Archives for September 2017

Army Corps: Puerto Rico looks a lot like Iraq in 2003

Vox reports: Most of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents are still in the dark, nine days after Hurricane Maria engulfed the island.

The storm’s 150 mph winds and a 20-inch cascade of rain created a vast humanitarian crisis, with residents now scrounging for food, clean water, and fuel to keep cool in the sweltering heat.

The damage is especially stark for Puerto Rico’s energy network, which was struggling with bad finances and poor maintenance even before the hurricane swept through.

And for Col. James DeLapp, commander of the Recovery Field Office for Puerto Rico at the US Army Corps of Engineers, the scene on the ground — and the challenge ahead — looks lot like what the Army Corps faced after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

“We had a very similar situation following the opening of the Iraq War,” said DeLapp. “This is very reminiscent of that type of effort.” [Continue reading…]


If North Korea fires an ICBM, the U.S. might have to shoot it down over Russia

Patrick Tucker writes: If Pyongyang fires a missile at the United States, its most-likely trajectory would take it over the North Pole. A U.S. attempt to shoot down that missile would probably occur within Russian radar space — and possibly over Russia itself. “It’s something we’re aware of,” Gen. Lori Robinson, who leads both U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, said Wednesday. “It’s something we work our way through.”

By year’s end, the U.S. will have deployed 44 ground-based interceptors, or GBIs: 40 at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. If deterrence fails, those interceptors would be the last line of defense against a North Korean missile. Each incoming ICBM might be met with four or more GBIs.

Last week, Joshua Pollack told an audience at the annual Air Force Association conference in Washington D.C. that the most probable intercept route aims the U.S. GBI “into the teeth of the Russian early warning net.”

The actual route will depend on the incoming missile’s course and speed, and just how quickly the U.S. system can react. Pollack, a researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, elaborated in a subsequent writeup of his presentation. “Defending a West Coast target…means engaging the attacking [reentry vehicle] above the Russian Far East. Yikes.” [Continue reading…]


North Korea seen moving missiles from development center

Reuters reports: Several North Korean missiles were recently spotted moved from a rocket facility in the capital Pyongyang, South Korea’s Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) reported late Friday amid speculation that the North was preparing to take more provocative actions.

The report cited an unnamed intelligence source saying South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials detected missiles being transported away from North Korea’s Missile Research and Development Facility at Sanum-dong in the northern part of Pyongyang.

The report did not say when or where they had been moved.

The missiles could be either intermediate range Hwasong-12 or intercontinental ballistic Hwasong-14 missiles, according to the report, though the missile facility at Sanum-dong has been dedicated to the production of intercontinental ballistic missiles. [Continue reading…]


U.S. in direct communication with North Korea, says Tillerson

The New York Times reports: The Trump administration acknowledged on Saturday for the first time that it was in direct communication with the government of North Korea over its missile and nuclear tests, opening a possible way forward beyond the escalating threats of a military confrontation from both sides.

“We are probing, so stay tuned,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said, when pressed about how he might begin a conversation with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, that could avert what many government officials fear is a significant chance of open conflict between the two countries.

“We ask, ‘Would you like to talk?’ We have lines of communications to Pyongyang — we’re not in a dark situation, a blackout,” he added. “We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang,” a reference to North Korea’s capital.

The two countries have been trading public threats over North Korea’s nuclear program, with the North declaring that its missiles have the capacity to strike the United States and President Trump vowing to “totally destroy” North Korea.

Mr. Tillerson gave no indication of what the administration might be willing to give up in any negotiations, and Mr. Trump has made clear he would make no concessions. But many inside and outside government have noted there were no major military exercises between the United States and South Korea scheduled until the spring, so the promise of scaling them back could be dangled. [Continue reading…]


The far right is reeling in professionals, hipsters, and soccer moms

Quartz reports: Following the political earthquakes of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, commentators tried to get a better understanding of who was leading this seismic change in politics. A picture quickly emerged: angry, working class (“left behind”) men were the driving force of right-wing populism. But a year of bruising elections in Europe has highlighted an uncomfortable truth—support for the far right is far more widespread then angry, old, white working class men.

