ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, April 30

Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple
Comments welcomed

 The White House correspondents had a dinner. Nobody cares.

 North Korea launches another test missile. Everybody cares, even though the launch failed.

It was the fourth failure in a row. But it’s the thought that counts.  (CNN)

The launch came immediately after Sec. of State Rex Tillerson went to the UN to criticise North Korea and shortly after the communist state conducted a major live-fire military exercise.

Even failures, like the recent ones, can teach Pyongyang scientists something. They are working hard on the project. The US estimates they will produce a nuclear-capable missile that can strike the US within 4 to 8 years.

 Pope Francis visits Egypt, where Christians are under constant threat from Islamists despite protection from the Sisi regime  (Crux) The Catholic site, Crux, says the visit may be one of those “big deal” moments and says the biggest recent change is the “mounting frustration of ordinary people here with terrorism and violence.”

Comment: The Pope’s visit is all the more important because most Egyptian Christians are Coptics, not Catholics. 

 Turkey’s Erdogan: No more Mr. Nice Guy. Fires another 4k officials, saying they were somehow involved in last summer’s coup (or faux coup). (BBC) 

1,000 worked in the Justice Ministry, which seems increasingly misnamed.

The latest sackings follow the suspension of more than 9,000 police officers and the arrest of 1,000 more last Wednesday on suspicion of having links to the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses Mr Gulen of instigating last year’s coup attempt, a charge the cleric denies. –BBC

 Four US states still haven’t bounced back from 2008-9. Economies in Louisiana, Wyoming, Alaska, and Connecticut are smaller than in June 2009.

Several others have stalled recoveries: Minnesota, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and West Virginia. (CNBC)

 A simple Israeli invention to treat “resistant hypertension.” It tricks the body into modulating its own blood pressure (Israel 21c)

Approximately 75 million Americans have hypertension, and more than five million of them are resistant to drug therapy. Worldwide, it’s estimated that one billion people have elevated blood pressure not adequately controlled by medication. –Israel 21c

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zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
◆ Thomas Lifson
 at American Thinker for the Israeli invention story.

 

Turkey’s increasingly autocratic leader blocks Wikipedia

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The story is here.

It cited a law that allows it to block access to individual web pages or entire sites for the protection of public order, national security or the wellbeing of the public. BTK is required to submit such measures to a court within 24 hours. The court then has two days to decide whether the ban should be upheld. –The Guardian

Comment: The courts have already been politically purged so their decision will hinge on how much pushback Erdogan gets for this move.

 

ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, April 29

Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

 North Korea responds to US criticism at United Nations by launching a test missile. It blows up, their 4th straight failure

The Reuters headline has it exactly right: North Korea test-fires ballistic missile in defiance of world pressure

North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Saturday shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that failure to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs could lead to “catastrophic consequences”.

U.S. and South Korean officials said the test, from an area north of the North Korean capital, appeared to have failed, in what would be the North’s fourth straight unsuccessful missile test since March. –Reuters

Comments:

  • If someone is hacking these launches, they are doing a good job.
  • China’s reaction here is crucial. If Kim did this after he was warned by Beijing, he will pay for it.
  • Trump is playing the China card correctly. His public position is “China and the US are working together on this.” That does more than save face for China. It says, subtly, that if China cannot stop North Korea, it is Pyongyang that is showing up Beijing, and Beijing won’t want to let that happen.
  • Sending Tillerson to the UN was important. It says to the world: “This is on our front burner.”
  • At some point, the US will have to decide whether to include Chinese entities in any sanctions aimed at North Korea. All North Korean connections to the world, meager as they are, go through China. Any sanction against Chinese entities, even a small move against a small bank, meant as a signal, would risk future collaboration with China on the North Korean issue. So, the US will probably hold off on that for a while.
  • What has been missing in the analysis: those missiles aimed at South Korea and Japan could also hit China, and Beijing has to worry about that if North Korea continues its nuclear program.

