Sanders says U.S. will be in South Korea for Olympics - Axios
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Sanders says U.S. will be in South Korea for Olympics

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted Thursday that the U.S. would be participating in the Winter Olympics, despite U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley saying yesterday that U.S. participation was an "open question."

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New non-invasive test speeds tuberculosis diagnosis

Samples at a South African tuberculosis testing clinic. Photo: Schalk van Zuydam / AP

Researchers at George Mason University have developed a urine test to identify tuberculosis cases, per New Scientist. The method — which worked successfully on 48 people with TB —provides a diagnosis within just 12 hours, compared to days for existing skin and sputum culture tests.

How it works: The test can detect a sugar on the surface of TB bacteria that is present in low concentrations in the urine of those infected.

Why it matters: TB killed about 1.7 million people last year. "In around 40 per cent of cases, the infection isn’t identified until symptoms become obvious," writes Andy Coghlan in the New Scientist. The urine test, which the researchers hope to have publicly available within three years, could allow for the rapid identification of the disease.

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New drug law hampers opioid crackdown efforts, DEA officials say

An arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone-acetaminophen in New York. Photo / Patrick Sison / AP

A new law backed by opioid distributors and manufacturers is making it harder for the Drug Enforcement Administration to hold companies accountable for violating drug laws, according to retired DEA investigators.

The officials' accounts are the latest component of a deep-rooted investigation by the Washington Post and "60 Minutes," which initially exposed how the drug legislation was derailing the DEA's efforts to crack down on the opioid epidemic. That investigation ultimately led to the withdrawal of Rep. Tom Marino's drug czar nomination.

Why it matters: The opioid epidemic "claimed nearly 200,000 lives between 2000 and 2016," according to the Post.

Background:

  • The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016 was passed in Congress by a group of lawmakers supported by powerful drug companies.
  • Marino was the bill's main sponsor in the House, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) negotiated its final version with the DEA in the Senate.
  • Prior to the law, the DEA was able to immediately suspend drug shipments that posed an “imminent danger" to the community. Now the DEA must prove that a company’s actions represent “a substantial likelihood of an immediate threat,” according to the Post. The law also allows companies to submit “corrective action plans” before the DEA can sanction them, something one retired DEA employee called a "get out of jail free card."

What they're saying: DEA investigators say the law has undermined their agency and thwarted several of their efforts, such as stopping suspicious shipments of prescription pain pills and enforcing pharmaceuritical regulations.

The other side: Defenders of the law argue it protects patients' access to necessary prescriptions by encouraging cooperation between the DEA and drug companies. “This was an effort to ensure that DEA’s praiseworthy efforts to stem abuse don’t end up hurting legitimate patients,” Hatch said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday.

What's next: The DEA investigators' full interviews with the Washington Post and "60 Minutes" will be published and broadcast on Sunday.

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Facebook's new tool will help you avoid your ex after a breakup

Employees of the Competence Call Center (CCC) work for the Facebook Community Operations Team in Essen, Germany. Photo: Martin Meissner / AP

Facebook has deployed two new features on its site which will allow users more control over who and what they see in their feeds, according to Facebook's Director of Research David Ginsberg, and Research Scientist Moira Burke.

Why it matters: Research showed that users' mental health in relation to social media depended on how they used it. Passive consumption of their feed resulted in worse mental health, while active interaction with friends and family was "linked to improvements in well-being."

Two new features:

  • Snooze: This feature allows users to hide a person or page for 30 days without unfriending or unfollowing them.
  • Take a Break: After a breakup, users can now dictate what their ex can and cannot see, and vice versa.

One more thing: Facebook's suicide prevention AI.

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GOP tax bill enhances child tax credit in response to Rubio

Rubio and Ivanka Trump have pushed for an expanded child tax credit. Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images

The final GOP tax bill will enhance the child tax credit, according to four GOP sources. Enhancing the refundability of the credit was a key demand of Sen. Marco Rubio, who threatened to vote no on the bill if it wasn't addressed, and Sen. Mike Lee, who was undecided.

"We have not seen text but I think it is fair to say the working families will get more tax relief in the final bill," said Conn Carroll, a Lee spokesman. The conference report will allow families with no income tax liability to receive $1,400 of the $2,000 credit, according to the WSJ and confirmed by an aide. The original Rubio-Lee ask was that the credit be fully refundable up to payroll tax liability.

Why this matters: It now seems likely Rubio will vote for the bill and, sparing any other last-minute issues, the bill will cruise to passage next week.

