Has Stephen Hawking lost his marbles?

“I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth,” says Stephen Hawking.

Perhaps. It depends on who leaves and where they go — or get sent.

Sending a man to Mars might be a good idea — so long as it’s the right man.

BBC News reports: Prof Stephen Hawking has called for leading nations to send astronauts to the Moon by 2020.

They should also aim to build a lunar base in 30 years’ time and send people to Mars by 2025.

Prof Hawking said that the goal would re-ignite the space programme, forge new alliances and give humanity a sense of purpose. [Continue reading…]

One of the unfortunate effects of fame when attached to those individuals deemed to have the Great Minds of their generation is that whatever they say tends to be taken seriously — as though equal weight should be attached to all their opinions and as though each and every one of their ideas must be laden with merit.

Whatever Stephen Hawking believes, who could have the audacity to question such a luminary?

I think the best way of sidestepping this tendency to be timid about questioning the great ideas from the great minds is simply to ignore the person, engage their ideas, and imagine how much attention they would garner if they came from someone of much less renown.

Let’s set aside the question of whether world leaders or the world’s leading scientists should take it upon themselves to give humanity a sense of purpose and let’s just consider the proposition of colonizing Mars.

And let’s assume that the technical obstacles to inhabiting Mars and transporting people there in large numbers could be surmounted in the next few decades, highly implausible as that notion might seem.

Here’s the core flaw in this proposition: if humans figured out how to live on Mars and during this period of preparing for our exodus either continued causing catastrophic damage to Earth’s biosphere, or found ways to mitigate or reverse the harm we’ve already done here, wouldn’t this planet in either scenario still be a better place to live than anywhere else conceivably within reach?

Simply put, isn’t Earth however badly we damage it always going to be much more hospitable than Mars or the Moon?

Given that likelihood, if we talk about colonizing these alternative worlds, aren’t these “colonies” more likely to be prison camps constructed to house that portion of humanity deemed excess to Earth’s carrying capacity?

More realistically, isn’t learning how to make Mars inhabitable most likely to morph into a blueprint for a dystopian future on Earth — one in which a small segment of the population is provided with secure havens that insulate them from the effects of climate change and environmental destruction?

In other words, won’t a mission to inhabit other worlds almost certainly turn out to be a false promise that does less to give humanity a sense of purpose than it does to promote baseless hope followed by rapid despair?

It’s sad, but perhaps not surprising, that a man who has spent most of his life tied to machines, sees no limits to human inventiveness. Hawking doesn’t seem to recognize that the only real hope for humanity has to be grounded in a deep recognition that human life is inseparable from life on Earth.

Our destructive behavior springs in large part from our multifaceted convictions in immortality — the notion that somehow we might survive even as every other creature expires.

Instead of indulging in science fiction fantasies about colonizing other planets, we need to come to grips with the fragility of life and our own inescapable mortality.

If we ruin our future here, we have no business trying to construct a future anywhere else.

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Trump’s interest in disassociating himself from the Russia story

Philip Bump writes: Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) made a comment during the Senate Intelligence Committee’s questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions that has an obvious exception.

“I don’t think there’s any American,” Risch said, “who would disagree with the fact that we need to drill down to this” — that is, Russian meddling in the 2016 election — “know what happened, get it out in front of the American people and do what we can to stop it again.”

There is one American, at least, who seems generally uninterested in that need: Sessions’s boss, President Trump.

In his testimony, Sessions told Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) that he “did not recall” any meeting during which Trump expressed concern or curiosity about what Russia had been doing during the 2016 election. Sessions also testified that he himself, as the country’s and Trump’s lead law enforcement official, was never briefed on Russian interference. [Continue reading…]

This has become a common narrative — that Trump and those around him lack interest in getting to the bottom of the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election — but even while superficially there might appear to be a lack of interest, there can’t be any doubt that this is a facade designed to conceal terror.

Trump is terrified that as soon as he acknowledges the reality and scope of the Russian influence campaign, he opens Pandora’s box, leading to the inescapable conclusion that his presidency lacks legitimacy. That conclusion will not necessarily hinge on proof of collusion.

But the question of legitimacy runs even deeper.

Trump’s line of attack against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was to claim that each lacked legitimacy and while this might look like conventional smear tactics in dirty politics, in the case of Trump it seems more indicative of his own insatiable craving to be legitimized.

Legitimacy, and more specifically Trump’s own sense that he lacks this, is his core issue. Trump regards legitimacy as a finite resource that he can only claim if he succeeds in stealing it from others. He believes the only way to rise up is by pushing others down.