Last Sunday (Sept 24), German voters put a far-right party into parliament for the first time since the Second World War. Right-wing nationalists Alternative for Germany (AFD) won 13% of the vote, easily overcoming the 5% threshold needed to enter the German Bundestag. A previous study (link in German) showed that AFD supporters come from different social classes, including workers, families with above-average incomes, and even academics. The study concluded that what was common among AFD voters was their dislike for Angela Merkel’s so-called open-door policy to refugees.

A snapshot of where AFD voters came from highlighted the party’s ability to win over voters from a wide array of political affiliations. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (and its sister party the Christian Social Union) lost over one million voters to the AFD. But it wasn’t just right-wing voters who switched to the AFD; the center left Social Democrat lost over 500,000 (or 8.6%) of its 2013 voters to the AFD, the far left Left Party lost 420,000 (11%), and the Greens saw 50,000 defections (0.84%). Polling also showed that the AFD’s received the most votes among voters aged 33 to 44-year-old and that the party had done well with workers, and even managed to win over 10% of support from white-collar workers.

The AFD’s widespread support isn’t particularly surprising or unique. Far-right populism has always been dependent on a fragile coalition of voters—wealthy professionals, disaffected workers, and extremists—to break out of the margins and succeed. While white working class discontent is an important driving force for populism, so is anger from wealthy suburbanites and millennials. [Continue reading…]


Trump slow to implement Russia, Iran, North Korea sanctions law, say senators

Reuters reports: Two months after signing it, President Donald Trump has not begun enforcing a law imposing new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea, Senators John McCain and Ben Cardin said in a letter seen by Reuters on Friday.

Also, with just two days to go, his administration has not provided information related to Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors required under the measure by Sunday, they said.

White House officials did not respond to a request for comment on the letter from McCain, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Later on Friday, the White House issued a presidential memorandum taking the first step toward implementation by designating different agencies to start the process putting the law into effect. [Continue reading…]


Russian hacker wanted by U.S. tells court he worked for Putin’s party

Reuters reports: A Russian hacker arrested in Spain on a U.S. warrant said on Thursday he previously worked for President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party and feared he would be tortured and killed if extradited, RIA news agency reported.

Peter Levashov was arrested while on holiday in Barcelona in April. U.S. prosecutors later charged him with hacking offences, accusing him of operating a network of tens of thousands of infected computers used by cyber criminals.

Levashov’s comments offered a rare glimpse into the relationship between cyber criminals and the Russian state. U.S. officials say Russian authorities routinely shield hackers from prosecution abroad before recruiting them for espionage work. [Continue reading…]


The ‘sectarianization’ of the Middle East


Microbes that eat electricity

Emily Singer writes: [In 2015], biophysicist Moh El-Naggar and his graduate student Yamini Jangir plunged beneath South Dakota’s Black Hills into an old gold mine that is now more famous as a home to a dark matter detector. Unlike most scientists who make pilgrimages to the Black Hills these days, El-Naggar and Jangir weren’t there to hunt for subatomic particles. They came in search of life.

In the darkness found a mile underground, the pair traversed the mine’s network of passages in search of a rusty metal pipe. They siphoned some of the pipe’s ancient water, directed it into a vessel, and inserted a variety of electrodes. They hoped the current would lure their prey, a little-studied microbe that can live off pure electricity.

The electricity-eating microbes that the researchers were hunting for belong to a larger class of organisms that scientists are only beginning to understand. They inhabit largely uncharted worlds: the bubbling cauldrons of deep sea vents; mineral-rich veins deep beneath the planet’s surface; ocean sediments just a few inches below the deep seafloor. The microbes represent a segment of life that has been largely ignored, in part because their strange habitats make them incredibly difficult to grow in the lab.

Yet early surveys suggest a potential microbial bounty. A recent sampling of microbes collected from the seafloor near Catalina Island, off the coast of Southern California, uncovered a surprising variety of microbes that consume or shed electrons by eating or breathing minerals or metals. El-Naggar’s team is still analyzing their gold mine data, but he says that their initial results echo the Catalina findings. Thus far, whenever scientists search for these electron eaters in the right locations — places that have lots of minerals but not a lot of oxygen — they find them. [Continue reading…]


Music: Newen Afrobeat ft. Seun Kuti & Cheick Tidiane Seck — ‘Opposite People’



Trump lashes out at Mayor of San Juan; says Puerto Ricans need to do more to help themselves

The Guardian reports: The mayor of San Juan lashed out at Trump administration on Friday, decrying its relief effort in the wake of hurricanes Jose and Maria and saying if it doesn’t solve the logistics “what we we are going to see is something close to a genocide”.