 Despite all the happy talk, the US economy grew very slowly in the first quarter. Under 1%.  (New York Times)

The reason: a sharp, unexpected slowdown in consumer spending. The NYT offers a sensible explanation of the political and economic consequences of the 0.7% growth number:

The softness last quarter also provides crucial ammunition for the Trump administration’s arguments that big tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks are necessary for the economy to grow the way it did in the 1980s and 1990s.

Tax cuts, regulatory relief, trade renegotiations and an unfettered energy sector are needed “to overcome the dismal economy inherited by the Trump administration,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “Business and consumer sentiment is strong, but both must be released from the regulatory and tax shackles constraining economic growth.”

The first-quarter fade is also sure to be noticed by the Federal Reserve as it contemplates whether to proceed with two more interest-rate increases planned for this year. –New York Times

 MS-13 Murderous Drug Gang targeted by DOJ. Jeff Sessions tells them: “We are coming after you”  The South American drug cartel has spread across the US, branched into other criminal enterprises, and committed a string of murders recently on Long Island. (Fox News)

Comment: They are major profiteers from the opioid epidemic and were among the targets of candidate Trump’s famous “bad hombres” comment.

Politically, the Trump Administration is wise to focus on gangs like this. US citizens are being victimized, and even the staunchest defenders of open borders don’t want to defend the entrance of criminal gangs like MS-13.

Bernie calls Barack’s Wall Street paydays “distasteful”  (CNN)

Comment: Sanders made the comment from his office, not one of his three homes.

Elizabeth Warren has made similar comments about Obama’s high-priced speeches to financial executives.

Pres. Obama’s spokesman, Eric Schultz, responded,

Obama will continue to focus most of his post-presidency on writing a book, giving speeches and “training and elevating a new generation of political leaders in America.” –CNN

Comment: Neither Sanders nor Warren will want to go too far here. They want to keep up the heat on Wall Street for their progressive base, but attacking the former President, who is very popular among Democrats, is not a game with much upside for them.

Comment: Democrats certainly need a new generation of political leaders, the ones Obama’s spokesman is promising.

  • The most popular Democrat is not even a member of the party. He is a Socialist.
  • The current, elected leadership is all drawing Social Security
  • Rising D’s in their 40s and 50s were wiped out en mass during the Obama presidency. His record of grooming future leaders is, ahem, not strong. 

 Marine Le Pen, in the runoff for France’s presidency, faces more stench from her political base, the National Front

After Le Pen advanced to the runoff last Sunday, she resigned her leadership of the National Front. Her successor was Jean-François Jalkh. In on-the-record interviews in 2000, he denied the Nazis used poison gas to kill millions in concentration camps. When those comments were publicized this week, Jalkh denied making them. But they were on tape. So, now, Mr. Jalkh has decided to spend more time with his family and has been replaced by the mayor of a northern industrial town. The search is undoubtedly on to see if he said what he really thinks to anybody who recorded it.

The story is in the Washington Post.

Comment: Le Pen is an underdog in the runoff, but her presence at the top of French politics is a very disturbing sign.

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Goodbye Independent Voters. Hello Switch Hitters

Many voters say they are “independent,” not affiliated with either party.

You might think both parties would court them avidly, giving them extra weight in elections.

The reality is that they have surprisingly little political leverage.  Is there a different and more effective political leverage option?

A New Name for Independents

The replacement for independent voters may be political “switch hitters,” a term borrowed from baseball – batters who are effective from either their or right sides when they bat opposite a left- or right-throwing pitcher.

The critical difference is that an independent voter operates outside of the political stadium; the switch hitter plays every day inside of the political stadium.

Why Independent Parties Fail

There are multiple reasons why even a well-organized and funded independent party will not prevail or even have a significant effect in presidential elections.

  • The Electoral College system wherein the state winner takes all.
  • No prize for winning even 20% or more, but less than a majority, of a state’s vote.
  • Voters tend to vote for apparent winners.
  • Lack of major funding for television commercials.

