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Jan 15 2015

The Breakfast Club (Pouch Knitting to Zombie CISPA)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgNo dominant theme today, just a bunch of interesting factoids to mull.

Science and Tech News and Blogs

Update: Stop sewing koala mittens and start making pouches for orphaned kangaroos

By Rachel Feltman, Washington Post

January 12, 2015

Last week, we shared a heart-wrenching tale: After barely escaping recent bush fires, koalas were so badly burnt that they needed special treatment to heal their paws — including hand-sewn cotton mittens to cover their dressings.

But because of the (unsurprising) viral nature of our post and others like it, the International Fund for Animal Welfare now has plenty of mittens. So now they ask volunteers to turn their attention to other animals displaced and injured by the fires.

Kangaroos, possums and wallabies have also been rescued, the IFAW writes on its blog, and many of the survivors are orphaned baby animals. The joeys need to be kept warm and safe in pouch-like environments (which, like diapers, need to be changed several times a day), so sewers wishing to lend a needle can use this pattern to help out.

‘Enough is enough.’ Obama stands firm on telecoms ahead of State of the Union

by Amanda Holpuch, The Guardian

Wednesday 14 January 2015 16.48 EST

With a looming showdown over net neutrality bumping up against his internet-heavy State of the Union address, President Barack Obama continued his weeklong dance with telecommunications giants on Wednesday in Iowa, unveiling plans to challenge state laws that limit the expansion of high-speed broadband access.



“In too many places across America, some big companies are doing everything they can to keep out competitors,” Obama said. “Today I am saying we are going to change that. Enough is enough.”

After privacy advocates pushed back on cybersecurity measures announced by Obama ahead of Tuesday’s speech before Congress, open internet advocates are already pleased with the president’s plan to write a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, asking the agency to look at how it can undo restrictions on municipal internet service.

Large telecommunications companies have aggressively lobbied to rein in the growth of these smaller providers. In 19 states, these efforts have proved successful, with laws in place to block, or slow the growth of, municipal internet service providers.

Holmes Wilson, co-director of the nonprofit digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future, told the Guardian that Obama’s broadband rollout is a “a wonderful and obvious step”.

“These prohibitions on municipal broadband were passed lightning-fast through state legislatures with tons of AT&T and cable company money behind them and they are blatantly anti-public,” Wilson said. “If the town wants to get together and try to do better than the local internet provider, why on earth would you want to stop that?”

Why Do Zebras Have Stripes? New Study Makes Temperature Connection

by Christine Dell’Amore, National Geographic

Published January 14, 2015

The answer probably comes down to keeping zebras cool and fending off disease-causing insects that are more common in hotter climates, researchers reported Tuesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science.



This “stripe riddle” has puzzled scientists, including Darwin, for over a century. There are five main hypotheses for why zebras have the stripes: to repel insects, to provide camouflage through some optical illusion, to confuse predators, to reduce body temperature, or to help the animals recognize each other.



One is the “cooling eddy” theory. When air hits a zebra, the currents are stronger and faster over the black parts (since black absorbs more heat than white) and slower over the white. At the juncture of these two opposing airflows, little eddies of air may swirl and serve to cool a zebra’s skin.



The other idea holds that more stripes may be a barrier against disease, since disease-carrying biting flies, like horseflies, tend to like it hot. Experiments in the field have shown that biting flies don’t like landing on striped surfaces.

Neighbors dig up 42 mastodon bones

Rachel Greco, Lansing State Journal

1:06 p.m. EST January 13, 2015

“Preliminary examination indicates that the animal may have been butchered by humans,” said Fisher. Bones show what look like tool marks, in places.

The bones are between 10,000 and 14,000 years old. Fisher said once they’ve been donated to the museum the exact age will likely be narrowed to within 200 or 300 years.



Mastodons, the distant relatives of elephants, lived 10,000 to 14,000 years ago. The animals weighed up to five tons.

There have been about 330 Mastodon bone sites confirmed by experts throughout the state. Most bones have been discovered in the southern half of the lower peninsula. Two sites have been confirmed in the last year.

