Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Another Trump Nominee Drops Out Amid Ethics Concerns

IMAGE: Philip Bilden via WikiCommons

Clinton Regains Double-Digit Lead Over Trump: Reuters/Ipsos Poll

Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton regained a double-digit lead over Republican rival Donald Trump this week, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday.

The June 20-24 poll showed that 46.6 percent of likely American voters supported Clinton while 33.3 percent supported Trump. Another 20.1 percent said they would support neither candidate.

Trump had enjoyed a brief boost in support following the June 12 mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, as he doubled down on his pledge to ban Muslims from entering the country, cutting Clinton’s lead to nine points.

But Trump’s rise in popularity appeared to be only temporary, unlike his lasting surge among the Republican field last year after the attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino, California.

Clinton’s 13.3 percentage point lead is about the same as she had before the Orlando attack.

Trump’s slip this week came as he struggled to show that he can keep up with a Clinton campaign apparatus that has dwarfed his in size and funding.

Campaign finance disclosures released earlier this week showed Trump started June with a war chest of just $1.3 million, a fraction of Clinton’s $42 million. Trump sought to ease concerns among his allies by saying that he could tap his “unlimited” personal wealth if needed, and also by bolstering efforts to raise money through fundraising events and online donations.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders including House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker continued to express reservations about their new standard bearer, who has angered some in the party with his fiery rhetoric.

Ryan and Walker both said over the past week that they felt Republicans should follow their “conscience” when deciding to support the party’s likely nominee, instead of urging party members to support him.

The poll only captured some of the voter reaction to Britain’s decision in Thursday’s referendum to exit the European Union, a move that some pundits say suggests Trump’s insurgent candidacy has tapped into a broad and powerful anti-globalization wave sweeping Western countries.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online and included interviews with 1,201 likely voters in all 50 states. It has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 3.3 percentage points.

 

(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Leslie Adler)

Photo: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign event at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, North Carolina, June 22, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Miczek

Senate Panel Approves Obama’s Pick For FDA Commissioner

By Vera Bergengruen, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — A Senate panel on Tuesday cleared President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Food and Drug Administration, cardiologist Dr. Robert Califf.

While he was approved on a voice vote by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Califf’s close relationship to the pharmaceutical industry still raised concerns.

“His extensive ties to the pharmaceutical industry give me no reason to believe that he would make the FDA work for ordinary Americans, rather than pharmaceutical CEOs who are more focused on making obscene profits than saving lives,” Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who sits on the Senate health committee, said in a statement Tuesday.

Sanders, who is a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, did not attend Tuesday’s vote but voted no by proxy and said he is considering holding up Califf’s nomination.

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski also said she will block Califf’s path to a full Senate vote over a clash about labeling genetically modified salmon. She said she was angry that the FDA issued guidelines calling for voluntary, not mandatory, labeling of genetically modified foods after Califf promised to listen to her concerns.

Despite this opposition, Califf’s nomination has strong bipartisan support, and the voice vote Tuesday indicates that while other White House nominations still may be held up, FDA leadership is a priority. The position has been open since Dr. Margaret Hamburg stepped down last February.

Tuesday’s committee vote “reflects the importance of having a strong leader at the FDA and shows that Dr. Califf is uniquely qualified to fill that role,” said Dr. Ellen Sigal, chairwoman of Friends of Cancer Research nonprofit group.

“While we had hoped this could have been done before the new year, the vote today should push the full Senate to confirm Dr. Califf immediately,” she said.

Califf was serving as deputy commissioner, the agency’s No. 2 spot, when Obama nominated him to lead the FDA in September. A prolific researcher, the Columbia, S.C., native previously spent three decades at Duke University, where he founded Duke’s Clinical Research Institute.

His institute receives $320 million in annual funding, and more than 63 percent of its projects are funded by pharmaceutical and medical companies, according to its annual report. This, in addition to his role as a consultant to several drug companies, raised some skepticism at his confirmation hearing.

According to federal government open payments data, in 2014 Califf personally received more than $29,000 in consulting fees, meals and travel expenses. Several lawmakers and advocacy groups have questioned his close ties to the pharmaceutical industry, which could prove to be a conflict of interest when regulating former clients.

Califf will inherit an agency that faces a slate of challenges in the last year of the Obama administration. The FDA is under increasing pressure to speed up the drug approval process and to extend its regulation of tobacco to include electronic cigarettes. The agency also is in the middle of overhauling how it controls food safety practices for companies in order to prevent foodborne illnesses and to end delays on labeling cheaper copies of biologic drugs, known as biosimilars.

Califf’s nomination for FDA commissioner will now go before a full Senate vote.

©2016 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Food and Drug Administration Commissioner nominee Doctor Robert Califf testifies at his nomination hearing at the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, November 17, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron  

 

Obama: ‘Protect Net Neutrality’ On The Internet

By Vera Bergengruen, McClatchy Washington Bureau (MCT)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday dove head-first into the heated net neutrality debate, urging the Federal Communications Commission to adopt “the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality” by aggressively regulating Internet service providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T.

“We cannot allow Internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas,” Obama said in a video posted on the White House website.

Obama called for an “explicit ban” on paid prioritization, which would allow the deep pockets of large services such as Google, Skype or Netflix to pay for better, faster streaming for its users. It’s a lucrative deal for the big Internet companies, but one that opponents say discriminates against smaller and newer services that would never get off the ground.

