Trump’s national security strategy is a farce

Roger Cohen writes: The Trump Administration has put out its new national security strategy. This is a farce. On any one issue, President Trump and his team have several contradictory positions. That’s what happens when your priority as president is to use foreign policy to throw red meat to your base while other cabinet members are scrambling to stop Armageddon.

“It’s impossible to know what the United States position is on any number of subjects,” a European ambassador told me last week. “We could go sleepwalking into a war.”

Let’s start with North Korea, whose small but growing nuclear arsenal is overseen by Kim Jong-un, a leader as volatile as Trump. Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Trump Administration’s policy toward North Korea is “really quite clear.” He said, “We’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk, and we’re ready to have the first meeting without precondition.”

That was Tuesday at the Atlantic Council. By Friday, at the United Nations, Tillerson was setting conditions.

North Korea must cease “threatening behavior” before talks can begin; it must “earn its way back to the table;” and pressure will “continue until denuclearization is achieved.”

Denuclearization is not going to happen in the real world. If that’s the condition, there will be no talks. As for Trump, he has said Tillerson is “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.” He has warned that the United States is “locked and loaded.” He has never embraced talks without preconditions, favored by France, Britain and sometimes Tillerson.

Clear enough already?

Oh, I should add that Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, was not present when Tillerson spoke. Great optics there: Haley and Tillerson are known to be at loggerheads, with the secretary of state (regarded by some as a dead man walking) suspecting Haley wants to succeed him.

Now, effective pressure on North Korea has three components: China, China and China. Trump’s new national security strategy identifies China as “a strategic competitor.” It suggests the United States will get tough on Chinese “cheating or economic aggression.”

Great timing there: Trump is asking President Xi Jinping to cut off crude oil exports to North Korea as his “strategy” lambasts China. Our president believes everyone will do his bidding because he says so. Hello! You want a favor? You don’t double down on confrontation. [Continue reading…]


Why it’s far worse for Trump to fire Rosenstein than to fire Mueller

Asha Rangappa writes: Although under the Special Counsel regulations Mueller does not have to report to Rosenstein day to day, he does need to check in with the DAG three months before the end of the fiscal year with a status report on the progress of the investigation, and Rosenstein has the power to “determine whether the investigation should continue.” Separately, Rosenstein has the power to require Mueller to “provide an explanation for any investigative or prosecutorial step,” and can prevent Mueller from pursuing any action if, in his view, he believes that it is “inappropriate or unwarranted” under departmental practices. If he does so, he must report this decision to both the Senate and House Judiciary Committees. The fact that, six months into Mueller’s appointment, no such report has been made and Mueller continues to take significant investigative and prosecutorial steps (including, most recently, obtaining tens of thousands of transition team emails from the General Services Administration) suggests that Rosenstein is on board with the breadth, scope, and direction in which Mueller is taking the investigation.

Removing Rosenstein and replacing him with a DAG who is at the very least more sympathetic to Trump could have drastic repercussions on the investigation. The new DAG could burden the Special Counsel with a requirement to provide an explanation for every move he makes, and then decide that they aren’t necessary or appropriate. In fact, since Mueller is required to provide the DAG with at least three days’ notice in advance of any “significant event” in the investigation, she would have plenty of time to intervene and challenge Mueller’s actions (and a less scrupulous DAG could even leak Mueller’s plans to the White House or others). A new DAG would even have the ultimate—er, trump card: she could decide at some point that the investigation should not even continue at all.

Of course, any attempt to override a decision by Mueller would need to be reported and justified to Congress. However, given the increased clamor of some GOP members and right-leaning media outlets against the Mueller investigation, a DAG’s rationale for pushing back on Mueller’s investigation would find a receptive audience in some circles, including on the Hill. The situation is delicate, and a DAG has a powerful platform to shift the balance of power against the investigation. Imagine the next DAG simply expressing doubts about Mueller in testifying before the Congress, instead of the level of confidence Rosenstein expressed last week before the House Judiciary Committee. Those are important moments in the life of this investigation, and a DAG not fully committed to the rule of law but to insulating the president and the White House from political and legal accountability could wreak havoc. [Continue reading…]


How the Pentagon’s cyber offensive against ISIS could shape the future for elite U.S. forces

Dan Lamothe reports: The U.S. military has conducted cyber attacks against the Islamic State for more than a year, and its record of success when those attacks are coordinated with elite Special Operations troops is such that the Pentagon is likely carry out similar operations with greater frequency, according to current and former U.S. defense officials.