Stone Age Butchery Tools Influenced Language Evolution More Than You Think

By Rhodi Lee, Tech Times

January 15, 7:15 AM

The first verbal communications, which likely happened 2.5 million years ago, were likely about tool-making.

The study proposes that our human ancestors in the African savannah may have developed a primitive form of language so they could teach each other how to make stone age tools, a crucial skill for survival at the time.

The researchers came up with this conclusion after conducting experiments on teaching the art of Oldowan stone knapping. Starting 2.5 million years ago and for about 700,000 years, the Oldowan stone tools were used to butcher animals. Oldowan stone knapping involved creating butchering flakes by hammering hard rock against basal, flint and other certain types of glassy and volcanic rocks.

By experimenting with five different ways of teaching Oldowan stone knapping skills to over 180 volunteers, Morgan and colleagues found that using spoken communication rather than imitation, gestures or non-verbal presentation, obtains the highest volume and best quality of flakes with least wastage and in the least amount of time.

The orangutan that learned how to sound like a human – and blew scientists away

By Terrence McCoy, Washington Post

January 14, 2015

The murky origins of human speech have long baffled researchers. One of the main sources of confusion stemmed from the curiosity of monkey speech. Monkeys are capable of producing any number of human-like sounds, so called “precursors” to human speech. They can chortle with a speech-like rhythm. They can smack their lips together. And they can produce harmonic tones that almost sound like words. So, the thinking went, monkeys must represent an evolutionary stepping stone on the path to human speech.

But then there was the problem of the great ape. The great ape, which includes gorillas and orangutans and has closer evolutionary ties to humans, could not make like the monkey. As far as researchers knew, it couldn’t make any sounds that sounded like human speech. Its sounds seemed to be emotion-based or involuntary: the “grumphs, gorkums and grumbles,” as told in a new study. That left an unexplained gap of some 25 million years between the monkey speech-rhythms and humans.



They were perhaps missing an orange, 50-year old orangutan named Tilda. Tilda is a very special ape, for she can do something that has never before been witnessed in a great ape. She can make noises that sound just like talking. The animal, housed at Cologne Zoo in Germany, can click her tongue and smack her lips to make the letters “t,” “p” and “k.” She can also murmur vowel sounds like some sort of invented language out of a science-fiction movie.

Space Station Crew Temporarily Moves to Russian Side Over Fears of Ammonia Leak

By KENNETH CHANG, The New York Times

JAN. 14, 2015

A problem with the heat exchanger could cause ammonia to leak into the water loop and then into the American segment of the space station.

The space station consists of two essentially independent segments, one built by Russia, the other by the United States and other nations.

The astronauts put on gas masks, moved into the Russian segment and closed the hatch.

After sifting through the measurements, the managers at mission control let the astronauts return. But then air pressure in the American segment also started to rise. “If you’re leaking ammonia into the water loop and it eventually finds its way to the cabin, you would expect the cabin pressure to go up,” said Michael T. Suffredini, the manager of the space station, in an interview on NASA Television.

The crew evacuated to the Russian segment a second time.

Nonessential systems were turned off to avoid the possibility of overheating but were later gradually restarted.

“Everything is looking pretty normal right now,” James Kelly, an astronaut at mission control, told Barry Wilmore, the station commander, in an update after 8 a.m. Eastern. “It’s a little more positive than we thought before.”

West Virginia Withdraws Altered Climate Curriculum

By JOHN SCHWARTZ, The New York Times

JAN. 14, 2015

The State Board of Education voted 6-to-2 to withdraw its altered version of the Next Generation Science Standards, which were developed by 26 states, including West Virginia. The changes had been quietly made by a member of the West Virginia board before it adopted the standards in December.



The board voted to revert to the original standards, which emphasize the scientific consensus on human activity as a cause of climate change, and will adopt those standards after a 30-day comment period, said Gayle Manchin, the board president and wife of United States Senator Joe Manchin III.

“We listened, we learned and, well, I think, grew in our knowledge and understanding,” Ms. Manchin said in an interview. “We all knew at the end of the day more than what we did at the beginning – and that’s what I’d hope for for our students.”