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Trump administration's climate debate on hold

President Trump speaks at EPA headquarters, with Vice President Mike Pence and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty

The Trump administration's plans to publicly debate climate-change science is on indefinite hold, E&E News reports.

Why it matters: This is the latest sign the administration is not looking to overtly challenge mainstream climate-change science, despite a few vocal skeptics of the science in and close to the administration. 

The other signs:

  • The administration released in November a congressionally mandated report confirming human-influenced climate change.
  • EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in recent congressional testimony he plans to issue a rule cutting carbon emissions from power plants, which is replacing a more sweeping such rule President Obama issued. The fact he's issuing a replacement at all is a subtle but clear sign the agency isn't going to review a 2009 scientific finding Obama's EPA issued that concluded greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. The finding is the scientific and legal underpinning of most climate-related regulations. 

Go deeper:

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Trump tells FBI graduates he has their back "100 percent"

President Trump speaks during the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony Friday. PhotoL Evan Vucci / AP

President Trump received a warm welcome at the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony Friday, less than an hour after continuing to make claims about how angry the American public is with the bureau and his Justice Department, calling it "a shame." But Trump took on a more optimistic tune during his speech to the graduates:

"Know, with me as your president, America's police will have a true friend and loyal champion in the White House – more loyal than anyone else can be...The president of the United States has your back 100 percent."

Key quotes from Trump's speech:

  • He went after chain migration and the visa lottery system: "You think the country is giving us their best people? No... They give us their worst people, they put them in a bin ... really the worst of the worst." (Go deeper: How the diversity visa process works. Take note: Recipients of diversity visas are vetted through the same process as any other visa recipients).
  • And crime in Chicago: "What the hell is going on in Chicago? What the hell is happening there? ... Police departments are overstretched, they're underfunded and they're totally underappreciated — except by me." (Go deeper: Trump compares Chicago to Afghanistan; Chicago police tout 14% homicide drop)
  • His message "to those who threaten violence against our police": "We will protect those who protect us. And we believe criminals who kill police officers should get the death penalty." (Go deeper: Trump's history of calling for the death penalty)
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Dem woman drops out of Kansas race over sexual harassment settlement

Andrea Ramsey is dropping out of the race in Kansas. Photo via screengrab from Kansas City Star video.

A Democratic woman who was running for Congress in Kansas' 3rd district dropped out of the race today after it was revealed a former male employee filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against her in 2005. She denies his allegations.

Why it matters: Andrea Ramsey is the first female candidate accused of sexual harassment in a time when these allegations are hitting nearly every industry. And her resignation from the race reflects the zero-tolerance policy the Democratic Party is implementing for such instances and for candidates at every level.

The allegations: When Ramsey was the executive vice president of human resources at LabOne Inc. in 2005, Gary Funkhouser — a male employee who worked under Ramsey as a human resources manager — alleged she propositioned him for sex. She made “unwelcome and inappropriate sexual comments and innuendos" toward him, according to the lawsuit he filed against LabOne in October 2005. Ramsey then stopped talking to Funkhouser, moved him from his office to a cubicle farther away from her in the office, and then fired him on June 13, 2005. Funkhouse and LabOne permanently closed the case in July 2006 after reaching agreed-upon mediation terms, according to legal documents reviewed by Axios.

When I spoke to Funkhouser by phone back in November, he told me he expected Ramsey would try to deny the claims, which she has done.

“In its rush to claim the high ground in our roiling national conversation about harassment, the Democratic Party has implemented a zero tolerance standard," Ramsey said in a statement to the Kansas City Star. “For me, that means a vindictive, terminated employee's false allegations are enough for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) to decide not to support our promising campaign. We are in a national moment where rough justice stands in place of careful analysis, nuance and due process." A DCCC source told Axios that Ramsey was never backed by their organization.

Funkhouser didn't want to comment further on the case today, but simply said "the matter was resolved."

Although she's running in a local Kansas race, Ramsey arguably had a higher profile than most Congressional candidates. She was endorsed by Emily's List, a D.C. based group that recruits and helps Democratic women run for office. Emily's List has already removed Ramsey's page from their website. "We understand that Andrea Ramsey has dropped out of the race. We support her decision and we wish her well," said Bryan Lesswing, Emily's List director of campaign communications.

Another source who works as a Democratic pollster told me Ramsey's situation was an "open secret" in local Kansas politics.

The intrigue: Ramsey, who has been accused of sexual harassment, campaigned on Roy Moore's sexual misconduct allegations in an email sent out in November. "Predatory behavior is wrong," her campaign wrote in the email asking supporters to donate to Doug Jones campaign in the Alabama U.S. Senate race.

