Riot police in Belarus attack protesters calling for end to dictatorship

Crackdown by President Lukashenko follows two months of demonstrations against his 23-year rule

Armed riot police and water cannon were deployed in cities across Belarus and the internet was shut down across the country on a day of protest and human rights marches.

People were on Saturday night reported to be still attempting to demonstrate in the capital, Minsk, as well as in Brest and Grodno, on what was the national Freedom Day. There were sporadic outbreaks of violence as masked police closed down key roads and charged at marchers to stop crowds forming. Witnesses claimed it was the most determined crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko so far in what has been two months of protests and opposition to his 23-year rule.

A cordon of riot police armed with clubs laid into one group trying to march down a main avenue, said one activist, Alexander Ponomarev: Theyre beating the participants, dragging women by the hair.

Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Vladimir Nekliayev is among more than 300 people who have been arrested and detained over the past few days, while 57 people using a human rights and legal centre in Minsk were held for several hours before being released.

Lukashenko is in a panic, in fear of his own people, said Natalia Kaliada, of the charity Belarus Free Theatre, who spoke from Brussels, where she had been lobbying the EU to resume sanctions against the regime in Belarus that were lifted last year.

Its a strategy of arrests and clearing the streets and blocking the internet that they think will spook people, but people are very angry. All these arrests and splitting up the crowds might make things a little quieter in Minsk, but now these protests are happening all over Belarus, she said. This is the worst crackdown over the last seven years, but it would have been the biggest protest. People dont care, they want an end to this dictator. They say basta enough.

The European Union lifted most of the sanctions against named individuals in Belaruss ruling elite in February 2016 in what was seen by some critics as being a reward for the role Belarus took in hosting peace conferences between Russia and Ukraine. The move horrified many human rights organisations, which point to the deeply repressive regime led by Lukashenko, who was described by former US president George W Bushs secretary of state as Europes last dictator.

It is a geopolitical game, Belarus is barely on the radar for the EU and yet it is dangerous to ignore what is happening there not just dangerous for people in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, but for the whole world, said Kaliada.

The most recent unrest has been sparked by a presidential decree that taxes the unemployed and part-time workers around 200 a year. The decree, launched as an anti-parasite tax, met widespread criticism from citizens, activists and journalists.

Earlier this month Lukashenko announced that he would suspend the deadline for payment until his government had reviewed the policy, but protest against his Soviet-style rule has continued to grow. Last week the president claimed that foreign-supported elements were agitating to bring him down.

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‘Business and politics are inseparable’ says our favorite Silicon Valley tweeter

Box CEO Aaron Levie

Box CEO Aaron Levie isn’t one to keep his mouth shut, providing often witty commentary on Twitter, at conferences and on television about Silicon Valley and the state of the industry.

In the last two years, it’s been a lot of talk on Trump and politics. On Thursday, the enterprise startup CEO (@levie) spoke on CNBC’s Closing Bell and discussed how politics has affected his business and the tech industry at large.

“There’s no question that there’s a lot of noise right now, and it’s reaching kind of fever pitch. There are so many issues today where policy intersects with business and intersects with our ability to be competitive,” Levie said.

“While we’ve loved to be able to separate policy and politics from business, there are so many things that impact our way of life and our competitiveness,” he continued.

He brought up:

  • Immigration Reform

  • Encryption Policy

  • Privacy Issues

  • Global Trade

  • Healthcare

Levie and the anchor entered in a somewhat awkward discussion on the United States’s bi-partisan setup and whether that disrupts progress.

“It’s unfortunate that our bi-partisan system equates a side to each issue as opposed to letting us discuss each issue on its own merit and be able to focus on how do we have an economy and a country that can let companies stay innovative,” he said.

Some Silicon Valley CEOs have been scrutinized for their stances and action (or more negatively inaction) on each of the above issues. Many companies have signed amicus briefs in response to policies enacted by the Trump administration.

The loudest response from the Valley came in response to President Trump’s ban on immigrants arriving from seven Muslim-majority nations.Ninety seven tech companies had signed a 54-page amicus brief, with dozens more joining in the following days.

WATCH: This office accessory leaves the sitting or standing desk debate in the dust

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Hollywood star and #WCW Lynn Chen is not your average foodie

The Daily Dot is celebrating Woman Crush Wednesday, better known as #WCWonTwitterandInstagram, by highlighting female creators onYouTubewhose work we admire.

