Category: Opinion

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Near Kosher Market…


A police officer and several were found dead in a Jersey City kosher supermarket following an active shooter situation, according to reports. The officer was allegedly shot at Bay View cemetery when two suspects fled to the kosher supermarket, ABC News reported.The officers arrived at the kosher market where suspects opened fire with long guns, according to ABC News. At least one suspect allegedly continued firing at responders as they retreated.Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez confirmed on Twitter that one police officer was fatally shot, adding that two additional officers were struck by gunfire. The two officers are reportedly in stable condition. ABC reported that the officer died after being transported to the hospital for treatment.A source told The Jerusalem Post that one person injured in the attack was from the small Satmar community in the area. There are some 100 Satmar families which have moved in to the area in the past two years.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that one Hassidic person was shot in his hand while running away and that two more were reportedly injured inside store during the shooting. The ministry reported that injured persons are not Israeli citizens.Multiple reports said that the shooting was at or near a Kosher supermarket, some citing JC Kosher Supermarket as the location and others saying it was at a nearby bodega.”At this time, reports indicate this is a criminal incident and does not appear to be a targeted attack against the Jewish community. We will continue to monitor and update,” The Secure Community Network, a Jewish security organization in North America, tweeted.”According to senior sources I spoke to minutes ago, it feels as if the incident in Jersey City was not a terror attack or a hate crime. However, the event is not over yet, the situation is ongoing and at this stage it is only a feeling,” Consul General of Israel in New York Dani Dayan tweeted.Two gunmen opened fire in a convenience store, hitting at least one officer in the shoulder, the New York Times reported. However, a law enforcement officer who spoke News 4  said it was at least one gunman, but did not specify a number.A person working nearby told Huffington Post that the incident occurred at JC Kosher Supermarket.One Jersey City resident told CBS News that it is “a very high crime area. We’re used to gunshots, but nothing like this that’s happening now.”The New Jersey State PBA tweeted, “We need a lot of prayers right now for Jersey City officers. Keep all those involved in your thoughts.”

According to News 4, Jersey City SWAT teams and state police responded to the incident, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and FBI are ready to get involved as needed.New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio confirmed on Twitter that the New York Police Department (NYPD) is “closely monitoring the ongoing situation in Jersey City and we are ready to assist in any way we can.”ATF Newark tweeted, “Breaking: @ATF_Newark Agents responding to reports of an active shooter in Jersey City, NJ.”

The School District of Jersey City announced on Facebook hat a number of schools were on lockdown. “All students and staff are safe, however a number of schools are on lockdown due to police activity.
PS 12 14 29 41 40 SHS LHS Innovation Academy I and Infinity. However, the list can change as needed.””We are on lockdown. Absolutely on lockdown. Everybody in the school seems okay,” a Sacred Heart School official told The New York Post, adding, “There was so much gun fire. A lot. More than we’ve ever heard.”“First there was some gun fire, then more, then more,” the school official said. “We immediately went into safety protocols and everyone is in the school and doing well.”New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy wrote in a statement on Twitter that, “I have been briefed on the unfolding situation in Jersey City. Our thoughts and prayers are with the men and women of the Jersey City Police Department, especially with the officers shot during this standoff, and with the residents and schoolchildren currently under lockdown.””I have every confidence in our law enforcement professionals to ensure the safety of the community and resolve this situation. Today reminds us of their bravery and the sacrifices they, and their families, make for our communities.”

The White House says that President Donald Trump was briefed on the shooting “and continues to monitor the situation.”
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.This is a developing story.



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Progressive groups unhappy…



Progressive groups unhappy...

(Top headline, 5th story, link)


Related stories:
DEMS CHARGE TRUMP WITH ABUSE OF POWER, OBSTRUCTION OF CONGRESS…
STARR: MINE WAS BETTER THAN YOURS…
PRESIDENT TO PARTICIPATE IN SENATE TRIAL…
Small group of Dems float censure instead of impeachment…





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Small group of Dems float censure instead of impeachment…


The moderate Democrats know the odds of such an outcome are slim. Democratic leaders are confident that both articles of impeachment — which were publicly unveiled Tuesday morning — will have the necessary support on the floor, and they expect to lose few of their members.

