As Russia probes progress, one name is missing: Bannon’s

Politico reports: As special Russia counsel Robert Mueller wraps up interviews with senior current and former White House staff, one name has been conspicuously absent from public chatter surrounding the probe: Steve Bannon.

President Donald Trump’s former White House chief strategist and campaign chief executive played critical roles in episodes that have become central to Mueller’s probe as well as to multiple Hill investigations.

Bannon was a key bystander when Trump decided to fire national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to federal investigators about his contacts with foreign officials. He was among those Trump consulted before firing FBI Director James Comey, whose dismissal prompted Mueller’s appointment — a decision Bannon subsequently described to “60 Minutes” as the biggest mistake “in modern political history.”

And during the campaign, Bannon was the one who offered the introduction to data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica, whose CEO has since acknowledged trying to coordinate with WikiLeaks on the release of emails from Hillary Clinton’s time as secretary of state.

Yet Bannon hasn’t faced anywhere near the degree of public scrutiny in connection to the probe as others in Trump’s inner circle, including son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner — who was recently interviewed by Mueller’s team — or Donald Trump Jr., who was interviewed on Capitol Hill last week about his own Russian connections. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

U.S. military chiefs respond to Trump’s decisions with respectful disobedience

Phillip Carter writes: In a dizzying series of tweets and news stories on Monday, the Pentagon appeared to simultaneously embrace transgender recruits while the Trump administration was losing its bid in court to deny their entry into the service. Once the dust settled, it became clear that, for now, the slow policy change on transgender service that began under President Obama will continue under President Trump. Transgender people who want to serve their country in uniform may enlist starting on Jan. 1; those now serving can continue, with appropriate support from the military’s medical and personnel systems. Far from being a military coup, this was merely a case of the Pentagon following existing law while the courts haggle over what exactly the law is.

That fact may itself be startling at a time when senior administration officials seem more willing to unlawfully promote their boss—or misuse their offices—than follow the law. The Pentagon chiefs’ response to the transgender litigation illustrates how they differ from other senior officials, for better or worse. In response to Trump, the military’s leadership has improvised a new norm of civil-military relations: something in between a yes and a no that doesn’t amount to insubordination but does help modulate Trump’s excesses.

Although civilian Cabinet officials, generals, and admirals are all “Officers of the United States” under the Constitution, appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, they have very different traditions of service. Over more than 240 years, but especially since World War II, the military has evolved into a profession that puts a premium on apolitical service to presidents of both parties. Senior military officers serve tours in key positions that are staggered so that they transcend administration boundaries. Senior officers and junior troops alike are bound by military justice provisions and regulations that sharply curtail their political activity. By rule, custom, and inclination, today’s military leaders shun direct involvement in partisan politics, such as standing on stage during rallies, even at the request of their commander in chief. Those officers who do politick for the boss—like Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster writing a controversial op-ed supporting Trump’s “America First” policy—stand out as conspicuous exceptions to the rule. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Putin in Syria: Victory and desolation

In an editorial, The Guardian says: Vladimir Putin went on a victory lap of Syria and the Middle East this week, intent on showcasing his ability to secure the upper hand against the US in the region. On a surprise visit to a Russian airbase on the Syrian coast, he demonstratively embraced the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whose hold on power Russia’s military intervention has all but saved. “Friends, the motherland is waiting for you,” Mr Putin told a detachment of Russian soldiers. “You are coming back home with victory.”

Meanwhile, in eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus where Russia had announced earlier this year that a ceasefire would take hold, children living under siege are starving. Despite the “de-escalation” deal, Syrian government forces continue to pound the area, backed by Iranian and Russian allies in an attempt to score a decisive victory. These two scenes spoke volumes about Russia’s calculus, and about the realities it has helped create on the ground. That the Russian president has now announced a substantial troop withdrawal must be taken with a barrel of salt. Similar pledges have been made before and remain unfulfilled. On Tuesday a Kremlin spokesperson said Russia would retain a sizable force in Syria to fight “terrorists”. Russia’s definition of “terrorism” in Syria is like that of the Assad regime, which equates it to political opposition.