Lynn Chen credits her first performance, age five, at the Lincoln Center for getting this entire ball rolling. These days her resume is as diverse as the food videos she compiles via television, film, stage, and digital media. But Chen is not your average Hollywood celebrity, or your average food-obsessed Los Angeles Instagram star.

After years of battling an eating disorder and depression, Chen is using her experiences to shatter societys notions of the perfect body, and through her redefined relationship with food, inspiring women around the world to follow suit.

Chens accolades run deep, with recent roles in Fear the Walking Dead and Silicon Valley; popular blog and podcast, The Actors Diet; and continued work on YouTube with both her own channel, as well as collaborations with ISAtv, BuzzFeed, and Tastemade Facet. She played the villain Goh Xiulan in Call of Duty: Black Ops III, and in 2013, for her work as an ambassador to the National Eating Disorder Association, Chen was named the New Generation of Social Activists by Marie Claire.

But shestarted her personal YouTube channel as a place to document and share her food adventures.

I love that food has become a way to allow me to connect to people—we all have to eat—and gives me something to focus on when I’m not acting, Chen tells the Daily Dot. Her videos are a family affair, with appearances and recipes shared from in-laws, cousins, nephews, and parents. In one of my favorite series, her Disneyland behind-the-scenes for BuzzFeed, Chen collides her love of Disney and food into tips and tricks to navigating the parks food scene like a pro.

As a presenter, Chen is instantly likable, which can be credited to just how relatable she feels. Shes impressively found outlets for all her passions, and while she’shonest about the challenges of juggling them all, it inspiresseemingly everyone who tunes in. Her advice for those who are passionate, but perhaps intimidated by the competition of Hollywood is to stay true to their vision.

he entertainment industry is always changing. So anybody who tells you they’ve got it figured out today will most likely be wrong tomorrow. Just keep doing your thing and take a break if you need to. There’s never any harm in stepping back when it all gets to be too much, she says.

As an eating disorder survivor, Chen has talked at length about the pressure she often felt growing up to look a certain way. This pressure, coupled with her experiences growing up in a culture where food is a vital part of tradition and social etiquette, spurred her to address the contrasting intersections between food and body image in the Asian-American community. She often speaks at colleges and conferences about the unspoken presence of eating disorders.

Nick McBurney

Chens voice is making YouTube a more colorful and honest place.

YouTube gives people a platform—I love how many young Asian-Americans feel free to speak their mind and express their creativity, Chen says.

Her refusal to be pigeonholed into one type of Hollywood character has continued the fight for more accurate media representation. Whether you follow her for food reviews, stories of perseverance, or to hear more about women in media, Chen offers a little something for everyone. Grab a moon pie and get to streaming.

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Facebook had to create a no-assholes policy for F8, and that’s just tragic

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg onstage at last year's F8, presumably not being catcalled.
Image: Eric Risberg/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Facebook’s big F8 Developer Conference is right around the corner and if you’re planning on heading to San Jose to attend in person next month, Facebook has a clear message for you: don’t be an insensitive, selfish asshole.

Visitors to the Code of Conduct section of the event’s page have been greeted by an extensive set of community guidelines and policies regarding prohibited behavior. The list encapsulates just about everything you’d hope wouldn’t be tolerated in the nearest middle school locker room, let alone a professional conference held by one of the biggest companies in the world: name calling, inappropriate jokes and unwelcome touching are just a few of the outlined behaviors deemed “not ok.”

It’s admirable that Facebook is making it clear it’s not going to tolerate boorish behavior at the event but really, the fact that the list is so specific and so extensive is a reflection of the sorry state of the tech industry’s culture on the whole. With sexism scandals in the headlines and a reputation for leaving women and people of color out of the mix, it’s fair that F8’s organizers felt the need to set some strict rules.

The ridiculousness of the strict guidelines was first brought to light by Bloomberg’s Shira Ovide.

Here’s the full list of the code of conduct:

The list is really just common courtesy.

Image: screenshot/facebook

Facebook clarifies that it’s list of banned behaviors doesn’t encapsulate all unacceptable conduct. It’s relying on people to use their best judgment. Let’s hope no poorly behaved programmers make it their personal mission to push the boundaries and innovate their way to the top of the dbag charts. And that attendees keep things, you know, civilized by standing up for each other and reporting bad eggs to security.

It’s unclear how much more extensive these rules are compared to F8 conferences past, but it’s clear they have gotten Silicon Valley talking. There’s no word on how Facebook will actually stamp out the bad behavior of offenders, but advocating for solidarity among attendees isn’t a bad place to start.