The group of centrists is also far short of the roughly 18 votes needed to block impeachment on the floor, and any censure resolution would be nearly impossible to sell to the caucus at this point, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team have already settled on impeaching the president.

Democrats remain united on impeachment, with just two in the caucus on record opposing the House’s impeachment inquiry: Reps. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.), who both sit in districts carried by Trump in 2016.

And Pelosi herself has previously publicly ruled out censure.

“I think censure is just a way out. If you want to go, you gotta go,” she told reporters in June. “If the goods are there, you must impeach. Censure is nice, but it is not commensurate with the violations of the Constitution should we decide that’s the way to go.”

Still, several of the moderate Democrats have discussed the possibility of censure privately for weeks, mostly in informal conversations on the floor or in smaller settings. But the conversations ramped up as top Democrats announced they were moving ahead with articles of impeachment this week.

The Trump-district Democrats say they are increasingly worried that a lengthy Senate trial — which could stretch into the spring — will result in an even more polarizing 2020 campaign.

Some of the Democrats involved have quietly reached out to centrist House Republicans in recent days to see whether they would be willing to censure Trump, according to multiple lawmakers, including in conversations on the House floor.

But while some Republicans privately acknowledge that censure would be a much tougher vote than impeachment, they doubt they will be confronted with that choice.

And unlike when Democrats floated censure during the Clinton impeachment, Republicans in the House and Senate are not actively looking for an escape hatch like censure.

The GOP has largely parroted Trump’s argument that he did nothing wrong in trying to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. House Republican leaders are expecting few, if any, defections on the House floor.

“I don’t think [moderate Democrats] have enough to block impeachment. 10 to 12 max. But they’re working to raise it,” said one GOP lawmaker, who has discussed censure with some Democrats. “And [they’re] obviously reaching out to Republicans to see if they would join them.”



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Team admits crew 'inappropriately filmed'…


The New England Patriots have admitted that they were in violation of NFL rules on Sunday when a video crew hired by the team illegally filmed the playing field in Cleveland during the Bengals game against the Browns. 

According to a statement from the team, the Patriots sent a three-person video crew to FirstEnergy Stadium to film a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to be an advance scout in the NFL. The crew was filming as part of a “Do Your Job” series that the Patriots run on their official website. 

Although the Patriots received permission from the Browns to put their crew in the pressbox, the team admitted that they didn’t reach out to the NFL or the Bengals for permission before they started filming. The situation became a controversy on Sunday when a Bengals employee noticed that the Patriots crew was taking video of action on the field, which is prohibited under NFL policy. 

“While we sought and were granted credentialed access from the Cleveland Browns for the video crew, our failure to inform the Bengals and the League was an unintended oversight,” the team said. “In addition to filming the scout, the production crew — without specific knowledge of League rules — inappropriately filmed the field from the press box.”

According to ESPN.com, the cameraman who took the video for the Patriots asked NFL security if he could delete the footage and have the whole situation be forgotten, but instead, the league ended up confiscating the video. 

According to NFL.com, some of the footage the Patriots took included video of coaches signaling from the Bengals sideline. On the Patriots’ end, they claimed it was all an innocent mistake, while also acknowledging that their crew did violate NFL policy. 

“The sole purpose of the filming was to provide an illustration of an advance scout at work on the road,” the team said. “There was no intention of using the footage for any other purpose. We understand and acknowledge that our video crew, which included independent contractors who shot the video, unknowingly violated a league policy by filming the field and sideline from the press box.”

The Patriots also added that they accept “full responsibility for the actions of our production crew at the Browns-Bengals game.” The NFL has yet to comment on the issue and it’s not clear if the Patriots will be facing any punishment for their actions. 

