Archives for June 2019

How the Sunrise Movement changed the Democratic conversation

Ruairí Arrieta-Kenna writes:

“When we were taught about the civil rights movement as kids, it was told to us as if a few big marches just happened and then the laws changed,” Emily LaShelle told me last weekend as she smoked a cigarette. Behind her, a group of her peers played Frisbee in a field while the sun set behind them. “But there was so much more work and effort by activists behind the scenes,” she said. “And that’s the kind of work we’re teaching people to be involved in for this movement.”

LaShelle is 21, with short-cropped blond hair and a nose piercing. Her movement is the Sunrise Movement, an organization of mostly twenty-something climate activists who are best known for seemingly instantly and improbably injecting the idea of a “Green New Deal” into the national conversation. This past week, more than 70 Sunrise activists, including LaShelle, traveled to a rural, multifaith retreat center along the Hudson River, about 50 miles north of New York City, to take part in a weeklong boot camp that’s intended to transform them into the next generation of climate activists—who, in turn, are supposed to transform American politics.

Sunrise has already moved shockingly swiftly on that front. Last November, Sunrise activists joined newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a splashy protest at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office that catapulted the group to national relevance. The resulting publicity added thousands of people to the group’s ranks of supporters and active volunteers. Less than a year later, Sunrise’s proposal for a Green New Deal has gone from being widely mocked as an overly ambitious socialist fantasy (or the “Green Dream,” in Pelosi’s words) to being endorsed by 16 of the Democrats running for president—most recently by none other than Joe Biden. Four years after it was founded by several activists in the fossil-fuel divestment movement on college campuses and a climate policy researcher supported by the Sierra Club, Sunrise has become an influential force not just in climate activism but in Democratic politics. And its oldest staff member is only 33. [Continue reading…]

Joe Biden and the ‘electability’ delusion — and why the media keep making the same mistake

Margaret Sullivan writes:

As Iowa journalist Robert Leonard talks to voters around his state, he finds himself baffled at the national portrayal of Joe Biden’s dominance in the presidential campaign.

The local Democrats he encounters respect the former vice president, he told me, but many of them also feel his time has passed.

They’re far more excited about other candidates, five in particular: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.); Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.; Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.); former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.).

So he shakes his head at the extensive coverage and commentary that depicts Biden as almost a shoo-in for a nomination that’s more than a year away.

One example: CNN’s morning briefing newsletter recently called Biden “the most formidable threat” to President Trump’s reelection chances.

CNN is far from alone. It’s common across the national media to see Biden pegged as the safest candidate for Democrats to put up to unseat Trump. He’s got that secret sauce: electability.

“Sure, Democrats think he’s electable, but they believe a half-dozen other candidates are, too,” Leonard, the news director of two Iowa radio stations, told me. “No one I have spoken with sees Biden as more formidable than other top candidates.”

But this thinking — much of it driven by early polling — creates a self-perpetuating effect: Biden is the front-runner, so he gets more media coverage. [Continue reading…]

Sucker: Netanyahu’s ‘Trump Heights’ publicity stunt fools no one — except for Trump

BBC News reports:

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has unveiled a new settlement in the occupied Golan Heights, named after US President Donald Trump.

At a naming ceremony on Sunday, Mr Netanyahu said Trump Heights honoured Mr Trump for his decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the territory.

Building work has yet to begin but a sign bearing Mr Trump’s name and US and Israeli flags was unveiled.

Critics called the move a publicity stunt with no legal authority.

Israel seized the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. In March, the US became the first country to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the area since Israel effectively annexed it in 1981.

On Sunday, Israel’s cabinet approved Mr Netanyahu’s resolution for an “initiative to establish” a new Golan Heights community.

But the resolution falls short of declaring the establishment of a settlement, and no money has yet been earmarked for construction.

Political opponents of the scheme have also noted that, legally, no new localities can be established before Israel’s elections in September.

“Anyone who reads the fine print in this ‘historic’ decision will understand that this is nothing more than a nonbinding, fake policy,” former cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser told the Times of Israel. [Continue reading…]

‘Trump Heights’: Population ‘four, seven, or ten people — no one knows’


What made Sarah Huckabee Sanders so good at being so despicable

Lili Loofbourow writes:

Sanders didn’t just defend the president from the effects of his own statements; she offered herself as a kind of prosaic presence whose function it was to act like anything Trump did, no matter how shocking, was no big deal. She exemplified the stolid approval Trump wanted for everything from family separations to tax cuts for the rich. As her tenure ends, we can now see how much her reliance on reassuring phrases like “make a determination”—and unblinkingly calling lies differences of opinion and hush payments not worth discussing—provided a kind of muted laugh track to the terrible show being forced upon America. Rather than laugh at unfunny jokes, she loyally normalized despicable conduct.

Her value—and Scaramucci never understood this—was her ability to do this in a distinctly un-Trumpish way. Rather than be sensational or offensive or inflammatory, Sanders was staid and dull. In an era characterized by “White House in chaos” headlines, her repressive calm served an essential function. “Sanders possesses a unique talent that, heretofore, has not quite been considered a talent: She can deaden a room,” Jason Schwartz wrote at Politico. As a public servant, Sanders was abysmal. As a public speaker, she was subpar. But as the first line of Trump’s defense, she was absolutely indispensable. [Continue reading…]

Kenneth Clarke: ‘If there’s no other way you’ve got to bring the government down’

The Observer reports:

Since he entered parliament in 1970, Kenneth Clarke has served under eight Conservative leaders, from Edward Heath to Theresa May. He has also stood three times, in 1997, 2001 and 2005, to be Tory leader himself during difficult periods for his party. But throughout it all he has never known a political crisis remotely like the present.