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How the end of net neutrality might affect customers

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, photo: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

"The repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules [yesterday] wipes from the books regulations that prevented Internet service providers from blocking or slowing some websites, and charging more for others to run faster," USA Today writes in the lead story of its print edition.

Why it matters: "The onus shifts to the public to flag any signs these Internet gatekeepers are playing favorites including with their own properties — and report them to the Federal Trade Commission if it looks like the provider is trying to suppress a competitor."

More from the report:

  • "The new regulations, passed by the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission's 3-2 vote, instead require companies like Verizon and Comcast to disclose if they block sites or give priority to their own content more than others — say by allowing Comcast unit NBCUniversal's sites to run at a faster clip than Time Warner's CNN.com."
  • The other side: "The big Internet and cable providers, who lobbied hard for repeal, say they won't stop or slow any legal content."
  • What's next: "The replacement rules are slated to go into effect as soon as next month. But expect a noisy fight online and in the courts before then — and after."
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The next wave in tech scandals is coming

A building on Microsoft's campus. Photo: Microsoft

A blockbuster story from Bloomberg on an alleged rape of one Microsoft intern at the hands of another raises questions both for how Microsoft handled the situation then as well as broader questions of how large tech companies will adjust to a new reality.

What's next: I'd be shocked if I am the only one left scratching their head over how Microsoft handled this one. And I'd also be shocked if other big tech companies won't also soon be dealing with tricky issues from their past.

  • The Microsoft case is clearly a complicated one. No charges were brought in the now five-year-old case and, while there was an internal investigation, it's not clear it was able to determine what happened at the event, which took place outside of work.
  • But there are several actions Microsoft took that seem dubious. It made choices that left the pair in proximity of one another, both as interns and then, equally puzzlingly, after it chose to hire both employees.
  • No matter what actually happened, Microsoft willingly put itself in the position of employing a woman as well as a man she accused of raping her.

Three big questions:

  1. Does Microsoft think it handled the situation appropriately at the time?
  2. Would it do anything differently today?
  3. Will it launch a broader re-evaluation of how it handles complaints?
Microsoft declined to respond specifically to these questions, instead issuing the same statement it gave to Bloomberg. However, that statement suggests the company, even today, believes it acted appropriately.
  • "We work hard to create a safe work environment for every employee. The incident referenced took place away from work, but we took the allegation very seriously. Our global security team and our employee relations investigations team met with the employee to review the allegation. We encouraged her to take her complaint to law enforcement, and offered to connect her with additional resources such as victim advocacy groups. We also took practical steps to address concerns she had about her safety. Law enforcement did not ultimately file any charges. Given this, and our own findings, we took the action we deemed appropriate related to the accused employee. We continued to work with the employee who raised the complaint to provide support."
Why it matters: Large tech companies have tens or hundreds of thousands of employees and, in addition to all the clear-cut cases of sexual harassment or assault, no doubt have all manner of more complex issues from their past, some of which will no doubt come under fresh scrutiny with a new sensibility applied.
  • Microsoft has shown itself willing to take action against employees, even high-ranking executives, when it is convinced there has been impropriety. I know of at least two high-ranking executives who were forced out of the company in such circumstances during the decade I covered the company for CNET.
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Trump: "People are very, very angry" with FBI and Justice Department

President Trump speaks with reporters before heading to the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images

"When you look at what's gone on with the FBI and this Justice Department — people are very, very angry... the level of anger with this FBI is certainly very sad."
— President Trump on his way to Quantico to participate in the FBI graduation

He also lamented how "it's a shame" what's happened with the Bureau, but added "we're going to rebuild the FBI, it'll be bigger and better than ever."

More from Trump:

  • He insisted that there has been "absolutely no collusion" with Russia, "that has been proven." Instead, he said the entire investigation is a "Democrat hoax" to provide cover for losing the election.
  • "That was a rigged system folks."His recent call with Vladimir Putin: "He said very nice things in terms of what I've done with the economy and this Congress ... we would love to have Russia's help on North Korea."
  • Did you know Mike Flynn lied to the FBI? "You know the answer," he said, adding that he doesn't want to talk about pardoning Flynn yet. "We'll see what happens."
  • Roy Moore should concede defeat to Doug Jones, he said.
  • Child tax credit, which Marco Rubio said is required to get him to vote yes on the tax bill: "The Democrats have done nothing in terms of children, in terms of child tax credit ... We're putting in a tremendous child tax credit."