Thursday, August 25, 2016

The best way to deal with the Trump candidacy: Get drunk…


By Andy Borowitz, The New Yorker

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Calling it “the best use of our resources at this time,” the Republican National Committee has decided to pull money originally earmarked for Trump campaign ads and spend it on alcohol instead.

According to the R.N.C. chairman, Reince Priebus, the decision to reallocate the funds from television advertising to alcoholic beverages came after a careful review of the polling in crucial battleground states.

“With about seventy days to go until the election, we had to consider what was the optimal way for us to get through those seventy days,” he said. “We are confident that we have found that way.”

“The decision was unanimous,” he added.

(Continued here.)

Saudis and Extremism: ‘Both the Arsonists and the Firefighters’

Critics see Saudi Arabia’s export of a rigid strain of Islam as contributing to terrorism, but the kingdom’s influence depends greatly on local conditions.

AUG. 25, 2016

WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump do not agree on much, but Saudi Arabia may be an exception. She has deplored Saudi Arabia’s support for “radical schools and mosques around the world that have set too many young people on a path towards extremism.” He has called the Saudis “the world’s biggest funders of terrorism.”

The first American diplomat to serve as envoy to Muslim communities around the world visited 80 countries and concluded that the Saudi influence was destroying tolerant Islamic traditions. “If the Saudis do not cease what they are doing,” the official, Farah Pandith, wrote last year, “there must be diplomatic, cultural and economic consequences.”

And hardly a week passes without a television pundit or a newspaper columnist blaming Saudi Arabia for jihadist violence. On HBO, Bill Maher calls Saudi teachings “medieval,” adding an epithet. In The Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria writes that the Saudis have “created a monster in the world of Islam.”

The idea has become a commonplace: that Saudi Arabia’s export of the rigid, bigoted, patriarchal, fundamentalist strain of Islam known as Wahhabism has fueled global extremism and contributed to terrorism. As the Islamic State projects its menacing calls for violence into the West, directing or inspiring terrorist attacks in country after country, an old debate over Saudi influence on Islam has taken on new relevance.

(More here.)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Arctic to humankind: 'I'm melting, melting…'

Historical Data Shows Arctic Melt of Last Two Decades Is 'Unprecedented'

Sea ice melting since 1979 is 'enormously outside the bounds of natural variability' and clearly linked to humans burning fossil fuels, research shows.


While satellite images of the Arctic clearly show that sea ice in the region has been on a steady decline since those images began in 1979, the relatively short span of that history has been seized on by some climate denialists to discount its significance in concluding humans are warming the planet.

Now, scientists have compiled the most detailed study to date of sea ice records going back more than a century and a half. The data shows that the rapid meltdown that satellites have been documenting since 1979 is unprecedented since at least 1850 and coincides with the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels.

Arctic sea ice has not been at levels as low as today's for at least 5,000 to 7,000 years, according to Julienne Stroeve, a researcher with the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), who was not involved in the study. "It may have been sometime during the mid-Holocene, based on driftwood found in Greenland that came from Siberia," she said. "Some other studies have suggested at least 800,000 years."

(Continued here.)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Donald Trump Cues Up Another Conspiracy

AUG. 22, 2016

Donald Trump is calling for volunteers to watch the polls in November, and he is making no bones about why.

“Help me stop Crooked Hillary from rigging this election!” says the application form on his campaign website.

There are so many lies and delusions flowing daily from the Trump campaign that it’s easy to miss the times when the Republican nominee is being not just ludicrous, but dangerous. This is one.

Mr. Trump has seized on the charge that Hillary Clinton plans to win by cheating. He has said it before, but he keeps on saying it. This looks like pre-emptive face-saving, of course — getting an excuse ready if he loses badly. But it’s worse than that.

Mr. Trump has been attacking recent court decisions striking down utterly unjustified state voter-identification laws that are attempts by Republican legislatures to hinder black and Latino voters, who tend to vote Democratic. The crime the laws were meant to prevent — voting by fraudulent voters with fake IDs — is a Republican myth, concocted for partisan reasons. There is no evidence that such fraud exists on any scale, only a handful of isolated instances.

(More here.)

The Fake $400 Million Iran ‘Ransom’ Story


The first thing to know about the latest controversy over the Iran nuclear deal is that the Obama administration did not pay $400 million in “ransom” to secure the release of three American detainees. Yet that’s the story critics are peddling in another attempt to discredit an agreement that has done something remarkable — halted a program that had put Iran within striking distance of producing a nuclear weapon.

The truth is that the administration withheld the payment to ensure Iran didn’t renege on its promise to free three detainees — a Washington Post journalist, a Marine veteran and a Christian pastor. That’s pragmatic diplomacy not capitulation.

The controversy erupted when The Wall Street Journal reported that the United States delivered $400 million in cash to Iranian officials after Tehran released the American detainees. It has provided an irresistible opportunity for Iran-bashing and Obama-bashing.

What really happened was this: President Obama announced the $400 million payment along with the release of the Americans in January, the day that the nuclear deal was implemented. But the money was part of a separate negotiation over funds the United States has owed Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution.

(More here.)

Monday, August 22, 2016

The hot, wet and anti-science 'badge of courage'

The Water Next Time

Paul Krugman AUG. 22, 2016
New York Times

A disaster area is no place for political theater. The governor of flood-ravaged Louisiana asked President Obama to postpone a personal visit while relief efforts were still underway. (Meanwhile, by all accounts, the substantive federal response has been infinitely superior to the Bush administration’s response to Katrina.) He made the same request to Donald Trump, declaring, reasonably, that while aid would be welcome, a visit for the sake of a photo op would not.

Sure enough, the G.O.P. candidate flew in, shook some hands, signed some autographs, and was filmed taking boxes of Play-Doh out of a truck. If he wrote a check, neither his campaign nor anyone else has mentioned it. Heckuva job, Donnie!

[Why has] climate denial … become not just acceptable but essentially required within the G.O.P.[?]Yes, the fossil-fuel sector is a big donor to the party. But the vehemence of the hostility to climate science seems disproportionate even so; bear in mind that, for example, at this point there are fewer than 60,000 coal miners, that is, less than 0.05 percent of the work force. What’s happening, I suspect, is that climate denial has become a sort of badge of right-wing identity, above and beyond the still-operative motive of rewarding donors.

