FBI Warns Of 'Grave Concerns' About 'Accuracy' Of GOP Snooping Memo

The FBI warns it has “grave concerns” about the “accuracy” of the Republican surveillance memo at the center of a partisan whirlwind in Washington.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

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Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The FBI says it has “grave concerns” about the “accuracy” of the much-discussed Republican memo that alleges it and the Justice Department abused their surveillance authorities.

The bureau issued a rare two-paragraph statement undercutting the position taken by President Trump and his top aides that the memo, which the House Intelligence Committee has authorized for release, should be made public soon.

“With regard to the House Intelligence Committee’s memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it,” the FBI said. “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

The FBI statement appeared amid a bitter political fight over the memo, which was drawn up by Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes of California and the panel’s Republican staff. Nunes and other GOP allies of President Trump say the memo makes the case about an epic scandal inside federal law enforcement.

Democrats, on the other hand, say the four-page document is misleading and part of an effort to undermine the bureau and Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller. His office is investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia’s attack on the 2016 election.

The intelligence committee voted along party lines on Monday to release the memo to the public. The White House says it’s currently reviewing the document, and the president said last night said that the chances of it being released are “100 percent.”

For now, the memo remains classified. Lawmakers who have read it say it alleges the FBI and Justice Department gave scurrilous or incomplete evidence to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to surveil people in the Trump camp.

In its statement, the FBI says it “takes seriously” its obligations to the FISA court that approves surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes. The bureau says it is “committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to ensure the continuing integrity of the FISA process.”

The FBI’s response also followed accusations by a Democrat on the intelligence committee that Nunes, a close Trump ally and member of the president’s transition team, of working with the White House to prepare and now release the memo.

On CNN Wednesday, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., relayed a conversation he said he had with Nunes during a committee meeting.

“I asked the chairman, ‘Did he work with'” the Trump administration, “and I asked all the preliminaries— coordinate, discuss—and he said, ‘not to my knowledge,'” Quigley said. “And I asked him, ‘Did your staff?’ And then he became quite agitated and he said, ‘I’m not answering that.'”

Quigley said there was a precedent for questioning Nunes’ contacts with the White House. He pointed to what he called the Republican chairman’s “midnight ride” to the White House in March to receive classified documents from the administration alleging improper “unmasking” of Trump associates in intelligence reports.

“I fully believe that Chairman Nunes has not changed his tactics. He began this investigation as a subsidiary of the White House, as someone who was coordinating with them rather than being an independent investigator,” Quigley said. “The sad part is he is the chairman of the committee that is investigating the most important attack on our country’s democracy in our lifetime.”

Nunes’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As Democrats raised questions about a possible White House role in crafting the memo, White House chief of staff John Kelly said he expected the memo to be made public soon.

“It will be released here pretty quick, I think, and then the whole world can see it,” Kelly told Fox News Radio on Wednesday.

Although the White House’s preference for making the memo public is clear, it remains unclear, at this point, exactly how the document would be released.

A senior Republican on the intelligence committee, Rep. Michael Conaway of Texas, told NPR that the memo would be published in the Congressional Record.

“As I understand the mechanics, the way we actually release is that we insert it in the Congressional Record. The House has to be in session to do that,” he said.

The House is currently out of session. It’s scheduled to return for a pro-forma session Friday afternoon, so if Conaway is right, then late Friday is the earliest the memo could be officially released.

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Cuban Hip-Hop's Freshest New Face: Golpe Seko

One of the first things to understand about Cuban music is that for most of the last five decades, there has been no recording industry there.

The Cuban government nationalized the existing industry in 1964. From then on, it more or less controlled what was recorded in the famed EGREM (Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales) studio complex in central Havana, a storied studio that I visited in 2016.

The other thing you need to know is that hip-hop arrived around the same time the Soviet Union collapsed and withdrew its economic support of Cuba in the early 1990s. What followed was something called “El Crisis” or “The Special Period,” which was full of shortages of things like food staples and medicine. Early Cuban hip-hop instinctively mined the intersection of hip-hop beats and Afro-Cuban beats while the lyrics took veiled shots at the government for the shortages.