Mr Putin is keen to speak of victory. In Moscow he has announced that he will run for re-election next year. Bringing back some of the Russian forces – who are reportedly deployed alongside thousands of Kremlin-connected private contractors – can only be good for his political prospects. Russian casualties in Syria are a closely guarded secret, as are the financial costs of the operation. In geopolitical terms Mr Putin’s war in Syria has been a profitable investment for the Kremlin. He has capitalised on western strategic disarray and America’s reluctance to get drawn deeper into the conflict, an instinct that predated the volatile Donald Trump. After Syria, Mr Putin travelled on to Cairo, where he met Egypt’s president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, demonstrating Russia’s new clout in a country that since the 1970s has had privileged ties with the US. There is now talk of Russian military aircraft being able to use Egyptian bases.

It is no small irony that Mr Putin has claimed victory over Islamic State: the bluster does little to hide the fact that his forces focused much more on targeting the anti-Assad opposition than they did the jihadi insurgency. The retaking of Raqqa was not a Russian accomplishment, but the result of a Kurdish-Arab ground offensive, supported by US-led coalition airstrikes. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Bombed into famine: How Saudi air campaign targets Yemen’s food supplies

Iona Craig reports: At 11.30pm, 10 nautical miles off Yemen’s western Red Sea coast, seven fishermen were near the end of the four hours it had taken to haul their nets bulging with the day’s catch into their fibreglass boat. Suddenly, away from the illumination of the vessel’s large spotlight, one of the men spotted a black silhouette coming towards them.

Moments later a helicopter began circling overhead. The fishermen were well within the 30 nautical mile boundary they had been warned not to cross by leaflets airdropped on land by the Saudi-led coalition. But, without warning, gunfire erupted from the helicopter.

Osam Mouafa grabbed his friend, Abdullah, dragging him into a corner, curling himself into a protective ball as bullets flew through the boat. Shot in both knees, with a third bullet having grazed his thigh, Osam began to feel water rising around him. “The boat became like a sieve,” he said, sitting next to the wooden stick he now needs to walk.

By the time the onslaught stopped, the captain – a father of eight – and Abdullah were dead. Another crew member, Hamdi, was deafened and paralysed down one side after being hit in the head by shrapnel. All bleeding heavily, the five survivors frantically began bailing water out of the sinking boat.

The partially submerged vessel, with the fishermen’s clothes plugging the holes, drifted at sea for 15 hours until another boat rescued them, towing them ashore.

Since Saudi Arabia launched its military intervention in Yemen in March 2015, more than 10,000 civilians have died. More than 250 fishing boats have been damaged or destroyed and 152 fishermen have been killed by coalition warships and helicopters in the Red Sea, according to Mohammed Hassani, the head of the fishermen’s union in Yemen’s western port of Hodeidah.

“They have declared war on fishermen,” said Hassani. More than 100 miles further south in the port of Mocha, fishermen have been barred from going out to sea since the Houthi-Saleh forces, who the Saudi-led coalition have been fighting for more than two and half years, were pushed out by Yemeni fighters backed by a coalition partner, the United Arab Emirates, in February. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

When climate change becomes a credit problem

Jeff Nesbit writes: Climate change is now a credit issue for city and state governments vulnerable to extreme weather events and natural disasters made worse by global warming. And that will make a complicated problem a lot easier for people to understand, because it could hit them where they feel it: in their wallets.

In a welcome but long overdue development, one of the world’s leading credit-rating agencies, Moody’s Investors Service, announced recently that it would give more weight to climate change risks in evaluating the creditworthiness of state and local governments.

Coming in the aftermath of hurricanes that severely damaged parts of Houston and much of the United States Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico this year, the message from Moody’s was clear. Governments must prepare for heat waves, droughts, flooding and coastal storm surges or face credit downgrades that will make it more expensive for them to borrow money for public services and for improvements in roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

That could mean higher taxes for the people who live in those communities. Even for governments that act to reduce their exposure to climate risks, the costs of doing so “could also become an ongoing credit challenge,” Michael Wertz, a Moody’s vice president, said.

