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President Trump's new national security adviser, John Bolton, for years chaired the Gatestone Institute, a nonprofit advocacy group that published sensational and false anti-immigrant stories and fretted over a "great white death" in Europe, NBC News reports. Certain Islamophobic or anti-immigrant Gatestone stories were also picked up and circulated by Russian trolls, with Brookings Institution fellow Alina Polyakova explaining, "We see this kind of pattern emerge where a website puts up something, it looks like a news story, then bots and trolls amplify it."

Many articles published by Gatestone were intended to stoke fear, with one story claiming the German government was "confiscating homes to use for migrants" while in truth the city of Hamburg ordered the owner of six unused rental properties to renovate and list them. Tania Roettger, a journalist for Germany's Correctiv, emphasized the story as an example of how "Gatestone was known for disseminating false information."

While Bolton did not appear to personally write any of the concerning articles, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the adviser's ties to Gatestone are "very disturbing" seeing as he is "in one of the most powerful positions on the planet." Read the entire investigation at NBC News. Jeva Lange

April 19, 2018

Starbucks has faced fierce backlash after video was released of two black men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, being arrested in a Philadelphia store while waiting for their friend for a business meeting. In the wake of the incident, Starbucks has fired the manager, who called the police on the men, and announced that it will close some 8,000 U.S. locations next month to "conduct racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination in our stores."

On Thursday, Nelson and Robinson appeared on Good Morning America, where they gave their version of events. In the process, it was revealed that only two minutes elapsed between the pair arriving at the Philadelphia Starbucks and the manager calling 911.

"We're at the table, we sit down, we're just talking amongst each other," Robinson recalled. "[The manager] then comes from around the register ... walks up to us, asks if she can help us with anything, can we start with some drinks or water." After the men said no and that they were waiting for a meeting, police showed up to handcuff the men for "defiant trespassing," although they were not ultimately charged. Watch the full interview below. Jeva Lange

April 16, 2018
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German Prime Minister Angela Merkel faced criticism last week after she announced that "Germany will not take part in military action" against Syria in response to a recent chemical weapons attack on civilians. While France and Britain were on board with the U.S.-led retaliatory strike, Merkel emphasized that despite not taking action, "we see and support that everything is done to send a signal that this use of chemical weapons is not acceptable."

That apparently wasn't enough for the Trump administration, which reportedly tried to "shame Merkel's government into helping," Bloomberg Politics writes based on a conversation with a U.S. official. Bloomberg adds that the White House specifically argued that "Germany of all nations should be appalled by the use of chemical weapons on civilians."

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz also ran an article that echoed the sentiment: "Seventy years after the Holocaust, Merkel evidently considers pacifism more important than children being murdered with gas," writer Ofer Aderet slammed.

Following targeted action by the U.S., U.K., and France on Friday, Merkel confirmed the airstrikes were "necessary and appropriate." Jeva Lange

April 3, 2018
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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt used a provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act in order to give two of his favorite aides pay raises that had been rejected by the White House, The Atlantic reports.

Pruitt had sought pay increases of $56,765 and $28,130 for aides Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp respectively; both women had also worked for him when he was serving as attorney general in Oklahoma. Such an upgrade (which would have brought Greenwalt's annual salary to $164,200 and Hupp's to $114,590) requires White House approval, though, because the women are political appointees. The White House refused to approve the raises.

Pruitt then utilized a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which "allows the EPA administrator to hire up to 30 people into the agency, without White House or congressional approval," The Atlantic reports, adding: "By reappointing Greenwalt and Hupp under this authority, [Pruitt's team] learned, Pruitt could exercise total control over their contracts and grant the raises on his own."

The Safe Drinking Water Act isn't exactly an obscure provision; it was used by the EPA under former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, too. "But of the half-dozen former top EPA staffers interviewed for this article," The Atlantic goes on to say, "not one could comprehend using it as a means of increasing salaries — especially following a rejection from the White House."

Pruitt is already in hot water, and circumventing the White House's authority isn't likely to put him back in anyone's good graces. Pruitt has been scrutinized for his rampant use of taxpayer dollars to fly first class. It was also recently reported that he is living in the house of the wife of a top energy lobbyist on Capitol Hill for just $50 a night, raising questions about whether the situation constitutes an "improper gift." Read more about the EPA aides' pay raises at The Atlantic. Jeva Lange

April 2, 2018
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LGBT dating app Grindr has apparently been sharing users' information with third parties, including users' GPS locations, HIV statuses, relationship statuses, sexuality, and gay subcultures a user might identify with, BuzzFeed News reports. Grindr claims the companies with which it shares the data — app optimizers Apptimize and Localytics — are "highly-regarded platforms" and that "these are standard practices in the mobile app ecosystem," but critics say that by sharing the information, Grindr makes it easier for hackers to access sensitive data, potentially putting users at risk.