(More here.)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A presidential candidate with no concept of reality


By Lawrence M. Krauss , the New Yorker

Over the past few months, we’ve seen Donald Trump lower, again and again, the bar for political discourse. All the while, though, he’s been lowering the scientific bar, too. In May, for instance, while speaking to an audience of West Virginia coal miners, Trump complained that regulations designed to protect the ozone layer had compromised the quality of his hair spray. Those regulations, he continued, were misguided, because hair spray is used mainly indoors, and so can have no effect on the atmosphere outside. No wonder Hillary Clinton felt the need to include, in her nomination speech, the phrase “I believe in science.”

Often, Trump is simply wrong about science, even though he should know better. Just as he was a persistent “birther” even after the evidence convincingly showed that President Obama was born in the United States, Trump now continues to propagate the notion that vaccines cause autism in spite of convincing and widely cited evidence to the contrary. (As he put it during a Republican debate, last September, “We’ve had so many instances. . . . A child went to have the vaccine, got very, very sick, and now is autistic.”) In other cases, Trump treats scientific facts the way he treats other facts—he ignores or distorts them whenever it’s convenient. He has denied that climate change is real, calling it pseudoscience and advancing a conspiracy theory that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.” But he has also filed a permit request to build a sea wall around one of his golf courses, in Ireland, in order to protect the property from global warming and its consequences. Which Trump is running for President?

(More here.)

Why the Ayatollah Thinks He Won

The U.S. hoped that the nuclear deal would boost Iran’s moderates, but after more than a year, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his allies seem to be the big winners

By Jay Solomon, WSJ
Aug. 19, 2016 1:32 p.m. ET

Since the completion last year of a landmark deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program, the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has lashed out again and again at the U.S. for its supposed failure to live up to its end of the bargain. But a speech he gave on Aug. 1 in Tehran took his anti-American rhetoric to a new level. He accused the Obama administration of a “bullying policy” and of failing to lift sanctions in a way that benefited “the life of the people.” Mr. Khamenei ruled out cooperation with the U.S. in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, telling his audience that Iran’s experience with the nuclear deal “showed us that we cannot speak to [the Americans] on any matter like a trustworthy party.” Many in the crowd chanted anti-U.S. slogans.

Is Iran preparing to walk away from the accord? It’s unlikely. Mr. Khamenei’s speech was classical political posturing intended to rally his hard-line followers. But more than that, his bluster conceals a deeper strategic calculus. For all his complaints about American treachery, Mr. Khamenei and his allies recognize that the nuclear deal has produced significant benefits for their hobbled theocracy and may serve to further entrench the regime brought to power in the 1979 revolution.

President Barack Obama defined the nuclear deal primarily as an arms-control exercise, designed to constrain Tehran’s nuclear program for at least a decade and to keep the U.S. from becoming embroiled in yet another Middle East war. But the White House and its top diplomats, including Secretary of State John Kerry, also quietly suggested that the agreement might open the door to a broader rapprochement between Tehran and Washington and empower Iran’s moderate political forces, particularly its elected president, Hassan Rouhani.

(More here.)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

‘Racialists’ are cheered by Trump’s latest strategy

By David Weigel August 20 at 5:49 PM, WashPost

OAKTON, Va. — Jared Taylor hits play, and the first Donald Trump ad of the general election unfolds across his breakfast table. Syrian refugees streaming across a border. Hordes of immigrants, crowded onto trains.

“Donald Trump’s America is secure,” rumbles a narrator. “Terrorists and dangerous criminals kept out. The border, secure; our families, safe.”

Taylor, one of America’s foremost “racialists,” is impressed and relieved. “That’s a powerful appeal,” he said. “If he can just stick to that, he is in very good shape.”

From his Fairfax County home, Taylor has edited the white nationalist magazine American Renaissance and organized racialist conferences under the “AmRen” banner. He said that Trump should “concentrate on his natural constituency, which is white people,” suggesting that winning 65 percent of the white vote would overwhelm any Democratic gains with minorities.

(More here.)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Trump foments misplaced anger

By Tom Maertens
August 18, 2016

Anger is all the rage in Republican circles. Donald Trump is angry because the system is rigged, the primaries were rigged, the presidential debates are rigged, the general election will be rigged, and the press is unfair.

Trump uses such charges and froths at the media to stoke anger and paranoia. Among other scurrilous claims, he has asserted that Obama and Clinton “founded” ISIS and that she wants to repeal the Second Amendment.

A New York Times video of Trump rallies shows his supporters shouting “kill her,” “hang the bitch,” and less printable epithets. With a little prompting, many of them would probably shout “burn the witch!”

The German Socialist leader Kurt Schumacher famously denounced National Socialism in the Reichstag in 1932 as “a continuous appeal to the inner swine in human beings.”

Trump does the same, appealing to anger, hate, and misogyny in his quest for power. The “birther” accusations that launched his political career constituted thinly veiled racism. His inflammatory rhetoric about Second Amendment supporters preventing Clinton from appointing Supreme Court justices risks setting off some gun-zealot psychopath. His demagoguery and incitement to violence, including against immigrants, is the closest thing to fascism we have heard since Father Charles Coughlin’s pro-Hitler, pro-Mussolini radio broadcasts of the 1930s.

Trump is also exploiting the anxiety and fear that mass shootings and the occasional terror attacks have created to portray the country in crisis, one only he can fix.

9/11 aside, however, very few Americans are affected by terrorism. From 2004 to 2013, only 36 Americans were killed by terrorists in the U.S. Compare that with the roughly 33,000 people who die from guns and 38,000 who die in car accidents every year. Violent crime nationwide, with the exception of a few larger cities like Chicago, has dropped dramatically since 1993.

Three-time Pulitzer winner Thomas Friedman labeled Trump “a man who generates support by conspiracy theories and making people afraid of the future and one another,” adding that he lies as easily as he breathes.

Yet surprisingly, Trump has the overwhelming support of evangelical voters. As Shaun King explained in the New York Daily News, Donald Trump is winning evangelical voters because Christianity for millions of white evangelicals in America is white supremacy in disguise.