And there are many communities in harm’s way: Just in terms of coastal flooding, for instance, Moody’s reports that 43 percent of coastal homes in Georgia lie in floodplains vulnerable to inundation; in Florida and Mississippi, the number is 38 percent; in Louisiana, 34 percent and in Texas, 26 percent. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The minds of plants

Laura Ruggles writes: At first glance, the Cornish mallow (Lavatera cretica) is little more than an unprepossessing weed. It has pinkish flowers and broad, flat leaves that track sunlight throughout the day. However, it’s what the mallow does at night that has propelled this humble plant into the scientific spotlight. Hours before the dawn, it springs into action, turning its leaves to face the anticipated direction of the sunrise. The mallow seems to remember where and when the Sun has come up on previous days, and acts to make sure it can gather as much light energy as possible each morning. When scientists try to confuse mallows in their laboratories by swapping the location of the light source, the plants simply learn the new orientation.

What does it even mean to say that a mallow can learn and remember the location of the sunrise? The idea that plants can behave intelligently, let alone learn or form memories, was a fringe notion until quite recently. Memories are thought to be so fundamentally cognitive that some theorists argue that they’re a necessary and sufficient marker of whether an organism can do the most basic kinds of thinking. Surely memory requires a brain, and plants lack even the rudimentary nervous systems of bugs and worms.

However, over the past decade or so this view has been forcefully challenged. The mallow isn’t an anomaly. Plants are not simply organic, passive automata. We now know that they can sense and integrate information about dozens of different environmental variables, and that they use this knowledge to guide flexible, adaptive behaviour.

For example, plants can recognise whether nearby plants are kin or unrelated, and adjust their foraging strategies accordingly. The flower Impatiens pallida, also known as pale jewelweed, is one of several species that tends to devote a greater share of resources to growing leaves rather than roots when put with strangers – a tactic apparently geared towards competing for sunlight, an imperative that is diminished when you are growing next to your siblings. Plants also mount complex, targeted defences in response to recognising specific predators. The small, flowering Arabidopsis thaliana, also known as thale or mouse-ear cress, can detect the vibrations caused by caterpillars munching on it and so release oils and chemicals to repel the insects. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Ticks preserved in amber were likely sucking dinosaur blood

The New York Times reports: Paleontologists have found entombed in amber a 99-million-year-old tick grasping the feather of a dinosaur, providing the first direct evidence that the tiny pests drank dinosaur blood.

Immortalized in the golden gemstone, the bloodsucker’s last supper is remarkable because it is rare to find parasites with their hosts in the fossil record. The finding, which was published Tuesday, gives researchers tantalizing insight into the prehistoric diet of one of today’s most prevalent pests.

“This study provides the most compelling evidence to date for ticks feeding on feathered animals in the Cretaceous,” said Ryan C. McKellar, a paleontologist at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada who was not involved in the study. “It demonstrates just how much detail can be obtained from a few pieces of amber in the hands of the right researchers.”

David Grimaldi, an entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History and an author of the paper published in the journal Nature Communications, was inspecting a private collection of amber from northern Myanmar when he and his colleagues spotted the eight-legged stowaway.

“Holy moly this is cool,” he recounted thinking at the time. “This is the first time we’ve been able to find ticks directly associated with the dinosaur feathers.”

Upon further inspection, he and his colleagues concluded that the tick was a nymph, similar in size to a deer tick nymph, and that its host was most likely some sort of fledgling dinosaur no bigger than a hummingbird, which Dr. Grimaldi referred to as a “nanoraptor.” The parasites were most likely unwanted roommates living in the dinosaurs’ nests and sucking their blood. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Why the #MeToo movement should be ready for a backlash

Emily Yoffe writes: In the final five years of his presidency, Barack Obama’s administration undertook a worthy and bold challenge: the elimination of sexual assault on campuses. In fact, Obama’s team had a much more ambitious goal in mind. Vice President Joe Biden, the point person for the campus initiative, said at the end of his term that the administration was seeking “to fundamentally change the culture around sexual assault”—everywhere. New rules of sexual engagement between college students were written at the directive of the administration, but top Obama officials said they wanted these to be applied in the workplace and beyond. “You’re going to change the workplaces you work in,” Tina Tchen, director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, said at a 2016 event honoring campus sexual assault activists. “You’re going to raise your sons and daughters differently.”

