An end to phone pranking - Axios
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An end to phone pranking

Logan Kellogg/U.S. Coast Guard

A researcher at Carnegie Mellon University has developed an intelligent system that is helping the U.S. Coast Guard to distinguish and weed out prank mayday calls that cost it up to millions of dollars a year when it flies or motors out on pointless rescue missions, per Govtech.com.

The program, created by Carnegie Mellon's Rita Singh, creates a barcode of a person's voice, deciphering whether the caller really is on a boat or actually in a house somewhere. It can unmask repeat pranksters since it can pick up telltale markers and match them up.

Why it matters: The applications of Singh's software — painting a profile of a person's voice through traits barely detectable to humans — are wide, including police situations such as abductions, she told Axios. She tells Govtech, "We have techniques to automatically discover information in the voice signal that humans cannot discover. Our hearing is not that good, but that doesn't mean that the information is not there in the voice."

I wondered specifically whether Singh's software could prove useful in a hostage situations, such as those in which foreign correspondents and aid workers have found themselves over the last half-decade in Syria and elsewhere. Five western journalists were decapitated in Syria by Mohammed Emzi, known as "Jihadi John," alone.

  • Singh tells Axios: "Potentially it can help profile people from their voices. If a perpetrator is not visible on video but their voice is heard, it can help profile the person. But everyone has to understand (and I keep saying this repeatedly) that while the technology gives ballpark information, it is not always 100% correct on everything. It is still work in progress and some estimates may sometimes be inaccurate. It depends on the quality of the specific signals and other factors."
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Ivanka hits the road to sell tax reform, child tax credit

Photo: Jose Luis Magana / AP

Ivanka Trump heads to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on Monday to talk tax reform, according to a senior administration official. She'll appear at a White House tax reform town hall, alongside U.S. Treasurer Jovita Carranza, and former New York Rep. Nan Hayworth will moderate the event.

Pressure's on: Since the campaign, Ivanka has openly pushed for expanding the child tax credit. The Big Six tax reform plan would do that. But some fiscal conservatives worry it will only make the deficit worse. It remains to be seen whether House Republicans' final tax plan will keep the child tax credit expansion that Ivanka and the administration are lobbying for as part of their plan for "middle class relief." So that will be a big part of her focus in Pennsylvania.

  • Ivanka been working towards that end with the National Economic Council, the Office of Legislative Affairs and Treasury; and, as we first reported a couple weeks ago, Jared and Ivanka have been having members of Congress over for dinner at their Washington D.C. residence. A senior admin official said the child tax credit is "part of her overall commitment to work on policies that help working families."

Despite concerns from fiscal conservatives, officials working on tax reform say support is building for the child tax proposal.

Momentum play: The administration's effort to sell tax reform has kicked into overdrive. The president sat down with Fox News' Maria Bartiromo on Friday for an interview aired today, his team placed a Trump Op-Ed that ran this morning in USA Today, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney hit the Sunday shows, and the president phoned into a conference call for House Republicans this afternoon, urging members to adopt the Senate budget this week and follow through to tax reform, saying, "We are on the verge of doing something very, very historic."

What's next: House Republicans are set to pass the Senate budget this week — even though it doesn't include top conservative priorities, like addressing the debt crisis through entitlement reform. They're putting those goals on the back burner in hopes of expediting tax reform.

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Inside the Fed chair decision

President Donald Trump during a news conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Like every major Trump decision, the president is leaving even his closest advisers in suspense over his plans for the next Federal Reserve Chairman. Most aides I've spoken to think Trump will appoint Fed Board member Jerome Powell. But nobody who's spoken to Trump feels overly confident.

"It's never a done deal with this guy," said one official.

Rupert Murdoch, who speaks regularly to Trump by telephone and is one of his most influential informal advisers, has urged the president to appoint either of the two free market conservative finalists, Stanford economist John Taylor or former Fed Governor Kevin Warsh, according to two sources familiar with his outreach.

A spokesman for Murdoch declined to comment.

Trump didn't have amazing chemistry with Taylor, according to two sources familiar with their interactions. But he's still in the mix, possibly for vice chair. Top officials who Trump respects, including Vice President Pence, have been vouching for Taylor's credentials and intellect. Trump has also spoken favorably of current Fed Chair Janet Yellen, further muddling the picture.