The tech industry has a long way to go before its boys’ club atmosphere is a thing of the past, and making clear declarations that bad behavior won’t be tolerated at a prestige event is only a small sign of progress. Who knows, though if groups of people who love to be described as geniuses are given basic instructions for common courtesy enough times, they might just start to learn something.

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Google is in big trouble for putting ads near terrorist and Nazi videos

Google is facing a growing advertiser boycott in the UK.
Image: david paul morris/Getty Images

Google now has a full-scale advertiser revolt on its hands.

A host of British brands and governmental groups pulled their business from the search giant’s platform last week after reports showed that ads were surfacing on YouTube videos from terrorists and hate-mongers.

Several more joined in over the weekend, including three of the UK’s largest banks HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, and Lloyds and British department store Marks & Spencer.

The crisis was enough to prompt ad industry analyst Brian Wieser to downgrade parent company Alphabet’s stock from “buy” to “hold” on Monday.

He warned that the backlash has the potential to spill out from the UK to the rest of the world.

“We think that the problems which have come to light will have global repercussions as UK marketers potentially adapt their UK policies to other markets and as marketers around the world become more aware of the problem,” Wieser wrote in a research note from his firm, Pivotal Research.

As of Monday afternoon, Alphabet stock was only down around a half a percent after trading at an all-time-high price in recent days.

The Royal Bank of Scotland isn’t too keen on advertising on offensive videos.

Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

The ads in question were first uncovered through a series of investigations by The Times of London and The Guardian in recent weeks. The papers found that Google’s automated systems were placing ads for major brands on videos of former KKK leader David Duke, Islamic State sympathizers and a homophobic preacher who praised the Orlando nightclub shooting, among other controversial content.

It’s unclear whether these mistakes are more common in the UK, or that’s simply where they’re getting press attention at the moment.

But Google’s head of European operations, Matt Brittin, also conceded the global scope of the issue during a public apology at the Advertising Week Europe conference on Monday, according to AdAge‘s report.

“This is a good opportunity for me to say sorry, this should not have happened, and we need to do better,” Britten said.

Google offered another mea culpa in a blog post last Friday after the British government called a hearing with the company to determine why taxpayer-funded ads were found in such disturbing places.

Neither of the apologies offered much in the way of concrete fixes, beyond a vague promise to figure one out in the coming weeks.

Wieser cited the lack of clear direction as one of the reasons for the downgrade.

“The approach comes across to us as attempting to minimize the problem rather than eliminating it, which is the standard we think that many large brand advertisers expect,” he wrote.

You can probably expect to see more hat-in-hand statements from Google this week as its execs face crowds of wary ad professionals at one of the industry’s biggest conferences in London.

“This is a good opportunity for me to say sorry, this should not have happened, and we need to do better”

Google and Facebook currently have duopoly control over the online ads market. Some leading industry figures have recognized that collective force among big brands is the only way to counterbalance that power.

Leading the charge is Marc Pritchard, chief marketing officer at the world’s biggest advertiser, Procter & Gamble, who’s been outspoken in his criticism of the digital ads model.

“The days of giving digital a pass are over,” Pritchard said in a call to arms at an Association of National Advertisers meeting in January. “It’s time to grow up. It’s time for action.”

The boycott in the UK seems to be one of the first instances of advertisers actually following through with that sentiment.

With other long-simmering tensions between marketers and digital platforms now reaching a head including rampant ad fraud, transparency in how ads are sold, and measurement concerns it may be only the beginning.

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Republican healthcare bill faces biggest test yet: GOP defectors

With the bill due to face a vote in the House, Donald Trump and GOP leaders remain confident it will pass Paul Ryan, however, is committed to changes

The Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has survived a damning report from the Congressional Budget Office, bipartisan opposition, criticism from virtually every corner of the healthcare industry, and even dueling powerpoint presentations.

This week, it is likely to face its most consequential test yet a vote on the floor of the House.

Even though several members of that chamber have openly decried the American Health Care Act (AHCA), Donald Trump and GOP leaders remained confident this week that it was on track to pass.

At a rally in Nashville, Trump vowed to repeal and replace horrible and disastrous Obamacare. Its gonna be great. Its gonna be great, the president said of the replacement plan. And then we get on to tax reductions, which I like.

In the frenetic push to keep their longstanding promise to repeal the ACA, Republicans and White House officials are moving aggressively to court conservative support.

