Archives for February 2019

Obstruction of justice: Inside Trump’s two-year war on the investigations encircling him

The New York Times reports:

As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.

Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to “jump on a grenade” for the president, knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge because Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation. The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.

Trying to install a perceived loyalist atop a widening inquiry is a familiar tactic for Mr. Trump, who has been struggling to beat back the investigations that have consumed his presidency. His efforts have exposed him to accusations of obstruction of justice as Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, finishes his work investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. [Continue reading…]

Labour MPs have no other choice than to stay with Corbyn or leave the party

Rafael Behr writes:

When does a church become so broad that its congregants no longer profess the same faith? For Labour, that challenge goes beyond the present rows over Brexit and antisemitism. It drills into deep ideological faultlines.

Corbyn’s party has no leftmost boundary. There is no form of radical socialism that it deems taboo. It welcomes people who wave hammer and sickle flags, whether they are unaware of atrocities committed under that banner or simply relaxed about them. It is not controversial in the Labour leader’s office to see the fall of the Berlin Wall as a sad event. Corbyn’s inner circle includes former senior Communist party members and Stalinists.

A lot more than seven Labour MPs think Britain would be badly governed by such people and that the levers of state power – the army, police and security services – must never come under their hands.

The usual defence against charges that the party has been captured by extremists is to wave the 2017 election manifesto. It pledges nothing more sinister than a spot of light renationalisation, which is meant to prove that the whole project would look centrist by the standards of continental Europe. If it seems ultra-left it is only because Margaret Thatcher sent Britain hurtling off to the right. Many Labour moderates suspect the trajectory is to a darker place, and it is more than a hunch. Their view is based on the Corbyn’s past associations, familiarity with the tactics of the hard left at local party level and the invective of online trolls. But that is thin evidence in the court of members’ opinion. The leader’s testimony as a mild-mannered peacenik is more persuasive. So the question of what Corbynism really means has been parked. The model could be anywhere between Venezuelan socialism and Swedish social democracy. It can sound revolutionary for whipping up passions at a rally and reasonable for reassuring swing voters. It wants to abolish capitalism at the demo but only to reform it on the doorstep.

Those are not pillars supporting the same roof of a broad church. They are rival conceptions of what a government is for. [Continue reading…]

Bernie Sanders hires seasoned progressive, Faiz Shakir, as campaign manager

The Daily Beast reports:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has tapped Faiz Shakir to serve as his campaign manager for his second run at the White House, The Daily Beast has learned.

In hiring Shakir, Sanders brings into the fold one of the Democratic Party’s better-traveled operatives—an official with limited campaign experience but with ties to the party’s think tank infrastructure, its Hill operations, and the larger progressive universe.

Shakir joins the Sanders operation from the American Civil Liberties Union where he served as national political director since early 2017. Before joining the ACLU, he was a senior adviser to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and before that he worked with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). He first made a name for himself as an editor at the website ThinkProgress, the news arm associated with, though editorially independent of, the powerhouse Democratic think-tank Center for American Progress. [Continue reading…]

Alabama newspaper editor incites murder. Calls on KKK to go to Washington to lynch Democrats

The New York Times reports:

The editor and publisher of a small Alabama newspaper called for the Ku Klux Klan “to night ride again” against tax-raising politicians, prompting a fierce backlash and calls for his resignation.

The editor, Goodloe Sutton, published the editorial in the Thursday edition of The Democrat-Reporter, a weekly newspaper in Linden, Ala., that had about 3,000 subscribers in 2015. The editorial went largely unnoticed until Monday, when two student journalists shared photographs of it online and local news outlets reported on it.

“Time for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again,” the editorial began, according to the clips posted online. “Democrats in the Republican Party and Democrats are plotting to raise taxes in Alabama.”

In the editorial, Mr. Sutton blamed Democrats for the United States’ involvement in both world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the nation’s long-running involvement in the Middle East. He confirmed his authorship of the piece in an interview with The Montgomery Advertiser in which he suggested that the Klan “go up there and clean out D.C.”

“We’ll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them,” he told a reporter from that publication. Mr. Sutton could not immediately be reached on Tuesday. [Continue reading…]

Egypt turns back veteran New York Times reporter

The New York Times reports:

Egyptian officials detained a New York Times correspondent after he arrived in Cairo on Monday, holding him incommunicado for hours before forcing him onto a flight back to London without explanation.

The move against the correspondent, David D. Kirkpatrick, is an escalation of a severe crackdown against the news media under Egypt’s strongman leader, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Egyptian journalists have borne the brunt of Mr. el-Sisi’s repression, with dozens imprisoned or forced into exile. But of late, a lack of pushback from the United States has emboldened Egypt’s security forces to take stronger action against representatives of Western news outlets, including expulsion.

The Egyptian authorities routinely denounce human rights groups, independent journalists and other critics as agents of foreign powers or purveyors of fake news. Their language often echoes that coming from Washington.

