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December 20, 2016
Courtesy of Explore.org

It's a bone-chilling -18 degrees Fahrenheit in Churchill, Manitoba, where the northern lights are making a dazzling display in the sky. For those not up to braving such temperatures, a single camera is bringing the natural phenomenon to viewers around the world.

Tuesday is the best forecast of the year for auroras borealis, and Explore.org is broadcasting live footage through the night. Charles Annenberg Weingarten, founder of Explore.org, said seeing the northern lights is part of "a universal bucket list for all of us," and through the website, people can watch "in the comfort of your home with your extended family."

The sun has several magnetic fields, and when they become knotted together, they create sunspots. When particles of plasma escape into space, it takes about 40 hours for that solar wind to reach Earth, Space.com explains, and once the particles arrive, they are drawn to the magnetic south and north poles. The gorgeous lights of the aurora borealis are caused by the particles passing through the Earth's magnetic shield and mixing with atoms and molecules of oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements. Visit Explore.org to take in this beautiful sight. Catherine Garcia

1:24 p.m. ET

President Trump said it would be "a disgrace" for the United States if there were "spies in my campaign" in remarks Tuesday following a Monday meeting with FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Trump has demanded that the Justice Department look into whether Obama administration officials coordinated surveillance of his campaign for political reasons following reports that an American academic working as an FBI informant met with several members of his 2016 campaign in the early days of the agency's investigation into Russian election meddling.

"That would be one of the biggest insults that anyone has ever seen," Trump said, although there is no evidence the informant was embedded in his campaign. The president additionally dodged a question about whether he has "confidence" in Rosenstein. Jeva Lange

1:16 p.m. ET
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The chairman and CEO of New York City's transit system is bound to be a busy man: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority carries millions of people every day, often via outdated infrastructure in a constantly-evolving city.

But that man, Joe Lhota, is even busier than one might expect, because he also has a handful of other jobs. Lhota's position as chief of staff at a major hospital network, along with his seats on eight different boards and additional lobbying work on the side make for potential conflicts of interest, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Lhota has run the MTA since 2017, but delegates much of the work while he juggles his other leadership positions. The Times explains that Lhota's influence in the city has continued to expand, but the amount of time he spends on the troubled subway system has decreased. Lhota is chief of staff at NYU Langone Health, a network of 230 hospitals and clinics. He has reportedly lobbied for NYU Langone while also running the MTA. He is also a paid board member at Madison Square Garden, a major facility tied to MTA decisions about the adjacent Penn Station.

His work at NYU Langone and on eight transportation-related boards earned Lhota $2.5 million last year, while he forfeited his MTA salary to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest. Lhota vowed to spend 40 hours a week working for the MTA, but records show he has been spending closer to 22 hours. Lhota denied that his multiple jobs represented any conflicts in his role as MTA chief. Read more at The New York Times. Summer Meza

1:08 p.m. ET

President Trump is tempering expectations ahead of his historic meeting with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, telling the press Tuesday that the planned summit in Singapore "may not work out for June 12." Trump went as far as to say, "[we'll] see what happens, whether or not it happens, if it does, that'll be great … and if it doesn't, that's okay too."

Trump made the comments ahead of his meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and added that "whether or not" the North Korea summit happens, "we'll know soon." Jeva Lange

12:51 p.m. ET

Facebook — which in March admitted to a data breach of 50 million users — wants your nudes. Understandably, that might not seem like the most appealing idea at this point. But Facebook's policy chief in Ireland, Niamh Sweeney, said that the company is testing zapping photos that violate its terms and conditions by, apparently, inviting users to try to post the images themselves, The New York Times reports.

Facebook has struggled to keep "revenge porn" and embarrassing photos from being shared without users' consent, but it still needs something to test — the reasoning being that Facebook requires a nude photo to teach it to recognize and delete a nude photo. That's where audience participation comes in!