Trump’s fear of the Russia story is not necessarily an indication of collusion at risk of being exposed. More likely, it is based on the fear that eventually he will be exposed as a political fraud — incapable as he is of recognizing that in the eyes of most of the world, that is already how he is perceived.

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Whatever we call Trump, he stinks just as bad

Shakespeare, a master of insults who could have prolifically composed tweets and might have described Donald Trump as an “unwash’d maggot-pie,” or a “goatish bat-fowling moldwarp,” an “idol of idiot-worshippers,” whose “name blisters our tongues,” and who is not “clean enough to spit upon,” would have run into trouble if he worked for CNN or the New York Times.

The Times reports that the presenter of CNN’s weekly show “Believer,” Reza Aslan, got fired for writing tweets in which “he described the president as ‘an embarrassment to humankind’ and compared him, using profanity, to a piece of excrement.”

In point of fact, this reporting is inaccurate. Aslan didn’t compare Trump to a piece of shit — he said he is one. Aslan was using a metaphor, not a simile. He wrote:

This piece of shit is not just an embarrassment to America and a stain on the presidency. He’s an embarrassment to humankind

A succinct, objective, fair assessment that in global terms cannot be seen in any sense as controversial — except for this: including the word “shit.”

But in reference to Trump, how on earth can the word “shit” be described as profane? I know he has lots of supporters, but he’s not exactly a figure of reverence. Indeed, many of those supporters regard his crudeness as one of his principle virtues.

Donald Trump is the embodiment and arguably purest distillation of vulgarity and yet the prissy gatekeepers of American mainstream-media civility have a problem when vulgar language is used to describe a vulgar man.

What other kind of language is in any sense appropriate?

Some will argue we shouldn’t stoop to Trump’s level, yet this kind of self-imposed restraint plays straight into the orange man’s little hands.

He shameless exploits the respect offered to his office, while using this as a shield behind which he can constantly lob provocations with relative impunity.

In other words, if people like CNN’s Jeff Zucker get their way, Trump can carry on being a piece of shit while anyone in the media who wants to keep their job must be afraid of calling him the way he calls to be named.

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The Intercept follows White House protocol — no further comment during an ongoing investigation

Following its publication of a top-secret document apparently sent by Reality Leigh Winner who was arrested on Saturday, The Intercept doesn’t want to respond to allegations that its handling of that document led to Winner’s arrest.

The Intercept issued a statement — though apparently doesn’t want to encourage readers of the original report to read that statement since there are no links connecting the two pages.

The Intercept warns that the FBI’s allegations against Winner “contain unproven assertions and speculation designed to serve the government’s agenda and as such warrant skepticism.” Which sounds like Glenn Greenwald whispering, “Deep State, Deep State….”

But the claims that The Intercept mishandled this document aren’t coming from the government — they’re coming from security analysts such as Rob Graham who explains exactly how the document could be traced back to Winner once The Intercept had provided authorities with a copy.

Maybe when The Intercept says, “because of the continued investigation, we will make no further comment on it at this time,” its promised silence will be in Winner’s best legal interests, but they are certainly creating the appearance that their primary interest at this juncture is in ducking for cover.

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How The Intercept inadvertently gave the FBI evidence leading to an NSA-leaker’s swift arrest

A post shared by Reezle Winner (@reezlie) on


It’s unusual for a major intelligence leak to be reported at almost the same time as the leaker gets arrested — but that’s what happened to NSA contractor Reality Leigh Winner after she leaked a top-secret document to The Intercept.

Whenever a whistleblower gets arrested, this is bound to have a chilling effect on the prospects for future leaks.

In its handling of this NSA document, reporters for The Intercept might have naively thought they were not putting their source in jeopardy because they didn’t know their source’s identity. What they apparently didn’t realize was that by sharing the document in the form in which they had received it, they were revealing information that helped investigators quickly identify and arrest Winner.

Anyone who decides to leak classified information needs to fully understand the risks they are taking and it is the individual who is ultimately responsible for protecting their own security.

At the same time, journalists who handle leaked information need to have adequate knowledge about data security — knowledge that the staff at The Intercept appear to be lacking.

The Washington Post reports: Winner was arrested Saturday. When FBI agents questioned her at her home, she admitted “removing the classified intelligence reporting from her office space, retaining it, and mailing it from Augusta, Georgia, to the news outlet,” court documents read. She remains in jail pending a detention hearing. Her lawyer declined to comment on the charges.

After the charges were announced Monday, some cybersecurity experts remarked on the apparent ease with which investigators were able to trace the leak back to Winner. Some went so far as to say the Intercept had “outed” her by posting copies of the document online. The Intercept said the materials were submitted anonymously.

According to Rob Graham, who writes for the blog Errata Security, the Intercept’s scanned images of the intelligence report contained tracking dots — small, barely visible yellow dots that show “exactly when and where documents, any document, is printed.” Nearly all modern color printers feature such tracking markers, which are used to identify a printer’s serial number and the date and time a page was printed. [Continue reading…]

So far, The Intercept has not acknowledged its role in Winner’s arrest.

Just to be clear, since Winner was arrested before The Intercept published the document, the lead the FBI used came as a result of the document being shared beforehand. “It started on May 30, when the news outlet showed authorities the printed materials and asked them to comment, according to the affidavit,” the Washington Post reported.

Given Winner’s field of expertise, it’s not surprising she didn’t understand well enough how to cover her tracks.

CNN reports: — Winner was a linguist in the US Air Force in Maryland who speaks Pashto, Farsi and Dari, her mother, Billie Winner said.

— She was raised in Kingsville, Texas, and served in the Air Force in Columbia, Maryland. Her mother confirmed she was a federal contractor in Augusta but did not know the nature of her work, or if she had contracted for the NSA.

— Winner is an athlete who loves animals, her mother said, through tears.

— She also said her daughter wasn’t especially political and hadn’t ever praised past leakers like Edward Snowden to her.

— “She’s never ever given me any kind of indication that she was in favor of that at all,” her mother said. “I don’t know how to explain it.”

— Winner spent six years in the military, said Titus Nichols, her court-appointed attorney. [Continue reading…]

Hopefully a jury will recognize that at this time there are many ways in which Americans believe they are called to serve their country — there seems little doubt that this is exactly what Winner felt she was doing.

The Intercept can’t correct the mistakes they already made, but at the very least I think Pierre Omidyar should establish and generously contribute towards a legal defense fund for Winner.

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World leaders should give Trump the cold shoulder

Bloomberg reports: Prime Minister Theresa May said she thought Donald Trump was “wrong” to attack London Mayor Sadiq Khan in the wake of Saturday’s terror attack in London.

After avoiding several attempts by reporters to get her to condemn the U.S. president for openly criticizing Khan in a series of tweets hours after the attack at London Bridge that killed seven people and left dozens injured, May was asked what it would take for her to criticize Trump. She reiterated her disappointment over his decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, before being eventually forced to defend the capital’s mayor.


“Sadiq Khan is doing a good job,” she told a press conference in central London, when asked if Trump was wrong to attack the mayor’s call for calm in the wake of the attacks. “It’s wrong to say anything else.”


May has been attacked by both the opposition Labour Party and the media for her reluctance to publicly criticize Trump. As well as mocking Khan, Trump sought to turn the London attacks to domestic political advantage by renewing his call to ban travel from some Muslim-majority countries. May’s criticism Monday follows her openly complaining last month about U.S. security agencies leaking details of the Manchester Arena suicide bombing, which British police said hurt their investigation.

While she used her disapproval of Trump pulling out of the Paris accord to illustrate that she was “not afraid to say when President Trump gets things wrong,” her name was notably absent from a joint statement last week by her European counterparts condemning the withdrawal. [Continue reading…]

An editorial in The Guardian says: Unlike other world leaders, Mrs May has made an art of avoiding public confrontation with the US president. But – in the words of her initial response to the London Bridge attack – enough is enough. She should make clear to Mr Trump how offensive and unhelpful his extraordinary intervention was, and rescind the invitation that has been extended to him for a state visit later this year. [Continue reading…]

Political leaders who persist in exercising diplomatic restraint when commenting on Trump’s behavior, are, through their timidity, becoming his enablers, reinforcing his sense that he can get away with anything.

At some point it’s going to take something much stronger than a mild rebuff to demonstrate to Trump that his words have consequences.

So far he has been treated like an obstreperous brat who has to be tolerated out of respect for his office and in spite of his inexcusable behavior.

The treatment Trump deserves, however, is the cold shoulder.

Every head of state who represents a democracy should refuse direct communication with Trump.

During his first months in office, he has amply demonstrated that he has neither the capacity nor the willingness to engage in foreign affairs in a manner that befits his position.

This isn’t just a matter of decorum; it speaks to his basic competence.

Freezing out Trump doesn’t require any form of public diplomacy. It simply means that if or when the White House places a call to a foreign leader, said leader simply declines to make themselves available. “The Prime Minister is out right now. Would President Trump like to leave a message?”

Trump is the one who has chosen a path of isolation. Let him have it.

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Trump uses London attacks to promote his Muslim ban

The Independent reports: Donald Trump has been criticised for tweeting out unconfirmed information about the London Bridge terrorist attack and using the incident to argue in favour of his so-called Muslim travel ban.

The President re-tweeted a headline about the deadly incident at London Bridge and Borough Market from the Drudge Report, a right-wing outlet.

“Fears of new terror attack after van ‘mows down 20 people’ on London Bridge…” the headline read, which he re-tweeted on his personal Twitter account.

NBC responded with its own tweet, warning its audience not to rely on the President’s social media. [Continue reading…]


The morning after the attacks, America’s troll-in-chief is back on twitter:


“Our people” — there’s the dog whistle to Trump’s racist supporters!

And it’s swiftly followed by an attack on London’s Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan:


As a pathological liar, it’s hardly surprising that Trump would twist Khan’s words. What London’s mayor actually said was this:

Londoners will see an increased police presence today and over the course of the next few days. There’s no reason to be alarmed.

Khan made this statement today:


Donald Trump should study Sadiq Khan’s statement carefully — he might learn a thing or two about how political leaders need to respond responsibly to acts of terrorism.

Even so, the notion that Trump has the capacity to learn anything is probably fanciful.

Rather than ask how or if Trump might rise to the occasion in a time of crisis, it’s time for the GOP establishment to face reality.

Come the day that instead of turning to Twitter to find out what Trump thinks, we are instead turning on the TV to watch an unscheduled presidential statement, just imagine what will come after this:

After the horrific attacks we have witnessed, I have directed…

At which point we then get to see exactly how dangerous it was for a man this ill-prepared and uninformed, lacking in sound judgement, discernment, intelligence, and intellect, to assume the responsibilities of commander-in-chief.

How much longer America must suffer Trump’s presence in the White House is impossible to predict, but Britain can at least save itself the indignity of having him ride through London in a golden carriage. Buckingham Palace merely needs to relay the message that the Queen will remain “indisposed” for the foreseeable future.

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Trump believes money comes first — he doesn’t care about climate change

The press is currently engaged in an investigation of kinds about what Donald Trump currently believes about climate change.

Does he, as he has previously claimed, believe it is “a total, and very expensive, hoax!”? Or has he modified his earlier views?

On Friday, White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, claimed, “I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion.”

Inside the White House in recent days, aside from the ever present issue of what everyone needs to do to avoid getting thrown in jail, the issue of Trump’s statement on Paris must have been the center of many discussions during which Spicer was present. He might be afraid of asking questions, but he hasn’t lacked the opportunity to learn what Trump and his closest advisers think.

At the same time, we can confidently assume that during the period leading up to Trump’s “decision,” he was not engaged in an intense analysis of climate science and strategies for mitigating the global rise in greenhouse gases. That would have gone beyond Trump’s severely limited intellectual capacities and far beyond his level of interest in the issue.

What we do know is what Trump said on Thursday afternoon:

… the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord … but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris Accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we’re getting out. But we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.

What’s clear from this statement is that the heart of the issue for Trump is the cost. It’s all about money.

While Trump’s ignorance is perhaps unfathomable, we do know this much about how he views transactions: they involve an exchange of money. You pay something; you get something. And if you’re great at making deals, you get something that’s worth more than you paid for it.

If Trump believes that climate change is a hoax, then negotiating to reenter the Paris accord would be like negotiating how much you’re willing to pay for a building that doesn’t exist. The only fair deal would be no deal — there would be nothing to negotiate.

Needless to say, Trump’s proposition that the U.S. might renegotiate the accord is itself a hoax — he and the rest of the world knows this isn’t going to happen.

The issue here does not actually revolve around beliefs. It’s not a question of who is convinced or remains skeptical about the established conclusions of climate science.

Instead, it’s like this:

A chain-smoker talks to his doctor and his doctor tells him: “You need to stop smoking. These cigarettes are killing you.”

In response, the smoker has little interest in whether he was given sound medical advice. He simply knows that he enjoys smoking and has no intention of quitting.

For Trump and other addicts of the fossil-fuel lifestyle, the question of whether they are killing the planet is for them of little interest. All they care about is their attachment to their own lifestyle — to hell with humanity and the fabric of life on Earth.

The idea of exchanging a Suburban for a Prius is so offensive to their sense of material entitlement, it is for them immaterial what kind of rationale or what indisputable facts might justify this kind of lifestyle change.

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Donald Trump plays at being president. He doesn’t even pretend to be a world leader

At this stage in his performance — this act in The Trump Show which masquerades as a presidency — it should be clear to the audience that the motives of the man-child acting out in front of the world are much more emotive than ideological.

Trump has far more interest in antagonizing his critics than pleasing his base.

No doubt Trump came back from Europe believing that after suffering insults, he would get the last laugh. A senior White House official (sounding like Steve Bannon) described European disappointment about Trump’s decision on Paris as “a secondary benefit,” implying perhaps that the primary benefit would be the demolition of one of the key successes of his nemesis, Barack Obama.

Thus far, The Trump Show has largely been ritual designed to symbolically purge America of Obama’s influence.

To that end, Trump’s announcement on the Paris climate accord was turned into a Rose Garden event with live jazz. Had the “guests” been served with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres as they awaited the showman’s arrival, this would have been perfectly in keeping with the light, celebratory tone the White House wanted to set.

This wasn’t the articulation of a policy shift; it was a victory dance.

Before the star of the show came to the podium, his sycophantic, spineless sidekick, Mike Pence, gave Trump a predictably syrupy and fanciful introduction to applause and cheers from the goons (White House staffers?) whose role, whenever required, is to conjure the appearance of Trump’s popularity.

At the heart of this show is a man poisoned by the sense that he has always been deprived of the admiration he deserves. He postures as the golden glowing embodiment of success in his relentless effort to avoid being confronted with the reality of his pitiful worthlessness.

Right now, there is no one else on this planet who is despised as much as Donald Trump and there is no show, no executive order, and no tweet, that can undo this fact.

There is, however, a silver-lining to the disaster named Trump.

In the growing recognition that the United States currently effectively has no president, there are others capable and willing to step into the power vacuum. This is happening both outside and inside the U.S..

The Trumpsters might believe they are steering a course towards splendid American isolation, but much more likely they are deftly and unintentionally engineering their own marginalization.

Their grasp on power is tenuous; every loyalist is just a back-stabber in waiting.

Daniel Baer, Daniel Benjamin, Hal Brands, Reuben Brigety, Sharon E. Burke, Derek Chollet, Sheba Crocker, Dan Feldman, Jon Finer, Nina Hachigian, Colin H. Kahl, Kelly Magsamen, Jeffrey Prescott, Ely Ratner, Vikram Singh, Julie Smith, Jake Sullivan, and Jim Townsend write at Foreign Policy: Ever the showman, President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday about his soon-to-be-announced decision on whether or not to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement with the air of a 1950s Las Vegas emcee building up his audience’s anticipation for an upcoming act. But the decision to remove the United States from the long-negotiated, hard-fought, international agreement is no sideshow. This is about what’s in the best interests of American prosperity and security.

As promised, Trump stepped to the podium in the Rose Garden on Thursday afternoon, announcing that the United States would leave the Paris accord. The decision will have serious, irreversible repercussions for the United States and the world.

The president’s justifications for leaving the agreement are also just plain wrong.

First, contrary to the president’s assertions, America’s hands are not tied and its sovereignty is not compromised by the Paris climate pact. The Paris agreement is an accord, not a treaty, which means it’s voluntary. The genius (and reality) of the Paris agreement is that it requires no particular policies at all — nor are the emissions targets that countries committed to legally binding. Trump admitted as much in the Rose Garden, referring to the accord’s “nonbinding” nature. If the president genuinely thinks America’s targets are too onerous, he can simply adjust them (although we believe it would be shortsighted for the administration to do so). There is no need to exit the Paris accord in search of a “better deal.” Given the voluntary nature of the agreement, pulling out of the Paris deal in a fit of pique is an empty gesture, unless that gesture is meant to be a slap in the face to every single U.S. ally and partner in the world.

The second big lie is that the Paris agreement will be a job killer. In fact, it will help the United States capture more 21st-century jobs. That is why dozens of U.S. corporate leaders, including many on the president’s own advisory council, urged him not to quit the agreement. As a letter sent to the White House by ExxonMobil put it, the agreement represents an “effective framework for addressing the risk of climate change,” and the United States is “well positioned to compete” under the terms of the deal.

Action on climate and economic growth go hand in hand, and are mutually reinforcing. That is why twice as much money was invested worldwide in renewables last year as in fossil fuels, and why China is pouring in billions to try to win this market of the future. A bipartisan group of retired admirals and generals on the CNA Military Advisory Board is about to release a report that will also spell out the importance of competitiveness in advanced energy technologies — not just to the economy, but also to the country’s standing in the world. Pulling out of climate will result in a loss of U.S. jobs and knock the United States off its perch as a global leader in innovation in a quickly changing global economic climate.

The rationale for ditching America’s commitment to the Paris accord just doesn’t hold up. Moreover, Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement comes with several serious and lasting consequences for the United States and the world:

The Trump administration is hastening catastrophic effects of climate change. Scientists and economists now state with confidence that the failure to act to arrest and mitigate global climate change will have devastating global consequences, including for young Americans alive today and for their children and grandchildren. Donald Trump himself may well live to see more climate-related catastrophes hit the homeland. His children and grandchildren certainly will.

Americans all over this country are already seeing the changes — storms are more severe, big floods come more often, and in the most extreme case, Arctic waters are melting and opening up sea lanes for the first time in recorded history. Trump saw the damage from Hurricane Sandy firsthand, a preview of what climate change has in store for his children and grandchildren. Scientists and economists now state with confidence that the failure to act now to arrest and mitigate global climate change will have devastating global consequences,

Heading off the worst effects of climate change requires global action: Action by one country alone, no matter how powerful, cannot address the threat. But our country, one of the world’s two largest carbon emitters, does have significant power to improve not just our own climate, but the world’s — and Trump’s decision takes us in the wrong direction. That’s especially tragic in light of the signature achievement of the Paris Agreement, which was to get every country on board; now China and India have made the same commitments the United States and other highly developed countries have. It binds us all together through a political agreement — but the strength of that agreement depends on all of us meeting our nationally determined responsibilities.

Put simply, the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement will have impacts on the global climate that a future U.S. administration will not be able to undo. It will undermine the most significant and comprehensive coordinating mechanism for global action to combat climate change that we have. It will weaken an existing asset to defend present and future generations of Americans against a significant threat; it will undermine our security. Indeed, leading military experts, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, have warned that the impact of climate change will lead to more refugee flows, more famine, more conflict, and more terrorism. As Mattis said, “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.” By withdrawing from this agreement, Trump would be ignoring an issue his own secretary of defense has said is a national security threat. [Continue reading…]

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McMaster has no problem with Trump sharing any information with anyone

The Washington Post reports: H.R. McMaster, the president’s top security adviser, repeatedly described the president’s actions in a press briefing just a day after a Washington Post story revealed that Trump had shared deeply sensitive information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during an Oval Office meeting last week.

“In the context of that discussion, what the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged,” McMaster said. “It is wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary to advance the security of the American people. That’s what he did.”

McMaster refused to confirm whether the information the president shared with the Russians was highly classified. However, because the president has broad authority to declassify information, it is unlikely that his disclosures to the Russians were illegal — as they would have been had just about anyone else in government shared the same secrets. But the classified information he shared with a geopolitical foe was nonetheless explosive, having been provided by a critical U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so delicate that some details were withheld even from top allies and other government officials.

McMaster added that Trump made a spur-of-the-moment decision to share the information in the context of the conversation he was having with the Russian officials. He said that “the president wasn’t even aware of where this information came from” and had not been briefed on the source. [Continue reading…]

One might imagine that the position of national security adviser presupposes that any U.S. president needs sound national security advice.

H.R. McMaster seems to have relinquished that role by judging Trump capable of making any national security judgement on the fly as he sees fit.

McMaster’s circular logic appears to be that whatever Trump does is appropriate for no other reason than that it’s Trump’s choice.

For McMaster, if Trump thinks he’s advancing the security of the American people, then that’s good enough — irrespective of whether that is objectively the case.

Either out of blind loyalty or craven self-interest, McMaster has decided to portray Trump as more like a sovereign than president — Trump’s authority is apparently now above being questioned.

Most strangely and almost as an afterthought, McMaster seems to be suggesting that since Trump was ignorant about the source of the intelligence he spontaneously shared with the Russians, then Trump’s lack of awareness somehow mitigates the harm he just did.

What should by now be painfully obvious is that the notion of Trump being under adult supervision by the likes of McMaster, Tillerson, and Mattis, has and never had any real credibility.

No one with integrity would be willing to work for Trump.

It thus follows that anyone who has accepted such a position lacks integrity.

It further follows that anyone qualified to become director of the FBI should refuse the position, and anyone willing to accept it cannot be qualified.

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Trump may have just increased the risk of a terrorist attack on the U.S.

In response to the latest political firestorm Donald Trump has created, he has done what he usually does: jumped onto Twitter.


In other words, Trump divulged highly classified information with Russia because when it comes to fighting terrorism we’re all on the same side.

That’s the way it might look to an ignorant president and his equally ignorant supporters, but in reality the situation is much more complicated.

Just days ago, Alan Dershowitz criticized the hyperbolic tone of political discourse these days by tweeting:


Dershowitz’s reaction to the latest turn of events, however, showed that he is no less susceptible to extreme reactions — or that in this case he is correctly assessing the gravity of what just happened.


Dershowitz speculates that Israel may have been the source of intelligence that Trump revealed to the Russians:

“Let’s take the following hypothetical: What if it was Israel who provided this intelligence?” he said on an interview on MSNBC.

He warned that if Israeli intelligence was shared with Russia, then Russia could send it to Iran and Hezbollah, two of Israel’s foes.

The issue here may or may not be the content of the intelligence if it was gathered by Israel. Just as important would be the implied cooperation of any states in the region being seen to facilitate Israeli operations.

If, for instance, Israel, with Saudi Arabia’s consent, is gathering intelligence in Yemen, there can be little doubt that Russia and Iran could use this information to apply political pressure on the Saudis both in Yemen and Syria.

If as a result these intelligence gathering operations are curtailed this will then help ISIS and al Qaeda.

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The Trump Tapes


The Washington Post described this tweet as “an apparent attempt to threaten Comey,” while NBC News calls it “a stern warning.”

Trump’s intended insinuation would seem to be that the revelations from such “tapes” would show that Comey was lying.

But just a minute: this purported “threat” is coming from a man who has repeatedly insisted that he was a victim of wiretapping and who was publicly humiliated by Comey saying categorically that Trump’s belief was baseless.

In Trump World, if his conversations with Comey got taped, they got taped by Comey.

If he learned nothing else from Nixon, Trump surely learned that it’s never a good idea to gather evidence of ones misdeeds by keeping secret recordings of private conversations.

Moreover, Trump can hardly have forgotten that unwittingly being taped very nearly cost him the presidential election.

Trump’s early morning tweet might have been delivered in the form of a threat but what it really represents is a projection of his fears.

“James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Translation:

“Donald Trump now hopes the FBI didn’t tape his conversations with Comey, because if they were leaked, they would expose how Trump just lied on NBC.”

CNN now reports that as far as Comey is concerned, “if there is a tape, there’s nothing he is worried about,” — which is to say, nothing that Comey is worried about.

And that’s probably got Trump even more worried: Comey just left open the possibility that such a tape exists!

And maybe it does — and surely this is the stuff of Trump’s nightmares.

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Whoever replaces Comey needs to satisfy Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein

This is just my opinion, but the widely expressed view that Trump fired Comey in order to shut down the Russia investigation seems to overstate Comey’s role in an investigation that in his absence still proceeds.

The reports of Trump screaming at television coverage of the investigation, do not suggest that he is in the midst of a carefully crafted cover-up.

Most importantly, having publicly deferred to the judgement of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — as did Attorney General Jeff Sessions — Trump has effectively handed a veto to Rosenstein when it comes to the choice of Comey’s replacement.

By all appearances, Rosenstein’s allegiances are strictly constitutional and institutional. If Trump’s choice for a new FBI director appears tainted in any way and if this is not an individual of unquestionable independence and integrity, it seems reasonable to expect that Rosenstein will be shooting off another memo.

Who knows? If he objects to Trump’s choice, maybe Rosenstein would even have the guts to do something virtually unheard of in this era: resign on a matter of principle.

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The clever timing of the Macron data dump

An election whose outcome is widely perceived as a foregone conclusion, is an election sure to be met with widespread voter apathy. Combine that with the fact that many French voters have almost equal distaste for both candidates in Sunday’s election and the assumption that its outcome is certain becomes much more questionable.

Wikileaks/Julian Assange, posturing as an impartial observer, was quick to promote the #MacronLeaks hashtag and to focus on the timing of the “leak.”


The Wikileaks/Russian narrative is clear: don’t be misled by reports that reveal Russian involvement in this “massive leak.” It’s timing makes it clear that this is the handiwork of naive hackers who “don’t get timing.”

A stronger argument can be made, however, that the timing of this data dump, far from being curious or naive, was strategically chosen to be of maximum effect and that its intended effect, more than anything else, was to taint the election outcome. This has less to do with determining who becomes France’s next president than it has with poisoning the democratic process.

Think about it: A leak worthy of that label is by its nature revelatory. It brings to light information that was up until that moment, guarded in secrecy. That secrecy had been maintained purposefully to prevent the damaging effects of revelation.

The Macron data dump, however, was identified by its size rather than its content. The shorter the interval between its release and election day, the less time there would be to highlight its vacuity.

Moreover, in terms of political effect, the act and event of digital leaking has in this cynical era generally taken on more significance as a form of political theater than as an instrument of truth telling.

The leak makes the target look vulnerable and poorly equipped to handle the levers of state in a age that requires data security.

The hacker, like the terrorist, “wins” for no other reason than the fact that he couldn’t be stopped.

The cleverness of timing this attack on the French election minutes before political campaigning was legally required to end, was that #MacronLeaks would then be able to play out most freely in social media while France’s mainstream media would remain largely silent.

The overarching strategy here is one we’ve seen before: it’s about fabricating something out of nothing in order to foment and sustain a visceral mistrust that is immune to reason.

This hacking will have worked, like many before and many more to come, not because it raised awareness but because it can serve as an instrument for steering popular sentiment.

This is hacking as a form of advertising and thus its purpose is less to change the way people think than the way they feel.

In order to achieve its maximum effect, as Dominic Cummings, who ran Britain’s Vote Leave campaign, has noted, the crucial element in advertising is timing:

One of the few reliable things we know about advertising amid the all-pervasive charlatanry is that, unsurprisingly, adverts are more effective the closer to the decision moment they hit the brain.

In France, as has happened elsewhere, the war against democracy will continue to progress with or without spectacular victories, as citizens lose faith and lose interest in actively sustaining freedoms they have long taken for granted. #MacronLeaks advances that process.

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Is Julian Assange an idiot who has outlived his usefulness?

Michael Weiss writes: There is no one more zealous than a convert.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo previously welcomed WikiLeaks’ disclosures about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee when these proved helpful to the Republican nominee. Now he has experienced a road-to-Damascus moment.

“WikiLeaks,” Pompeo said at a think tank event last week, “walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service.” Pompeo also regards Julian Assange, the publisher of WikiLeaks and the lonely maintainer of its hyper-active Twitter account, as a “fraud.”

In a rather folksy fly-over metaphor, the former Kansas representative likened the albinoid antipodean anarchist to the Wizard of Oz, perhaps forgetting that the man behind the curtain turned out to be an all-right guy in the end rather than a helpmeet of European dictatorship and a purveyor of conspiracy theories about the Rothschilds.

Pompeo isn’t the only one who’s changed his mind about the man holed up for five long years at the Ecuador embassy in London. The U.S. Justice Department, headed by Jeff Sessions—a man who conveniently forgot while testifying before Congress that he twice met with the Russian ambassador to the United States—now considers arresting Assange a “priority.” [Continue reading…]

Arresting Assange is a “priority” of an undisclosed magnitude — I’m doubtful that it can be particularly high.

No doubt at a time when this administration is going out of its way to create the appearance that it has no ties to Russia, a tough-on-Wikileaks stance might seem desirable.

But let’s not forget that Assange himself has repeatedly claimed that he is willing to accept extradition to the United States.

So is it just a matter of time before the cable news networks will be able to feast on 24/7 coverage of the trial of the century?

Probably not.

Ignoring the question of whether the Justice Department can actually construct a legal case against Assange, I seriously doubt that the White House would welcome seeing him testifying in court. Indeed he might not even make it to his own trial if he sought and received immunity as an FBI witness.

The message that the U.S. wants to get its hands on Assange may have had less to do with challenging his ability to remain in refuge than it has with making sure he remains where he is. Likewise, he will probably remain a problem Moscow doesn’t need to solve so long as he stays put.

The irony is that if Assange had complied with Sweden’s request to question him in 2010, whatever the outcome of that interrogation, it is quite likely that by now he would be a free man. Instead he endures a self-imposed prison sentence for which there is no end in sight.

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The March for Science is a march against greed and ignorance

The organizers of tomorrow’s March for Science declare: “We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.”

I understand the desire to present this in nonpartisan, inclusive terms, and yet the urgent need to defend science comes from the fact that it now faces a concerted attack from the leaders of multiple government agencies including the occupant of the White House.

Moreover, this attack does not represent a counter-scientific body of opinion. On the contrary, what it represents is a body of interests that see in science a threat to their investments.

The strategy being pursued by those who see science as a threat to their wealth is to promote ignorance and erect barricades that are designed to obscure inconvenient truths.

This isn’t a debate in which a lack of appreciation for the value of science can be countered by the promotion of its virtues.

It is not a struggle of ideas through which a new paradigm replaces an outmoded system of belief.

It is a struggle of values standing up against those who prize their possessions more than truth or life itself.

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