The relative political power of independent voters is a myth. Try something that is politically realistic and potentially effective. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt ran for the office of president on the independent third-party Bull Moose ticket – he lost to Woodrow Wilson. In 1992, Ross Perot received 19% of the popular vote and zero Electoral College votes.

Each state decides third-party access to the presidential ballot. The US Supreme Court has made it difficult for states to prevent independent third-party access to the ballot by prohibiting virtually impossible criteria. It is now easier for an independent candidate to be on the ballot, but independents and third-party candidates remain political orphans.

The political reality: when Democrats vote for Democrats, and Republicans vote for Republicans, and independents vote for independent candidates, the long-established Democratic and Republican political parties always win.

How Do Voters become “Independent”?

A potential independent voter must leave the warm nest of either the Democratic or Republican parties established by their parents and social groups. The young generation independent voter is inculcated to be a partisan voter. Leaving one’s party affiliation traumatic, similar to leaving one’s organized-religion affiliation. It’s much easier to be an independent if one had no long-standing political affiliation in the first place.

Still, some people do change. Perhaps they are motivated by disgust with the established parties. Perhaps they are swept away by a particular candidate or issue. A few change affiliations because they change their basic political outlook.

Is there a pure independent voter?  Probably not. The independent voter is either Democrat- or Republican-leaning. There may be 5% of voters who meet most of the independent voter criteria checklist, notwithstanding the voter statistics arrayed below.

The markers used by voter research agencies are reasonably consistent:

  • Moderates, 47%; liberal, 29%; conservatives, 24%.
  • Party leaning: independent, 20%; Democrat, 45%; Republican, 33%.
  • Most recent affiliation tally: independent, 36-42%; Democrat, 32-36%; Republican, 23-26%.

Why do political polling statistics find that independents are a dominant political force? Political statistics are inconsistent, or skewed, for several reasons, from one-time shocks to ticket splitting because of particular candidates, rather than changed partisanship.

To me, this strongly suggests those who say 40% of voters are independent are vastly overestimating. Maybe Ross Perot’s 19% is the highest mark for the independent voter.

The Message to Independent Voters: Focus on Substantive Issues, Not Winning the Oval Office

The message for independents is partially good news. Don’t quit now. Abandon presidential leverage expectations, focus on substantive issues for the common good, and achieve well-defined strategic objectives by stratagem and stealth.

Independents should consider becoming political party switch hitters who can focus on beneficial, substantive issues from within either established political party. How can they leverage their votes to compel the president, and Democrats, and Republicans to question and resolve their dysfunction? Politics is not an end in itself. It is the vehicle by which government is achieved. A government that understands that the US is in peril; one that can create national good feeling, constructiveness, and competency that is based on mutual respect and stability.

The strategic objective is in the collective American gut: small and large businesses that provide jobs for those who are able and willing to work; use government regulatory power sparingly to promote love of country among classes; continue to attract and welcome qualified immigrants who enhance our productive capacity and will become US citizens; and have the capacity for global leadership that is backed by constrained military power.

How can beneficial change be implemented?

Use the electronic internet infrastructure, present and future, in place of the traditional political organization that requires many personnel and much money to operate. The key concept: do your own thing; tell your selected political party what your thing is. Aggregate substantive concepts and ideas, and array them on the Internet. Note that rescuing a dog from a well will receive more than one million hits overnight. This phenomenon can be used to auction switch hitters and their policies to the highest bidders, whether Democrat or Republican.

Political leverage is achieved by letting state and local parties know that you and your switch-hitter colleagues have a substantive agenda and that, if most of your ideas are incorporated into their agenda, your vote will be theirs.

Remember the critical concept

  • Independents play in the parking lot, outside the political stadium
  • Switch hitters come up to bat every day.

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Richard Friedman was chair of the National Strategy Forum/Chicago. He has served as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Counselor to the American Bar Association Committee on National Security.

A very moving (and non-political) story of a recent immigrant

After a wonderful seminar, led by a scholar visiting from Yale and Princeton, and working dinner, we piled into a Lyft for the trip from downtown Chicago to Hyde Park.

