Archives for May 2019

Greens surge as parties make strongest ever showing across Europe

The Guardian reports:

Green parties have swept to their strongest ever showing in European elections, boosting their tally of MEPs to a projected 71 compared with 52 last time. The result gives them every chance of becoming kingmakers in a newly fragmented parliament.

“Thank you so much for your trust in us Greens,” a delighted Ska Keller, one of the European Greens’ two lead candidates for the post of European commission president, told a press conference in Brussels.

“This is a mandate for real change: for climate protection, a social Europe, more democracy and stronger rule of law.” Above all, Keller said, the Greens “want to achieve climate action now – because if we wait any longer, it will be a disaster”.

Any parliamentary group that wanted Green support would have to “deliver on our three key principles: climate action, civil liberties and social justice”, she said. “For us it’s clear: this is all about content.”

With the European parliament’s main centre-right and centre-left groups both losing seats and their historic joint majority, and populist Eurosceptic parties returning in larger numbers than before, Green MEPs’ votes could well prove critical to a broad pro-EU alliance in the 751-seat assembly.

The Greens’ surge was strongest in Germany, where Die Grünen finished second behind Angela Merkel’s centre-right CDU with 21% of the vote, according to provisional estimates – nearly double their 2014 total. [Continue reading…]

Methane being released faster than ever, posing new threat to Paris climate goals

The Independent reports:

Record levels of methane in the atmosphere will make it even harder to reach targets set by the Paris climate agreement, scientists have warned.

Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found increasing amounts of the potent greenhouse gas were coming from the tropics.

They are uncertain about the source but believe it is likely to be due to microbial changes in methane-belching tropical wetlands. They believe warmer temperatures could be causing them to emit more methane than ever before.

“Methane’s unexpected rise is a major challenge to the Paris agreement and we don’t know why it’s happening,” Euan Nisbet, professor of earth sciences at Royal Holloway University of London, told the Financial Times.

“It looks very much as if the warming is feeding the warming, but exactly how is a major puzzle,” he said.

Methane is the second largest cause of human-induced global warming after carbon dioxide. It is 28 times more potent and can trap heat in the atmosphere for more than 100 years.

Researchers found the amount of methane released increased by 50 per cent between 2013 and 2018 compared with the five years before. [Continue reading…]

Trump’s EPA is ‘cooking the books’ to justify its attack on clean air rules

Think Progress reports:

Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to distort the way it measures the benefits of some of the agency’s most impactful policies, regulations that safeguard human health by limiting air pollution. The primary beneficiary of such distortion? The coal industry.

When the government evaluates the health and financial benefits of clean air, the calculation typically incorporates the number of lives saved and the scale of reduced health impacts thanks to reducing pollution — also known as “co-benefits.” Incorporating these factors into a cost-benefit analysis forms the very foundation upon which many environmental protections are based.

But now, experts warn the EPA is opening the door to industry challenges to these clean air rules by changing the way it evaluates the long-accepted science on the risk of particulate matter — microscopic particles polluting the air that are linked to increased heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory disease.

The agency may also be laying the groundwork, experts say, for using these “biased and misleading” calculations in other policy contexts. That fear was stoked by a new EPA memo released this week, ushering in a formal process to change the way the agency calculates its cost-benefit analysis across a slew of issues, from water pollution to pesticides. [Continue reading…]

Trump turns the full force of the government on perceived political enemies

NBC News reports:

President Donald Trump found four former federal officials guilty of “treason” Thursday — and then commissioned his intelligence agencies to help the Department of Justice prove it.

At the same time, he is blocking Congress from executing its constitutional duty to execute oversight of his administration, not only with regard to his campaign’s ties to Russia and the interference detailed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation but also on a host of other fronts.

He’s wielding power in ways not seen in the United States in generations, if ever, and which many experts say do not resemble global norms for heads of state.