They expected this transformation to take years. But with the daily toppling of powerful men who have committed sexual violations in Hollywood, the media, Congress and more, these changes have become seismic. The silenced have been given voice, and their testimony has resulted in the swift professional demise of perpetrators. Shocking descriptions of the behavior of powerful men have shown that it’s not universally understood that it’s unacceptable to display one’s genitals at work or to sexually abuse colleagues.

We now have an opportunity for profound reform, for women and men to join together to treat each other with dignity and respect. But as this unexpected revolution unfolds, we should also keep in mind the dangers of creating new injustices in the service of correcting old ones.

For that, it’s useful to look at how reforms played out on campus, where, unfortunately, many of the Obama administration’s good intentions went awry. Among the principles and polices that have become entrenched at schools—and are now spilling out into the wider world—are the beliefs that accusers are virtually always telling the truth; that the urgency to take action is more important than fair procedures; that we shouldn’t make distinctions between criminal acts and boorishness; and that predatory male behavior is ubiquitous. These beliefs have resulted in many campus cases in which the accused was treated with fundamental unfairness, spawning a legal subspecialty of suing schools on behalf of these young men. Examining what happened on campuses shows where the politics and social rules of interaction between the sexes might be headed—and how to avoid making the same mistakes on a larger scale. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Is the Supreme Court finally ready to tackle partisan gerrymandering? Signs suggest yes

Richard L. Hasen writes: Is the Supreme Court about to cause great political upheaval by getting into the business of policing the worst partisan gerrymanders? Signs from last week suggest that it well might.

At the very beginning of its term back in October, the court heard oral arguments in Gill vs. Whitford, a case challenging Wisconsin’s plan for drawing districts for its state Assembly. Republican legislators drew the lines to give them a great advantage in these elections. Even when Democrats won more than majority of votes cast in the Assembly elections, Republicans controlled about 60% of the seats.

The court has for many years refused to police such gerrymandering. Conservative justices suggested that the question was “nonjusticiable” (meaning the cases could not be heard by the courts) because there were no permissible standards for determining when partisanship in drawing district lines went too far. Liberals came forward with a variety of tests. And Justice Anthony M. Kennedy stood in the middle, as he often does. He argued that all the tests liberals proposed didn’t work, while trying to keep the courthouse door open for new tests. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Inside the botched raid that left four U.S. soldiers dead in Niger

BuzzFeed reports: The mission that resulted in the death of eight soldiers — including four Americans — in a firefight with Islamist militants in Niger earlier this year was the result of reckless behavior by US Special Forces in Africa, according to insiders and officials with knowledge of the operation.

The deaths came as a result of a poorly executed mission intended to gather information about three senior ISIS militants operating in isolated territory on the border between Niger and neighboring Mali.

The US-led mission reached its target destination — BuzzFeed News can reveal for the first time that it was a militant camp across the porous border in Mali — on Oct. 3 and was returning back to base the following day when they were attacked, according to a senior ranking Nigerien official. But insiders say the fatalities in the remote village of Tongo Tongo were likely avoidable had the mission been better planned, although it is unclear whether key decisions were made by soldiers or their commanders back at base. Officials warn of the risks of further such operations just as the Trump administration is putting more US boots on the ground through the little-known Special Operations Command, Africa program (Socafrica).

A Nigerien general, two senior military officials, and an official from the Nigerien government’s anti-terrorist unit spoke about the mission to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak with the press.

In visits to “red zone” areas, deemed out of bounds by US and other foreign embassies, and high-level interviews, locals and senior officials told BuzzFeed News that the worst military fiasco under the Trump administration came after US soldiers rushed into a hornet’s nest of militants with insufficient intelligence, while a series of “negligent” decisions during the operation handed an accidental victory to an ISIS offshoot. The incident highlights the consequences of the US prizing firepower over intelligence-gathering, even in militant-controlled terrain where local military partners are on the backfoot. And it comes as Special Force troops are being drawn deeper into shadow wars against militant Islamists on the continent — wars that have no military solution, according to those mired within them. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Trump’s addiction to Diet Coke may be rotting his brain

CNN reports: President Donald Trump downs a dozen Diet Cokes each day, The New York Times reported this weekend. His love of the bubbly beverage is shared by many Americans and at least one of his predecessors. President Bill Clinton was frequently photographed with a can in his hand and reportedly placed a Diet Coke — along with a now-outdated cell phone and other items — in a time capsule at his official presidential library.