But they must also reassure an increasingly worried public, after a Congressional Budget Office report estimated that 14 million Americans would lose health insurance in the first year under the plan, and 24 million would be uninsured by 2026.

A Fox News poll found that a majority of respondents (54%) opposed or strongly opposed the Republican healthcare plan compared with just 34% who said they favored or supported it. Asked why they opposed the bill, 67% said it was because the legislation would make too many changes to Obamacare.

The House speaker, Paul Ryan, eventually conceded that changes would have to be made to the AHCA, while conservatives opposed to it maintained they had enough votes to block its passage if such changes were not substantial. In an interview on Fox News Sunday, he said Republicans were looking at the higher healthcare costs of people in their 50s and 60s, in particular.

The CBO analysis found that older people would pay higher premiums under the Republican plan, and gave the example of an 64 year old who had an annual income of $26,500. Under the ACA, that person would pay a $1,700 premium for insurance coverage. Under the Republican plan, that same person would pay $14,600, more than half the persons annual income.

Ryan argued the CBO report only looked at a little piece of the issue and said regulatory changes would help bring market freedom to insurance markets by dramatically lower[ing] the costs of insurance.

Even with that, we think we should be offering more assistance than what the bill currently does, he added.

As currently written, the Republican plan would eliminate the requirement that Americans purchase healthcare or face a fine, but keep popular provisions including a requirement that insurers cover the sick and allow young people to stay on their parents insurance.

On Thursday, the House budget committee passed the bill in a 19-17 vote. Three conservative members of the Freedom Caucus opposed it. By Friday one of the three, Alabama representative Gary Palmer, said he had changed his mind.

Palmer was among a dozen members of the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) invited to the White House to discuss their concerns with the president. After the meeting, Trump bragged: Every single person sitting in this room is now a yes.

The ACA, known to many as Obamacare, was on its last dying feet, he said.

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

Great meeting with the @RepublicanStudy Committee this morning at the @WhiteHouse!

March 17, 2017

North Carolinas Mark Walker, chair of the RSC, said Trump won support by agreeing to allow states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients and to block grant federal funding for the welfare program, as opposed to the per capita cap policy currently in the bill, which would give states a set amount of money per person.

Asked how he would respond to constituents and colleagues who call the Republican bill Obamacare-lite, he replied: Youre looking at some of the top conservatives in the House. We stand united today to move this forward for the American people.

Republican leaders are still trying to shore up support. The chair of the Freedom Caucus, North Carolinas Mark Meadows, said he definitely had enough votes to derail a bill without substantial structural changes.

Meanwhile, Democrats are seeking to turn the issue to their political advantage after years of being attacked.

Trump has promised that any replacement plan would have insurance for everybody. The CBO report made clear the plan will not do that.

Democrats are hammering that point at press conferences and rallies across the country. This week, Connecticut senator Chris Murphy offered a powerpoint presentation in response to one given by Ryan after the plan was first unveiled.

Democratic senator Debbie Stabenow holds a news conference with people who may be negatively affected by the proposed American Health Care Act. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Several fiscal hawks and conservative advocacy groups are opposed to the AHCA, arguing that it retains too much of the ACA and does not do enough to lower the cost of premiums.

On Wednesday, hundreds of conservatives braved freezing temperatures for a day of action on Capitol Hill. At the event, organized by the grassroots groups FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots, activists waved signs that read repeal Obamacare and keep your promise and cheered when Republican lawmakers took the stage to trash the replacement plan.

Failure is not an option, the Texas senator Ted Cruz said, to applause. If Republicans take this opportunity and blow it, we will rightly be considered a laughingstock.

The bill also faces criticism from moderate Republicans, especially those from states that chose to expand eligibility for Medicaid under the ACA, and from influential organizations representing doctors, hospitals, insurers and patients.

Oregon representative Greg Walden, chair of the House energy and commerce committee, which approved the bill on a party-line vote, dismissed the opinions of such groups, which include the AARP, the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association, as part of a medical-industrial complex.

The bill next goes to the House rules committee, which will consider changes. Ryan has said he hopes to bring the bill to the floor for a full House vote next week. Republicans will need 216 votes, if all Democrats oppose as expected.

Republicans do not have much room to tinker with the legislation. If conservatives win too many concessions, the plan is unlikely to pass the Senate, where Republicans have raised a number of objections already.

The president himself has acknowledged the difficulty of drafting a bill that will pass muster on all sides.

