Archives for November 2018

A world stage for unapologetic murderers

Politico reports:

The strongmen are rampaging across the world stage with impunity, and they know it.

Only moments after European Council President Donald Tusk used a news conference to urge G20 leaders to address Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and Saudi Arabia’s evident disregard for human rights, video footage of the leaders’ arrivals showed Russian President Vladimir Putin slapping hands in jovial fashion with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as they took their seats for the summit’s opening session.

It was a striking display of locker-room camaraderie between the two vilified tough guys — Putin, the former KGB agent who has been Russia’s supreme leader for just shy of two decades, and the young monarch who, according to Western and Turkish intelligence, ordered the killing and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

If Putin was feeling any concern about Tusk’s vow that Western economic sanctions against Russia would be extended yet again in January, he did not give the smallest hint of it. And if the crown prince was worried in the slightest about the international condemnation that he has faced in recent weeks, there was also no indication as he adjusted his gold-trimmed thawb and took his seat at the conference table.

Indeed, the only tough guy in Argentina who seems to be having the slightest trouble these days is U.S. President Donald Trump, who flew to Buenos Aires amid the latest blockbuster developments in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian collusion with the Trump election campaign. [Continue reading…]

America’s systemic failings

Julian E. Zelizer writes:

The federal government released a devastating report last week documenting the immense economic and human cost that the U.S. will incur as a result of climate change. It warns that the damage to roads alone will add up to $21 billion by the end of the century. In certain parts of the Midwest, farms will produce 75 percent less corn than today, while ocean acidification could result in $230 billion in financial losses. More people will die from extreme temperatures and mosquito-borne diseases. Wildfire seasons will become more frequent and more destructive. Tens of millions of people living near rising oceans will be forced to resettle. The findings put the country on notice, once again, that doing nothing is a recipe for disaster.

Yet odds are that the federal government will, in fact, do nothing. It’s tempting to blame inaction on current political conditions, like having a climate change denier in the White House or intense partisan polarization in Washington. But the unfortunate reality is that American politicians have never been good at dealing with big, long-term problems. Lawmakers have tended to act only when they had no other choice.

It took a brutal Civil War to end slavery. Bankers avoided regulation until the financial system totally collapsed in the early 1930s. Americans saw southern police brutality on their television sets before civil-rights legislation could get through Congress. Widespread dissatisfaction with the health-care system has resulted in only a patchwork solution (the Affordable Care Act). Mass shootings have still not yielded effective gun control. [Continue reading…]

No deal or no Brexit if MPs vote down May plan, says Tusk

The Guardian reports:

The European council president, Donald Tusk, has said the UK is prepared to either cancel Brexit or to depart with no deal if MPs vote down the settlement secured by Theresa May with Brussels.

Speaking at the G20 summit in Argentina, Tusk said there was no other deal on offer and the only alternatives were remaining in the EU or leave with no deal.

“The European Union has just agreed an orderly divorce with the United Kingdom,” he said. “A few days before the vote in the House of Commons it is becoming more and more clear that this deal is the best possible, in fact the only possible one.

“If this deal is rejected in the Commons, we are left with, as was already stressed a few weeks ago by prime minister May, an alternative. No deal or no Brexit at all. I want to reassure you that the EU is prepared for every scenario.” [Continue reading…]

The Guardian also reports:

Theresa May’s plans to get her Brexit deal through parliament ran into fresh difficulties on Friday as it emerged that a “no to no deal” amendment submitted by Labour’s Hilary Benn with the support of two Tories had won the backing of the SNP and Lib Dems.

Joanna Cherry, an SNP frontbench MP, said her party’s 35 MPs would support Benn’s “excellent” amendment, which rejects both May’s deal and a no-deal Brexit and gives parliament a say in what the government would do next.

The Lib Dems also said they would give their support, alongside Labour and the Tory rebels who declared their backing on Thursday, meaning that it has a chance of success if the other minor parties and a dozen or so more Conservatives follow suit.

Benn said his amendment declined to approve May’s deal, rejected the UK leaving the European Union without a deal, and “enables parliament to express a view, to see if there was an alternative that could get support”. [Continue reading…]

Sheryl Sandberg is said to have asked Facebook staff to research George Soros

The New York Times reports:

Sheryl Sandberg asked Facebook’s communications staff to research George Soros’s financial interests in the wake of his high-profile attacks on tech companies, according to three people with knowledge of her request, indicating that Facebook’s second in command was directly involved in the social network’s response to the liberal billionaire.

Ms. Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, asked for the information in an email to a senior executive in January that was forwarded to other senior communications and policy staff, the people said. The email came within days of a blistering speech Mr. Soros delivered that month at the World Economic Forum, attacking Facebook and Google as a “menace” to society and calling for the companies to be regulated.

Ms. Sandberg — who was at the forum, but was not present for Mr. Soros’s speech, according to a person who attended it — requested an examination into why Mr. Soros had criticized the tech companies and whether he stood to gain financially from the attacks. At the time, Facebook was under growing scrutiny for the role its platform had played in disseminating Russian propaganda and fomenting campaigns of hatred in Myanmar and other countries.

Facebook later commissioned a campaign-style opposition research effort by Definers Public Affairs, a Republican-linked firm, which gathered and circulated to reporters public information about Mr. Soros’s funding of American advocacy groups critical of Facebook.

Those efforts, revealed this month in a New York Times investigation, set off a public relations debacle for Ms. Sandberg and for Facebook, which was accused of trafficking in anti-Semitic attacks against the billionaire. Facebook quickly fired Definers. [Continue reading…]

Meet the spiders that feed milk to their young

The New York Times reports:

The act of breast-feeding is so fundamental to being a mammal that we named ourselves after it. (“Mammalis” translates to “of the breasts.”) But over time, scientists have discovered that other animals also produce nutrient-rich elixirs to feed their young, including flamingos, cockroaches and male emperor penguins.

The latest addition to the cast of organisms that lactate — or something like it — is a species of jumping spider.

Researchers in China have discovered that females of the Toxeus magnus spider secrete a milk-like fluid to feed their offspring. The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, also found the arachnid mothers continue to provide the fluid, which contains about four times as much protein as cow’s milk, well after their spawn had become young adults.

Though the spiders aren’t using mammary glands to produce the fluid, and hence are “lactating” in name only, the findings should prompt scientists to reconsider what they know about nursing and how it evolved, the researchers said.

“Finding such mammal-like behavior in a spider, or in any invertebrate for that matter, was a surprise,” said Richard Corlett, a conservation biologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and an author of the study. [Continue reading…]

Music: Steve Reich — ‘Six Marimbas’


Trump Organization planned to give Putin $50 million penthouse in Trump Tower Moscow

BuzzFeed reports:

President Donald Trump’s company planned to give a $50 million penthouse at Trump Tower Moscow to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the company negotiated the luxury real estate development during the 2016 campaign, according to four people, one of them the originator of the plan.

Two US law enforcement officials told BuzzFeed News that Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer at the time, discussed the idea with a representative of Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary.

The Trump Tower Moscow plan is at the heart of a new plea agreement by Cohen, who led the negotiations to bring a gleaming, 100-story building to the Russian capital. Cohen acknowledged in court that he had lied to Congress about the plan in order to protect Trump and his presidential campaign.

The revelation that representatives of the Trump Organization planned to forge direct financial links with the leader of a hostile nation at the height of the campaign raises fresh questions about President Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin. [Continue reading…]

Jeffrey Toobin writes:

The question at the heart of the Russia investigation has always been one of motive. Why has Donald Trump, both as a candidate and as the President, been so solicitous of Russia and of its leader, Vladimir Putin? Why did Trump praise Putin so obsequiously during the campaign? Why did the Trump campaign steer the Republican Party platform in a more pro-Russia direction? Why does Trump still refuse to criticize Putin and Russian actions around the world?

The guilty plea that Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, entered on Thursday morning, at a federal-court hearing in Manhattan, goes a long way toward answering those questions. Once again, with Trump, it seems, the answers come down to money. In September of last year, in testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Cohen said that he made efforts on Trump’s behalf to negotiate the building of a Trump Tower in Moscow but that those efforts had ended in failure, in January of 2016, and were rarely discussed again. But, on Thursday, Cohen admitted that this had been a lie; he acknowledged that he had continued to negotiate on Trump’s behalf well into 2016, until at least June, when Trump was already the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee. In other words, while Trump was running for President, his company was simultaneously (and secretly) negotiating with Russia to build a tower. Since Putin and his government effectively control all such developments in Russia, they held the fate of the project in their hands. As I wrote in the magazine in February, Trump had dreamed of building in Moscow for decades, and had travelled to the Russian capital as far back as the nineteen-eighties to try to make it happen. (Not incidentally, when I spoke to Cohen for the February story, he told me the same lies about the project that he had told the Senate.)

The timing of Cohen’s guilty plea is significant. It seems that the prosecution team, led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, delayed Cohen’s admission of guilt until after Trump and his legal team had submitted the President’s written answers to Mueller’s questions, which he did earlier this month. Mueller surely asked Trump about the Moscow negotiation, and the President’s answers were likely locked in before he and his lawyers could factor in Cohen’s admissions. If those answers were to conflict with Cohen’s latest version of events, it would potentially be a matter of great peril for the President. Mueller’s prosecutors made it clear in court on Thursday that they believe that Cohen is now telling the truth. The charging document from the guilty plea, prepared by the Mueller office, shows that Cohen’s account is corroborated by multiple contemporaneous e-mails between him and an “Individual 2,” who is likely Felix Sater, a frequent Trump business associate. (Sater is not named in the document.)

On Thursday morning, as Trump was leaving the White House for the Group of 20 summit, in Buenos Aires, he both minimized Cohen’s new version of the facts and asserted that the new version is false. (“Michael Cohen is lying and he’s trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me.”) Trump said that his Moscow deal was widely known when he was running for President (it wasn’t), and that, as a private developer, he was entitled to make such deals. He then cancelled a previously announced meeting with Putin at the G-20, allegedly because of Russia’s current dispute with Ukraine. [Continue reading…]

How Donald Trump appeals to men secretly insecure about their manhood

Eric Knowles and Sarah DiMuccio write:

From boasting about the size of his penis on national television to releasing records of his high testosterone levels, President Trump’s rhetoric and behavior exude machismo. His behavior also seems to have struck a chord with some male voters. See, for example, the “Donald Trump: Finally Someone With Balls” T-shirts common at Trump rallies.

But our research suggests that Trump is not necessarily attracting male supporters who are as confidently masculine as the president presents himself to be. Instead, Trump appears to appeal more to men who are secretly insecure about their manhood. We call this the “fragile masculinity hypothesis.” Here is some of our evidence.

Research shows that many men feel pressure to look and behave in stereotypically masculine ways — or risk losing their status as “real men.” Masculine expectations are socialized from early childhood and can motivate men to embrace traditional male behaviors while avoiding even the hint of femininity. This unforgiving standard of maleness makes some men worry that they’re falling short. These men are said to experience “fragile masculinity.”

The political process provides a way that fragile men can reaffirm their masculinity. By supporting tough politicians and policies, men can reassure others (and themselves) of their own manliness. For example, sociologist Robb Willer has shown that men whose sense of masculinity was threatened increased their support for aggressive foreign policy.

We wanted to see whether fragile masculinity was associated with how Americans vote — and specifically whether it was associated with greater support for Trump in the 2016 general election and for Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections. [Continue reading…]

40,000 Syrian refugees remain trapped in U.S.-created no-man’s land

Rozina Ali writes:

After months of negotiations, a convoy of sixty-seven aid trucks recently crossed a stretch of desert in southern Syria controlled by the Syrian government and its Iranian allies, before entering territory administered by a small, U.S.-backed rebel group. The trucks carried food, medicine, and winter coats for a fetid refugee camp known as Rukban, home to some forty thousand civilians who have been trapped in a strip of land wedged between Syria and Jordan, and cut off from the outside world since 2015. It was the first aid to reach the camp since January—and the new supplies should last only a month. No one knows when, or if, another shipment will arrive.

Rukban lies in a thirty-five-mile-wide internationally-recognized demilitarized zone created by the United States and Russia, though neither Washington nor Moscow takes responsibility for it. It is populated by Syrians who fled the violence of both the Bashar al-Assad regime and isis, and, until the recent delivery, the Syrian government had refused to allow aid convoys to pass through its territory to reach the camp. Jordan has blocked humanitarian organizations from reaching the area, too. Aid organizations “always tell us, ‘We are doing our best,’ ” Mahmoud Qassem Almaili, a resident of the camp who serves on its civil council, told me over the phone recently. “But it’s all only promises.”

United Nations officials say that Rukban’s residents live in “dire” conditions: hunger and the threat of malnutrition are growing; there are a hundred and fifty urgent medical cases but not a single certified doctor there to treat them; last month, two children died awaiting medical care; and reports are circulating of child marriages, child soldiers, and prostitution. In a conflict known for its staggering humanitarian crises, camp residents feel that Rukban is a symbol of the international community’s inability—or unwillingness—to help Syrians. [Continue reading…]

Europe’s Jew hatred, and ours

Bari Weiss writes:

Paris. Toulouse. Malmo. Copenhagen. Brussels. Berlin.

For most people, they are lovely cities where you might happily take a holiday. But for the world’s Jews, they are something else, too. They are place names of hate.

Paris for us doesn’t mean just baguettes and Brie but also this year’s murder of a Holocaust survivor in her apartment in the 11th arrondissement and the 2015 siege of a kosher supermarket during which four people were killed. Toulouse is the place where in 2012 three Jewish children and a teacher were murdered at school.

Malmo doesn’t call to mind the Swedish coast so much as fire bombs planted outside a Jewish burial chapel. Copenhagen? Copenhagen is where a 37-year-old Jewish economist and voluntary security guard was gunned down as he was guarding a bat mitzvah at the city’s main synagogue in 2015. (The notion that synagogues require armed guards has long since stopped making us flinch.)

Brussels is where in 2014 four people were murdered at the Jewish museum. Berlin is a dateline we associate with news of people getting pummeled or harassed, for the sin of wearing a kippah or speaking Hebrew.

And this is to say nothing of the nonviolent attacks, which are impossible to keep up with. The desecration of cemeteries. Swastikas painted on synagogues and schools. Calling Jews “apes and pigs” at anti-Israel rallies.

On Tuesday, a CNN poll about the state of anti-Semitism in Europe startled many Americans — and confirmed what Jews who have been paying attention already knew about the Continent.

Not 74 years since the Holocaust ended, a third of respondents said they knew only a little or nothing at all about it.

The poll, which surveyed more than 7,000 people across Austria, France, Germany, Britain, Hungary, Poland and Sweden, didn’t only discover ignorance. It exposed bigotry. [Continue reading…]