The situation gained national attention on Monday after Bengals coach Zac Taylor was asked about it at his press conference. Although he deferred comment, he did say that the league was “investigating” the situation.”

Taylor’s comments raised a lot of eyebrows around the league due to the fact that New England is playing the Bengals this week and due to the fact that the Patriots have been punished before for illegally videotaping an opponent. Back in 2007, Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 — the largest fine ever imposed on a coach in league history — for the part he played in Spygate. As a team, not only were the Patriots were hit with a $250,000 fine, but they were also docked their first-round pick in 2008. 



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POLL: Bloomberg widely unpopular following campaign launch…


Published


Electability is a central pillar of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s newly launched presidential campaign, but a poll released Tuesday finds he is deeply unpopular with voters nationwide.

A Monmouth University poll found about twice as many registered voters rated Bloomberg negatively as positively — 54% unfavorable, 26% favorable. That margin was significantly worse than for five other Democratic candidates, as well as for President Trump. That same measure hampered Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016.

Bloomberg garnered 5% support nationally for the Democratic nomination, narrowly higher than some other recent polls.He was in fifth place behind former vice president Joe Biden (26%) and Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont (21%) and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (17%). Bloomberg’s support is within the margin of error of South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 8%, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota at 4%, businessman Andrew Yang at 3% and Sen. Corey Booker of New Jersey at 2%.


Yet the negative favorability ratings are a sign Bloomberg may struggle to grow his support among both among Democrats the broader electorate. Since its launch last month, his campaign has spent more money on ads than all the top-polling Democrats combined and is simultaneously building out ground operations in 27 states.



“Bloomberg said he got into this race because he wants to defeat Trump, but his campaign kicks off with even lower ratings than the incumbent,” said Monmouth polling director Patrick Murray. “That is not the most auspicious start, but views of Bloomberg are not as deeply held as they are for Trump, so he has room to shift those opinions,”

The Monmouth poll found leading Democratic candidates also have net negative images but by smaller margins than Bloomberg. Biden was rated favorably by 43% of all registered voters and unfavorably by 50%, a “net favorability” of minus-7 percentage points. Warren’s net favorability was minus-10 (40% favorable vs. 50% unfavorable), while Sanders’s net favorability was minus-13 (41% favorable vs. 54% unfavorable).

Buttigieg fared slightly better on this question with minus-1 net favorability (34% favorable vs. 35% unfavorable), as did Yang at minus-3 (25% favorable vs. 28% unfavorable). Both Buttigieg and Yang are less well-known, with more than one-third of voters saying they haven’t heard of them or have no opinion.


Democratic voters are roughly split in their views of Bloomberg, with 40% favorable and 39% unfavorable, while all six other Democratic candidates tested in the Monmouth poll are rated more positively than negatively. Warren’s net favorable-unfavorable rating is plus 61 among Democratic voters, with Biden at plus 56, Sanders at plus 53, Buttigieg at plus 5 and Yang at plus 25.

Trump’s favorable rating was narrowly negative in the Monmouth poll, with 46% of all registered voters favorable and 52% unfavorable. The result is more positive than some other recent national polls, which have shown negative favorable ratings of Trump outpacing positive ones by double digits.

The Monmouth poll is not alone in finding Bloomberg is unpopular with the broader electorate. A Dec. 1-3 Economist-YouGov poll found 22% of U.S. adults had favorable views of Bloomberg and 47% were unfavorable, while another 31% said they didn’t know. Democrats were split: 36% were favorable and 37% were unfavorable, with another 27% saying they didn’t know.

The Economist-YouGov poll found 30% of Democratic voters saying they would be “disappointed” if Bloomberg became the Democratic nominee. That was higher than any candidate but author Marianne Williamson at 37% and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, at 36%. Almost a quarter of Democrats said they would be disappointed if Biden became the nominee, only slightly less than Bloomberg’s share.