You do something for one side and the other side doesnt like it, he said.

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School Apologizes For Asking Students To Make Slave Auction Posters

Parents of students at an elementary school in New Jersey are furious after fifth graders were given an assignment suggesting that they recreate slave auction posters.

Teachers at South Mountain Elementary School in South Orange, New Jersey told students to draw a colorful poster advertising an event that might occur during the time period they were assigned for a Colonial America history lesson. The assignment listed a poster for a lecture, speech, protest or slave auction as examples.

One student-made poster listed enslaved men and women as a field hand or a fine house girlwhile another served as a wanted dead or alive poster. The school displayed the childrens completed posters on their walls during parent-teacher conferences, ABC 7 reported.

While visiting, parents, including Jamil Karriem, noticed the images. Karriem posted them on Facebook and condemned the assignment for lacking context.

Educating young students on the harsh realities of slavery is of course not the issue here, but the medium for said education is grossly insensitive and negligent, he wrote. In a curriculum that lacks representation for students of color, it breaks my heart that these will be the images that young black and brown kids see of people with their skin color.

He urged community members to reach out to the administration about the issue.

A representative from South Orange Maplewood School District sent The Huffington Post the statement Superintendent John Ramos, Sr. sent parents on Wednesday.The assignment was a part of a three-part Colonial America project, which the school has assigned for the past decade, Ramos said in the statement.He said he understands why some parents found the images disturbing.

SOMSD is committed to infus[ing] cultural competency in every aspect of our learning community, Ramos said. As part of this never-ending process, it is important that we reflect on the unintended effects of our curriculum, instruction, and interactions. Having reflected on the concerns shared with us, we have decided to remove the slave auction posters from South Mountain hallways, and we apologize for any unintended offense or hardship this activity has caused.

He added that the board is planning a town hall meeting to continue the conversation. On Sunday, Ramos and South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education President Elizabeth Baker sent a joint statement on diversity and inclusion in their school district, according to theSouth Orange Patch.

The administrators said that theres still work to be done:

We understand that celebrating diversity is not the same as embracing it, and that the adoption of policies is only one step. We all acknowledge that there are significant hurdles and historic inequities that are embedded in institutions at every level. We have much more, intensely difficult and self-reflective, work to do as we examine and correct decades of individual and institutional, explicit and implicit bias. As a community, we must not only recognize the resulting manifestations and harm, but work together with honesty and diligence towards solutions.

Watch ABC 7s video above for more on this story.

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Why March Madness is bad for college basketball

Allen Barra: The NCAA tournament is as wildly popular as ever, but the increased emphasis on March means fewer people are paying attention to the regular season

So you call yourself a college basketball fan? Now that youve filled out your brackets, ask yourself this question: how many college basketball games have you watched this year on TV? How many have you seen in person?

For an increasing number of Americans, the answer is none, or in most cases, not many. And if youre looking for a reason why the first four months of the college roundball season are received with such indifference, consider two words: March Madness.

The National Collegiate Athletic Associations mens basketball tournament is the biggest, baddest, most spectacular playoff in American sports. Really, nothing else comes close: 68 teams from schools all over the nation big powers, small powers, teams from schools you never heard all duking it out on the hardwood.

The tournament is the NCAAs cash cow and its principal means of holding together so many schools under its banner. Its incredibly popular: last year over 350 million people checked in on the tournament on social media.

In workplaces all over the country, people who havent watched a college basketball game all year find themselves filling out brackets predicting the winners, even though the odds of a perfect bracket are estimated to be anywhere from 1 in 4.3bn to 1 in 9.2 quintillon. Billionaire Warren Buffett offered the prize of $1m to be paid out annually for life to any of his Berkshire Hathaway employees just for picking a perfect Sweet 16.

And thats a problem: Most March Madness watchers havent watched a college basketball game all season, either on TV or in person. As the tournament has grown in the public consciousness, fewer and fewer people are paying attention to the rest of the season diminishing the importance of college basketball itself.

This was first noted several years ago. As Paulsen SMW wrote in the Sporting News on 30 March 2015, as the tournament has increased in popularity, the same cannot be said for the regular season. The overwhelming majority of college basketball regular-season games barely registered in the ratings. Few other sports have such a discrepancy between the regular and postseasons. Regular season games averaged approximately 434,000 viewers across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPNEWS, NBCSN, FS1, FS2, FOX and CBS a fraction of the 9.9 million for the tournament to date.