What else we're hearing:

  • A source who spoke to Trump late last week said they left the conversation believing the president had not made up his mind.
  • Another source close to the process told me the smart money is still on Powell. Powell's most aggressive advocate has been Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. But Trump should be taken at his word when he tells Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo that he's considering Taylor and Yellen, or a combination of Powell and Taylor for chair and vice-chair.
  • Some White House officials have vented about the constant stream of news stories promoting Powell's candidacy. They say they suspect the leaks have come from Treasury, since Powell is Mnuchin's preferred candidate.
  • One senior official said Powell is far from a home run for Republicans. When Obama nominated Powell to the Fed Board, in 2012, 21 Republican senators voted against his confirmation.

What the West Wing is reading: Senior administration officials told me that Friday's Wall Street Journal editorial headlined "A Fed for a Growth Economy" was read attentively in the West Wing. The editorial argues it's a bad idea to give another term to the Obama appointee Janet Yellen or replace her with Jerome Powell, whom the Journal portrays as a Yellen clone. The newspaper lobbies for Trump to appoint either Taylor or Warsh. "Both would be change agents at the Fed," the editorial declares.

Bottom line: If you're handicapping the Fed Chair race, you're still probably safest with Powell. But this is far from a done deal. Trump still plans to announce his pick for the Fed Chair before he leaves for Asia on Nov. 3.

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Million dollar bracket in the works for GOP tax plan

From left, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, confer before a news conference on the tax plan. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

The Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee — engaged in a high-pressure, high-stakes tax policy rewrite — are currently exploring not cutting the income tax rate for people who earn $1 million or more per year.

  • Right now, the marginal tax rate for anyone who makes $418,000 or more per year is 39.6 percent. The Republicans' opening gambit — secretly negotiated for months, and endorsed by Trump — would have cut the highest tax rate to 35 percent.
  • But now, House Republicans' thinking has changed. Under their current thinking, people who earn between $418,000 and $999,999 will be in a lower tax bracket. But those earning $1 million or more will not.

Opting to keep taxing million-dollar-earners at the current 39.6 percent-rate will help stem the deficit increase from tax cuts for corporations and the middle class.

Caveat: The million dollar bracket plans haven't been finalized and could change this week, as committee Republicans finalize their tax bill during meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Potential blowback: If the Committee Republicans ultimately decide not to cut the income tax rate for million-dollar-earners, much of the Republican donor class and Reaganomics community (including anti-tax activist Grover Norquist) will feel betrayed.

"I understand compromise, but why compromise with the sin of envy?" Norquist told us. "This isn't the dumbest idea I have ever heard of. But it is in the top 20."

Norquist argues this won't placate Democrats — who inevitably will charge that Trump's tax overhaul is just designed to help the rich — but will alienate conservatives.

Meanwhile, one administration official told me Trump doesn't really care about this issue.

"He basically thinks they [rich people] are fine and he believes they don't care that much about the individual rate so long as they get all the other goodies, like the corporate rate and expensing," the official said.

What's next: The House expects to pass the Senate budget this week. Shortly after, we're likely to have a timeline of when House Republicans will release their tax cut bill.

A dynamic we're watching: House Republicans make no secret of their disdain for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. They call him and Gary Cohn "the Democrats." Don't expect either one of them to have much lobbying power with conservatives on the Hill over these next crucial weeks.

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What's next for the caliphate?

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

ISIS lost its Syrian capital, Raqqa, last week. Trump issued a congratulatory statement; but we've not seen any George W. Bush-style "Mission Accomplished" speeches.

I spoke to Dana White, the top spokeswoman for Defense Secretary James Mattis, about where the U.S. military is at in its fight against ISIS and what challenges lie ahead.

Shrinking caliphate: In Iraq and Syria the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Iraqi Special Forces — with the help of the U.S. military — have retaken an area the size of California. White says that what ISIS still controls "is a territory slightly smaller than New York State."

Most importantly: White points out that "ISIS has not regained an inch of the territory it has lost."

Bottom line: The power of intimidation, to use Mattis' phrase, is working great. But now comes the hard part.

