Barack Obama is back on the campaign trail, and this time it’s personal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGLES TIMES)

 

Barack Obama is back on the campaign trail, and this time it’s personal

Barack Obama is back on the campaign trail, and this time it's personal
Former President Barack Obama greets supporters as he campaigns in support of California congressional candidates. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

 

They used to call Bill Clinton the Big Dog, because wherever he went, people paid attention. His growl always drew a crowd.

Well, while President Trump was napping this week, the Sleek Dog got off the porch.

Finally.

Former President Obama had always planned to model his post-presidential life after the leads of other ex-presidents, like George W. Bush, who paints, or Jimmy Carter, who builds houses for poor people.

He was, he said the other day, “intent on following a wise American tradition of ex-presidents exiting the political stage, making room for new voices and new ideas.”

Turns out, the stakes are too high to remain above the fray.

On Friday, in a speech to students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and on Saturday at a rally in Anaheim for supporters of Democratic congressional candidates in contested Southern California districts, Obama made one thing clear: The muzzle is off.

And you know what else?

Since Trump has spent his presidency trashing Obama, dismantling his legacy piece by piece and making racists feel safe again, the Sleek Dog, whose aloof ways are legendary, has gotten downright snarly.

He called Trump shameless. A fear monger. A demagogue promising “simple fixes to complex problems.” A bully. He accused Trump of “toxic corruption,” of being responsible for the country’s “downward spiral.”

He blamed a spineless Republican Congress for allowing Trump to undermine the nation’s international alliances, to cozy up to Russian President Vladimir Putin — “the former head of the KGB,” as Obama reminded the crowd — and for “actively blocking legislation that would defend our elections from Russian attack.”

“In a healthy democracy,” Obama said, “there’s some checks and balances on this kind of behavior, this kind of inconsistency, but right now there’s none.”

We are in a moment where no one who cares about the fate of the nation can comfortably sit on the sidelines.

Welcome back, Sleek Dog. What took you so long?

::

Doesn’t it seems like eons ago that Michelle Obama stood onstage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and delivered that memorable line about civility: “When they go low, we go high”?

It seemed so reassuring at the time. Turns out, the line was better as prophecy than as advice.

What followed was a torrent of pettiness and ugliness from Trump, his associates, and his fans. “Lock her up!” said the future national security advisor who later pleaded guilty to lyingto the FBI.

Nice is so overrated.

“We never know what kind of sludge is going to roll out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.,” California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman said Saturday as he welcomed about 750 Democrats to a small ballroom in the Anaheim Convention Center.

Obama strolled onstage Saturday, dressed casually in slacks and shirtsleeves. He was less bombastic than he’d been in Illinois the day before. Hey, Sleek Dog can only stay nasty for so long. Unlike our current president, it’s just not in his nature.

“There is no set of issues we can’t solve if we are working together,” Obama said, sounding very much like the optimistic cheerleader of years past. “It’s always tempting for politicians for their own gain and people in power to try to see if they can divide people, scapegoat folks, turn them on each other, because when that happens, you get gridlock and government doesn’t work and people get cynical and decide not to participate.

“And when people don’t participate, that vacuum is filled by lobbyists and special interests and we get into a downward spiral where people get discouraged and think nothing is going to make a difference. And that unfortunately is the spiral we have been on for the past couple years.”

::

If Democrats retake the House in November — and a handful of traditionally Republican seats in California could make the difference — many citizens will look upon Obama’s return to the political fray this week as the beginning of an American restoration.

A restoration of integrity.

Of decency.

Of honesty.

And, possibly even, of the ideal of bipartisanship, strangled by the current chief executive, then dumped by the side of the road in Crazytown, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s nickname for the White House, according to Bob Woodward in his new book “Fear: Trump in the White House.”

Trump’s response to Obama’s attack in Illinois? He said he fell asleep. It was his idea of a clever putdown. Instead, it inspired an outpouring of mockery on Twitter. (“Trump ‘fell asleep’ during Barack Obama’s speech because it wore him out looking up all those words in the dictionary,” quipped screenwriter Randy Mayem Singer.)

In truth, it’s the Sleek Dog who has been asleep.

“You can feel people saying, ‘Enough is enough,’” Obama said Saturday. “We’re going to kick off our bedrooms slippers, we’re putting on our marching shoes.”

Nap time is over.

12 Russian Indictments For Hacking Clinton Campaign: How Much Did Trump Know?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGLES TIMES NEWSPAPER)

 

Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein outlines a new indictment Friday against alleged Russian hacks into Hillary Clinton campaign accounts.
Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein outlines a new indictment Friday against alleged Russian hacks into Hillary Clinton campaign accounts. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Then-candidate Donald J. Trump said he was just joking in July 2016 when he called on Russia to “find the 30,000 emails” that Hillary Clinton had not turned over to State Department investigators, ostensibly because they were personal correspondence and not government business.

Now that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has obtained indictments against 12 Russian intelligence officers in connection with hacking into multiple Clinton campaign-related email accounts in the four previous months, it puts Trump’s comments in a different light.

The indictment alleges that the Russian agents broke into accounts for the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and various volunteers and employees at Clinton’s campaign — including the email account of her campaign chairman, John Podesta. It goes into some detail on how it identified the responsible parties, adding weight to the allegations.

The agents are not accused of hacking Clinton’s private email server, which isn’t surprising. Although former FBI director James Comey said in 2016 that the server could have been hacked by a hostile government, FBI investigators later told the agency’s inspector general that they were “fairly confident” the server was not compromised.

Regardless, emails taken from the DNC account started leaking in June 2016 at the site DCLeaks, then the following month from WikiLeaks. A hacker using the moniker Guccifer 2.0 — later linked by security experts to Russia — claimed credit for the leaks, but others did too, leaving the culprits unclear. Bear in mind that much of the discussion of the leaks centered on the DNC’s apparent favoritism for Clinton over her main rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). So while there were suspicions about Russia, the precise motives behind the leaks were hard to divine.

That’s the backdrop for Trump’s remarks. And now one has to wonder, just how much did he know about what Russia was actually doing?

In an editorial The Times ran shortly after Trump’s remarks, we noted the spin applied by Trump’s campaign:

“A spokesman for the Trump campaign later insisted that ‘Mr. Trump did not call on, or invite, Russia or anyone else to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.’ Instead, Jason Miller suggested, Trump was saying the Russians already had the data because Clinton’s server wasn’t secure.”

Or maybe Trump was saying the Russians probably had the data because he knew they’d grabbed so much else from Clinton’s campaign.

The White House responded with a statement from Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters: “Today’s charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result. This is consistent with what we have been saying all along.”

Umm, Roger Stone?

Brain scans reveal that friends really are on the same wavelength

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGLES TIMES)

 

Brain scans reveal that friends really are on the same wavelength

Brain scans reveal that friends really are on the same wavelength
Friends tend to respond to the world in similar ways, brain scans reveal. The closer two people are in a social network, the more similar their neural responses. (Hero Images)

 

What can an astronaut, baby sloths, a sentimental music video and an MRI scanner reveal about your friends? Quite a lot, a new study reveals.

Researchers put 42 business school students in an MRI machine and showed them a series of 14 videos. As they watched the clips, the scanner recorded the activity in their brains.

Those patterns could be used to predict which students were friends and which were merely classmates, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

“Neural similarity was associated with a dramatically increased likelihood of friendship,” the team from UCLA and Dartmouth College reported.

“These results suggest that we are exceptionally similar to our friends in how we perceive and respond to the world around us,” they added.

That might seem obvious to anyone who’s ever heard that “birds of a feather flock together.” But until now, no one had ever put that maxim to the test by examining the cognitive activity of friends in real time.

The researchers, led by UCLA social psychologist Carolyn Parkinson, started with an entire cohort of students from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. All 279 of them were asked whether they were friends with each of their fellow students. (A “friend” was defined as someone you’d go out with for a drink, a meal, a movie or other “informal social activities.”)

If two students named each other, they were considered friends for the purposes of the study. Researchers used those responses to reconstruct the social network of the business school class.

In the next phase of the study, 42 of the students agreed to lie in a functional MRI scanner while they watched videos for 36 minutes.

The clips ranged in length from 88 seconds to more than 5 minutes, and were chosen to evoke a range of emotions in viewers.

For instance, a music video for the song “All I Want” was added to the reel because some people might consider it “sweet” while others would see it as “sappy,” the researchers explained. One of the clips presented a debate on whether college football should be banned; another featured a discussion about a speech by former President Obama.

The reel also included video from a gay wedding, a presentation by an astronaut on the International Space Station showing what happens when you wring out a washcloth in space, a documentary about a baby sloth sanctuary and highlights from a soccer match, among other things.

While the students watched, the scanner recorded the responses of 80 separate regions of their brains. Then the researchers compared the responses of each student with the responses of every other student.

The 42 students could be paired up in 861 distinct ways. Some of those pairs were friends, and some weren’t.

Sure enough, the responses of friend pairs were more alike than the responses of non-friend pairs. And the more similar their responses, the shorter the distance between them in the social network.

In statistical terms, for each one-unit increase in neural similarity, the odds that two people were friends increased by 47%.

Even when the researchers controlled for the similarities of people in each of the 861 pairs — including features like age, gender and nationality — the correlation between cognitive response and position in the social network remained.

That correlation was most clearly seen in areas of the brain involved in motivation, learning, attention, language processing and determining the mental states of others, to name a few examples.

“A more specific understanding of precisely which cognitive and emotional processes underlie these effects will likely require complementary follow-up studies,” the researchers wrote.

Parkinson and her colleagues also found that the brain responses alone could do a pretty good job of predicting whether two people were friends, mere acquaintances or total strangers.

All of the 861 pairs were divided into four categories of social distance. Friends had a distance of 1; a friend of a friend would have a distance of 2; a friend of a friend of a friend had a distance of 3; and pairs that were even further removed had a distance of 4 or more.