This Monmouth University poll was conducted by telephone Dec. 4-8 among 903 U.S. adults, including 838 registered voters of which 384 were Democrats or Democratic-leaning independent voters. The overall sample and that of registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points and the sample of Democratic leaners has a margin of error of plus or minus five points.



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Barr cites 'gross abuses'…


WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr said he still believes the FBI may have operated out of “bad faith” when it investigated whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, and he contends the FBI acted improperly by continuing the investigation after Donald Trump took office.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Barr essentially dismissed the findings of the Justice Department’s inspector general that there was no evidence of political bias in the launching of the Russia probe, saying that his hand-picked prosecutor, John Durham, will have the last word on the matter.

“I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press,” Barr said. “I think there were gross abuses …and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.”

“I think that leaves open the possibility that there was bad faith.”

Barr’s blistering criticism of the FBI’s conduct in the Russia investigation, which went well beyond the errors outlined in the inspector general report, is bound to stoke further controversy about whether the attorney general is acting in good faith, or as a political hatchet man for Trump.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz, after reviewing a million documents and interviewing 100 people, concluded that he “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions to open” the investigations into Trump campaign aides.

But Barr argued that Horowitz didn’t look very hard, and that the inspector general accepted the FBI’s explanations at face value.

“All he said was, people gave me an explanation and I didn’t find anything to contradict it … he hasn’t decided the issue of improper motive,” Barr said. “I think we have to wait until the full investigation is done.”

Barr said he stood by his assertion that the Trump campaign was spied on, noting that the FBI used confidential informants who recorded conversations with Trump campaign officials.

“It was clearly spied upon,” he said. “That’s what electronic surveillance is … going through people’s emails, wiring people up.”

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Barr portrayed the Russia investigation as a bogus endeavor that was foisted on Trump, rather than something undertaken by career civil servants who were concerned about whether a foreign power had compromised a political campaign.

“From a civil liberties standpoint, the greatest danger to our free system is that the incumbent government use the apparatus of the state … both to spy on political opponents but also to use them in a way that could affect the outcome of an election,” Barr said. He added that this was the first time in history that “counterintelligence techniques,” were used against a presidential campaign.

Barr said that presidential campaigns are frequently in contact with foreigners, contradicting the comments of numerous political professionals who have said for two years that there is rarely, if ever, a reason for a presidential campaign to be in touch with Russians.

Barr added, “There was and never has been any evidence of collusion and yet this campaign and the president’s administration has been dominated by this investigation into what turns out to be completely baseless.”

But the biggest outrage, Barr said, is that the FBI’s “case collapsed after the election and they never told the court and they kept on getting these renewals.”

The inspector general report does not say the FBI’s Russia case collapsed after the election. It does say that the FBI interviewed some of the sources for the dossier written by a British operative, who raised questions about his reporting. But by then, the investigation had moved well beyond anything in the dossier.

In fact, FBI officials told the IG they knew the dossier was raw intelligence that could be filled with inaccuracies. They relied in part on information from it to obtain a warrant to conduct surveillance on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who had previously been the target of recruitment by Russian intelligence. The inspector general criticized the FBI for 17 errors and omissions in the applications for surveillance.

But after the election, there was a different set of counterintelligence concerns that Horowitz did not address in his report and Barr did not mention in the interview: Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and told Russian officials in the Oval Office that doing so relieved pressure on him over Russia.

That led then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to open a counterintelligence investigation into Trump, the results of which have never been disclosed.

In indictments and the report written by former special counsel Robert Mueller, prosecutors identified, by one count, 272 contacts between the Trump team and Russia-linked operatives, some of which have never been explained.

Mueller also determined that during the election, Trump was trying to negotiate a business deal in Moscow that would have required the approval of the Russian government.

Mueller said he did not establish coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, but he also said the Trump team strategized about how to benefit from the fruits of Russia’s election interference, particularly the disclosures of hacked Democratic emails.