The cyber offensive against ISIS, an acronym for the Islamic State, was a first and included the creation of a unit named Joint Task Force Ares. It focused on destroying or disrupting computer networks used by the militant group to recruit fighters and communicate inside the organization. Such offensive weapons are more commonly associated with U.S. intelligence agencies, but they were brought into the open in 2016 after then-Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter pressured U.S. Cyber Command to become more involved in the campaign to defeat the Islamic State.

The move sparked a debate in the U.S. government over whether American allies would object to the U.S. military’s altering computer networks abroad, The Washington Post reported in May. Some intelligence officials argued that using such weapons in other countries could jeopardize the cooperation of international partners on which U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies depend.

But the cyber attacks were approved and launched anyway, and the campaign recently received the full-throated endorsement of Army Gen. Raymond A. “Tony” Thomas III, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command. [Continue reading…]


Hunger in North Korea is devastating. And it’s our fault

Kee B. Park writes: One cool morning last April in Pyongyang, North Korea, I watched a woman squat over a patch of grass along the Daedong River. A large handkerchief covering her head was knotted below her chin, encircling her sunburned and wrinkled face. As a van passed by blaring patriotic hymns from the oversize speakers on its roof, she weeded the riverbank. In North Korea, keeping the neighborhood clean is a civic duty. But she was far from any neighborhood. She was gathering the weeds for food.

On Nov. 13, a North Korean soldier in his 20s was shot multiple times as he ran across the demilitarized zone into South Korea. His surgeons reported finding dozens of parasitic intestinal worms inside his abdominal cavity, some as long as 11 inches, suggesting severe malnutrition.

As these stories show — and as I have seen during my 16 visits to North Korea in the past decade — hunger remains a way of life there. Forty-one percent of North Koreans, about 10.5 million people, are undernourished, and 28 percent of children under 5 years old have stunted growth. When my 4-year-old daughter visited Pyongyang in 2013, she, all of three feet, towered over children twice her age.

The hunger is devastating. And it’s our fault. [Continue reading…]


It’s official: North Korea is behind WannaCry

Thomas P. Bossert, Trump’s Homeland Security Advisor, writes: Cybersecurity isn’t easy, but simple principles still apply. Accountability is one, cooperation another. They are the cornerstones of security and resilience in any society. In furtherance of both, and after careful investigation, the U.S. today publicly attributes the massive “WannaCry” cyberattack to North Korea.

The attack spread indiscriminately across the world in May. It encrypted and rendered useless hundreds of thousands of computers in hospitals, schools, businesses and homes. While victims received ransom demands, paying did not unlock their computers. It was cowardly, costly and careless. The attack was widespread and cost billions, and North Korea is directly responsible.

We do not make this allegation lightly. It is based on evidence. We are not alone with our findings, either. Other governments and private companies agree. The United Kingdom attributes the attack to North Korea, and Microsoft traced the attack to cyber affiliates of the North Korean government. [Continue reading…]

Last May, Quinn Norton wrote: The story of WannaCry (also called Wcry and WannaCrypt) begins somewhere before 2013, in the hallways of the National Security Agency, but we can only be sure of a few details from that era. The NSA found or purchased the knowledge of a flaw of MicroSoft’s SMB V.1 code, an old bit of network software that lets people share files and resources, like printers. While SMB V.1 has long been superseded by better and safer software, it is still widely used by organizations that can’t, or simply don’t, install the newer software.

The flaw, or bug, is what what people call a vulnerability, but on its own it’s not particularly interesting. Based on this vulnerability, though, the NSA wrote another program—called an exploit—which let them take advantage of the flaw anywhere it existed. The program the NSA wrote was called ETERNALBLUE, and what they used it to do was remarkable.

The NSA gave themselves secret and powerful access to a European banking transaction system called SWIFT, and, in particular, SWIFT’s Middle Eastern transactions, as a subsequent data-dump by a mysterious hacker group demonstrated. Most people know SWIFT as a payment system, part of how they use credit cards and move money. But its anatomy, the guts of the thing, is a series of old Windows computers quietly humming along in offices around the world, constantly talking to each other across the internet in the languages computers only speak to computers.