“This is really a feature of petty dictators, where you see the power of investigation abilities being used as a political tool against enemies,” Claire Finkelstein, the director of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania’s law school, said in a telephone interview. [Continue reading…]

NSA cyberweapon, on the loose, now wreaks havoc across America

The New York Times reports:

For nearly three weeks, Baltimore has struggled with a cyberattack by digital extortionists that has frozen thousands of computers, shut down email and disrupted real estate sales, water bills, health alerts and many other services.

But here is what frustrated city employees and residents do not know: A key component of the malware that cybercriminals used in the attack was developed at taxpayer expense a short drive down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway at the National Security Agency, according to security experts briefed on the case.

Since 2017, when the N.S.A. lost control of the tool, EternalBlue, it has been picked up by state hackers in North Korea, Russia and, more recently, China, to cut a path of destruction around the world, leaving billions of dollars in damage. But over the past year, the cyberweapon has boomeranged back and is now showing up in the N.S.A.’s own backyard.

It is not just in Baltimore. Security experts say EternalBlue attacks have reached a high, and cybercriminals are zeroing in on vulnerable American towns and cities, from Pennsylvania to Texas, paralyzing local governments and driving up costs.

The N.S.A. connection to the attacks on American cities has not been previously reported, in part because the agency has refused to discuss or even acknowledge the loss of its cyberweapon, dumped online in April 2017 by a still-unidentified group calling itself the Shadow Brokers. Years later, the agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation still do not know whether the Shadow Brokers are foreign spies or disgruntled insiders.

Thomas Rid, a cybersecurity expert at Johns Hopkins University, called the Shadow Brokers episode “the most destructive and costly N.S.A. breach in history,” more damaging than the better-known leak in 2013 from Edward Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.

“The government has refused to take responsibility, or even to answer the most basic questions,” Mr. Rid said. “Congressional oversight appears to be failing. The American people deserve an answer.” [Continue reading…]

The spy case that made Adam Schiff a Russia hawk

Zach Dorfman writes:

On September 25, 1984, three officials from the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco departed for San Francisco Airport to meet with their counterparts from Seattle and exchange confidential “pouched” diplomatic materials.

This exchange happened every other Tuesday, and each time, the Soviets were tailed by a van full of San Francisco-based FBI counterintelligence officials. Although the FBI knew the Soviets were aware of this surveillance, the Bureau didn’t try to conceal it either, according to the Los Angeles Times, which recounted this event from later court testimony.

But this Tuesday in 1984 was different. Normally, there were only two Soviet officials meeting the Seattle diplomats at the airport, not three. And in addition to the usual FBI surveillance team, the Bureau had assigned 20 more agents to track the movement of the third man, Aleksander Grishin, an accredited diplomat—and a Soviet intelligence officer.

When the Soviet officials entered the airport, with FBI agents watching, Grishin detached himself to make a call at a pay phone. Hundreds of miles down the coast, FBI counterintelligence agents working out of a makeshift base of operations in a Los Angeles motel listened as Svetlana Ogorodnikov, a 34-year-old Soviet émigré who had been on the FBI’s radar, picked up the phone in her Hollywood apartment. It was Grishin. Speaking in coded Russian, he asked if she had made arrangements with an “acquaintance” to fly to Europe that October. Ogorodnikov confirmed she had.

This was no ordinary FBI surveillance operation: The “acquaintance” Grishin referred to was himself an FBI agent—a man who, out of greed, desperation, and spite, had begun an affair with Ogorodnikov and agreed to sell classified information to the Soviet government. Eventually, this man—Richard W. Miller, a 47-year-old Los Angeles-based counterintelligence agent on the Bureau’s Soviet squad—would become the first FBI agent ever convicted of espionage.

And the man who would finally secure Miller’s conviction in 1990—after three trials over the course of six years—was a young U.S. attorney in Los Angeles: Adam Schiff. [Continue reading…]

Like humans, ravens mirror the distress they witness in others, study suggests

Katherine J. Wu reports:

Seeing someone else suffer a big disappointment can have a pretty damaging effect on your own morale. That’s definitely the case with people—and it might be true for ravens, too.

