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September 9, 2011

Home-brewing your own beer isn't easy. You can be as meticulous as a laboratory scientist when you combine ingredients, yet there's no avoiding the next frustrating, weeks-long step: "Place in a warm spot, cross your fingers, and wait." But now, the $5,000 (or so) WilliamsWarn Personal Brewery, created by a pair of New Zealanders, produces chilled, ready-to-drink home brews in just seven days. "If Willy Wonka had invented a home-brew beer machine," it would work as magically as this contraption — which, sadly, won't be available in the U.S. for months. Source: Wired. The Week Staff

10:46 a.m. ET
Jack Taylor/Getty Images

In early October, the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), an internal watchdog, completed an extensive report on the implementation of President Trump's original travel ban, Executive Order 13769, which in late January caught customs agents by surprise and led to people getting trapped at airports, among other chaos. But in a letter to lawmakers Monday, the OIG accused DHS leadership of intentionally delaying release of the report for more than six weeks, perhaps because the Trump administration insisted the travel ban rollout was "a massive success story ... on every single level."

As the OIG letter explains, DHS officials have indicated they may invoke "deliberative process privilege," an unusual response to this sort of report that would permit the agency to keep the document private. This is a troubling prospect, the letter says, because it "can mask discovery of decisions made based on illegitimate considerations, or evidence of outright misconduct." If DHS does invoke this privilege, it would "significantly hamper" the DHS OIG's ability to keep Congress well-informed about the department's aims and activities.

Download the full letter here to read a partial summary of the report's findings, including the allegation that customs agents "violated two court orders" in the implementation process. Bonnie Kristian

10:39 a.m. ET
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Even if you've had location services turned off on your Android phone, Google knows where you've been. Quartz reported Tuesday that for nearly a year, Android phones have been sending the location of nearby cell towers to Google even when location services are disabled and there is no SIM card in the phone.

By collecting relevant cell phone tower data, Google can identify an Android user's location within a certain range. And while it might seem comforting that Google doesn't know your exact location, Quartz notes that every time you pass a cell phone tower and are using cellular data or WiFi, your Android phone sends identifying data to Google. This may not happen as frequently in big sky country, but people living in cities are far more likely to pass by cell phone towers multiple times per day.

Google confirmed to Quartz that it had collected Android user data by analyzing the location of nearby cell towers, but stressed that it did so to send Android users push notifications and messages. In an email, a Google spokesperson added, "We never incorporated Cell ID into our network sync system, so that data was immediately discarded, and we updated it to no longer request Cell ID." Reassuring!

Kelly O'Meara Morales

10:30 a.m. ET
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been formally accused by approximately a dozen of his own department's officials of violating federal child soldier laws, Reuters reports. The State Department publicly acknowledges that Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan have child soldiers, although Tillerson removed the three countries from the U.S. list of offenders in June. "Keeping the countries off the annual list makes it easier to provide them with U.S. military assistance," Reuters explains.

The 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act bars countries known to have soldiers under the age of 18 from receiving aid, weapons, or training from the United States. Special exceptions can be made, such as when the Obama administration issued waivers for Iraq, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Somalia in 2016, a move that was criticized at the time by organizations like Human Rights Watch.

"The dissenting U.S. officials stressed that Tillerson's decision to exclude Iraq, Afghanistan, and Myanmar went a step further than the Obama administration's waiver policy by contravening the law and effectively easing pressure on the countries to eradicate the use of child soldiers," Reuters reports. Tillerson's adviser, Brian Hook, defended the decision, claiming that while Afghanistan, Iraq, and Myanmar may still have child soldiers, they are "making sincere — if as yet incomplete — efforts" to curb the practice.

The State Department officials used a "dissent channel" to express their disapproval of Tillerson's decision. The memo was sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the State Department's inspector general's office. The ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), said Tillerson's actions "sent a powerful message to these countries that they were receiving a pass on their unconscionable actions." Read more about the memo and federal child soldier laws at Reuters. Jeva Lange

10:17 a.m. ET

President Trump has long lauded his own tweeting habits as an important way to spread his views directly to the public. "When somebody says something about me, I am able to go 'bing, bing, bing' and I take care of it," he said of Twitter in an October interview, suggesting that those who don't want him tweeting "are the enemies," and that he would not be in the Oval Office were it not for his Twitter account.