When we reached the university neighborhood, the graduate students got out, one-by-one, at their apartments until, finally, the driver and I were alone.

We started chatting, and that when I learned his story.

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It began when he asked who the passengers were.

“They are all graduate students, working on different aspects of international politics.”

“Ah,” he said, “I avoid politics.”

Wise move for a cab driver, I thought!

Because he had a modest accent, I asked where he was from.

“Iraq.”

“When did you come to America?”

“2005.”

“So, you were there during the war,” I replied. “I’m so glad you made it out safely. I hope that you and your family and friends didn’t suffer too much.”

“Well,” he said, a bit reluctantly. “I knew some people who were hurt and killed.”

Then, he added in a matter-of-fact way,

“I was kidnapped and held in a trunk for three days.”

I was shocked and, of course, sympathetic. It was all the more shocking because he mentioned it in such an ordinary way, as if these things happen all the time.

I asked how he managed to get released. He seemed surprised I would even ask since he considered the answer obvious.

“My family paid ransom.”

The kidnappers, he continued, weren’t political. They just wanted to make some money. He said he had done some work for the US embassy but the kidnappers hadn’t known that and probably wouldn’t have cared.

They were “just a bunch of criminals, trying to get into the kidnapping business.”

I said they must have been new at it if they didn’t have a safe-house to stash him.

“Yes. They were just a wannabe gang. They didn’t have a place to keep me so they just put me in the trunk.”

“Well, ” I said, “you are in America now, and I really hope you feel really welcome and at home here.”

“Yes,” he said, as he dropped me off. “My whole family feels like we are Americans now.”

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An amazing story, told without drama, and a happy ending.

ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, April 28

Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

 Trump Warns That ‘Major, Major Conflict’ With North Korea Is Possible  (New York Times) The interview was with Reuters and everyone is reporting the same lede.

Comment: The policy is to make the US threat credible, including the real possibility of war, since that is the only way to get China to move away from their long-standing policy of unflinching support for the Kim Family Enterprise. China has not been happy with young Kim, but they have feared a regime collapse even more. Now, they realize that an even worse outcome–war–could happen if they don’t use leverage.

Trump has been very careful to say the right things about Beijing and hasn’t gratuitously insulted Kim. Plus, there are steady hands on the security side, even though it would be much better if the State Dept. had its top Asia appointments in place. 

 Government Shutdown? Ryan makes that less likely by postponing healthcare vote until the shutdown issue is resolved (Washington Post)

 South Carolina acts against campus anti-Semitism, despite opposition by pro-Palestinian groups  (The State, SC) The state House bill

which requires S.C. colleges to use a U.S. State Department definition of anti-Semitism when investigating alleged civil rights violations on campus, was OK’d Thursday by a Senate panel. –The State (South Carolina)

The governor has said he will sign it into law.

Comment: EVERY campus has well-organized, single-minded, virulently anti-Israel groups. They sprang up simultaneously on all campuses a few years ago and troll every pro-Israel event. 

 Eliz. Warren “troubled” by Obama’s $400k fee from Wall Street firm for one-hour speech (ABC News)

Irony alert: She said so in a radio talk promoting her book.

 Amazon, Google release great corporate results, buoy markets Reuters report on Amazon here. Their report on Alphabet (Google) here.

 Trump orders Sec. of Ed. Betsy DeVos to end federal government’s “top-down mandates” and restore local control of schools (USA Today) Devos’ top adviser, Rob Goad, explain the logic

Since our founding, education was intended to be under state and local control. In recent years, however, too many in Washington have advanced top-down mandates that take away autonomy and limit the options available to educators, administrators, and parents. –USA Today

According to Goad, Trump’s Executive Order gives the Dept. of Education the power “to modify anything that is inconsistent with federal law.”

Comment: Good idea, but this is just posing–so far. The Sec. of Education already has the power to “modify anything that is inconsistent with federal law.”