New research suggests that, like humans and many other mammals, common ravens (Corvus corax) can read and internalize the emotional states of others. In the study, published today in the journal PNAS, ravens watch their friends grapple with a frustrating task in which they’re denied a tasty treat. Though the onlookers aren’t deprived of anything, they then seem to mirror their partners’ discontent, and start behaving pessimistically themselves.

Unlike people, ravens can’t speak freely about their emotional distress. But these results hint at the tantalizing possibility that humans aren’t alone in their interconnectedness, and could provide early evidence of something akin to empathy in birds.

“This paper is a tremendous step forward in being able to understand the evolutionary roots of empathy,” says Kaeli Swift, an animal behaviorist and corvid expert at the University of Washington who was not involved in the study. “I think it would be too far to say that [this paper shows] ravens are empathetic…but this work could be foundational in eventually arriving at that conclusion.” [Continue reading…]

Music: Jorge Glem & César Orozco — ‘Merengue Today’

 

The U.S. media is in the crosshairs of the new Assange indictment

Jack Goldsmith writes:

I have written a lot on how hard it is to distinguish WikiLeaks from the New York Times when it comes to procuring and publishing classified information. One implication of the comparison is that any successful prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would have adverse implications for mainstream U.S. news publications efforts to solicit, receive and publish classified information. The May 23 indictment of Assange makes clear that these concerns are real. As Susan Hennessey said, “[I]t will be very difficult to craft an Espionage Act case against him that won’t adversely impact true journalists.” I don’t think this is an accident. I think the government’s indictment has the U.S. news media squarely in its sights.

The first sentence of the indictment reads:

To obtain information to release on the WikiLeaks website, ASSANGE encouraged sources to (i) circumvent legal safeguards on information; (ii) provide that protected information to WikiLeaks for public dissemination; and (iii) continue the pattern of illegally procuring and providing protected information to WikiLeaks for distribution to the public.

This is exactly what national security reporters and their news publications often ask government officials or contractors to do. Anytime a reporter asks to receive information knowing it is classified, that person encourages sources to circumvent legal safeguards on information. The news organizations’ encouragement is underscored by the mechanisms they provide for sources to convey information securely and anonymously. [Continue reading…]

Trump’s drastic escalation of his yearslong assault on the intelligence community

The New York Times reports:

President Trump tried somewhat clumsily last year to revoke the security clearance of the former C.I.A. director who played a role in opening the Russia investigation. He then wanted to release classified documents to prove he was the target of a “witch hunt.”

Both attempts petered out, hampered by aides who slow-rolled the president and Justice Department officials who fought Mr. Trump, warning he was jeopardizing national security.

But this week, Attorney General William P. Barr engineered a new approach. At Mr. Barr’s urging, Mr. Trump granted him new authorities to examine the start of the Russia investigation, demonstrating a new level of sophistication for an old line of attack. Unlike Mr. Trump’s hollow threats and name-calling, Mr. Barr’s examination of how the intelligence community investigated the Trump campaign could offer a more effective blueprint for the president to take aim at his perceived political enemies.

“The president is not known for the precision, judiciousness or thoughtfulness of his attacks, but he is in attack mode here and we seem to be opening a new front,” said David Kris, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division during the Obama administration.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department and a lawyer for Mr. Trump did not respond to messages seeking comment. Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday that he hoped the attorney general “looks at everything, because there was a hoax that was perpetrated on our country.”

Mr. Trump took the highly unusual step on Thursday of granting Mr. Barr the power to declassify the most closely guarded secrets of the C.I.A. and the country’s 15 other intelligence agencies. Mr. Barr had asked for the authority to facilitate his review of the intelligence agencies’ involvement in the early stages of the Russia investigation.

The president delegated it hours after declaring that several officials overseeing the investigation had committed treason, a capital offense. [Continue reading…]