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June 13, 2018

California's secretary of state's office said Tuesday that a ballot measure to split the Golden State into three — California, Northern California, and Southern California — had gotten more than enough valid signatures to make it onto the November ballot. The initiative was spearheaded by Silicon Valley venture capitalist and cryptocurrency enthusiast Tim Draper, whose previous efforts to split California into six states failed due to insufficient valid signatures. If successful, the plan would potentially create the first division of a state since West Virginia was hewn off of Virginia in 1863.

Northern California would stretch from just north of Monterey across to Nevada and up to Oregon, encompassing the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, and Napa Valley wine country. New California would be a coastal stretch from Monterey down through Los Angeles, while Southern California would encompass the rest of Southern California, including Death Valley, San Diego, and Orange County.

California, the most populous U.S. state, is no stranger to attempts at geopolitical reinvention — in its 168 years as a state, more than 200 attempts have been made to split it apart, change its boundaries, or withdraw it from the U.S., the Los Angeles Times reports, with the most recent three-state split shot down in the state legislature in 1993.

But even if Draper's plan passes — a poll in April pegged it at 17 percent support, 72 percent opposition — it would face legal challenges, and California's legislature would almost certainly have to approve it, as would Congress. Both approvals are seen as unlikely. The plan would create four new U.S. senators and dilute California's Electoral College power. "Initial analyses suggest that Northern California and California would remain reliably Democratic, while Southern California would be a swing state," The Mercury News reports. Peter Weber

1:01 p.m.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is about to start his last two years in the Senate.

The 78-year-old senator announced Monday he would not run for re-election in 2020, seemingly hinting at his retirement. A longtime politician, Alexander served as Tennessee's governor from 1979 to 1987 and as the Secretary of Education before heading to the Senate in 2003.

Alexander thanked "the people of Tennessee" for "electing me to serve more combined years as governor and senator than anyone else from our state," he said in his Monday statement. "But now it is time for someone else to have that privilege," Alexander continued.

Fellow Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker didn't run for re-election in 2018, and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) won his seat. Corker quickly responded to Alexander's news with a statement of his own. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:56 p.m.

Working in big cheese is really starting to stink.

American cheese exports are down drastically this year, largely thanks to Mexico and China issuing dairy tariffs in response to President Trump's trade war. Now, there's a 1.4 billion pound pileup in cold storage facilities across the country as cheddar prices continue to tank, The Wall Street Journal reports.

U.S. cheesemakers are currently sitting on the largest stockpile in recorded history. But it's not because Americans aren't tolerating the lactose, seeing as they "ate a record 37 pounds of natural cheese per capita last year," the Journal says. It's because cheesemakers increased production to meet that higher demand, only to see it sliced amid Trump's trade war. Mexico's intake of American cheese went down by more than 10 percent in the past year after issuing tariffs on cheese and whey, while China's imports fell by 63 percent, per the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Americans are also largely rejecting traditional American slices in favor of foreign varieties like Gouda and Havarti. Mexican and Chinese buyers would've typically gobbled up the processed slices, but in the face of the trade conflict, that cheese is simply aging away in cold storage. Cheddar prices are down 24 percent this year from 2014 prices, leading producers to worry tariffs "could eat into profits," the Journal writes. Milk prices are also down 40 percent from 2014, and more than 600 dairy farms in Wisconsin have closed this year.

Read more about the cheese crisis at The Wall Street Journal, or answer this poll/trivia question from the Department of Agriculture, who clearly didn't read the cheese-filled room when tweeting. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:06 p.m.

Instagram, not Facebook, may be Russia's most effective tool for spreading propaganda.

A new report prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee shows that posts from the Russian Internet Research Agency, a troll farm, received 187 million interactions on Instagram from 2015 through 2018, and only 77 million interactions on Facebook and 73 million on Twitter, reports Bloomberg.

This suggests Instagram has been a much more significant factor in Russia's attempt to manipulate American politics through social media than previously thought, and the report notes that this is "something that Facebook executives appear to have avoided mentioning in congressional testimony." The researchers also say that Instagram could be "more ideal" for spreading propaganda through memes than other platforms and that it is "likely to be a key battleground on an ongoing basis."

