DOJ Allows 3-D Printed Guns

Grind for July 18th, 2018

“Time well spent results in more money to spend, more money to save, and more time to vacation.”

– Zig Ziglar

Taking Charge

The Headline

New EPA head promises to be a “stabilizing force” after Pruitt’s resignation

The Grind

Former EPA head Scott Pruitt resigned last month following a string of controversies regarding his spending within the agency and his life in Washington, DC.

Pruitt was replaced by Andrew Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the coal industry who had served as Pruitt’s second-in-command.

While Pruitt and Wheeler both subscribe to President Donald Trump’s deregulatory agenda, supporters hope Wheeler’s style will make the president’s goals easier to realize. More than anything else, energy companies and trade groups are hoping Wheeler will lead the EPA with a steady hand.

“I do want to be a stabilizing force,” Wheeler told The Wall Street Journal, adding that he hopes to avoid the distractions that have plagued the agency in recent months.

The Details

Wheeler, age 53, assumes leadership at a time when the EPA seeks to shift from simply announcing rollbacks to introducing detailed policies that will make those rollbacks stick.

“It is sort of an ideal transition,” said Rich Gold, head of lobbying firm Holland & Knight LLP. “You’re bringing in the mechanic who’s been under the hood and understood how things have worked for years…Andy is a serious person and is much more formidable to environmentalists and Democrats in terms of finalizing agency actions that can survive challenges.”

Among Wheeler’s key priorities is to reinstate a review process for all regulatory proposals – as was the norm during the Bush and Obama years. The process, while time-consuming, will ensure that all new policies are on firm legal footing.

The change is good news for industry lobbyists who fear environmental groups will win court challenges that overturn the Trump administration’s environmental agenda.

It’s also a sharp contrast to Pruitt, who issued weak regulatory changes that were vulnerable to legal attacks. Some of those changes have already lost in court.

Environmentalists seem to have accepted Wheeler without too much fuss.

“We have no illusions that major policies are going to change. We’re going to disagree,” said Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation. “But he tends to be more collaborative. He gets experts involved in decision making…There are going to be some areas where we can make progress.”


The Headline

DOJ settles with Second Amendment Foundation, allows Defense Distributed to publish plans for 3-D printed guns

The Background

Defense Distributed (DD) is an Texas-based startup that organizes, promotes, and distributes technology for home gun-makers.

This technology includes plans for 3-D printed guns.

In 2013, John Kerry’s State Department told Defense Distributed that its gun-making files represent a violation of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson teamed up with the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) to sue the State Department on free speech grounds.

Last fall, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the State Department.

The News

This week, the DOJ reached a settlement with the SAF which allows Wilson to distribute his gun-making software. Under the agreement, Americans may “access, discuss, use, reproduce, or otherwise benefit from the technical data” that the feds had previously ordered DD to cease distributing.

In the settlement, the government acknowledged that “non-automatic firearms up to .50 caliber…are not inherently military.” The government also agreed to pay nearly $40,000 of the plaintiffs’ legal and administrative fees.

“Not only is this a First Amendment victory for free speech but it also is a devastating blow to the gun prohibition lobby,” said SAF founder Alan M. Gottlieb. “For years, anti-gunners have contended that modern semi-automatic sport-utility rifles are so-called ‘weapons of war,’ and with this settlement, the government has acknowledged they are nothing of the sort.”

Did you know… Pluto is smaller than Russia.

New And Improved Foreign Relations

Grind for July 17th, 2018

“I have a very strong feeling that the opposite of love is not hate – it’s apathy. It’s not giving a damn.” – Leo Buscaglia


The Headline

Trump visits UK: Insults prime minister, praises former government official, and warns mass migration has damaged European culture

The Grind

President Trump’s visit to the UK this weekend was marked by harsh words regarding British Prime Minister Theresa May’s approach to Brexit and her failure to honor the wishes of “leave” voters.

“I actually told Theresa May how to do it but she didn’t agree, she didn’t listen to me,” said Trump. “She wanted to go a different route. I would actually say that she probably went the opposite way.”

Trump is referring to Brexit negotiators’ agreement last Friday on a proposal that calls for the UK to follow EU rules for food and manufactured goods after it splits from the bloc.