If a computer program was making random guesses about a pair’s social distance, it would guess right 25% of the time. But a program based on the brain responses correctly identified friends 48% of the time. It also recognized distance 2 relationships 39% of the time, distance 3 relationships 31% of the time, and distance 4 relationships 47% of the time, according to the study. (What’s more, when the program was wrong, it was usually only off by one category.)

The study results offer a new type of scientific proof that “people tend to be friends with individuals who see the world in a similar way,” the researchers concluded.

But the results don’t resolve this fundamental mystery about friendship: Do we become friends with people who already see the world the way we do, or do we come to see the world through our friends’ eyes?

Long-term studies will be needed to address those questions, but the study authors predict that the answer is: both.

Follow me on Twitter @LATkarenkaplan and “like” Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.

Montana GOP congressional candidate accused of body-slamming reporter

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES)

Montana GOP congressional candidate accused of body-slamming reporter

A national political reporter for the Guardian newspaper said Montana GOP congressional candidate Greg Gianforte body-slammed him and broke his glasses Wednesday before a campaign event in Bozeman.

“Greg Gianforte just body slammed me and broke my glasses,” reporter Ben Jacobs wrote on Twitter. He added in a second tweet: “There was a local TV crew there when Gianforte body slammed me.”

In an audio recording posted by the Guardian, Jacobs can be heard persistently asking Gianforte about health care. Then there is a sudden crashing noise, and Gianforte can be heard shouting at the reporter: “I’m sick and tired of you guys! The last time you came in here you did the same thing! Get the hell out of here!”

Jacobs was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. “He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said in a story for the Guardian’s U.S. edition. “This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”

In a statement, Scanlon said Jacobs had entered an office where Gianforte was giving a separate interview and “began asking badgering questions.”

“Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg’s wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground,” he said.

He concluded: “It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.”

The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that it is investigating the incident and was expected to hold a news conference Wednesday night.

The incident was partially witnessed by a BuzzFeed reporter Alexis Levinson, who tweeted the following account of events:

The incident comes one day before a hotly contested special election in Montana between Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist. Gianforte has a reputation in Montana political circles for being prickly, and has been known to be especially testy with reporters. In one widely circulated radio interview on Montana Public Radio he repeatedly sparred verbally with the reporter.

While the bizarre development quickly dominated the news, in Montana and around the country, its political impact remained to be seen.

More than 250,000 absentee ballots had already been cast by Wednesday, which could end up being well over half the total.

Some members of the public were quick to rally to Gianforte’s side, calling Jacobs a liberal reporter who baited the GOP candidate. “You give yourselves too much credit,” read one reaction on Twitter, directed at reporters covering the alleged assault. “You think voters will abandon their candidate cuz some lib journo made up BS.”

The incident lasted less than 60 seconds, according to audio posted by the Guardian.

Jacobs asks Gianforte how he felt about the score on the congressional health care bill just published by the Congressional Budget Office, which was the biggest congressional story of the day.

“You were waiting to make a decision about healthcare until you saw the bill, and it just came out,” Jacobs said.

“We’ll talk to you about that later,” Gianforte said. At this point in the conversation, both men’s voices are calm.

“Yeah, but there’s not gonna be time. I’m just curious if—“

“Okay, speak with Shane, please,” Gianforte said, apparently referring to Scanlon.

“But—“ Jacobs said, and then the audio gets staticky, and a crashing noise can be heard.

Gianforte can be heard raising his voice in anger.

“I’m sick and tired of you guys!” Gianforte yelled. “The last time you came in here you did the same thing! Get the hell out of here!”

“Jesus!” Jacobs said.

“Get the hell out of here! The last time you did the same thing. You with the Guardian?”

“Yes, and you just broke my glasses,” Jacobs said.

“The last guy did the same damn thing,” Gianforte said.

“You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs said.

There was a moment of silence.

“Get the hell out of here,” Gianforte said, his voice starting to calm.

“You’d like me to get the hell out of here, I’d like to also call the police,” Jacobs said.

Then, Jacobs addressed others in the room, apparently one or more aides for Gianforte: “Can I get you guys’ names?”

“Hey, you gotta leave,” another man responded.

“He just body-slammed me.”

“You gotta leave,” the man said again.

“This happened behind a half closed door, so I didn’t see it all, but here’s what it looked like from the outside — Ben walked into a room where a local TV crew was set up for an interview with Gianforte. All of a sudden I heard a giant crash and saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor. Heard very angry yelling (as did all the volunteers in the room) — sounded like Gianforte.”

Levinson said Jacobs then walked out holding his broken glasses in his hand and said, “He just body-slammed me.” An aide then told Jacobs to leave, Levinson said.

Jacobs reported the incident to the police, and the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene, Bozeman Daily Chronicle reporter Whitney Bermes tweeted.

Another BuzzFeed reporter said Gianforte left the area before his campaign event was set to begin.