King wrote that if he were forced to create someone who is the opposite of Jesus Christ, that person would look a lot like Donald Trump [the antichrist? — LP]. But that doesn’t seem to faze the holier-than-thou family-values crowd, nor does seeing Trump’s five children from three marriages on stage together.

The reality, says Ian Goldin, from Oxford University and co-author of Age of Discovery: “This is the best moment in history to be alive — human health, literacy, aggregate wealth and education are flourishing.” We live longer and better than any previous generation.

Angus Maddison, the historian of global growth, calculates the annual rate of growth in the Western world from AD 1 to AD 1820 at .06 percent per year, or 6 percent per century.

In contrast, the IMF projects a global growth rate of 3.1% — for one year.

The U.S. has had a record-breaking 77 months of economic growth that averages better than 2 percent per year.

We’ve added 15 million private-sector jobs since the Bush recession; inflation and interest rates are low, and the stock market is at record highs. The Consumer Confidence Index has been close to 100 in the last year, an eleven-year high.

Of course, no one has ever recruited activists to a cause by announcing that things are good.

There are always some problems. The median income of a full time male worker is lower than it was 40 years ago; between 2009-2012, 95 percent of all the gains in the U.S. went to the top 1 percent. Even there, however, the recent jobs report shows wages rising at an annual rate of 2.6 percent.

A majority of Americans still regard their country as being on the “wrong track.” The reality is that a significant percentage of the population, starting with Trump’s “birther” crowd, would believe the country is going in the wrong direction simply because there is a black man in the White House.

As for Donald Trump, the NYT wrote, “over the span of Mr. Trump’s career, it is hard to find a project he touched that did not produce allegations of broken promises, blatant lies or outright fraud.” That includes 3,500 lawsuits against him.

Now he is engaged in the biggest scam of his career: trying to pass himself off as qualified to be president.

Tom Maertens served as National Security Council director for nonproliferation and homeland defense under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and as deputy coordinator for counter-terrorism in the State Department during and after 9/11. He lives in Mankato.

The Breitbart alt-right just took over the GOP

If Republicans aren't careful, they'll soon see true conservatism banished from their party.

By Ben Shapiro August 18 at 6:00 AM Follow benshapiro, WashPost

Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire and author of several books including "Bullies: How the Left's Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences Americans."

On Wednesday, Donald Trump’s campaign announced Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon as its new CEO — shocking no one in the conservative world.

Conservatives joked openly for months about “Trumpbart” and the transformation of into, essentially,, but it was still something of a surprise that Trump would so publicly embrace Bannon, a man who helped transform a mainstream conservative website into a cesspool of the alt-right. It also comes as a surprise — or at least it should — that the Republican National Committee appears ready to go right along with the Bannon-Breitbart-Trump takeover over the party, even as the Trump campaign’s latest move means RNC Chairman Reince Priebus now sits, effectively, side by side with alt-right Trump fans.

The takeover, now a virtual fait accompli, represents the dangerous seizure of the conservative movement by the alt-right.

Constitutional conservatives can’t stand the alt-right. Conservatives — real conservatives — believe that only a philosophy of limited government, God-given rights and personal responsibility can save the country. And that creed is not bound to race or ethnicity. Broad swaths of the alt-right, by contrast, believe in a creed-free, race-based nationalism, insisting, among other things, that birth on American soil confers superiority. The alt-right sees limited-government constitutionalism as passé; it holds that only nationalist populism on the basis of shared tribal identity can save the country. It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.

(More here.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

U.S. Held Cash Until Iran Freed Prisoners

An Iranian cargo plane left Geneva with $400 million in cash after a flight with Americans aboard took off from Tehran in January

By Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee, WSJ
Aug. 17, 2016 5:27 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—New details of the $400 million U.S. payment to Iran earlier this year depict a tightly scripted exchange specifically timed to the release of several American prisoners held in Iran, based on accounts from U.S. officials and others briefed on the operation.

U.S. officials wouldn't let Iranians take control of the money until a Swiss Air Force plane carrying three freed Americans departed from Tehran on Jan. 17, the officials said. Once that happened, an Iranian cargo plane was allowed to bring the cash back from a Geneva airport that day, according to the accounts.

President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials have said the payment didn’t amount to ransom, because the money was owed by the U.S. to Iran as part of a longstanding dispute linked to a failed arms deal from the 1970s. U.S. officials have said that the prisoner release and cash transfer took place through two separate diplomatic channels.

But the handling of the payment and its connection to the release of the Americans have raised questions among lawmakers and administration critics.

(More here.)

America is no longer guaranteed military victory. These weapons could change that.

By David Ignatius Opinion writer August 16 at 7:46 PM, WashPost

The fight against the Islamic State may get the headlines. But it’s the military threats from Russia and China that most worry top Pentagon officials — and are driving a new arms race to deter these great-power rivals.

This question of how to deal with Russian and Chinese military advances has gotten almost no attention in the 2016 presidential campaign. But it deserves a careful look. The programs begun in the waning days of the Obama administration could potentially change the face of warfare, in the United States’ favor, but they would require political support and new spending by the next president.

A drive to build exotic versions of conventional weapons may sound crazy in a world that already has too much military conflict. But advocates argue that strengthening U.S. conventional forces might be the only way to avoid escalation to nuclear weapons if war with Moscow or Beijing began.

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work argued for the new deterrence strategy in a presentation this month to the bipartisan Aspen Strategy Group, amplifying comments he made to me in an interview in February. The approach, awkwardly named the “third offset strategy,” would leverage the United States’ technological superiority by creating weapons that could complicate attack planning by an adversary.

(More here.)

‘Shadow Brokers’ Leak Raises Alarming Question: Was the N.S.A. Hacked?

By DAVID E. SANGER, NYT, AUG. 16, 2016

The release on websites this week of what appears to be top-secret computer code that the National Security Agency has used to break into the networks of foreign governments and other espionage targets has caused deep concern inside American intelligence agencies, raising the question of whether America’s own elite operatives have been hacked and their methods revealed.

Most outside experts who examined the posts, by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, said they contained what appeared to be genuine samples of the code — though somewhat outdated — used in the production of the N.S.A.’s custom-built malware.

