online "media influencers." Additionally, they're looking for goons to help them identify all social media coverage that relates to the agency or events that the agency may be involved in.

From Bloomberg:“Services shall provide media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools, and the ability to identify top media influencers,” according to the statement. DHS agencies have “a critical need to incorporate these functions into their programs in order to better reach federal, state, local, tribal, and private partners,” it said.

The plan, according to DHS, is to set up a database of influential journalists, publications and online influencers. Those with access to the database--you can go ahead and read that as Big Brother--will be able to browse “present contact details and any other information that could be relevant, including publications this influencer writes for, and an overview of the previous coverage published by the media influencer.”

So, kind of like Mudrack, but for spooks.

The proposed database could be searchable by factors such as what beat a writer covers, where they're located, what publications they work for, and whether they rely on local or international sources in their work. Now, here's where it gets ugly. One of the other points that DHS wants to be able to search is the "sentiment" of a story. Was a writer's take on events pro-America or not? Read the rest

John Oliver focuses on the horrors of America's immigration court system

Children being forced to represent themselves in a court case that could determine their future? Sure, why not. Read the rest

Ukrainian war hero detained for maybe trying to start a coup

Nadiya Savchenko's worn a lot of hats (including furry ones) over the past few years. She was military pilot in the Ukraine Air Force and a training officer for a volunteer Ukrainian infantry unit during the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea. Captured by enemy forces in the early days of that conflict, she became an illegal detainee and eventually a  prisoner of war. After being set free as part of a prisoner swap agreement set up between Russia and Ukraine, she became a war hero and was awarded the Star of the Hero of Ukraine. Soon after, she left the military behind to join the Ukraine government as a lawmaker.

Now, according to Reuters, she's been detained by the country that she served so honorably over allegations that she may have been planning a coup. Savchenko, who's been pretty vocal about her displeasure with corruption in the current Ukraine government, hasn't denied the charges being leveled against her.

During a session of the Ukraine parliament earlier this week, she was detained after her governmental colleagues voted to remove her parliamentary immunity to prosecution. The vote came in light of some pretty damning evidence that suggests that she was planning a violent overthrown of the country's government, including undercover video footage of her trying to persuade Ukrainian military personnel to join her cause. Instead of responding to the allegations, Savchenko accused the Ukraine government of betraying the spirit and ideals of Ukraine's 2013/2014 pro-western European uprising:

If the status quo remains unchanged, “then the danger in parliament won’t be me, your danger will be your people”, she said.

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House passes motion that lets members buy bulletproof vests with your tax dollars

Oh, this is fun: No one in the government seems to be doing much of anything to help curb gun violence, but they're totally willing to use your tax dollars on bulletproof vests to keep their corpulent asses from getting zipped.

According to The Hill, The Committee on House Administration, by voice vote, passed a measure to make bulletproof vests a reimbursable expense. The motion also makes it cool for members to hire security to cover their six during public appearances, when they're at their office or taking a whizz at an Olive Garden during a working lunch. The Hill's Avery Anapol points out that the motion to keep House members safe from bullets that regular folks have to deal with on their own comes on the heels of Steve Scalise (R-La.) returning to Washington after getting shot last summer during a ball game. So, yeah, I can see why they're a little jumpy, but c'mon.

Given that members were already granted an additional $25,000 to implement greater security measures last year in the wake of Scalise's shooting, their being able to put risk management add-ons on the tab of taxpayers has a rotten smell to it – especially in light of the discussion surrounding school shootings and gun ownership these past few weeks/month/years.

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Environmentalists sue White House for access to withheld public records on pesticide use

The Environmental Protection Agency's mission is in its name. But it's hard to tell whether or not the EPA is doing its job if the government refuses to release any records of its doing so.

In the summer of 2017, the Center for Biological Diversity – an organization that is passionate about the link between the well-being of humanity and the ongoing safety and diversity of all the creatures bopping around the earth – requested that the EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service provide them with public records on the use of a number of pesticides: chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion. Their request for information was never acknowledged.

Unwilling to take ghosting for an answer, they filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, demanding that the thousands of pages of analysis on how the pesticides' use affects wild plants and animals, be released. In a statement released by the organization earlier today, they cited the following:

The Fish and Wildlife Service had committed to releasing its analysis of that research for public comment by May 2017 and to finalize the documents by December 2017. But last year, shortly after donating $1 million to Trump's inauguration, Dow Chemical asked federal agencies not to finalize the legally required assessments that are crucial to establishing common-sense measures to reduce the pesticides' harm to endangered species. 

The EPA’s initial analysis of the three pesticides, released in 2016, found that 97 percent of the more than 1,800 animals and plants protected under the Endangered Species Act are likely to be harmed by malathion and chlorpyrifos.

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Here's the winner of Integrity Idol, the reality show for Nigerian government workers

Nuzo Eziechi said, "I am incredibly excited to be honored as Nigeria's Integrity Idol." The show featured government workers competing to be crowned most ethical. Read the rest

City claims building park stairs too pricey, later tears out free stairs built by a resident

Retiree Adi Astl just wanted some stairs down a well-trod embankment in his local park. The city told him it would cost between $65,000 and $150,000, so he and a homeless guy built a nice set of stairs for about $550. Astl was then informed he violated municipal code section 608, and the stairs were ordered removed. Read the rest

Discover the acceptable levels of filth in your favorite foods

Looking for an appetite suppressant? The U.S. Food & Drug Administration can help. Just stop by FDA's Defect Levels Handbook to learn how many insect legs and rodent hairs are acceptable in various foods sold to the American public. Read the rest

This $300,000 Air Force One photo caused a panic in 2009

Here's a great backstory on the shot of Air Force One that cost a guy his job after commissioning an unannounced low-altitude flight around lower Manhattan. Read the rest

How LSD microdosing made a mega difference in one woman's mood, marriage, and life

Ayelet Waldman is a novelist, non fiction author, and former federal public defender. Her latest book is called A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life. I interviewed her this morning.

Why did you start microdosing?

I started microdosing because I was profoundly and dangerously depressed. I have a mood disorder and for many, many years my medication worked great. I took it, I did what my doctor told me and everything was fine. But at some point my medication stopped working. I tried all sorts of different things. And nothing helped. I was getting worse and worse and more and more full of despair and more and more full of rage and more and more unstable and I became suicidal. I started doing things like googling the effects of maternal suicide on children and I was so terrified that I was going to do something to myself, that I was going to hurt myself, that I decided to do something drastic and something that some people might think is crazy -- I decided to try microdosing with L.S.D.

Did it work?

Oh absolutely. It worked for sure. It's sub-perceptual. In fact, if I told you right now, "Hey Mark, I slipped a microdose of LSD. in your coffee," you wouldn't even know the difference. The effect for me was instantaneous. My depression lifted right away. The book is called A Really Good Day because at the end of that very first day, I looked back and I thought, "that was a really good day." It wasn't like everything was perfect. Read the rest

Trump's budget eliminates Arts and Humanities Endowments, privatizes public broadcasting

Conservatives often threaten to cut funding for public arts, humanities, and broadcasting, but will Trump actually do it? White House staffers who have seen Trump's proposal say he doesn't like the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, so he plans to eliminate all three as federal programs. Read the rest

Pacifist sect controls a Mayan-inspired pyramid in North Dakota

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

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

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)

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

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. Read the rest

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