Obama Is Planning New Rules on Oil and Gas Industry’s Methane Emissions

By CORAL DAVENPORT, The New York Times

JAN. 13, 2015

White House officials on Wednesday announced plans to impose new regulations on the oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The administration’s goal is to cut methane emissions from oil and gas production by up to 45 percent by 2025 from the levels recorded in 2012.



Environmental advocates have long urged the Obama administration to target methane emissions, and the rules would be the first to do so. Most of the planet-warming greenhouse gas pollution in the United States comes from carbon dioxide, which is produced by burning coal, oil and natural gas. Methane, which leaks from oil and gas wells, accounts for just 9 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution – but it is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, so even small amounts of it can have a big impact on global warming.

“This is the biggest opportunity to curb climate change pollution that they haven’t already seized,” said David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group.

The oil and gas industry has pushed back against methane regulations, insisting that new rules could stymie a booming industry and that voluntary industrywide standards are sufficient to prevent methane leaks.

The DHS Wants To Pitch In With The Cyberwar But Can’t Even Be Bothered To Secure Its Own Backyard

by Tim Cushing, Tech Dirt

Thu, Jan 15th 2015 4:10am

The US government has basically declared war over the Sony hacking, offering full-throated support for the beleaguered embarrassed company. Why this one — rather than the countless hacks of corporate networks (including those where credit card data and personal information were compromised) — remains a mystery.

The end result has been a call for more government intrusion and a reanimation of CISPA’s lumbering corpse. “Share with us,” says the government. “Gird yourself for the cyber Pearl Harbor,” say its supporters. “Let us handle it,” say those whose desire for expanded government power exceeds their crippling myopia.

Yeah, let’s do that. Let’s allow the government to set the rules on cybersecurity. Let’s give agencies like the DHS — which can’t even be bothered to secure its own assets — more leeway to investigate and react to cyberthreats.



This is the agency tasked with securing federal assets and ensuring the safety of not only government employees, but Americans in general. And it can’t do it. In fact, it can’t even begin to do it.

Despite being specifically directed by 2002’s Federal Information Security Management Act (FIMSA) to periodically assess risks, report on them and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, the agency has managed to blunder into 2015 with no specific plan to tackle cyberthreats to the federal buildings under its protection.

And, while the President and those pushing the revived CISPA seem rather keen on “sharing info,” it’s a one-way street, apparently. The DHS can’t even be bothered to share with other government agencies.



So, why is the DHS so bad at this? It would seem to be two things: the DHS is too big to move at the speed the threat mandates and it’s always someone else’s job. Because it has failed to take charge of the situation (despite a federal mandate and a 2013 presidential policy directive [p. 8-9]), no one seems to know what to do, how to do it or even who should do it.



This is the government that wants the nation’s companies to “partner up” against cyberthreats and cyberterrorism: the same government that can’t even ensure its own infrastructure is protected. And no one cares because compromising control systems doesn’t make for very sexy copy or hawkish soundbites about being “tough on cybercrime.



The government doesn’t have the skills necessary to ply its wares in the cybersecurity business. If it can’t lock down its own assets — despite seemingly limitless funding and manpower — it has nothing to offer the private sector but intrusiveness and harmful regulation.

Now, if you’re a fan of bad news, you’re going to love the worse news. The fight over who should head up the government’s War on All Things Cyber doesn’t put the DHS at the front of the list — but it’s not because the agency clearly can’t handle the job. It’s because agencies that are even more intrusive than the DHS want a piece of the action, namely the FBI and the NSA. If either of these two end up in that position, expect to find domestic surveillance rules relaxed. The latter agency defines cybersecurity as “peeking in at everyone,” which is at odds with those on the receiving end (US companies) who believe being secure means removing backdoors or otherwise locking everyone out, not just the “bad guys.” That isn’t going to sit well with the FBI and NSA — one of which believes no one should be able to “lock out” law enforcement and one that intercepts hardware and inserts backdoors when not deploying malware for the same purpose. So, the DHS may be the lesser of three evils, if only because its incompetence exceeds its reach.