So, what happens to those who drink a dozen cans daily of the caramel-colored elixir, which contains a blend of the sweetener aspartame and artificial and natural flavors, among other ingredients?

Some research suggests that artificially sweetened drinks can increase one’s appetite and the desire for sweets. This effect was linked to aspartame, the most frequently used sweetener in diet beverages, which generates a similar response in the body as sugar. Just 30 minutes after drinking either a diet soda containing aspartame or the same amount of regular soda (with sucrose), the body reacts with similar concentrations of glucose and insulin.

Susan Swithers, a professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University College of Health and Human Sciences, refers to aspartame’s effects as “teasing” the body.

“You get this very sweet taste; your body says ‘I’m about to get sugar; I’m about to get energy,’ but those never arrive,” Swithers said, based on her research of diet soda consumption in animals. The result is, your body learns sweet taste is no longer a good signal, so instead of producing normal responses immediately, it delays. This becomes problematic when you eat actual sugar, because your blood sugar rises a little higher than it normally would, and as a result, you may eat more than usual, she explained.

“It’s kind of a small thing that happens,” she said, but over time, the cumulative effects might be strong, particularly in humans.

Looking at long-term studies in humans, Swithers noted, the results indicate that people who report drinking artificially sweetened beverages end up at higher risk than non-diet soda drinkers for lots of negative outcomes, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension and stroke, as well as dementia. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

America’s uncritical admiration for its generals

Suzanne Garment writes: Trump came to office promising a return to American strength after years of what he calls failed foreign policy by an effete establishment. But Trump isn’t exactly an embodiment of American toughness: He’s an overweight and out of shape 71-year-old man who escaped military service by claiming bone spurs and has said he fought his personal Vietnam on the battlefield of sexually transmitted diseases.

You can see why he’d want alpha males around — not so much to wage war as because he seeks personal proximity to masculine winners. The generals lend Trump masculinity by association.

Yet Trump’s delight in proximate alpha males presents him with a dilemma because he also clearly enjoys dominating others and has a keen — critics might say pathological — sense of threats to his dominance. This makes him intolerant of alpha male behavior.

Mattis succeeds by speaking to Trump “candidly but respectfully” and “plays down disagreements in public.”

When former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon made the cover of Time Magazine, Trump reportedly complained to staffers, according to The New York Times. Several months later, the advisor was gone. Bannon’s return to Breitbart allowed Trump to make him a confidant again, without admitting that Bannon might be pulling the strings of power. But Breitbart’s current critique of Trump’s strategy in the Russia probe shows the unreliability of such a relationship.

Herein lies the beauty of generals. Despite their alpha male-ness, generals obey the code governing the American military: They are explicitly constrained by the Constitution’s provisions that civilians control the military. Even after serving, generals respect these constraints. As The Washington Post recently observed about Mattis, he succeeds by speaking to Trump “candidly but respectfully” and “plays down disagreements in public.”

This combination of masculinity and deference isn’t an oxymoron but an amalgam that perfectly suits Trump’s needs.

If you’re Trump, it’s a treasure you don’t easily discard. No wonder Trump keeps calling them “my generals” in the same proprietary way he’s called his wife, Melania, “my supermodel.”

But will this formula allow the generals to be the “adults in the room,” restraining a president who lacks impulse control?

Don’t count on it. We’re not talking Dwight D. Eisenhower or George C. Marshall here, let alone Colin Powell or Alexander Haig — just your basic war heroes. When generals have to perform beyond their political competence, they’re as fallible as anybody else. [Continue reading…]

As every marketing executive knows, Americans are suckers for attractive packaging and strong branding.

A sharply cut uniform and a few gleaming stars, present or past, is all it takes to mask the frail content of men who clearly don’t fully embody the qualities they are meant to represent.

