Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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State Department freed Ukraine money before Trump says he did — he lacked lacked authority to block it

Bloomberg reports: President Donald Trump says he lifted his freeze on aid to Ukraine on Sept. 11, but the State Department had quietly authorized releasing $141 million of the money several days earlier, according to five people familiar with the matter. The State Department decision, which hasn’t been reported previously, stemmed from a legal finding made earlier in the year, and conveyed in a classified memorandum to Secretary of State

How U.S. diplomats are defending American ideals and holding the Trump administration accountable

The New York Times reports: State Department Foreign Service officers usually express their views in formal diplomatic cables, but these days they are using closed Facebook groups and encrypted apps to convey their pride in Marie L. Yovanovitch, the ousted ambassador to Ukraine, whose House testimony opened the floodgates on the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. #GoMasha is their rallying cry. In private conversations, they trade admiring notes about career

Former NSC official Fiona Hill confronted Republicans for acting as ‘useful’ (idiots) for Putin

  “The Russians were who attacked us in 2016, and they’re now writing the script for others to do the same. And if we don’t get our act together, they will continue to make fools of us internationally.” Fiona Hill Full transcript of testimony of Fiona Hill. For some relevant background on Putin’s work skills as a KGB case officer, watch this 2013 interview with Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy.

Berliners troll Trump by shipping him a 2.7-ton piece of the Berlin Wall

Quartz reports: US president Donald Trump will be receiving a special gift from Berlin residents on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall—a 2.7-ton section of the wall itself. The stunt is squarely directed at Trump’s vow to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, a part of his “zero tolerance” immigration policy. “We would like to give you one of the last pieces of the failed

India’s Supreme Court rules in favor of Ayodhya property claim made by the Hindu god (and ‘legal entity’), Ram

  Al Jazeera reports: There was heightened security in Ayodhya, a town in north India, ahead of the Supreme Court’s verdict on a site claimed by both Muslims and Hindus. Early on Saturday, the town looked deserted as residents stayed inside their homes, waiting for the decision to be announced. Some had even stocked up on food in advance, just in case the decision provoked anger, violence and eventually a

Why Twitter so big in Saudi Arabia

The New York Times reports: In Saudi Arabia, where a relatively closed culture leaves citizens few public forums to discuss news and politics, Twitter has become a kind of town square, the place where citizens meet to swap information and debate the latest issues. Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy has not banned the site, but it has taken extensive measures to shape the information that appears there and to silence or

‘Noise’ in the brain encodes surprisingly important signals

Jordana Cepelewicz writes: At every moment, neurons whisper, shout, sputter and sing, filling the brain with a dizzying cacophony of voices. Yet many of those voices don’t seem to be saying anything meaningful at all. They register as habitual echoes of noise, not signal; as static, not discourse. Since scientists first became capable of recording from single neurons 60 years ago, they’ve known that brain activity is highly variable, even

Music: Ivan Shopov & Avigeya — ‘Stara Planino’ ft. Dayan Kutsarov & Dimitar Bodurov

 

The psychology of Greta Thunberg’s climate activism

Scott Koenig writes: In September 2019, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage activist, excoriated world leaders for their ongoing failure to address the climate crisis. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she said at one point during her speech at the United Nations. Thunberg has been galvanizing public support for climate action since rising to prominence with her school strike about a year ago, and

William Taylor is an ideal witness for House Democrats to begin public impeachment hearings

Noah Feldman writes: It’s no surprise that Ambassador William Taylor is expected to be the first witness to testify when the House of Representatives opens public impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump next week. First, he’s an astoundingly credible witness — straight from central casting, as Trump himself likes to say about some of his appointees. As a matter of prosecutorial strategy, that makes him an ideal first witness for

Elizabeth Warren isn’t as adversarial and reactive as other candidates and the media would like her to be

Politico reports: Elizabeth Warren has been on the receiving end of an onslaught of jabs, swipes, missives, think-pieces and general bashing from opponents this past week, the likes of which she hasn’t experienced since she jumped into the presidential race. But more surprising than the attacks — Warren, having risen to frontrunner status, had those coming — has been her response. In two words: No comment. Her surrogates and campaign

Michael Bloomberg’s ego is an agent of socialist change

Eric Levitz writes: These are anxious days for Democrats who favor gated communities and unfettered trade. Americans who believe in a woman’s right to choose and private equity’s right to loot, now need a Klonopin with their morning news. Elizabeth Warren — the slayer of Summers, stumper of Stumpf, and all around bane of (finance) capital — boasts comfortable leads in Iowa and New Hampshire. In at least one of

An uprising in Iraq is the broadest in decades. It’s posing an alarming threat to Baghdad and Tehran

The Washington Post reports: From Baghdad to the Shiite Muslim shrine city of Karbala and farther south, Iraqis are pushing for a revolution. They fill central squares to sing and dance from daybreak, and face down riot police when night falls. Iraq’s streets are no stranger to power struggles. They’ve been a stage for sectarian conflict and for the Islamic State’s emergence. But the crowds are different this time, and

A lack of realism among foreign policy realists in their advocacy of restraint

Peter D. Feaver and Will Inboden write: The news of the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a raid by U.S. special operations forces on Oct. 27 capped a dizzying three weeks in the Trump administration’s Syria policy. The turmoil began on Oct. 6, with President Donald Trump’s peremptory decision to pull back about 100 U.S. soldiers from their positions embedded with Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

We learn more by trusting than by not trusting

By Hugo Mercier We all know people who have suffered by trusting too much: scammed customers, jilted lovers, shunned friends. Indeed, most of us have been burned by misplaced trust. These personal and vicarious experiences lead us to believe that people are too trusting, often verging on gullibility. In fact, we don’t trust enough. Take data about trust in the United States (the same would be true in most wealthy

Music: Kottarashky — ‘September’