Now aged 78, he still describes himself as “a natural optimist”. But a combination of Brexit and the Tory leadership contest are testing his positive thinking to its limits.

“As someone who has seen a few leadership elections in my time, this one’s quite different,” Clarke said in an interview with the Observer last week, within hours of the announcement that Boris Johnson had stormed into the lead in the first round. “This is a tragic farce of a crisis in which anger and protest are wide sentiments across the public scene. The Conservative party is in turmoil internally and deeply unpopular with the general public.”

As a lifelong europhile its hurts Clarke, who as father of the House of Commons is its most senior MP, to think that he will be retiring at the next election with what he calls this “extreme crisis” caused by Brexit overshadowing everything. He describes leaving the EU as a “crazy decision” – one which will leave in ruins much of what he has tried to do over the past five decades. [Continue reading…]

These animal migrations are huge — and invisible

Carl Zimmer writes:

Last week, ladybugs briefly took over the news cycle.

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service were looking over radar images in California on the night of June 4 when they spotted what looked like a wide swath of rain. But there were no clouds.

The meteorologists contacted an amateur weather-spotter directly under the mysterious disturbance. He wasn’t getting soaked by rain. Instead, he saw ladybugs. Everywhere.

Radar apparently had picked up a cloud of migrating ladybugs spread across 80 miles, with a dense core ten miles wide floating 5,000 feet to 9,000 feet in the air. As giant as the swarm was, the meteorologists lost track of it. The ladybugs disappeared into the night.

Compared to other animal migrations, the migrations of insects are a scientific mystery. It’s easy to spot a herd of wildebeest making its way across the savanna. Insects, even in huge numbers, move from place to place without much notice. One day you look around, and ladybugs are everywhere.

“The migrations themselves are totally invisible,” said Jason Chapman, an ecologist at the University of Exeter in Britain.

Dr. Chapman and his colleagues are using radar to bring insect migrations to light. The scientists help run a unique network of small radar stations in southern England designed to scan the sky 24 hours a day, spotting insects flying overhead.

“These radars are fantastic,” said Dr. Chapman. “We have a lot of information about every individual insect that flies over overhead, including a measure of the shape and a measure of their size.” [Continue reading…]

Music: Jonathan Kreisberg — ‘The South of Everywhere’


Tehran has held firm in its tussles with Trump

Martin Chulov writes:

For much of this year, two beliefs have held firm in the halls of power in Iran: US attempts to strangle its economy cannot be tolerated and Donald Trump has no intention of going to war.

Far from wilting under the barrel of a global superpower’s guns, Iran’s leaders have signalled an intent to defend their interests, by damaging those of their foes. Iran’s anger at the US, and its alleged role in the attacks on six tankers in Gulf waters over the past five weeks did not emerge from a vacuum. US-imposed sanctions have taken a huge toll on its economy, and diminished its ability to service long-lasting commitments across the region – in Syria and Lebanon, in particular.

Tehran’s access to oil markets has been crippled by a sanctions regime that has proven more targeted and comprehensive than ever before. At the same time, enemies across the Gulf are selling oil to its former customers. To leave either unaddressed would be to signal weakness, say regional officials familiar with Iranian leadership.

What to do about it has been the subject of intense debate in Tehran and discussion with proxies, including Hezbollah in Lebanon – long the apex of Iran’s foreign policy projection. As has how to square away Trump’s oscillating public stances; hours after tweeting on Friday that neither side was ready for a deal, the US leader said: “We want to get them back to the table”.

The shifting views are likely to further support a view in Iran that Trump is far from the shrewd negotiator he seems – to himself – to be. More carpet-seller than Kissinger, he seems unaware of Iran’s leverage, in regard to its dormant nuclear programme, ignorant of its culture and unsure on his feet as tensions between both sides escalate. [Continue reading…]

Peter Baker writes:

To President Trump, the question of culpability in the explosions that crippled two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman is no question at all. “It’s probably got essentially Iran written all over it,” he declared on Friday.

The question is whether the writing is clear to everyone else. For any president, accusing another country of an act of war presents an enormous challenge to overcome skepticism at home and abroad. But for a president known for falsehoods and crisis-churning bombast, the test of credibility appears far more daunting.

For two and a half years in office, Mr. Trump has spun out so many misleading or untrue statements about himself, his enemies, his policies, his politics, his family, his personal story, his finances and his interactions with staff that even his own former communications director once said “he’s a liar” and many Americans long ago concluded that he cannot be trusted.

Fact-checking Mr. Trump is a full-time occupation in Washington, and in no other circumstance is faith in a president’s word as vital as in matters of war and peace. The public grew cynical about presidents and intelligence after George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq based on false accusations of weapons of mass destruction, and the doubt spilled over to Barack Obama when he accused Syria of gassing its own people. As Mr. Trump confronts Iran, he carries the burden of their history and his own. [Continue reading…]

U.S. escalates online attacks on Russia’s power grid

The New York Times reports:

The United States is stepping up digital incursions into Russia’s electric power grid in a warning to President Vladimir V. Putin and a demonstration of how the Trump administration is using new authorities to deploy cybertools more aggressively, current and former government officials said.

In interviews over the past three months, the officials described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia’s grid and other targets as a classified companion to more publicly discussed action directed at Moscow’s disinformation and hacking units around the 2018 midterm elections.

Advocates of the more aggressive strategy said it was long overdue, after years of public warnings from the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. that Russia has inserted malware that could sabotage American power plants, oil and gas pipelines, or water supplies in any future conflict with the United States.

But it also carries significant risk of escalating the daily digital Cold War between Washington and Moscow. [Continue reading…]