 

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zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
◆ Robert May
for the South Carolina bill on anti-Semitism

 

Look at the latest initiative by Purdue’s Mitch Daniels, the most creative, consequential leader in American Higher Education

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To make Purdue’s education available to a wide public, the university just acquired Kaplan University, a long-time leader in distance learning.

To quote Mitch Daniels, Purdue’s president:

Nearly 150 years ago, Purdue proudly accepted the land-grant mission to expand higher education beyond the wealthy and the elites of society. We cannot honor our land-grant mission in the 21st century without reaching out to the 36 million working adults, 750,000 of them in our state, who started but did not complete a college degree, and to the 56 million Americans with no college credit at all.

It’s a big swallow, even for a successful public university like Purdue, even for a successful leader like Daniels, who was previously governor of Indiana and director of OMB, the federal government’s Office of Management and Budget.

After all, Kaplan has 15 campuses, 32k students, and 3k employees (and was, for many years, the main profit center at the Washington Post).

Most important, Kaplan has decades of experience in distance- and online-learning.

Purdue intends to operate the new distance-learning university as a boat on its own bottom, separate from the publicly-funded land-grant university.

The new university will be distinct from others in the Purdue system, relying only on tuition and fundraising to cover operating expenses. No state appropriations will be utilized.

Comment: Bold, creative, and, I hope, successful for students and Purdue. If it is, then I hope it can be scaled and serve as a model for next-generation higher education.

Kudos to Mitch Daniels and Purdue.

And thanks to Tom Elia for this story.

 

Martha Lavey: Remembering a great artistic director who shaped Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater

In a city of great theater, none casts a longer shadow than Steppenwolf, with its extraordinary ensemble of actors, writers, and directors.

In recent decades, none shaped that theater more than artistic director Martha Lavey, who died this week of a stroke, far too young (60).

She commissioned new plays; brought in up-and-coming playwrights like Tracy Letts (“August: Osage County”), Tarrell Alvin McCraney (“In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” adapted for the film “Moonlight”) and Bruce Norris (the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Clybourne Park”); and created new workshops and experimental performing spaces.

During her tenure, Steppenwolf presented a long list of critically praised productions. Several transferred to Broadway, winning nine Tony Awards. The theater’s restagings of Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” both won Tonys for best revival.

Mr. Letts’s “August: Osage County” was developed at the theater and had its world premiere there. After moving to Broadway, it won five awards at the 2008 Tonys, including best play. Mr. Letts went on to win a best-actor Tony in 2013 for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” –Chicago Tribune

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As subscribers for decades, we saw them all.

I remember especially watching Tracy Lett’s magisterial “August: Osage Country” in its premier run. I kept thinking, “This is one for the ages. It will be playing as long as there are great actors to play it.” That was the creative genius of Tracy, Martha, and the Steppenwolf ensemble. Time and again, they captured the raw, immediate, and very personal drama of live theater.

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In Martha Lavey’s memory, all Chicago’s theaters have dimmed their lights.

Her lasting achievement is that Chicago’s creative lights will burn brighter for her life in theater here.

The Chicago Tribune obituary is here. The New York Times obituary is here.

Paging Max Bialystock

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Actual Associated Press headline today: Producer admits bilking investors with fake Broadway play

A Broadway producer admitted on Wednesday that he scammed his friends and others into investing more than $165,000 in a nonexistent play about opera star Kathleen Battle supposedly starring Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. –Associated Press

He forgot to watch the original play or movie, I guess.

You have to produce a real play, but it is supposed to be a bad one.

You cannot skip the play entirely.  Please rewatch the entire video tape.

ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, April 27

Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

 Trump goes BIG with proposed tax cuts

New York Times: “Trump Proposes Sharply Cutting Tax Rates for Individuals”

The plan is still broad strokes, rather than details, but the strokes are bold.  The point men are Steven Mnuchin at Treasury and Gary Cohn at the National Economic Council.

