Monthly Archives: February, 2017

Rising Ocean Temperatures Could Set Off a Chain Reaction That Threatens Our Food Supply

Laura June reports for The Outline:

Image result for Rising Ocean Temperatures Could Set Off a Chain Reaction That Threatens Our Food SupplyNew research published last week in the journal Elementa suggests that rising temperatures on Earth will cause massive changes in the deepest parts of the ocean. And those changes won’t be good: starvation and “sweeping ecological change,” the report warns, could be on the menu by the year 2100.

The research, conducted by a team at the University of Oregon, suggests that the temperature of the abyssal ocean (depths of 3,000 to 6,000 meters) could rise by about 1 degree Celsius over the next 84 years, which might not sound like a lot to a lay person. But, the research also suggests that this rise in temperature would likely cause massive problems all over the planet, because it is dependent on the deep ocean’s health, which accounts for more than 95 percent of the ocean’s entire volume. “Biodiversity in many of these areas is defined by the meager amount of food reaching the seafloor and over the next 80-plus years — in certain parts of the world — that amount of food will be cut in half,” Andrew Thurber, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University, and co-author of the study, said in a press release about the work.

Temperatures in the bathyal area of the ocean — not quite so deep, at around 200 to 3,000 meters — are expected to rise even more, up to 4 degrees Celsius in the same period. It is, Dr. Thurber said, “the equivalent of having summer for the first time in thousands to millions of years.” The main effect for the ocean in all of this will be an exacerbated lack of food and an increase in the metabolisms of the existing organisms. Increased metabolism leads to a need for more food, which is going to be a problem at a time when there will be an ever-lessening supply. Abyssal waters are already some of the most food-deprived areas of the planet, so the prospect of halving this already minuscule supply would be truly devastating.

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Our Oceans Are Garbage

Tyler Hooper reports for VICE:

[…] Last September, more than 40 tons of garbage was pulled from the beaches of Vancouver Island alone. A good portion of the garbage is alleged to have come from the Japanese tsunami of 2011. However, the problem is not limited to just Vancouver Island; in 2015, a study estimated that the ocean contained 5.25 trillion pieces of garbage and counting. Some even estimate there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

There have been reports from around the globe about the impact plastic pollution is having on both coastal marine environments and the wildlife that inhabits these regions. Recently, a whale off the Norwegian coast was found with more than 30 plastic bags in its stomach. In Canada, researchers have warned that plastic is affecting birds and smaller marine life. For a country with the largest coastline, it’s a problem that’s not getting better.

“The amount of plastic on [the] beaches is getting worse,” said Gillian Montgomery, chapter manager of the Vancouver Island Surfrider. Montgomery elaborated, adding that from what she’s seen plastic pollution has only gotten worse over the past few years and it’s not getting any better. It’s a frustration echoed by her colleague McKay. “The government does not publicly say plastics are a problem,” McKay said. “Because we have recycling, they just assume recycling takes care of everything.”

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WHO: Superbugs That Pose the Greatest Threat to Human Health

Lena H. Sun reports for The Washington Post:

Image result for SuperbugsThe World Health Organization announced its first list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens” on Monday, detailing 12 families of bacteria that agency experts say pose the greatest threat to human health and kill millions of people every year.

The list is divided into three categories, prioritized by the urgency of the need for new antibiotics. The purpose is to guide and promote research and development of new drugs, officials said. Most of the pathogens are among the nearly two dozen antibiotic-resistant microbes that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in a 2013 report could cause potentially catastrophic consequences if the United States didn’t act quickly to combat the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant infections.

“This list is not meant to scare people about new superbugs,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant director-general at WHO. “It’s intended to signal research and development priorities to address urgent public health threats.”

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Pentagon Delivers Plan to Escalate ISIS War

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

Image result for Pentagon Delivers Plan to Escalate ISIS WarFull details of the plan have not been released yet, but the long-promised Pentagon proposal to escalate the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been delivered today, and is said to includes options for large deployments of additional troops to Syria, as well as increased targeting of ISIS the world over.

The plan for the Pentagon is to “rapidly” defeat ISIS, with the assumption that throwing more US troops at the situation will make it go faster. Officials at the Pentagon conceded this strategy might need to be further refined before implemented on the ground.