Additionally, the report says that not only did Russian trolls seek to promote President Trump's campaign and damage Hillary Clinton's, but the "most prolific IRA efforts on Facebook and Instagram specifically targeted black American communities," The New York Times reports. While the Russian troll farm targeted some other specific groups with a handful of accounts and pages, "the black community was targeted extensively with dozens," researchers conclude. On Facebook, for instance, among 81 Facebook pages the IRA created, 30 targeted black Americans. Efforts to encourage people to skip voting or vote against Clinton targeted both black Americans and supporters of Clinton's primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Read more at The New York Times. Brendan Morrow

11:32 a.m.

Just four in 10 Americans — 38 percent — said they'd vote re-elect President Trump in new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll results published Monday.

But those numbers sound like good news for the president with a little historical context, NBC reports: They're quite close to the support former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama pulled after their party suffered midterm defeats in 1994 and 2010, respectively. Both went on to win re-election handily.

Still, the survey found a key difference between Trump's standing now and Obama's position eight years ago. Only 10 percent of respondents said "President Trump has gotten the message from the elections and is making the necessary adjustments" to his governing agenda. Fully 35 percent said the same of Obama in 2010.

Some, but not all, of that difference may be attributed to a larger proportion (31 percent in 2018 to 15 percent in 2010) claiming the midterms were not a message to the president at all. That was Trump's own argument after the midterms; before the election, he said he was on the ballot in a "certain way," but after GOP losses in the House Trump noted he "wasn't on the ballot." Bonnie Kristian

11:23 a.m.

Catholic priests accused of abusing Native people in Alaska weren't just quietly dismissed or transferred to a new location, like so many others across the U.S. and world. They were sent to retire on Gonzaga University's campus, an investigation from Reveal News and the Northwest News Network found.

The Jesuit-owned Cardinal Bea House, nestled right next to Gonzaga's business school, has been home to at least 20 priests accused of sexual misconduct, internal correspondence obtained by Reveal shows. This location, on campus but not officially part of the university, allowed priests to be "monitored" so they didn't abuse more people, a former church leader said.

Of the 20 men who lived at Cardinal Bea House, most were accused of "sexual misconduct that predominantly took place in small, isolated Alaska Native villages and on Indian reservations across the northwest," Reveal writes. One of the worst alleged offenders, Father James Poole, reportedly "abused at least 20 women and girls," impregnating one 16-year-old and abusing another who was just 6, court documents and testimonies show. His conduct "was well-known to his superiors," and he was shuffled from community to community before being forced into retirement, Reveal says.

Poole then ended up on Gonzaga's private college campus, staying there from 2003 until his death in 2015. If he lived "without church oversight, he surely would have abused more people," the Jesuit leader who ordered Poole to live at Cardinal Bea told Reveal. This arrangement allowed aging priests like Poole to receive medical care and be monitored, while simultaneously "protect[ing] the perpetrators from prosecution," Reveal writes.

No abusive priests are known to have lived at Cardinal Bea House after 2016, having mostly been moved to the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, California, Reveal reports. Gonzaga administrators didn't respond to requests for an interview. Read more at Reveal News. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:03 a.m.

Another round of U.S.-Taliban peace talks began Monday with the participation of delegates from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the negotiations' host, the United Arab Emirates. Their aim is further progress toward ending the United States' 17-year war in Afghanistan, America's longest conflict.

Officials representing the Afghan government are in the UAE but will not join in the talks, as the Taliban has to date insisted on negotiations with Washington alone. The Saudi and Emirati representatives are expected to help push the Taliban toward new concessions, potentially including future inclusion of Afghan state officials.

Diplomatic contact between the United States and the Taliban has increased since the appointment of Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad earlier this year. Among the issues under consideration are prisoner release and the extent of long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after hostilities have ceased. Bonnie Kristian

10:31 a.m.

The Senate voted Thursday to withdraw American support for Saudi Arabia's coalition intervention in Yemen's civil war and to condemn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder. Riyadh responded early Monday by complaining of American meddling in Saudi affairs.

"The Kingdom categorically rejects any interference in its internal affairs, any and all accusations, in any manner, that disrespect its leadership ... and any attempts to undermine its sovereignty or diminish its stature," said a statement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry. The document pledges Saudi Arabia to continued intervention in Yemen and closes with an expression of eagerness to "preserv[e] its relations with the United States," an "allied and friendly government."

Rebukes of this sort from Riyadh are typically reserved for foreign criticism of Saudi Arabia's domestic human rights abuses. Far from initiating new "interference" this past week, the United States has provided material and intelligence support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen since 2015, maintaining involvement even as the Saudi coalition blockade and airstrikes foster the world's most acute humanitarian crisis.

Bonnie Kristian

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