Ratings for the 2015-16 regular season confirmed the trend. College basketball viewership was down during the regular season across most networks, according to Austin Karp in Sports Business Daily. Part of the decline can be attributed to a constant shuffle of the mens top 10, while record figures for presidential debates on cable TV also had an impact. However, the trend for regular-season college hoops viewership has been going down for years now for several networks.

March Madness is more popular than ever, but not necessarily because the sport as a whole is thriving. Photograph: Julie Jacobson/AP

No matter how you look at the numbers, regular-season college basketball is declining in popularity, not only in TV viewers but ticket sales. The NCAA grudgingly admits that attendance at regular season games dipped for the eighth straight year.

There are nearly as many theories about why ratings and ticket sales are declining as there are commentators. The expansion of NBA teams to areas that were once bastions of college basketball, the continuing recession and lack of disposable income for college students, and increased competition from other professional sports during the college season are likely factors. To say nothing of increased ticket prices. Last year, the highest average home game ticket for the Duke Blue Devils was $198.02 and a ticket for the second games between Duke and arch-rival North Carolina went for over $1,500. At those prices youd have to be in the 1% to take your family.

But Charles Barkley lays the blame directly on the NCAA tournament: A lot of fans just have the feeling: Who cares what happens during the regular season when all that matters is what happens in the tournament? Its bad for a game that used to be built on rivalries that went back decades, that were important to fans whether or not they had anything to do with deciding the national championship. Its like the season doesnt matter anymore except for deciding who gets what seed.

Barkleys on to something. But even if we knew for sure that March Madness is draining viewership away from the rest of the season, its unlikely that college basketballs powers that be would do much about it. The tournament accounts for more than 90% of the NCAAs revenue, and individual colleges benefit from it financially as well.

The numbers are staggering. In 2010 the NCAA inked a 14-year deal with CBS and Turner Broadcasting for $10.8bn to broadcast the tournament. In 2015 ad revenue alone was estimated a $1.1bn.

The participating schools also gain big through a complicated system of units paid to all conferences. In 2015 about $205mi was divvied up, with the big schools raking in huge payoffs (the Kentucky Wildcats earned $8.2m when they made it to the Final Four) and even the smaller conferences whose schools generally dont make it past the round can receive a check for a couple of million.

How did the NCAA become the caretaker of this massive infusion of cash?

The current state of affairs was solidified when the NCAA bought out the only remaining competition to March Madness, the National Invitational Tournament. The NIT was born a year earlier than the NCAA, in 1930, and for decades held a significant advantage over the younger tourney: the NIT could offer schools from all over the country a trip to New York and exposure from the nations media center.

The NIT was weakened, though, by the 1951 betting scandal in which numerous players were found to have taken money for shaving points or even, in a few examples, having thrown games altogether. The scandal allowed the NCAA which vowed to clean up college basketball, a boast it has never lived up to to more or less pull even in stature with the NIT. Until the 1980s, the two organizations constantly quarreled, with the NCAA pressuring its conference winners to appear only in their tournament.

In 1985, though, the NCAA came into the dominant position by raising the number of participant schools to 64 (now 68) and corralling enough money in the national TV contracts to pay everyone. That was the birth of bracketology as we know it today.

In 2005 the NCAA ended the rivalry by purchasing the rights to the NIT for more than $56m, continuing the lesser tournament and ensuring an additional 32 colleges and their conferences a fat paycheck every spring.

What no one has yet been able to calculate is whether or not those checks will make up for lost revenues as overall interest in college basketball declines.

So, yes, the Division I mens basketball tournament has done well for the NCAA. Whether it has done well by the game is more doubtful.

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Trump’s ‘Wiretap’ Claims Are A Return To Those Old Birther Instincts

On Wednesday, one of the most zany press conferences in recent memory took place on Capitol Hill. It featured the two most important members of the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Democratic ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). They appeared at a bank of microphones, to try to clear the air about a claim made by President Donald Trump the assertion that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, had ordered the intelligence community to drop wiretaps on Trumps phones at his Manhattan redoubt, Trump Tower.

We dont have any evidence that that took place, said Nunes. You cant level an accusation of that type without either retracting it or explaining just why it was done, Schiff added.

But what made the whole affair so absurd wasnt the substance of the two representatives remarks. Rather, it was the straight-facedness of it all. There were Nunes and Schiff, speaking in their best tones of gravitas, standing soberly, with stern faces, before a smattering of reporters. Absent any context, an observer would have looked upon these proceedings and assumed that some grave matter of state was being discussed. That something vital and necessary was at stake. That there was something, based fundamentally in the rational world, that had led everybody to this point.

