Archives for June 2017

Trump’s ‘election integrity’ commission wants every voter’s name, party ID, and address

Vox reports: This week, the public got its first real peek at President Donald Trump’s commission to study the integrity of elections in America — and some civil rights advocates are warning that the commission is being used to lay the groundwork for voter suppression efforts.

On Wednesday, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who, along with Vice President Mike Pence, is in charge of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, sent a letter to state governments, asking officials for suggestions to improve the integrity of elections. Then the letter asked for a lot of voter data — including names, birth dates, addresses, party affiliation, military service status, and histories of felony convictions.

There are questions about whether this request is even legal. But civil rights groups are worried about what, exactly, the Trump administration plans to do with all of this data. [Continue reading…]

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What really happened between Donald Trump, the hosts of Morning Joe, and the National Enquirer

New York magazine reports: As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump used his close alliance with the National Enquirer to attack his enemies. Now that he’s President, he’s continuing to benefit from the tabloid’s support.

This morning in a Washington Post op-ed, Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski disclosed that White House officials offered to spike an Enquirer story about their romance if the pair apologized to Trump for the show’s critical coverage. In recent months, Scarborough and Brzezinski have questioned Trump’s mental state and fitness for office. They elaborated on the op-ed on MSNBC this morning. Morning Joe regular Donny Deutsch said it was “blackmail” for Trump to use a hit-piece in the Enquirer to extract an apology from media critics. Trump then tweeted a quasi-confirmation of the behind-the-scenes conversations, saying that Scarborough called to enlist his help to kill the story. Scarborough called Trump’s version a “lie,” tweeting that he never spoke to the president.

According to three sources familiar with the private conversations, what happened was this: After the inauguration, Morning Joe’s coverage of Trump turned sharply negative. “This presidency is fake and failed,” Brzezinski said on March 6, for example. Around this time, Scarborough and Brzezinski found out the Enquirer was preparing a story about their affair. While Scarborough and Brzezinski’s relationship had been gossiped about in media circles for some time, it was not yet public, and the tabloid was going to report that they had left their spouses to be together. [Continue reading…]

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As climate changes, Southern states will suffer more than others

The New York Times reports: As the United States confronts global warming in the decades ahead, not all states will suffer equally. Maine may benefit from milder winters. Florida, by contrast, could face major losses, as deadly heat waves flare up in the summer and rising sea levels eat away at valuable coastal properties.

In a new study in the journal Science, researchers analyzed the economic harm that climate change could inflict on the United States in the coming century. They found that the impacts could prove highly unequal: states in the Northeast and West would fare relatively well, while parts of the Midwest and Southeast would be especially hard hit.

In all, the researchers estimate that the nation could face damages worth 0.7 percent of gross domestic product per year by the 2080s for every 1 degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperature. But that overall number obscures wide variations: The worst-hit counties — mainly in states that already have warm climates, like Arizona or Texas — could see losses worth 10 to 20 percent of G.D.P. or more if emissions continue to rise unchecked. [Continue reading…]

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America has abandoned its role as a global leader, says a top U.S. ally

The Washington Post reports: One of America’s top allies in the Middle East offered an excoriating assessment of the U.S. role in the region, saying that the United States is “absent.”

“There is a vacuum in the overall leadership in the world,” Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview airing Friday. “The Americans need to … get back to their role as an international power, an important international power.” He also accused the United States of lacking an “international strategy,” saying there is “no strategy for the alliances that are fighting and have helped us in this part of the fight.”

Allawi also attacked America’s broader fight against Islamist extremism and said the country lacks clear-cut policies. [Continue reading…]

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Russia’s geopolitical PR campaign finds a perfect opening in North Africa

By Cristian Nitoiu, Aston University

Not since the end of the Cold War has Russia carried so much weight. Deeply involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, doggedly safeguarding Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime in Syria, and alleged to have meddled in the US presidential elections, the Kremlin is a force for all the world to reckon with. And now it has a new playing field, one of the various areas where the West has failed to shepherd a state from dictatorship to democracy: Libya.