Republican fundraisers like the tweets, too, Andrew Malcolm at McClatchy reports, finding them a lucrative outreach tool for the GOP base:

Surprisingly, President Trump's often argumentative, abrasive tweets that bother so many, especially in the GOP establishment, have actually proven to be quite effective fundraising tools. Recited by fundraisers, the tweets are well-received by supporters as candid insights into the unorthodox president's thinking. And they've fueled an historic flow of donations into the Republican National Committee. [McClatchy]

How effective are the tweets? Well, since Trump took office, the GOP has raised $113.2 million, the bulk of it from small-dollar donors giving $200 or less per donation, and much of it from first-time contributors. The Republican National Committee closed the third quarter of 2017 with $44 million on hand to the Democratic National Committee's $7 million. Bonnie Kristian

9:52 a.m. ET

Alabama's Democratic Senate candidate Doug Jones is using powerful GOP voices to take down his Republican opponent, Roy Moore.

Moore is accused of sexually assaulting or harassing multiple teenage girls as young as 14. "There is a special place in hell for people who prey on children," Jones' new TV ad quotes Ivanka Trump as saying. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is quoted saying, "I have no reason to doubt these young women," and Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.) is quoted saying he will "absolutely not" vote for Moore.

"Conservative voices putting children and women over party," the voiceover adds. "Doing what's right." Watch the spot below. Jeva Lange

9:17 a.m. ET

Thirty-six women staffers of NBC's Saturday Night Live who worked with Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) on the show published a letter Tuesday to "offer solidarity in support" of the alum, who is accused of kissing one woman without her consent and taking a picture groping her while she slept, and by another woman of groping her while posing for a photo at a fair.

The "SNL women," including original cast members Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman, said that "what Al did was stupid and foolish" but that "in our experience, we know Al as a devoted and dedicated family man, a wonderful comedic performer, and an honorable public servant."

The letter was not received well by some. Elle's culture editor Estelle Tang tweeted: "Congrats on this harmful, distracting, useless statement, @NBCSNL. It's LITERALLY 'family men,' 'comedians,' & 'honorable public servants' being revealed as harassers. Progressive men can mistreat women too, and it's dangerous to imply otherwise."

SNL actually addressed the Franken scandal over the weekend. "I know this photo looks bad, but remember: It also is bad," said Colin Jost in a Weekend Update segment on the subject. "And, sure, this was taken before he ran for public office, but it was also taken after he was a sophomore in high school. It's pretty hard to be like, 'Oh, come on. He didn't know any better. He was only 55.'"

Read the full SNL statement below. Jeva Lange

8:49 a.m. ET

The Trump administration is close to naming a Republican professor whose work has been used to support GOP redistricting efforts as deputy head of the Census Bureau, Politico reports. The rumors of Thomas Brunell's impending appointment are concerning to many voting rights advocates because as deputy head, he would not require Senate confirmation and therefore could not be blocked. After the resignation of former Census Director John Thompson in June, and Trump's failure to nominate anyone for permanent director in his wake, Brunell could become the most powerful permanent official in the agency.

If indeed appointed, Brunell's decisions ahead of the 2020 Census would theoretically shape the future of American elections: "There are tons of little things he could be doing to influence what the final count looks like," a former high-ranking official in the Commerce Department explained to Politico. "The ripple effect on reapportionment would be astounding."

What's more, Brunell has little obvious experience for the job, having no background in statistics or in government, as the position's appointees typically do. In addition to a Ph.D. in political science, Brunell is the author of a 2008 book, Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America. In it, he argues:

…[P]artisan districts packed with like-minded voters actually lead to better representation than ones more evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, because fewer voters in partisan districts cast a vote for a losing candidate. He has also argued that ideologically packed districts should be called "fair districts" and admits that his stance on competitive elections makes him something of an outlier among political scientists, who largely support competitive elections. [Politico]

The former director of the Census-tracking organization Census Project, Terri Ann Lowenthal, said if the rumors of Brunell's appointment are true, "it signals an effort by the administration to politicize the Census. It's very troubling." Read more about Brunell at Politico. Jeva Lange

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