Archives for February 2019

The image of the body politic reminds us that we are all one

Nick Romeo and Ian Tewksbury write:

After escaping an assassination attempt earlier that morning, Cicero entered the senate under armed guard. It was 7 November 63 BCE, and the Roman Republic hovered on the brink of revolution. Catiline, the aristocrat behind the assassination plot, stood opposite. Faced with the man who had tried to kill him, Cicero gave one of the most powerful orations in all of antiquity: ‘O tempora, o mores!’(‘Oh these times! Oh the ways of men.’)

Central to Cicero’s speech is a provocative metaphor. The republic is a body, and Catiline a plague. Reasoning within this metaphor, Cicero prescribed a cure: to remove the disease, exile Catiline.

Cicero was utilising perhaps the most fundamental metaphor of political discourse: it runs through Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian war, anchors the political philosophy of Aristotle and Plato, and animates the rhetoric of Roman statesmen and Stoics. It re-emerges in the major political philosophers of the European tradition. Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Stuart Mill and many others deploy the metaphor to support a diverse range of arguments about human societies. We still speak casually of ‘heads’ of state and the long ‘arm’ of the law, of ‘backbones’, ‘heartlands’ and even ‘armpits’ of countries. Schools rally the ‘student body’, recruiters persuade people to join the marine ‘corps’, the press ‘corps’ or ‘corporations’ (all from the Latin corpus, for ‘body’).

The idea of political entities as figurative bodies doesn’t have a monopoly on metaphors for human collectives. Ancient Greek philosophers and historians often evoked the ‘ship of state’, an image that implies risk, a destination, and a crew and passengers with entangled fates; while those aboard have an interest in cooperating, they are not genetic relatives. The concept of a fatherland – the words ‘patriot’ and ‘paternal’ share Latin roots – goes further, joining citizens as metaphorical siblings with a common filial obligation to the state. But the body politic metaphor proposes something even more radical. Other people are not just related to you; they are you. [Continue reading…]

Against objections, Trump ordered officials to give Jared Kushner a security clearance and then lied about doing so

The New York Times reports:

President Trump ordered his chief of staff to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance last year, overruling concerns flagged by intelligence officials and the White House’s top lawyer, four people briefed on the matter said.

Mr. Trump’s decision in May so troubled senior administration officials that at least one, the White House chief of staff at the time, John F. Kelly, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been “ordered” to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance.

The White House counsel at the time, Donald F. McGahn II, also wrote an internal memo outlining the concerns that had been raised about Mr. Kushner — including by the C.I.A. — and how Mr. McGahn had recommended that he not be given a top-secret clearance.

The disclosure of the memos contradicts statements made by the president, who told The New York Times in January in an Oval Office interview that he had no role in his son-in-law receiving his clearance. [Continue reading…]

After Cohen’s hearing, the BuzzFeed bombshell that Mueller disputed looks better — and worse

Margaret Sullivan writes:

In mid-January, a BuzzFeed News report hit the news cycle like a mile-wide asteroid landing on Earth.

Its assertion was stunning: that President Trump had directed his fixer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress in 2017 about negotiations the previous year to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. And that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III possessed documentation of this; and further, that Cohen had acknowledged those instructions in interviews with Mueller’s office.

Suddenly, the word “suborning” was wildly trending because to induce someone to lie under oath is to suborn perjury — which happens to be a felony.

But then the explosive story seemed to fall apart. Other news organizations were unable to match it; they could not report their own versions of it with their own sources.

And then, stunningly, Mueller’s office issued a brief, devastating statement disputing aspects of the BuzzFeed report.

From glory to goat: The story once praised to the skies as brilliant, game-changing reporting was disparaged everywhere as altogether wrong. The Washington Post wrote an especially tough piece, positing Mueller’s statement as a takedown of the story generally, not merely a parsing of details.

Predictably, Trump jumped in, calling the story “a disgrace to journalism.” Even “Saturday Night Live” took aim, with Weekend Update co-anchor Colin Jost quipping, “The details were so sketchy that even Mueller’s team had to be like, ‘Okay, fake news.’ ”

But then, on Wednesday, along came Cohen himself in his long-delayed congressional testimony, an all-day television spectacle.

And if you believe him, you might be inclined to think that BuzzFeed mostly got it right. [Continue reading…]

Anyone could have seen Trump’s failure in Hanoi coming. Except Trump

Jeffrey Lewis writes:

As President Trump flew to Hanoi this week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders had a surprise announcement: Trump and Kim would meet earlier than expected, at a dinner on the first evening. The late announcement led skeptics to describe the dinner as an attempt to overshadow Michael Cohen’s embarrassing testimony about his work for Trump. But the last-minute dinner raised unexpected challenges. The two sides apparently struggled over the menu, with the White House pressing for simpler fare.

Even as a first-time novelist, I know this is called “foreshadowing.”

The dinner went well enough, according to reports, but during the meeting the next day, everything collapsed. Trump and Kim departed early, leaving behind a carefully prepared lunch of foie gras, snowfish and candied ginseng. Members of the U.S. delegation were seen grabbing burgers.

Trump and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho both gave news conferences after the talks broke down. While they characterized the cause of the collapse in different terms, the basic outlines are clear enough. Everyone seems to agree that North Korea offered to close its nuclear facilities at a place called Yongbyon. Yongbyon is not North Korea’s only source of fissile material for nuclear weapons, but it is an important site. In exchange, North Korea demanded what it described as “partial” relief from sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. Trump objected, insisting that Kim would have to close other sites involved in the production of nuclear weapons before any sanctions could be lifted. [Continue reading…]

India and Pakistan are already at war on truth

Pankaj Mishra writes:

In the predawn hours on Feb. 26, India launched an aerial attack — unprecedented in peacetime — on neighboring Pakistan, in retaliation for a suicide bombing 12 days earlier that killed more than 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers in the disputed valley of Kashmir. Pakistan predictably responded the next morning with its own air strike into Indian-controlled Kashmir.

The confrontation could spiral out of control quickly. But fortunately, apart from a wounded Indian pilot and a Pakistani villager hit by falling rubble, the only confirmed casualty so far seems to be truth. Right now, the more extensive and damaging war in South Asia is the multi-pronged assault on reality by the warriors of Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and hyper-nationalist news channels as well as mendacious governments.

India’s public sphere was the first to erupt with war cries. “Mess with the best,” declared one aged Bollywood action hero on Twitter, “die like the rest.” Even the few commentators ostensibly wary of Narendra Modi, India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister, succumbed to patriotic bloodlusts. India’s leading television channels vied with each other in urging more bombings and broadcasting transparently fake footage of the attack.

As this war porn went viral, it was hard not to feel déjà vu. A similarly murky “surgical strike” by Indian forces in retaliation for a 2016 terrorist attack in Kashmir also incited a euphoric unanimity — though it achieved nothing, apart from an abysmal Bollywood tribute. Enraptured by #surgicalstrike2 (the trending Twitter hashtag), far too many powerful and influential Indians appear determined to give war a chance. These smartphone bombardiers were shockingly incapable of grasping a simple fact — that assaulting hills and dales deep in Pakistani territory would do nothing to forestall more terrorist attacks in Kashmir while guaranteeing Pakistani escalation. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports:

Pakistan says it will release a captured Indian pilot as a “peace gesture” between the neighbours amid the gravest military crisis in the subcontinent in two decades.

Imran Khan, the country’s prime minister, told a joint sitting of parliament that the Indian wing commander, Abhinandan Varthaman, who was shot down over the heavily guarded ceasefire line in disputed Kashmir on Wednesday, would be released on Friday.

“We have captured an Indian pilot,” Khan said. “As a peace gesture, tomorrow we are going to release him.” [Continue reading…]

Netanyahu to be indicted on corruption charges

NBC News reports:

Israel’s attorney general announced Thursday that his office plans to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges after a two-year investigation.

The prime minister faces one count of bribery and three counts of breach of trust.

“The Attorney General, Avihai Mandelblit, has informed the Prime Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, through his attorney, that he is considering indicting him on several criminal charges,” according to a statement by Ministry of Justice spokesman Adi Livni.

Prosecutors would have to go forward with a pre-indictment hearing before Netanyahu is formally charged. [Continue reading…]

A Danish word the world needs to combat stress: Pyt

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Instead of overreacting to minor slights, it’s healthier to just say, ‘pyt.’
Ezume Images/

By Marie Helweg-Larsen, Dickinson College

Danes are some of the happiest people in the world, and they also happen to have a lot of cool words for ways to be happy.

You may have heard about “hygge,” which has been the subject of countless books, articles and commercials. Often mistranslated to mean “cozy,” it really describes the process of creating intimacy.

But another word “pyt” – which sort of sounds like “pid” – was recently voted the most popular word by Danes, beating out “dvæle” (to linger) and “krænkelsesparat” (ready to take offense).

Pyt doesn’t have an exact English translation. It’s more a cultural concept about cultivating healthy thoughts to deal with stress. As a native Dane and a psychologist, I think the concepts that underpin the word are applicable to people everywhere.

[Read more…]

Music: Grover Washington Jr — ‘Mister Magic’


The ocean is running out of oxygen, scientists warn

Laura Poppick writes:

Escaping predators, digestion and other animal activities—including those of humans—require oxygen. But that essential ingredient is no longer so easy for marine life to obtain, several new studies reveal.

In the past decade ocean oxygen levels have taken a dive—an alarming trend that is linked to climate change, says Andreas Oschlies, an oceanographer at the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel in Germany, whose team tracks ocean oxygen levels worldwide. “We were surprised by the intensity of the changes we saw, how rapidly oxygen is going down in the ocean and how large the effects on marine ecosystems are,” he says.

It is no surprise to scientists that warming oceans are losing oxygen, but the scale of the dip calls for urgent attention, Oschlies says. Oxygen levels in some tropical regions have dropped by a startling 40 percent in the last 50 years, some recent studies reveal. Levels have dropped more subtly elsewhere, with an average loss of 2 percent globally.

Ocean animals large and small, however, respond to even slight changes in oxygen by seeking refuge in higher oxygen zones or by adjusting behavior, Oschlies and others in his field have found. These adjustments can expose animals to new predators or force them into food-scarce regions. Climate change already poses serious problems for marine life, such as ocean acidification, but deoxygenation is the most pressing issue facing sea animals today, Oschlies says. After all, he says, “they all have to breathe.” [Continue reading…]

As House Republicans attacked Cohen, none defended Trump

David Frum writes:

Michael Cohen’s testimony to the House Oversight Committee was uncontradicted. The former personal attorney of the president of the United States today accused him of a litany of crimes, improprieties, immoralities, and betrayals of national security. And not one Republican member of the committee breathed one word in defense of the leader of their party.

Those Republicans have learned the hard way never to trust President Donald Trump’s denials.

Read: Eight striking moments from Michael Cohen’s testimony

Did he direct payoffs to a porn star? Trump denied it. It was true.

Was the Trump Organization pursuing a hotel project in Moscow while he was running for president? Trump denied it. That was true too.

Did his campaign meet with someone claiming to be an agent of the Russian state to seek dirt on Hillary Clinton? Denied. True.

Was there fraud at the Trump Foundation? Denied. True.

Who wants to be the member of Congress recorded for posterity rejecting Cohen’s testimony that Roger Stone informed Trump in advance of the impending WikiLeaks dump?

Who doubts that Trump helped shape Michael Cohen’s false testimony to Congress? Who wants to take the other side of the bet from Representative Ocasio-Cortez that Trump provided false financial information to insurance companies and local tax authorities? Who feels confident that Donald Trump Jr. did not lie to Congress when he denied that Trump had foreknowledge of the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting?

Evidently, no Republican on the Oversight Committee. [Continue reading…]