It is particularly noteworthy that we don’t really know any more about the plan today, beyond the talking points, than we did about it in recent weeks when officials started hyping its upcoming delivery, with the recommendations still apparently boiling down to straightforward additions of a number of combat troops.

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Trump’s Proposed Increase in U.S. Defense Spending Would Be 80% of Russia’s Entire Military Budget

Alex Emmons reports for The Intercept:

Screen-Shot-2017-02-27-at-5.12.20-PM-1488233648The U.S. government already spends $600 billion dollars a year on its military — more money than the next seven biggest spenders combined, including China and Russia.

On Monday, the White House said it would request $54 billion more in military spending for next year. That increase alone is roughly the size of the entire annual military budget of the United Kingdom, the fifth-largest spending country, and it’s more than 80 percent of Russia’s entire military budget in 2015.

If Congress were to follow Trump’s blueprint, the U.S. military budget could account for nearly 40 percent of global military spending next year. The U.S. would be outspending Russia by a margin of greater than 9 to 1.

At a meeting of U.S. governors on Monday, Trump described his forthcoming budget proposal as “a public safety and national security budget.”

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McCain and Thornberry: Trump’s Proposed Defense Spending Hike Not Enough

Travis J. Tritten reports for Stars and Stripes:

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, are pushing for a $640-billion base defense budget. (Stars and Stripes photos)The Republican chairmen of the Senate and House armed services committees said Monday that President Donald Trump‘s proposal to boost defense spending by $54 billion for fiscal year 2018 is not enough.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, are pushing for a $640-billion base defense budget and said the $603-billion proposal unveiled by the White House will not reverse the decline in recent years in spending and military readiness.

The White House released a spending cap-busting, top-line figure following pledges by Trump for a major defense buildup but declined to provide details of how the additional money will be used. It plans to release a fully detailed defense budget in May and that must be passed by Congress.

“With a world on fire, America cannot secure peace through strength with just 3 percent more than President [Barack] Obama’s budget. We can and must do better,” McCain said in a released statement.

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Trump’s Military Buildup Makes Even His Generals Nervous

Rob Garver reports for The Fiscal Times:

[…] We’re now at the point where Trump’s dedication to building up the military at the expense of the civilian national security apparatus is even making the generals nervous. On Monday, 121 retired three- and four-star generals and admirals from all branches of the US military sent a letter to Congressional leaders pleading with them not to allow the defunding of the country’s diplomatic corps or of international aid efforts.

Experience has taught them, they said, that “elevating and strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defense are critical to keeping America safe.”

They added, “We know from our service in uniform that many of the crises our nation faces do not have military solutions alone – from confronting violent extremist groups like ISIS in the Middle East and North Africa to preventing pandemics like Ebola and stabilizing weak and fragile states that can lead to greater instability. There are 65 million displaced people today, the most since World War II, with consequences including refugee flows that are threatening America’s strategic allies in Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and Europe.”

The letter was copied to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster (the latter two being a retired Marine Corps general and a serving Army General respectively.)

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Trump’s Defense Topline Faces a Big Hurdle, Just as When Obama Proposed It

Marcus Weisgerber reports for Defense One:

President Donald J. Trump departs from the Pentagon alongside Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Jan. 27, 2017, in Washington, D.C.President Donald Trump has proposed to return Pentagon spending to levels originally proposed by then-President Barack Obama in 2013.

The move has drawn fire from Republicans who say it doesn’t increase defense spending enough and Democrats who decry the cuts it entails for the rest of the federal government.

The proposal was revealed in the top-level spending targets sent by Trump’s Office of Management and Budget to federal departments on Monday. The Pentagon’s share of Trump’s 2018 budget plan is $603 billion, according to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

The figure happens to be near the same amount envisioned for 2018 in a multiyear spending plan approved by the last administration. But Obama’s plan ran afoul of the caps imposed by the Budget Control Act, or BCA. That’s also a problem for Trump, who is proposing to spend $54 billion more, or about 10 percent, than the $549 billion cap allows.

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With the US Distracted by Trump and the UK by Brexit, They’re About to See a Decline in Their Global Power

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

donald-trump.jpgBoris Yeltsin was making a presidential visit to Washington in 1995 when he was found one night outside the White House dressed only in his underpants. He explained in a slurred voice to US secret service agents that he was trying to hail a cab so he could go and buy a pizza. The following night he was discovered by a guard, who thought he was an intruder, wandering drunkenly around the basement of his official residence.