The NSA used ETERNALBLUE to take over these machines. Security analysts, such as Matthieu Suiche, the founder of Comae Technologies, believe the NSA could see, and as far as we know, even change, the financial data that flowed through much of the Middle East—for years. Many people have speculated on why the NSA did this, speculation that has never been confirmed or denied. A spokesperson for the agency did not immediately reply to The Atlantic’s request for an interview.

But the knowledge of a flaw is simply knowledge. The NSA could not know if anyone else had found this vulnerability, or bought it. They couldn’t know if anyone else was using it, unless that someone else was caught using it. This is the nature of all computer flaws.

In 2013 a group the world would know later as The Shadow Brokers somehow obtained not only ETERNALBLUE, but a large collection of NSA programs and documents. The NSA and the United States government hasn’t indicated whether they know how this happened, or if they know who The Shadow Brokers are. The Shadow Brokers communicate publicly using a form of broken English so unlikely that many people assume they are native English speakers attempting to masquerade themselves as non-native—but that remains speculative. Wherever they are from, the trove they stole and eventually posted for all the world to see on the net contained powerful tools, and the knowledge of many flaws in software used around the world. WannaCry is the first known global crisis to come from these NSA tools. Almost without a doubt, it will not be the last.

A few months ago, someone told Microsoft about the vulnerabilities in the NSA tools before The Shadow Brokers released their documents. There is much speculation about who did this, but, as with so many parts of this story, it is still only that—speculation. Microsoft may or may not even know for sure who told them. Regardless, Microsoft got the chance to release a program that fixed the flaw in SMB V.1 before the flaw became public knowledge. But they couldn’t make anyone use their fix, because using any fix—better known as patching or updating—is always at the discretion of the user. They also didn’t release it for very old versions of Windows. Those old versions are so flawed that Microsoft has every reason to hope people stop using them—and not just because it allows the company to profit from new software purchases.

There is another wrinkle in this already convoluted landscape: Microsoft knew SMB V.1, which was decades old, wasn’t very good software. They’d been trying to abandon it for 10 years, and had replaced it with a stronger and more efficient version. But they couldn’t throw out SMB V.1 completely because so many people were using it. After WannaCry had started its run around the world, the head of SMB for Microsoft tweeted this as part of a long and frustrated thread:

The more new and outdated systems connect, the more chance there is to break everything with a single small change.

We live in an interconnected world, and in a strange twist of irony, that interconnectedness can make it difficult to change anything at all. This is why so many systems remain insecure for years: global banking systems, and Spanish telecoms, and German trains, and the National Health Service of the United Kingdom. [Continue reading…]


This year the world woke up to the society-shifting power of artificial intelligence

Dave Gershgorn reports: In less than five years, a 2012 academic breakthrough in artificial intelligence evolved into the technology responsible for making healthcare decisions, deciding whether prisoners should go free, and determining what we see on the internet.

Machine learning is beginning to invisibly touch nearly every aspect of our lives; its ability to automate decision making challenges the future roles of experts and unskilled laborers alike. Hospitals might need fewer doctors, thanks to automated treatment planning, and truck drivers might not be required by 2030.

But it’s not just about jobs. Serious questions are starting to be raised about whether the decisions made by AI can be trusted. Research suggests that these algorithms are easily biased by the data from which they learn, meaning societal biases are reinforced and magnified in the code. That could mean certain job applicants get excluded from consideration when AI hiring software is used to scan resumes. Even more, the decision-making process of these algorithms is so complex that AI researchers can’t definitively say why one decision was made over another. And while that may be disconcerting to laymen, there’s an industry debate over how valuable knowing those internal mechanisms really is, meaning research may very well forge ahead with the understanding that we simply don’t need to understand AI.

Until this year, these questions typically came from academics and researchers skeptical of the breakneck pace that Silicon Valley was implementing AI. But 2017 brought new organizations spanning big tech companies, academics, and governments dedicated to understanding the societal impacts of artificial intelligence.