The trial of Trump operative Roger Stone showed the extent to which the Trump campaign was trying to get information from Wikileaks, which had been identified as working closely with Russian intelligence.

Barr mentioned none of that. He said the basis for opening the Russia investigation was “flimsy” because it stemmed solely from a report of a statement by a young aide, George Papadopoulos, who said he was offered Democratic emails by a Russian agent and didn’t report the conversation to the FBI.

“They jumped right into a full-scale investigation before they even went to talk to the foreign officials about exactly what was said. … They opened an investigation into the campaign and they used very intrusive techniques,” Barr said.

The inspector general report said the decision to open the investigation was unanimous among those in the loop within the FBI and the Justice Department, a group of mostly career officials.

Durham will now investigate their actions, Barr said.

On Monday, Durham added his voice to Barr’s criticism of the IG report, saying, “Last month, we advised the inspector general that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the F.B.I. case was opened.”

Barr said Durham’s much-criticized statement was appropriate.

“It was necessary to avoid public confusion,” he said. “It was sort of being reported by the press that the issue of predication was sort of done and over. I think it was important for people to understand that Durham’s work was not being preempted and that Durham was doing something different.”



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New Zealand Police Begin Criminal Investigation…


New Zealand Deputy Police Commissioner John Tims said Tuesday local police have begun a criminal probe after Monday’s eruption of the White Island volcano. An investigation by health and safety regulators will be the basis for any ongoing police action.

Five deaths were confirmed after the eruption and another eight people are believed to have died, with their bodies remaining on the ash-strewn island for now.

As Breitbart News reported, police believe there were 47 visitors on the island at the time of the tragedy. They say 24 were Australian, nine were American and five were New Zealanders. Others were from Germany, Britain, China and Malaysia. Many were passengers aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

Many people were left questioning why tourists were still allowed to visit the island after seismic monitoring experts raised the volcano’s alert level last month.

“These questions must be asked and they must be answered,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in Parliament.

White Island, also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari, is the tip of an undersea volcano about 50 kilometers (30 kilometers) off New Zealand’s main North Island.

New Zealand’s GeoNet seismic monitoring agency had raised the volcano’s alert level on Nov. 18 from 1 to 2 on a scale where 5 represents a major eruption, noting an increase in sulfur dioxide gas, which originates from magma.

It also said volcanic tremors had increased from weak to moderate strength. It raised the alert level to 4 for a time after Monday’s eruption but lowered it to 3 as the activity subsided.

The volcano has a long — and perhaps predictable — history of unpredictable activity.

In 1914 ten people were killed after a landslide on the crater floor. It erupted almost continuously between 1976 and 2000.

“Hindsight is always 20/20, but any visit to an active volcano, or volcanic field bears a certain amount of risk,” said tourism professor Michael Lueck of the Auckland University of Technology.

“Usually it is managed by governmental bodies generally, and the tourism industry in particular.”

AFP contributed to this story

Follow Simon Kent on Twitter: Follow @SunSimonKent or e-mail to: skent@breitbart.com



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What Stories Had Biggest Reach: Seen, Read or Heard in 2019…


The news with the biggest reach tended to find Democrats and Republicans in roughly equal fashion. Hurricane Dorian topped the list for both parties, as did the college admission scandal, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues,” involving Hollywood actresses, business leaders and other wealthy parents; deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio; and Georgia and Alabama’s controversial moves to restrict abortion.

Democrats were more likely than Republicans to hear about most of the news events polled, with the biggest gap seen on the revelations that the Trump administration continued to separate migrant children from their families apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border after announcing that it had rescinded the policy.



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Survivors of volcanic eruption describe horror…


WHAKATANE, New Zealand (AP) — Survivors of a powerful volcanic eruption in New Zealand ran into the sea to escape the scalding steam and ash and emerged covered in burns, say those who first helped them.