The deal has infuriated anti-EU Conservatives like former Parliament member Boris Johnson, who had hoped for a clean break with the EU. Trump praised Johnson by saying he has what it takes to be a great prime minister.

The Details

Trump also spoke with British reporters about mass migration and urged leaders to “act quickly” to stop the tide of refugees coming into Europe.

He criticized European policies which allowed “millions and millions of people” to flow into Europe and suggested these people had permanently altered European culture.

“I think it’s changed the fabric of Europe and, unless you act very quickly, it’s never going to be what it was – and I don’t mean that in a positive way.”

Arrivals from Africa and the Middle East, in recent years, have pushed the EU’s population to over 512.6 million despite more deaths than births. The changing demographics have coincided with an increase in crime, terrorism, and practices like female genital mutilation.

“I think you are losing your culture,” said Trump to British tabloid The Sun. “Look around. You go through certain areas that didn’t exist 10 or 15 years ago.”

Making Friends

The Headline

Russia and Israel reach compromise on Iran

The Grind

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Wednesday to discuss how to handle Iran.

Netanyahu, who previously said he would not stand for any Iranian military presence in Syria, agreed to a compromise in which Russia will facilitate the removal of Iran’s long-range missiles from Syria and move Iranian troops further from the Syria-Israel border.

“We did not have a problem with the Assad regime for 40 years,” said Netanyahu. “Not one bullet was fired on the Golan Heights. What bothered us in the beginning was ISIS [near Israel’s border], and afterward Iran and Hezbollah were brought there.”

The Details

Two months ago, Israel responded to an attempted attack on the Golan Heights by obliterating dozens of Iranian targets in Syria. Israel informed Russia of the strike before it occurred.

Netanyahu’s willingness to compromise comes as Russian-backed Syrian forces are laying siege to a rebel-held region in southwest Syria. The conflict has pushed hundreds of thousands of refugees into Israel and Jordan.

Russia needs Israel’s cooperation because Israel is the only one capable of toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, notes former Israeli intelligence agent Amos Yadlin. “So to get a commitment from Israel not to destabilize Syria is something that Russia will value very much.”

Despite the compromise, Netanyahu made it clear that Israel will retaliate if ISIS forces comes near the Israeli border or if there is any “spillover” from the fighting in southwest Syria.

Before the meeting, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned Israel to consider US interests when making deals with Russia about Syria. “I don’t trust Russia to police Iran or anyone else in Syria. US must maintain presence in Syria to ensure ISIS doesn’t come back and to counter Russia/Iran influence.”

Israel is in a tight spot considering its friendship with Russia, which supports Assad, and the United States, which opposes Assad. Also, can Israel really trust Russia to remove Iranian forces from Syria?

Did you know… Only about 2% of the world population has green eyes.

The Second American Civil War

Grind for July 16th, 2018

“I fear those big words which make us so unhappy.” – James Joyce

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

The Headline

Boeing meets with French entrepreneur about ‘flying train’

The Grind

French entrepreneur Maurice Ricci wants to build a method of transportation that can fly through the air and travel on the ground via tracks.

Remember the scene at the end of Back to the Future III when Doc Brown takes off in a flying train? It’s kind of like that.

The Details

Last year, Ricci’s company Akka Technologies released a video showing the hybrid vehicle in action. It looks similar to a traditional plane until it lands – at which point the main cabin drops down and slides away from the wings, thrusters, and cockpit.

Unlike traditional planes, where the wings are separate structures attached to the sides of the fuselage, the wings and cockpit are a single structure that attaches to the top of the plane.

The hybrid’s design allows it to be customized for public transportation, private travel, or commercial shipping. As noted in the video, the train section will ideally be designed to operate on existing train tracks.

In March, Akka announced it was working with Microsoft and ICONIQ MOTORS to design an autonomous car that is expected to be ready by 2020. More recently, Ricci met with Boeing to pitch the plane/train idea.

Akka’s stock jumped 23% this year.

Survey Says

The Headline

Nearly 1/3 of Americans believe a second Civil War is likely

The Grind

The American Civil War broke out in 1861 because of differing opinions over slavery and taxes. After four years of fighting and as many as 750,000 American casualties, slavery was abolished and the country was reunited.

According to a recent survey, by Rasmussen Polling, 31% of voters believe a similar war is “likely” to occur during the next five years and more than 10% said the possibility was “very likely.”

