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US Pipeline Company Halts Operations After Cybersecurity Attack

Colonial Pipeline, the largest U.S. refined products pipeline operator, has halted all operations after it fell victim to a cybersecurity attack on Friday, the company said.The company learned of the attack on Friday and took systems offline to contain the threat, it said in a statement. That action has temporarily halted operations and affected some of its IT systems, it said.The company has engaged a third-party cybersecurity firm to launch an investigation, and Colonial has contacted law enforcement and other federal agencies, it said.Reuters reported earlier Friday that Colonial had shut its main gasoline and distillate lines.Colonial connects Gulf Coast refineries with markets across the southern and eastern United States through about 5,500 miles (8,850 km) of its pipeline system, delivering gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other refined products.”At this time, our primary focus is the safe and efficient restoration of our service and our efforts to return to normal operation,” the company said.

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In the French Language, Steps Forward and Back for Women

The fight to make the French language kinder to women took steps forward, and back, this week.
 
Warning that the well-being of France and its future are at stake, the government banned the use in schools of a method increasingly used by some French speakers to make the language more inclusive by feminizing some words.  
 
Specifically, the education minister’s decree targets what is arguably the most contested and politicized letter in the French language — “e.” Simply put, “e” is the language’s feminine letter, used in feminine nouns and their adjectives and, sometimes, when conjugating verbs.
 
But proponents of women’s rights are also increasingly adding “e” to words that normally wouldn’t have included that letter, in a conscious — and divisive — effort to make women more visible.
 
Take the generic French word for leaders — “dirigeants” — for example. For some, that masculine spelling suggests that they are generally men and makes women leaders invisible, because it lacks a feminine “e” toward the end. For proponents of inclusive writing, a more gender-equal spelling is “dirigeant·es,” inserting the extra “e,” preceded by a middle dot, to make clear that leaders can be of both sexes.  
 
Likewise, they might write “les élu·es” — instead of the generic masculine “élus” — for the holders of elected office, again to highlight that women are elected, too. Or they might use “les idiot·es,” instead of the usual generic masculine “les idiots,” to acknowledge that stupidity isn’t the exclusive preserve of men.  
 
Proponents and opponents sometimes split down political lines. France’s conservative Republicans party uses “ élus”; the left-wing France Unbowed tends toward ”élu · es.”
“It’s a fight to make women visible in the language,” said Laurence Rossignol, a Socialist senator who uses the feminizing extra “·e.”  
 
Speaking in a telephone interview, she said its opponents “are the same activists who were against marriage for people of the same sex, medically assisted reproduction, and longer abortion windows. … It’s the new banner under which reactionaries are gathering.”  
 
But for the government of centrist President Emmanuel Macron, the use of ”·e” threatens the very fabric of France. Speaking in a Senate debate on the issue on Thursday, a deputy education minister said inclusive writing “is a danger for our country” and will “sound the death knell for the use of French in the world.”  
 
By challenging traditional norms of French usage, inclusive writing makes the language harder to learn, penalizing pupils with learning difficulties, the minister, Nathalie Elimas, argued.
 
“It dislocates words, breaks them into two,” she said. “With the spread of inclusive writing, the English language — already quasi-hegemonic across the world — would certainly and perhaps forever defeat the French language.”  
 
Arguments over gender-inclusive language are raging elsewhere in Europe, too.
A fault-line among German speakers has been how to make nouns reflect both genders. The German word for athletes, for example, could be written as “Sportlerinnen” to show that it includes both men and women, as opposed to the more usual, generic masculine “Sportler.” For critics, the addition of the feminine “innen” at the end — sometimes with the help of an asterisk, capital letter or underscore — is plain ugly.  
 
Italy has seen sporadic debate over neutralizing gendered titles for public officials, or making them feminine when they normally would remain masculine, such as “ministra” instead of “ministro” for women Cabinet members. Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi prefers to be called “sindaca” rather than “sindaco.”  
 
Inclusive language has also been a long battle for feminists and, more recently, of LGTBQ+ groups in Spain, although there is no consensus on how to make progress. Politics also play into the issue there. Members of the far-right Vox party have insisted on sticking with the traditional “presidente” when referring to Spain’s four deputy prime ministers, all of them women, rather than opting for the more progressive “presidenta,” even though the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language has accepted usage of that feminine noun.
 
The French Education Ministry circular that banished the “·e” formula from schools did, however, accept other more inclusive changes in language that highlight women.
 
They include systematically feminizing job titles for women — like “présidente,” instead of “président,” or ambassadrice” rather than “ambassadeur” for women ambassadors. It also encouraged the simultaneous use of both masculine and feminine forms to emphasize that roles are filled by both sexes. So a job posting in a school, for example, should say that it will go to “le candidat ou la candidate” — man or woman — who is best qualified to fill it.
 
Raphael Haddad, the author of a French-language guide on inclusive writing, said that section of the ministry circular represented progress for the cause of women in French.
 
“It’s a huge step forward, disguised as a ban,” he said. “What’s happening to the France language is the same thing that happened in the United States, with ‘chairman’ replaced by ‘chairperson,’ (and) ‘’fireman’ by ‘firefighter.’”  
 

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Washington Post Says Trump Administration Secretly Obtained Reporters’ Records

The Trump Justice Department secretly seized the phone records of three Washington Post reporters who covered the federal investigation into ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, the newspaper said Friday. The disclosure sets up a new clash between the federal government and news organizations and advocates for press freedom, who regard the seizures of reporters’ records as incursions into constitutionally protected newsgathering activity. Similar actions have occurred only rarely over the past decade, including a seizure of phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors over a 2012 story that revealed a foiled bomb plot. In a statement published by the newspaper, Cameron Barr, the Post’s acting executive editor, said: “We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists. The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment.” The action is presumably aimed at identifying the reporters’ sources in national security stories published in the early months of Trump’s administration, as federal investigators scrutinized whether his 2016 campaign had coordinated with the Kremlin to sway the election. The records’ seizure was approved by Justice Department leadership last year. The reporters — Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller and Adam Entous, who has since left the Post — were notified in letters dated May 3 that the Justice Department had obtained records for their home, work or cellphone numbers.  The records sought cover the period of April 15, 2017, to July 31, 2017, according to the newspaper. Justice Department guidelines for media leak investigations mandate that such actions are to be taken only when other avenues for obtaining the information have been exhausted, and that the affected reporters are to be notified unless it’s determined that it would impede the investigation or interfere with national security. “While rare, the Department follows the established procedures within its media guidelines policy when seeking legal process to obtain telephone toll records and non-content email records from media members as part of a criminal investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” department spokesman Marc Raimondi said in a statement.  “The targets of these investigations are not the news media recipients but rather those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required,” he added. Bruce Brown, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said it “raises serious First Amendment concerns” for the government to obtain records of journalists’ communications. “It is imperative that the new Justice Department leadership explain exactly when prosecutors seized these records, why it is only now notifying the Post, and on what basis the Justice Department decided to forgo the presumption of advance notification under its own guidelines when the investigation apparently involves reporting over three years in the past,” Brown said in a statement. The government also said it had received a court order to get email records from the reporters that would have shown who they had emailed and when, but that it did not obtain those records, the newspaper said. The Post said the Justice Department did not specify the purpose of the subpoena or identify any articles at issue. But the time period covered by the subpoena includes the publication of a story that suggested that intelligence intercepts indicated that Jeff Sessions, at the time Trump’s attorney general, had discussed campaign issues with Russia’s then-ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. The Justice Department under former Attorney General Eric Holder in 2015 announced revised guidelines for obtaining records from the news media during criminal leak investigations, removing language that news organizations said was ambiguous and requiring additional levels of review before a journalist could be subpoenaed. The updated policy was a response to outrage among news organizations over Obama administration tactics seen as overly aggressive and hostile toward newsgathering. Sessions, Holder’s successor, announced in 2017 a renewed crackdown on leaks of national security information to the media.
 

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US Joins ‘Christchurch Call’ Against Online Extremism

The United States will join an international bid to stamp out violent extremism online, the White House said Friday, about two years after the Trump administration declined to do so.Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said Washington “will join the Christchurch Call to Action to Eliminate Terrorist and Violent Extremist Content Online, a global pledge by member governments and technology partners to work together to address terrorist and violent extremist content online.”The initiative is named after the New Zealand city where a far-right gunman massacred 51 people at two mosques in 2019 while broadcasting his rampage live on Facebook.”Countering the use of the internet by terrorists and violent extremists to radicalize and recruit is a significant priority for the United States,” Psaki said. “Joining the coalition of governments and companies that have endorsed the Christchurch Call to Action reinforces the need for collective action.”In 2019 the United States cited protecting free speech when it declined to join the call, led by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron, though Washington stressed that it did back the initiative’s aims.Psaki said free speech remains a concern.”The United States applauds language in the Christchurch Call emphasizing the importance of respecting human rights and the rule of law, including the protection of freedom of expression,” her statement said.”In joining the Christchurch Call, the United States will not take steps that would violate the freedoms of speech and association protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, nor violate reasonable expectations of privacy.”She said the U.S. would participate in a virtual summit on May 14.

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EU Calls on US, Others to Export Their COVID-19 Vaccines 

The European Commission called on the United States and other major COVID-19 vaccine producers Friday to export what they make, as the European Union does, rather than talk about waiving intellectual property (IP) rights to the shots.Commission head Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference on the sidelines of a summit of EU leaders that discussions about the waiver would not produce a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine in the short and medium term.”We should be open to lead this discussion. But when we lead this discussion, there needs to be a 360-degree view on it because we need vaccines now for the whole world,” she said.”The European Union is the only continental or democratic region of this world that is exporting at large scale,” von der Leyen said.She said about 50% of European-produced coronavirus vaccine is exported to almost 90 countries, including those in the World Health Organization-backed COVAX program, whose aim is to supply vaccines to mainly poor countries.”And we invite all those who engage in the debate of a waiver for IP rights also to join us to commit to be willing to export a large share of what is being produced in that region,” she said.Only higher production, removing export barriers and the sharing of already-ordered vaccines could immediately help fight the pandemic quickly, she said.”So what is necessary in the short term and the medium term: First of all, vaccine sharing. Secondly, export of vaccines that are being produced. And the third is investment in the increasing of the capacity to manufacture vaccines,” she said.Von der Leyen said the European Union had started its vaccine sharing mechanism, citing delivery of 615,000 doses to the Western Balkans as an example.

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Early Returns in Scotland Election Bode Well for Sturgeon’s Ruling Party

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and her ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) made early gains Friday as the first returns from the nation’s parliamentary election were reported. While full results are not expected until Saturday, and Sturgeon cautioned the results remained too close to call, at last count the SNP had won at least 32 seats in the 129-seat parliament, “devolved” from the British parliament in 1999. If the early trend continues, and the pro-independence party holds on to power, it could have an impact on all of Britain. If the SNP retains power, and there is a pro-independence majority, the party could seek to hold another referendum on independence by the end of 2023, setting up a potential legal showdown with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who says he will refuse any such vote. Speaking to supporters after she was reelected to her own seat, Sturgeon said she was cautious at this early stage but was “feeling extremely happy and extremely confident that we are on track in the SNP for a fourth consecutive election victory and to have the ability to form a government again.” Scotland has been part of Britain for 314 years. The last independence referendum failed 55% to 45%. But the movement saw a resurgence since Britain’s departure from the European Union, a move overwhelmingly opposed in Scotland. Sturgeon’s high marks for handling the COVID-19 pandemic and the unpopularity of Johnson’s Conservative British government bolstered support for the independence movement. The SNP needs to gain at least four more seats to win an overall majority of 65 but could rely on the backing of the pro-independence Green Party, which took five seats in 2016, to pursue a second referendum. Polls suggest, at this point, the results of a second referendum would be too tight to call. And, despite the early success, the parliamentary elections are also likely to be close, as polls indicated an increase in support for opposition pro-union parties in some areas. 
 

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Justice Department Rule Would Aim to Crack Down on ‘Ghost Guns’

The Justice Department on Friday released a proposed rule that would broaden the definition of a firearm, requiring some gun-making kits to include a serial number, as the Biden administration moves to combat so-called ghost guns.The proposal came several weeks after President Joe Biden promised a crackdown on ghost guns — homemade firearms that lack the serial numbers used to trace guns and that are often purchased without a background check.For years, federal and local law enforcement officials have been sounding the alarm about what they say is a loophole in federal firearms law that allows people who are generally prohibited from owning guns to obtain them by making the weapons themselves.Ghost guns have increasingly been turning up at crime scenes and are being purchased from gang members and other criminals by undercover federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents.The Justice Department estimates that law enforcement officers seized more than 23,000 weapons without serial numbers from 2016 to 2020, and that the weapons were identified in connection with 325 homicides or attempted homicides.It’s legal to build a gun in a home or a workshop, and advances in 3-D printing and milling have made it easier to do so. Ready-made kits can be purchased for a few hundred dollars online without the kind of background check required for traditional gun purchases.But under the proposed rule, retailers would be required to run background checks before selling some of those kits that contain the parts necessary for someone to readily make a gun at home.Factors to considerThe rule sets forth several factors to determine whether an unfinished component called a receiver could be easily convertible into a finished firearm, a senior Justice Department official said. If they meet those criteria, manufacturers would also be required to include a serial number, the official said. The rule also would require serial numbers to be added to homemade, un-serialized weapons that are traded in or turned into a federal firearms dealer.The official could not discuss the matter ahead of a public announcement and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity. Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, the public will have 90 days to submit comments.The critical component in building an untraceable gun is what is known as the lower receiver, a part typically made of metal or polymer. An unfinished receiver — sometimes referred to as an “80% receiver” — can be legally bought online with no serial numbers or other markings on it, no license required.Converting the piece of metal into a firearm is relatively simple and takes only a few hours. A drill press or a metal cutting machine known as a Computer Numeric Control is used to create a few holes in the receiver and well out a cavity. The receiver is then combined with a few other parts to create a fully functioning semiautomatic rifle or handgun.”Criminals and others barred from owning a gun should not be able to exploit a loophole to evade background checks and to escape detection by law enforcement,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “This proposed rule would help keep guns out of the wrong hands and make it easier for law enforcement to trace guns used to commit violent crimes, while protecting the rights of law-abiding Americans.”

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Biden: Low Jobs Number Shows ‘We Have a Long Way to Go’

The Biden administration moved quickly on Friday to allay concerns that a surprisingly weak jobs report issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that became law in March, is failing in its goal of revitalizing the economy. Economists and policymakers in the U.S. were stunned Friday morning when the BLS reported that the U.S. economy, thought to be expanding at a rapid pace, added only 266,000 jobs in April. That was far short of the 1 million that many experts had been projecting and, combined with a downward revision of the jobs estimates from February and March, sparked concerns that the U.S. economy’s recovery from the pandemic-induced recession might be slowing down. During a White House briefing, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that the purpose of the rescue plan had been “to provide enough relief for Americans to make it to the other side of the pandemic, with the foundations of their lives intact,” and advocated for the administration’s additional spending packages. She struck an optimistic note, saying, “I believe we will reach full employment next year. But today’s numbers also show that we’re not yet finished.” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks during a press briefing at the White House, May 7, 2021.The unemployment rate rose slightly, from 6% to 6.1%, reflecting the 9.8 million Americans currently seeking employment who are unable to find it. Both numbers are far lower than they were during the worst of the recession, but remain well above the 3.5% unemployment rate and the 5.7 million unemployed recorded in February 2020, the month before COVID-19 began surging through the country. The report showed stark disparities across different sectors of the economy, with the leisure and hospitality industries adding 331,000 jobs, largely because of the reopening of restaurants as virus infection rates decline and vaccination rates rise. However, other key industries, such as manufacturing, transportation, warehousing, retail and health care, all showed declines. The construction industry showed no net change in employment. Biden reacts President Joe Biden addressed the report at a White House press conference early Friday afternoon. “You might think that we should be disappointed,” he said. “But when we passed the American Rescue Plan, I want to remind everybody, it was designed to help us over the course of a year. Not 60 days. A year. We never thought that after the first 50 or 60 days everything would be fine. Today there’s more evidence, our economy is moving in the right direction.” U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the April jobs report from the East Room of the White House in Washington, May 7, 2021.He said, “Some critics said that we didn’t need the American Rescue Plan. That this economy would just heal itself. Today’s report just underscores, in my view, how vital the actions we’re taking are. Checks to people who are hurting, support for small businesses, for child care and school reopening, support to help families put food on the table. Our efforts are starting to work, but the climb is steep, and we still have a long way to go.” Experts caution against overreaction Many experts admitted surprise at the new numbers but cautioned against overly gloomy assessments. “I think we don’t really have a playbook to pull out of the bookshelf, when it comes to reopening an economy, just like we didn’t seem to have one for shutting it down,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate.com. “I don’t think that this undermines the thesis of an ongoing recovery.” However, Hamrick added, the lower-than-expected new jobs number combined with the net downward revision of the February and March reports does create some reason for concern, because revisions tend to reflect “the overall trajectory of the economy.” “If indeed we’re entering into a period of slower recovery, we’re going to have to watch that,” he said. “Obviously, we don’t want to give anything up with respect to further downward revision to April, given the fact that obviously it was a huge shortfall in the headline number. It absolutely means that it’s something to watch, and it makes what was a disappointing report even more so.” American Jobs Plan The report comes as Biden is pushing the American Jobs Plan, a massive $2.3 trillion proposal to rebuild infrastructure, create new jobs in the growing renewable energy sector and improve public housing stock. In his remarks Friday, Biden said that the Friday jobs report shows the need to pass his proposal. “We can’t let up. This jobs report makes that clear. We’ve got too much work to do, and the American Rescue Plan is just that, a rescue plan, just to get us back to where we were. But that’s not nearly enough. We have to build back better. That’s why we need the American Jobs Plan I proposed, to put us in a position where we can build back better to reclaim our position as the leading and most innovative nation in the world.” This disappointing report also gave new ammunition to supporters of more expansive government spending. Democratic Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said it remains “clear that Americans are still struggling and in need of sustained support.” “The moment to make big, bold investments in an economy that will finally prioritize workers and their needs has met us,” Neal said, “and the Ways and Means Committee stands ready to join the Biden administration in delivering for the American people.” Unemployment benefits Elise Gould, senior economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute in Washington, wrote in a blog post that “as of the latest data, employment is still down 8.2 million jobs from its pre-pandemic level in February 2020. But, if we include the likelihood that thousands of jobs would have been added each month over the last year without the pandemic recession, the jobs shortfall is more likely in the range of 9.0 and 11.0 million. Now is not the time to turn off vital relief — including expanded unemployment benefits — to workers and their families.” However, that is precisely what some opponents of expanded relief to the unemployed are advocating. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, like many in the business community, insists that higher-than-usual unemployment benefits are discouraging Americans from seeking jobs. “The disappointing jobs report makes it clear that paying people not to work is dampening what should be a stronger jobs market,” said the chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer, Neil Bradley, in a statement. “We need a comprehensive approach to dealing with our workforce issues and the very real threat unfilled positions pose to our economic recovery from the pandemic. One step policymakers should take now is ending the $300 weekly supplemental unemployment benefit. Based on the chamber’s analysis, the $300 benefit results in approximately one in four recipients taking home more in unemployment than they earned working.” Other developed countries While the United States continues to face considerable unemployment, the country is doing better, as a whole, than most other developed nations. Data released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development last month showed that the U.S. unemployment rate was slightly lower than the OECD average in the early months of this year, at 6.2% compared with the groupwide 6.7%. The U.S. is even further ahead of the Eurozone in terms of recovering jobs lost to the pandemic. Countries that are part of the shared currency regime posted average unemployment rates of 8.3% in March. However, U.S. performance has trailed a number of large economies in the Asia-Pacific region on the same measure. At the end of February, when the U.S. unemployment rate stood at 6.2%, Australia’s rate was 5.8%, South Korea’s was 4.0%, and Japan’s just 2.9%.