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

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I would never make fun of LaEscapee or blame PhilJD.  And I am highly organized.

This Day in History

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News

France clamours for Charlie Hebdo as news kiosks sell out

by Kim Willsher and Matthew Weaver, The Guardian

Wednesday 14 January 2015 14.39 EST

Three million copies came off the presses, a massive and unprecedented print run. It was still not enough. Such was the demand that the publishers ordered an extra 2 million copies, expected to be available during the rest of the week.

Shortly after the newsagents opened on Wednesday morning – and in a matter of minutes in some cases – there was not a single Charlie Hebdo to be had across the country.



French authorities announced on Wednesday that 54 people had been arrested for hate speech and defending terrorism, among them the controversial comedian, Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala.

Dieudonné, as he is known, who has convictions for anti-semitism and inciting racial hatred, was held in police custody after suggesting on his Facebook page “Je suis Charlie Coulibaly”, a reference to the killer of police officer Clarissa Jean-Philippe, 26, and French Jews Yoav Hattab, 21, Yohan Cohen, 20, Philippe Braham, 40, and François-Michel Saada, 64.

According to the comedian’s lawyers, police arrested him at his home at 7am.

“So we’re in a country of free speech? This morning the government gave a demonstration of it,” David de Stefano, Dieudonné’s lawyer said.

However, Manuel Valls, has promised a crackdown saying : “We must not confuse freedom of opinion and antisemitism, racism and negationism.” None of the 54 people arrested have been linked to the terrorist attacks, the Associated Press reported.

Paris attacks aftermath: French police arrest 54 people for ‘defending or glorifying terrorism’

Lizzie Dearden, The Independent

Wednesday 14 January 2015

At least 54 people have been detained by police in France for “defending or glorifying terrorism” in the wake of last week’s attacks in Paris.

Many of the arrests are believed to stem from comments made on Facebook, Twitter and social media as the world reacted to the atrocities.

They are part of a broader French crackdown on perceived hate speech, extremism and anti-Semitism amid a government push for tougher anti-terrorism measures.



Dieudonné M’Bala M’bala, 48, who was being held for questioning at a Paris police station, could face possible charges of “apology for terrorism”.



The president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Associations, Roger Cukierman, argued that Twitter should have censored the tweets as young people are now “educated” through social networks.



Several people called for those using the hashtag to be arrested or even tracked down and killed by a drone strike.

Others used it as an example of freedom of speech, demonstrating that people’s instinct to censor something held to be offensive contradicted the liberal values professed in the wake of the terror attacks.

French police identify potential fourth terror cell member after Paris attacks

Associated Press

Wednesday 14 January 2015 19.32 EST

A published report said a search of the house enabled police to identity a potential fourth attacker as investigators follow the money and supply systems for the three known killers, all of whom died in police raids. Police told the Associated Press that as many as six members of the same radical Islamic terror cell may be at large.



Of special interest is the small attached house on a quiet street in the town of Gentilly, south of Paris, that Coulibaly rented about two weeks ago. French police officials refused to say what has been discovered inside the dwelling, but the newspaper Le Parisien reported that detectives from the Paris criminal brigade and a special police anti-terrorism unit seized a scooter that allowed them to identity “a fourth man” who acted as Coulibaly’s accomplice.



Another piece that could aid French authorities in solving the puzzle may be in Bulgaria. Acting on a European arrest warrant, authorities there jailed Joachim Fritz-Joly, a reported friend of the younger Kouachi, as he tried to cross into Turkey.

At a court hearing on Tuesday, Joachim denied being part of a terrorist ring, saying, “a man can have friends and they can do whatever they want, but I am simply going on vacation and have nothing to do with it”.

Saudi blogger faces next 50 lashes as government ignores global protests

by Ian Black, The Guardian

Wednesday 14 January 2015 15.08 EST

Raif Badawi, the Saudi liberal convicted of publishing a blog, has been told he will again be flogged 50 times on Friday – the second part of his 1,000-lash sentence which also includes a 10-year jail term.