Democrats, women, individuals younger than 40, and non-whites were more concerned about violence than other demographics.

The Details

Today, America is divided over political and social issues including gun control, immigration, gay marriage, and abortion.

According to the same poll, 13% of voters have ended friendships over differing political views. Such disunity also influences where Americans live, as more and more people are choosing to live in cities where a majority of the population agrees with their views.

Survey results also suggest:

— 59% of voters worry about violence from those who oppose President Trump

— 53% worry about violence from Trump supporters

— 55% say the country is more divided now than it was when Trump took office

“America is heading in the direction of another Harper’s Ferry,” tweeted Iowa Congressman Steve King. “After that comes Ft. Sumter.”

While the political violence of today is nothing like it was in the years leading up to the Civil War, Americans should be careful not to let the widespread expectation of violence become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“If you really think that violence by the other side is imminent, you are going to act accordingly,” notes Big Think journalist Scotty Hendricks. “As history shows us, this can often include preemptive acts of violence.”

Did you know… The Shell Oil Company began as a novelty shop in London that sold seashells.

Apple’s Amazing New Feature

Grind for July 15th, 2018

“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”

– Ray Bradbury

Doctor’s Orders

The Headline

Are kids and teenagers taking too many supplements?

The Grind

According to a recent analysis published in JAMA Pediatrics in June, a full third of kids and teens in the United States take dietary supplements.

That’s twice as many as in 2003.

The key issue here is that supplements, unlike prescription drugs, are not regulated by the FDA. That means manufacturers don’t have to prove the safety or effectiveness of their products.

Even worse, some parents seem to think multivitamins make up for poor diets.

“We don’t want people to think giving a child a multivitamin makes up for a diet of only hot dogs and French fries,” says Dr. Steven Abrams, a pediatrician.

The Details

As study author Caleb Alexander points out, healthy kids shouldn’t need to take extra vitamins.

“These treatments add complexity and cost to patient regimens with little or nothing to gain. Why should children and adolescents be taking things where there’s no demonstrated health benefit?”

Of particular concern are bodybuilding supplements, which are used by 1.3% of girls and 3% of boys (think Creatine, Whey, and BCAA). On top of side effects like headaches, restlessness, dizziness, and excess sweating, doctors worry these supplements could cause cardiac problems.

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend the use of dietary supplements for kids and teens except in breastfed babies.

“Eating the actual food is going to be far superior to any supplement,” explains Dr. Natalie Muth, a pediatrician in California.

For example, cook fish for dinner instead of giving your kids fish oil pills. And instead of relying on melatonin to help them sleep, try limiting caffeine and creating a nighttime environment conducive to better sleep.

Listen Up

The Headline

Apple’s “LiveListen” feature could be the next big thing for people with hearing loss

The Problem

An estimated 48 million Americans suffer from significant hearing loss. And about 15% of kids between the ages of 6 and 19 have measurable hearing loss in at least one ear.

Due to cost and stigma, however, less than a third of people who need hearing aids actually use them.

Apple is hoping to change that with “LiveListen,” an application that uses an iPhone to project sound to Apple’s wireless headphones or hearing aids. The feature is specifically designed to allow users to hear conversations in noisy settings.

The Solution

Users are already reporting success with the beta version of LiveListen, which was released in mid-June.

“My mom, with iOS 12 beta and my AirPods, is watching a movie at normal volume with us for the first time in years,” tweeted Nick Dawson on June 18th.

Dawson is the founder of the Sibley Innovation Hub at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

“I haven’t heard her laugh out loud at a movie in ages. We’re watching The American President. She’s actually ahead of us on picking up the dialogue.”

All Apple users will have access to the LiveListen feature when Apple releases iOS 12 in September.

Did you know… More people in Africa speak French than in France itself.

Protecting Privacy And The Environment

Grind for July 14th, 2018

“All good writing is swimming underwater and holding your breath.”

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

For The People

The Headline

California passes strict online privacy law

The Grind

Last Thursday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that is being celebrated as the “strictest online privacy law in the country.”

The law, which was unanimously approved by California’s Senate and State Assembly, is set to go into effect in 2020.