While it has started to take an explicit interest in negotiations between the country’s two warring government’s, Russia’s moves in Libya have been mainly symbolic. In 2016, its only aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetzov, stopped there on its way back from Syria. In January 2017, eastern Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar was given a tour of the carrier in the Mediterranean, with talk of Russian support for his regime (which doesn’t enjoy UN backing); come the summer, Moscow tested its new Kalibr and X-35 missiles off the Libyan coast.

On the face of it, this looks like a clear attempt to exploit strategic gaps left by the US and the EU. The West has been unwilling and unable to push forward a solution that would bring together Libya’s rival factions, a failure very much in line with an old Russian narrative that deplores Western intervention in sovereign countries’ affairs.

As Russia sees it, the main lesson of Libya’s descent into chaos since 2011 is that that the West greatly overestimated its grasp of the complexities of North African politics. There’s an obvious parallel with Ukraine, where Moscow’s primary goal since the 2014 “Maidan revolution” has been to show that where the West tries to impose liberalism upon sovereign countries, it is doomed to fail.

[Read more…]

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Myanmar says it will refuse entry to UN investigators probing Rohingya abuses

Reuters reports: Myanmar will refuse entry to members of a United Nations probe focusing on allegations of killings, rape and torture by security forces against Rohingya Muslims, an official said on Friday.

The government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi had already said it would not cooperate with a mission set up after a Human Rights Council resolution was adopted in March.

“If they are going to send someone with regards to the fact-finding mission, then there’s no reason for us to let them come,” said Kyaw Zeya, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital, Naypyitaw.

“Our missions worldwide are advised accordingly,” he said, explaining that visas to enter Myanmar would not be issued to the mission’s appointees or staff.

Suu Kyi, who came to power last year amid a transition from military rule, leads Myanmar through the specially created position of “State Counsellor”, but is also minister of foreign affairs.

Although she does not oversee the military, Suu Kyi has been criticized for failing to stand up for the more than 1 million stateless Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine.

She said during a trip to Sweden this month the UN mission “would have created greater hostility between the different communities”. The majority in Rakhine are ethnic Rakhine Buddhists who, like many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, see the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. [Continue reading…]

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Sending information without transmitting a signal

Joshua Roebke writes: We connect to each other through particles. Calls and texts ride flecks of light, Web sites and photographs load on electrons. All communication is, essentially, physical. Information is recorded and broadcast on actual objects, even those we cannot see.

Physicists also connect to the world when they communicate with it. They dispatch glints of light toward particles or atoms, and wait for this light to report back. The light interacts with the bits of matter, and how this interaction changes the light reveals a property or two of the bits—although this interaction often changes the bits, too. The term of art for such a candid affair is a measurement.

Particles even connect to each other using other particles. The force of electromagnetism between two electrons is conveyed by particles of light, and quarks huddle inside a proton because they exchange gluons. Physics is, essentially, the study of interactions.

Information is always conveyed through interactions, whether between particles or ourselves. We are compositions of particles who communicate with each other, and we learn about our surroundings by interacting with them. The better we understand such interactions, the better we understand the world and ourselves.

Physicists already know that interactions are local. As with city politics, the influence of particles is confined to their immediate precincts. Yet interactions remain difficult to describe. Physicists have to treat particles as individuals and add complex terms to their solitary existence to model their intimacies with other particles. The resulting equations are usually impossible to solve. So physicists have to approximate even for single particles, which can interact with themselves as a boat rolls in its own wake. Although physicists are meticulous, it is a wonder they ever succeed. Still, their contentions are the most accurate theories we have.

Quantum mechanics is the consummate theory of particles, so it naturally describes measurements and interactions. During the past few decades, as computers have nudged the quantum, the theory has been reframed to encompass information, too. What quantum mechanics implies for measurements and interactions is notoriously bizarre. Its implications for information are stranger still.

One of the strangest of these implications refutes the material basis of communication as well as common sense. Some physicists believe that we may be able to communicate without transmitting particles. In 2013 an amateur physicist named Hatim Salih even devised a protocol, alongside professionals, in which information is obtained from a place where particles never travel. Information can be disembodied. Communication may not be so physical after all.[Continue reading…]

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Music: Tigran Hamasyan — ‘Bravo Virtuoso! (Love Theme)’

 

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Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough: Donald Trump is ‘not mentally equipped to continue watching our show’

Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough write: President Trump launched personal attacks against us Thursday, but our concerns about his unmoored behavior go far beyond the personal. America’s leaders and allies are asking themselves yet again whether this man is fit to be president. We have our doubts, but we are both certain that the man is not mentally equipped to continue watching our show, “Morning Joe.”