Now, as in other parts of the world, an entire generation in Cuba has grown up with hip-hop. Guampara Music is an example of where those two histories came together. It bills itself as the first independent “urban” music label in Cuba and its first batch of hip-hop releases is about to make its way out into the world.

Yisi Calibre (left) and Darwin El Independiente of the band Golpe Seko

Courtesy of the Artist

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Courtesy of the Artist

First on the list is the band Golpe Seko, made up of vocalist Yisi Calibre and musician Darwin El Independiente. They are from Santiago de Cuba, down in the eastern corner of the island just across from Jamaica to the south and Haiti to the east. Those countries are important cultural reference points for the inhabitants of this part of Cuba. Golpe Seko’s music is an intoxicating mix of son, rumba, jazz, soul, dancehall, dubstep and African-influenced funk.

Golpe Seko’s first single, “Tiene Toke,” is an intriguing hint of what’s in store on their upcoming album, Golpe Seko Brothers. The beat is nuanced, taking cues from both Jamaican dancehall and changui, a style distinct to that part of the island. “Tiene Toke” also offers up a creative play on the traditional African call-and-response vocal tradition by layering a chorus against Calibre’s sing-song rapping.

Then the song takes an unexpected turn by featuring a Cuban tres, a small guitar like instrument with a history that reaches back to Spanish colonial history. The solo is musically adventurous with hints of avant-garde jazz licks, which don’t feel out of place at all.

During my visit to Cuba in June 2016, the band’s producer, DJ Jigue, played me a very early version of Golpe Seko’s music in his home studio in Havana Vieja. It is impressive to hear how he has captured the essence of their music by not adding things but by peeling away, revealing the artistry of the vocals and rich musical underpinnings.

“Tiene Toke” is a great introduction to the music of Golpe Seko, as well as to the underground music scene on the island that is about to bubble up.

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Fine China's Lush 'Anybody Else' Will Dance Away Your Melancholy

Fine China’s Not Thrilled comes out Feb. 23.

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Fine China was sassy. Side swept bangs, pouty lips with a poutier croon, lyrics that teased the macho scene surrounding them (“So I heard you got a punk band / What’s so punk about that?”), an album title that baited critics (2002’s You Make Me Hate Music), and a love for all things ’80s pop (think New Order, The Smiths, Pet Shop Boys, OMD) — it funneled into songcraft that was earnest with a wink, mopey hooks dipped in glittery pink.

I recently came across an old album review that derisively compared the band’s 2000 debut When the World Sings to “My Little Pony and gel bracelets,” which still would have been enticing to those of us with a softer, but definitely cheeky, disposition.

The band, which evolved from neon synths to lush guitar-pop, lived a desert and an ocean away from its British influences, but found a romance in its hometown of Phoenix, Ariz. In its initial run, they released a few EPs and three full lengths that culminated in 2005’s The Jaws of Life. But just as Fine China found its own footing within Anglophile leanings and vocalist Rob Withem took an introspective long view of existential excess and anxiety, the band broke up.

Now, 13 years later, Fine China returns with a new album on Velvet Blue Music, the label that released the band’s earliest singles just over two decades ago. Not Thrilled, ever the droll Withem witticism, sparkles with a twilight fade, sequenced like an old-school mixtape across a spectrum of meticulously arranged songs that maintain a reflective mood.

The opening track is quintessential Fine China. “Anybody Else” is quick to dispel the dreamy chimes for an effervescent guitar riff, Greg Markov’s bouncy and prominently textured bass line and Thom Walsh’s steady drums. If it sounds like the ’80s, that’s the point.

“I started this song fairly early in the process of writing the album and I feel like it is a good representation of my vision for the record,” Withem tells NPR. “I wanted a sound that hearkened back to singles from the mid to late ’80s that I heard on the radio as a kid — stuff like Don Henley and Dire Straits. But also root it in an elegant guitar-pop sound, like XTC or Crowded House.”

Withem no longer has that boyish falsetto, but his voice isn’t so much weathered, just an amber shade of honey. “I don’t know how to make the most of all this time,” he sings against a broody palm-muted guitar. It’s a stark contrast to the artificial light of the verse; anxious about a limited existence, but dancing away the melancholy all the same.