“The state that pioneered the tech revolution is now, rightly, a pioneer in consumer privacy safeguards, and we expect many additional states to follow suit,” said Common Sense Media CEO James P. Steyer. “Today was a huge win and gives consumer privacy advocates a blueprint for success.”

Key elements of The California Consumer Privacy Act include:

— Gives users the right to know what personal data is being collected by large tech companies, why they are collecting it, and who they are sharing it with.

— Allows users to opt-out of having their data sold, but gives companies the leeway to charge customers higher prices if they do so.

— Requires individuals under the age of 16 to opt-in before tech companies are allowed to collect their information.

— Holds tech companies accountable for data breaches by allowing users to sue for up to $750 per violation.

The Details

The California Consumer Privacy Act was introduced on June 21st and signed into law on July 5th. Lawmakers passed the bill quickly in order to block a far tougher ballot measure that was set to go before voters in November.

“Data regulation policy is complex and impacts every sector of the economy, including the internet industry. That makes the lack of public discussion and process surrounding this far-reaching bill even more concerning,” argues Internet Association executive Robert Callahan.

“This measure was hastily drafted and needs to be fixed,” insists ACLU spokesperson Nicole Ozer. “Effective protections must be included that actually protect against rampant misuse of personal information.”

Lawmakers have addressed these concerns by pointing out the fact that they have two years to revise and discuss the specifics of the bill. In all likelihood, the law signed last week won’t be the same one that goes into effect in 2020.

Only time will tell if California actually did something right for once.

What Did You Expect?

The Headline

Starbucks will do away with plastic straws by 2020

The Grind

In response to mounting pressure from customers and employees, Starbucks finally agreed to start phasing out single-use plastic straws from its more than 28,000 locations.

Starbucks, which plans to replace its traditional straws with biodegradable alternatives and straw-less lids by the year 2020, says the shift will eliminate over 1 billion plastic straws each year.

The announcement from Starbucks comes less than one month after Seattle became the first major city to ban plastic straws (effective July 1st). Seattle is the birthplace of Starbucks.

The Details

Other companies to follow Starbucks’ example include:

— Hyatt Hotels, which promised to stop offering plastic straws and to cut down on packaging waste from drinks and meals.

— McDonald’s, which is phasing out plastic straws in Ireland, the UK and is currently testing alternatives for use in the US.

— Burger King, which has promised to use only recyclable packaging in the UK by 2025 and has plans to introduce biodegradable straws by September 2018.

— Dunkin’ Donuts, which in February vowed to replace its foam cups with paper versions at all locations by 2020.

Companies’ focus on UK locations follows promises from Parliament to pass legislation banning all single-use plastics as early as 2019.

Did you know… Dogs turn in circles before lying down because in the wild this turns long grass into a bed.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Grind for July 13th, 2018

“Passion is the genesis of genius.”

– Tony Robbins

It’s A Trap

The Headline

China facilitates opening of Africa’s largest free trade zone in Djibouti

The Grind

The African nation of Djibouti last Thursday launched the first phase of a massive trade zone that, when finished, will encompass an area of nearly 5,000 hectares.

The $3.5 billion project is a key part of Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative, a multi-trillion project that seeks to invest in infrastructure throughout southern Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Benefits for Djibouti include:

— Job opportunities for young workers

— Increased global business

— Boosted reputation as a trade and logistics hub

For China, the trade zone in Djibouti represents another step in securing its position as a global trade leader as well as an opportunity to catch Djibouti in a “debt trap” that could one day threaten its sovereignty.

The Details

Djibouti’s strategic location in the Horn of Africa makes it a popular location for military installations, and US officials worry China’s ongoing investment in the region could threaten America’s anti-terror operations there.

In addition to the free trade zone, China has also financed and built a 470-mile electric railway connecting Djibouti with landlocked Addis Ababa.

In 2017, China opened its very first overseas military base less than 10 miles from America’s Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. Earlier this year, US officials pointed to the Chinese base as the location from which dangerous lasers were pointed at American pilots flying over the area.

Serves You Right

The Headline

India’s Supreme Court upholds death penalty for gang-rape convicts

The Grind

India’s highest court on Monday upheld the death penalty for four men accused of beating and raping a 23-year-old medical student in 2012 in New Delhi.

After her death, thousands of protestors took to the streets to demand justice for the victim, who they nicknamed “Nirbhaya” (which means fearless).