Drunk or sober, Yeltsin and his escapades became the living symbol for the world, not just of the collapse of the Soviet Union but of a dysfunctional administration in the Kremlin and the decline of Russia as a great power. It was impossible to take seriously a state whose leader was visibly inebriated much of the time and in which policy was determined by a coterie of corrupt family members and officials serving at Yeltsin’s whim.

Donald Trump is often compared to Vladimir Putin by the media which detects ominous parallels between the two men as populist nationalist leaders. The message is that Trump with his furious attacks on the media would like to emulate Putin’s authoritarianism. There is some truth in this, but when it comes to the effect on US status and power in the world, the similarities are greater between Trump and Yeltsin than between Trump and Putin.

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Committee to Protect Journalists: Trump’s Attacks on Media Will Be Felt by Journalists Around World

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez speak to Robert Mahoney, deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, about the White House taking the unprecedented act of barring The New York Times, CNN, Politico, the Los Angeles Times, the BBC and several other news organizations from an off-camera briefing known as a gaggle. Meanwhile several right-wing news outlets were allowed to attend, including Breitbart, The Washington Times and One America News Network. (Democracy Now!)

The Generals Guarding American Democracy

Patrick Granfield reports for Politico:

GettyImages-635627260.jpgDonald Trump promised as a candidate to deliver fundamental change to how Washington works, and in one critical way, he is already delivering. A little more than a month into his presidency, a fundamental shift in civil-military relations is taking hold. Rather than civilian leaders checking military power, it is now military leaders, who represent one of the strongest checks against the overreach of a civilian executive.

Take President Trump’s comments on Thursday, in which he said the deportations of undocumented immigrations would be a “military operation.” Several hours later, the retired Marine general who serves as his secretary of homeland Security, John Kelly, spoke to the press. There would be, “No, I repeat no, use of military forces in immigration operations,” Secretary Kelly said. The White House later said, rather unconvincingly, that the president was merely using the word “military” as an “adjective.”

The incident was just one of several revealing discrepancies between the president and military leaders, active duty and retired, who now serve him and on his Cabinet. It also demonstrated some of the inherent risks in how President Trump understands the role of the military and his relationship to it.

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How US Billionaire Robert Mercer Helped to Back Brexit

Carole Cadwalladr reports for The Observer:

Image result for robert mercer[…] It has emerged that Robert Mercer, a hedge-fund billionaire, who helped to finance the Trump campaign and who was revealed this weekend as one of the owners of the rightwing Breitbart News Network, is a long-time friend of Nigel Farage. He directed his data analytics firm to provide expert advice to the Leave campaign on how to target swing voters via Facebook – a donation of services that was not declared to the electoral commission.

Cambridge Analytica, an offshoot of a British company, SCL Group, which has 25 years’ experience in military disinformation campaigns and “election management”, claims to use cutting-edge technology to build intimate psychometric profiles of voters to find and target their emotional triggers. Trump’s team paid the firm more than $6m (£4.8m) to target swing voters, and it has now emerged that Mercer also introduced the firm – in which he has a major stake – to Farage.

The communications director of Leave.eu, Andy Wigmore, told the Observer that the longstanding friendship between Nigel Farage and the Mercer family led Mercer to offer his help – free – to the Brexit campaign because of their shared goals. Wigmore said that he introduced Farage and Leave.eu to Cambridge Analytica: “They were happy to help. Because Nigel is a good friend of the Mercers. And Mercer introduced them to us. He said, ‘Here’s this company we think may be useful to you’. What they were trying to do in the US and what we were trying to do had massive parallels. We shared a lot of information.”

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Donald Trump Plans to Bypass the Courts to Deport as Many People as Possible

Ryan Devereaux reports for The Intercept:

On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security released a pair of memos laying out how the agency intends to implement President Donald Trump’s executive orders on domestic immigration enforcement. In addition to calling for a massive increase in the number of immigration agents and the deputizing of local and state law enforcement across the country — described in the documents as a “force multiplier”— the memos dramatically expand the range of people who can be deported without seeing a judge.

