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September 21, 2016

Tom Brady is currently serving a four-game suspension for his alleged participation in the 2015 Deflategate scandal, when the Patriots were accused of letting air out of game day footballs to give their quarterback an advantage over the Indianapolis Colts. But if you ask the right Patriots fans, you might hear a different story — one about gas laws and temperatures and rain and how rubbing a ball can make it lose pressure.

To get to the bottom of if it was actually physically possible for the footballs to deflate the way they did under the circumstances of atmosphere and game play that cold January morning, the NFL requested an investigation by a company called Exponent. Exponent "is often hired by insurance companies and companies in duress, perhaps facing lawsuits and the prospect of monstrous recalls and payouts," The New York Times reports, and its clients include Swiss Re, one of the World Trade Center's insurers, following 9/11, Exxon after the oil spill, BP after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, NASA after space shuttle explosions, and the Department of Justice after the Oklahoma Bombing.

Suffice it to say, Deflategate wasn't exactly the kind of job Exponent normally takes on:

"The visibility of this project fits into some of the largest that we do at this firm," [aerospace engineer John] Pye said. "But when you think about the impact? Meh. Not so much. No one is losing their lives here. The building is not burning down. The vehicle is not crashing. The product is still working. Nothing's caught on fire."

So why even get involved?

"It's an interesting scientific problem," [principal engineer Robert] Caligiuri said. "It clearly was not as simple as what it was portrayed in the early days. Frankly, it could be controversial, but we are not afraid of controversial matters." [The New York Times]

An interesting scientific problem, Deflategate certainly was — but the lengths the scientists went to conclude it was "more probable than not" that the balls had been intentionally deflated might be even more interesting. Learn the whole story at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

8:35 a.m.

President Trump is angry at The New York Times once again.

The newspaper reported on Saturday that the U.S. has enacted a more aggressive approach when it comes to cyber attacks on Russia's electric power grid. The Times conducted interviews over a three month period in which current and former officials described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia's grid and other targets. The actions are reportedly seen as a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Two administration officials told the Times that they do not believe President Trump has been briefed about the new digital incursion strategy, while Pentagon and intelligence officials told the newspaper that they were concerned about how the president would react to the news. They also reportedly feared he would reverse the operations or discuss the classified information with foreign officials.

Trump has denied the story, even calling it a "virtual act of treason". Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

7:52 a.m.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators returned to the streets in Hong Kong on Sunday to protest a proposed extradition bill that would allow extradition to mainland China. The rally reportedly looks like it could reach the scale of last Sunday's protests, for which around 1 million people gathered.

The protesters were also calling for Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down, despite their understanding that she had little choice but to carry out orders from Beijing, The Associated Press reports.

Lam, reportedly with the backing of Beijing, announced on Saturday that she was suspending the extradition legislation after the protests turned violent during the week, but those opposed to the bill want it scrapped entirely. They fear the law would subject criminal suspects to possible torture and unfair trials if they are sent to China. Generally speaking, the protesters believe the bill is in conflict with Hong Kong's judicial independence and contributes to the territory's eroding freedoms. Tim O'Donnell

June 15, 2019

Tibor Nagy, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, on Friday called for an "independent and credible" investigation into the violence waged by Sudan's paramilitary security forces when they stormed a protest camp in the country's capital, Khartoum, earlier in June, The Associated Press reports.

Sudan's ruling military council, which recently ousted former autocratic President Omar al-Bashir, said it plans to announce the findings of its own investigation on Saturday. Protest organizers say over 100 people were killed by the security forces, while state authorities said the death toll was 61.

Nagy's stance echoes that of the protesters, who are hoping for an internationally-backed probe into the crackdown. The military council, which admitted that it ordered the dispersal of the sit-in, rejected that idea, as did Sudan's chief prosecutor.