The president’s unhealthy obsession with our show has been in the public record for months, and we are seldom surprised by his posting nasty tweets about us. During the campaign, the Republican nominee called Mika “neurotic” and promised to attack us personally after the campaign ended. This year, top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked. We ignored their desperate pleas.

The president’s unhealthy obsession with “Morning Joe” does not serve the best interests of either his mental state or the country he runs. Despite his constant claims that he no longer watches the show, the president’s closest advisers tell us otherwise. That is unfortunate. We believe it would be better for America and the rest of the world if he would keep his 60-inch-plus flat-screen TV tuned to “Fox & Friends.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump overrules cabinet, plots global trade war

Axios reports: No decision has been made, but the President is leaning towards imposing tariffs, despite opposition from nearly all his Cabinet.

In a plan pushed by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and backed by chief strategist Steve Bannon (not present at the meeting [on Monday]), trade policy director Peter Navarro and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, the United States would impose tariffs on China and other big exporters of steel. Neither Mike Pence nor Jared Kushner weighed in either way.

Everyone else in the room, more than 75% of those present, were adamantly opposed, arguing it was bad economics and bad global politics. At one point, Trump was told his almost entire cabinet thought this was a bad idea. But everyone left the room believing the country is headed toward a major trade confrontation. [Continue reading…]

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How Rex Tillerson is wrecking the State Department

Max Bergmann writes: The deconstruction of the State Department is well underway.

I recently returned to Foggy Bottom for the first time since January 20 to attend the departure of a former colleague and career midlevel official—something that had sadly become routine. In my six years at State as a political appointee, under the Obama administration, I had gone to countless of these events. They usually followed a similar pattern: slightly awkward, but endearing formalities, a sense of melancholy at the loss of a valued teammate. But, in the end, a rather jovial celebration of a colleague’s work. These events usually petered out quickly, since there is work to do. At the State Department, the unspoken mantra is: The mission goes on, and no one is irreplaceable. But this event did not follow that pattern. It felt more like a funeral, not for the departing colleague, but for the dying organization they were leaving behind.

As I made the rounds and spoke with usually buttoned-up career officials, some who I knew well, some who I didn’t, from a cross section of offices covering various regions and functions, no one held back. To a person, I heard that the State Department was in “chaos,” “a disaster,” “terrible,” the leadership “totally incompetent.” This reflected what I had been hearing the past few months from friends still inside the department, but hearing it in rapid fire made my stomach churn. As I walked through the halls once stalked by diplomatic giants like Dean Acheson and James Baker, the deconstruction was literally visible. Furniture from now-closed offices crowded the hallways. Dropping in on one of my old offices, I expected to see a former colleague—a career senior foreign service officer—but was stunned to find out she had been abruptly forced into retirement and had departed the previous week. This office, once bustling, had just one person present, keeping on the lights.

This is how diplomacy dies. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. With empty offices on a midweek afternoon.

When Rex Tillerson was announced as secretary of state, there was a general feeling of excitement and relief in the department. After eight years of high-profile, jet-setting secretaries, the building was genuinely looking forward to having someone experienced in corporate management. Like all large, sprawling organizations, the State Department’s structure is in perpetual need of an organizational rethink. That was what was hoped for, but that is not what is happening. Tillerson is not reorganizing, he’s downsizing. [Continue reading…]

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NASA denies that it’s running a child slave colony on Mars

The Daily Beast reports: A report on Alex Jones’ InfoWars claiming child sex slaves have been kidnapped and shipped to Mars is untrue, NASA told The Daily Beast on Thursday.

“There are no humans on Mars. There are active rovers on Mars. There was a rumor going around last week that there weren’t. There are,” Guy Webster, a spokesperson for Mars exploration at NASA, told The Daily Beast. “But there are no humans.”

On Thursday’s program, the InfoWars host welcomed guest Robert David Steele onto The Alex Jones Show, which airs on 118 radio stations nationwide, to talk about kidnapped children he said have been sent on a two-decade mission to space.