Defenders of press freedom worry that President Trump’s outbursts — such as a Twitter post last weekend that read “THE RIGGED AND CORRUPT MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” — embolden autocrats around the globe to take aggressive action against the news media.

Despite growing human rights abuses in Egypt, Mr. Trump counts Mr. el-Sisi among his closest allies in the Middle East and has described him as a “great guy.” During a speech in Cairo in January, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered further praise for Mr. el-Sisi. [Continue reading…]

January was one of the warmest in all of recorded history

Eric Holthaus writes:

January 2019 was the third-warmest January in the history of global weather record-keeping, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The only warmer global Januarys in the instrumental record, which dates back to the 1880s, were 2016 and 2017, and there’s evidence that the planet hasn’t been this warm in a very long time. The last time January global temperatures were below average was in 1976 — before millennials were even a thing.

So here’s the strange truth: Last month may have felt cold where you live, but your senses were deceiving you. We’ve forgotten what “normal” weather feels like, so global warming is gaslighting us.

[Continue reading…]

Our large brains evolved thanks to an ancient ‘arms race’ for resources and mates

File 20170724 24368 xrasqv.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

JuliusKielaitis / shutterstock

By Mark Maslin, UCL

Human society rewards individuals who can handle complex social interactions and control large groups of people. Extreme examples of this power are comedians who can fill stadiums entertaining 70,000 people, or politicians who, through their rhetoric and charm, convince millions of us to vote for them so they can run our lives. Intelligence, humour, and charisma are used to co-opt a greater share of resources for themselves and their family. In fact, many scientists now think this is exactly why we evolved a very large brain.

Originally, large brains were thought to be essential for the making of stone tools, and this is why Homo habilis (skillful man) was thought to be the start of our Homo genus some 2.5m years ago. But we now know that many other animals make and use tools. We also know hominins living 3.3m years ago were already using stone tools half a million years before Homo evolved.

So why did we evolve a large brain if it wasn’t essential for tool making? One reason is that existing in a large social group is very mentally taxing. Those who are better at playing the social game will have more access to mates and resources and will be more likely to reproduce. As the groups get larger, so the computational power needed to keep up with the interconnections grows exponentially, as does the stress.

[Read more…]

Music: Arve Henriksen — ‘Recording Angel’


Surge in U.S. economists’ support for carbon tax to tackle climate change

The Financial Times reports:

US economists led by former US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen are uniting in record numbers to back the idea of a carbon tax as the most effective and immediate way of tackling climate change.

At a time when Democrats including New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are pushing a sweeping “Green New Deal” programme to reduce greenhouse emissions, climate change is shaping up to be a major 2020 election issue. The US is the world’s second-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, behind China.

But Ms Yellen told the Financial Times the Green New Deal was costly, whereas the carbon tax, which would plough proceeds back to the public in dividend payments, would be the “most efficient way” to reduce emissions.

“Global climate change is a very serious problem and it calls for immediate national action,” she said. “If you were to start around $40 a ton and then raise this over time, by more than the rate of inflation, this would be a very effective way of reducing carbon emissions and would more than meet the Paris commitment.”

The carbon tax proposal, organised by the Climate Leadership Council, is a bipartisan effort that has united senior economists from both parties, and now garnered 3,300 signatures from professional economists and academics across the US. [Continue reading…]

The migrant caravan: Made in USA

Roberto Saviano writes:

The migrant caravan that left Honduras and headed north toward the US last October is the largest flight from drug trafficking in history. Though the phenomenon of Central American caravans isn’t new, never before have thousands of people decided to flee from criminal organizations in such numbers. It is, in a sense, the biggest anti-mafia march the world has ever seen.

The migrants departed from San Pedro Sula, the second-largest city in Honduras and its economic center, not far from the Guatemalan border. Roughly 160 people had arranged to meet at the city’s bus terminal on October 12, the date of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. By the time they set out, their number had grown to a thousand. People choose to leave together to shield one another, to protect themselves from being robbed along the way of the little they have. The alternative is to rely on coyotes (human traffickers), who charge seven or eight thousand dollars, sometimes more, to take migrants to the US—sums that can take decades of work to save, and that many borrow from criminals to whom they are then indebted for life. To leave in such a large group, then, is a form of defense against crime.

San Pedro Sula may not be well known, but from 2011 to 2014 it was the most violent city in the world. (Caracas took the title in 2015.) The only thing to do there is escape. The crime syndicates, which have complete control over the region and the power of life and death over its people, have in recent years plunged Honduras into an unofficial state of war. In 2012 the country had the highest murder rate in the world: nationally 90 people per 100,000 inhabitants were killed, but in San Pedro Sula the rate was 169 per 100,000. So far the provisional data for 2018 show the national murder rate to be down to about 40 per 100,000. Despite the decline, the murder rate remains extremely high—the US rate, by comparison, is fewer than 5 per 100,000 inhabitants. [Continue reading…]