“We are dying here,” Carmen Yulín Cruz said at a press conference, speaking with tears in her eyes. “I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out the logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles. So, mayday we are in trouble.”

Cruz appealed directly to the president, saying: “So, Mr Trump, I am begging you to take charge and save lives. After all, that is one of the founding principles of the United States of … America. If not, the world will see how we are treated not as second-class citizens but as animals that can be disposed of. Enough is enough.” [Continue reading…]

Illinois’s Rep. Luis Gutiérrez interviewed on CNN:


Lost weekend: How Trump’s time at his golf club hurt the response to Maria

The Washington Post reports: At first, the Trump administration seemed to be doing all the right things to respond to the disaster in Puerto Rico.

As Hurricane Maria made landfall on Wednesday, Sept. 20, there was a frenzy of activity publicly and privately. The next day, President Trump called local officials on the island, issued an emergency declaration and pledged that all federal resources would be directed to help.

But then for four days after that — as storm-ravaged Puerto Rico struggled for food and water amid the darkness of power outages — Trump and his top aides effectively went dark themselves.

Trump jetted to New Jersey that Thursday night to spend a long weekend at his private golf club there, save for a quick trip to Alabama for a political rally. Neither Trump nor any of his senior White House aides said a word publicly about the unfolding crisis.

Trump did hold a meeting at his golf club that Friday with half a dozen Cabinet officials — including acting Homeland Security secretary Elaine Duke, who oversees disaster response — but the gathering was to discuss his new travel ban, not the hurricane. Duke and Trump spoke briefly about Puerto Rico but did not talk again until Tuesday, an administration official said.

Administration officials would not say whether the president spoke with any other top officials involved in the storm response while in Bedminster, N.J. He spent much of his time over those four days fixated on his escalating public feuds with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with fellow Republicans in Congress and with the National Football League over protests during the national anthem. [Continue reading…]


The swamp rises around an administration that promised to drain it

Anne Gearan writes: The image of a top government official, a Washington fat cat, blowing taxpayer money to pay for private chartered airplanes is exactly what President Trump seemed to have in mind when he promised voters he would “drain the swamp.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s use of expensive private jets for routine government travel lost him his job Friday when the White House announced the president had accepted his resignation after days of controversy.

But beyond the eye-roll irony of the scandal enveloping a Republican politician who promoted himself as a penny-pinching budget hawk, Price is not the only example of waste, carelessness or entitlement in an administration that pledged to speak for the little guy.

At least four other Cabinet officials have taken unusual chartered or military air trips on the public dime. There is also the matter of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s $25,000 secure phone booth and the unauthorized use of private email by White House adviser Jared Kushner and others — a development that follows a campaign where Trump lambasted Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email system when serving as secretary of state. [Continue reading…]


Trump kids’ ski vacation incurs over $300,000 in security costs

CBS News reports: The annual Aspen ski vacation taken in March by President Trump’s children, Ivanka and Eric Trump, and their families, including son-in-law Jared Kushner, left taxpayers on the hook for security costs of at least $330,000, CBS News has learned.

Records obtained by CBS News through a Freedom of Information Act request show that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spent $329,561 for the week-long vacation. Housing costs were $195,700 at hotels across town.

The Secret Service also spent $26,000 on rental vehicles. Equipment costs were close to $22,000 — to accompany the family on the slopes, the Secret Service had to buy lift tickets and rent skis and boots. They also rented bikes and bought other unidentified items at outfitting supplier REI and [Continue reading…]


Officials expressed concerns White House Counsel would quit over Donald Trump-Jared Kushner meetings

The Wall Street Journal reports: White House Counsel Don McGahn this summer was so frustrated about the lack of protocols surrounding meetings between President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law whose activities are under scrutiny in the Russia probe, that West Wing officials expressed concerns the top lawyer would quit, according to people familiar with the conversations.