“I see now what the plan is,” Greg Siskind, a Tennessee-based immigration attorney and member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association board of governors, told The Intercept. “Their plan is basically to have everybody thrown out of the country without ever going to court.” Additional immigration attorneys and legal experts who spoke to The Intercept shared Siskind’s concerns, describing various elements of the DHS directives and the executive orders they reflect as “horrifying,” “stunning,” and “inhumane.”

“This is the broadest, most widespread change I have seen in doing this work for more than two decades,” Lee Gelernt, a veteran immigration attorney and deputy director of the ACLU’s national Immigrants’ Rights Project, told The Intercept. “After 9/11 we saw some extreme policies, but they were largely confined to particular areas around the relationship between immigration and national security. Here what we’re seeing are those types of policies but also much broader policies just dealing with immigration generally.”

“I expected bad based on Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric,” added David Leopold, a Cleveland-based immigration attorney and past president of AILA. “Then when I read the executive order, I expected really bad … but I’m absolutely shocked at the mean-spiritedness of this.”

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Trump Will Not Attend White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Martin Pengelly reports for The Guardian:

Donald Trump on Saturday capped a week of tumultuous relations with the press by saying he will not attend this year’s White House correspondents’ dinner, which is scheduled for 29 April.

“I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year,” the president wrote on Twitter. “Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!”

The news came as relations between the Trump administration and the news media, which he has called “the enemy of the American people”, have sunk to new lows. On Friday, leading outlets including the New York Times, CNN and the Guardian were excluded from a briefing by press secretary Sean Spicer while friendlier conservative organisations were admitted.

Editors of excluded organisations expressed anger, although White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) president Jeff Mason, of Reuters, attempted to calm troubled waters.

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Democrats Elect Thomas Perez, Establishment Favorite, as Party Chairman

Jonathan Martin reports for The New York Times:

Image result for Democrats Elect Thomas Perez, Establishment Favorite, as Party ChairmanFormer Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday, narrowly defeating Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota to take the helm of a still-divided party stunned by President Trump’s victory but hopeful that it can ride the backlash against his presidency to revival.

The balloting, which carried a measure of suspense not seen in the party in decades, revealed that Democrats have yet to heal the wounds from last year’s presidential primary campaign. Mr. Perez, buoyed by activists most loyal to former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, won with 235 votes out of 435 cast on the second ballot.

Mr. Ellison, who was lifted primarily by the liberal enthusiasts of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, captured the remaining 200 votes. But that was only after he had pushed the voting to a second round after Mr. Perez fell a single vote short of winning on the first ballot.

After Mr. Perez’s victory was announced, Mr. Ellison’s supporters exploded in anger and drowned out the interim chairwoman, Donna Brazile, with a chant of “Party for the people, not big money!” When Mr. Perez was able to speak, he immediately called for Mr. Ellison to be named deputy chairman, delighting Mr. Ellison’s supporters.

Taking the microphone from Mr. Perez, Mr. Ellison pleaded with his fervent backers: “We don’t have the luxury to walk out of this room divided.”

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Nomi Prins on the Past, Present and Future of Goldman Sachs

James Corbett speaks to Nomi Prins, a former managing director at Goldman Sachs and the author of All The Presidents’ Bankers, about her old firm’s past, present and future. One of her most recent articles is titled: ‘On The Goldmanization Of President Trump‘. (Corbett Report)

White House Defers to ‘States Rights’ on Transgender Protections — But Not on Legalizing Marijuana

Zaid Jilani reports for The Intercept:

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer cited “states’ rights” on Tuesday in defending the Trump administration’s decision to end the Obama administration’s federal protections for transgender students.

“The president has maintained for a long time that this is a states’ rights issue and not one for the federal government,” he said. “All you have to do is look at what the president’s view has been for a long time that this is not something that the federal government should be involved in. This is a states’ rights issue.”

But on Thursday, asked about federal marijuana enforcement, it was like the states had no rights at all. Arkansas-based reporter Roby Brock asked Spicer about the administration’s posture towards Arkansas’s new medical marijuana law.

Spicer suggested that the Trump administration would respect state laws related to medical marijuana — but not offer the same respect for recreational marijuana.

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John Boehner: Republicans Won’t Repeal and Replace Obamacare

Darius Tahir reports for Politico:

Image result for Boehner: Republicans won't repeal and replace ObamacareFormer House Speaker John Boehner predicted on Thursday that a full repeal and replace of Obamacare is “not what’s going to happen” and that Republicans will instead just make some fixes to the health care law.

Boehner, who retired in 2015 amid unrest among conservatives, said at an Orlando healthcare conference that GOP lawmakers were too optimistic in their talk of quickly repealing and then replacing Obamacare.

“They’ll fix Obamacare, and I shouldn’t have called it repeal and replace because that’s not what’s going to happen. They’re basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it,” Boehner said.

The former speaker’s frank comments capture the conundrum that many Republicans find themselves in as they try to deliver on pledges to axe Obamacare but struggle to coalesce around an alternative.

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Former Nixon Counsel John Dean on the Trump Administration

Amy Goodman speaks to John Dean, President Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, about the early days of the Trump administration. Dean is the author of several books, including The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It, Conservatives Without Conscience and Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches. (Democracy Now!)

Steve Bannon: Trump Administration is in Unending Battle for ‘Deconstruction of the Administrative State’

Philip Rucker reports for The Washington Post:

[…] In his first public speaking appearance since Trump took office, Bannon made his comments alongside White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus at a gathering of conservative activists. They sought to prove that they are not rivals but partners in fighting on Trump’s behalf to transform Washington and the world order.

“They’re going to continue to fight,” Bannon said of the media, which he repeatedly described as “the opposition party,” and other forces he sees as standing in the president’s way. “If you think they are giving you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.”

Atop Trump’s agenda, Bannon said, was the “deconstruction of the administrative state” — meaning a system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that the president and his advisers believe stymie economic growth and infringe upon one’s sovereignty.

“If you look at these Cabinet nominees, they were selected for a reason, and that is deconstruction,” Bannon said. He posited that Trump’s announcement withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership was “one of the most pivotal moments in modern American history.”

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Colombia Aims to Rid Country of Landmines by 2021

Anastasia Moloney reports for Reuters:

Image result for Colombia aims to rid country of landmines by 2021Colombia, one of the most mined countries in the world, aims to remove all landmines and other explosives by 2021 after the government and FARC rebels signed a peace deal last year, a top government official has said.

Colombia’s left-wing guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), planted thousands of landmines across swathes of the country during its five-decade war against the government.

“Forty percent of the areas that were covered in landmines for the past 25 years are now being cleared to reach the goal of having a Colombia free of anti-personnel mines by 2021,” Rafael Pardo, the government’s post-conflict commissioner, told local media on Monday.

After Afghanistan, Colombia has the second highest number of landmine casualties, with more than 11,500 people killed or injured by landmines since 1990, government figures show.

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Bees Are Even Smarter Than We Realized

Annalee Newitz reports for Arstechnia:

You can now add bees to the rarefied list of tool-using animals, which already includes primates, crows, octopods, otters, porpoises, and more. A fascinating set of experiments has revealed that bees can be taught to use tools, even though they don’t use them in the wild.

Queen Mary University of London biologist Olli J. Loukola and his colleagues wanted to find out more about how bee intelligence works. Previous experiments with the insects have shown that they can count, communicate with each other using “waggle dances” that reveal the direction of food, and pull strings to get access to food. Loukola’s new tool use test showed that not only are bees good with tools, but they can also extemporize to use them more effectively.

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Most Scientists ‘Can’t Replicate Studies by Their Peers’

Tom Feilden reports for BBC News:

Test tubesScience is facing a “reproducibility crisis” where more than two-thirds of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, research suggests.

This is frustrating clinicians and drug developers who want solid foundations of pre-clinical research to build upon.

From his lab at the University of Virginia’s Centre for Open Science, immunologist Dr Tim Errington runs The Reproducibility Project, which attempted to repeat the findings reported in five landmark cancer studies.

“The idea here is to take a bunch of experiments and to try and do the exact same thing to see if we can get the same results.”

You could be forgiven for thinking that should be easy. Experiments are supposed to be replicable.

The authors should have done it themselves before publication, and all you have to do is read the methods section in the paper and follow the instructions.

Sadly nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth.

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Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

Elizabeth Kolbert writes for The New Yorker:

The vaunted human capacity for reason may have more to do with winning arguments than with thinking straight.

1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.

Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times. Others discovered that they were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten instances.

As is often the case with psychological studies, the whole setup was a put-on. Though half the notes were indeed genuine—they’d been obtained from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office—the scores were fictitious. The students who’d been told they were almost always right were, on average, no more discerning than those who had been told they were mostly wrong.