Supposedly, the uniform is the ultimate representation of patriotism — the willingness to die for ones country — yet who in all seriousness can pretend that serving as a pillar, or to be more precise as a crutch, in this administration is an act of patriotism?

These generals, just like all their non-military cohorts were to some degree enticed by the allure of power and the hook of their own vanity around which no doubt they each embellished some noble narrative to rationalize their prostitution to the ultimate pimp.

Service with honor is one thing and obedience to Donald Trump is another, but there is no way to marry the two.

Facebooktwittermail

Roy Moore’s Alabama

Howell Raines writes: The hickory tree, which stood hard by the unpaved road at the northeast corner of my grandparents’ front yard, is gone. So is the bipartisan flexibility it symbolized in the alliance of an anti-Wallace Democrat like Mr. Elliott and my grandfather, a conservative populist Republican. Like much of Appalachia, Winston County had very few slaves, and black people now account for less than 1 percent of the residents. A visiting Canadian journalist wrote recently that folks here are tight-lipped around outside reporters. The Walker graves in the Baptist cemetery give me dirt-road cred, but I didn’t push too hard. These people fear being depicted as “total rednecks” and argue urgently that they do not fit the stereotype. Neat brick bungalows have replaced ramshackle farmhouses. The community center conducts weekly yoga and aerobics classes, and the literary society convenes once a month.

But if you scratch this hard North Alabama soil, you’ll find Native American arrowheads and a secret dissent, like the patriotism that led rampaging Confederate guerrillas to loot the farms of Winston men who joined the Union Army. Lost Cause historians at the University of Alabama watered down the radical nature of Winston’s devotion to the Union. A misleading statue in Double Springs, showing a soldier in a uniform that is half Union and half Confederate, disguises the fact that Winston provided more troops to the Union Army than to the Confederate. Records in the National Archives show that my great-great grandfather, Hial Abbott, who farmed near here, was a key figure in a local underground that sneaked mountain boys through the Confederate lines to enlist for the North.

In Arley, women are the rebels in the current election. “All those women who are coming forward, they’re not making it up,” a female civic leader told me over coffee within sight of the “liars’ table.” This gender division exists in the household of Mavinee and Odis Bishop. Mrs. Bishop greeted me at the door saying, “Your grandfather married us 72 years ago when my husband was home from the war.” Mr. Bishop, a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, said he had drifted over to the Democrats when Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal paid him and his jobless friends to work on the kind of infrastructure projects promised by candidate Trump. But he sees modern Democrats as detached from common folk. He’ll vote for Mr. Moore and intends to “sway” his wife from her plan to support Mr. Jones.

“No, he won’t,” Mrs. Bishop said in that firm Free State way as she stepped in from the kitchen.

There in a nutshell are the swing factors that will determine this election. Upper-income suburbs in the state’s major cities are covered with Doug Jones signs, foreshadowing a powerful Republican soccer-mom rejection of Mr. Moore’s purported predation. Older Republican women whisper about lobbying their female friends to do the unthinkable and vote for the Democrat. [Continue reading…]

Politico reports: Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby said Sunday that his home state “deserves better” than to be represented by Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct against teenage girls, including one as young as 14, when he was in his 30s.

Shelby, a Republican and the state’s senior senator, said he had already cast a ballot ahead of Tuesday’s special election and did not vote for Moore, opting instead for a write-in candidate that he declined to name in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I’d rather see the Republican win, but I would hope that Republican would be a write-in. I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore. I didn’t vote for Roy Moore. But I wrote in a distinguished Republican name,” Shelby said. “I’d rather see another Republican in there, and I’m going to stay with that story. I’m not going to vote for the Democrat, I didn’t vote for the Democrat or advocate for the Democrat. But I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore.

“The state of Alabama deserves better.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Don’t let the alt-right hijack #MeToo for their agenda

Rebecca Solnit writes: That was fast. In this #MeToo moment, feminism has been coopted by both people who don’t understand it and by people who oppose it. Worse: it’s now being used against people who are feminists and allies.