“The reason is simple—AI has moved from research to reality, from the realm of science fiction to the reality of everyday use,” Oren Etzioni, executive director of the Allen Institute for AI, tells Quartz. [Continue reading…]


Can the International Criminal Court be saved from itself?

Thierry Cruvellier writes: Last month, the International Criminal Court opened two investigations, including a sensitive one in Afghanistan, and a call has been made to allow it to intervene in Myanmar. But such a flurry of announcements mainly testifies to the impasse at which the court finds itself.

On Nov. 20, after 11 desperately long years conducting a “preliminary examination,” Fatou Bensouda, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, formally requested authorization to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan thought to have been committed since 2003, after the United States-led invasion of the country.

It is a contentious move: Afghanistan recognizes the court’s jurisdiction, but the United States does not, and the I.C.C. is expected to investigate acts by American soldiers and C.I.A. personnel, along with some by the Taliban and Afghan National Security Forces.

The court was controversial from the moment it was created in 1998: Major states, including the United States, China and Russia, opposed its foundational treaty, the Rome Statute.

The I.C.C. has since come under repeated attack for being too slow, too accommodating to powerful states, inefficient and sloppy. It has gone after only Africans, indicted at most a few defendants in each of its eight concrete investigations, secured only four convictions and even botched investigations.

In November, the prosecutor also disclosed that she has opened an investigation into crimes committed in Burundi since April 2015 by state agents and the ruling party’s youth wing. Two days after the I.C.C. judges allowed the investigation, Burundi became the first country to formally withdraw from the court. There is meager hope of a significant outcome.

The fact that crimes were committed in Afghanistan is hardly in dispute. The Taliban, the office of the prosecutor wrote, has led “a widespread and systematic campaign of intimidation, targeted killings and abductions of civilians” perceived to oppose them, while the Afghan Army and police showed “systemic patterns of torture and cruel treatment” of war prisoners, including acts of sexual violence. Such acts are also alleged against United States agents and servicemen, principally in the 2003-04 period.

The problem is that none of the targeted authorities is likely to cooperate. The Taliban can’t be bothered with international justice. Despite being an I.C.C. member state, Afghanistan has shown no sign of commitment to a court that has no means to enforce arrest warrants.

The United States will at best ignore the I.C.C. or at worst be actively hostile, as it was during the early years of the George W. Bush administration, when it pressured more than a hundred states, including Afghanistan, to sign bilateral agreements not to surrender Americans to the I.C.C.

The I.C.C. will be able to claim that it no longer targets only Africans, which seems its primary motive to open the investigation now. But it will keep showing its powerlessness. [Continue reading…]


Trump and allies are trying to destroy Mueller

Julian Zelizer writes: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has come under fierce political attack. President Donald Trump and his allies are systematically attempting to destroy the legitimacy of the investigation in the eyes of the public. And without a strong congressional investigative counterpart, Mueller finds himself increasingly isolated and alone.

While the White House issued a recent statement that it has no intention of firing Mueller, that is almost beside the point. In what should now be considered the classic Trumpian playbook, the President has moved aggressively to raise doubts about the credibility of his opponent. Ironically, he and his allies are attempting to crush an investigation into whether his campaign colluded with the Russians by insinuating that the Hillary Clinton campaign may, in fact, be at fault for such behavior.

The President’s attacks should not be taken lightly. As Brian Stelter has argued on CNN, Trump and the conservative media have perfected echo chamber politics, whereby the multiple charges about the investigation — that FBI agents were out to systematically bring down this presidency, that the agency is damaged by rampant conflict of interest problems, that Mueller is illegally obtaining information about the transition — have moved to the forefront of the national conversation regardless of the veracity or relevance of any of these claims.

Peter Carr, a Mueller spokesman, made a statement soon after the allegation emerged: “When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process.”

The stories bleed into the rest of the media as well. On Sunday morning, a Washington Post headline read, “Mueller unlawfully obtained emails, Trump transition team claims,” which was likely music to the President’s ears. An allegation by the Trump for America legal team had quickly made its way into the headlines.

Indeed, it is telling of how effective Trump can be that Mueller’s decision to fire an FBI agent for his email conversations about the campaign was somehow turned into a black mark against him, rather than a sign of how cautiously the process has been handled. [Continue reading…]


Could Aung San Suu Kyi face Rohingya genocide charges?