The Details

Officials arrested six suspects for the crime. One died in prison and another, a minor, was sent to a correctional facility. The other four were sentenced to death in a 2013 ruling.

The Delhi high court confirmed the ruling in 2014. The accused appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld the ruling in 2017. Last week’s ruling marks a final dismissal of review petitions filed by the accused.

Despite steps taken to increase legal protections for women in India, rape and sexual harassment remain the norm throughout the country. And thanks to insensitive doctors and policemen, rape survivors often face brutality even after the incident is over.

Activists argue the death penalty is not enough to improve the situation for women in India. “Instead, the government must allocate adequate resources for the effective implementation of laws to improve conviction rates, and ensure certainty of justice in all cases,” says Amnesty International’s Asmita Basu.

Did you know… Cranberries are sorted for ripeness by bouncing them; a fully ripened cranberry can be dribbled like a basketball.

Trump Targets Affirmative Action

Grind for July 12th, 2018

“You will find men who want to be carried on the shoulders of others, who think that the world owes them a living. They don’t seem to see that we must all lift together and pull together.” – Henry Ford


The Headline

Trump Administration to overturn policy making race a factor in college admissions

The Grind

The Trump Administration says it will overturn Obama-era guidelines which encouraged colleges to consider race in the admission process.

“Last year, the Attorney General initiated a review of guidance documents, which resulted in dozens of examples…of documents that go beyond or are inconsistent with the Constitution and federal law,” said Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley. “The Justice Department remains committed to enforcing the law and protecting all Americans from all forms of illegal race-based discrimination.”

The Details

The Justice Department is currently investigating claims that Harvard illegally discriminated against Asian-American students by expecting higher test scores for purposes of admissions.

In court filing last month, it was revealed that while Asian-American students typically had higher academic scores, they were given lower marks on the “personal” score based on their character.

This is exactly the opposite of what the Obama-era guidelines were supposed to accomplish. Instead of alleviating racism on college campuses, the policies are making it worse.

The Harvard example leads me to believe that Asians were not the only race to suffer abuse under the guidelines. Race has nothing to do with intellect.

My Way Or The Highway

The Headline

Rudy Giuliani sets terms for Trump-Mueller interview

The Grind

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has long sought to interview President Trump as part of his ongoing investigation into the possibility that Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election.

Trump’s main lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said the interview would take place only if Mueller can provide evidence that Trump committed a crime and that his testimony is necessary in order to continue the investigation.

“If they can come to us and show us the basis and that it’s legitimate and that they have uncovered something, we can go from there and assess their objectivity,” said Giuliani, who demands to know how an investigation on Russia turned into an investigation focused on allegations President Trump obstructed justice.

Mueller has the authority to subpoena Trump if he refuses to testify.

The Details

Giuliani also wants Mueller to prove that his team has exhausted all other options before seeking an interview with Trump.

“Nobody is going to consider impeachment if public opinion has concluded this is an unfair investigation,” Giuliani told reporters. “And that’s why public opinion is so important.”

According to recent polls, up to 45% of Americans disapprove of how Mueller is handling the Russia probe.

Giuliani also contests Mueller’s request to interview White House Chief of John Kelly.

Did you know… Peter Cullen, the voice actor who voices Optimus Prime, also voices Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.

Europe’s Downward Spiral

Grind for July 11th, 2018

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus

Hold Your Breath

The Headline

Trump criticizes NATO members ahead of Wednesday’s summit; NATO worries what will happen when Trump meets Putin on Monday

The Grind

President Trump has reiterated longstanding criticisms on NATO members for failing to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense.

“The United States is spending far more on NATO than any other country. This is not fair, nor is it acceptable. While these countries have been increasing their contributions since I took office, they must do much more,” tweeted Trump, specifically comparing Germany’s 1% spending to America’s 4%. “On top of this, the EU has a trade surplus of $151 million with the US, with big trade barriers on US goods. NO!”

The Details

One of the key functions of NATO is to deter a potential attack from Russia by ensuring that all members will come to the defense of any member that is attacked.

Europeans worry that Trump’s harsh rhetoric has already undermined this promise and are concerned he might further weaken the alliance’s security in order to gain favor with Moscow.