But on Thursday afternoon, any sense of rational order was dashed anew, when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer took to the White House press room, and lengthily lectured the assembled reporters about how Trumps claims were valid and important despite the fact that the highest-ranking members of both the House and Senate intelligence committees had spoken with the same clear voice, insisting that there was no evidence to support Trumps claim.

Against that, Spicer had no countermeasure at hand other than brute force so he went on and on, reading news stories that everyone in the room had already heard, none of which advanced Trumps specific accusation of an Obama-ordered wiretap campaign.

I think its important to remember that the root cause of all this michegas is the fact that Trump is an emotionally unstable, fake news-loving nitwit, and that this specific outpouring of nitwittery has now consumed a lot of the time and energy of people on the government payroll who are, ostensibly, serious.

Is it necessary to return to where all of this began? The timeline is very easily reconstructed from the record. Trump gave a joint address to Congress on Feb. 28.It was deemed a success. He was so happy to bask in the medias adulation that he decided to hold off on issuing any further versions of his Muslim travel ban because he didnt want the goodwill to end.

But it did end, rather suddenly, a day later, when news broke that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had met with Sergey Kislyak, Russias ambassador to the United States, during the presidential campaign directly contradicting testimony during his confirmation hearings. Sessions succumbed to the public pressure to recuse himself from the Justice Departments inquiries into Russian involvement in the U.S. election, a move that incensed Trump and touched off another angry Friday evening confrontation with his staff.

Sometime Saturday morning, a seething Trump awoke and read a crazy piece on Breitbart news, which related the strange accusations of right-wing radio host Mark Levin, in which Levin alleged that Obama had wiretapped Trumps phones at Trump Tower as part of a silent coup. And, as is his wont, Trump impulsively tweeted about it, furthering this nonsense and plunging all of Washington into another round of, WTF just happened?

Up to this point, of course, the entire world had been aware that there was an ongoing probe into alleged Russian skullduggery and the possible connections to members of Trumps inner circle. Also well known: The investigation involved surveillance. Over the summer, the FBI sought a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that would allow the agency to monitor transactions between four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials, and two Russian banks. That warrant was denied; the FBI was successful on the second filing, which only named the banks as targets.

Obviously, all of this was at the very least a distraction, if not a problem, for the Trump White House. But Trumps accusation that Obama had dropped wiretaps on his office was an entirely new level of weird. And it did not go unnoticed that Trump had no evidence to back up his claim. A spokesman for Obama issued a near-immediate denial, which was soon followed by one from Obamas director of national intelligence, James Clapper. Intelligence officials contacted by The Washington Post called the allegation highly unlikely. And FBI Director James Comey immediately demanded that the Justice Department publicly refute Trumps wild assertion.

But the crazy had only begun to leach into the Beltways bloodstream. And the beating heart of the lunacy was the White House itself, which seemingly pursued several contradictory paths at the same time. You had Kellyanne Conway insisting that the reason no one in the larger intelligence community could answer to the claim was because Trump had information and intelligence that the rest of us do not. Yet at the same time, Trump was demanding a congressional investigation. But if he had this intelligence, why force Congress to find its own? This was the contradiction at the center of a remarkable exchange between Spicer and NBC News Hallie Jackson during the March 7 White House briefing.

None of this really went over well on Capitol Hill. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who chairs the Senate Armed Service Committee, summed up the mood in his demand that Trump either retract or provide the information that proved his outlandish claim. Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee was demanding the Justice Department furnish evidence, which the department could only struggle to do.

With Capitol Hill plunged into chaos, the Trump White House continued to muddy the waters in two ways. First, as The Huffington Posts Michael Calderone documents at length, the administration, in concert with pro-Trump news sources, attempted to reverse-engineer the news insisting that the only thing that Levin and Breitbart had done was re-report news that had already been fully established in mainstream media accounts.

This was the game plan that Spicer attempted to run anew at Thursdays press briefing. But as Calderone noted, were well past this. Forensic analyses of these claims found that this notion that Obamas wiretapping of Trump Tower was a thing that had already been widely, and specifically, reported on by the media was wanting, to say the least.