The accounts Tuesday came as some relatives were forced to continue waiting for news of their loved ones, with authorities deciding it remained too dangerous for crews to land on the island and remove bodies.

Six deaths were confirmed after Monday’s eruption of the White Island volcano. Five people died at the time of the blast or soon after, while a sixth person died Tuesday night at an Auckland hospital.

Another eight people are believed to have died, with their bodies remaining on the ash-covered island for now.

Experts said there was a 50 percent chance of another small eruption within a day and rescue teams didn’t want to take any chances. Police said they planned to send up drones to measure whether gas levels were safe.

The tragedy will have an ongoing effect on the town of Whakatane, which road signs tout as the gateway to White Island. As well as being an important tourist draw for the 20,000 people who live here, the volcano has an almost mystical significance, its regular puffing a feature of the landscape.

Whether the island will ever host tourists again remains uncertain after the horrific tragedy that unfolded when the volcano exploded a little after 2 p.m. Monday.

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Geoff Hopkins was in a boat offshore after visiting the island with his daughter, the tour a 50th birthday present for him. He told the New Zealand Herald the eruption at first looked beautiful but quickly turned menacing.

As injured people were transported onto their boat screaming in pain, Hopkins and his daughter Lillani poured fresh water onto them, cut them out of their clothes and tried to keep them calm.

He told the Herald they were “horrifically” burned on their exposed skin and faces, even under their clothes.

In all, police believe there were 47 visitors on the island at the time. They say 24 were Australian, nine were American and five were New Zealanders. Others were from Germany, Britain, China and Malaysia. Many were passengers aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

About 30 of the survivors remained hospitalized on Tuesday, many flown to burn units around the country. The first confirmed death was of a local man, Hayden Marshall-Inman, a guide who had shown tourists around the island.

Former Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne said Marshall-Inman was a keen fisherman and well-liked. He was so kind, Bonne said, that he would often leave extra money at the grocery store for those he knew were struggling to pay.

Many people were left questioning why tourists were still allowed to visit the island after seismic monitoring experts raised the volcano’s alert level last month.

“These questions must be asked and they must be answered,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in Parliament.

New Zealand’s Deputy Police Commissioner John Tims said Tuesday that police were opening a criminal investigation into the deaths that would accompany an investigation by health and safety regulators.

But hours later, police put out a statement saying that while they were investigating the deaths on behalf of the coroner, “To correct an earlier statement, it is too early to confirm whether there will also be a criminal investigation.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 11 Australians are unaccounted for and 13 were hospitalized. Three Australians were suspected to be among the initial five confirmed dead, he told reporters in Sydney. “I fear there is worse news to come,” Morrison said.

Relatives of a newlywed American couple say the husband and wife were severely burned. Barbara Barham told The Washington Post that her daughter Lauren Urey, 32, and son-in-law Matthew Urey, 36, from Richmond, Virginia, were on a honeymoon trip.

A few locals laid flowers Tuesday at a fence on the waterfront near where the rescue boats had returned with the injured.

White Island, also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari, is the tip of an undersea volcano about 50 kilometers (30 kilometers) off New Zealand’s main North Island.

New Zealand’s GeoNet seismic monitoring agency had raised the volcano’s alert level on Nov. 18 from 1 to 2 on a scale where 5 represents a major eruption, noting an increase in sulfur dioxide gas, which originates from magma. It also said volcanic tremors had increased from weak to moderate strength. It raised the alert level to 4 for a time after Monday’s eruption but lowered it to 3 as the activity subsided.

Richard Arculus, an Australian National University volcanologist who has made numerous visits to White Island, said the eruption likely sent a ground-hugging lateral blast from the crater to the jetty, as well as blasting rock and ash vertically skyward.

“In that crater, it would have been a terrible place to be,” Arculus said. “There would have been nowhere safe for you to be hiding, thinking that, ‘Oh well, if it explodes, it just goes straight up in the air.’”