“No service should be stuck in a ‘slow lane’ because it does not pay a fee,” Obama said in the statement. “That kind of gate-keeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth.”

His outline of “common-sense” steps for service providers to keep the Internet fair and open includes no blocking of legal content by service providers and “no throttling,” saying companies should not “intentionally slow down some content or speed up others.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s original net neutrality proposal allows Internet service providers to engage in “commercially reasonable” deals, including some of the paid prioritization criticized by Obama.

The president’s statement comes amid intense debate among Internet service providers, technology companies and lawmakers as the FCC tries to draft new net neutrality laws that will stand on solid legal footing. They are replacing the rules that were struck down by a federal appeals court in January, on the grounds that the FCC does not have the authority to regulate Internet companies the same way it does telephone carriers.

The president’s statement was applauded by online advocacy groups and quickly denounced by Internet service giants and their supporters, who argue that the FCC lacks the authority to get involved in their business.

If the FCC heeds the White House’s statement by enacting “onerous government regulation,” it would be a “mistake that will do tremendous harm to the Internet and U.S. national interests,” AT&T said in a statement.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was quick to slam the president’s support of regulation, calling net neutrality “Obamacare for the Internet” and declaring in a Facebook post that the “Internet should not operate at the speed of government.”

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said the regulation the president supports would stifle the Internet industry “with rules written nearly 80 years ago for plain old telephone service.”

On the other side of the aisle, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the president’s statement reflects that “millions of Americans have made their voices heard in support of net neutrality.”

The FCC received a record-breaking 3.9 million public comments on its net neutrality proposal earlier this year, most of them asking the agency to preserve the level playing field and opposing “fast lanes.”

“When the leader of the free world says the Internet should remain free, that’s a game changer,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) said in a statement.

The president emphasized that the final decision is up to the FCC, an independent agency. Wheeler has said he wants to vote on new net neutrality by the end of the year, but with the White House and others weighing in and pressure from all sides as the agency tries to craft a complicated hybrid proposal, that looks increasingly unlikely.

AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards

Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Aereo Online TV Case

By Vera Bergengruen, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court justices seemed torn Tuesday as they listened to the arguments in a complex technological case involving copyright law, the rights of TV broadcasters and a video startup called Aereo that is upending how viewers access television.

While skeptical of Aereo’s service, which is based on a technological loophole to get around copyright laws, the justices worried that siding with broadcasters could endanger the same Internet cloud services that millions of people use to access and store all kinds of digital files.

Aereo lets users in 11 cities stream local broadcast TV to their computers, phones and tablets by renting them a tiny antenna and cloud storage for a small fee. Broadcasters including ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox claim that Aereo’s service illegally steals their copyrighted content. If the court rules in favor of the startup, it could threaten the lucrative fees the networks receive from cable companies to transmit their content. Broadcasters want Aereo to either pay similar fees or shut down.

“Your technological model is based solely on circumventing legal prohibitions that you don’t want to comply with,” Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. told Aereo’s lawyer, David Frederick.

“There’s no reason for you to have 10,000 dime-sized antennas except to get around the Copyright Act,” Roberts said.

The entire case hinges on whether Aereo is engaging in a “public” or “private” performance when it transmits content. Aereo has a data center in each city where it operate thousands of dime-size antennas. When a subscriber wants to watch a show live or record it, the company temporarily assigns the customer an antenna and transmits the programming to the subscriber’s tablet, phone or Internet TV.

Since the potential audience is only one person, it should be considered a private performance, not a public performance regulated by the Copyright Act, Aereo argued.

Lawyers on both sides used analogies ranging from valet parking to coat checks to clarify the complex technological issues at hand. The broadcasters’ counsel explained that Aereo’s users aren’t accessing the service to watch something online that they have already bought — they are using it to get that content in the first place.

“I show up at the car dealership without a car, I’m going to be able to get a car. If I show up at the valet parking service and I don’t own a car, it’s not going to end well for me,” the broadcasters’ counsel, Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general, said to laughter in the packed courtroom.

Just as disturbing to some of the justices, however, are the unintended and far-reaching implications an Aereo loss could have on the cloud services industry.

“Are we somehow catching other things that really will change life but shouldn’t, such as the cloud?” asked Justice Stephen Breyer.

The “cloud” storage Aereo provides lets users record and store programs on a remote server instead of directly on their computer, where they can access their shows anytime, from anywhere.

Technology groups have expressed their concern that a ruling against Aereo would stifle innovation and endanger popular apps such as Google Drive, iCloud and Dropbox. Since those services are also used to remotely access copyrighted content, like legally purchased songs or movies, they could end up in murky legal territory if Aereo loses, some groups say. There isn’t any fresh copyright law regarding the new cloud services that are springing up.

“The cloud industry is freaked out about this case,” said Frederick, the lawyer for Aereo.

Clement insisted that the justices should not try to “solve the problem of the cloud once and for all” in this case, but instead focus on the plain violation of copyright law in front of them.

If Aereo’s service is really based on innovative technology it will survive anyway, argued Clement.

“If all they have is a gimmick, then they probably will go out of business and nobody should cry a tear over that,” he said.

The Supreme Court is expected to reach a decision by early summer.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb