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Jimmy Kimmel returns with his little son Billy, after his second heart surgery

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Jimmy Kimmel’s son Billy, who was born with congenital heart disease and who has been at the center of the talk show host’s arguments around U.S. healthcare, had his second open heart surgery last week. So, Kimmel brought him on Monday’s show.

Kimmel has taken time off during Billy’s surgery, instead inviting guest hosts Chris Pratt, Melissa McCarthy, Tracee Ellis Ross and Neil Patrick Harris to keep the seat warm.

Billy’s surgery was a roaring success, and Kimmel thanked the doctors and nurses at the Children’s Hospital LA for his son’s treatment. “Daddy cries on TV but Billy doesn’t,” said a tearful Kimmel during his opening monologue. Read more…

More about Jimmy Kimmel Live, Healthcare, Jimmy Kimmel, Son, and Entertainment

Business

Hey, look: A fingerprint scanner under a smartphone screen

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Could the future of smartphone biometrics look a lot like a shinier version of the past? The answer is most definitely yes — that is, if Synaptics Incorporated has anything to say about it. 

The San Jose-based hardware manufacturer announced plans on Monday to mass produce an optical in-display fingerprint sensor, and, according to the company, it has a very big partner involved. 

The “Clear ID” scanner, which would reside under a phone’s screen, would theoretically allow for easy-to-use biometrics on bezel-less phones. While Synaptics is not the first company to develop such technology, that it claims to have a deal with an unnamed “top five [original equipment manufacturer]” suggests it’s ready for the big leagues.  Read more…

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Apple now lets you pre-order apps

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Apple launched a new feature that lets you pre-order from the App Store.

Announced on Monday, the change allows developers to make new iOS 11 apps available for pre-order up to 90 days before release.

Compared to the App Store’s overhaul that Apple revealed in September, it’s not a huge change, and while most folks probably won’t be too excited to pre-order messaging, fitness or photo apps, this could be big news for game developers. 

Apple’s iOS 11 App Store update featured a new tab just for games (in fact, it’s now the only category with its own tab), so it’s safe to say they’re a priority for the platform. Games like Nintendo’s Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, with its immense hype and staggered release date, would have been a perfect contender for pre-orders. Up ahead, the highly anticipated 2018 release of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite — a new augmented reality mobile game created by Warner Bros. and Niantic (the creators of the hit mobile game Pokémon Go) — could prove a prime candidate for the pre-order tool.  Read more…

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Business

THE DIGITAL DISRUPTION IN HOME LOANS REPORT: How fintechs are upending the mortgage space and creating opportunities for retail banks

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This is a preview of a research report from BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s premium research service. To learn more about BI Intelligence, click here.

Mortgages are valuable for retail banks, but they’re also complex products. In the UK alone, mortgages account for almost 60% of retail banks’ profits. But mortgage lending can be a complicated process — it involves estate agents, appraisers, and conveyance agents.

This complexity has resulted in major consumer pain points, like a lack of understanding of mortgages, inconvenient access channels, and difficulty switching providers. In an increasingly digital landscape, tech-savvy consumers are starting to demand simpler ways to take out mortgages, and legacy providers are suffering. In the US, the top three incumbent lenders together captured about 45% of the overall mortgage market in 2011; they hold just 24% in 2017.

But a new class of mortgage-focused startups have developed a range of business models to help incumbents update this valuable product for the digital age. Their strategies vary between geographies: In countries like the US and UK, where homeownership is culturally important, they help incumbents keep consumers interested in taking out home loans.

Meanwhile, in countries like Germany and Switzerland, where people prefer renting, they help incumbents attract new mortgage customers. Some incumbents are already partnering with these players, while others have opted to launch in-house initiatives. Each strategy has its pros and cons, but incumbents must adopt an approach to avoid losing relevancy and market share.

There are still some fundamental problems in the insurance market that present obstacles to innovation — for both startups and incumbents. But there are ways to overcome them while making mortgages more attractive for consumers and improving returns for lenders.

In a new report, BI Intelligence looks at the fundamental problems dogging the current mortgage process and examines why these flaws are becoming impossible for incumbent mortgage providers to ignore. It also outlines the types of fintechs stepping in to drive innovation in the mortgage space, some current efforts by incumbent banks, and hurdles still standing in the way of large-scale change in the mortgage industry, as well as what can be done about them.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the report: 

  • Mortgages are among retail banks’ most profitable products, but these lenders have been slow to adapt mortgages to a digital economy. This has created pain points in the customer journey, like inconvenient access channels, and difficulty switching providers.
  • Ignoring these pain points is no longer an option for incumbents. The rise of alternative, digital-only mortgage firms is putting them under increasing pressure to make mortgages more attractive.
  • Fintech startups have detected an opportunity in incumbents’ slowness to innovate, and have developed several strategies to help them, like broadening their distribution channels, improving customer relationships, providing attractive front-ends, and making their back-ends more efficient.
  • Some incumbents have instead chosen to innovate their mortgage processes in-house. There are pros and cons to both strategies, which incumbents should weigh in order to add the most value for customers and their own businesses. 

In full, the report:

  • Examines the flaws in the mortgage status quo that are upsetting consumers and dampening returns for lenders.
  • Discusses why incumbent lenders can’t afford to delay innovating any longer around this product.
  • Outlines different ways mortgage fintechs are breathing new life into this product, including by helping incumbents.
  • Looks at some mortgage efforts already underway by incumbent lenders, and some considerations that should guide their projects.
  • Gives an overview of hurdles still standing in the way of large-scale change in the mortgage space, and how they can be overcome.

To get the full report, subscribe to an ALL-ACCESS Membership with BI Intelligence and gain immediate access to this report AND more than 250 other expertly researched deep-dive reports, subscriptions to all of our daily newsletters, and much more. >> Learn More Now

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Business

American Express finally ditches the need for signatures with its credit card

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Like MasterCard and Discover before it, American Express is eliminating signatures for all credit card purchases.

The company announced Monday that merchants won’t need customers to sign for anything starting in April 2018. This affects all shoppers everywhere around the world where American Express is accepted. 

The payment process has outgrown signatures as a security measure — American Express credited contactless pay options, chip technology, and way more online shopping as big reasons to ditch the signatures. Plus, American Express and other card companies have many other methods to detect fraud. Read more…

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Rihanna, Justin Bieber, and more are standing up for bullied kid Keaton Jones

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By now, you’ve probably seen the name Keaton Jones or #StandWithKeaton, regarding the Tennessee boy whose video about his terrible bullying experience went pretty viral this weekend. 

The heartbreaking video, in which Jones describes how he’s bullied in school, created an instant outpouring of support and love from all corners of the internet. Many, many people shared their own stories, words of encouragement, and his video with others. Celebrities were definitely among them.

Celebrities have reached out on Twitter and Instagram showing Jones their own love and support with invitations to hang out, and simply spreading awareness of how serious and hurtful bullying really is. Read more…

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Former Facebook exec says network is ‘destroying how society works’

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“You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” 

That was the tagline for The Social Network, the film about creating Facebook, and it’s only become more relevant as the social network has grown to more than 2 billion people. Those “few enemies” are former Facebook executives, people who helped build the tech giant. 

“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works,” said Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and served as its vice president for user growth. He was referring to the iconic “like” button and other reactions we have while browsing News Feed.  Read more…

More about Facebook, Social Media, Psychology, Sean Parker, and Apps And Software

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All you wanted for your birthday is every ‘Street Fighter’ ever

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Street Fighter is turning 30, so Capcom is releasing one heck of an anniversary collection.

Set for release in May 2018, the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection will feature 12 games, including the 1987 original Street Fighter. Time to annoy your parents.

Along with the OG, you’ll get 11 classic games from Street Fighter II, through to Street Fighter III: Third Strike

Image: capcom/screenshot

Capcom released a rather emotionally charged video announcement for the collection, which celebrates over 60 SF characters and 40 million units sold in the last 30 years: Read more…

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Anti-holiday militant terrorising a New Jersey town in the lead up to Christmas (pssst, it’s a squirrel)

A small borough in New Jersey is the victim of a sinister individual with a deep dislike of Christmas who has been haunting the town with vicious acts for weeks. … Read more

The post Anti-holiday militant terrorising a New Jersey town in the lead up to Christmas (pssst, it’s a squirrel) appeared first on Lost At E Minor: For creative people.

Business

‘Roy Moore is in hiding’: Alabama GOP candidate is dodging the spotlight 2 days before the election

Roy MooreJoe Raedle/Getty Images

  • Roy Moore has cut back on public campaign appearances since numerous women accused him of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers.
  • Meanwhile, Moore has pushed back against the allegations on social media.
  • Dodging the mainstream spotlight is nothing new to Moore.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore has been a rare sight on the traditional campaign trail in the days ahead of a critical U.S. Senate race. He’s appeared at only a handful of rallies in front of friendly audiences and steadfastly has shunned reporters from the mainstream media.

Moore’s past campaigns have never been heavy on public appearances, but his relative absence from the spotlight this time has been noticeable.

Moore has focused on meeting with small groups of supporters and an aggressive social media campaign out of camera range as he tries to win Tuesday’s election against Democrat Doug Jones – a contest that was supposed to be an easy GOP victory – until November, when a number of women stepped forward to accuse Moore of engaging in sexual misconduct when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers.

Moore has denied the allegations and refuses to back down.

Dodging the mainstream spotlight is classic Roy Moore, according to Alabama campaign consultant David Mowery. Moore did the same when he campaigned for Alabama Supreme Court chief justice in 2012, when he defeated Mowery’s client, Democrat Bob Vance.

“We never knew where he was and then we’d get a picture from somebody showing us some church marquee saying, ‘Judge Moore is here on Saturday,'” Mowery recalled. “He’s out there, he’s just with his base, and usually in small events.”

Moore’s stealth effort has left Jones resorting to mockery as the Democrat crisscrosses the state trying to pull an upset in Tuesday’s special election, buoyed by the possibility that enough Republicans will abandon the 70-year-old Moore in the wake of the allegations.

“Roy Moore is in hiding. He’s kind of like the groundhog. He comes out every so often to see if he can see his shadow,” Jones said Saturday in Selma during one of several stops for the Democrat this weekend.

Mowery said the temptation is to obsess too much over what Moore is doing.

“You lose the forest for the trees worrying over the opponent,” he said. “It wasn’t like we were competing over the same voters anyway.”

“We were going after the Chamber of Commerce, country club, First Methodist kind of Republicans … not the fundamentalists and the snake handlers. We were never going to get them anyway, and neither is Doug,” Mowery said.

Ben DuPre, a campaign spokesman, said Moore is not holding back.

“He’s talking to voters. We are getting the message out any way that we can. I know you are the old media and you get offended when we don’t talk to you, but we’ve got Twitter. We’ve got Facebook. He’s doing interviews. He’s doing radio.”

Moore’s campaign is actively pushing his narrative on social media and in press releases. He’s also drawing headlines with the help of President Donald Trump, who came to the Florida Panhandle on Friday night and has lined up a recorded telephone call from the president that will start being delivered to Alabama voters on Monday.

Moore has never been conventional. He has built a large following among some evangelical voters from two failed gambits: upholding a display of the Ten Commandments in a state building and trying to block same-sex marriage in Alabama. He was tossed from office in both instances.

Moore plans to close out his campaign Monday night with another large rally featuring former Trump campaign guru Stephen Bannon.

Bill Stewart, the former chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama, said Moore appears to be banking on his evangelical base, as well as the state’s overwhelming tendency to vote Republican, to carry him to victory on Tuesday.

Republicans in Alabama tend to clear 60 percent of the vote — though Moore has struggled in his previous races to reach that number — and voters here haven’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1992.

Stewart said he can’t remember a candidate ever virtually “disappearing from public view” the way Moore has. Still, he said Moore has little to gain but “a lot to lose” by making a mistake.

“There may be a method in his madness,” Stewart said.

Business

‘Star Wars’ porg is available on Snapchat as your adorable AR friend

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And you thought the dancing hot dog was the best thing ever.

Meet your new best friend on Snapchat: Porg. 

It’s creepy. It’s adorable. It’s an ad for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which held its premiere in Hollywood this weekend and arrives in theaters on Friday. 

When the camera is in selfie mode aka front-facing, the lens offers a face filter with a lightsaber. Reversing the camera (tapping on the screen) makes the porg appear wherever the lens is pointed. Turn the sound on if you want to hear some strange shrills and loud flapping of wings.  Read more…

More about Snapchat, Star Wars, Augmented Reality, Apps And Software, and Evan Spiegel

Entertainment

This newspaper’s inexplicable headline gaffe will put all your problems in perspective

This past week, a UK newspaper itself made the news after its front page’s sub-editing instructions went to print. The headline for Cambridge News read, “100PT SPLASH HEADING HERE” with … Read more

The post This newspaper’s inexplicable headline gaffe will put all your problems in perspective appeared first on Lost At E Minor: For creative people.

Entertainment

‘The Last Jedi’ first premiere reactions are here and – you guessed it – the Force is strong

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi held its star-studded world premiere at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Saturday night, and the credits had barely finished rolling before attendees hit Twitter to share their first reactions to Rian Johnson’s take on the Skywalker saga.

While spoilers and plot details are under strict embargo until Dec. 12 at 9 a.m. PT, that didn’t stop fans from weighing in on the tone of the movie, which has drawn inevitable comparisons to the second (and most critically acclaimed) film in George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back.

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An 8-team playoff would solve most of college football’s biggest championship problems

Urban MeyerSteven Branscombe/Getty Images

  • The College Football Playoff field is set and Alabama is in over Ohio State.
  • With an 8-team playoff, the major conference champs would receive automatic bids.
  • In this scenario, Alabama and Ohio State would settle their debate on the field.

The College Football Playoff field is set and there was one controversial decision — the committee took Alabama over Ohio State.

While our projection had Alabama in as the fourth team rather easily, many felt that Ohio State had he stronger resume based on bigger wins and the sometimes important conference championship. Playoff committee chairman Kirby Hocutt made it sound like the decision wasn’t that hard, calling the Buckeyes’ 31-point loss to unranked Iowa “damaging” and noting that the committee felt Alabama was “clearly the No. 4 team in the country.”.

The decision was also controversial because it means this year’s playoff will have no teams from the Big Ten and the Pac-12. Instead, it will have two teams from the SEC, including one team that did not reach their conference championship game.

Of course, all of that would easily be fixed if the NCAA would just move to the one thing most fans want — an 8-team playoff.

Here is what the 8-team playoff would look like this season based on the final rankings. The champions of the Power 5 conferences received automatic bids, and then we gave the final three spots to the highest ranked team from a Group of 5 conferences and two at-large teams.

8-team College Football PlayoffESPN; Business Insider

An 8-team playoff solves two of the biggest gripes against the current system: 1) winning a Power 5 conference would mean something more than just a tiebreaker between otherwise even teams; and 2) it would give a team like undefeated UCF a chance to prove they can play with the big schools.

It also doesn’t hurt that Alabama and Ohio State would settle their debate on the field.

Under this scenario, the top six teams in the current playoff ranking would be included in the playoff. The biggest loser would be 3-loss Auburn, ranked seventh, something that would be much easier to swallow than keeping out Alabama or Ohio State.

The talking heads would still have things to debate and scream at each other about. But instead of debating the merits of Ohio State vs Alabama, they might debate the merits of Wisconsin, Auburn, Penn State, and Miami for the final at-large spot.

The playoff could include a provision requiring the top Group of 5 team to have a minimum ranking, with the alternative being a third at-large team. That is not without problems though. If the Group of 5 team were on the cusp of the minimum ranking (e.g. No. 15), it could play into the committees discussion on where to rank them, if they prefer to include a third at-large team.

The bigger problem is adding yet another game to the schedule of the two teams that reach the championship game, making their seasons 16 games long. Then again, it is not unheard of for FCS teams to play 16 games at a level where there is already an expanded playoff format. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

In the meantime, an 8-team playoff solves most of FBS’ biggest problems when it comes to determining a champion. Other problems, like giving some of that newly found revenue to the players, well, that’s another topic for another day.

Business

This was the year we turned on social media

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With each passing day comes yet another reason to question the notion that the long arc of the universe bends toward justice. However, this year, in particular, has made it resoundingly clear that — regardless of the direction of that arc — the process by which it bends manifests with stuttering jolts and fits. Things seem one way to many people, until, for whatever reason, all of the sudden everyone realizes they’re not. 

It is a similar reckoning that has befallen the do-no-wrong darling of the tech industry: social media. Long heralded by its profits as a digital panacea for our fractured world, services like Facebook and Twitter have instead come to both represent and fuel our darker natures.  Read more…

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Download this: Bitcoin apps are riding high as its price skyrockets

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There’s a new app at the top of the App Store and it’s all because of Bitcoin.

Coinbase, a popular Bitcoin wallet app, is now at the top of Apple’s App Store, unseating Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube as the most in-demand software. 

That in itself might not be terribly surprising considering the cryptocurrency keeps shattering record after record. But though Coinbase, which also works with other cryptocurrencies, is for now the most popular, it’s far from the only Bitcoin wallet app benefiting from the current boom.

Across the board, Bitcoin-related apps have been more in-demand than ever before. In fact, new numbers from app marketing firm Sensor Tower underscore just how much Bitcoin’s current surge has impacted the wallet apps in the App Store and Google Play. Read more…

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The Trump administration’s plans to share nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia could lead to an arms race in the Middle East

Donald Trump Saudi ArabiaBandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout

  • Saudi Arabia is planning to shift to nuclear power and looking for help from the US.
  • The US plan to share nuclear technology with the Saudis has been in the works for years, but has stalled because Saudi Arabia hasn’t agreed to certain safeguards.
  • Now critics worry that the Trump administration may forgo those safeguards, giving Saudi Arabia access to technology that could lead to a regional arms race.

The Trump administration is holding talks on providing nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia — a move that critics say could upend decades of U.S. policy and lead to an arms race in the Middle East.

The Saudi government wants nuclear power to free up more oil for export, but current and former American officials suspect the country’s leaders also want to keep up with the enrichment capabilities of their rival, Iran.

Saudi Arabia needs approval from the U.S. in order to receive sensitive American technology. Past negotiations broke down because the Saudi government wouldn’t commit to certain safeguards against eventually using the technology for weapons.

Now the Trump administration has reopened those talks and might not insist on the same precautions. At a Senate hearing on Nov. 28, Christopher Ford, the National Security Council’s senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation, disclosed that the U.S. is discussing the issue with the Saudi government. He called the safeguards a “desired outcome” but didn’t commit to them.

Abandoning the safeguards would set up a showdown with powerful skeptics in Congress. “It could be a hell of a fight,” one senior Democratic congressional aide said.

The idea of sharing nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia took an unlikely path to the highest levels of government. An eccentric inventor and a murky group of retired military brass — most of them with plenty of medals but no experience in commercial nuclear energy — have peddled various incarnations of the plan for years.

Many U.S. officials didn’t think the idea was serious, reputable or in the national interest. “It smelled so bad I said I never wanted to be anywhere close to that,” one former White House official said. But the proponents persisted, and finally found an opening in the chaotic early days of the Trump administration, when advisers Michael Flynn and Tom Barrack championed the idea.

The Saudis have a legitimate reason to want nuclear power: Their domestic energy demand is growing rapidly, and burning crude oil is an expensive and inefficient way to generate electricity.

There’s also an obvious political motive. Many experts believe the Saudis aren’t currently trying to develop a nuclear bomb but want to lay the groundwork to do so in case Iran develops one. “There’s no question: Why do you have a nuclear reactor in the Persian Gulf? Because you want to have some kind of nuclear contingency capability,” said Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

A Saudi spokesperson provided a written statement noting that the country’s electricity needs have grown “due to our population and industrial growth.”

The statement noted that “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, hence is diversifying its energy mix to serve its domestic needs in accordance with international laws and standards. The Kingdom has been actively exploring diverse energy sources for nearly the last decade to meet growing domestic demand.”

The technology for nuclear weapons is different from that for nuclear energy, but there is some overlap. The fuel for a power plant can be used for a bomb if it’s enriched to a much higher level. Also, the waste from a power plant can be reprocessed into weapons grade material. That’s why nonproliferation experts generally prefer that countries that use nuclear power buy fuel on the international market instead of doing their own enrichment and reprocessing.

Michael FlynnMario Tama/Getty ImagesIn 2008, the Saudi government made a nonbinding commitment not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing. They then entered negotiations with the U.S. for a pact on peaceful nuclear cooperation, known as a 123 agreement, after a section of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. A 123 agreement is a prerequisite for receiving American technology.

The talks stalled a few years later because the Saudi government backed away from its pledge not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing, according to current and former officials. “They wouldn’t commit, and it was a sticking point,” said Max Bergmann, a former special assistant to the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security at the time those negotiations occurred.

U.S. officials feared a domino effect. Accords with the United Arab Emirates and Egypt restrict those countries from receiving the most sensitive technologies unless the U.S. allows them in another Middle Eastern country. “If we accepted that from the Saudis, nobody else will give us legally binding commitment,” a former State Department official said.

During that same period, the Obama administration was pursuing an agreement to stop Iran’s progress toward building a nuclear bomb while letting the country keep some domestic enrichment capabilities it had already achieved.

The Saudi government publicly supported the Iran deal but privately made clear they wanted to match Iran’s technology. A former official summarized the Saudi position as, “We’re going to develop this kind of technology if they have this kind of technology.”

The Obama administration held firm with the Saudis because it’s one thing to cap nuclear technology where it already exists, but it’s longstanding U.S. policy not to spread the technology to new countries.

As Saudi Arabia and Iran — ideological and religious opponents — increasingly squared off in a battle for political sway in the Middle East, Republicans argued that the Obama administration had it backwards: It was enshrining hostile Iran’s ability to enrich uranium while denying the same to America’s ally Saudi Arabia.

One such critic of Obama’s Iran policy was Michael Flynn, a lieutenant general who was forced out as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014. Flynn quickly took up a variety of consulting assignments and joined some corporate boards. One of the former was an advisory position for a company called ACU Strategic Partners, which, according to a later financial disclosure, paid Flynn more than $5,000.

Flynn was one of many retired military officers whom ACU recruited. ACU’s chief was a man named Alex Copson, who is most often described in press accounts as a “colorful British-American dealmaker.”

Copson reportedly made a fortune inventing a piece of diving equipment, may or may not have been a bass player in the band Iron Butterfly, and has been touting wildly ambitious nuclear-power plans since the 1980s. (He didn’t answer repeated requests for comment.)

obama saudiKevin Lamarque/ReutersBy 2015, Copson was telling people he had a group of U.S., European, Arab and Russian companies that would build as many as 40 nuclear reactors in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Copson’s company pitched the Obama administration, but officials figured he didn’t really have the backers he claimed.

“They would say ‘We have Rolls-Royce on board,’ and then someone would ask Rolls-Royce and they would say, ‘No, we took a meeting and nothing happened,’” recalled a then-White House official.

In his role with ACU, Flynn flew to Egypt to convince officials there to hold off on a Russian offer (this one unrelated to ACU) to build nuclear power plants.

Flynn tried to persuade the Egyptian government to consider Copson’s proposal instead, according to documents released by Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Flynn also tried to persuade the Israeli government to support the plan and spoke at a conference in Saudi Arabia. (The trip would later present legal problems for Flynn because he didn’t report contacts with foreign officials on his application to renew his security clearance, according to Cummings. Cummings referred the information to Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Trump’s associates and Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Flynn’s lawyer declined to comment.)

Copson’s outfit eventually splintered. A retired admiral named Michael Hewitt, who was to head up the security services part of the project, struck out on his own in mid-2016. Flynn went with him.

Hewitt’s new company is called IP3 International, which is short for “International Peace Power & Prosperity.” IP3 signed up other prominent national security alumni including Gens. Keith Alexander, Jack Keane and James Cartwright, former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, Bush Homeland Security adviser Fran Townsend, and Reagan National Security adviser Robert “Bud” McFarlane.

IP3’s idea was a variation on ACU’s. Hewitt swapped out one notional foreign partner for another (Russia was out, China was in), then later shifted to an all-American approach. That idea resonated with the U.S. nuclear-construction industry, which never recovered from the Three Mile Island disaster in the 1970s and was looking to new markets overseas.

But nuclear exports are tightly controlled because the technology is potentially so dangerous. A 123 agreement is only the first step for a foreign country that wants to employ U.S. nuclear-power technology.

In addition, the Energy Department has to approve the transfer of technology related to nuclear reactors and fuel. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses reactor equipment, and the Commerce Department reviews exports for equipment throughout the rest of the power plant.

IP3 — whose sole project to date is the Saudi nuclear plan — never went through those normal channels. Instead, the company went straight to the top.

At the start of the Trump administration, IP3 found an ally in Tom Barrack, the new president’s close friend and informal adviser and an ultra-wealthy investor in his own right.

During the campaign, Barrack wrote a series of white papers proposing a new approach to the Middle East in which economic cooperation would theoretically reduce the conditions for breeding terrorism and lead to improved relations.

Barrack wasn’t familiar with nuclear power as an option for the Middle East until he heard from Bud McFarlane. McFarlane, 80, is most remembered for his role in the defining scandal of the Reagan years: secretly selling arms to Iran and using the money to support Nicaraguan rebels. He pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress but was pardoned by George H.W. Bush.

Nevertheless, Barrack was dazzled by McFarlane and his IP3 colleagues.

“I was like a kid in a candy shop — these guys were all generals and admirals,” Barrack said in an interview. “They found an advocate in me in saying I was keen on trying to establish a realignment of U.S. business interests with the Gulf’s business interests.”

McFarlane followed up the meeting by emailing Flynn in late January, according to six people who read the message or were told about it. McFarlane attached two documents. One outlined IP3’s plan, describing it as consistent with Trump’s philosophy. The second was a draft memo for the president to sign that would officially endorse the plan and instruct his cabinet secretaries to implement it.

nuclearFlickr/James VaughanBarrack would take charge of the project as the interagency coordinator. Barrack had discussions about becoming ambassador to Egypt or a special envoy to the Middle East but never committed to such a role. (McFarlane disputed that account but repeatedly declined to specify any inaccuracies. IP3 declined to comment on the memos.)

Flynn, now on the receiving end of IP3’s lobbying, told his staff to put together a formal proposal to present to Trump for his signature, according to current and former officials.

The seeming end run sparked alarm. National Security Council staff brought the proposal to the attention of the agency’s lawyers, five people said, because they were concerned about the plan and how it was being advanced. Ordinarily, before presenting such a sensitive proposal to the president, NSC staff would consult with experts throughout government about practical and legal concerns.

Bypassing those procedures raised the risks that private interests might use the White House to their own advantage, former officials said.

“Circumventing that process has the ability not only to invite decisions that aren’t fully vetted but that are potentially unwise and have the potential to put our interests and our people at risk,” said Ned Price, a former CIA analyst and NSC spokesman.

Even after those concerns were raised, Derek Harvey, then the NSC’s senior director for the Middle East, continued discussing the IP3 proposal with Barrack and his representative, Rick Gates, according to two people. Gates, a longtime associate of former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, worked for Barrack on Trump’s inaugural committee and then for Barrack’s investment company, Colony NorthStar.

By then, Barrack was no longer considering a government position. Instead, he and Gates were seeking investment ideas based on the administration’s Middle East policy. Barrack pondered the notion, for example, of buying a piece of Westinghouse, the bankrupt U.S. manufacturer of nuclear reactors. (Harvey, now on the staff of the House intelligence committee, declined to comment through a spokesman.

In October, Mueller charged Manafort and Gates with 12 counts including conspiracy against the U.S., unregistered foreign lobbying, and money laundering. They both pleaded not guilty. Gates’ spokesman didn’t answer requests for comment.)

Ultimately, it wasn’t the NSC staff’s concerns that stalled IP3’s momentum.

Rather, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior aide tasked with reviving a Middle East peace process, wanted to table the nuclear question in favor of simpler alliance-building measures with the Saudis, centered on Trump’s visit in May, according to a person familiar with the discussions. (A spokesperson for Kushner, asked for comment, had not provided one at the time this article was published; we’ll update the article if he provides one later.)

In recent months, the proposal has stirred back to life as the Saudi government kicked off a formal process to solicit bids for their first reactors. In October, the Saudis sent a request for information to the U.S., France, South Korea, Russia and China — the strongest signal yet that they’re serious about nuclear power.

The Saudi solicitation also gave IP3 the problem its solution was searching for. The company pivoted again, narrowing its pitch to organizing a consortium of U.S. companies to compete for the Saudi tender. IP3 won’t say which companies it has signed up. IP3 also won’t discuss the fees it hopes to receive if it were part of a Saudi nuclear plan, but it’s vying to supply cyber and physical site security for the plants.

“IP3 has communicated its strategy to multiple government entities and policy makers in both the Obama and Trump administrations,” the company said in a statement. “We view these meetings and any documents relating to them as private, and we won’t discuss them.”

The Saudi steps lit a fire under administration officials. Leading the charge is Rick Perry, the energy secretary who famously proposed eliminating the department and then admitted he didn’t understand its function. (It includes dealing with nuclear power and weapons.)

Perry had also heard IP3’s pitch, a person familiar with the situation said. In September, Perry met with Saudi delegates to an international atomic energy conference and discussed energy cooperation, according to a photo posted on his Facebook page. Perry’s spokeswoman didn’t answer requests for comment.

Other steps followed. Soon after, a senior State Department official flew to Riyadh to restart formal 123 negotiations, according to an industry source. (A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment.)

In November, Energy and State Department officials joined a commercial delegation to Abu Dhabi led by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s main lobby in Washington. Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Edward McGinnis said the administration wants to revitalize the U.S. nuclear energy industry, including by pursuing exports to Saudi Arabia.

The Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration and the Energy Department are organizing another industry visit in December to meet with Saudi officials, according to a notice obtained by ProPublica. And in the days before Thanksgiving, senior U.S. officials from several agencies met at the White House to discuss the policy, according to current and former officials.

The Trump administration hasn’t stated a position on whether it will let the Saudis have enrichment and reprocessing technology. An NSC spokesman declined to comment. But administration officials have begun sounding out advisers on how Congress might react to a deal that gives the Saudis enrichment and reprocessing, a person familiar with the discussions said.

A display featuring missiles and a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen at Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. Nazanin Tabatabaee Yazdi/TIMA via REUTERS Thomson Reuters
Senators have started demanding answers. At the Nov. 28 hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ford, the NSC nonproliferation official who has been nominated to lead the State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, testified that preliminary talks with the Saudis are underway but declined to discuss the details in public.

As noted, Ford wouldn’t commit to barring the Saudi government from obtaining enrichment and reprocessing technology. “It remains U.S. policy, as it has been for some time, to seek the strongest possible nonproliferation protections in every instance,” he told the senators. “It is not a legal requirement. It is a desired outcome.”

Ford added that the Iran deal makes it harder to insist on limiting other countries’ capabilities.

Sen. Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who led the questioning of Ford on this topic, seemed highly resistant to the idea of the U.S. helping Saudi Arabia get nuclear technology.

“If we continue down this pathway,” he said, “then there’s a recipe for disaster which we are absolutely creating ourselves.”

Markey also accused the administration of neglecting its statutory obligation to brief the committee on the negotiations. (The White House declined to comment.)

Any agreement, in this case with Saudi Arabia, would not require Senate approval.

However, should an agreement be reached, Congress could kill the deal. The two houses would have 90 days to pass a joint resolution disapproving it. The committee’s ranking Democrat, Ben Cardin, suggested they wouldn’t accept a deal that lacked the same protections as the ones in the UAE’s agreement.

“If we don’t draw a line in the Middle East, it’s going to be all-out proliferation,” he said. “We need to maintain the UAE’s standards in our 123 agreements. There’s just too many other countries that could start proliferating issues that could be against our national interest.”

Bob Corker, the committee’s chairman, has been a stickler on nonproliferation in the past; he criticized the Obama administration for not being tough enough. Corker isn’t running for reelection and has criticized Trump for being immature and reckless in foreign affairs, so he’s unlikely to shy away from a fight. (A spokesman declined to comment.)

“The absence of a consistent policy weakens our nuclear nonproliferation efforts, and sends a mixed message to those nations we seek to prevent from gaining or enhancing such capability,” Corker said at a hearing in 2014. “Which standards can we expect the administration to reach for negotiating new agreements with Jordan or Saudi Arabia?”

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‘Jumanji’ is a great video game movie that’s not actually based on a video game

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It’s a truism that Hollywood has a terrible track record when it comes to video game movies. But it’s not entirely accurate. There are lots of great video game movies out there – they’re just not based on actual video games.

This month, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, joins films like Edge of Tomorrow and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World on the list of excellent films inspired by video games but not directly adapted from one. This one is a loose sequel to 1995’s Jumanji, which reimagines the dangerous board game as a ’90s-era video game. Read more…

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