Justin Rowlatt writes: Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, is determined that the perpetrators of the horrors committed against the Rohingya face justice.

He’s the head of the UN’s watchdog for human rights across the world, so his opinions carry weight.

It could go right to the top – he doesn’t rule out the possibility that civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the head of the armed forces Gen Aung Min Hlaing, could find themselves in the dock on genocide charges some time in the future.

Earlier this month, Mr Zeid told the UN Human Rights Council that the widespread and systematic nature of the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar (also called Burma) meant that genocide could not be ruled out.

“Given the scale of the military operation, clearly these would have to be decisions taken at a high level,” said the high commissioner, when we met at the UN headquarters in Geneva for BBC Panorama.

That said, genocide is one of those words that gets bandied about a lot. It sounds terrible – the so-called “crime of crimes”. Very few people have ever been convicted of it.

The crime was defined after the Holocaust. Member countries of the newly founded United Nations signed a convention, defining genocide as acts committed with intent to destroy a particular group.

It is not Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s job to prove acts of genocide have been committed – only a court can do that. But he has called for an international criminal investigation into the perpetrators of what he has called the “shockingly brutal attacks” against the Muslim ethnic group who are mainly from northern Rakhine in Myanmar.

But the high commissioner recognised it would be a tough case to make: “For obvious reasons, if you’re planning to commit genocide you don’t commit it to paper and you don’t provide instructions.”

“The thresholds for proof are high,” he said. “But it wouldn’t surprise me in the future if a court were to make such a finding on the basis of what we see.” [Continue reading…]


Why your brain hates other people

Robert Sapolsky writes: As a kid, I saw the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes. As a future primatologist, I was mesmerized. Years later I discovered an anecdote about its filming: At lunchtime, the people playing chimps and those playing gorillas ate in separate groups.

It’s been said, “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t.” In reality, there’s lots more of the former. And it can be vastly consequential when people are divided into Us and Them, ingroup and outgroup, “the people” (i.e., our kind) and the Others.

Humans universally make Us/Them dichotomies along lines of race, ethnicity, gender, language group, religion, age, socioeconomic status, and so on. And it’s not a pretty picture. We do so with remarkable speed and neurobiological efficiency; have complex taxonomies and classifications of ways in which we denigrate Thems; do so with a versatility that ranges from the minutest of microaggression to bloodbaths of savagery; and regularly decide what is inferior about Them based on pure emotion, followed by primitive rationalizations that we mistake for rationality. Pretty depressing.

But crucially, there is room for optimism. Much of that is grounded in something definedly human, which is that we all carry multiple Us/Them divisions in our heads. A Them in one case can be an Us in another, and it can only take an instant for that identity to flip. Thus, there is hope that, with science’s help, clannishness and xenophobia can lessen, perhaps even so much so that Hollywood-extra chimps and gorillas can break bread together. [Continue reading…]


Why human society isn’t more — or less — violent than in the past

Michael Price writes: Are people in big, modern societies more or less violent than our forebears? The answer is neither, according to a controversial new study: People who lived in small bands in the past had no more proclivity toward violence than we do today. The finding—based on estimates of war casualties throughout history—undercuts the popular argument that humans have become a more peaceful species over time, thanks to advances in technology and governance. But some critics aren’t convinced.

That includes the man who most recently popularized the idea, psychologist Steven Pinker of Harvard University, who calls the new findings “a statistical gimmick.” He argues in his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined that the emergence of institutions like nation-states with strong central governments, trade networks, and wide-ranging communication increased interdependence and reduced deaths due to violence. He cited data suggesting that fewer people die in wars today, relative to a society’s total population, than among small tribes of hunter-gatherers, pastoralists, and horticulturalists—how human society organized for most of its history.