Trump will meet face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin just five days after the NATO summit. NATO members worry that Putin will convince Trump to:

— Pull American troops out of Europe

— Cancel planned NATO exercises, including a practice defense of Poland

— Recognize Russia’s controversial annexation of Crimea

Aside from concerns about Russia, tensions will be high Wednesday following Trump’s trade offenses with allies, his threat to sanction countries that continue to purchase Iranian oil after November 4th, and his clash with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the G7 summit in June.

The best way to respond to Trump is “to accept he has a point, and respond by displaying more European strength and enhancing European defense in cooperation with NATO,” says Norbert Rottgen, chairman of the German Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee.

NATO’s European members spend about $200 billion a year on defense. “That’s a lot, but it’s cost inefficient, militarily ineffective, and lacks political weight and impact. We need to strengthen the European pillar of NATO.”

Follow The Leader

The Headline

Another Brexit negotiator quits after controversial Friday agreement

The Grind

After more than two years of discussions, Brexit negotiators last Friday finally agreed on a proposal for Britain’s future relationship with the EU.

The proposal, which calls for the UK to continue following EU rules for food and manufactured goods, appeals to those who had hoped to retain a close relationship with the bloc after the divorce.

The proposal does not sit well with those who were pushing for a clean break from the EU. This includes lead Brexit negotiator David Davis, who resigned Sunday, and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who resigned Monday.

Boris Johnson had long been a symbol of the anti-EU faction within the ruling Conservative Party, and his departure increases the chance that Prime Minister Theresa May will soon face a challenger from within her own ranks.

The Details

Davis told reporters Monday that he won’t support a leadership challenge against May. “I think it’s the wrong thing to do.”

Johnson, on the other hand, is widely viewed as having leadership ambitions. He had been expected to seek party leadership in 2016 following the resignation of David Cameron, but decided to bow out just hours before nominations closed.

And while there are more than enough Brexit supporters in Parliament for lawmakers to call for a vote of confidence in May, it’s unlikely to occur.

The UK’s official split with the bloc is scheduled for March 2019, and it would be unwise for the Party to change leadership (or attempt to change leadership) at such a critical time.

Another factor working in May’s favor is the fear among Conservative lawmakers that a leadership contest could end with the election of Jeremy Corbyn – head of the leftwing Labour Party.

Among those to support the Brexit proposal are Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who insists the UK will retain full control over immigration and have the leeway to deviate from EU rules on goods and services.

“What we have done is make a balanced decision,” said Gove. Brexit supporters who had hoped for a total separation from the bloc “shouldn’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

Did you know… Male kangaroos flex their biceps to impress females.

Theresa May Is In Trouble

Grind for July 10th, 2018

“Life lived for tomorrow will always be just a day away from being realized.” – Leo Buscaglia

Not Again

The Headline

British woman dies after exposure to Russian nerve agent

The Grind

Dawn Sturgess and her boyfriend Charlie Rowley fell unconscious in their apartment on June 30th after coming into contact with the Russian nerve agent “Novichok.”

Sturgess died Sunday and Rowley remains in critical condition at a hospital in Wiltshire.

Less than four months ago, the same nerve agent was used in the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal – a former Russian military officer and British spy who acted as a double agent for the UK’s intelligence services.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who expelled 23 Russian diplomats after the attack on Skripal, said she was “appalled and shocked” by the second incident.

The Details

Wiltshire police have launched a murder investigation and are working with dozens of detectives to learn more about the incident.

The use of Novichok is an “outrageous, reckless, and barbaric act” that “has only served to strengthen our resolve to identify and bring to justice the person or persons responsible,” said Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, head of the UK’s counter-terrorism division.

Investigators suspect Sturgess and Rowley came into contact with a container left over from the attack on Skripal, but have yet to identify the item.

Wiltshire Police and Crime Commissioner Angus Macpherson said he was “horrified and appalled” by the incident. Sturgess “was an innocent member of the public who should have been able to go about her daily life without becoming an unwilling victim in such an unprecedented, international, incident.”

Her death leaves behind three children.

Giving Up

The Headline

Brexit negotiator David Davis resigns

The Background

Residents of the UK in June 2016 voted to leave the European Union.

On March 29th, 2017, British Prime Minister Theresa May invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which allows two years for so-called “divorce negotiations.”