The second thing the White House began doing in earnest, once it became clear that it could not produce the necessary evidence, was to embark on a mission to modify and walk back Trumps original claim, looking for some credibility-restoring sweet spot. And so, we were treated to the spectacle of Spicer, in a previous briefing, telling the White House press room that Trump did not intend to necessarily imply that his phones were wiretapped when he accused Obama of tapping his phones. The president used the word wiretaps in quotes to mean, broadly, surveillance and other activities.

NBC News Bradd Jaffy, however, collected the receipts. Youll note that Trump was exceedingly specific in his accusations this had nothing to do with surveillance activities, broadly.

Youll probably also note that Spicers he used wiretaps in quotes defense is a nonstarter. He did so in two tweets, but it was not some kind of standard Trump consistently applied.

All of this culminated in an interview with Fox News Tucker Carlson, which quickly became such an orgy of goalpost-moving that RedStates Jay Caruso called it a rambling mess. That may be a charitable assessment! But Caruso makes some pretty keen observations, such as this one (emphasis mine):

This is where President Trump makes me nervous. Hes used the Other people have said it excuse for unfounded allegations hes said before. For example, in the case of supposed voter fraud, he stated in an interview with ABC News, lots of people are saying they saw things happen. Its as if he believes as long as he thinks somebody is levying an accusation of some kind, its safe for him to repeat it.

Do you recognize that impulse? I do, because it was central to Trumps entire political identity. This is birtherism in another form, on another topic. And its the classic Trumpian version of the same. Hes glommed onto someone elses crazy idea, retrofitted it to serve his ends, and is endeavoring mightily to stretch this insanity out for as long as he can and to claim what spare advantage he can as a distraction to cover his own shortcomings. The attempts to reverse-engineer reality, to constantly move the goalposts, and to refuse to acknowledge the truth that this is all just a rambling conspiracy theory wholly divorced from the rational world are the birther stock-in-trade. (You might also recall that Trump once promised that investigators hed personally dispatched to Hawaii were always perpetually on the verge of some big, earth-shaking discovery.)

And thats to say nothing of the birthers eternal drive to get someone else to do their work for them. Trumps demand that Congress prove his allegations for him is a behavior that every reporter whos had contact with someone from the birther movement will immediately recognize its always someone elses responsibility to make sense of their lunacy.

Of course, Trump was never a true believer in the birther movement he was just an opportunistic dabbler. And even now, as Trump and his White House promise that there are revelations to come he alleges that some very interesting items will be coming to the forefront over the next two weeks I think I have a sense of how this will end: Trump will say the media started the Obama wiretap accusations, and that he ended them.

Weve seen it before. Well see it again. Maybe next time, everyone will remember that Trump likes to pull these nutter stunts before several congressional committees and intelligence agencies are drawn into the mania.

The Huffington Post


Jason Linkins edits Eat The Press for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast So, That Happened. Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

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Former Trump pick now lobbying for Ukrainian Oligarch

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump’s original pick for deputy national security adviser is now lobbying for a Ukrainian businessman who once advocated that Kiev acquiesce to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

Conservative commentator Monica Crowley, who would have served as the administration’s national security spokeswoman, withdrew from the transition team in January after a series of CNN’s KFILEreports revealed that she had plagiarized parts of Ph.D. dissertation at Columbia University.
According to a Friday filing with Justice Department, Crowley is now lobbying for Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch and former Ukrainian politician.
    Crowley “will be providing outreach services on behalf of Mr. Victor Pinchuk,” according to the Foreign Agents Registration Act filing, which requires people working onbehalf of a foreign entity in a “political or quasi-political” capacity to file records.
    Such services include “inviting government officials and other policymakers to attend conferences and meetings, such as the annual Munich Security Conference, to engage in learning and dialogue regarding issues of concern to Mr. Pinchuk.”
    Pinchuk, whose total net worth has been valued by Forbes Magazine at just around $1.4 billion, has donated substantial sums to both the Clinton and Trump foundations.
    In December Pinchuk penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal calling on Kiev to be willing to “make painful sacrifices,” including forestalling its NATO and EU aspirations and abandoning its claim to Crimea in return for Russia ending its support for separatists in Ukraine’s east.
    During the campaign, Trump similarly expressed openness to recognizing the Russian annexation ofCrimea. Since then, his administration has taken a tougher line, pledging to maintain sanctions on Moscow over the issue.
    The news of Crowley’s lobbying on behalf of a foreign client comes a week after Trump’s former national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department, acknowledging that the work he did during the transition may have benefited the Turkish government.
    Justice Department, acknowledging that the work may have benefited the Turkish government.

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