But a team led by anthropologist Rahul Oka at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana wondered whether there was a mathematical explanation for why fewer people proportionally are lost to violence nowadays. They reasoned that as populations get bigger, their armies don’t necessarily grow at the same rate. In a small group of 100 adults, for example, it would be perfectly reasonable to have 25 warriors, says anthropologist and study co-author Mark Golitko, also at Notre Dame. But in a population of 100 million, supporting and coordinating an army of 25 million soldiers is logistically impossible, to say nothing of such an army’s effectiveness. Researchers call that incongruity a scaling effect. [Continue reading…]


We found evidence of early humans in the jungles of Borneo

File 20171214 27562 12z05o6.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Digging in Traders Cave in the iconic Niah Caves archaeological complex. Darren Curnoe excavates while Roshan Peiris observes. (Photo: Mhd. S. Sauffi/Darren Curnoe) Author provided

By Darren Curnoe, UNSW

I recently led a team excavating at one of the most iconic archaeological locations in Southeast Asia, Niah Caves in Malaysia.

Over a period of three weeks, we dug through what we believe to be around 20,000 years of human history. We uncovered several human bones, the remains of large mammals (probably deer and wild cattle) and marine oyster shells indicating a period of seafood meals. Stone tools and charred rocks were also unearthed.

It was exciting and a little bit daunting to be digging at Niah Caves, given its place in both the history of archaeology and more broadly of humankind.

Daily Dig Diary Day 21: ancient human bones, tools and oyster shells were found at various depths. All diary postings can be seen at

Read more: Curious Kids: Where did the first person come from?

Famous for head hunters

Niah Caves National Park is located in the eastern part of Sarawak, a state of Malaysia that hugs the northern coastal strip of the island of Borneo.

Borneo straddles the equator, and is covered mostly by dense tropical rainforest. It’s home to a remarkable variety of wildlife, including the endangered orangutan.

Sarawak also has a rich cultural heritage with almost 40 indigenous linguistic or cultural groups living there. It is an island that was famous until the 1970s for its head hunters.

It’s also the place where Alfred Wallace, credited by history as the discoverer of evolution by means of natural selection, developed his ideas during the nineteenth century.

Read more: World’s scientists turn to Asia and Australia to rewrite human history

Sarawak also has an extraordinary history of human occupation. This stretches back at least 46,000 years ago, soon after the earliest modern humans settled the region after they made their long journey out of Africa.

Borneo is the island where these early people began island hopping across Southeast Asia and eventually settling New Guinea and Australia, making it crucial also to understanding ancient human history across the Australasian region.

[Read more…]


How Doug Jones won

Anne Applebaum writes: “How did he do it?” That’s the question I was asked more than once by European friends the day after Alabama’s Senate election: How did Doug Jones win? The question was not idle. In many ways, the electoral challenge Jones faced in Alabama was strikingly similar to the challenge facing European politicians of the center-left and even — or maybe especially — the center-right: How to defeat racist, xenophobic or homophobic candidates who are supported by a passionate, unified minority? Or, to put it differently: How to get the majority — which is often complacent rather than passionate, and divided rather than unified — to vote?

This was the same question asked after the victory of Emmanuel Macron in the French elections, and part of the answer, in both cases, was luck. Nobody predicted a Roy Moore sex scandal. Nobody predicted that the French political establishment would fold so quickly either. France’s previous, center-left president was so unpopular that he discredited his party; France’s center-right leader, François Fillon, was knocked out of the race by a scandal. Macron wound up as the leader of a new centrist coalition, the electoral arithmetic was in his favor, and he won.

But beyond luck, both Macron and Jones also tried to reach across some traditional lines, in part by appealing to traditional values. Macron, fighting a nationalist opponent in the second round of the elections, openly promoted patriotism. Instead of fear and anger, he projected optimism about France and its international role. He spoke of the opportunities globalization brought to France instead of focusing on the dangers, and he declared himself proud to be both French and a citizen of the world.

He wasn’t the only European to take this route: Alexander Van der Bellen, the former Green Party leader who is now president of Austria, used a similar kind of campaign to beat a nationalist opponent. Van der Bellen’s posters featured beautiful Alpine scenes, the Austrian flag and the slogan “Those who love their homeland do not divide it.”

In Alabama, Jones used remarkably similar language. [Continue reading…]


Black voters and candidates might save America

Michelle Goldberg writes: The contest for Georgia’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination is between two women named Stacey, both progressive lawyers who grew up in poverty, and it looks like a political science experiment about the future of the Democratic Party.

It’s not just that Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House minority leader, is black, and Stacey Evans, a former state representative from suburban Atlanta, is white. More significant are their divergent strategies for victory, which show, in microcosm, the debate Democrats are having about how to rebuild the party in the age of Trump. Do they try to win back white voters who’ve abandoned them? Or do they assume that most of those voters are gone for good, and invest in turning out minorities and white liberals?