  • What White calls "the stabilization piece" — working with Syrians and Iraqis on the ground to ensure ISIS doesn't make a comeback — is going to be incredibly tough and time-consuming work.
  • Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, "is responsible for ensuring the hard fought military gains are maintained — ensuring the 73 coalition members (NATO, Arab League, Interpol and EU) continue to support these communities after the fighting stops."
  • "It's why Secretary Mattis and Tillerson work so closely together," White says, "and why [Mattis] insists on having a State Department rep with him when he meets any of his counterparts."
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A Trump priority: Keep Grassley happy

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, listens to an aide. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

A senior administration official joked to me last week that the real EPA Administrator comes from Iowa, and his name is Chuck Grassley. The source made that wisecrack after Trump called EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt last week and told him to keep Grassley happy on the Renewable Fuel Standard.

After that call, Pruitt backed away from a plan to reduce how much biofuel — mostly corn ethanol — is required in gasoline. Pruitt's concession to Grassley and co. surprised approximately nobody.

The reality: Pruitt is one of Trump's favorite cabinet secretaries, has aggressively deregulated his agency, and was a key voice behind the president's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate deal.

  • But, but, but... Don't mess with Grassley. Perhaps no senator wields more power over Trump than the Judiciary Committee chairman. When Grassley wants one of his people appointed at an agency, it happens. Trump views him as a loyal supporter who helped him in Iowa. (Grassley even stuck by Trump after the Access Hollywood tape leaked!) The fact that Grassley chairs the Judiciary Committee, which confirms federal judges, is just one more source of leverage.

Go deeper on the policy and politics of ethanol with my colleague Amy Harder. In her column tomorrow morning she'll dive into this hot issue, with an interview with Grassley. To read Harder's column, sign up for our energy newsletter Generate.

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Abe set for big win, could revise Japan's pacifist constitution

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Photo: David Guttenfelder / AP

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's party appeared to win a large majority in the Japanese general election on Sunday. That could allow him to amend Japan's Constitution to "remove any doubt about the military's legitimacy," according to the New York Times.

  • Why it matters: Abe seems to have the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution, which calls for "the renunciation of war," but the public is split on the change, and Abe will need a majority of voters to make the amendments.
  • The case for change: With North Korea's hostility and missile tests growing, Abe focused on voters' fears in his campaign message, per the Times.
Facts Matter Featured

Puerto Rico, by the numbers

A boy accompanied by his dog watches the repairs of Guajataca Dam, which cracked during the passage of Hurricane Maria. Photo: Ramon Espinosa / AP

Exactly one month after Hurricane Maria first made landfall in Puerto Rico, the island is still far from recovered. 78% of the island is still without power, 28% is without potable water, and 11% of grocery stores are still closed. Sen. Bernie Sanders is traveling to Puerto Rico this week to meet with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

The official death toll has risen to 49, and is expected to be much higher as several parts of the island remain cut off from communication. A recent Vox report, which cross-referenced what the government has been saying with reports on the ground, puts the real number of casualties much closer to 450, with another 69 people still missing.

What they're saying

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer requested on Sunday that Trump name a "CEO of response and recovery" to oversee recovery efforts, Reuters reports.
  • Gov. Ricardo Rosselló met with President Trump at the White House Thursday to discuss the ongoing recovery efforts on the island. Trump lauded the federal response in Puerto Rico, saying he gives the White House a 10/10 rating on its handling of the storm. Meanwhile, Rosselló was less triumphant, acknowledging that while he appreciates the aid that has been sent to the island so far, "we still need to do a lot for the people of Puerto Rico...It's not over by a long-shot."
  • Trump also stated that, "At some point, FEMA has to leave, first responders have to leave and the people have to take over."
  • Celebrity chef José Andrés launched a relief effort, #ChefsForPuertoRico, through his nonprofit World Central Kitchen. Together, Andrés, his team and hundreds of volunteers have served more meals on the island than the Red Cross."When we go to a place, we take care of that place until we feel it has the right conditions to sustain itself. That's what a relief organization should be," said Andrés.

The facts

The latest on what we know from Puerto Rico, per FEMA and the PR government site:

