Kaepernick joins Medium, will create content on race and civil rights

(Reuters) – Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has joined the board of directors of Medium and will work on content focused on race and civil rights, the U.S.-based online publishing platform announced on Thursday. Kaepernick, who sparked a national debate when he protested against racial injustice by kneeling here as the U.S. national anthem played during a game, will be publishing across Medium’s platform and sharing thoughts on anti-Black racism in society, the company said. Medium allows users, including companies and media outlets, to post blogs that readers can annotate. “I know he will bring valuable insights and leadership to Medium, especially in this moment when the world is finally catching up to his vision on racial justice,” Ev Williams, chief executive of Medium, said in a statement. “I couldn’t be more happy to welcome Colin to Medium. He’s an incisive, independent thinker, whose integrity has inspired so many. The world needs more of that.” Kaepernick’s protests, aimed at drawing attention to police brutality against minorities, began in 2016 when he popularized the gesture of kneeling during pre-game renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” while a member of the San Francisco 49ers. He became a free agent after that season, during which he went 1-10 as a starter, and has since been unable to find a team to play for. Many experts attribute his political activism as the key reason teams are wary of signing him. The action of kneeling during the U.S. national anthem had all but disappeared from the world of sports, but returned recently following the death last month of George Floyd at the hands of a white policeman, which sparked protests across the United States over police brutality. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said this week he would encourage teams to sign Kaepernick, adding the league would also welcome his off-the-field guidance on social justice. Kaepernick launched a publishing company in February which is also part of the partnership and will help create and feature stories on race and civil rights in America, and elevate emerging voices from communities of color. “I am excited for Kaepernick Publishing to partner with Medium to continue to elevate black voices in the news and publishing industry,” said Kaepernick. “I also look forward to creating new opportunities and avenues for black writers and creators with my new role as a board member.”

France reports 28 more coronavirus deaths, cases up slightly

PARIS (Reuters) – The number of people who died from coronavirus infection in France rose by 28 to 29,603 on Thursday, the same increase as Wednesday. In a statement, the health ministry said the number of new confirmed cases of the virus was 467, at 158,641, nine more than 24 hours earlier.

Atlanta officer says he is not ‘state’s witness’ in Rayshard Brooks case

(Reuters) – Devin Brosnan, one of the two Atlanta police officers charged in the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks, has not agreed to be a witness for the prosecution, his lawyer said on Thursday, contradicting an assertion by the lead prosecutor on the case. Brosnan turned himself in at the Fulton County Jail on Thursday and was soon released after filling out booking forms, getting fingerprinted and signing his own bond, according to his lawyer, Don Samuel. Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard had told a news conference on Wednesday that Brosnan had turned “state witness”, agreeing to help prosecute Garrett Rolfe, the other officer charged in the killing of Brooks on June 12. Rolfe, who shot Brooks in the back with his gun, was charged with felony murder and 10 other charges. Brosnan, who did not discharge his weapon, faces a handful of lesser charges, including aggravated assault and violation of his oath. The death of Brooks – the latest in a long line of African Americans whose fatal encounters with law enforcement have been documented on video – further heightened U.S. social tensions at a time of national soul searching over police brutality and racism in the criminal justice system. Howard had highlighted Brosnan’s cooperation as “something remarkable”, adding that the officer had “now become a state’s witness. He has decided to testify on behalf of the state in this case.” Brosnan’s lawyer said that was not true. While his client had told Howard’s office “everything” during a lengthy interview and would cooperate with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s probe, he had not agreed to be “state’s witness,” the lawyer said. “Officer Brosnan has not agreed to testify.  He has not agreed to plead guilty,” Samuel said in an emailed statement, adding that he “has not agreed to be a ‘state’s witness’”. Brooks’ killing came amid a storm of protests sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who perished after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. That officer, Derek Chauvin, was charged with second-degree murder. Three other Minneapolis policemen were charged with aiding and abetting. The police encounter with Brooks started out calmly after he was found sleeping in his car at a Wendy’s restaurant drive-through lane in Atlanta. Rolfe and Brosnan administered a sobriety test, after which the situation escalated. Previously released video of the Brooks appeared to show Brooks grabbing one of the officer’s Taser stun guns and turning and pointing it at Rolfe before being shot. Howard said Thursday that investigators concluded Rolfe knew by then that the Taser had already been fired twice and thus was rendered harmless. One of the bullets from Rolfe’s gun hit a white Chevy Trailblazer at the Wendy’s, threatening the life of the three passengers inside, according to Howard and the charging documents against the two officers. One of the car’s passengers, Michael Perkins, told a media briefing on Thursday that he had taken cover in the back seat as the struggle between the officers and Brooks escalated. He said he “smelt gunsmoke” but was unaware the car had taken a bullet until later. “I almost was killed myself. I feel troubled about it but I’m glad the family is getting the justice it deserves.” Samuel described the decision to charge his client as “irrational” and politically-motivated. He said Brosnan’s conduct on the night of the shooting was “exemplary” and a “textbook example” of how an officer should approach a situation involving someone inebriated, as Brooks was that night. While Brosnan did not fire his gun, Howard charged him with aggravated assault for allegedly standing on Brooks’ body after he was shot and for violating his oath of office by not rendering medical aid immediately after he went down. Samuel said Brosnan, despite suffering a concussion during a tussle with Brooks, rushed to provide medical aid. Rolfe is expected to turn himself in later on Thursday, said Vince Champion, regional director for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, the officers’ union.

