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December 4, 2018

A one-and-a-half page letter Albert Einstein wrote in 1954 to philosopher Eric Gutkind was sold at auction on Tuesday for nearly $3 million — almost twice the amount expected by Christie's in New York.

Known as the "God Letter," it was written in German, Einstein's response to Gutkind's book Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt. Einstein wrote that "the word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish." Einstein, who was Jewish, said he found that "the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people."

Einstein was religious as a child, but his biography Einstein: A Life says he "abandoned his uncritical religious fervor" at age 13. "As so often during his life, he refused and disturbed the accepted categories," Nick Spencer, a senior fellow at the Christian think tank Theos, told The Guardian. "We do the great physicist a disservice when we go to him to legitimize our belief in God, or in his absence." Catherine Garcia

November 20, 2018

The Department of Homeland Security is paying undercover informants inside the migrant caravan headed to the southern border, two DHS officials told NBC News on Tuesday.

There are about 4,000 migrants in the caravan, most of them from Central America, and to communicate, they are using WhatsApp to text. DHS personnel are monitoring those messages, the officials said, as well as working with the Mexican government to keep track of the size of the caravan and any possible security threats.

On Monday, DHS announced that on Sunday night, it had gathered intelligence indicating that some migrants planned on running through the lanes at the border crossing near San Diego. The northbound lanes were closed for three hours, and no migrants attempted to rush through.

It's not known how much the Department of Homeland Security is spending on the informants. In a statement, DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman told NBC News the department has "an obligation to ensure we know who is crossing our borders, to protect against threats to the homeland, and any indication to the contrary is misinformed." Catherine Garcia

November 15, 2018

David Hockney's "Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)" sold on Thursday for $90.3 million, setting a new auction record for a living artist.

Christie's in New York estimated that the 1972 oil painting would fetch $80 million. The bidding lasted nine minutes, with the two most active bidders calling in by telephone. The previous record was held by Jeff Koons, whose "Ballon Dog (Orange)" sold in 2013 for $58.4 million.

Hockney, 81, is considered one of the most influential British artists. Before the sale, Ana Maria Celis, vice president of postwar and contemporary art at Christie's, said auction houses can "rarely say, 'This is the one opportunity to buy the best painting from the artist.' This is it." Catherine Garcia

October 15, 2018

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Monday released a proposal requiring drug companies to reveal how much their medications cost in television ads.

"Right now, drug companies are required to disclose the major side effects a drug can have — but not the effect that buying the drug could have on your wallet," the department said in a statement. The law would apply to brand-name drugs covered by both Medicare and Medicaid, CBS News reports, as long as a typical course of treatment costs more than $35 every month.

PhRMA, the drug industry's largest trade group, said it's open to putting prices up on a website, but believes if prices are revealed in commercials, that could "discourage patients from seeking needed medical care." Catherine Garcia

September 11, 2018

Should Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, her yet-to-be-determined Democratic opponent in 2020 will receive at least $1 million from angry donors.

Using the platform Crowdpac, the Maine People's Alliance, Mainers for Accountable Leadership, and activist Ady Barkan launched a crowdfunding campaign that has already raised $1 million, but with a catch. If Collins votes to confirm Kavanaugh, all that money will be sent to the TBD Democrat running against her. If she votes no, the money will not be collected.

All eyes are on Collins, as well as her fellow moderate Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Collins has said she wants to ensure Roe v. Wade is not overturned, but also voted for Kavanaugh already, when he was nominated in 2006 to the U.S. Court of Appeals. In a statement, Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Collins, said "anybody who thinks these tactics would work on Sen. Collins obviously doesn't know her. Sen. Collins will make up her mind based on the merits of the nomination. Threats or other attempts to bully her will not play a factor in her decision-making whatsoever."

Adav Noti of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center told The Washington Post on Tuesday that this campaign could violate federal bribery laws. "I think they're playing a game to avoid the literal application of the bribery statute," Noti said. Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for the group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibilities, disagrees, telling the Post: "It seems kind of icky but it doesn't rise to the level of bribery because there's no agreement. It's just the way money and politics tend to work these days." Catherine Garcia

September 5, 2018

Nike's decision to make former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick one of the faces of its 30th anniversary "Just Do It" ad campaign is not sitting well with many people who believe, as President Trump has argued, that Kaepernick's career-deflating decision to protest police violence against black people by kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful to the anthem and the American flag. Several people posted videos of themselves burning or otherwise defacing their Nike gear, as The Root captures, fairly unsympathetically.

But Trump himself has been conspicuously silent on Nike's celebration of Kaepernick's protest. On Tuesday, he explained to The Daily Caller why he has been reticent to tweet or otherwise weigh in on one of his favorite culture-war battles. "I think it's a terrible message," Trump said. "Nike is a tenant of mine. They pay a lot of rent."

"I think it's a terrible message that they're sending and the purpose of them doing it, maybe there's a reason for them doing it," Trump elaborated, "but I think as far as sending a message, I think it's a terrible message and a message that shouldn't be sent. There's no reason for it." He added that "as much as I disagree with the Colin Kaepernick endorsement," and "I wouldn't have done it ... in another way, it is what this country is all about, that you have certain freedoms to do things that other people think you shouldn't do, but I personally am on a different side of it." Peter Weber

July 10, 2018

The U.K.'s Information Commissioner's Office announced Tuesday that Facebook will be fined £500,000 (roughly $660,000) for its role in the Cambridge Analytica data-collecting scandal.

The ICO is giving Facebook the maximum fine possible for two breaches of the Data Protection Act, saying Facebook did not safeguard user information and was not transparent regarding how data was harvested by others. "Fines and prosecutions punish the bad actors, but my real goal is to effect change and restore trust and confidence in our democratic system," Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said.

Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer, said the company "should have done more to investigate claims about Cambridge Analytica and take action in 2015. We have been working closely with the ICO in their investigation of Cambridge Analytica, just as we have with authorities in the U.S. and other countries." Catherine Garcia

May 31, 2018

If you already work from home and need a change of scenery, Vermont might be the place for you.

On Wednesday, Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed legislation that pays people who move to the state and work remotely. They will receive $5,000 a year, not to exceed $10,000 over two years. The money can be used on certain expenses, including relocation costs, computers and software, and internet access. To be eligible, a person must move to Vermont after Jan. 1, 2019, be a full-time employee for an out-of-state business, and work primarily from home or a co-working space.

Joan Goldstein, the state's commissioner of economic development, told CNN Vermont's population is small and aging, and "we recognize the need to recruit people" to live there. The funds will be distributed on a first come, first served basis, and only $125,000 will be given out in 2019. Catherine Garcia

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