Most of the code was designed to break through network firewalls and get inside the computer systems of competitors like Russia, China and Iran. That, in turn, allows the N.S.A. to place “implants” in the system, which can lurk unseen for years and be used to monitor network traffic or enable a debilitating computer attack.

According to these experts, the coding resembled a series of “products” developed inside the N.S.A.’s highly classified Tailored Access Operations unit, some of which were described in general terms in documents stolen three years ago by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor now living in Russia.

(More here.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

You may think the world is falling apart. Steven Pinker is here to tell you it isn't.

by Julia Belluz on August 16, 2016, Vox

If you think this has felt like the summer of sadness, you are not alone.

Every week, sometimes every day, seems to bring more stomach-turning news. In June, there was the Orlando nightclub shooting, where dozens were killed and injured in the deadliest terror attack in the US since 9/11. Then came July’s blood-soaked Bastille Day in Nice, when a terrorist drove a truck over holiday revelers, killing 84 people, including 10 children. Before the month was over, ISIS militants had assassinated a French priest in his church and executed the patrons and staff at a cafe in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

These are just the more gruesome terror events that grabbed headlines — and only those carried out this summer. I’ve made no mention of what happened in Paris over the last year, or the airport killings in Brussels and Istanbul, or, for that matter, San Bernardino.

And these are just the terrorist attacks. I’ve said nothing of the flaring racial tensions in the US, police shootings of black men, or the multiple reprisal shootings of officers — a cycle that played out again this week in Milwaukee, where protests erupted into burning riots following the police shooting death of 23-year-old black man Sylville Smith.

The political discourse of late hasn’t done much to soothe the anger or quell the hate. If anything, it’s inflamed matters. As Nick Kristof noted in the Times recently, Donald Trump is making America meaner, inciting violence toward immigrants and even his opponent, Hillary Clinton. ("Hang the bitch!" is a common chant at Trump rallies.)

(More here.)

Getting old: If you can't fight it, deal with it

'Hacks' Can Ease the Trials of Aging

New York Times

When Barbara Beskind, 92, had trouble reaching foods in the back of her refrigerator, she installed a lazy susan on an inside shelf. The revolving tray makes items much easier to reach. Ms. Beskind, a former occupational therapist in the Army who has age-related macular degeneration, a disease that reduces her central vision, also attached small tactile bumps to the “Answer” button and the “2” and “8” keys on her phone, making it easier for her to respond to and make calls.

Many older people, like Ms. Beskind, are forgoing high-tech gadgetry in favor of common – and usually much cheaper – items from office supply and hardware stores, repurposing them to solve everyday problems. Sugru, a moldable putty that turns into rubber, can be used to round out sharp corners on furniture in order to prevent injuries. Rubber bands can be affixed to cups to make them easier to grip. A clothespin can be clipped to the rim of a cup with a drinking straw taped to it to hold the straw in place. A pants hanger can hold a cookbook open at eye level.

Glen Hougan, who teaches industrial design at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, calls creative and resourceful repurposers like Ms. Beskind hackers, a term often applied to computer programmers who develop creative workarounds, or hacks, to particular problems. He began researching hacks designed to ease the burdens of aging in the early 2000s, after finding that many of the store-bought items that were available to the elderly were sterile, generic and lacking in variety. One of his favorite hacks involves hanging an old stocking in a shower with a bar of soap tucked into the foot. As the soap gradually shrinks, it remains inside the stocking instead of a becoming a slipping hazard on the floor. The slightly abrasive nylon stocking material has the added benefit of exfoliating the skin.

(More here.)

Monday, August 15, 2016

China’s Latest Leap Forward Isn’t Just Great — It’s Quantum

Beijing prepares to launch the world’s first quantum-communications satellite into orbit

By Josh Chin, WSJ
Updated Aug. 15, 2016 10:29 a.m. ET

BEIJING—A rocket scheduled to take flight from the Gobi Desert within days is expected to propel China to the forefront of one of science’s most challenging fields.

It also is set to launch Beijing far ahead of its global rivals in the drive to acquire a highly coveted asset in the age of cyberespionage: hack-proof communications.

Chinese state media on Monday said preparations were nearly complete to send the world’s first quantum communications satellite into orbit from a launch center in Inner Mongolia. Five years in the making, the project is being closely watched in global scientific and security circles.

The quantum program is the latest part of China’s multibillion-dollar strategy over the past two decades to draw even with or surpass the West in hard-sciences research.

(More here.)

Why the news should be open, free and truly balanced

LP note: Read carefully the news story below. From it, doesn't Fox News sound like the kind of government controlled news source in less open societies like Iran and North Korea … even Russia? Fortunately, Fox News is not the official mouthpiece of the U.S. government but rather the official mouthpiece of a large multinational corporation. Imagine, however, if that corporation or a corporation like it gained control over the U.S. government. A devastating thought....

Fox News confronts (but just barely) a scandal in its own house

By Paul Farhi August 14 at 6:22 PM, WashPost

It’s one of the most intriguing stories of the summer, a tale of sex, money, politics and corporate skulduggery that would seem especially ripe for coverage and discussion by the firebrands at Fox News.

Except Fox News barely seems to have noticed.

Ever since former Fox host Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment suit July 6 against the network’s co-founder and chairman, Roger Ailes, Fox has been tight-lipped about telling its viewers about the allegations, which have turned the network upside down.

Fox mentioned the lawsuit and Ailes’s subsequent resignation July 21, but that’s about all it has done since the news broke. It has not conducted a single on-camera interview with any person connected with the news, including Ailes, who built Fox into a clarion of the American conservative movement. According to Fox’s news-clip archive, there have been no panel discussions, no diatribes from Fox’s famously aggressive hosts, no follow-up investigations, no tributes to the Ailes era.

(More here.)

U.S. allies unite to block Obama's nuclear 'legacy'

By Josh Rogin August 14 at 7:29 PM, WashPost

President Obama’s last-minute drive for a foreign-policy legacy is making U.S. allies nervous about their own security. Several allied governments have lobbied the administration not to change U.S. nuclear-weapons policy by promising never to be the first to use them in a conflict.