“We actually believe that there is a colony on Mars that is populated by children who were kidnapped and sent into space on a 20-year ride,” said Steele. “So that once they get to Mars they have no alternative but to be slaves on the Mars colony.”

Jones echoed Steele, saying “clearly they don’t want us looking into what is happening” because “every time probes go over they turn them off.”

“Look, I know that 90 percent of the NASA missions are secret and I’ve been told by high level NASA engineers that you have no idea. There is so much stuff going on,” Jones said.

At the beginning of his campaign in December of 2015, President Donald Trump told Alex Jones that “your reputation is amazing” and “I will not let you down” in a half-hour interview on InfoWars. [Continue reading…]

If an objective metric for establishing population-wide gullibility was internationally accepted, I have little doubt that America would rank #1.

Paradoxically, the incapacity to think clearly renders the gullible at risk of repeatedly getting duped rather than wising up.

When those with little power and little education, through the experience of being marginalized form an indiscriminate suspicion of all branches of The Establishment — government, science, academia, the mainstream media — they all the more easily get seduced by anti-establishment crackpots like Alex Jones. His perceived credibility derives solely from his clownish posturing as a fearless rebel — a little guy bold enough to challenge power.

Culpability for this state of affairs does in part rest with those in positions of influence who long felt comfortable with the notion that segments of the population could effectively be written off and treated as though they don’t exist.

The failure to build a truly inclusive society is what opened the door to throngs of crackpot radio show hosts and now a deranged president. America is now paying the price for all those it has left behind.

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A chilling NRA ad gaining traction online appears to be ‘an open call to violence’ and civil war

 

Business Insider reports: A National Rifle Association ad that has gained traction on social media this month urges Americans to join “freedom’s safest place” as protesters and members of the “resistance” movement who oppose Donald Trump’s presidency “smash windows, burn cars,” and “terrorize the law-abiding.”

The one-minute ad features footage of protesters and marches overlayed with commentary by the conservative media personality and NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch.

Loesch describes anti-Trump protests as “madness” and terror that “shut down interstates and airports” and warrant a heavy-handed police response.

Here’s the full transcript:

“They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again. And then they use their ex-president to endorse the resistance.

“All to make them march, make them protest, make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia. To smash windows, burn cars, shut down interstates and airports, bully and terrorize the law-abiding — until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness.

“And when that happens, they’ll use it as an excuse for their outrage. The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth. I’m the National Rifle Association of America, and I’m freedom’s safest place.”

The ad prompted backlash from some progressives, who called it “an open call to violence” and “barely a whisper shy of a call for full civil war.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump no longer seems able to hide his raw misogyny. Good

Michelle Goldberg writes: The President of the United States began this morning as he often does, tweeting juvenile insults at the news media. But even by Donald Trump standards, today’s jabs at TV hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski were unusually gross. Taken together, they read: “I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”

There’s a lot you can say about these tweets; among other things, it’s striking that Trump thinks that when journalists seek access to him, it means they like him. But I was most struck by Trump’s raw misogyny. Obviously, that’s not because Trumpian misogyny is anything new, but because, from the time he was inaugurated until this week, he’s mostly been holding it in.

Trump does not get much credit for being disciplined, but for the last five months, he’s mostly checked his tendencies to leeringly appraise women’s looks, at least in public. (Vanity Fair did report in April that during a visit by the Japanese Prime Minister, “the president told an acquaintance that he was obsessed with the translator’s breasts.”) So far, there’s been no reported pussy-grabbing in the Oval Office, no stumbling in women’s changing rooms or fantasizing aloud about female subordinates on their knees. Instead Trump, like other Republicans before him, has sublimated his misogyny into policies: expanding the global gag rule, sabotaging federal family planning programs, eroding enforcement of the law against gender discrimination in education. [Continue reading…]

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GOP operative sought Clinton emails from Russian hackers, implied a connection to Flynn

The Wall Street Journal reports: Before the 2016 presidential election, a longtime Republican opposition researcher mounted an independent campaign to obtain emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server, likely by Russian hackers.