Lawyer Paul Tweed later expressed his disbelief at Facebook's suggestion, however, asking users rhetorically: "Are you gonna?" Jeva Lange

12:21 p.m. ET
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A number of Amazon customers are complaining that they've been banned from the retailer over what the company claims are excessive returns, despite the fact that nowhere in Amazon's return policy does it suggest such a condition, The Wall Street Journal reports.

One customer who spoke with the Journal, Shira Golan, said she spends thousands of dollars a year on Amazon, buying household items and clothes. Golan said that she has on occasion asked for refunds on apparel or shoes when they arrive damaged or are the wrong item, and that the company closed her account permanently without warning, citing "an unusual number of problems."

"If I knew this would happen, I wouldn't buy clothes and shoes on Amazon," Golan said.

Chris McCabe, a former policy enforcement investigator at Amazon, said that people tend to get banned from the retailer when they are "creating a lot of headaches." Yet another customer, Nir Nissim, who lives in Israel, said he had returned just one item this year and four items last year but was nevertheless banned by the company. He was eventually able to get his account reinstated.

Amazon reserves the right to terminate users' accounts at its discretion, but many banned customers said they had no idea the retailer would flag their routine returns as abuse, and that they received no warning before getting the notice. Read more about the company's shadowy policy at The Wall Street Journal. Jeva Lange

11:48 a.m. ET
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Four competitive races in the House of Representatives have shifted, and are more likely to be won by Republicans than they once were, the Cook Political Report predicted on Tuesday, in the latest sign that Democrats' midterm advantage is disappearing.

Democrats are still solidly favored nationally, but the landscape surrounding high-stakes primaries is rapidly changing. And while Democrats still lead Republicans by four percentage points in Real Clear Politics' congressional generic ballot, that lead is a fraction of the 13-point advantage they held in December.

California's 39th and 49th districts have both shifted from "lean Democratic" to "toss up," the Cook Political Report says, as a crowded field of Democratic candidates threaten to splice the share of votes. The open ballot policy in California means it's possible for two Republicans and no Democrats to make it through the primaries to the general election.

In South Carolina's 5th district, ratings shifted from "likely Republican" to "solid Republican." South Carolina's race has been affected by recent allegations that Democrat Archie Parnell assaulted his ex-wife in the 1970s — Parnell has so far opted to stay in the race even though top Democrats and his own staffers have renounced support.

Nebraska's 2nd district went from "toss up" to "lean Republican." After progressive candidate Kara Eastman beat out the Democratic Party's moderate pick in Nebraska's primary, analysts say Eastman may be too liberal for the district as she goes up against incumbent Rep. Don Bacon (R).

Read more analysis at the Cook Political Report. Summer Meza

10:56 a.m. ET
Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Amazon has reportedly spent several years hawking its facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday to accuse the company of having "officially entered the surveillance business," The New York Times reports. Amazon's service, called "Rekogniton," was developed in late 2016, and it identifies "faces and other objects in images," the Times writes. Amazon has promoted the technology to police departments, noting that officers can use it to aid investigations — or, say, track "undocumented immigrants or black activists," as the ACLU warns.

In one extreme case, in Orlando, police are apparently using Rekognition to search for "people of interest" in surveillance cameras "all over the city," the ACLU alleges. (A spokesman for the Orlando Police Department told the Times that it is not at this time using Rekogniton in investigations or public spaces). Amazon's promotional materials also suggest using Rekognition in police body cameras.

A spokesperson for Amazon Web Services told the Times that the company requires users of Rekognition to follow the law and "be responsible," and that the deployment of the technology is not so unlike other image recognition programs already used around the country. That isn't reassuring for many critics, though.

"People should be free to walk down the street without being watched by the government," the ACLU writes. "[A]utomating mass surveillance, facial recognition systems like Rekognition threaten this freedom, posing a particular threat to communities already unjustly targeted in the current political climate. Once powerful surveillance systems like these are built and deployed, the harm will be extremely difficult to undo." Jeva Lange

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