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Hungary Deploys New Anti-Invasion Force

The Hungarian government has deployed the first of a proposed 3,000-strong “border hunter” force to back up existing police and army patrols securing that nation’s borders against the Third World invasion.

(New Observer Online)

According to a Reuters report, the auxiliaries are being deployed after a six month intensive training course, and are being recruited with salaries well above the national average.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who at a swearing-in ceremony of border hunters last week described the flood of Muslims pretending to be refugees as a “Trojan horse for terrorism,” has warned that a new wave of invaders entering Europe via the Balkans route is on the way.

 

“Hungary had to act to defend itself. The storm has not died; it has only subsided temporarily,” he said. “There are still millions waiting to set out on their journey in the hope of a better life (in Europe).”

The training of the new border force is being carried out at Barcs, a border crossing with Croatia. Barcs was where hundreds of thousands of nonwhite invaders flooded into Hungary after having passed through Croatia from Serbia.

Barcs is now quiet, the result of Hungary’s extensive border building plans on its own borders and its help to neighboring Croatia and Serbia in reinforcing their borders.

Recruits for the new border force must be between 18 and 55 years old, and able to undergo training similar to police and learn other skills such as guarding a border fence, detaining large groups of invaders and tracking their paths.

Like police officers, border hunters will carry pistols with live ammunition, batons, pepper spray, and handcuffs, and will also be equipped with night-vision goggles if needed.

“The defense of Hungary is the most important for us,” one recruit, Adrienn Heronyanyi, 23, told Reuters.

Asked under what conditions border hunters could use force against migrants, regional police chief Attila Piros told Reuters that the rules were the same as for police, namely to “break resistance” but only as a last resort.

In addition, the Hungarian parliament passed a law allowing for the detention of all invaders in camps along its border. The measure has provoked hysterical opposition from all pro-invasion bodies such as the United Nations and the European Union.

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New view of dinosaurs could radically reshape their family tree

The dinosaur family tree may need to be radically rewritten — and even uprooted and replanted elsewhere, a new analysis of about 75 different species shows.

The findings, published in the journal Nature, hint that dinosaurs may have originated in the northern hemisphere rather than the southern, and could upend an understanding of dinosaur evolution that has gone largely unchallenged for some 130 years.

“We might all have to rearrange our mental furniture,” Kevin Padian, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology who was not involved in the study, wrote in a commentary.

To figure out the family tree of long-extinct animals with fossilized bones, scientists have to carefully study their shared features to see which ancient species were related, and what their common ancestors looked like. It’s tricky and painstaking work, especially since similar physical features can sometimes emerge independently in two different species — a phenomenon known as convergent evolution. (Wings emerged separately in birds and bats, for example.)

Historically, dinosaurs have largely been categorized according to the shape of their pelvic bones — grouped either into “bird-hipped” dinosaurs such as Ornithischia, a group that includes stegosaurus, triceratops and duckbilled hadrosaurs, or into the “reptile-hipped” Saurischia. Saurischia is split further into theropods (including Tyrannosaurus rex and all birds) and Sauropodomorphs (which includes sauropods such as long-necked Apatosaurus).

But the fossil record hasn’t been entirely supportive on that point, Padian pointed out. The black-sheep ornithischians, for example, have brought a bagful of uncomfortable issues to family get-togethers.

“In this dinosaur family-grouping game, the joker in the pack has always been Ornithischia,” he wrote. “From their earliest appearance, they have been weird. They have a strange additional chin bone, their incisor teeth are smaller than those of other dinosaurs, their cheek teeth are regular and closely spaced like molars, they have beaks, and their hip bones are enigmatically organized. Also, unlike nearly all the other dinosaurs except Sauropoda, they are clearly herbivores, as their teeth and jaws show.”

Stranger still, he pointed out, was that ornithischians didn’t start diversifying in a major way until about 200 million years ago, around the Late Jurassic or Early Jurassic period — even though they should have had plenty of time to do so.

That’s not to mention that the “bird-hipped” ornithischians actually show an uncanny resemblance to “lizard-hipped” theropods (such as T. rex and velociraptor). This caught the eye of lead author Matthew Baron, a paleontology doctorate student at the University of Cambridge who wondered if that 19th century definition could be wrong.

“When I was looking at them, I noticed that many of the earliest ones had features that were very similar to those of theropods (meat eaters). This was odd to me as the old model for how we classify dinosaurs said that these two groups were distantly related,” Baron said in an email.

Other papers classifying early dinosaur relationships also did not include “an adequate sample of early ornithischians” as a point of comparison, the study authors wrote.

“Because of their weird anatomy and rarity,” Baron said, “people have often overlooked Ornithischia when asking questions about the earliest dinosaurs.”

For this paper, Baron and his colleagues decided to take another look at the relationships between these dinosaur groups — one that threw out the assumptions that guided those previous groupings.

Other studies that looked at ornithischians, for example, tended to analyze what they already saw as shared traits of the group. But here, the scientists compared about 75 species using a whopping 457 different characteristics. Some of those traits would previously have been noted as points of comparison only in theropods or sauropodomorphs, but the scientists included ornithischians in their analysis of those traits, too.

“This is roughly 35,000 individual data points that had to be input by hand, based upon my observations,” Baron said.

The researchers’ analysis of the dinosaurs’ skulls, teeth and skeletal structures appears to result in a significant reshuffling of dinosaur relationships. Rather than being an earlier, “basal” group, ornithischians are the sister group to theropods, together in a new clade the authors called Ornithoscelida. (The term itself is not new: It was coined by English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley around 1870.) The group Saurischia keeps sauropodomorphs but loses theropods in favor of herrerasaurids, which could never find an agreed-upon home in the traditional family tree.

“The results of this study challenge more than a century of dogma and recover an unexpected tree topology that necessitates fundamental reassessment of current hypotheses concerning early dinosaur evolution, palaeoecology and palaeobiology,” the study authors wrote.

If other scientists test the authors’ hypothesis and also find that the family tree is in for major pruning and grafting, the findings could have major implications for our understanding of dinosaur evolution.

For example, Padian pointed out, it’s now possible that ornithischians may be descended from theropods (though he was quick to point out that the study authors didn’t go so far as to say that).

“Also puzzling is Baron and colleagues’ finding that the primitive-looking herrerasaurids, from the South American Triassic, are the sister group to the sauropods,” Padian added. “This link is not strongly supported, but it is intriguing. Herrerasaurids were carnivores, and they are usually linked to or included with the carnivorous theropods.”

This suggests that the meat-eating traits in herrerasaurids and theropods (such as sharp teeth and large skulls) actually arose independently in those two lineages, rather than being a shared characteristic. That means that dinosaurs’ original ancestor may not have been purely carnivorous — an idea supported by recent research, which shows that the earliest dinosaurs were probably small, omnivorous and walked on two legs.

The new family tree also means that dinosaurs may have originated not in South America (on the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana), but instead somewhere in the northern hemisphere, on what was then supercontinent Laurasia.

“We know this will be controversial,” Baron said. “We are disagreeing with 130 years of consensus. Some people have expressed a desire to test our hypothesis for themselves, and we really do welcome that. We want this to start a great new debate in our field, and we hope that people test our ideas and search for new specimens and new evidence that might support or refute our finds.”

Boy with skin disorder finds best friend in dog with same condition

Rowdy, a 14-year-old dog with vitiligo, is helping to change the way kids with the same skin disorder see themselves.

Rowdy, a 14-year-old dog with vitiligo, is helping to change the way kids with the same skin disorder see themselves.  (White Eyed Rowdy Needs YOUR Help – GoFundMe)

An 8-year-old Arkansas boy and a 14-year-old dog in Oregon diagnosed with the same skin condition met for the first time this weekend, after an anonymous donor saw a news report on their online friendship and offered to help. Carter Blanchard and a black lab named Rowdy both have vitiligo, a skin disorder that appears as patches of lighter skin throughout the body.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BRzyk_PgG7r/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=7“Around the age of 11, he started to get just a little white,” Niki Umbenhower, Rowdy’s owner, told KATU.com. “I didn’t think anything of it. I just thought he was getting old.”

“You buy [Abbott] for the management quality, and underlying that is the quality of the business portfolio they’ve built” – Igo…

Thousands of miles away and around the same time, Carter began noticing patches on his skin.

“I used to pick up Carter from school from kindergarten and first grade, and the first thing he would say is that he hates his face and hates his skin,” Stephanie Adcock, Carter’s mother, told KATU.com.

Adcock found Rowdy’s Facebook and Instagram page, where Umbenhower shares fun photos and updates, and shared it with Carter. For the next year, the two began building their “digital” friendship, with Rowdy helping Carter build more confidence about his skin, Adcock said.

“[Rowdy] really changed the way he saw his own skin,” Adcock told KATU.com. “It wasn’t a problem anymore. So ever since then, we have been keeping in touch.”

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Frowdyumbenhower%2Fposts%2F1844757402439660&width=500Through a donor’s generous contribution, Adcock and Carter boarded a plane, and met Rowdy and Umbenhower in person, with the boy and pup becoming fast friends.

“I had goosebumps when I think about the moment they walked through the door,” Umbenhower told Fox 8. “I’m actually tearing up.”

“Really, it was life changing for him,” Adcock told Fox 8. “It changed his childhood for the better, it was a gift I couldn’t give him.”

Rowdy has recently suffered some health complications, and Umbenhower is hoping to raise enough funds to help other children with vitiligo meet Rowdy.

AT&T, other U.S. advertisers quit Google, YouTube over extremist videos

SAN FRANCISCO — AT&T, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson and other major U.S. advertisers are pulling hundreds of millions of dollars in business from Google and its video service YouTube despite the Internet giant’s pledge this week to keep offensive and extremist content away from ads.

AT&T said that it is halting all ad spending on Google except for search ads. That means AT&T ads will not run on YouTube or two million websites that take part in Google’s ad network.

“We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate,” the company said in an emailed statement. “Until Google can ensure this won’t happen again, we are removing our ads from Google’s non-search platforms.”

Sanette Chao, who handles marketing communications and branding for Verizon, confirmed that mobile operator has also pulled its ads.

“Once we were notified that our ads were appearing on non-sanctioned websites, we took immediate action to suspend this type of ad placement and launched an investigation,” Chao said in a statement.

Google declined to comment on the defection of advertisers.

“As announced, we’ve begun an extensive review of our advertising policies and have made a public commitment to put in place changes that give brands more control over where their ads appear,” the Internet giant said in a statement. “We’re also raising the bar for our ads policies to further safeguard our advertisers’ brands.”

The decision by major U.S. brands to yank ads, first reported by the Times in the U.K., indicates that an advertiser boycott that began overseas is quickly spreading.

Google is attempting to quell a growing furor by the British government and major brands in the U.K., and now the U.S., angered over the placement of online ads alongside offensive or extremist content — such as videos by white supremacists or the Islamic State. In response, earlier this week Google that it would pull online ads from controversial content, give brands more control over where their ads appear and would deploy more people to enforce its ad policies.

So far, Google has not done enough to reassure advertisers, says Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser, who downgraded Google parent company Alphabet’s stock on Monday. He had warned the U.K. boycott could have global repercussions for Google.

More than 250 organizations including the British government, Toyota and McDonald’s have stopped advertising on YouTube in the U.K., according to The Times.

US media analyst: “This has ramifications across digital advertising. Google don’t seem to fully comprehend the scale of concern.”

Wieser says these advertiser defections are just the first shoe to drop in the United States, and other advertisers will likely follow.

“Google’s response to the matter has been insufficient so far, and it’s not clear that they’ll develop one that is sufficient soon enough to deter others,” Wieser said.

That was the case for Johnson & Johnson, which said Wednesday it had decided to pause all YouTube advertising globally “to ensure our product advertising does not appear on channels that promote offensive content.”

“We will continue to take every measure to ensure our brand advertising is consistent with our brand values,” the company said in a statement.

That’s easier said than done in the digital age. Brands often don’t know where their online ads are running. That’s because much of the ad buying in question, programmatic ad buying, is computerized, with machines making the decision on where ads should appear on the Internet, all with very little human oversight.

That kind of ad buying “has gotten ahead of the advertising industry’s checks-and-balances,” Enterprise Holdings spokeswoman Laura Bryant said. The car rental company also pulled its ads from Google and YouTube.

“There is no doubt there are serious flaws that need to be addressed,” Bryant said in an emailed statement. “As a result, we have temporarily halted all YouTube advertising, while executives at Google, YouTube and our own media agencies focus on alleviating these risks and concerns going forward.”

Related:

An investigation by The Times in the U.K. found that companies, university and nonprofits had their ads appear on hate websites and YouTube videos created by supporters of terror groups such as the Islamic State. The ads on popular videos likely generated significant income for extremists, according to the newspaper.

For example, an ad on YouTube for the new Mercedes E-Class ran next to an ISIL video praising jihad that has been viewed more than 115,000 times, according to the Times. Luxury holiday company Sandals Resorts had an ad run next to a video for al-Shabaab, the East African jihadist group affiliated with al- Qaeda, the investigation found. After The Times informed Google, the company removed some of the videos. Companies that have pulled their ads from Google over the controversy include Volkswagen and L’Oreal SA.

Advertisers who announced they had pulled their business on Wednesday said they were working with Google to resolve the situation.

GSK, the world’s sixth-largest pharmaceutical company, said the placement of its brand next to extremist content “is completely unacceptable to us.”

But, GSK said it was encouraged by the steps Google has taken in recent days, and said it would continue to work with Google “to make further progress in developing adequate safeguards to ensure that advertisers are not placed in this position.”

Wieser says Google must adopt a zero tolerance policy for putting brands in “unsafe environments when they place ads.”

With the changes announced late Monday, advertisers on YouTube and on Google’s ad system that places ads across the web will be able to exclude websites and videos that are “potentially objectionable,” will have greater latitude to decide where they want their ads to appear and will have more “visibility” on where their ads are running.

“We know advertisers don’t want their ads next to content that doesn’t align with their values,” Philipp Schindler, Google’s chief business officer, wrote in a blog post about the changes. “So starting today, we’re taking a tougher stance on hateful, offensive and derogatory content.”

Why is this such a significant issue? “Brand safety” has emerged as possibly the biggest issue facing the advertising industry, Wieser says. For large marketers, even one ad placed next to extremist content can cause harm to a brand, he said.

Google reviews content flagged by users. Four hundred hours of video is uploaded every minute to YouTube, Google says, making it tough to police. Some 98% of content flagged on YouTube is reviewed within 24 hours, Google says.

Trump’s lawyers go after teenager over a cat website that lets users scratch his face

President Donald Trump’s lawyers have a new target to go after — cats on the internet.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Trump’s legal team went after kittenfeed.com and its 17-year old founder, Lucy, sending a cease-and-desist letter after the site let users scratch at four photos of the President’s face using feline paws.

The teenager told The Reporter she built the site while trying to apply for developer jobs, having launched it in February under the name trumpscratch.com, but later changed the address after blowback from the White House.

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At press time, kittenfeed.com appeared to be offline.

The teen received another letter after the domain change. Since she has removed an Amazon affiliate link on the site letting browers buy an anti-Trump shirt, she has not had contact with The Trump Organization or the White House.

“I really just want people to be aware that this is a president who’s clearly more concerned about what people think of him than doing things of substance,”  Lucy told the entertainment and media-centric website.

CELEBRITIES REACT TO TRUMP’S PROPOSED BUDGET CUTS FOR THE ARTS

“Literally all my site is, is punching him with kitten paws,” Lucy added. “A president should not have the time or care to hire people to shut sites like mine down. He should be running the country, not tweeting about TV ratings or anything else like that.”

US joins first air assault ‘behind enemy lines’ against ISIS in Syria

Washington (CNN)Fighters in Syria have begun a major ground offensive, backed up by US forces, to retake a vital dam near Raqqa, Syria, from ISIS, a US official told CNN Wednesday.

The attack also included an unprecedented air assault involving US helicopters landing behind enemy lines — flying about 500 local US allies and coalition military advisers across the Euphrates River and Lake Assad so they could attack the ISIS-controlled dam and neighboring town and airfield from the south.
“This is the first time we have conducted an air movement, air assault, with the Syrian Arab Coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces,” Col. Joseph Scrocca, a coalition public affairs officer, said. On a call with reporters from Baghdad Wednesday, Scrocca called the air operation a “daring assault behind enemy lines.”
Scrocca would not say how many troops were involved, but a military source said about 500 troops were airlifted behind enemy lines. The attack was backed by US Marines firing M777 howitzers and close air support, including airstrikes carried out by Apache helicopters.
But ISIS remains in control of the area after the attack, and weeks of tough fighting could remain, Scrocca said.
“We believe there are foreign fighters there, probably in the hundreds,” he said. “The (Syrian Democratic Forces) and our partners there are facing a pretty heavy fight — that’s what makes this type of operation so daring. I think we were lucky we caught ISIS by surprise. They are still reacting to this maneuver.”
Tabqa Dam is located 25 miles west of Raqqa, ISIS’ self-declared capital, and supplies electric power to a wide area of Syria, according to the US. The area has been under ISIS control since 2013.
Retaking the dam is considered a vital step toward further isolating the area around Raqqa and eventually recapturing the city.
The dam and surrounding terrain is a key military asset because it’s “critical for the isolation of Raqqa and the next step toward an annihilation of ISIS in Syria,” but the dam’s destruction “could lead to a severe humanitarian crisis,” Scrocca warned.
US Marines equipped with artillery arrived in northern Syria earlier this month with the goal of accelerating the capabilities of the US-backed Arab and Kurdish forces there.
The Pentagon and Marine Corps declined to confirm the deployment because of security concerns in the region. They also declined to specify the exact location of the forces or how many are there.
A similar deployment last year near Mosul, Iraq, involved several hundred Marines equipped with artillery guns to provide covering fire for advancing forces.
The US believes the pressure on ISIS in Raqqa is working. A US official told reporters on March 8 that intelligence indicates some ISIS leaders and operatives continue to try to leave the city.
There is also US intelligence that indicates the city is laced with trenches, tunnels, roadside bombs and houses and buildings wired to explode, the official said. If correct, it indicates that the US has likely been able to gather intelligence from both overhead surveillance aircraft and people on the ground.
However, the official also noted that “Raqqa will probably not be the final battle against ISIS,” and added that the group still has some personnel dispersed in areas south and east of the city.
ISIS could have as many as 4,000 fighters in Raqqa, according to very rough US estimates, the official said. Since November, the terror group has lost some 3,400 square kilometers around Raqqa, in a wide arc north of the city.

Trump’s First 100 Days: A rundown of the latest allegations on Trump camp and Russia

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/03/22/trumps-first-100-days-a-rundown-of-the-latest-allegations-on-trump-camp-and-russia/?utm_term=.d03969cce455

 

Here’s where things stand heading into Day 63 of the Trump administration:

On Wednesday, allegations about ties between the campaign of President Trump and Russia lurched into new territory.

Here’s what happened on several fronts.

The day opened with a report that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had agreed to advance Vladimir Putin’s political interests beginning in 2006 under a multimillion-dollar contract with one of the Russian president’s key allies.

By confirming another link between Trump’s world and the Kremlin, the report from the Associated Press directed further interest toward the FBI investigation of possible collusion between the two sides ahead of the election.

That was the first development.

Next came House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who stunned observers by lobbing an unproven accusation against U.S. spy agencies of gathering and sharing information about Trump and his transition team before the inauguration.

Trump’s communications may have been picked up during transition

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on March 22 that President Trump’s communications may have been inadvertently picked up by intelligence agencies during the transition of power. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Nunes appeared to be referring to relatively routine cases of surveillance on foreign individuals that communicated with or mentioned Trump associates, our colleagues reported. But his allegations were soon embraced by Trump as a vindication of his baseless theory that former president Barack Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower during the campaign.

“I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found,” Trump told reporters.

As a reminder, Nunes is leading the House’s investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the election. The way he handled the information Wednesday was irregular for several reasons:

  • Nunes said he received it from an anonymous source after criticizing the media for publishing leaks.
  • He shared it with the press before his Intelligence Committee colleagues, including ranking Democrat Adam B. Schiff of California.
  • He went to the White House to brief Trump about the material despite leading an investigation involving the Trump administration.
  • He publicly discussed surveillance that at least one key senator described as seemingly classified.

Taken together, these actions suggested to some that Nunes’s discovery was “engineered to help the White House,” our colleagues wrote.

That was the second development.

Next came Schiff, who accused Nunes of compromising their investigation, then went further than he previously had in describing the possibility that political coordination took place between Trump aides and the Kremlin.

Nunes’s action “casts quite a profound cloud over our ability to do the work,” Schiff said in a statement calling for the formation of an independent commission to take up the investigation.

Later, speaking with MSNBC, Schiff raised eyebrows when he said there is “more than circumstantial evidence” that Trump associates colluded with Russia.

That was the third development.

Finally, Wednesday night closed with a report from CNN saying the FBI has “human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings” that suggest Trump aides might have coordinated with Russian operatives.

While the story was not definitive, it quickly went viral, closing out the day’s developments on a less-than-great note for Trump.

WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE GOP HEALTH-CARE PLAN?

It remains unclear whether the House will go through with its plan to hold a floor vote on the Republican health-care bill Thursday.

If it does, however, you can bet that vote will be a nail-biter on account of conservative holdouts.

The process was plunged into chaos Wednesday after conservative Republicans confirmed their opposition to the bill would prevent its passage on the House floor by depriving GOP leaders of necessary “yes” votes.

This revelation prompted an 11th-hour signal from the White House that it was willing to rework the measure to mollify critics on the right. Opponents “agreed to keep working on a deal with the goal of holding a floor vote in the House by Thursday night,” our colleagues wrote.

These opponents would like to see the bill eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health plans cover a certain range of “essential benefits.”

“We’re not there yet,” conservative House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Wednesday, “but we’re very optimistic that if we work around the clock between now and noon tomorrow that we’re going to be able to find some common ground.”

Changes to appease House conservatives could make the bill even harder to pass in the Senate, where many skeptics desire to preserve ACA benefits.

WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THE GORSUCH NOMINATION?

It looks like Neil Gorsuch will be successfully confirmed to the Supreme Court. At least, that’s what Republican senators seem to think.

By the end of Gorsuch’s second day of testimony Wednesday, members of the GOP weren’t even using all of their allocated time to ask him questions — a sign they thought his foray before the Senate Judiciary Committee had gone well.

At the same time, Wednesday’s hearing saw Democrats more aggressively question the nominee about his independence from Trump and his positions on issues such as abortion, money in politics and the Voting Rights Act. Gorsuch studiously avoided giving direct answers, which drew rebuke from some members of the minority party.

“You have been very much able to avoid any specificity like no one I have ever seen before,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee’s top Democrat.

The marathon confirmation hearing will continue Thursday with testimony from people who support and oppose Gorsuch’s nomination.

Many people know Trump and his family’s frequent travel has become costly for the federal government. Now we have a sense of just how costly that travel is.

The Secret Service requested $60 million in additional funding for next year, nearly half of which would pay to protect Trump’s family and private home in New York’s Trump Tower, while the other half would be spent on travel costs for Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and “other visiting heads of state.”

The information was revealed the week after the administration proposed deep cuts to government programs in its budget and after Trump took his fifth post-inauguration weekend trip.

New Jersey synagogue, preschool evacuated after called-in threat

(JTA) — A New Jersey synagogue that houses a preschool was evacuated after receiving a called-in threat.

Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston was evacuated Tuesday after receiving the threat just before 11 a.m., the local CBS affiliate reported.

The Essex County Sheriff’s Department and Livingston Police Department, including the K-9 and bomb squad units, arrived at the synagogue and searched the premises.

Nearly 150 Jewish institutions, mostly JCCs, have been the victims of bomb threats since the beginning of the year. No explosive devices have been found after any of the threats.

A Jewish candidate gives Democrats hope in Atlanta’s suburbs

WASHINGTON (JTA) – One candidate has the endorsement of a civil rights giant. Another boasts that he changes his oil in his pickup truck. A third coached soccer at the local community center.

It’s politics as usual in Georgia, except that these three candidates – among the 18 running in the special election on April 18 in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District — are Jewish.

The election is a “jungle,” or “blanket,” primary, an open race in which the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, face off against one another in a June 20 runoff — barring the unlikely event that one candidate tops 50 percent.

Race figures prominently in this election in the Atlanta suburbs, as does traditional values (another candidate is prominent in the right-to-life movement). But all politics is local – attracting jobs to the district and improving mass transit are major campaign themes.

The election is atypical, however, in two ways: Democrats see it as their first opportunity to wound President Donald Trump, and the presence of the  Jewish candidates, notably Jon Ossoff, a Democrat attracting national media attention as the likeliest to pull off an upset.

That one-sixth of the candidates are Jewish in the 6th is something of an anomaly, said Steve Oppenheimer, a businessman who backs Ossoff.

“What are we, 2 percent nationwide?” asked Oppenheimer, who has served on the national boards of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Hillel. “If we were twice that here – and that may be a stretch – we [Jewish voters] are not going to be the swing vote.”

Not that Ossoff, a scholarly and serious 30-year-old, is reluctant to chat about his Jewish upbringing if he is asked.

“I was bar mitzvahed at The Temple, which is a Reform synagogue,” he told JTA, somewhat didactically. “My Jewish upbringing imbued me with certain values, a commitment to justice and peace.”

Ossoff is perhaps best known as a muckraking documentary filmmaker who once was an intern to Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. — and now is being endorsed by the civil rights giant. (Ossoff was later an aide on national security policy to another Georgia Democrat, Hank Johnson, who also has endorsed him.)

That biography and Trump’s surprisingly poor performance in November in a district that for decades has been solidly Republican has propelled Ossoff to the front of the diverse pack of candidates. A poll commissioned by zpolitics, a website tracking politics in Georgia, had him at 41 percent on Monday, while his closest two contenders, both Republicans, are tied at 16.

Tom Price, the previous incumbent, won the district by more than 20 points in November, but Trump beat Clinton in the district by barely a percentage point. Trump tapped Price to be his health secretary, and Trump’s poor performance led Democrats to smell blood. (Ossoff’s slogan? “Make Trump furious.”)

Ossoff, youthful and personable, soon emerged as a national Democratic favorite, and a fundraising drive led by the liberal website Daily Kos, among other factors, has made him the candidate to beat, with $3 million reportedly in his campaign coffers. The Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have deployed resources to his campaign.

That, in turn, has led to coverage in the national media, including front-page treatment in The New York Times and profiles in the New Yorker, Esquire and the Los Angeles Times.

Every one of those treatments includes a requisite skeptical note from impartial observers of Georgia’s politics: Ossoff, they say, is gobbling up Democratic support, and likely will place on April 18, but the notion that he can win in the runoff in the historically red district is far-fetched.

Typical of the pundits is Kerwin Swint of Kennesaw State University, who on Feb. 27 told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “a Democrat could conceivably sneak into the runoff, but that Democrat would almost surely lose the runoff. The numbers just aren’t there yet.”

Democrats, giddy at Ossoff’s surge in the polls, believe the numbers are coming in. Ossoff says he’s running to win outright on April 18, although that tends to get even his supporters’ eyes rolling.

Sheri Labovitz, a longtime Democratic activist, has not formally endorsed Ossoff among the five Democrats running, but she believes he has momentum.

“He’s got a machinery working with him that has some very good research, he’s got bodies knocking on doors every day and every weekend,” she said. “If you can turn your voters out, you’ve got a great shot.”

Jon Ossoff

And Labovitz said Jewish interest is unexpectedly strong. She expected perhaps 30 people to show up last month at a salon she organized for Jewish Democratic women that featured Ossoff and two other candidates: Ron Slotin, a former state senator who also is Jewish, and Sally Harrell, a former state representative who has since withdrawn. Instead, 200 people packed the room.

Ossoff said he was wowed by the turnout.

“Jewish women are leading a lot of the political engagement in the community,” he told JTA.

Still, Labovitz is reserving judgment on a final call until she sees which of the 11 Republicans in the race emerges to compete with Ossoff.

“It’s a gerrymandered district,” she said. “Can a Democrat make the runoff? I really think so. Can a Democrat win? I would like to think so.”

The two Republicans who are ahead in polls would provide a sharp contrast with Ossoff.

Karen Handel earned national notoriety in 2012 when, while she was vice president at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a charity that combats breast cancer, cut off its relationship with Planned Parenthood.

In the ensuing controversy Komen, which was founded by a well-known Jewish Republican philanthropist, Nancy Brinker, who named it after her late sister, reinstated the relationship with the reproductive rights and women’s health group. Handel then left the organization, becoming something of a hero for abortion opponents.

Bob Gray, a former council member in the town of Johns Creek, has an ad that opens with Trump pledging to “drain the swamp.” It fades to Gray, in overalls, draining a swamp – literally – to the twang of blues chords on an acoustic guitar.

Republican ads target Ossoff as an interloper in a conservative redoubt. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a national Republican political action committee, uncovered video from his days at Georgetown University wielding a light saber as a bare-chested Han Solo and extolling the virtues of beer.

“Not ready,” the ad said.

Ossoff says the attack on him by a national superPAC is a signal of how serious his bid is. His current incarnation – clean cut, well turned out and soft spoken, and the CEO of a documentary film company that delves into cutting-edge issues like corruption in Africa and the mistreatment of women by Islamist terrorists – deflects bids to portray him as unripe.

Ossoff is more sensitive to charges that he is a carpetbagger; he lives just outside the district boundaries. That gets him testy.

“My significant other is a medical student at Emory and she needs to walk to work,” he said.

Casting him as an outsider resonates with some voters in a mixed rural-suburban district. Jere Wood, the mayor of Roswell, a town in the district, told the New Yorker earlier this month that Ossoff’s name alone would alienate voters.

“If you just say Ossoff, some folks are gonna think, ‘Is he Muslim? Is he Lebanese? Is he Indian?’” Wood said.

Ossoff likely would enjoy the jab; he wears his progressive badge with pride. He turned up at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on the Saturday night that Trump’s first executive order banning refugees and other travelers from Muslim-majority countries went into effect, and identifies with them as a matter of heritage.

“American Jews all share that immigrant story,” he said, “and that perspective hardens my resolve to fight for an open and optimistic vision of our country where if you work hard you can get ahead, where we welcome those who come here to build the country.”

Ossoff also signals familiarity with the Middle East. His campaign biography notes that when he was at Georgetown, he studied under Michael Oren, the historian and former Israeli ambassador to Washington. Oppenheimer, Ossoff’s backer, says as a congressional aide the candidate helped draft Iran sanctions, but also is quick to note that Ossoff had left the job by the time Democrats were backing the Iran nuclear deal that so riled AIPAC.

“He was not involved in the deal President Obama made,” Oppenheimer said with emphasis.

If Ossoff and his backers are right and distaste for Trump and hard-line conservatism threatens to turn this district blue, then David Abroms would be a formidable adversary in the runoff. But this Jewish Republican is not registering in the polls, finishing next to last among the eight candidates named in the zpolitics poll with under 2 percent of the vote.

Abroms, 33, avoids mentioning Trump in his campaigning. He focuses instead on his business – converting vehicles to running on natural gas – and how he hopes to bring to Washington his ideas of energy independence from the Middle East.

“A lot of wealth goes overseas to the Middle East to people who don’t like us very much, it hampers our national security, it hampers Israel’s national security,” he said in an interview.

Abroms, who interned for former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, now the U.S. attorney general, is relaxed with both his Southern and Jewish heritages.

“I consider myself a paradox,” he said. “I’m a Jewish accountant, but I drive my pickup truck and I do my oil changes, and I listen to country music.”

Slotin is another moderate – albeit a Democrat – who likely won’t make the cut. The zpolitics poll, with 625 respondents and a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points, had him just ahead of Abroms at 3 percent. A state senator in the 1990s who ran unsuccessfully against Cynthia McKinney for Congress – McKinney went on to become one of the body’s most strident Israel critics – he is reviving his slogan from that era, “Votin’ Slotin,” and campaigning on bipartisanship and bringing jobs to the district.

Slotin, 54, is an executive headhunter who once owned the Atlantic Jewish Life magazine and coached soccer at a local JCC. He touts his role as part of the government team that crafted tax credits that brought TV and movie production into the state.

“What I bring to the district is stronger against any Republican candidate than what [Ossoff] brings to the district,” he said.

The zpolitics poll suggests that might be true: A question asking for a second choice – indicative of how the runoff might play out – had Slotin by far the leader with 34 percent, while Ossoff got 5.6 percent.

Jewish groups urge Congress to preserve anti-Semitism monitor

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish defense groups urged Congress to preserve the State Department’s anti-Semitism monitor.

Representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Secure Community Network testified Wednesday before the human rights subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the subcommittee chairman, convened the hearing to examine connections between increases in anti-Semitism in Europe and in the United States.

The witnesses spoke to the topic, but also made the case for preserving the special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. A report last month said that President Donald Trump’s administration was planning to scrap the position. No successor has been named for the the most recent anti-Semitism monitor, Ira Forman, who was on hand for the hearing.

The position is mandated by a 2004 law that Smith helped author, and the New Jersey lawmaker has joined Democrats in opposing any bid to scrap it. An array of Jewish groups and lawmakers have also urged the Trump administration to keep the post in place.

Naming a replacement for Forman “will ensure that the U.S. maintains a specialized focus on anti-Semitism,” said Stacy Burdett, the director of ADL’s Washington office.

Mark Weitzman, the director of government affairs for the Wiesenthal Center, said the position should be elevated to the ambassador level.

Speakers suggested — sometimes gently, sometimes less so — that Trump’s team needed to exhibit more sensitivity to the issue of anti-Semitism.

Weitzman cited the White House’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, which omitted any mention of Jews. He noted that anti-Semites seized on the statement as a means of denying Jewish suffering in the Holocaust.

“Even a mistake in the context of this background can be used by people with bad intentions,” he said.

Burdett said that “political leaders have the most immediate and significant opportunity to set the tone of a national response to an anti-Semitic incident, an anti-Semitic party or an anti-Semitic parliamentarian.”

Rabbi Andrew Baker, the director of international Jewish affairs for the AJC, focused on manifestations of anti-Semitism on the left and right in Europe.

Paul Goldenberg, the director of SCN, the security arm of the Jewish Federations of North America, said that extremist groups in the United States and Europe are “increasingly the context for each other” by echoing one another in the themes they embrace.

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