Blackout hits 45,000 Sydney homes amid Australia heatwave


Thousands of homes and businesses have been left without power in eastern Sydney, Australia, electricity company Ausgrid reported on Thursday. The incident also left several people trapped in elevators and disrupted traffic, after 23 traffic lights in the area were shut down, police said. The cause of the outage that was reported in Randwick, Bondi Junction, Bondi, Kensington, Waverley, Double Bay and Woollahra areas is still to be determined. Power was restored to some 10,000 out of the 45,000 affected homes on Thursday afternoon. Sydney is currently battling a heatwave with temperature rising above 35 degrees °C (95 °F).

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‘Trump spars with US intel because he does not trust Deep State’ – former CIA analyst to RT


President Donald Trump’s bickering with US intelligence chiefs over Iran is at least in part due to his aversion to career government officials, the ‘deep state’ that outlived many presidents, CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou said.

Trump has stunned the US intelligence community this week when he publicly cast doubt on their assessment of Iran. While presenting the community’s annual review of threats on Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that Iran does not appear to be pursuing nuclear weapons and abides by the 2015 Iran deal, from which Trump withdrew last year.

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Coats’s words are in a stark contrast with hawkish rhetoric that Trump employed against Iran while still on the campaign trail and which he has ratcheted it up since taking over the White House. Without mincing his words, Trump called the intelligence’s take on Iran “wrong” and refereed to the “intelligence people” as “extremely passive and naïve,” suggesting they “go back to school.”

Kiriakou believes that the otherwise unusual clash between the US leader and his own spies is not unusual for Trump, since the current US president “is not a professional politician” and “does not trust government.”

“On the other hand, the Director of National Intelligence, the CIA director, the FBI are career intelligence officials, they have been in intelligence for decades. And so, they are very much a part of what people are now calling the ‘deep state’,” the former CIA analyst told RT.

In addition, Trump is generally not inclined to trust anybody by himself, Kiriakou added.

“He believes what is in his gut, and there is nothing that you’re going to be able to say that is going to change his mind.”

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Trump’s inner circle, which includes National Security Adviser John Bolton and Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), both known for their hardline militaristic views on foreign policy, does not help the situation, Kiriakou noted.

The public embarrassment of his top intelligence chief may have extra value for Trump at the moment since it works to reassure his base, that he – and not the Deep State – is in control, Kiriakou suggested.

“He wants his base, he wants his followers to understand that he is the one in charge. They are not in charge. They can come up with whatever intelligence conclusions they want, but he is the one that has the final word.”

The spat between Trump and the intelligence community does no favors to the image of the country,Kiriakou said, arguing that the standoff of that kind is unlikely to be repeated once Trump is replaced by “somebody who would be carrying out mainstream foreign policy.”

The US “will go back to position of normalcy” eventually, he said, calling Trump’s ascendance “an anomaly” and “an accident.”

FBI ‘politically biased’ against Trump

Trump did not trade blows with his own intelligence and security people for the first time. Since the start of FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigation, which he repeatedly blasted as a “witch hunt,” Trump has attacked former FBI Director James Comey and once claimed in a tweet that the agency’s “rank and file” are “disgusted” with their “so-called” leaders.

Kiriakou said that the FBI did not think highly of the president either, arguing that the agency is leading a campaign to oust him from office with possible indictment in the Russia probe.

“Many of them have a problem with Donald Trump. I think they have gone after Donald Trump and many of his associates because of that political problem that they have.”

“FBI can be and is indeed politically biased,” Kiriakou said, noting that while “normally very conservative,” the agency’s political tinge has changed over the years with Washington field office becoming “very politically liberal.”

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Jury awards Senator Rand Paul $582,000+ in damages over attack


Published time: 31 Jan, 2019 00:14

A Kentucky jury has awarded Senator Rand Paul more than $582,000 in damages in a civil suit against his neighbor, Rene Boucher, who admitted to attacking him in November 2017 over a dispute involving lawn waste. The Republican senator, who suffered six broken ribs and underwent hernia surgery following the attack, seemed pleased with the verdict, tweeting “It’s never ok to turn those disagreements into violent, aggressive anger. I hope that’s the message from today.” While Boucher pleaded guilty to the assault in federal court and has already served 30 days in jail, plus a $10,000 fine and 100 hours community service, Paul filed the civil suit to deter him from committing further violence, explaining “you just can’t let people get away with this kind of stuff.”

Polar vortex causes massive 21-car pile-up on upstate NY highway (PHOTOS, VIDEO)


Published time: 31 Jan, 2019 00:10

Treacherous winter storm conditions caused a 21-car pileup on a highway in upstate New York, east of Batavia, forcing the entire interstate to close for several hours. One of the vehicles involved was a State Police car.

New York State Police are on the scene investigating and assisting drivers involved in the grisly accident that took place in the eastbound lanes of Interstate Route 90. The crash happened around 2 pm local time, between Batavia and Rochester in Genesee County.

State Police are on the scene and investigating a multiple vehicle crash on the Thruway near Batavia. More than 20 vehicles, including a state police vehicle, were involved in the crash.

— NewYorkStatePolice (@nyspolice) January 30, 2019

One of the cars was a State Police cruiser. The officer was reported injured but his life is not threatened. The condition of other drivers was not immediately known.

Look at the snow drifts at the Thompson Farm out in Batavia. A travel advisory has been issued for Genesee County. Expect near zero visibility at times.

— Mark McLean (@Wxandgardenguy) January 30, 2019

ALERT-WESTERN NY: All lanes are blocked on I-90 westbound at exit 47 due to an accident. Westbound traffic is being diverted off of exit 47 (LeRoy). Motorists are advised to seek alternate routes, and expect delays.

View the Travelers Map:

— NYSThruwayAuthority (@NYSThruway) January 30, 2019

A travel advisory was issued for Genesee County on Wednesday afternoon. Video from nearby roads reveals the whiteout conditions in which the crash took place.

The freakishly cold, snowy weather besieging much of the northern US comes from the polar vortex, a mass of cold air normally found around the Arctic Circle that occasionally breaks apart to send icy devastation southward. 

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Orthodox canon ‘not a weapon for conquest’: American Synod rejects new church in Ukraine


The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) has released a letter to its clergy and congregation announcing that they will not recognize the new Orthodox Church in Ukraine and denouncing those who treat the faith as a political tool.

Citing widespread ‘confusion’ and ‘scandal,’ the Holy Synod of Bishops clarified the OCA’s position to their nearly 85,000 adherents in Monday’s letter. The autocephalous American jurisdiction is joining Poland, Serbia and Antioch in refusing to recognize the newly formed ‘Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).’

The Synod declared their “deep sorrow and distress” over how the creation of the Ukrainian government-backed OCU led to a schism in the universal Orthodox faith. The OCU was recognized and declared autocephalous by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople earlier this month. The body itself was formed last year, from two schismatic churches.

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Before granting the new church formal independence, Constantinople declared null and void a 1686 letter that acknowledged the Russian Orthodox Church as the religious authority over Kiev and entire Ukraine. Moscow responded by severing diplomatic and spiritual ties with Constantinople, arguing that it marred itself by recognizing as canonical the schismatic priests in Ukraine.

With most other autocephalous Orthodox Churches distancing themselves from the conflict, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), a self-governed part of the Russian Orthodox Church, remains the only universally recognized Church in the country. The leadership of the OCA maintained a tone of pastoral diplomacy, but expressed their continued recognition and support for Metropolitan Onufry, who heads the UOC.

The creation of the OCU is largely a political project of the current government in Kiev, part of its overall effort to break all ties with Russia. As part of his current reelection campaign, President Petro Poroshenko has advertised his role in convincing Constantinople that it should support the schismatic churches. The new church enjoys full support of the secular authorities while the Moscow-connected UOC was targeted by several laws aiming to dictate how it should operate.

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One such law demanded that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church change its name to include the word ‘Russian’ in its name – supposedly to show its affiliation. Another one was apparently conceived to legalize the state seizure of church property, but was amended at the last moment under pressure from the EU and other religious organizations in Ukraine.

The American Church indirectly recognized the political aspects of the Ukrainian religious crisis, comparing it to how the OCA gained independence from Moscow in 1970. Becoming autocephalous is “not a declaration of independence, an expression of nationalism, or an excuse for isolationism,” the OCA letter stressed.

The Synod avoided making any explicitly political commentary though, instead offering a generalized criticism of involving the Church in secular matters: “The canonical tradition of Holy Orthodoxy is not a weapon to be wielded for conquest but a remedy to be applied for the healing of human souls.”

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Thought-to-speech: Scientists say their AI can read out what happens in your brain


Neuro-engineers at New York’s Columbia University say they have created a system that can translate human thoughts into recognizable speech, which would revolutionize not just medicine but communication.

By monitoring brain activity of subjects, the researchers at Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute were able to train artificial intelligence to translate thought patterns into intelligible sentences, says a paper published on Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports. The authors see patients with speech impaired by disease or trauma as first adopters of the incipient technology.

“We’ve shown that, with the right technology, these people’s thoughts could be decoded and understood by any listener,” said Dr. Nima Mesgarani, the paper’s senior author.

After the researchers’ early attempts to translate brain activity into recognizable speech failed, they turned to a computer algorithm that can generate speech, called a vocoder. The algorithm improves the more it is “trained” by recordings of human speech.

Researchers Translate Brain Signals Directly Into Speech

This breakthrough, which harnesses the power of speech synthesizers and artificial intelligence, could lead to new ways for computers to communicate directly with the brain. #ai#BCI#speech#science

— Neuroscience News (@NeuroscienceNew) January 29, 2019

“This is the same technology used by Amazon Echo and Apple Siri to give verbal responses to our questions,” said Dr. Mesgarani, who is also a professor at Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The vocoder was trained to interpret brain activity with the help of Dr. Ashesh Dinesh Mehta, a neurosurgeon at Northwell Health Neuroscience Institute in Long Island, and the paper’s co-author.

“Working with Dr. Mehta, we asked epilepsy patients already undergoing brain surgery to listen to sentences spoken by different people, while we measured patterns of brain activity,” said Dr. Mesgarani. “These neural patterns trained the vocoder.”

After this training was done, the next phase started. The patients listened to a person reading numbers from 0 to 9 while the algorithm scanned the brain activity and tried to translate it into sound. The result was a robotic voice reading numbers, which human listeners could understand and repeat with about 75-percent accuracy.

This may seem quite modest, but Dr. Mesgarani said such a result is “above and beyond any previous attempts.” The researchers plan to improve the system further, so that it could take as input brain patterns of a person thinking about speech, not actually listening it.

“This would be a game changer. It would give anyone who has lost their ability to speak, whether through injury or disease, the renewed chance to connect to the world around them,” Dr. Mesgarani said.

The technology will also need to work with more complex words and sentences to become more practical. The ultimate goal for the team is to create an implant that would synthesize speech directly from thought.

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‘It could have been any one of us’: NY mom died trying to carry baby and stroller to subway


A young mother fell to her death attempting to carry her baby and stroller down the stairs to a New York subway station. Her tragedy has renewed calls to expand accessibility for the subway’s disabled riders – and mothers.

Malaysia Goodson fell onto the subway platform at the 7th Avenue station on Monday night while trying to maneuver her one-year-old daughter Rhylee in her stroller down the stairs. By the time emergency personnel arrived, Malaysia was unconscious and unresponsive; she was pronounced dead at Mount Sinai West hospital. Rhylee was found conscious and treated on the platform, then reunited with her grieving father and grandmother.

Very sad to hear about the passing of Malaysia Goodson who honestly could have been any one of us who have carried strollers up and down stairs in the #nycsubway It’s treacherous, especially for bassinet strollers.

— Sunil G (@deepblue1) January 29, 2019

Maneuvering a stroller down treacherous steps is a common experience for mothers in the city. The station where Goodson met her tragic end lacks an elevator, as do more than three quarters of New York subway’s 472 stations. The few elevators sprinkled throughout the system are frequently out of service, difficult to access, undersized or otherwise noxious, leaving disabled city residents at the mercy of city buses or the dysfunctional Access-a-Ride system, which can involve hours-long waits and no-shows.

Thinking of the many times strangers helped carry my stroller down the subway steps. Women always are the first to help.

Goddamn. #MalaysiaGoodson

— Joy (Aliza) Katz (@Joy_Katz) January 30, 2019

Metropolitan Transit Authority head Andy Byford’s “Fast Forward” plan would install elevators in more than 50 stations over the course of the agency’s next five-year capital plan, on top of the 19 that are part of the current plan, eventually leaving no subway rider more than two stops from an elevator-accessible entry point by 2025 – a fantastic idea, everyone agrees, except that it will cost $40 billion and has not been funded.

Our hearts💔go out to Malaysia Goodson’s family & surviving baby. How many of us seen this danger/struggle while riding @MTA? #Access is a life or death issue.

It’s appalling #NYC can’t “find” $ for basic subway needs like elevators, but do for multibillion $ corps like Amazon😡

— (@ColorOfChange) January 29, 2019

The MTA is forever facing budget shortfalls after decades of mismanagement and corruption, and its oversight by state rather than city government – whose offices are located hours away from any subway stations – means funding is often an afterthought. While New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the transit agency “must make accessibility a priority,” only he has the ability to fund it.

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There has been some progress, however. Byford hired the first “senior adviser for systemwide accessibility” last year, perhaps inspired by a 2017 lawsuit filed by a group of disability organizations who allege the subway’s abysmal accessibility violates city human rights law and the Americans with Disabilities Act. That suit has reportedly been joined by the Justice Department and is still active.