  • Boots on the ground: More than 20,000 federal civilian personnel and military service members, including more than 1,700 FEMA personnel, are on the ground in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • State help: 31 U.S. states are helping in PR, and 20 in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Electricity: 20.22% of the island has electricity, down from 21.6% on Thursday. Roughly 53% of cell towers have been restored.
  • Food: Approximately 89% of grocery stores are open (419 of 471), down from 90% Wednesday.
  • Gas: Roughly 79% of retail gas stations are operational (873 of 1,100).
  • Shelter: 4,154 people remain in shelters across the island, as of Sunday afternoon. 92 shelters are open and operating.
  • Transportation: Only 392 miles of Puerto Rico's 5,073 miles of roads are open. All commercial airports and federally maintained ports are open, some with restrictions.
  • Water and waste: Approximately 72% of Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) customers have potable water. 56% of waste water treatment plants are working on generator power.
  • Medical care: 97% (65/67) of hospitals were open on Sunday. Less than half of those are operating with electricity.. 95% (46/48) of Dialysis Centers are open.
  • Banks: 70% of bank branches (221 of 314) are open and operating.
This post is being updated with the latest information on the Puerto Rico recovery efforts.
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Mulvaney, McConnell talk taxes

Screengrab via Fox News Sunday

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell both stopped by "Fox News Sunday" to discuss the path ahead on tax reform.

Timeline

  • Mulvaney said he "absolutely" expects a bill by December, and said the tentative plan for the House to take up the Senate budget would "save as many as 10 or 12 legislative days, which is a big deal."
  • McConnell said he expected to pass the tax plan by the end of the year.

Top rate

  • Mulvaney said the White House was "agnostic" about the idea of adding a tax rate for the super wealthy, later adding that they "don't necessarily even want it. President Trump echoed those remarks on Fox News, indicating that the current plan is to keep the substantial cut for the wealthiest Americans that was in the initial plan.
  • McConnell dodged, saying: "I hate to get into the details of this."

Ending state/local deductions

  • Mulvaney said the plan to do so, which is a big sticking point because it means some people in high-tax states will actually see their federal taxes rise, would cause greater fairness and is something "we really are hoping to change and we hope the House and the Senate can accept that." (McConnell didn't address this issue.

Bonus

  • McConnell was asked about Steve Bannon's declaration of political war against him and many Republican incumbents in 2018. He said, "some of these folks that you've been quoting" — Note: she only quoted Bannon — "are specialists in nominating people who lose."
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McCain is relishing his role as chief Trump critic

Photo: Charles Dharapak / AP

Sen. John McCain tweeted out a New York Times story Sunday morning, in which he was labeled the "unfettered voice against Trumpism."

"I'm doing what I think is right for the country," McCain is quoted as saying in the Times story. "I don't work for Donald Trump, and I don't work for his administration."

Why it matters: McCain and Trump have butted heads since the 2016 campaign, during which Trump said he likes "people who weren't captured," referring to McCain’s five years spent as a POW. McCain, in recent months, has been biting back both through his rhetoric and by helping to thwart the president's agenda.

More examples:

  • His famous thumbs-down vote on the "skinny repeal" of the Affodable Care Act this summer.
  • His opposition to the Graham-Cassidy health care bill.
  • His Liberty Medal acceptance speech at the National Constitution Center, in which he said: "To refuse the obligations of international leadership...for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history." Trump took it personally, according to the Times.
  • His criticism of the administration for not yet setting out a "plan for success" in Afghanistan, saying "Congress & the American people deserve better."
  • His 60 Minutes interview, in which he said Trump "changes his statements almost on a daily basis. So for me to spend my time trying to analyze what he says, I don't know." McCain also said while he was raised to believe in honor, Trump was raised differently.
  • His comments that the Trump administration wasn't being forthcoming on the four American soldiers killed in Niger earlier this month and that getting the information he needs may require a subpoena.
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Four female senators say #MeToo

Senators Elizabeth Warren, Claire McCaskill, Heidi Heitkamp, and Mazie Hirono told their stories of sexual harassment on "Meet the Press," joining the #MeToo social media movement that arose after the many allegations against Harvey Weinstein came to light.

Why it matters: As Chuck Todd said, "The Harvey Weinstein story has brought to light...the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault. Many of us, men mostly, were not aware or chose not to be aware of how common this kind of behavior apparently is." The #MeToo movement's purpose is shine a light on how many women, and men, have experienced situations like these.

The other senators' remarks:

  • Sen. McCaskill, while working on getting a bill out of committee in the state legislature, was asked "did you bring your kneepads?" when she approached the Missouri Speaker of the House for advice.
  • When Sen. Heitkamp was North Dakota Attorney General, she spoke out against domestic violence. At one event, a law enforcement official told her: "Listen here, men will always beat their wives, and you can't stop them."
  • Sen. Hirono said: "I've been propositioned by teachers, by my colleagues, and, you know, you name it."