Harry Moskoff wouldn't immediately strike you as the guy to discover the true location of the Ark of the Covenant, the chest that supposedly once held the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. He was born in Canada, studied jazz at Berklee College of Music, worked in IT, and started a company that specialized in copyright infringement claims when he moved to Tel Aviv 10 years ago. But in his free time, the ordained rabbi has dabbled in biblical archeology, poring over ancient texts and contemporary works, in search of any unturned stone that might help him track down the ark.
"I came up with a theory via Maimonides as to where the ark is located, which I later discussed with rabbis and archeologists in Israel," he told the Times of Israel in 2013. "It was a Jewish Da Vinci Code type project." His grand theory? It's been in Jerusalem all this time, buried underneath the courtyard of the Temple of Solomon. To promote his discovery, in 2013 he made a sci-fi movie called TheA.R.K. Report.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.)—known as something of an active volcano ever since he said in a 2010 floor speech that the Republican health care plan was to "die quickly"—is considering running for Senate next year. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already settled on a candidate, Rep. Patrick Murphy, but Grayson believes that "our voters will crawl over hot coals to vote for me."
That feeling of invincibility extends to his dealings with reporters. To wit, today's interview with Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times:
Good talk w @AlanGrayson: "R u some kind of sh*ttng robot?! U go around sh*tting on people?!" he inquired, loudly
Over the last six years, West Virginia Democrats have seen their grip on state politics slip away in no small part due to their alleged collaboration with President Barack Obama's "War on Coal." The solution: put a coal kingpin on the ballot.
On Monday, Jim Justice, owner of Southern Coal Corp., announced he would run for governor as a Democrat in 2016, to replace the retiring incumbent Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. Justice, the state's richest citizen with an estimated net worth of $1.6 billion, is a political novice but a state icon. In 2009, he purchased the Greenbrier, a historic mountain resort that had fallen on hard times, and restored it into a first-class resort. During his gubernatorial campaign kickoff event, Justice drew a parallel between his state's lackluster reputation, and the derelict condition of the White Sulphur Springs retreat. "[Times] were tough at the Greenbrier, too," he said.
In Justice, Democrats have found a walking counterpoint to the war-on-coal attacks. (The attacks are also largely unfounded—under Tomblin the state has rolled back mine safety regulations.) In contrast to, say, frequent Greenbrier guest Don Blankenship, who as CEO of Massey Energy famously re-designed his property so he wouldn't have to use his town's polluted drinking water and is currently awaiting trial on conspiracy to violate mine-safety laws, Justice has always styled himself as a man of the people. A 2011 Washington Post profile began with a surprise sighting of Justice at an Applebee's near his hometown. The richest man in the state, it turned out, was grabbing a late snack after coaching his hometown's high school girls basketball team.
But Southern Coal Corp. isn't without its issues. An NPR investigation last fall found that the company owed nearly $2 million in delinquent fines for federal mine safety violations. (After the report was published, Justice agreed to work out a payment plan.) And he may not have the Democratic field to himself, either; senate minority leader Jeff Kessler (D) filed his pre-candidacy papers in March. No Republicans have thrown their hats into the ring yet.
Is Elizabeth Warren actually just an enigmatic adolescent ghost? Maybe! On Monday, Harry Potter author (and greatest living British person) J.K. Rowling dropped a bombshell in response to a question from a Twitter fan:
Video visitation is the hot new trend in the corrections industry. Companies like Securus and Global Tel*Link, which have made big bucks charging high prices for inmate phone services, are increasingly pitching county jails new systems that will allow inmates to video-chat with friends and family. Using new terminals installed onsite, inmates can communicate with approved users who log in remotely on a special app similar to Skype. For inmates whose loved ones don't live anywhere near their corrections facility, that can be good news.
But as I reported for the magazine in February, those video-conferencing systems sometimes come with a catch—jails that use the systems are often contractually obligated to eliminate free face-to-face visits, leaving family members no choice but to pay a dollar-a-minute for an often unreliable service.
In a press release last week Securus has announced it will no longer require jails to ditch in-person visitation:
"Securus examined our contract language for video visitation and found that in 'a handful' of cases we were writing in language that could be perceived as restricting onsite and/or person-to-person contact at the facilities that we serve," said Richard A. ("Rick") Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Securus Technologies, Inc. "So we are eliminating that language and 100% deferring to the rules that each facility has for video use by inmates."
Translation: Nothing to see here, move along! But while inmates might be getting their face-to-face visitation back, Securus' concession on in-person visits comes even as it's fighting the Federal Communication Commission's efforts to regulate the cost of intrastate prison phone calls (it capped the price of interstate prison phone calls in 2014 at 25 cents per minute). And the corrections technology industry isn't the only group defending the status quo—the executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association told IB Times earlier this month that if the FCC interferes with phone prices (corrections facilities often get a cut of the profits), some jails may just decide to cut off access to phone calls.