Mr. McGahn expressed concern that meetings between Mr. Kushner and Mr. Trump could be construed by investigators as an effort to coordinate their stories, three people familiar the matter said.

Two senior White House officials—then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former chief strategist Steve Bannon —urged Mr. McGahn not to resign, according to people familiar with the conversations. One person characterized Mr. McGahn’s frustration as, “Fine, you’re not taking my advice? Why stay?” [Continue reading…]


NSA warned White House against using personal email

Politico reports: The National Security Agency warned senior White House officials in classified briefings that improper use of personal cellphones and email could make them vulnerable to espionage by Russia, China, Iran and other adversaries, according to officials familiar with the briefings.

The briefings came soon after President Donald Trump was sworn into office on Jan. 20, and before some top aides, including senior adviser Jared Kushner, used their personal email and phones to conduct official White House business, as disclosed by POLITICO this week.

The NSA briefers explained that cyberspies could be using sophisticated malware to turn the personal cellphones of White House aides into clandestine listening devices, to take photos and video without the user’s knowledge and to transfer vast amounts of data via Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth, according to one former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the briefings. [Continue reading…]


Disengaged boys grow up to become disillusioned men

Amanda Ripley writes: Jordan has never had a female minister of education, women make up less than a fifth of its workforce, and women hold just 4 percent of board seats at public companies there. But, in school, Jordanian girls are crushing their male peers. The nation’s girls outperform its boys in just about every subject and at every age level. At the University of Jordan, the country’s largest university, women outnumber men by a ratio of two to one—and earn higher grades in math, engineering, computer-information systems, and a range of other subjects.

In fact, across the Arab world, women now earn more science degrees on a percentage basis than women in the United States. In Saudi Arabia alone, women earn half of all science degrees. And yet, most of those women are unlikely to put their degrees to paid use for very long.

This is baffling on the most obvious levels. In the West, researchers have long believed that future prospects incentivize students to invest in school. The conventional wisdom is that girls do better in school as women acquire more legal and political rights in society. But many Middle Eastern women do not go on to have long professional careers after graduating; they spend much of their lives working at home as wives and mothers. Fewer than one in every five workers is female in Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman.

This spring, I went to the Middle East to try to understand why girls are doing so much better in school, despite living in quintessentially patriarchal societies. Or, put another way, why boys are doing so badly.

It’s part of a pattern that is creeping across the globe: Wherever girls have access to school, they seem to eventually do better than boys. In 2015, teenage girls outperformed boys on a sophisticated reading test in 69 countries—every place in which the test was administered. In America, girls are more likely to take Advanced Placement tests, to graduate from high school, and to go to college, and women continue their education over a year longer than men. These are all glaring disparities in a world that values higher-order skills more than ever before. Natasha Ridge, the executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the United Arab Emirates, has studied gender and education around the world. In the United Kingdom and the United States, Ridge believes she can draw a dotted line between the failure of boys to thrive in school and votes for Brexit and for Donald Trump. Disengaged boys grow up to become disillusioned men, Ridge says, left out of the progress they see around them.

And the gender gap in the Middle East represents a particularly extreme version of this trend.

“If you give girls a quality education, they will mostly run with it and do amazing things. It propels them,” says Ridge, one of the few researchers to have written extensively about the gender gap in the Arab world. But for boys, especially low-income boys, access to school has not had the same effect. “These boys struggle to find a connection between school and life,” she says, “and school is increasingly seen as a waste of time.”

Motivation is the dark matter of education. It’s everywhere but impossible to see. Motivation helps explain why some countries get impressive education results despite child poverty and lackluster teaching, while others get mediocre results despite universal health care and free iPads. When kids believe in school, as any teacher will tell you, everything gets easier. So it’s crucial to understand the motivation to learn and how it works in the lives of real boys and girls. Because the slow slipping away of boys’ interest in education represents a profound failure of schools and society. And the implications are universally terrible. All over the world, poorly educated men are more likely to be unemployed, to have physical- and mental-health problems, to commit acts of violence against their families, and to go to prison. They are less likely to marry but quite likely to father children. [Continue reading…]


San Juan Mayor: ‘Dammit, this is not a good news story,’ Cruz says in response to statement by acting head of Homeland Security