The most recent example comes from Mike Cernovich, the alt-right conspiracy theorist who led the way on the Pizzagate hoax that claimed senior Democrats were involved in a child abuse ring in the basement of a Washington DC restaurant. That whole ruckus should’ve given MSNBC pause when he went after one of their regulars.

Cernovich recently orchestrated a campaign to pressure MSNBC to fire contributor Sam Seder over a joke he made in a 2009 tweet. The network did fire him – only to then rehire him after a backlash against their decision.

If you have ever been exposed to jokes before, you’d know the tweet was sarcastic. It mocked people whose defense of Roman Polanski from child rape accusations rested on the fact that he was a ‘great artist’. It was an anti-rapist rape joke, like the kind that Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Amy Schumer and even Jay Leno later told about Bill Cosby.

We’re now at the point where people are being canned for jokes, by people who don’t get the jokes, don’t get feminism, don’t get that maybe there should be some proportion in this thing, and don’t get that right-wing men with a public record of misogyny might not be your best guides through all this. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The tech industry’s gender-discrimination problem

Sheelah Kolhatkar writes: One day in 2013, AJ Vandermeyden drove to Tesla’s corporate headquarters, in Palo Alto, California, sat down on a bench outside the main entrance, and waited, in the hope of spotting someone who looked like a company employee. Vandermeyden, who was thirty years old, had been working as a pharmaceutical sales representative since shortly after college, but she wanted a different kind of job, in what seemed to her the center of the world—Silicon Valley. She knew that Tesla’s ambitious, eccentric co-founder Elon Musk was managing companies devoted to space flight and solar energy, in addition to running Tesla, which was producing electric cars, and she was inspired by his mission. Tesla was growing quickly and offered numerous opportunities for employees to advance. The company, Musk liked to say, was a “meritocracy,” and Vandermeyden wanted to be a part of it.

Vandermeyden saw a man wearing a Tesla T-shirt and walked over to introduce herself. After she found out that he worked in sales, the department she wanted to join, she decided to deliver her pitch to him right then. He seemed impressed by her nerve. A few weeks later, she was hired at Tesla as a product specialist in the inside-sales department.

At first, Vandermeyden thrived at Tesla. After almost a year, she was promoted to the job of engineering project coördinator in the paint department. The new position involved working out of Tesla’s automotive manufacturing facility in Fremont, California, where hundreds of apple-red robot arms assembled Tesla vehicles on a white factory floor. The whirr of the robots in motion gave the plant the feel of something out of science fiction.

But even in this futuristic environment there was something about life at Tesla that seemed distinctly atavistic—and deeply wrong. Vandermeyden, who worked closely with a group of eight other employees, soon learned that her salary was lower than that of everyone else in the group, including several new hires who had come to Tesla straight out of college. She was, as it happened, the only woman in the group. Her supervisors, and her supervisors’ supervisors, were male, all the way up the chain, it seemed, to Musk himself.

At Tesla, as at many tech companies, gallows humor prevailed among some of the women. There was a sense that the male executives had little understanding of the challenges women faced at the company. One former Tesla employee told me that women made up less than ten per cent of her working group; at one point, there were actually more men named Matt in the group than there were women. This became a source of rueful comedy. One male colleague quipped that they should change the sign reading “Women’s Room” to “Matt’s Room.”

Vandermeyden was a dedicated employee. Before long, a manager from the general-assembly division, who had heard that Vandermeyden had worked for twenty-six hours straight on a particular project, persuaded her to switch to his group. She started wearing steel-toed boots and safety glasses at work. She noticed that sometimes, when female employees walked through certain areas of the plant, male workers whistled, catcalled, and made derogatory comments. Women called it the “predator zone.” [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The myth of Vladimir Putin the puppet master

Julia Ioffe writes: Over the past year, Russian hackers have become the stuff of legend in the United States. According to U.S. intelligence assessments and media investigations, they were responsible for breaching the servers of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They spread the information they filched through friendly outlets such as WikiLeaks, to devastating effect. With President Vladimir Putin’s blessing, they probed the voting infrastructure of various U.S. states. They quietly bought divisive ads and organized political events on Facebook, acting as the bellows in America’s raging culture wars.