Evans, who has been endorsed by Roy Barnes, Georgia’s last Democratic governor, is running an education-focused campaign meant to lure white swing voters. As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, it’s an approach that “failed her party the past four elections, but it helped a generation of Georgia Democrats win office before them.” Abrams, by contrast, thinks she can prevail with a coalition of mobilized minority voters and white progressives. It’s a new, largely untried strategy for a Southern politician running statewide, but after Jones’s miraculous victory in Alabama, it suddenly looks possible.

We’ve all heard a lot about how the calamity of Donald Trump’s election has led women of all races to pour into politics. But it’s not just women; there’s a new political intensity among people of color more broadly. African-Americans in particular are once again shouldering the burden of redeeming America from its worst impulses. High black voter turnout last month in Virginia — where the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Ed Gillespie, ran a campaign full of Confederate nostalgia — was crucial to the Democratic wave in that state. And in Alabama on Tuesday, black voters defied all predictions, as well as attempts at voter suppression, to turn out at historic levels. Though African-Americans are only 26 percent of the population, exit polls showed that they might have made up as much as 30 percent of voters. These voters went for Jones overwhelmingly; he won 98 percent of black women. “Let me be clear: We won in Alabama and Virginia because #BlackWomen led us to victory,” tweeted the Democratic National Committee chairman, Tom Perez. [Continue reading…]


Kirsten Gillibrand, long a champion of women, finds the nation joining her

The New York Times reports: For much of the year, Kirsten Gillibrand’s critics — sensing a presidential aspirant in their midst — had assumed that the New York senator could not hear enough about herself. For one day at least, it appeared she had.

It had been about 10 hours since President Trump accused her of “begging” for campaign contributions that she “would do anything” to secure, and the Ms. Gillibrand, driving with her 14-year-old son on Tuesday evening, flipped on the radio looking for an update on the Senate race in Alabama. The top story, instead, was her. The radio went off again.

What, exactly, had the president said about her? her son asked.

“He thinks mommy is doing a bad job,” she recalled telling him, taking care to censor.

After a Senate career spent elevating victims of sexual harassment and assault as a defining political focus, Ms. Gillibrand has assumed her place at the head table of the Democrats’ anti-Trump movement. The reason is simple: Her cause became the country’s. And she has made sure to stay out front in the reckoning.

Ms. Gillibrand was the first in her caucus to say Senator Al Franken of Minnesota should resign. She was the first prominent Democrat to say President Bill Clinton should have left office for his own sexual misconduct in the 1990s. She called for Mr. Trump to step down, citing his “numerous” and “credible” accusers. Then came Mr. Trump’s Twitter counterpunch, which was widely viewed as innuendo-laden and which Ms. Gillibrand denounced as a “sexist smear.”

Yet Ms. Gillibrand’s strengthening hand in national Democratic politics owes to more than mere circumstance. Circumstance does not transform an upstate congresswoman, who once boasted of keeping guns under her bed and pushed English as the official language of the United States, into an avatar of progressivism in 2017.

Ever since her long-shot entrance into a 2006 House race against an entrenched Republican in a conservative district, Ms. Gillibrand has been underestimated. Colleagues in the House once derided her as “Tracy Flick,” the hyper-ambitious blonde played by Reese Witherspoon in the movie “Election.” And when David A. Paterson, New York’s governor at the time, made her the shock pick to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat in 2009, she was immediately seen as vulnerable, especially from the left.

“She had very middle-of-the-road points of view,” Mr. Paterson said. “It just kind of appeared that she sort of flipped. I think in retrospect, it would have been better to evolve.”

That knock has not stuck, and she appears to be looking at the next rung of the political ladder. While Ms. Gillibrand and her political team play down all talk of 2020, saying she is focused on her own 2018 re-election and those of her fellow Senate Democrats, she has for months been doing the type of spadework endemic to past presidential candidates: expanding her fund-raising network, courting key constituencies like black voters and polishing her image nationally. [Continue reading…]


Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames: The two expat bros who terrorized women correspondents in Moscow

Kathy Lally writes: There’s more than one way to harass women. A raft of men in recent weeks have paid for accusations of sexual harassment with their companies, their jobs, their plum political posts. But one point has been overlooked in the scandals: Men can be belittling, cruel and deeply damaging without demanding sex. (Try sloughing off heaps of contempt with your self-esteem intact.) We have no consensus — and hardly any discussion — about how we should treat behaviors that are misogynist and bullying but fall short of breaking the law.