At least 10 people were killed on the island in 1914 when it was being mined for sulfur. Part of a crater wall collapsed and a landslide destroyed the miners’ village and the mine itself.

The island became a private scenic reserve in 1953, and daily tours allow more than 10,000 people to visit every year.

“Tourism has been a growing market, and White Island has been an anchor for that,” Bonne said. “It’s something unique that pulls people from all around the world.”

He said it was sad to think that might all now come to a stop.

___

Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.



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FACEBOOK Tells Barr It Won't Open Up Encrypted Messages…


Facebook said it would not weaken end-to-end encryption across its messaging apps, despite pressure from world governments, in a letter to US Attorney General Bill Barr and UK and Australian leaders.

The letter, sent Monday, came in response to an October open letter from Barr, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, and then–acting US homeland security secretary Kevin McAleenan, which raised concerns that Facebook’s continued implementation of end-to-end encryption on its WhatsApp and Messenger apps would prevent law enforcement agencies from finding illegal activity such as child sexual exploitation, terrorism, and election meddling. The US, UK, and Australian governments asked the social networking company to design a backdoor in its encryption protocols, or a separate way for law enforcement to gain access to user content.

“It is simply impossible to create such a backdoor for one purpose and not expect others to try and open it,” wrote WhatsApp head Will Cathcart and Messenger head Stan Chudnovsky in Facebook’s response. “People’s private messages would be less secure and the real winners would be anyone seeking to take advantage of that weakened security. That is not something we are prepared to do.”

End-to-end encryption prevents anyone — governments, security agencies, or hackers — from accessing or viewing the contents of a message between two parties and is a key feature on popular apps such as WhatsApp and Signal. Government agencies have long desired a means of accessing message content on encrypted apps, arguing that it’s in the interest of public safety despite broader privacy concerns.

Facebook’s letter came as Jay Sullivan, Messenger’s director of product management for privacy and integrity, prepared to testify on Tuesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “encryption and lawful access” along with an executive from Apple and New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. In his opening statement, which was made public ahead of his appearance, Sullivan is expected to discuss how Facebook and other companies can work with governments to support law enforcement without weakening encryption.

“We can be certain that if we build a backdoor for the U.S. government, other governments, including repressive and authoritarian regimes around the world, will demand access or try to gain it clandestinely, including to persecute dissidents, journalists, and their political opponents,” his statement read. “Preserving the prominence of American values online requires strong protections for privacy and security, including strong encryption.”

In March, following more than a year of public scrutiny of the company’s lax data and user privacy practices, Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, made a much-publicized turn toward privacy. Most recently, Zuckerberg defended the company’s move toward encryption in leaked internal comments obtained by the Verge, calling it “socially important” and saying it’s “the right thing to protect people’s privacy more.”

The letter from the US, UK, and Australian governments to Facebook in October, which was first published by BuzzFeed News, said that companies should not deliberately design systems to thwart government intervention and investigation, highlighting the possibilities for child exploitation on encrypted apps. Facebook responded firmly at the time and has since given no indication that it will weaken encryption on WhatsApp and Messenger, each of which has more than a billion users.

In the response Monday, Facebook’s leaders highlighted the company’s investment in artificial intelligence and human moderation, talking points Facebook has repeatedly touted as it has tried to separate itself from a mishap-strewn 2018. They also noted that WhatsApp detects and bans 2 million accounts every month based on “abuse patterns” and scans of unencrypted information, including profile and group information.

The letter also gave a nod to the company’s argument that it’s able to detect more bad content because of its sheer size. Facing multiple antitrust investigations and calls for regulators to break it up, Facebook has said that its size and portfolio of properties are an advantage in dealing with bad actors.

“Our teams are constantly developing new ways to try to detect patterns of activity, by finding bad activity upstream, and by reviewing what we know across the accounts we provide,” the letter read. “So, if we know someone is doing something bad on Facebook or Instagram we can often take action on their account on Messenger and WhatsApp, and vice versa.”



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