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Venezuela’s top court bars self-declared president Guaido from leaving country & freezes assets


Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) has banned self-proclaimed ‘interim president’ Juan Guaido  from leaving the country without permission, blocked his bank accounts and other financial assets, and prohibited him from selling any property he might have in Venezuela. The court said that the measures were imposed at the request of Attorney General Tarek William Saab, who has launched a preliminary investigation into Guaido for “serious crimes that threaten the constitutional order.” Guaido’s main foreign backer, the US government, has warned of “serious consequences” should the Venezuelan government “harm” its protégé in any way, including arresting him.

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US needles China with $2.1bn Aegis missile sale to Japan


The US State Department has approved the sale of two Lockheed Martin AEGIS Ashore ground-based anti-missile systems to Japan, the latest move in Tokyo’s ongoing military buildup that has set China on edge.

The proposed $2.15 billion sale, which includes related missile defense equipment also manufactured by Lockheed, was reported to Congress by the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency on Tuesday. Also approved was a related command and control processor refresh, which will be built by General Dynamics.

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The AEGIS Ashore is the land-based version of the main US naval anti-missile system, which Japan already has on some of its destroyers. The batteries will be able to fire the SM-3 Block IIA/Block IB interceptors once deployed sometime around 2023, and will add the supersonic SM-6 interceptors to its arsenal by the end of the decade. The sites for the systems are expected to be in Japan’s Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures.

The deployment of AEGIS Ashore systems by US allies is a matter of controversy, since its launch system can be used to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles and other ordnance, effectively making them a potential offensive asset. Russia, for example, has been criticizing the decision to station this system in Poland and Romania for years, saying it puts a large part of European Russia within range of a surprise strike. China similarly objected to Japan’s plans to host the system when they were first announced in 2017.

Japan insists that the system is purely defensive and needed to protect the country from a possible missile strike by North Korea. That justification has not changed much in the past two years, despite the thaw in relations between Pyongyang and Seoul, the continuation of talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump, and the fact that Kim hasn’t launched a nuclear-capable missile in over a year.

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A defense spending document released in December laid out Tokyo’s plans to spend a record $243 billion to further beef up the Japanese military. Weapons purchases from the US account for a significant part of the plan, with Tokyo set to buy some 150 F-35 fighter jets of different variants and other expensive hardware.

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‘Several thousand’ more troops headed for US-Mexico border – Pentagon


A few thousand US military service members will be sent to the border with Mexico in the coming days, the Pentagon confirmed, as another migrant ‘caravan’ made its way north from Honduras.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requested additional surveillance capability and concertina wire, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

“We’ve responded with, you know, here’s how many people it would take,” Shanahan said. However, he would not disclose the exact number. When asked how many troops would be headed to the border, he said “Several thousand, and I’ll kind of leave it at that.”

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A Pentagon spokesman later followed that up, explaining that the Department of Defense is “currently sourcing the units involved and there will be an increase of a few thousand troops,” and that “we will provide more clarity on the numbers when we have it.”

All the troops are in a “support role” to civilian authorities and not engaged in law enforcement, Shanahan stressed.

President Donald Trump initially ordered almost 6,000 troops to the southern border in late October, as two migrant caravans trekked through Mexico. His critics accused him of a publicity stunt ahead of the November midterms.

Some 3,600 of those troops have since returned to their bases, but 2,300 soldiers still remain on the border. Earlier this month, Shanahan authorized extending their mission through the end of September 2019. Another 2,200 National Guard troops are deployed on the border as well.

That decision came within days of another “caravan” forming in Honduras and setting out for Mexico, with the US as their final destination. According to multiple reports, its numbers have swelled from the original 2,000 members to something like 12,000.

Just so you all know there is a second migrant caravan heading towards the US-Mexico border right now as we speak, but still I see no coverage on it! #CaravanaMigrante

— 🇲🇽Kev🇱🇰 (@kevinkandamby) January 26, 2019

Seeking to crack down on illegal immigration, Trump has vowed to build a border wall along several sections of the border with Mexico, but has been met with determined resistance by congressional Democrats, who refuse to authorize any funds for the purpose. The standoff has led to the recent 34-day government shutdown, the longest in US history.

Congress has less than three weeks to pass a border security bill that Trump would be willing to sign, and there have been no signs of a deal emerging. Reopening the government last week, Trump said he was prepared to invoke a national emergency and redirect Pentagon funding towards wall construction.

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