Twenty years ago, when I was a Moscow correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, two Americans named Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames ran an English-language tabloid in the Russian capital called the eXile. They portrayed themselves as swashbuckling parodists, unbound by the conventions of mainstream journalism, exposing Westerners who were cynically profiting from the chaos of post-Soviet Russia.

A better description is this: The eXile was juvenile, stunt-obsessed and pornographic, titillating for high school boys. It is back in the news because Taibbi just wrote a new book, and interviewers are asking him why he and Ames acted so boorishly back then. The eXile’s distinguishing feature, more than anything else, was its blinding sexism — which often targeted me.

At the time, the paper had its defenders, even those who acknowledged its misogyny and praised it anyway. A Rolling Stone article by Brian Preston in 1998 described the eXile’s “misogynist rants, dumb pranks, insulting club listings and photos of blood-soaked corpses, all redeemed by political reporting that’s read seriously not only in Moscow but also in Washington.” A 2010 Vanity Fair reminiscence by James Verini wrote: “They call Ames and Taibbi, singly or in combination, children, louts, misogynists, madmen, pigs, hypocrites, anarchists, fascists, racists, and fiends.” But “what made The Exile so popular, and still makes it so readable, was its high-low mix of acute coverage and character assassination, sermonizing laced with smut — a balance that has also characterized Taibbi’s work at Rolling Stone, where he has been a contributing editor for the last five years.” Taibbi still writes for Rolling Stone; Ames, too, works in journalism, running a podcast on war and conflict. [Continue reading…]


Is this genocide?

Nicholas Kristof writes: “Ethnic cleansing” and even “genocide” are antiseptic and abstract terms. What they mean in the flesh is a soldier grabbing a crying baby girl named Suhaifa by the leg and flinging her into a bonfire. Or troops locking a 15-year-old girl in a hut and setting it on fire.

The children who survive are left haunted: Noor Kalima, age 10, struggles in class in a makeshift refugee camp. Her mind drifts to her memory of seeing her father and little brother shot dead, her baby sister’s and infant brother’s throats cut, the machete coming down on her own head, her hut burning around her … and it’s difficult to focus on multiplication tables.

“Sometimes I can’t concentrate on my class,” Noor explained. “I want to throw up.”

In the past I’ve referred to Myanmar’s atrocities against its Rohingya Muslim minority as “ethnic cleansing,” but increasingly there are indications that the carnage may amount to genocide. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, backed by a Myanmar-focused human rights organization called Fortify Rights, argues that there is “growing evidence of genocide,” and Yale scholars made a similar argument even before the latest spasms of violence.

Romeo Dallaire, a legendary former United Nations general, describes it as “very deliberate genocide.” The U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, told me, “It would not surprise me at all if a court in the future were to judge that acts of genocide had taken place.” [Continue reading…]


The casual, obscene cruelty of an Israeli occupation empowered by Trump

Mairav Zonszein writes: Israeli soldiers shot in the head and killed Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, 29, a man with no legs, who was holding a Palestinian flag near the Gaza border fence on Friday.

Abu Thurayeh, who according to several sources lost his legs and vision in one eye during an Israeli air strike in 2008 during Operation Cast Lead, was killed by Israeli soldiers while protesting along the Gaza border fence along with some 3,500 other Palestinians.

Following the incident, the IDF Spokesperson’s official statement to press read as follows: “During the violent riots, IDF soldiers fired selectively towards the main instigators.” (emphasis mine)

The IDF “selectively” chose to shoot a man behind a fence — a man who cannot run, who appeared only to be armed with a flag and his voice. Abu Thurayeh is the perfectly harrowing metaphor for the state of life for Palestinians in Gaza, and for Palestinians on a whole. Helpless, Static. Stunted.

And his killing perfectly sums up Israel’s treatment of Palestinians: monstrous. [Continue reading…]