The proposal envisions slashing the tax rate paid by businesses large and small to 15 percent. The number of individual income tax brackets would shrink from seven to three — 10, 25 and 35 percent — easing the tax burden on most Americans, including the president, although aides did not offer the income ranges for each bracket.

Individual tax rates currently have a ceiling of 39.6 percent and a floor of 10 percent. Most Americans pay taxes somewhere between the two.

The president would eliminate the estate tax and alternative minimum tax, a parallel system that primarily hits wealthier people by effectively limiting the deductions and other benefits available to them. –New York Times

The Times also has a perceptive story: Trump’s Tax Plan Is a Reckoning for Republican Deficit Hawks

The White House insists that economic growth will cover the cost, which could be as high as $7 trillion over a decade. But the question will dog Republicans and could fracture their party as they face the prospect of endorsing a plan that many economists and budget analysts warn will increase the deficit. –New York Times

Comment: The main story on tax cuts is riddled with editorial attacks on Trump and often personal ones. The opening line of the lead story is that the tax cuts benefit the rich. And all the stories emphasize the NYT’s speculation–and that is all it is–that the cuts will benefit Trump personally. The implications are that he is self-dealing and that this plan is just another “favor-the-rich, Republican plutocrat” idea. They also love to follow the “benefit the rich” with the words “like Donald Trump.” They have given up all pretense of distinguishing their hard-news reporting from their editorial stance. The difference is the first thing student journalists learn.

 US THAAD anti-missile system, sent to South Korea, to be active within days  (CNN)

Comment: The US has also sent major naval assets to the area, while China and Russia have deployed significant land forces, possibly fearing an influx of refugees if the Kim regime collapse. But also a signal to Kim Jong Un that he is facing pressure on multiple fronts. 

 Obamacare repeal: House GOP factions making progress, Senate Republicans still an obstacle.  Politico reports: GOP senators not so keen on House’s Obamacare repeal

The House may finally be on its way to scrapping Obamacare, but don’t expect the Senate to go along: Any plan sent over will undergo major surgery — and survival is far from assured.

The hurdles in the upper chamber were on vivid display Wednesday as House Republicans celebrated their breakthrough on the stalled repeal effort. The compromise cut with House Freedom Caucus members won over the right flank, but the changes will almost surely make it harder to pick up votes in the more moderate-minded Senate. –Politico

Comment: The pressure to get this done will be enormous. The GOP knows that they face electoral disaster if they don’t pass their biggest promise of the past seven years.

 How good is the economy in Austin, Texas? “Employers struggling to find workers who will take less than $15 an hour” (KXAN)

The story also notes, oddly, that unemployment there has crept up slightly in the past few months.

Comment: When I was in Austin this winter, I asked some workers at a fast-food chain what the starting wage was. “$12 an hour.” I often ask that question when I travel since the starting wage at a McDonald’s or Dairy Queen is the effective minimum wage in the area. 

I draw two lessons from the Austin story.

First, the only lasting way to raise the minimum wage is to strengthen business demand for workers, which means making it easier for them to do business and prosper. That’s the Texas story, in a nutshell.

Second, if unemployment is creeping up (though still very low in Austin) but businesses cannot find workers, then something is wrong. Either people don’t have the right skills or there are disincentives to work. Either way, those are problems that need solutions.

 First settlers came to America 130,000 years ago, long before previous estimates, according to a new study.  (Science News)

An unidentified Homo species used stone tools to crack apart mastodon bones, teeth and tusks approximately 130,700 years ago at a site near what’s now San Diego. This unsettling claim upending the scientific debate over the settling of the Americas comes from a team led by archaeologist Steven Holen of the Center for American Paleolithic Research in Hot Springs, South Dakota, and paleontologist Thomas Deméré of the San Diego Natural History Museum. If true, it means the Cerutti Mastodon site contains the oldest known evidence, by more than 100,000 years, of human or humanlike colonists in the New World, the researchers report online April 26 in Nature. –Science News

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zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
◆ Michael Lipson
 for the Austin, Texas, story