The governments of Japan, South Korea, France and Britain have all privately communicated their concerns about a potential declaration by President Obama of a “no first use” nuclear-weapons policy for the United States. U.S. allies have various reasons for objecting to what would be a landmark change in America’s nuclear posture, but they are all against it, according to U.S. officials, foreign diplomats and nuclear experts.

Japan, in particular, believes that if Obama declares a “no first use” policy, deterrence against countries such as North Korea will suffer and the risks of conflict will rise. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe personally conveyed that message recently to Adm. Harry Harris Jr., the head of U.S. Pacific Command, according to two government officials.

U.S. allies in Europe have a separate, additional concern. They don’t want any daylight between their nuclear policies and those of the United States, especially since Britain, France and the United States all are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. In the case of an emergency, those differences could cause real coordination problems.

(More here.)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

U.S. Drones Record ISIS Fighters Fleeing Manbij in Northern Syria

AUG. 13, 2016

CAIRO — American military drones monitored Islamic State militants loading up hundreds of cars, buses and trucks with fighters and civilians and fleeing the city of Manbij, Syria, on Friday, as Syrian rebels advanced and the extremists lost yet another stronghold.

On Wednesday, the Libyan city of Surt, held by the Islamic State for more than a year, also fell to pro-government militiamen, and the militants lost the headquarters from which they had ruled more than 150 miles of Libyan coastline.

The two new victories against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, could have a significant effect on the group’s efforts to penetrate the West.

Manbij controlled one of just two crossings to Turkey from Syria, and its fall will probably deprive the extremists of that route. The other major crossing, al-Rai, is often under attack by anti-Islamic State factions. The route between Manbij and Jarabulus, Turkey, has been the route by which foreign jihadists have come to join the Islamic State in Syria, or to leave again for European destinations. It is also the largest city the group has lost in Syria.

(More here.)

It’s time organic farming plays a role in feeding a rapidly growing world population

Can we feed 10 billion people on organic farming alone?

Organic farming creates more profit and yields healthier produce.

John Reganold
Sunday 14 August 2016

In 1971, then US Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz uttered these unsympathetic words: “Before we go back to organic agriculture in this country, somebody must decide which 50 million Americans we are going to let starve or go hungry.” Since then, critics have continued to argue that organic agriculture is inefficient, requiring more land than conventional agriculture to yield the same amount of food. Proponents have countered that increasing research could reduce the yield gap, and organic agriculture generates environmental, health and socioeconomic benefits that can’t be found with conventional farming.

Organic agriculture occupies only 1% of global agricultural land, making it a relatively untapped resource for one of the greatest challenges facing humanity: producing enough food for a population that could reach 10 billion by 2050, without the extensive deforestation and harm to the wider environment.

That’s the conclusion my doctoral student Jonathan Wachter and I reached in reviewing 40 years of science and hundreds of scientific studies comparing the long term prospects of organic and conventional farming. The study, Organic Agriculture in the 21st Century, published in Nature Plants, is the first to compare organic and conventional agriculture across the four main metrics of sustainability identified by the US National Academy of Sciences: be productive, economically profitable, environmentally sound and socially just. Like a chair, for a farm to be sustainable, it needs to be stable, with all four legs being managed so they are in balance.

We found that although organic farming systems produce yields that average 10-20% less than conventional agriculture, they are more profitable and environmentally friendly. Historically, conventional agriculture has focused on increasing yields at the expense of the other three sustainability metrics.

(Continued here.)

Read Shawn Otto's 'The War on Science'

Earlier this summer I recommended three excellent reads in "Tired of all Trump, all the time? Enlighten yourself with these books": Dark Money by Jane Mayer, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren and Tipping Point for Planet Earth by Anthony D. Barnosky & Elizabeth A. Hadly.

Now I'm going to add a fourth: The War on Science by Shawn Otto.

My first impressions of the book were:
  1. It was originally released in paperback, not hardcover.
  2. It is not your usual 250-page popular science book but a 426-page hefty tome that could double as an adequate doorstop.
But it is far from a doorstop. Rather, it is a must-read for anyone who cares about the planet and its future.

Granted, it is at times a thick slog. It starts very slowly, including a long list of questions bunched into one long, nearly two-page paragraph. Right away I was thinking: Why wasn't this put into an easy-to-read list?

But once Otto gets into the meat of things with an overview of the history of politics and science, the book sings with detail.

Only once does it falter after that, giving (I think) much more emphasis on postmodernism than this mostly silly intellectual diversion deserves. But then Otto has a point: That science bashing on the intellectual left can be as dangerous as on the intellectual right or from fundamentalist religious movements.

In The War on Science Otto covers a lot. In fact, I can't think of anything he doesn't touch upon. He even addresses issues that seem peripheral to his thesis but that resonate strongly with me and others I know in academia: for example, the current thrust by universities to "overempower" administrations at the expense of faculty and the learning environment, and to be job trainers rather than pure educators.

That said, I can't think of any book today that better covers the grand scheme of the interaction of science and antiscience, all mixed in with politics, religion, economics, short-term thinking and pure corporate greed.

In short, do NOT read this book at your own peril!

— Leigh Pomeroy

Other reviews worth noting:

"The War on Science will change how you see the world" — The Guardian

"New Book Reveals How 'Broken Media' Enables War On Science" — Media Matters

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Hacker Reveals Personal Information for Almost 200 Democrats

Guccifer 2.0 says records stolen as part of breach of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

By Damian Paletta, WSJ
Updated Aug. 13, 2016 8:41 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON—A hacker posted cellphone numbers and other personal information of nearly 200 current and former congressional Democrats on Friday, the latest public disclosure of sensitive records this election season.

The hacker, or group of hackers, going by the name “Guccifer 2.0” said the records were stolen as part of a breach of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. A number of files were posted onto Guccifer 2.0’s website, including a spreadsheet that has information, such as phone numbers and email addresses, for 193 people. The cellphone numbers of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland were among the information posted.

Mr. Hoyer, reached on the cellphone number listed on the spreadsheet, said he wasn’t aware that this information had been stolen or posted online.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it, obviously,” he said Friday evening.

A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Word began to spread Friday evening among Democrats whose personal information was posted, and several became furious, a congressional staffer said. Not all the information appeared to be correct, as at least one email address listed on the spreadsheet was no longer current.