The US, Britain and other western governments had all called for the punishment to be dropped but there has been no sign of any diplomatic action against Riyadh. Amnesty International on Wednesday urged the UK government to challenge Saudi Arabia, which has ignored all protests over the case.



The first floggings attracted huge attention and anger because they followed the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris and intense discussion of the freedom of expression and Muslim sensitivities about portraying the prophet Muhammad. Saudi Arabia publicly condemned the killings.

British ministers “rightly celebrate free speech in Paris or in London but suddenly seem to lose their own power of utterance when it comes to forthrightly and publicly condemning the authorities in Riyadh,” said Kate Allen, Amnesty International’s UK director. “Why do ministers keep wearing the Saudi muzzle? It seriously weakens the UK’s credibility if it’s seen to tone everything down when it comes to oil-rich Saudi Arabia.”

Liberal Saudis have been taken aback at the way the case has been handled. “A lot of people are surprised that this took place immediately after the killings in Paris,” one Saudi analyst told the Guardian. “It’s not good PR for the kingdom. OK, this is not flogging with a cat o’nine tails, but there is a lot of disappointment.

“The theory is that the government is doing this to send a message to hardliners that they are cracking down on everybody, not just religious extremists. But that’s cutting off your nose to spite your face. These people are liberals who want stability and progress but reform as well. They love their country. They don’t hide.”

David Cameron seeks cooperation of US president over encryption crackdown

by Nicholas Watt and Patrick Wintour, The Guardian

Wednesday 14 January 2015 19.02 EST

David Cameron is to urge Barack Obama to pressure internet firms such as Twitter and Facebook to do more to cooperate with Britain’s intelligence agencies as they seek to track the online activities of Islamist extremists.



The prime minister arrives after he proposed earlier this week that British intelligence agencies have the power to break the encrypted communications of suspected terrorists and insisting that the likes of Twitter and Facebook do more to cooperate with Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping centre.

Cameron will demand that US internet companies store – and then be prepared to hand over – data and content needed by the intelligence agencies “to keep us safe” when he meets the president for talks in the Oval Office on Friday morning.



In a sign that Obama is prepared to go out of his way to help the prime minister on the eve of the general election, the two men have penned a joint article in which the two leaders declare that transatlantic freedoms are “rooted in economic strength”.

Echoing one of the Tories’ central themes of the general election – that progressive goals, such as defending the NHS, cannot be achieved without a sound economy – Cameron and Obama write in the Times on Thursday: “As we meet today at the White House, we reaffirm our belief that our ability to defend our freedoms is rooted in our economic strength, and the values that we cherish – freedom of expression, the rule of law, and strong democratic institutions.”

CIA finds no wrongdoing in agency’s search of computers used by Senate investigators

By Greg Miller, Washington Post

January 14 at 8:47 PM

An internal CIA panel concluded in a report released Wednesday that agency employees should not be punished for their roles in secretly searching computers used by Senate investigators, a move that was denounced by lawmakers last year as an assault on congressional oversight and a potential breach of the Constitution.

Rejecting the findings of previous inquiries into the matter, the CIA review group found that the agency employees’ actions were “reasonable in light of their responsibilities to manage an unprecedented computer system” set up for Senate aides involved in a multiyear probe of the CIA’s treatment of terrorism suspects.



The findings are at odds with the conclusions reached by the CIA’s inspector general in a separate review last year and were quickly dismissed by lawmakers including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who led the investigation of the interrogation program.

“Let me be clear: I continue to believe CIA’s actions constituted a violation of the constitutional separation of powers,” Feinstein said in a written statement. She noted that CIA Director John O. Brennan had previously apologized for the dispute but said she was “disappointed that no one at the CIA will be held accountable.”

Al-Qaeda assertion that it planned Paris attack draws some skepticism

By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post

January 14 at 8:25 PM

“The questions are legitimate,” a U.S. intelligence official said. “Was there some sort of call from AQAP, saying ISIL is eating our lunch and we need to do something?” ISIL and ISIS are acronyms for the Islamic State, an offshoot that is at odds with the main al-Qaeda organization and has declared a caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

“Or was it just that these guys took a long time” to carry out a plot hatched by AQAP in 2011, asked the official. That year, at least one of the Charlie Hebdo attackers – brothers Said and Chérif Kouachi – is known to have visited Yemen, had contact with AQAP and returned with cash, according to officials.

