April 12, 2018

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) may well be retiring to spend more time with his family. "Everybody's going to write the timing is just because Republicans are going to lose — and that's true," GOP mega-donor Dan Eberhart told New York on Wednesday. "But he really just wanted to go home." Like other Republican strategists, donors, and lawmakers, Eberhart argues Speaker Nancy Pelosi is already a fait accompli. "I mean, I think the House is gone," he said. GOP donors, he told USA Today, are "going to naturally shift their focus to the Senate."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his allies have been making the same save-the-Senate pitch. "It seems clear now that the fight is to hold the Senate," Billy Piper, a lobbyist and former McConnell chief of staff, tells The New York Times. Scott Jennings, a longtime GOP operative close to McConnell, agreed. "If you're a donor, and you're looking at Paul Ryan saying, 'I'm going to go ahead and retire,' it's a pretty clear signal," he told New York. "If he thinks the House is lost, who would be more in the know than Paul Ryan? ... McConnell, in the last few days, has said, 'The House is lost, we have to hold the Senate.'"

There is no guarantee that Democrats will win the House, but they need to flip 24 seats to take control, and anywhere from 50 to 80 GOP-held seats are at risk in competitive races versus 16 competitive seats for Democrats, according to Cook Political Report. Ryan's retirement is "a major symbolic blow to the party as it heads into a tough campaign season," Harry Enten says at CNN, but "the writing has been on the wall for a while now. President Donald Trump's low approval rating, Republicans' poor standing on the generic congressional ballot, and Democratic performance in special elections since Trump took office all point to a bad outcome for Republicans in November." Peter Weber

5:44 p.m.

Students at a Georgia high school that went viral this week after a photo of its crowded, mostly mask-less hallways on the first day of school surfaced online told BuzzFeed News they had little choice to attend class in person despite the coronavirus pandemic.

One student's parents were prepared to keep him home after seeing the photo, but after his mother spoke to the school she learned students who chose to stay home because of concerns over the virus could face expulsion or suspension, BuzzFeed reports.

A parent of a student at a nearby school said she tried to enroll her daughter in the Paulding County school district's virtual learning option, but wound up on the waiting list after it filled up and was told her daughter "would be withdrawn" from the school if she didn't show up in person.

Per BuzzFeed, many parents, students, and teachers at the school — where there are reports of positive coronavirus cases among students and staff — are concerned about the situation and think it's irresponsible in-person learning is back in session, but others are in favor, noting that virtual distancing is a challenge for many families. Read more at BuzzFeed News. Tim O'Donnell

4:55 p.m.

In a summer largely without sports, one team is making a triumphant return to entertain you: The U.S. Army esports team.

The team took a brief hiatus from streaming their Call of Duty games on Twitch in July, after a First Amendment controversy when commenters asking about war crimes were banned.

Now, they are reinstating access to the accounts that were previously banned for what the army calls "harassing and degrading behavior." The team is establishing clarified guidelines and will resume streaming soon, the Army told Vice.

The Army, Navy, and Air Force have esports teams, often used as recruitment measures, but the Marines do not have a team. This is "in part to the belief that the brand and issues associated with combat are too serious to be 'gamified' in a responsible manner," Marine Corps Recruiting Command wrote, reports Vice.

The sentiment was echoed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) last week as she defended a proposed amendment to stop the military from using games as a recruiting method, which the House ultimately blocked. "War is not a game," Ocasio-Cortez said. "We can not conflate war and military service with this kind of gamified format."

A specific date has not been set for the U.S. Army esports team's return to Twitch, but they said it will be in the "near future." Taylor Watson

4:54 p.m.

The Pentagon is distancing itself from President Trump's claims about the Beirut blast that killed more than 100 people Wednesday.

Trump on Tuesday said his unnamed "great generals" told him they thought the massive explosion was a "terrible attack." In the early aftermath, there was speculation that the catastrophe was intentional, but it the consensus quickly became that it was almost certainly accidental — albeit brought on by neglect and mismanagement — and not linked to any foreign power, proxy forces, or terrorist organizations. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other department officials affirmed they believe it was an accident, as well.

The president hasn't repeated his claim from Tuesday, possibly indicating he understands there was no basis for it. But that's what's raised some eyebrows, considering he said he got the information from unnamed high-ranking military officials. A senior Pentagon official, however, told The Associated Press they had "no idea" what Trump was referring to with his comment, leaving some to wonder if it came out of thin air. Tim O'Donnell

3:42 p.m.

A security vulnerability in Twitter for Android could have allowed attackers to access some users' direct messages, the company has disclosed.

