Archives for July 2018

Inside Bannon’s plan to hijack Europe for the far-right

The Daily Beast reports:

Steve Bannon plans to go toe-to-toe with George Soros and spark a right-wing revolution in Europe.

Trump’s former White House chief advisor told The Daily Beast that he is setting up a foundation in Europe called The Movement which he hopes will lead a right-wing populist revolt across the continent starting with the European Parliament elections next spring.

The non-profit will be a central source of polling, advice on messaging, data targeting, and think-tank research for a ragtag band of right-wingers who are surging all over Europe, in many cases without professional political structures or significant budgets.

Bannon’s ambition is for his organization ultimately to rival the impact of Soros’s Open Society, which has given away $32 billion to largely liberal causes since it was established in 1984.

Over the past year, Bannon has held talks with right-wing groups across the continent from Nigel Farage and members of Marine Le Pen’s Front National (recently renamed Rassemblement National) in the West, to Hungary’s Viktor Orban and the Polish populists in the East.

He envisions a right-wing “supergroup” within the European Parliament that could attract as many as a third of the lawmakers after next May’s Europe-wide elections. A united populist bloc of that size would have the ability to seriously disrupt parliamentary proceedings, potentially granting Bannon huge power within the populist movement. [Continue reading…]

In private, Trump vents frustration over lack of progress on North Korea

The Washington Post reports:

When he emerged from his summit with Kim Jong Un last month, President Trump triumphantly declared that North Korea no longer posed a nuclear threat and that one of the world’s most intractable geopolitical crises had been “largely solved.”

But in the days and weeks since then, U.S. negotiators have faced stiff resistance from a North Korean team practiced in the art of delay and obfuscation.

Diplomats say the North Koreans have canceled follow-up meetings, demanded more money and failed to maintain basic communications, even as the once-isolated regime’s engagements with China and South Korea flourish.

Meanwhile, a missile-engine testing facility that Trump said would be destroyed remains intact, and U.S. intelligence officials say Pyongyang is working to conceal key aspects of its nuclear program.

The lack of immediate progress, though predicted by many analysts, has frustrated the president, who has fumed at his aides in private even as he publicly hails the success of the negotiations.

“Discussions are ongoing and they’re going very well,” Trump told reporters Tuesday. [Continue reading…]

If this is not treason, then what is it?

Daniel W. Drezner writes:

Last year, I speculated that Trump would engage in “omnibalancing”: “My fear is that the Trump White House will choose to tighten its relationship with foreign adversaries because they are viewed as less immediately threatening than either Congress or the special prosecutor.” Twelve months later, Congress has become very docile, but the special prosecutor has not.

Equally important, many Trump supporters have made the same call: better to side with the Russians than with fellow Americans of a different political persuasion:

Does this meet the constitutional threshold of “adhering to [America’s] enemies, giving them aid and comfort”? Maybe, but maybe not! Do not underestimate Trump’s super-ignorance.

Based on the actions of the Trump administration this week, reasonable people can disagree over whether treason is being committed. Let me repeat that: Reasonable people can disagree over whether treason is being committed by this White House.

I do not want to be writing those words. Much as I may have disagreed with previous administrations in my lifetime, I never doubted that the people in those administrations were trying to advance the national interest the best way they thought possible. After this past week, can that case be made with Trump and his national security team?

At some point, Trump will no longer be president. It will be tempting for whomever succeeds him to turn the page on history, declare bygones and move forward. Not me. The behavior of the Trump administration this week has been suspect. It demands a reckoning. [Continue reading…]

The Sierra Club declared war on Scott Pruitt — and won

Aaron Mak reports:

Of Scott Pruitt’s many bad weeks of press, the first week of June may have been his worst. Pruitt had been under scrutiny since his appointment as head of the Environmental Protection Agency for his close ties to the industries he was supposed to regulate. He had done little to quiet his skeptics. For the past few months, news stories had detailed his questionable interactions with energy lobbyists and exorbitant spending on air travel and security. By June, the stories had reached almost comical extremes. The heady week began when the Washington Post detailed his office’s purchase of a dozen fountain pens for $1,560. Three days later, the New York Times reported that he had directed an aide to acquire a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel. The next day, the Post revealed that Pruitt had used his position to try to land his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise.

Pruitt’s resignation on July 5 was the culmination of this relentless wave of scandals. (Chief of staff John Kelly reportedly called the agency to say it was time for Pruitt to go soon after a CNN story revealed that Pruitt had suggested to the president that he replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general.) Congressional investigators, whistleblowers, and reporters were all instrumental in unearthing the administrator’s ethical lapses and prompting his exit from office. But some of the wildest misconduct from the Pruitt era may never have made it into the public eye were it not for the Sierra Club, an advocacy organization that focuses on environmental policy.

Documents from the Sierra Club’s Freedom of Information Act requests led to stories about the used mattress and the Chick-fil-A franchise—likely violations of ethics rules stating that government officials cannot have staffers run personal errands for them or use their offices for personal gain. The club’s FOIA requests were what revealed that Pruitt’s top aide, Millan Hupp, had signed off on the purchase of the customized silver fountain pens and journals embossed with Pruitt’s signature, along with the total price of the order: $1,670. Hupp resigned on June 6, five days after the piece was published. [Continue reading…]

Support for the Endangered Species Act remains high as Trump administration and Congress try to gut it

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The endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep.
USFWS

By Jeremy T. Bruskotter, The Ohio State University; John A Vucetich, Michigan Technological University, and Ramiro Berardo, The Ohio State University

The Endangered Species Act, or “the Act,” is arguably the most important law in the United States for conserving biodiversity and arresting the extinction of species.

Congress passed the ESA in 1973 with strong bipartisan support (the House voted 355-4 in favor of the law) at the behest of a Republican president, Richard Nixon. Nixon had come to believe existing protections for threatened and endangered species were insufficient.

Since its passage, the Act has helped reverse and stop declines in numerous species – from bald eagles to Lake Erie watersnakes – and served as a model for similar laws around the world.

Nevertheless, criticism of the law has been a persistent feature of debates about whether and how to protect imperiled species. That criticism often comes from business and agricultural interests, who argue that the Act’s provisions excessively limit their ability to develop and manage private property.

Such criticisms led to a proposal by the Trump Administration this week to severely curtail the scope of the Act. And they have prompted recent congressional hearings and raised concern that support for the law may be waning.

We are ecologists and social scientists whose work often intersects with the Endangered Species Act. We wanted to know: Is public support for the Act declining? And if so, why?

[Read more…]

For Facebook, Trump is, above all, a valued customer

BuzzFeed reports:

In the days following Donald Trump’s election victory over Hillary Clinton, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg placed a secret, previously unreported call to the president-elect during which, sources told BuzzFeed News, he congratulated the Trump team on its victory and successful campaign, which spent millions of dollars on advertising with Facebook.

The private call between Zuckerberg and Trump, which was confirmed by three people familiar with the conversation, is just one in a series of private endorsements from Facebook employees of the Trump campaign’s ad efforts on the platform. The company declined to comment on the call. The White House press office did not respond to a request for comment.

While Facebook has been reluctant to publicly acknowledge how well Trump used its social network to reach voters, it has celebrated the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign internally as one of the most imaginative uses of the company’s powerful advertising platform. In addition to interviews with Trump campaign staffers and former Facebook employees, BuzzFeed News obtained company presentations and memos that show the social media giant viewed Trump’s campaign as an “innovator” of a fast-moving, test-oriented approach to marketing on Facebook.

These memos and presentations indicate Facebook took the methods it learned from the Trump campaign to further refine a marketing model called “Test, Learn, Adapt” (TLA), which it currently uses to assess its own advertising. These internal documents are a candid recognition by Facebook of the GOP candidate’s advertising success and reveal the degree to which the company views Trump not just as a potential regulator or a source of misinformation, but also, above all, a valued customer. [Continue reading…]

Trump’s War on the Poor has just begun

William J. Barber II and Karen Dolan write:

Mission accomplished in the “War on Poverty.” So declares the White House, which in a white paper released last week from the president’s Council of Economic Advisers claims that the war is “largely over and a success” and that it is time for more stringent work requirements for public assistance.

Never mind all the decades President Trump’s party has spent trashing anti-poverty programs to justify shredding them: The new narrative states that these programs have worked so well that U.S. poverty has been all but eradicated.

The programs stemming from President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 initiative have indeed improved the lives of millions of Americans. A Columbia University study found that poverty would be much worse today had it not been for food assistance, the earned income tax credit, Medicaid and the expansion of Social Security benefits.

But the scourge of poverty isn’t over in the world’s wealthiest nation. The Census Bureau’s supplemental poverty measure shows that more than 45 million people (14 percent of us) were impoverished in 2016. The rates are even higher for children under age 18 and seniors.

But that’s only the beginning. Almost 100 million more live at 200 percent of the poverty line, a more accurate indicator of a family’s ability to make ends meet.

All told, around 43 percent of us are poor or low-income, a report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and the Poor People’s Campaign found. And nearly half of all U.S. citizens would be unable to afford a $400 emergency, as per a 2016 Federal Reserve study. Disproportionately affected are people of color, Native Americans, people with disabilities, single mothers, children and transgender people. [Continue reading…]

Justice Department plans to alert public to foreign operations targeting U.S. democracy

The Washington Post reports:

The Justice Department plans to alert the public to foreign operations targeting U.S. democracy under a new policy designed to counter hacking and disinformation campaigns such as the one Russia undertook in 2016 to disrupt the presidential election.

The government will inform American companies, private organizations and individuals that they are being covertly attacked by foreign actors attempting to affect elections or the political process.

“Exposing schemes to the public is an important way to neutralize them,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who announced the policy at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. Rosenstein, who has drawn President Trump’s ire for appointing a special counsel to probe Russian election interference, got a standing ovation.“The American people have a right to know if foreign governments are targeting them with propaganda,” he said.

The Obama administration struggled in 2016 to decide whether and when to disclose the existence of the Russian intervention, fearing that without GOP participation it would be portrayed as a partisan move. Concerns about appearing to favor the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, weighed on President Obama, who was reluctant to give then-GOP-nominee Donald Trump ammunition for his accusation that the election was rigged.

“If this disclosure requirement had been around in 2016, I firmly believe that it would have served as a meaningful deterrent after Russia’s interference was first discovered, and it would have informed voters more quickly and more forcefully that a foreign government was tying to affect their vote,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who two years ago pressed the Obama administration to call out Russia’s activities.

Rosenstein said the Russian effort to influence the 2016 election “is just one tree in a growing forest. Focusing merely on a single election misses the point.” [Continue reading…]

Neurons can carry more than one signal at a time

Duke Today:

Back in the early days of telecommunications, engineers devised a clever way to send multiple telephone calls through a single wire at the same time. Called time-division multiplexing, this technique rapidly switches between sending pieces of each message.

New research from Duke University shows that neurons in the brain may be capable of a similar strategy.

In an experiment examining how monkeys respond to sound, a team of neuroscientists and statisticians found that a single neuron can encode information from two different sounds by switching between the signal associated with one sound and the signal associated with the other sound.

“The question we asked is, how do neurons preserve information about two different stimuli in the world at one time?” said Jennifer Groh, professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience, and in the department of neurobiology at Duke.

“We found that there are periods of time when a given neuron responds to one stimulus, and other periods of time where it responds to the other,” Groh said. “They seem to be able to alternate between each one.”

The results may explain how the brain processes complex information from the world around us, and may also provide insight into some of our perceptual and cognitive limitations. The results appeared July 13 in Nature Communications. [Continue reading…]

Music: Ariana and Amrina — ‘Pareek’