In the second phase of the study, the deception was revealed. The students were told that the real point of the experiment was to gauge their responses to thinking they were right or wrong. (This, it turned out, was also a deception.) Finally, the students were asked to estimate how many suicide notes they had actually categorized correctly, and how many they thought an average student would get right. At this point, something curious happened. The students in the high-score group said that they thought they had, in fact, done quite well—significantly better than the average student—even though, as they’d just been told, they had zero grounds for believing this. Conversely, those who’d been assigned to the low-score group said that they thought they had done significantly worse than the average student—a conclusion that was equally unfounded.

“Once formed,” the researchers observed dryly, “impressions are remarkably perseverant.”

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While War on Media Escalates, CBS Chief Praises Trump’s Deregulatory Agenda

Lee Fang reports for The Intercept:

While the Washington press corps is expressing ever-greater alarm over President Donald Trump’s mounting attacks on journalists — culminating in Friday’s banning of some leading outlets from a White House press briefing — the media executives who sign their paychecks are praising the new administration for a deregulatory agenda that would likely boost company profits.

Les Moonves, the chief executive and chairman of CBS Corporation, told investors recently that he is “looking forward to not having as much regulation and having the ability to do more.”

Moonves specifically celebrated the appointment of Trump’s new FCC chairman, former Verizon attorney Ajit Pai, calling him “very beneficial to our business.”

The media industry arguably helped Trump enormously in the early presidential campaign with extensive coverage that drowned out his competitors and left little room for discussion of the substantive policy issues facing voters. Now it has a lot to gain if the FCC begins a new wave of ownership deregulation and relaxes certain limits that currently prevent media conglomerates from controlling a large swath of local television stations, and prevent firms from owning television stations and newspapers in the same media market.

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Killer, Kleptocrat, Genius, Spy: The Many Myths of Vladimir Putin

Keith Gessen writes for The Guardian:

Vladimir Putin, you may have noticed, is everywhere. He has soldiers in Ukraine and Syria, troublemakers in the Baltics and Finland, and a hand in elections from the Czech Republic to France to the United States. And he is in the media. Not a day goes by without a big new article on “Putin’s Revenge”, “The Secret Source of Putin’s Evil”, or “10 Reasons Why Vladimir Putin Is a Terrible Human Being”.

Putin’s recent ubiquity has brought great prominence to the practice of Putinology. This enterprise – the production of commentary and analysis about Putin and his motivations, based on necessarily partial, incomplete and sometimes entirely false information – has existed as a distinct intellectual industry for over a decade. It kicked into high gear after the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, but in the past few months, as allegations of Russian meddling in the election of President Donald Trump have come to dominate the news, Putinology has outdone itself. At no time in history have more people with less knowledge, and greater outrage, opined on the subject of Russia’s president. You might say that the reports of Trump’s golden showers in a Moscow hotel room have consecrated a golden age – for Putinology.

And what does Putinology tell us? It turns out that it has produced seven distinct hypotheses about Putin. None of them is entirely wrong, but then none of them is entirely right (apart from No 7). Taken together, they tell us as much about ourselves as about Putin. They paint a portrait of an intellectual class – our own – on the brink of a nervous breakdown. But let’s take them in order.

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The Increasingly Unhinged Russia Rhetoric Comes From a Long-Standing U.S. Playbook

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

[…] Few foreign villains have been vested with omnipotence and ubiquity like Vladimir Putin has been — at least ever since Democrats discovered (what they mistakenly believed was) his political utility as a bogeyman. There are very few negative developments in the world that do not end up at some point being pinned to the Russian leader, and very few critics of the Democratic Party who are not, at some point, cast as Putin loyalists or Kremlin spies.

Putin — like al Qaeda terrorists and Soviet Communists before him — is everywhere. Russia is lurking behind all evils, most importantly — of course — Hillary Clinton’s defeat. And whoever questions any of that is revealing themselves to be a traitor, likely on Putin’s payroll.