Nagy added that he supports the mediation efforts by the African Union and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, but did not say whether Washington would take any measures if the situation worsens. Tim O'Donnell

June 15, 2019

One might recall President Trump declaring in an April speech that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a 2020 presidential candidate, was "finished." Now, though, Trump's re-election campaign team considers Warren a legitimate threat and is reportedly ready to make her a target, Politico reports, based on conversations with multiple Trump advisers.

Trump aides and their allies at the Republican National Committee are reportedly digging up opposition research and deploying camera-wielding trackers in the hopes of halting Warren's momentum. They also reportedly plan to label her a "liberal extremist." Trump's advisers are reportedly concerned by Warren's disciplined style mixed with "populist-infused" speeches and her potential ability to win over suburban female voters.

The change in tune doesn't mean the Trump campaign won't continue to focus its energy on the current frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, as well, Politico reports; but they're just less certain he'll face off against the president in the general election now.

Warren's prospects looked rough out of the gate, but the senator has polled well recently and has even surpassed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), long considered Biden's top challenger, in some of the latest tallies. Tim O'Donnell

June 15, 2019

It's unlikely to make a difference in outcome, but Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said on Friday she will oppose one of President Trump's federal judicial nominees, anyway, The Washington Post reports.

Collins, who has opposed Trump on various occasions before, specifically cited nominee Matthew Kacsmaryk's "alarming bias against LGBTQ Americans and disregard for Supreme Court precedents," such as Roe v. Wade, as her primary reasons for doing so. Again, it would be a surprise if Collins' opposition makes any difference regarding Kacsmaryk's confirmation, but it is notable because of the senator's decision to vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year, which led her to face intense criticism from liberals, the Post reports. Collins was singled out, in particular, because of her past willingness to split from her own party.

Kacsmaryk currently serves as deputy general counsel to First Liberty Institute, which defends religious freedom issues. He also defended the right of a shop owner to refuse to bake a cake for a gay couple's union in a high-profile case three years ago, the Post reports. LGBTQ and women's rights groups reportedly "vehemently" oppose his nomination. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

June 15, 2019

President Trump on Friday told Fox News that "it doesn't matter" if China's President Xi Jinping meets with him at the G-20 summit in Osaka in June. But, Bloomberg reports, Trump is indeed thinking long term when it comes to trade negotiations with China.

Vice President Mike Pence was reportedly set to give a speech on June 4, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, criticizing China's human rights record. The president, though, reportedly stepped in before it could happen in an effort to avoid upsetting Beijing before the summit, four people familiar with the planning told Bloomberg. Trump also reportedly postponed sanctions on Chinese surveillance companies that Pence planned to preview in his speech.

Pence's remarks were then tentatively rescheduled for June 24, just a few days before Osaka, but there is now debate within the Trump administration over when Pence should deliver the speech and, perhaps more importantly, how much he should challenge Beijing during it. If Pence ultimately does go ahead with his remarks, experts, such as Robert Daly, the head of the China program at the Wilson Center, say Beijing's officials would watch it very closely, monitoring for signs that the White House is willing to resume trade negotiations. Read more at Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

June 15, 2019

That's one victory for wildlife conservation.

Niassa, one of the largest wildlife preserves on the African continent, situated in a remote region in northern Mozambique, has marked a year without a single elephant found killed by poachers; the last time a killing was reported was May 17 of last year.

Thousands of animals have reportedly been slaughtered in the region in recent years, but the introduction of a rapid intervention police force and more assertive patrolling and response by air has apparently quelled the damage, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, which co-manages the reserve with Mozambique's government and other partners, said.

Experts have called the drop in elephant poaching an extraordinary development. But despite the progress, it reportedly could still take years to rebuild the elephant population in Niassa to its former levels after aggressive poaching cut initial numbers from around 12,000 to 3,600 in 2016.

Still, wildlife experts are excited by the news. "This represents a major success," George Wittemyer, the chair of the scientific board for the Kenya-based organization, Save the Elephants, told The Associated Press. Other nearby reserves, such as Tanzania's Selous Game Reserve, have also seen recent declines in poaching. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

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