In conversations with members of his circle and with others he tried to recruit to help him, the GOP operative, Peter W. Smith, implied he was working with retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, at the time a senior adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump.

“He said, ‘I’m talking to Michael Flynn about this—if you find anything, can you let me know?’” said Eric York, a computer-security expert from Atlanta who searched hacker forums on Mr. Smith’s behalf for people who might have access to the emails.

Emails written by Mr. Smith and one of his associates show that his small group considered Mr. Flynn and his consulting company, Flynn Intel Group, to be allies in their quest.

What role, if any, Mr. Flynn may have played in Mr. Smith’s project is unclear. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Smith said he knew Mr. Flynn, but he never stated that Mr. Flynn was involved.

Mr. Flynn didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A Trump campaign official said that Mr. Smith didn’t work for the campaign, and that if Mr. Flynn coordinated with him in any way, it would have been in his capacity as a private individual. The White House declined to comment.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian attempts to sway the U.S. election and whether there was collusion between Russians and the Trump campaign. President Trump has denied any collusion and called the investigation a “witch hunt.” The Russian government has denied it interfered in the election.

Mr. Smith died at age 81 on May 14, which was about 10 days after the Journal interviewed him. His account of the email search is believed to be his only public comment on it. [Continue reading…]

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White House could offer to roll back sanctions in first Trump-Putin meeting

The Guardian reports: Donald Trump has told White House aides to come up with possible concessions to offer as bargaining chips in his planned meeting next week with Vladimir Putin, according to two former officials familiar with the preparations.

National security council staff have been tasked with proposing “deliverables” for the first Trump-Putin encounter, including the return of two diplomatic compounds Russians were ordered to vacate by the Obama administration in response to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election, the former officials said. It is not clear what Putin would be asked to give in return.

There is strong resistance in the NSC and state department to one-sided concessions aimed simply at improving the tone of US-Russian relations. There is also opposition within the administration to Trump’s preference for a formal bilateral meeting with Putin at the G20 summit in Germany, as first reported by the Associated Press.

Some officials argue the meeting should be a brief and informal “pull-aside” at the two-day summit, which starts next Friday in Hamburg, in view of the fact that Trump is under multi-pronged investigations into his campaign’s relationship with Moscow. The sceptics also argue there has been no let-up in Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, which was the trigger for the bulk of the sanctions. [Continue reading…]

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Ukraine cyberattack was meant to paralyze, not profit, evidence shows

The New York Times reports: The day started like most for Roman N. Klimenko, an accountant in Kiev who had just settled in at his desk, typing at a computer keyboard and drinking coffee. He was unaware that concealed within his tax preparation software lurked a ticking bomb.

That bomb soon exploded, destroying his financial data and quickly spreading through computer systems vital to Ukraine’s government — and beyond. The cyberattack, on Tuesday, was caused by a virus similar to one that wreaked global havoc less than two months ago.

Both had the appearance of hacker blackmail assaults known as ransomware attacks: screens of infected computers warn users their data will be destroyed unless ransoms are paid.

But in Ukraine’s case, a more sinister motive — paralysis of the country’s vital computer systems — may have been at work, cybersecurity experts said on Wednesday. And many Ukrainians cast their suspicions on Russia.

Cybersecurity experts based their reasoning partly on having identified the group of Ukrainian users who were initially and improbably targeted: tax accountants. [Continue reading…]

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Amid Turkey’s purge, a renewed attack on Kurdish culture

The New York Times reports: Gosto’s kebab shop is not the only diner on its block, let alone on its street. It is, however, the one that perhaps reveals most about the threat to Kurdish culture.

Its owner and manager — the cheery, chubby Vural Tantekin — turned to the kebab trade only in January, after the city authorities sacked most members of his municipally run theater troupe.

“The reason,” said Mr. Tantekin, during an interview squeezed between kebab orders, “was to stop us from performing in Kurdish.”

For people like Mr. Tantekin, the fate of Diyarbakir’s theater troupe is emblematic of an ongoing assault on Kurdish culture at large.

Since the founding of the Turkish republic in 1923, which enshrined a monocultural national identity, the country’s sizable Kurdish minority — around 20 percent of the population — has often been banned from expressing its own culture or, at times, from speaking the Kurdish language. [Continue reading…]

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