But most Russians don’t recognize the Russia portrayed in this story: powerful, organized, and led by an omniscient, omnipotent leader who is able to both formulate and execute a complex and highly detailed plot.

Gleb Pavlovsky, a political consultant who helped Putin win his first presidential campaign, in 2000, and served as a Kremlin adviser until 2011, simply laughed when I asked him about Putin’s role in Donald Trump’s election. “We did an amazing job in the first decade of Putin’s rule of creating the illusion that Putin controls everything in Russia,” he said. “Now it’s just funny” how much Americans attribute to him.

A businessman who is high up in Putin’s United Russia party said over an espresso at a Moscow café: “You’re telling me that everything in Russia works as poorly as it does, except our hackers? Rosneft”—the state-owned oil giant—“doesn’t work well. Our health-care system doesn’t work well. Our education system doesn’t work well. And here, all of a sudden, are our hackers, and they’re amazing?”

In the same way that Russians overestimate America, seeing it as an all-powerful orchestrator of global political developments, Americans project their own fears onto Russia, a country that is a paradox of deftness, might, and profound weakness—unshakably steady, yet somehow always teetering on the verge of collapse. Like America, it is hostage to its peculiar history, tormented by its ghosts. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The many casualties of Trump’s Jerusalem move

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Nearly a week after President Trump’s unilateral decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, there are plenty of reasons to be confused by the move.

Despite no real pressure from the Israeli government nor unanimous clamoring in Washington for the move, Trump threw decades of long-standing U.S. policy up in the air. He embraced Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without making any nod to Palestinian claims to the eastern part of the city, prompting analysts and former diplomats to write obituaries for the two-state solution. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson then told reporters that the U.S. embassy’s relocation from Tel Aviv would probably not happen next year, raising even more questions about the timing of Trump’s statement.

And while Trump insists the move is critical to “advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement,” it appears to have had exactly the opposite result.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to skip a meeting with Vice President Pence, who will be journeying to the Holy Land before Christmas. Pence will also be snubbed in Cairo by the head of Egypt’s Coptic Church as a result of Trump’s decision. French President Emmanuel Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have said they are jointly working to persuade the White House to reconsider.

Meanwhile, protests continued in Palestinian areas and a number of Middle Eastern and Muslim-world capitals over the weekend. At least four people have been killed following Israeli military strikes in the Gaza Strip. On Sunday, demonstrators in Beirut clashed with police outside the U.S. Embassy; at least eight people were hospitalized in the aftermath. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

North Korea is a nuclear state. But can the U.S. accept that?

The Washington Post reports: Every time North Korea does something provocative — which is often — Washington insists that Pyongyang must give up its nuclear weapons program.

Just last weekend, days after North Korea launched its most high-tech intercontinental ballistic missile yet, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that President Trump “is committed to the total denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Not that this line is confined to the Trump administration. The Obama and Bush administrations before it also repeatedly insisted that North Korea must denuclearize.

That might have been a realistic aim before Pyongyang could build a hydrogen bomb and missiles that can reach the United States. It’s just a matter of time before the North Koreans can put the two together — if they can’t already.

The Trump administration won’t admit it, but North Korea is now a nuclear weapons power, analysts say. Why would Kim Jong Un’s cash-strapped regime spend so much time and money on building these weapons only to give them up? And even if they were prepared to bargain them away eventually, why would they do so now, when Trump and his top aides are threatening military action?

“We’ve seen no indication in recent years that they are interested in denuclearization,” said Mira Rapp-Hooper, a North Korea expert at Yale Law School who was an Asia adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. “So it’s difficult to rationalize how we are still so fixated on it.”

Vipin Narang, a nuclear nonproliferation specialist at MIT, agreed.

“It’s a fantasy that they’re going to willingly give up their nuclear programs so long as Kim is in power. He saw the fate of Saddam and Gaddafi — why would he give up his nuclear weapons?” asked Narang, referring to the former leaders of Iraq and Libya, both of whom are now deposed and dead.

Trump’s willingness to pull out of the international nuclear deal with Iran would only heighten North Korea’s mistrust of a negotiated denuclearization agreement with the United States, he said. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail