Archives for June 2018

News and the forgotten value of waiting

If someone wanted to create a parody of cable news, it would be hard to satirize the form more effectively than to cast Wolf Blitzer as the lead character in a goofy show called The Situation Room, where all news all the time is breaking news.

The irony of the fact that CNN’s news show of that name is, on the contrary, meant to be taken seriously, is that it does indeed capture the zeitgeist of the news media environment in which we now live — an environment, driven largely by social media, that maximizes the value of the nowness of news while eviscerating the value of its content.

News nowadays has such a short shelf-life, it’s already stale before it gets packaged.

The obvious explanation for this state of affairs is that while journalism is and always has been a mad race to get there first, the driving forces behind that race now operate outside the control of traditional news organizations.

Yet that dynamic does not, it seems to me, fully account for what’s going on.

The over amplified urgency of news, mirrors a much broader social malaise. People everywhere, but especially in America, have been conditioned to feel that there is no experience in life more intolerable than having to wait.

To wait is to be tortured by a cavity that urgently demands filling.

Waiting destabilizes the nervous system and seemingly the only way most people can prevent an imminent seizure or some other kind of systemic breakdown these days is by clutching the ubiquitous grounding device upon which everyone now depends: their smart phone — a grounding device that helps each user feel connected by disconnecting them from where they are.

In response to a pandemic of impatience, the news media, like Amazon Prime, caters to and cultivates a sense that waiting is one step away from dying and conversely that a life lived to the full is a life in which we never have to wait — for anything. We want everything now.

In truth, as we lose the capacity to wait, we regress to (or never grow out of) a state of infantilism. Our expectation that everything should be available on demand, far from shaping the perfect life, has instead become an unremitting source of stress.

We have become enslaved by our impatience — there is no liberty in this addiction.

Impatience is the incapacity to find ease in the present moment.

Rather than treating the present as a fertile space in which the unexpected can freely emerge, we demand that it conform to our expectations. We struggle to shape what will be while continuously turning away from what is.

In so doing, we are forever struggling to inhabit a world of our designs, while shielding ourselves from the world in which we live.

Since so much of what passes for news describes circumstances in which people have died, it is strange that questions about life and death somehow fall outside the purview of most journalists — as though cold facts are all that matter.

The shooting at the offices of The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, yesterday afternoon illustrate how thinly sliced a story becomes when reduced to a short string of facts — the names of the gunman and his victims, statements from law enforcement, gleanings from social media, and then a robotic presidential response.

Jarrod Warren Ramos will have his day in court, while his random victims have been deprived of theirs. Maybe he’ll dispute the suggestion that his killing spree was random. Strangely, the local police, while emphasizing that their investigation would be slow and thorough, nevertheless went out of their way to dampen speculation that this might be a random attack on journalists incited by Donald Trump and the alt right — as though by describing Ramos’ attack as “targeted,” they had sealed off the crime scene from the media-hostile environment in which it took place.

There may come a day when the full story is told, yet the faster the spinning top of news coverage turns, the smaller the space in which patient storytelling can unfurl.

In our eagerness to consume the news as fast as it comes, like a snake eating itself, we consume our capacity to digest information, ruminate on its meaning and engage the world thoughtfully with reflective minds and open hearts.

Americans broadly favor legal immigration as support for increasing levels rises

Pew Research Center:

While there has been considerable attention on illegal immigration into the U.S. recently, opinions about legal immigration have undergone a long-term change. Support for increasing the level of legal immigration has risen, while the share saying legal immigration should decrease has fallen.

The survey by Pew Research Center, conducted June 5-12 among 2,002 adults, finds that 38% say legal immigration into the United States should be kept at its present level, while 32% say it should be increased and 24% say it should be decreased.

Since 2001, the share of Americans who favor increased legal immigration into the U.S. has risen 22 percentage points (from 10% to 32%), while the share who support a decrease has declined 29 points (from 53% to 24%). [Continue reading…]

The fate of the Supreme Court could ride on these 2 senators

Politico reports:

Sen. Susan Collins took a notable phone call Thursday as she enters the eye of the Supreme Court confirmation storm: It was White House counsel Don McGahn, sounding out the moderate Maine Republican in what she called a “preliminary discussion” of the high court vacancy.

Republicans control the Senate by a single seat and Arizona Sen. John McCain has been absent for months. That means any single GOP senator has enormous sway over President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court pick.

None matter more than Collins and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who also received her own call from McGahn on Thursday.

A year ago, the two moderate Republicans, along with McCain, stopped Obamacare repeal in its tracks while helping to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Now, as they weigh how to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, the two are about to be squeezed more than ever — by liberals seeking a Republican to stop the court from outlawing abortion rights, among other potential conservative rulings, and by their fellow Republicans looking for a show of party unity on a hugely consequential vote.

But the two senators said Thursday they won’t simply fall in line behind whomever Trump nominates. [Continue reading…]

North Korea’s nuclear program ‘continuing at a rapid pace’

The Guardian reports:

North Korea has continued to upgrade its only known nuclear reactor used to fuel its weapons program, satellite imagery has shown, despite ongoing negotiations with the US and a pledge to denuclearise.

Infrastructure improvements at the Yongbyon nuclear plant are “continuing at a rapid pace”, according to an analysis by monitoring group 38 North of commercial satellite images taken on 21 June.

The cooling system for the plutonium production reactor has been modified and at least two new non-industrial buildings have been built on the site, possibly for use by visiting officials. A new engineering office building has been completed and construction has continued on support facilities throughout the complex, according to a blog post written by Frank V Pabian, Joseph S Bermudez Jr and Jack Liu. [Continue reading…]

How the ‘Bad Boys of Brexit’ forged ties with Russia and the Trump campaign — and came under investigators’ scrutiny

The Washington Post reports:

On Aug. 19, 2016, Arron Banks, a wealthy British businessman, sat down at the palatial residence of the Russian ambassador to London for a lunch of wild halibut and Belevskaya pastila apple sweets accompanied by Russian white wine.

Banks had just scored a huge win. From relative obscurity, he had become the largest political donor in British history by pouring millions into Brexit, the campaign to disentangle the United Kingdom from the European Union that earned a jaw-dropping victory at the polls two months earlier.

Now he had something else that bolstered his standing as he sat down with his new Russian friend, Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko: his team’s deepening ties to Donald Trump’s insurgent presidential bid in the United States. A major Brexit supporter, Stephen K. Bannon, had just been installed as chief executive officer of Trump’s campaign. And Banks and his fellow Brexiteers had been invited to attend a fundraiser with Trump in Mississippi.

Less than a week after the meeting with the Russian envoy, Banks and firebrand Brexit politician Nigel Farage — by then a cult hero among some anti-establishment Trump supporters — were huddling privately with the Republican nominee in Jackson, Miss., where Farage wowed a foot-stomping crowd at a Trump rally. [Continue reading…]

Special counsel eyeing Russians granted unusual access to Trump inauguration parties

ABC News reports:

Several billionaires with deep ties to Russia attended exclusive, invitation-only receptions during Donald Trump’s inauguration festivities, guest lists obtained by ABC News show.

These powerful businessmen, who amassed their fortunes following the collapse of the Soviet Union — including one who has since been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department — were ushered into events typically reserved for top donors and close political allies and were given unprecedented access to Trump’s inner circle.

Their presence has attracted the interest of federal investigators probing Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, three sources with knowledge of the matter said. [Continue reading…]

Ex-aide to Roger Stone is subpoenaed in Russia investigation

The New York Times reports:

A former aide to Roger J. Stone Jr., the longtime Trump adviser and self-described “dirty trickster,” was subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury hearing evidence in the Russia investigation and to hand over documents, and his lawyer moved on Thursday to quash it in court.

The aide, Andrew Miller, has not been mentioned before publicly in the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.

Mr. Miller, a registered Libertarian, worked briefly for Mr. Stone around the time of the Republican National Convention in 2016, helping to arrange media interviews and conducting other tasks, according to a person close to Mr. Stone. Mr. Miller was also an aide on the campaign for New York governor in 2010 of Kristin M. Davis, a former madam, whose main adviser was Mr. Stone. [Continue reading…]

Space is full of dirty, toxic grease, scientists reveal

The Guardian reports:

It looks cold, dark and empty, but astronomers have revealed that interstellar space is permeated with a fine mist of grease-like molecules.

The study provides the most precise estimate yet of the amount of “space grease” in the Milky Way, by recreating the carbon-based compounds in the laboratory. The Australian-Turkish team discovered more than expected: 10 billion trillion trillion tonnes of gloop, or enough for 40 trillion trillion trillion packs of butter.

Prof Tim Schmidt, a chemist at the University of New South Wales, Sydney and co-author of the study, said that the windscreen of a future spaceship travelling through interstellar space might be expected to get a sticky coating.

“Amongst other stuff it’ll run into is interstellar dust, which is partly grease, partly soot and partly silicates like sand,” he said, adding that the grease is swept away within our own solar system by the solar wind.

The findings bring scientists closer to figuring out the total amount of carbon in interstellar space, which fuels the formation of stars, planets and is essential for life. [Continue reading…]

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the legacy of the Bernie Sanders movement

Benjamin Wallace-Wells writes:

Twenty-seven thousand people cast votes on Tuesday in the Democratic primary in New York’s Fourteenth Congressional District, and most of them voted for a twenty-eight-year-old left-wing political newcomer named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Just nine months ago, Ocasio-Cortez had been tending bar at a Mexican restaurant near Union Square. Her incumbent opponent, the longtime congressman Joseph Crowley, has represented the area since Ocasio-Cortez was in elementary school, and was, until now, widely seen as a future contender to become House Speaker.

Last month, Crowley’s victory looked so assured that he sent a surrogate to a debate with Ocasio-Cortez rather than attend himself. Crowley had been handpicked for his seat in Congress years ago by Thomas Manton, the last great boss of the Queens Democratic machine. But the Fourteenth District—a collection of mostly working-class neighborhoods straddling Queens and the Bronx—is now half Hispanic and just a fifth white. Crowley’s loss to the daughter of working-class Puerto Ricans confirmed a change in outer-borough political power that has both been inevitable and long delayed. But it was more than that, too. During her campaign, Ocasio-Cortez called for Congress to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, pledged her support for a federal jobs guarantee and Bernie Sanders’s Medicare-for-all program, called for aggressive antitrust regulation that would break up the tech giants, and ran with the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America. For a while this spring, the midterms looked increasingly predictable and contained: it would be a partisan fight between Donald Trump and his opponents, waged in a fixed number of swing districts. Ocasio-Cortez’s victory suggests that the map may be larger than that. [Continue reading…]

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez writes:

Discussions of reforming our criminal justice system demand us to ask philosophical and moral questions. What should be the ultimate goal of sentencing and incarceration? Is it punishment? Rehabilitation? Forgiveness? For Catholics, these questions tie directly to the heart of our faith.

Solutions are already beginning to take shape, which include unraveling the War on Drugs, reconsidering mandatory minimum sentencing and embracing a growing private prison abolition movement that urges us to reconsider the levels at which the United States pursues mass incarceration. No matter where these proposals take us, we should pursue such conversations with an openness to change and an aim to rehabilitate our brothers and sisters wherever possible and wherever necessary. By nature, a society that forgives and rehabilitates its people is a society that forgives and transforms itself. That takes a radical kind of love, a secret of which is given in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And let us not forget the guiding principle of “the least among us” found in Matthew: that we are compelled to care for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and, yes—the imprisoned.

The Republican Supreme Court and the era of minority rule

Jonathan Chait writes:

Democrats have won the national vote in six of the last seven presidential elections, which, with the retirement of Anthony Kennedy, will have resulted in the appointment of eight of the Supreme Court’s nine justices. And yet four of those justices will have been appointed by presidents who took office despite having fewer votes than their opponent. Republicans will have increasingly solid control of the court’s majority, with the chance to replace the sometimes-wavering Kennedy with a never-wavering conservative movement stalwart.

Over the last generation, the Republican Party has moved rapidly rightward, while the center of public opinion has not. It is almost impossible to find a substantive basis in public opinion for Republican government. On health care, taxes, immigration, guns, the GOP has left America behind in its race to the far right. But the Supreme Court underscores its ability to counteract the undertow of its deepening, unpopular extremism by marshaling countermajoritiarian power. [Continue reading…]

Jack Goldsmith writes:

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s retirement from the Supreme Court after more than 30 years of service is the most consequential event in American jurisprudence at least since Bush v. Gore in 2000 and probably since Roe v. Wade in 1973. For three decades, he has been a guiding force on the court’s most consequential decisions, conservative and liberal. His departure leaves the future of U.S. constitutional law entirely up for grabs.

Kennedy made it to the highest court in the land after Ronald Reagan’s failed selections first of Robert Bork and then Douglas Ginsburg. When the Reagan administration looked for a safer choice, it turned to the soft-spoken, bookish Californian who ran his father’s law practice and taught constitutional law before becoming a respected appellate judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The Senate confirmed Kennedy 97 to 0 on Feb. 3, 1988.

Kennedy dominated the direction of the court in its most important decisions from the beginning, and especially in recent years. One proxy for an ideologically contested case is when the court splits 5 to 4. In his 31 terms on the Court, Kennedy led or tied for the most 5-to-4 cases in the majority a remarkable 20 times, including every term but one since swing justice Sandra Day O’Connor retired in 2006. His vote was extraordinarily consequential. [Continue reading…]