Not Thrilled comes out Feb. 23 via Velvet Blue Music.

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Lee Ann Womack On World Cafe

Lee Ann Womack

Ebru Yildiz/Courtesy of the artist

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Ebru Yildiz/Courtesy of the artist

  • “All the Trouble”
  • “The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone”
  • “Mama Lost Her Smile”

Lee Ann Womack could choose to sing anything in the world. She could sing the periodic table or the label on a can of baked beans or an essay about the various ways paint dries and it would sound thrilling.

On her latest album, Lee Ann has chosen to use her voice and songwriting chops for a specific purpose. Lee Ann told me she doesn’t hear Nashville artists making real country music anymore. She wanted to fill that void with a classic country record, the kind that captures heartbreak the way Hank Williams used to do — songs for the lonely, the lonesome and the gone — which is the fitting title of her latest work.

Although you might know Lee Ann best for her 2000 pop crossover hit “I Hope You Dance,” country music is what got Lee Ann excited about singing in the first place and what she set out to do as a young artist, dating all the way back to her debut 1997 single “Never Again, Again.”

We’ll talk about the moment Lee Ann realized the industry was pushing her in a musical direction she didn’t truly want to go in and about breaking free. Lee Ann’s album, The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone, is the second she’s released since parting ways with her longtime label, MCA Nashville.

Lee Ann kicks off this session with a live performance of the first song off TheLonely, the Lonesome & the Gone. Hear the complete session in the player above.

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USDA Denies Poultry Industry's Request To Speed Up The Slaughter Line

Chickens are carried through a poultry slaughterhouse on mechanical arms.

Alice Welch/U.S. Department of Agriculture

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Alice Welch/U.S. Department of Agriculture

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has denied a petition by the National Chicken Council to remove the line speed limit on work at some slaughterhouses, a move that food safety advocates are calling a victory for workers and consumers. As the Ohio Valley ReSource reported in October, the National Chicken Council proposal could have increased the line speed for some workers in processing plants where accidents and injuries are already a concern.

Since then, the USDA has received more than 100,000 public comments. This week, the department’s Food Safety Inspection Service turned the petition down.

“This is a direct rebuke of the poultry industry, whose business model is to sacrifice worker health in order to reap profits,” said Debbie Berkowitz, a former senior official with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration who is now a senior fellow with the worker rights group National Employment Law Project.

Berkowitz and other food-safety and worker rights advocates opposed the council’s petition, which the poultry industry said would have increased efficiency and modernized systems.

In September, the council petitioned the USDA to allow plants that operate under what’s known as the New Poultry Inspection System a waiver that would remove the current limit of 175 birds per minute. But the Food Safety Inspection Service’s Acting Administrator Paul Kiecker said the council’s proposal is redundant.

“We currently have a procedure in place for waivers, and we would expect to follow that,” he said. “We don’t want to set up any kind of a separate procedure that is strictly for line speed waivers for chicken plants.”

So far only 20 poultry processing plants operate under the optional inspection program, and some evidence indicates those plants have issues with worker and food safety.

A recent report by the advocacy group Food & Water Watch found that 30 percent of plants under the new system failed performance standards for salmonella. And federal data show that one Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Moorefield, W.Va., operating under the new system had five severe injury reports in a two-year period. That’s a higher injury rate than in any other similar facility in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.

Kiecker said most plants that are allowed to operate at 175 birds per minute do not. “As a matter of fact, when we just had the 20 plants that were underneath the waiver when we were doing the pilot, the average line speed at that time was 131 birds per minute,” he said. Kiecker said his service is working to establish criteria that would allow those plants to apply individually for higher line speeds if they can show a “history of process control.”

In a statement, National Chicken Council President Mike Brown said that although he is disappointed in the decision, he is pleased that it did offer opportunity for a “viable path forward” for those plants operating under the new inspection system to petition for higher line speeds.

Berkowitz said she will be watching that process. “We are hoping that the USDA does this through full notice and comment and puts everything on their website so the public can see what they are doing,” she said. “I think all of us have one main concern — and that is protecting consumers and protecting workers.”