Twitter on Wednesday said it has fixed a vulnerability in the Android app that for some users "could allow an attacker, through a malicious app installed on your device, to access private Twitter data on your device (like direct messages), by working around Android system permissions that protect against this." This was "related to an underlying Android OS security issue" on Android OS versions 8 and 9, the company said.

Twitter said it believes 96 percent of Android users have a patch protecting them from the vulnerability, and it doesn't have evidence that attackers actually exploited the flaw, but the company adds it "can't be completely sure" of that. It's sending notifications to the users who may have been affected, requiring them to update the Android app, and promising to identify "changes to our processes to better guard against issues like this."

This disclosure from Twitter comes after the company last month grappled with a massive hack, in which high-profile accounts including those belonging to former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden were taken over to promote a Bitcoin scam. The company said that 130 accounts were targeted, and the attackers accessed direct messages on "up to 36" of them, including that of an elected official in the Netherlands. Brendan Morrow

3:15 p.m.

More than 100 foreign policy experts — including former White House officials in Reagan, (both) Bush, Clinton, Obama, and Trump administrations — laid out six proposals for how the United States should alter its relationship with Russia in an open letter published by Politico on Tuesday.

The letter calls for squelching Russian interference in U.S. elections, while also engaging with Moscow about the matter through negotiations "out of the public square." Another top priority, the signatories believe, is for the White House and Congress to restore "normal diplomatic contacts" with Russia after several were shuttered following the Crimea invasion in 2014. "Too often we wrongly consider diplomatic contacts as a reward for good behavior, but they are about promoting our interests and delivering tough messages," the letter reads.

The other ideas include taking on a dual leadership role with Moscow in nuclear arms control, focusing on "three-way cooperation" between Washington, Moscow, and Beijing, and emphasizing that even in areas of genuine disagreement between the countries — like Ukraine and Syria — "measured and phased steps" are key to improving the "overall relationship."

Finally, the letter argues that Washington's sanction strategy needs to change. While, the signatories agree sanctions should remain part of the U.S.'s Russia policy, they need to be more flexible so they can be "eased quickly" should Russia engage productively in negotiations. At the moment, Moscow lacks the incentive to change course even in the face of sanctions, the letter says, because it considers U.S. sanctions "permanent." Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

3:08 p.m.

Facebook has finally gotten around to fact-checking President Trump's claims — except those that come up in his political ads.

In recent campaign ads on Facebook, Trump has repeatedly and falsely claimed former Vice President Joe Biden wants to "defund the police." Facebook's own fact checkers have correctly flagged the ads as untrue, but because it's coming from a political figure, Facebook isn't doing anything about it, The Washington Post reports.

Facebook relies on a network of independent fact checking groups to determine whether to flag misinformation on its site, and among at least five fact checkers, there was no question Trump's ad was false. After all, Biden had explicitly said he does not support that movement. But more than 1,400 ads claiming Biden did want to defund the police, costing between $350,000 and $553,000, still went out to Facebook viewers and were seen at least 22.5 million times, the Post reports via Facebook's ad network. None of them had any indication that Trump's ad contained a false message because politicians aren't subject to Facebook's advertising rules about deception.

Facebook has always been resistant to fact checking anything on its platform, and only recently applied a misinformation warning to Trump's claims that mail-in voting will lead to fraudulent elections. It did remove one of Trump's ads in June as well, because it used a Nazi symbol and violated Facebook's "organized hate" guidelines. Read more at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:03 p.m.

There are a lot more emperor penguins in Antarctica than previously thought, a new study has found.

Using space technology to identify guano, or penguin poop stains on the sea ice, scientists discovered there are about 20 percent more emperor penguin colonies than were previously recorded. This represents a 5 to 10 percent increase in population, bringing the total to just above half a million.

The study, published in Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, relied on satellite imagery from the European Space Agency's Copernicus Mission's Sentinel2 sensor.

Many of the newly discovered colonies are breeding offshore, a surprising new behavior. But these locations aren't ideal with the way Earth's climate is shifting. They are in "areas likely to be highly vulnerable under business‐as‐usual greenhouse gas emissions scenarios," the study reports.

Phil Trathan, Head of Conservation Biology at British Antarctic Survey, and one of the study's authors, notes that birds in offshore areas are likely to be "canaries in the coalmine," for climate change, and will need to be monitored carefully.

The study concludes that climate change is likely to affect the emperor penguins, and the newly discovered colonies are projected to become extinct or quasi‐extinct by the end of this century. "Our findings therefore suggest the possibility of an even greater proportion of the global population will be vulnerable to climate change, than previously considered." Taylor Watson

See More Speed Reads