As The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel put it on Tuesday in the Washington Post: “In the targeting of Trump, too many liberals have joined in fanning a neo-McCarthyite furor, working to discredit those who seek to deescalate U.S.-Russian tensions, and dismissing anyone expressing doubts about the charges of hacking or collusion as a Putin apologist. … What we don’t need is a replay of Cold War hysteria that cuts off debate, slanders skeptics and undermines any effort to explore areas of agreement with Russia in our own national interest.” That precisely echoes what Stone observed 62 years ago: Claims of Russian infiltration and ubiquity are “the thesis no American dare any longer challenge without himself becoming suspect” (Stone was not just cast as a Kremlin loyalist during his life but smeared as a Stalinist agent after he died).

I’ve written extensively about all this throughout the last year, as Russia Fever reached (what I hope is) its apex — or, more accurately, its nadir. I won’t repeat that all here.

But I do want to draw attention to an outstanding article in today’s Guardian by the Russian-born American journalist Keith Gessen, in which he clinically examines — and demolishes — all of the hysterical, ignorant, fearmongering, manipulative claims now predominant in U.S. discourse about Russia, Putin, and the Kremlin.

 

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Top General: U.S. Mulling ‘Long-Term Commitment’ in Iraq

Ryan Browne reports for CNN:

Image result for Top General: U.S. Mulling 'Long-Term Commitment' in IraqThe US military is contemplating a long-term presence in Iraq to stabilize the country after the anticipated defeat ISIS, America’s top military officer said Thursday.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford said that both the US and NATO have begun discussions with Iraq about the possibility.
“We have, as has NATO, begun a dialogue about a long term commitment to grow the capacity, maintain the capacity of Iraqi Security Forces, but no decisions have been made yet,” Dunford told an audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington, his first time fielding questions since the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
“Iraq has begun to speak, and you’ve heard Prime Minister (Haider) Abadi speak, about the international community continuing to support defense capacity building,” he added.

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As Kelly and Tillerson Visit Mexico, Their Reassurances Differ From Trump’s Stance

Azam Ahmed, Gardiner Harris and Ron Nixon report for The New York Times:

[…] Mr. Trump is certainly not the only American president to clamp down on illegal immigration. His predecessor, Barack Obama, deported record numbers of immigrants, including gang members. But Mr. Trump’s actions and disparaging remarks about Mexico have helped push relations between the two countries to their lowest point in decades.

His steady stream of provocative policies and statements has enraged the Mexican public and left their leaders to consider their own leverage in the event of a meltdown in ties between the two countries, whether on trade, migration or security.

On Thursday, the contradictions between the president and his top staff raised a pressing question: Which version of Washington will come to bear on Mexico in the coming months? Will it be the aggressive approach of the president or the more reassuring stance of Mr. Kelly, who will be assigned to oversee some of the proposals likely to antagonize Mexico the most?

“Let me be very, very clear,” Mr. Kelly said, assuring Mexicans that the rules for deporting people from the United States had not fundamentally changed — another possible contradiction of his boss. “There will be no, repeat no, mass deportations.”

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Turning 25: Things Fall Apart by The Roots

Marcus J. Moore wrote in a review for Pitchfork in August 2016:

Things Fall Apart artworkIn 1999, the Roots were in limbo. The Philadelphia hip-hop band had released three critically acclaimed albums but were still considered something of a novelty act, featuring a big guy with a big Afro on drums (?uestlove), a sharp but unshowy MC (Black Thought), two beatboxers (Rahzel and Scratch), and a stellar live show—all anomalies in the gilded age of Puff Daddy and the million-dollar sample clearance. The Roots had by this time amassed a faithful cult following, but none of it translated to mainstream success. They were selling more records and slowly moving beyond their dedicated base of jazz and traditional rap purists, but their career wasn’t headed anywhere in particular.

Reflecting these tensions, the Roots opened their fourth studio album, Things Fall Apart, with dialogue from a scene from Spike Lee’s 1990 film, Mo’ Better Blues, in which characters Bleek Gilliam and Shadow Henderson—played by Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes, respectively—debate the state of jazz music. Gilliam doesn’t want to sacrifice his creative vision to pander to crowds, and he thinks black people should come to his shows simply because he’s making black art. “That’s bullshit,” Henderson quips. “The people don’t come because you grandiose motherfuckers don’t play shit that they like.” The clip seemed to acknowledge the Roots’ reputation: They were too smart for their own good, too self-aware, and they were getting in their own way. It was as if, from the very beginning, the band sought to be misunderstood, to find somewhere to hide from the mainstream.

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