Even without evidence of a recent call or message, the intelligence official said, the Kouachi brothers were “clearly inspired” by AQAP. In addition to their travel to Yemen and declarations of AQAP fealty before they were killed by French security forces, there was a known “desire on behalf of AQAP to strike out against individuals that had insulted the prophet.” The targeted satirical weekly has for years published cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.

Goldman Sachs forced to cut some bonuses after loan failure to bailed-out Portuguese bank

Reuters

Wednesday 14 January 2015 10.59 EST

Goldman lent money to troubled Banco Espirito Santo last year just before the Portuguese bank received a government bailout, which then wiped out creditors. Goldman and some of its clients lent Banco Espirito Santo $835m in July using an entity it created called Oak Finance Luxembourg.



Goldman officials believed that the Oak Finance loan would be protected in the new structure, in part because a senior Bank of Portugal official said so in writing, Goldman spokeswoman Fiona Laffan said. But on 23 December, Novo Banco said in a regulatory filing that the Bank of Portugal decided not to transfer the Goldman-backed loan to the new entity, leaving Goldman at sea.



Banco Espirito Santo’s collapse came after it unveiled losses on loans made to an assortment of companies run by its founding family. The broader Espirito Santo group, which included tourism, health and agriculture companies, sought bankruptcy protection and began liquidating last year. Portuguese prosecutors have since launched an investigation into the company’s collapse. New management put in place at Banco Espirito Santo by the central bank has said they suspect the lender engaged in illegal behavior.

Republicans offer Obama choice between immigration reform and counter-terror funding

by Dan Roberts, The Guardian

Wednesday 14 January 2015 19.02 EST

Despite heightened security fears following attacks in Paris, Republicans placed themselves on a collision course with Barack Obama by passing five amendments to the homeland security budget that the White House has already said it would refuse to sign if they are attached.



“The administration strongly opposes the addition of any amendments to the legislation that would place restrictions on the department’s ability to set smart enforcement priorities focused on criminals, national security threats, and recent border crossers, hold undocumented immigrants accountable, and modernise the legal immigration system,” said a White House policy statement on 12 January.

“If presented to the president with objectionable restrictions, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto this bill.”

Four top Secret Service executives told to leave their posts in agency shake-up

By Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post

January 14 at 8:53 PM

The Secret Service is forcing out four of its most senior officials while two others are retiring – the biggest management shake-up at the troubled agency since its director resigned in October after a string of security lapses.

The departures will gut much of the Secret Service’s upper management, which has been criticized in recent months by lawmakers and administration officials who say it has fostered a culture of distrust between agency leaders and its rank-and-file and made poor decisions that helped erode the quality of this once elite agency.



If they do not resign or retire, they can report for a new assignment with the Secret Service or its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, according to people familiar with the discussions.

FBI arrests Ohio man who allegedly plotted attack on US Capitol

by Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

Thursday 15 January 2015 03.56 EST

Agents apprehended Christopher Cornell of Green Township, Ohio, on Wednesday after he purchased two ArmaLite M-15 semi-automatic rifles and about 600 rounds of ammunition, according to a criminal complaint released by the bureau.

Cornell, also known as Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah, had confided his alleged plan to “kill employees and officers working in and around the US Capitol” to a confidential FBI informant, who told agents about Cornell in exchange for leniency for his “exposure” on an unspecified but unrelated offense.

Unlike several recent terror-related cases that have attracted the scrutiny of civil libertarians, undercover FBI agents neither suggested the plot to Cornell nor facilitated his acquisition of weapons, according to the complaint. In conversations throughout the fall of 2014 in Cincinnati, Cornell told the anonymous informant he “considered the members of Congress as enemies” and proposed the two perform reconnaissance around the Capitol in preparation for the subsequent attack.

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