Voters who campaigned in favor of leaving the bloc remain divided on the terms of the split, with half hoping for a clean break from the union and half pushing for closer ties in order to safeguard the UK’s economy.

Lead Brexit negotiator David Davis, who was pushing for a complete divorce from the union, resigned Sunday after negotiators finally agreed on a proposal for Britain’s future relationship with the EU.

The News

“The current trend of policy and tactics” makes the effort to leave the EU’s single market and customs union “less and less likely,” wrote Davis in a letter to May.

The proposal, which calls for Britain to continue following EU rules for food and manufactured goods, “hands control of large swaths” of the British economy to the EU and leaves the UK in “a weak negotiating position.”

Davis’s unexpected departure signals a “further period of turmoil” for May’s government and “increases the likelihood that Mrs. May will face an attempt to unseat her from within her own Conservative Party,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “It also raises the possibility that other pro-Brexit ministers will follow Mr. Davis out the door.”

The UK’s official withdrawal from the bloc is set for March 2019.

Did you know… When withdrawing money from an ATM, the ‘whirring’ sound before your money pops out is actually a recording. The actual mechanism is so far back that you can’t hear it.

Iran Strikes Back

Grind for July 9th, 2018

“Nations have their ego, just like individuals.” – James Joyce

Another One Bites The Dust

The Headline

EPA Director Scott Pruitt resigns

The Grind

“I have accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,” tweeted Trump on Thursday. “Within the agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this.”

Pruitt said the decision to resign was “extremely difficult” but necessary in light of the “unrelenting attacks” on him and his family.

Pruitt’s resignation puts EPA Deputy Andrew Wheeler in charge of the agency, at least for now.

The Details

Pruitt’s resignation follows a string of accusations regarding:

— Inappropriate spending within the agency

— Use of subordinates to complete personal errands

— Efforts to find his wife a job in Washington

— Occupation of a rental house owned by a DC lobbyist

— Travel expenses, including using EPA money to fly to his home state

— Pay raises for employees

Pruitt, a former Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma, is among many top White House officials to either quit or be kicked out by President Trump. In the past year, Trump has removed Sec. of State Rex Tillerson, Veterans Affairs Chief David Shulkin, and national security adviser HR McMaster.

Pruitt gained popularity among conservatives by leading influential lawsuits against several of the Obama Administration policies including the Affordable Care Act and the Clean Power Plan.

Pruitt was engaged in a lawsuit against the EPA when Trump chose him to lead the agency.

As a climate-change skeptic, Pruitt avoided climate policy in favor of reorganizing the agency and getting rid of water and air rules affecting farmers, energy producers, and automakers.

Trump has described Pruitt as “my lawyer” and credited him with helping convince him to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. While Pruitt seems never to have annoyed President Trump, he did alienate some of his colleagues by making known his desire to succeed AG Jeff Sessions should he step down or be fired.

This Means War

The Headline

Iran threatens to choke Hormuz Strait if US blocks oil exports

The Grind

On Wednesday, an Iranian official threatened to block all oil exports from the Strait of Hormuz if the United States succeeds in its promise to ‘reduce crude exports from Iran to zero.’

The Strait of Hormuz, located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and between Iran and the UAE, is the most important oil chokepoint in the world with up to 30% of all seaborne-traded crude moving through the channel each year.

The US military responded to the threat by confirming that American sailors and their allies are standing by to “ensure freedom of navigation.”

The Background

In May, President Trump decided to withdraw from the JCPOA, a multinational agreement that lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

US sanctions on Iran will resume in November.

In June, Trump threatened to sanction any country that continues to purchase Iranian crude after November 4th and urged other producers to make up for the decrease in Iranian output.

“The Americans say they want to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero,” said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “It shows they have not thought about its consequences.” Iran, as OPEC’s second-largest producer, exported about 2.28 million bpd in June.

This week, Rouhani told reporters that Tehran is willing to remain in the JCPOA if the other signatories can guarantee Iran’s benefits. The remaining five signatories plan to meet this Friday in Vienna to discuss ways of salvaging the deal.

“Iran will survive this round of US sanctions as it has survived them before,” said Rouhani. “This US government will not stay in office forever…But history will judge other nations based on what they do today.”

Did you know… The chills you sometimes feel when listening to music is called “musical frisson.”