August 13, 2014

New York is the unhappiest city in America, according to a recent study from researchers at Harvard and the University of British Columbia. New York City was joined by Gary, Indiana, and three cities from Pennsylvania — Scranton, Erie, and Pittsburgh — in the Top 5 unhappiest cities. The five happiest? They're all in one state. NBC's Brian Williams does the honors:

The economists who analyzed the CDC data — Harvard's Edward Glaeser and Oren Ziv, and Joshua Gottlieb at the Vancouver School of Economics — weren't trying to bum out New Yorkers or create a buzz-worthy listicle, they were trying to figure out something much more interesting: Why are some cities persistently unhappy, and why do people choose to live there anyway?

Their tentative answer to the second question is that "the desires for happiness and life satisfaction do not uniquely drive human ambitions," and "humans are quite understandably willing to sacrifice both happiness and life satisfaction if the price is right." People in New York and other "unhappy" cities are compensated for their "misery," the authors write, and the residents of Louisiana — plus Charlottesville, North Carolina; Naples, Florida; and Rochester, Minnesota — should be glad they stay there:

If we choose only that which maximized our happiness, then individuals would presumably move to happier places until the point where rising rents and congestion eliminated the joys of that locale. ["Unhappy Cities," via Harvard Gazette]

How does your city stack up? Here's their map, from the paper "Unhappy Cities," published by the National Bureau for Economic Research. Blue is happy; red is sad. --Peter Weber

12:32 p.m. ET

In an idea that makes bringing knives to a gunfight sound like a prudent decision, the superintendent of the Blue Mountain School District in Pennsylvania has suggested equipping classrooms with "five-gallon bucket[s] of river stone" so that "if an armed intruder attempts to gain entrance into any of our classrooms, they will face a classroom full [of] students armed with rocks and they will be stoned."

The idea, first reported by Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania's ABC 16, came to Dr. David Helsel, who announced it at the House Education Committee meeting in Harrisburg. He stressed that the rocks ought to be "the right size for hands" and that they need to be thrown "very hard" in order to fend off a potential attacker who could be armed with a semi-automatic rifle.

One student, a senior at Blue Mountain High School, said he liked the idea because "anything helps, rocks are better than books and pencils." A college student in Schuylkill Haven dismissed the idea as "rather comical."

President Trump has controversially suggested arming teachers, an idea that is admittedly a little more effective than rocks, although it has widely been criticized by school officials.

Maybe everyone just needs to take a deep breath and go back to the drawing board. Has anyone considered sling shots? Spitballs? Jeva Lange

12:02 p.m. ET

Sparring partners Chris Cuomo and Kellyanne Conway were at it again on CNN's New Day on Friday morning, debating the hypothetical fist-fight between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Cuomo blasted Trump for focusing on such distractions, wondering "how difficult is it to get the job done there," while the White House counselor waved off his complaints.

Trump "doesn't spend much time on that," Conway insisted, claiming that it is Biden and "that woman who lost the election whose name I don't say on your network anymore" that "seem pretty obsessed."

Cuomo said that "only one" of the people engaged in the debate is the president, although Conway countered that Biden "was vice president for eight years" and Hillary Clinton was "a former secretary of state and [a] twice failed presidential candidate." Conway asked: "They have considerable platforms, why aren't they using them for more good?"

Cuomo shut her down: "Don't take us down that road," he said. "I don't care what she's doing. She's not in charge of keeping my kids safe ... You guys are. You're in power." Watch the heated exchange below. Jeva Lange

11:41 a.m. ET

The Department of Justice has charged nine Iranians in a major hacking conspiracy that targeted American universities and government agencies. The Trump administration on Friday announced criminal indictments against the alleged hackers, who were involved in "massive, coordinated cyberintrusions" at the behest of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an intelligence-gathering arm of the Iranian government.

Also Friday, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against 10 Iranians, in tandem with the DOJ's indictments. Nine of the sanctioned individuals were the nine indicted Friday, who are "leaders, contractors, associates hackers-for-hire or affiliates" of the Mabna Institute, an Iranian company accused of working with Tehran to steal more than 31 terabytes of intellectual property and data in what officials called a "significant, malicious" attack. The 10th individual was indicted in November for involvement in hacking HBO computer servers.

The stolen data was "one of the largest state-sponsored hacking campaigns" ever, officials said, affecting at least 300 universities worldwide, 144 of which were in the United States. The Department of Labor, the United Nations, and the states of Hawaii and Indiana were also targeted, a DOJ announcement stated.

The revealed cyberattacks "should send a message around the world about Iran's continued deceptive practices," said Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, "but it should come as no surprise."

Those sanctioned will have American assets frozen and will be blocked from traveling to more than 100 countries at risk of being extradited to the U.S. Read more at The Washington Post. Summer Meza

10:41 a.m. ET
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Trump has reportedly considered eliminating the role of the White House chief of staff, NBC News reports. Amid administration shakeups and a dizzying number of vacant positions, Trump has floated firing Chief of Staff John Kelly and not naming a successor, people familiar with the president's thinking say.

Kelly has been described as a stabilizing force in the White House, serving as the gatekeeper of who can have an audience with the president and what papers can cross his desk. A forthcoming book about presidential chiefs of staff claims they have a huge impact on an administration's agenda, and that their "actions — and inactions ... have defined the course of our country."

Trump "appears to have tabled the suggestion" of eliminating the role of the chief of staff "for now," NBC News writes, although he is nevertheless "seriously considering" not replacing Kelly if he leaves on his own volition. Trump was reportedly intrigued by the prospect of running the government more like how he ran his business, with a small number of close aides reporting to him directly.

One person close to the administration said such a scenario wouldn't be much different than how things already are. "Donald Trump is the chief of staff," the person said. "He already calls the shots." Jeva Lange

9:52 a.m. ET

Craigslist has shut down its "personals" section and will no longer host classified ads for people searching for sex, love, friendship, or anything in between. The announcement, made Friday, comes in response to a new online sex trafficking measure passed by Congress that President Trump is expected to sign into law.

On Wednesday, lawmakers approved the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which holds websites liable for hosting content that advertises sex or enables potentially illegal actions. Craigslist cited the measure in a statement explaining why it would no longer host personal ads: "Any tool or service can be misused. We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day."

The FOSTA bill cracks down on online platforms that were previously absolved of liability for user-generated content, reports The Hill. Those who support the bill say it will help victims of sex trafficking prosecute companies that failed to protect them. Opponents say it's a slippery slope to censorship and will be challenging for small organizations to enforce.

If you're feeling nostalgic, browse some of Craigslist's most wild personal listings here. Summer Meza

9:39 a.m. ET

President Trump's incoming national security adviser, John Bolton, once appeared in a strange promotional video for a Kremlin-linked gun rights group, NPR reports. The Right to Bear Arms, a Russian organization, brought on Bolton in 2013 to promote the creation of a Second Amendment-like addendum to the nation's constitution. "The Bolton video appears to be another plank in a bridge built by Russia to conservative political organizations inside the United States," writes NPR.

At the time of the video's recording, Bolton was serving on the NRA's international affairs subcommittee. Traditionally, Bolton — the former ambassador to the U.N. under President George W. Bush — has been no friend of Russia's. One person familiar with the video said former NRA president David Keene had personally asked Bolton to make the video.

The situation gets murkier when you look at the Russian group behind the footage. The Right to Bear Arms' founder, politician Alexander Torshin, is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has come under scrutiny recently by the FBI, which wants to know if Torshin illegally pushed money through the NRA to help elect Trump.

Russian citizens do not have a formal right to own a gun, as Americans do. "Were the Russian national government to grant a broader right to bear arms to its people, it would be creating a partnership with its citizens that would better allow for the protection of mothers, children, and families without in any way compromising the integrity of the Russian state," Bolton argues in the video. "That is my wish and my advice to your great people." Read more about the creation of the video and Bolton's involvement at NPR. Jeva Lange

9:30 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump believes that with the hawkish John Bolton as his national security adviser, he'll finally have the foreign policy team he wants, sources close to Trump tell Axios. Trump abruptly named Bolton to the post on Thursday evening, replacing H.R. McMaster, a studious Army general who reportedly bored Trump and clashed with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Kelly and Mattis had nothing to do with picking Bolton, Bolton's friends tell Axios.

McMaster has complained that Kelly, Mattis, and Tillerson treated him like a junior partner, McMaster allies tell Axios' Jonathan Swan, and one said: "One of the downsides of what happened is I only wish Tillerson was around to experience this. The two of them that wanted him out most — Mattis and Tillerson — I only wish they were both around to endure the pain of National Security Adviser Bolton. They hated him [McMaster] but they're going to like this a lot less."

Bolton allies see it the same way. "The short term is maybe they [Kelly and Mattis] think they got rid of H.R. McMaster," one Bolton confidante tells Swan. "The long term is you have a person beyond respected by the [House] Freedom Caucus, beyond respected by every foreign policy hawk that supports the president. He rightly views himself as a principal." A veteran of the George W. Bush White House and a protege of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Bolton knows his way around the bureaucracy, Axios says, and "Bolton's ideological foes fear him not only because of his hawkish ideas, but because he knows how to accomplish them." You can read more at Axios. Peter Weber

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