Mexico's president reportedly changed his mind about visiting the White House after talking to Trump
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto scrapped plans to visit Washington in February or March after an argumentative phone call with President Trump on Tuesday, The Washington Post reported Saturday night, citing officials from both countries.
Trump reportedly "lost his temper" in a discussion of his unrealized pledge to build an extensive wall along the United States' southern border with Mexican funding. "Trump believed it was unreasonable for Peña Nieto to expect him to back off his crowd-pleasing campaign promise of forcing Mexico to pay for the wall," American officials reportedly told the Post.
Also at issue, the Post story says, is Peña Nieto's dissatisfaction with Trump's refusal to commit to a meeting agenda that will avoid embarrassment. A column in Mexico's El Horizonte newspaper on Friday likewise said Trump's "volatility" and the "lack of certainty about his commitments and actions" makes the Mexican president wary of a public conversation.
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Thursday signed a law that bans restaurant servers from automatically giving customers single-use plastic straws.
Straws will still be available upon request, and the law does not apply to fast food establishments. Brown said plastic trash is a major threat to marine life, and the California Coastal Commission has found that plastic straws and stirrers are among the most common pieces of trash found on state beaches. "Plastic has helped advance innovation in our society, but our infatuation with single-use convenience has led to disastrous consequences," Brown said in a statement. "Plastic, in all forms — straws, bottles, packaging, bags, etc. — are choking the planet."
Restaurants that do not abide by the law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2019, will get two warnings, and then a fine of $25 per day, up to $300 a year. California is the first state to enact such a law. Catherine Garcia
It turns out that an octopus on ecstasy doesn't act all that different than a human on ecstasy.
Scientists who for some reason felt compelled to dunk octopuses into an MDMA solution found that they became more sociable and relaxed, The Atlantic reported Thursday. The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine neuroscientists were surprised to find that the usually solitary and often surly creatures were suddenly interested in befriending their tank-mates and behaving more vulnerably.
Octopuses are extremely intelligent, but their brains are structured differently than those of mammals, neuroscientist Gül Dölen told The Atlantic. Their sophisticated brains are organized "much more like a snail's brain than ours," she said. While the octopuses in the trial were at first independent, a quick bath in an MDMA solution to allow them to absorb the drug through their gills made them willing to interact with one another. The serotonin-releasing amphetamine seemed to cause euphoria just like it does in humans. "They even exposed their [underside], where their mouth is, which is not something octopuses usually do," said Dölen.
The study is just a pilot, but it's still one of the first to show similar drug effects on such dissimilar brains. It provides evidence that serotonin has been an important chemical for social function for millions of years, stretching back to the most recent common ancestor of humans and octopuses, around 800 million years ago. As neuroscientist Robyn Crook told The Atlantic: "There are only so many ways to make an intelligent brain." Summer Meza
The DNC's cybersecurity team was in 'the cyber equivalent of hand-to-hand combat' with Russian hackers
The Kremlin began working behind the scenes to disrupt the 2016 election more than two years in advance. But even when Russian interference became obvious, U.S. officials spent weeks watching the infiltration occur before they could fight it off.
The Democratic National Committee's cybersecurity contractor, CrowdStrike, announced in June 2016 that Russian hackers had compromised the organization's network. The New York Times reported Thursday that CrowdStrike had actually been battling with hackers for weeks. Robert Johnston, a lead investigator for the company, said the hackers "were like a thunderstorm moving through the system — very, very noisy."
Despite the noise, CrowdStrike and the DNC didn't make any noise of their own about the hacking, choosing instead to quietly work to discern how Russians had broken in and figure out how to block them. Russia managed to obtain thousands of documents from the DNC's network, and provided them to WikiLeaks for publication.
"We knew it was the Russians, and they knew we knew," Johnston told the Times of the cyberwarfare. "I would say it was the cyber equivalent of hand-to-hand combat." Russian hackers may have intercepted communications about the DNC's efforts to fend off their attacks, helping them to dodge attempts to shut down their malware. Twelve Russian intelligence officers were indicted in July 2018 for the break-in. Read more at The New York Times. Summer Meza
Michael Cohen is ready to talk.
A week after it was reported that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort would be cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Muller's Russia investigation, ABC News reports that Cohen is already far ahead of him.
Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney, has already spent hours talking with Special Counsel Mueller's team, sitting for multiple interviews over the past month, ABC News reports. Cohen has evidently discussed "all aspects of Trump's dealings with Russia," and he has been asked about whether the president has offered to pardon him.
Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in August, striking a plea deal with prosecutors that cut down his jail time but did not compel cooperation with federal investigators. But in addition to the Russia probe, ABC News reports that Cohen is speaking with authorities in New York about the ongoing investigation into the Trump Organization, where Cohen used to work as vice president.
Cohen had been Trump's personal lawyer and sometimes-fixer since 2006. In his August plea, he said that during the 2016 campaign, he had arranged payments to women who alleged they had affairs with Trump, specifying that he'd violated these campaign finance laws at Trump's behest. Cohen had previously released a secret tape of himself discussing this payment with Trump. The president responded on Twitter, saying that he would "strongly suggest" anyone looking for a good lawyer not hire Cohen. Brendan Morrow
Christine Blasey Ford's lawyer said on Thursday that it "is not possible" for Ford to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, reports CNN.
Ford is open to providing testimony regarding her allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers, but said Monday is too soon. In an email to lawmakers, obtained by The New York Times, Ford's attorneys said she "would be prepared to testify next week" if senators agreed to "terms that are fair," despite her previous request to delay testimony until after an FBI investigation into the matter.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has scheduled a hearing Monday, reports The Washington Post, and gave Ford until Friday morning to decide whether she'll testify. Ford's lawyers called the deadline and the push to schedule a hearing for Monday "arbitrary in any event," arguing that there's no reason lawmakers shouldn't take time to "ensure her safety" and thoroughly review the allegations. Kavanaugh, who has denied the accusation, has said he is willing to testify to refute Ford's claim. Summer Meza
After presumably running through a list of every item in existence that could conceivably be operated by Alexa, Amazon has come for the microwave.
The company on Thursday unveiled a whole slate of new Alexa-powered devices including its WiFi-connected, voice-activated microwave. Though the Amazon Basics Microwave, which will cost $60, does not have Alexa built into it, it uses Alexa by connecting to a nearby Echo device, per CNET.
Users will be able to tell their microwave, through Alexa, how long to cook their food for and which setting to use. For certain foods, simply telling Alexa what is being cooked will enable the microwave to punch in the right cook-time, as Amazon's David Limp helpfully demonstrated on stage by telling his machine to heat up a potato. The microwave comes with "dozens of quick-cook voice presents," Engadget reports, and it even comes equipped with a special Dash button that you can use to order popcorn.
You do need to press an Alexa button before issuing any commands, though, so the idyllic dream of a totally button-free microwave experience — alas — remains out of reach for now. Read more about Amazon's microwaves, as well as the larger slate of products the company unveiled Thursday, at CNET. Brendan Morrow
Democratic Idaho gubernatorial candidate may have violated campaign finance laws with close ties to super PAC
Paulette Jordan, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Idaho who is vying to become the nation's first Native American state leader, has been in coordination with a political action committee in ways that may violate campaign finance rules, the Idaho Statesman reported Thursday. Jordan's team has reportedly been advising and fundraising for the super PAC, and even secured a major donation for it this month.
The Strength and Progress federal super PAC, created in July "to accept donations from the Coeur d'Alene Tribe ... for spending on Federal First Nations' issues," is allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money but is not supposed to partner with any specific campaign. Jordan, formerly a representative in the Idaho state legislature, is a member of the Tribe. Her campaign was reportedly involved in creating the PAC, which could be a problem if expenditures show that the group contributed to her candidacy.
Jordan's campaign manager, Michael Rosenow, resigned last week, saying he would rather "have no part or complacency with this PAC," the Statesman reported based on internal emails. Rosenow, along with the campaign's communications director and event scheduler, resigned suddenly after just two months, raising eyebrows about whether the departures were really a simple "leadership transition," as Jordan's campaign said. Now, emails show that Rosenow resigned over a "lack of accountability in spending and acquiring campaign resources." He felt the team was "growing a PAC" instead of funding the campaign, calling it "detestable, loathsome, if not repulsive."
Strength and Progress, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, and Jordan's campaign all say that there has been no improper coordination and that the groups are all operating independently. The Idaho Democratic Party says it is taking the potential violations "very seriously." Read more at the Idaho Statesman. Summer Meza