"Some people's jobs may be in jeopardy if the wrong people find out about their status — or maybe they have difficult family situations," one user, Chris Taylor of Seattle, told BuzzFeed News, adding: "It can put people in danger, and it feels like an invasion of privacy."

Grindr has long promoted HIV awareness, offering information about free testing sites as well as opt-in reminders for semiannual testing. Users can choose to show other users their HIV status, ranging from positive to positive and in treatment to negative. "The HIV status is linked to all the other information," explained one of the researchers who helped identify the security issue, Antoine Pultier of Norway's research group SINTEF. "That's the main issue."

Added James Krellenstein, a member of ACT UP New York, an AIDS activism organization: "To … have that data shared with third parties that you weren't explicitly notified about, and having that possibly threaten your health or safety — that is an extremely, extremely egregious breach of basic standards that we wouldn't expect from a company that likes to brand itself as a supporter of the queer community." Read more about the investigation at BuzzFeed News. Jeva Lange

March 26, 2018
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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has allegedly dismissed the topic of diversity in his department to a number of his high-ranking staffers on different occasions, sometimes putting it bluntly and stating, "I don't care about diversity," CNN reports. Zinke apparently stressed to members of his team that "what's important is having the right person for the right job" and said concern about having a diverse team is something he does not believe is "important anymore."

More than 70 percent of the 68,000 staffers who work for the Department of the Interior are white. In June, the department reassigned 33 senior executive staffers, about half of whom were minorities — a move many deemed fishy, because of the 235 senior officials in the department, about 28 percent are minorities, although 40 percent of the group who were reassigned were not white.

"If you look at the actions he's taken, they are unbalanced in regards to minorities and women," said one manager who is a minority. "If you look at the people who were moved and you look at their race or gender, it's very obvious that this is a person that does not embrace the concept of diversity."

Zinke has faced a number of scandals since taking office, including scrutiny over his travel and outcry for saying "konichiwa" to Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) after she told him about her grandparents' experience in Japanese internment camps during World War II. Jeva Lange

March 20, 2018
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Former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn dismissed Cynthia Nixon as being an "unqualified lesbian" after the actress announced she is going to challenge New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary. Quinn, who made her comments to the New York Post, also expressed irritation that Nixon endorsed her Democratic primary opponent for New York City mayor in 2013, Bill de Blasio.

"Cynthia Nixon was opposed to having a qualified lesbian become mayor of New York City," Quinn said. "Now she wants to be an unqualified lesbian to be the governor of New York. You have to be qualified and have experience. She isn't qualified to be the governor."

Quinn additionally praised Cuomo, saying the incumbent has "accomplished [a lot] including a $15 minimum wage" and "opposing fracking."

Nixon responded to Quinn in a statement, saying "her being a lesbian and my being a lesbian" is not the issue, and that the race is about "the corruption in Albany."

Cuomo has also taken shots at Nixon, a former Sex and the City star, telling reporters: "If it's just about name recognition, I'm hoping that Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Billy Joel don't get into the race."

Update 2:57 p.m.: Christine Quinn has apologized for her remark in a series of tweets: "To be clear, Cynthia Nixon's identity had no bearing on her candidacy and it was not my intention to suggest it did," she said. "I want to be clear about that. I would never, EVER criticize someone because of their identity." Read her full response here. Jeva Lange

March 16, 2018

Adult film star Stormy Daniels was allegedly threatened with "physical harm" in relation to her claims that she had an affair with President Trump in 2006, her lawyer told the hosts of MSNBC's Morning Joe on Friday.

"Was she threatened in any way?" co-host Mika Brzezinski asked lawyer Michael Avenatti, who confirmed "yes." Brzezinski followed up by asking, "Was she threatened physical harm?" Avenatti again confirmed "yes," although he stopped short at elaborating if it was by the president himself, or what exactly the threats were, and pushed for Americans to tune into Daniels' 60 Minutes interview on March 25 for details.

Daniels signed a nondisclosure agreement with Trump's attorney in October 2016, receiving $130,000. Trump has denied that the affair occurred. His attorney, Michael Cohen, has said he helped "facilitate" the payment to Daniels. Jeva Lange

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