Ex-U.S. counterterrorism analyst sentenced to 2.5 years over media leaks

(Reuters) – A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a former counterterrorism analyst with the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency to serve two and a half years in prison for leaking classified material about a foreign country’s weapons system to two journalists, the Justice Department said. The sentencing came after Henry Kyle Frese, 31, pleaded guilty in February here to one count of wilful transmission of top secret national defense information, a charge that carried a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Frese was arrested in October here over the charges. The information that Frese passed to the journalists appeared in at least eight different news stories, which were based on five separate intelligence reports, according to court documents. The two reporters to whom he leaked the information in 2018 and 2019 were colleagues, and one of them was apparently romantically involved with Frese, according to court filings. The Justice Department never identified the reporters or their outlets directly; however, Twitter messages referenced in public filings indicate they worked for NBC and CNBC, which are owned by Comcast. The sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in the Eastern District of Virginia was far less than the nine years requested by the government, but a little more than the term of a year and a day that was requested by Frese’s attorneys. “The disclosures here did not derive from any intent to hurt the United States or Mr. Frese’s dissatisfaction with the President or U.S. policy,” his defense lawyer wrote in his sentencing memo, adding that his client’s judgment was clouded by “a misguided effort to salvage a relationship that was not worth saving.” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in a statement that Frese’s actions created “grave harm to the security of this country.” “His conviction and sentence demonstrate the Department’s commitment to the investigation and prosecution of such betrayals,” he added.

U.S. House panel hears from Facebook, Google, Twitter on election security

(Reuters) – Top officials from Facebook Inc (FB.O), Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google and Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) appeared remotely before U.S. lawmakers on Thursday at a virtual hearing on foreign influence and election security. The Silicon Valley leaders were testifying at a House of Representatives Intelligence Committee hearing about their actions taken to combat election interference since the 2016 U.S. elections, as the country moves toward the Nov. 3 presidential contest. “As I look across the landscape I cannot say I am confident that the 2020 election will be free of interference by malicious actors, foreign or domestic,” said House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff at the hearing. Ahead of the hearing, witnesses described each company’s work to combat disinformation and improve election integrity. The written opening statements were from Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy; Nick Pickles, director of global public policy strategy and development at Twitter, and Richard Salgado, director for law enforcement and information security at Google. Twitter’s Pickles stressed that the problem went beyond content moderation. “Removal of content alone will not address this challenge and while it does play an important role, particularly in tackling platform manipulation, governments must play a part in addressing the broader issue,” said Pickles in his posted statement. “While policy proposals may differ, it is clear that this is not the time to curtail online public conversation and the values that underpin the open Internet.”

Cuomo slams federal government for coronavirus response

(Reuters) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday slammed the federal government’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic and said he was considering a quarantine for travelers from Florida due to fears they could spread the virus. Florida is among a number of states, like Oklahoma and Arizona, that have seen a surge in new cases. Cuomo called the federal government’s guidance an “undeniable mistake” and said the White House had operated since day one on “pure political ideology.” “It is a political theory, a public relations theory versus a science-based, fact-based theory,” Cuomo said. Cuomo voiced concern about cases rising in a number of states, including Texas and Arizona, and faulted the government for pressuring states to reopen quickly in an attempt to revive the battered nationwide economy. He said experts had advised him to consider imposing a quarantine for people traveling from Florida as he feared they could lead to a resurgence of the virus in New York. Cuomo said New York continued to make progress in curbing the virus’ spread as hospitalizations continued to decline, with fewer than 1% of more than 68,000 people tested on Wednesday coming back positive. “That is just great news and that’s why I’m in such a happy-go-lucky mood,” he said.

France’s top court rejects core of law targeting online hate speech

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s top court rejected most of a draft law that would have compelled social media giants such as Facebook (FB.O) and Twitter TWTRN.N to remove any hateful content within 24 hours, it said on Thursday. The ruling by the Constitutional Council, which said the law interferes excessively in free speech, is a setback for President Emmanuel Macron. He has vowed to make France a leader in containing the spread of illicit content and false information on the most used platforms. The bill was approved by France’s lower chamber last July but still had to be cleared by the Constitional Council. Under the draft law, social media groups would have faced fines up to 4% of their global revenues for failing to remove within a day “clearly illicit” content related to race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability. Several freedom of speech advocacy groups had argued the bill could pave the way for state censorship because it does not clearly define illicit content. “(These measures) undermine the exercise of freedom of expression and communication in a manner that is unnecessary, inappropriate and disproportionate,” the court said. The court, which is the French equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court, cited the 1789 “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” that is the preamble to the constitution. It noted that the draft law currently stipulates the administration would have had the main role in deciding on illicit content, without any intervention from a judge. This could push social media companies to remove more online content than necessary for fear of being sanctioned, it said. The court also said the 24-hour time window was “particularly brief”. The court also slapped down another provision of the draft law, under which any content deemed child pornography, or terrorist in nature, would have had to be removed within an hour. Facebook and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Robinhood trading app experiences trading outage

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Robinhood Markets Inc, the fintech startup credited with helping popularize trading with millennials, said on Thursday it was experiencing a “major outage” in equities and options trading, as well as “degraded performance” in cryptocurrency trading. “We’re currently experiencing issues with our services and are investigating the issue,” the company said on it’s website. Robinhood, based in Menlo Park, Calif., has experienced several outages since early March, particularly on days of high trading volumes as the market reacted to news on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Similar to previous outages, customers have taken to social media to criticize Robinhood, threatening to switch brokerages. “Unacceptable for this to keep happening”, one user said on Twitter. “Give me one reason why I should continue to trade using your platform?” asked another. A spokesman for the company was not immediately available for comment. Robinhood has been at the center of a recent upsurge in day trading by retail investors, who have been homebound due to coronavirus lockdowns. Founded by co-chief executives Baiju Bhatt and Vladimir Tenev in 2013, Robinhood is one of the most popular and well-funded financial technology startups. Last month, it raised $280 million from investors at a valuation of $8.3 billion dollars. The company now has over 10 million user accounts. Customers at the brokerage, which has been credited for helping usher in commission-free trading throughout the retail brokerage industry, have a median age of 31, the company said recently.

Former White House aide Bolton says Trump not ‘fit’ to be president

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former top White House aide John Bolton delivered a damning indictment of his former boss, saying Donald Trump’s behavior in office and dealings with foreign leaders showed he was unfit to be president of the United States. “I don’t think he’s fit for office,” Bolton told ABC News in an interview aired on Thursday. “There really isn’t any guiding principle that I was able to discern other than what’s good for Donald Trump’s re-election.” In a new book, the former national security adviser accused Trump of sweeping misdeeds including explicitly seeking Chinese President Xi Jinping’s aid to win a second term in the Nov. 3 presidential election. U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told a news briefing on Thursday she is consulting with her fellow Democrats on whether to subpoena Bolton about the allegations in the book, “The Room Where It Happened,” and echoed Bolton’s criticism. “President Trump is clearly ethically unfit and intellectually unprepared to be the president of the United States,” Pelosi said, adding: “That doesn’t seem to matter to the Republicans in the United States Senate.” Bolton refused to testify in the House’s impeachment probe last year and threatened to sue if subpoenaed. He offered to testify in the subsequent trial in the Senate but the Republican-controlled chamber did not take him up on the offer. Democrats were angry that Bolton saved his revelations for a book, rather than participate in the probe. The Republican president rejected the book as a “compilation of lies” and called his former adviser a “sick puppy” who was trying to avenge his firing. The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday sued to block Bolton from publishing the book. Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman who led the impeachment inquiry late last year, sharply criticized Bolton as unpatriotic for withholding the information. “We will continue to hold Trump accountable, and work to expose his abuses and corruption,” Schiff said in a statement. The new allegations, Schiff said, are “further proof” that Trump’s actions in Ukraine are part of a pattern of abusing his power and the U.S. government for personal political gain. The allegations include far more extensive accusations of impropriety than those that drove Trump’s impeachment, however. In his memoir, Bolton, who left the White House in September, said Trump expressed a willingness to halt criminal investigations to favor dictators he liked. He cited multiple conversations in which Trump demonstrated behavior “that eroded the very legitimacy of the presidency.” Bolton also wrote that Trump said invading Venezuela would be “cool” even as the U.S. government has said it does not favor using force to topple Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Bolton’s revelations explain the president’s puzzling performance on China issues, including his initial praise for Beijing’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and silence on alleged human rights abuses. “President Trump cannot be trusted to deal with China policy any longer,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. According to Bolton, Trump told China’s Xi in June 2019 to go ahead and build camps for its mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups despite his administration’s criticism of China’s mass detention. White House trade adviser Peter Navarro disputed Bolton’s account of Trump’s conversation with Xi. “I didn’t hear that at all,” Navarro told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “Bolton’s depiction of that event is not how I would describe it. That’s an alternate universe.”

Pelosi urges Senate to take up ‘Dreamers’ bill after top court ruling

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday urged the Senate to take up legislation previously passed by the Democratic-led House in support of so-called “Dreamers” now that the Supreme Court has blocked President Donald Trump’s effort to end their protections. In an interview on MSNBC, Pelosi said she hoped the top court’s ruling, which blocked Trump’s bid to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, would move the Republican-led Senate to act: “Hopefully, this decision will give them some courage.”