Worker-safety advocates are also keeping an eye on a proposal to increase work speeds in the pork industry. The USDA recently announced a New Swine Slaughter Inspection System that will allow pig slaughterhouses to kill pigs at higher speeds if deemed safe.

This story comes from the Ohio Valley Resource: Seven public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Train Carrying GOP Lawmakers Hits Garbage Truck In Virginia

Updated at 12:32 p.m.

A train carrying House and Senate Republicans to their annual retreat in West Virginia has struck a garbage truck near Charlottesville, Va., according to multiple social media reports from members of Congress aboard the train.

At least one person was killed and one seriously injured according to a statement released by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“The President has been fully briefed on the situation in Virginia and is receiving regular updates,” Sanders said. “There are no serious injuries among members of Congress or their staff. Senior Administration officials are in regular contact with Amtrak and state and local authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone that has been affected by this incident.”

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake told CNN he was on the train near the front, and got off to help. He said there was a person who “was deceased” and another person who was “pretty bad off.” Flake added, “I hope he survives.” Flake said another person wasn’t as seriously injured, and was able to walk to the ambulance.

Flake said he was not sure if the those injured and killed were in the cab of the truck or was holding on to the back.

“We’re fine, but our train hit a garbage truck,” wrote Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon. “Members with medical training are assisting the drivers of the truck.”

We’re fine, but our train hit a garbage truck. Members with medical training are assisting the drivers of the truck. pic.twitter.com/0I9jOwHTmb

— Rep. Greg Walden (@repgregwalden) January 31, 2018

The Republican lawmakers are headed to the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia for a three-day strategy retreat focused on their policy agenda and this year’s midterms. They are scheduled to hear from Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday evening followed by a speech from President Trump on Thursday.

This is a developing story. Some things that get reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.

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Researchers Discover 'Anxiety Cells' In The Brain

Scientists zeroed in on specific neurons in the brains of mice to gain insights into how anxiety is triggered and suppressed.

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SPL/Science Source

Scientists have found specialized brain cells in mice that appear to control anxiety levels.

The finding, reported Wednesday in the journal Neuron, could eventually lead to better treatments for anxiety disorders, which affect nearly 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.

“The therapies we have now have significant drawbacks,” says Mazen Kheirbek, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco and an author of the study. “This is another target that we can try to move the field forward for finding new therapies.”

But the research is at an early stage and lab findings in animals don’t always pan out in humans.

The discovery of anxiety cells is just the latest example of the “tremendous progress” scientists have made toward understanding how anxiety works in the brain, says Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, which helped fund the research.

“If we can learn enough, we can develop the tools to turn on and off the key players that regulate anxiety in people,” Gordon says.

Anxiety disorders involve excessive worry that doesn’t go away. These disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder.

Kheirbek and a team of researchers discovered the cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain known to be involved in anxiety as well as navigation and memory.

They did it by studying some anxious mice, Kheirbek says. “Mice tend to be afraid of open places,” he says. So the team put mice in a maze in which some pathways led to open areas. Then the researchers monitored the activity of brain cells at the very bottom of the hippocampus.

“And what we found is that these cells became more active whenever the animal went into an area that elicits anxiety,” Kheirbek says.

This activity didn’t prove the cells were causing anxious behavior, though. So the team found a way to control the activity of these cells using a technique called optogenetics.

The team set out to answer a simple question, Kheirbek says:

“If we turn down this activity, will the animals become less anxious? And what we found was that they did become less anxious. They actually tended to want to explore the open arms of the maze even more.”

When the researchers dialed up the cells’ activity, the mice got more anxious and didn’t want to explore at all.

But there’s a lot more to anxiety than just these cells in the hippocampus, Kheirbek says. “These cells are probably just one part of an extended circuit by which the animal learns about anxiety-related information.”

For example, the cells in the hippocampus communicate with another brain area called the hypothalamus that tells mice when to avoid something dangerous. Kheirbek says other parts of the anxiety circuit might detect dangerous odors or sounds.

“You can think of this paper as one brick in a big wall,” Gordon says. In recent years, he says, scientists have been finding and assembling other bricks at rapid pace.

And they need to because anxiety disorders are “incredibly prevalent,” Gordon says. “They hit us in the prime working years of life, and our treatments are, at best, partially efficacious.”

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