(More here.)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart

By Scott Anderson Photographs by Paolo Pellegrin, NYT

This is a story unlike any we have previously published. It is much longer than the typical New York Times Magazine feature story; in print, it occupies an entire issue. The product of some 18 months of reporting, it tells the story of the catastrophe that has fractured the Arab world since the invasion of Iraq 13 years ago, leading to the rise of ISIS and the global refugee crisis. The geography of this catastrophe is broad and its causes are many, but its consequences — war and uncertainty throughout the world — are familiar to us all. Scott Anderson’s story gives the reader a visceral sense of how it all unfolded, through the eyes of six characters in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. Accompanying Anderson’s text are 10 portfolios by the photographer Paolo Pellegrin, drawn from his extensive travels across the region over the last 14 years, as well as a landmark virtual-reality experience that embeds the viewer with the Iraqi fighting forces during the battle to retake Falluja.

It is unprecedented for us to focus so much energy and attention on a single story, and to ask our readers to do the same. We would not do so were we not convinced that what follows is one of the most clear-eyed, powerful and human explanations of what has gone wrong in this region that you will ever read.


(More here.)

Dispute Between Russia and Ukraine Over Crimea Accusations Escalates

Russian President Vladimir Putin blames Ukraine for the deaths of two of its service members

By Laura Mills, WSJ
Updated Aug. 11, 2016 9:30 a.m. ET

MOSCOW—Ukraine’s president put his country’s forces on combat alert Thursday as Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed stepped-up security measures in the annexed territory of Crimea, escalating a crisis around the Black Sea peninsula.

President Petro Poroshenko met with his security advisers, ordering them to bring all units along the Crimean frontier and in eastern Ukraine to “increased combat-readiness,” according to an official statement. He also called on his foreign ministry to initiate talks with Mr. Putin.

Mr. Putin had met earlier with his security council and other officials to discuss “antiterrorist security scenarios at the land border, sea, and in the airspace of Crimea,” according to the Kremlin.

The Russian Ministry of Defense said Russia’s Black Sea Fleet would conduct training exercises in the eastern Mediterranean starting next week, including drills to test its ability to deal with threats “of a terrorist nature.”

(More here.)

Minneapolis nutrition bar startup gains national attention

Can five friends build a company? A look at Five Friends Foods

This group effort by Five Friends Foods brings national distribution to the Fresh Bar.

By BETH DOOLEY Special to the Star Tribune
AUGUST 10, 2016

Maybe not an entire village, but it took five friends to start a company.

That would be Five Friends Foods, co-founded by Ross Pomeroy, Tom Johnson, Austin Hinkle, Mike Steffan and Will Handke. They are raising the bar for nutritious snacks with their refrigerated Fresh Bars. These high school friends from Mankato reconnected after college, and now their Fresh Bars can be found in more than 150 stores nationwide.

Fresh Bar is the brainchild of Pomeroy, who worked as a fitness trainer in Madison, Wis., while finishing college. He began making snack bars for his clients that were better tasting than the crumbly dry packaged products on the market. His were a hit — soft, chewy and loaded with fruit, nuts and oats.

Soon after graduating, he and his twin brother, Will Handke [Will's parents chose to give Will his mother’s last name, Ross his father’s], launched GudBar and invited two friends to join them in the venture. They leased space in Kindred Kitchen, a commercial incubator kitchen in Minneapolis. However, they were soon threatened by Hershey for copyright infringement (GudBar vs Mr. Goodbar candy).

“It actually helped us in the long run,” said Handke.

For the first three years, the team worked nights on Fresh Bars after putting in full days at their paying jobs. Handke described this as “One eight-hour shift right after another.”

(Continued here.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Of the Vikings Training Camp and What Really Matters

By Leigh Pomeroy

As the Minnesota Vikings exit Mankato for perhaps their last training camp here, I am torn among several thoughts.

My wife and I have never been big football fans. Having grown up in Colorado, she has always been partial to the Broncos. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and was a 49ers and Stanford fan back from the days of Y. A. Tittle and John Brodie. Pro football was fairly low-key then, when salaries weren’t extravagant and some of the players might even be your neighbors. In fact, my brother dated Jill Soltau, daughter of 49ers All-Pro receiver Gordy Soltau (interestingly, a native of Duluth). She was very down-to-earth and not at all on a pedestal because of her father’s standing.

I celebrated when the 49ers dominated the NFL with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Joe bought his cars from my brother’s friend’s VW dealership, and later, when Joe had retired, I would cross paths with Jim Plunkett, who had taken over the quarterbacking slot, running in my neighborhood.

Football has changed a lot since then.

Players are bigger and beefier, as are salaries. There is also a certain hero worship. Maybe that was always there, but decades ago it seemed a lot less prevalent.

Newspapers still devote a full section to sports endeavors. I wonder why this is, given the declining readership among younger generations and the question: Does the remaining, obviously older, predominantly male population actually read anything?

Life is full of questions like this, such as the obsession du jour of today’s media: the presidential election.

When the media bring up the subject of whether Hillary Clinton will do this or Donald Trump will do that if elected, there is never the disclaimer: Warning! Congress actually makes the laws!

We have seen in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations examples of “executive power” by which the president acts when Congress fiddles. In some cases, this is good for the American people, in others, well, not so much.

And then there is the Supreme Court, which in 1803 under Chief Justice John Marshall, declared itself the final arbiter on the constitutionality of laws — not the president or Congress. Both President Thomas Jefferson and Congress accepted this, as have subsequent presidents and Congresses, so here we stand today with the Supreme Court able to make extraordinary decisions using powers it was not expressly given in the Constitution based on individual justices’ unique interpretations of that document, existing law and subsequent court decisions, too often by a razor thin margin of just one vote.

So what does this have to do with the Vikings training camp?

Very little, and here’s why: First of all, this piece will appear in the opinion section of the newspaper, which I’m sure heavy duty Viking fans rarely read. And even if it did show up in the sports section, would it get any traction there?

Second, rabid Vikings fans — God bless ‘em! — probably look at the constant noise and thrum about the presidential election as the rest of us do: the never ending parade of he said/she said sound bites that in the long run mean very little in terms of what really will happen.

Third, compared to the direction of the country and the world, the Vikings training camp means nothing. I look at the parade of big honker SUVs coming in and leaving from the training camp and think: How does this relate to what really matters, like national security, feeding the hungry, disease prevention, clean water, quality education, health care, the environment, wealth inequality, climate change?

I would like to relate the Vikings training camp to these challenges, but I cannot. The camp is about beef and brawn and winning (and hopefully not losing) and probably just taking minds off everyday challenges of work and raising a family.

Perhaps that’s good, as facing such challenges can rightfully make us depressed. On the other hand, concentrating on the ins and outs, comings and goings, successes and failures of a sports team may take us away from Thomas Jefferson’s concept that an educated and engaged citizenry is necessary for the full functioning of a democracy.

As I watch the parade of monster gas-guzzling SUVs come and go from the training camp, I have to caution myself: At one time this kind of lifestyle I thought to be just fine. Thus, should their drivers be blamed for spending their leisure time this way just because I find it unimportant and wasteful?

I think not. Siddhartha in the ancient Buddhist tradition, who gave up his control of kingdoms and riches to become a ferryboat driver, never blamed others for not following his choices. Those of us who have gone beyond the worship of football (or any sport) should do the same.

With coaxing and enlightenment, perhaps one day those Viking fans/SUV drivers will return to our town to ride our bike trails, partake of our cultural events, visit our farmer’s market. And then, perhaps, once their children have grown up and left home, and they don’t have so many bodies to cart around, they’ll be driving Priuses or even electric cars instead.

Leigh Pomeroy lives in Mankato and could easily walk to the Vikings Training Camp if he wanted to.

20 Science Questions for the Presidential Candidates


1. Innovation

Science and engineering have been responsible for over half of the growth of the U.S. economy since WWII. But some reports question America’s continued leadership in these areas. What policies will best ensure that America remains at the forefront of innovation?

2. Research

Many scientific advances require long-term investment to fund research over a period of longer than the two, four, or six year terms that govern political cycles. In the current climate of budgetary constraints, what are your science and engineering research priorities and how will you balance short-term versus long-term funding?

3. Climate Change

The Earth’s climate is changing and political discussion has become divided over both the science and the best response. What are your views on climate change, and how would your administration act on those views?

4. Biodiversity

Biological diversity provides food, fiber, medicines, clean water and many other products and services on which we depend every day. Scientists are finding that the variety and variability of life is diminishing at an alarming rate as a result of human activity. What steps will you take to protect biological diversity?

5. The Internet

The Internet has become a foundation of economic, social, law enforcement, and military activity. What steps will you take to protect vulnerable infrastructure and institutions from cyber attack, and to provide for national security while protecting personal privacy on electronic devices and the internet?

6. Mental Health

Mental illness is among the most painful and stigmatized diseases, and the National Institute of Mental Health estimates it costs America more than $300 billion per year. What will you do to reduce the human and economic costs of mental illness?

7. Energy

Strategic management of the US energy portfolio can have powerful economic, environmental, and foreign policy impacts. How do you see the energy landscape evolving over the next 4 to 8 years, and, as President, what will your energy strategy be?

8. Education

American students have fallen in many international rankings of science and math performance, and the public in general is being faced with an expanding array of major policy challenges that are heavily influenced by complex science. How would your administration work to ensure all students including women and minorities are prepared to address 21st century challenges and, further, that the public has an adequate level of STEM literacy in an age dominated by complex science and technology?

9. Public Health

Public health efforts like smoking cessation, drunk driving laws, vaccination, and water fluoridation have improved health and productivity and save millions of lives. How would you improve federal research and our public health system to better protect Americans from emerging diseases and other public health threats, such as antibiotic resistant superbugs?

10. Water

The long-term security of fresh water supplies is threatened by a dizzying array of aging infrastructure, aquifer depletion, pollution, and climate variability. Some American communities have lost access to water, affecting their viability and destroying home values. If you are elected, what steps will you take to ensure access to clean water for all Americans?

11. Nuclear Power

Nuclear power can meet electricity demand without producing greenhouse gases, but it raises national security and environmental concerns. What is your plan for the use, expansion, or phasing out of nuclear power, and what steps will you take to monitor, manage and secure nuclear materials over their life cycle?

12. Food

Agriculture involves a complex balance of land and energy use, worker health and safety, water use and quality, and access to healthy and affordable food, all of which have inputs of objective knowledge from science. How would you manage the US agricultural enterprise to our highest benefit in the most sustainable way?

13. Global Challenges

We now live in a global economy with a large and growing human population. These factors create economic, public health, and environmental challenges that do not respect national borders. How would your administration balance national interests with global cooperation when tackling threats made clear by science, such as pandemic diseases and climate change, that cross national borders?

14. Regulations

Science is essential to many of the laws and policies that keep Americans safe and secure. How would science inform your administration's decisions to add, modify, or remove federal regulations, and how would you encourage a thriving business sector while protecting Americans vulnerable to public health and environmental threats?

15. Vaccination

Public health officials warn that we need to take more steps to prevent international epidemics from viruses such as Ebola and Zika. Meanwhile, measles is resurgent due to decreasing vaccination rates. How will your administration support vaccine science?

16. Space

There is a political debate over America’s national approach to space exploration and use. What should America's national goals be for space exploration and earth observation from space, and what steps would your administration take to achieve them?

17. Opioids

There is a growing opioid problem in the United States, with tragic costs to lives, families and society. How would your administration enlist researchers, medical doctors and pharmaceutical companies in addressing this issue?

18. Ocean Health

There is growing concern over the decline of fisheries and the overall health of the ocean: scientists estimate that 90% of stocks are fished at or beyond sustainable limits, habitats like coral reefs are threatened by ocean acidification, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What efforts would your administration make to improve the health of our ocean and coastlines and increase the long-term sustainability of ocean fisheries?

19. Immigration

There is much current political discussion about immigration policy and border controls. Would you support any changes in immigration policy regarding scientists and engineers who receive their graduate degree at an American university? Conversely, what is your opinion of recent controversy over employment and the H1-B Visa program?

20. Scientific Integrity

Evidence from science is the surest basis for fair and just public policy, but that is predicated on the integrity of that evidence and of the scientific process used to produce it, which must be both transparent and free from political bias and pressure. How will you foster a culture of scientific transparency and accountability in government, while protecting scientists and federal agencies from political interference in their work?

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Clinton’s email server did not lead to an Iranian scientist’s death

By Josh Rogin August 8 at 12:10 PM, WashPost

Despite what you might read on Donald Trump’s twitter feed, the Iranian execution of a nuclear scientist who defected to the United States and then changed his mind was not caused by Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. The scientist outed himself; it wasn’t Clinton’s fault.

The Iranian government announced Sunday it had executed Shahram Amiri, a nuclear scientist who spent about 14 months in the United States in 2009 and 2010. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) noted on Sunday’s Face the Nation that Amiri’s case had been discussed by top Clinton State Department officials on emails that passed through her private server.

“I’m not going to comment on what he may or may not have done for the United States government, but in the emails that were on Hillary Clinton’s private server, there were conversations among her senior advisors about this gentleman,” Cotton said. “That goes to show just how reckless and careless her decision was to put that kind of highly classified information on a private server.”

The Drudge Report ran the story with a banner title, “Clinton email led to execution in Iran?” which Trump promptly retweeted without comment to his 10.7 million followers.

(More here.)

Monday, August 08, 2016

Europeans Are Quietly Preparing for War with Russia

By Nolan Peterson On 8/6/16 at 6:00 AM

Whether referring to Russian aggression in the east or to the threat of Islamist terrorism in the West, Europe’s political, media and religious elite are increasingly using the word war to describe the continent’s security challenges.

The day after the July 14 attack in Nice, in which a man drove a large truck into a crowd, killing 84, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said France was at war “both abroad and on our soil.”

“For years, we have lived, fundamentally, with a kind of insouciance, as though war could not catch up with us, as though history was not tragic,” Valls said. “But war is here, and it is different from the ones that we knew in the 20th century.”

Less than two weeks later, Pope Francis echoed Valls’s remarks when he said the “world is at war.”

“The word we hear a lot is insecurity, but the real word is war,” the pope told reporters while commenting on the murder of a Catholic priest in Normandy by two ISIS terrorists and a string of violent incidents across Germany.

(More here.)

U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit

U.S. Climate Resistance Toolkit

Meet the Challenges of a Changing Climate 

Find a framework and tools to understand and address climate issues that impact people and their communities.

For many Americans, adapting to new climate conditions means developing new expertise. Decision makers across the nation are using data and tools to confront their climate threats, identify vulnerabilities, and reduce their risks from the impacts of climate​ variability and change.

Check it out!

Q: When is Congress going to wake up? A: When it's too hot to sleep…

Latest Climate Report: Heat, More Heat and Signs of Worse to Come

2015 featured record warm temperatures on every inhabited continent as ice melted and the seas rose at alarming rates.

InsideClimate News

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 2015 State of the Climate report unleashed a flood of statistics that should overwhelm whatever doubts remain of global warming's already startling impacts, scientists said Tuesday.

For the first time since record-keeping started, the average annual global temperature exceeded pre-industrial levels by more than 1 degree Celsius. Record to near-record warmth was common on every inhabited continent. Sea surface temperatures and heat content in the upper levels of the ocean also set records, as did sea level, which crept up to 2.75 inches above the 1993 level, when the satellite altimeter record started. Glaciers around the world retreated for the 36th year in a row, the report said.

"As I often point out now, the impacts of climate change are no longer subtle," said climate scientist Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. "They are playing out before us, in real time. The 2015 numbers drive that home."

(Continued here.)

Saturday, August 06, 2016

The Phone Call That Saved Israel

Nasser’s son-in-law was Israel’s most crucial spy in the leadup to war in 1973

By Matti Friedman, WSJ
Aug. 5, 2016 4:21 p.m. ET

In the late afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 4, 1973, a phone rang in London. On the line was a tense man who wanted to speak to “Alex” about “a lot of chemicals.” Alex’s name wasn’t Alex and there were no chemicals. What the caller was saying, in an agreed-upon code, was that a cataclysmic war was about to break out in the Middle East. By the end of the weekend thousands would be dead.

The man on the phone, Ashraf Marwan, was an official at the pinnacle of the Egyptian regime, an aide to President Anwar Sadat and the son-in-law of the late, revered leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. He was also a spy for Israel—one whose appearance was the kind of thing “that happens only once in a thousand years,” according to one of the Israeli consumers of his secret reports. The murky man in question, the nature of the game he was playing and the series of events that culminated with his fateful phone call on the eve of the Yom Kippur War, are the subjects of Uri Bar-Joseph’s eye-opening book, “The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel.”

The Angel

By Uri Bar-Joseph
Harper, 372 pages, $29.99

Mr. Bar-Joseph, a professor of political science at Haifa University and an intelligence expert, picks up the trail of the elegant and ambitious young Marwan in the Nasserist Cairo of the 1960s, where he embarked on a promising marriage to Nasser’s daughter, Mona. From there we follow him to swinging London, where he was looking for money, excitement and possibly revenge against his humiliations by his powerful father-in-law, who seems to have considered Marwan a careless bon vivant unworthy of his daughter.

(More here.)

Friday, August 05, 2016

How to Hack an Election in 7 Minutes

Andrew Appel and a Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machine. | Alex Halderman

With Russia already meddling in 2016, a ragtag group of obsessive tech experts is warning that stealing the ultimate prize—victory on Nov. 8—would be child’s play.

By Ben Wofford, August 05, 2016

When Princeton professor Andrew Appel decided to hack into a voting machine, he didn’t try to mimic the Russian attackers who hacked into the Democratic National Committee's database last month. He didn’t write malicious code, or linger near a polling place where the machines can go unguarded for days.

Instead, he bought one online.

With a few cursory clicks of a mouse, Appel parted with $82 and became the owner of an ungainly metallic giant called the Sequoia AVC Advantage, one of the oldest and vulnerable, electronic voting machines in the United States (among other places it’s deployed in Louisiana, New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania). No sooner did a team of bewildered deliverymen roll the 250-pound device into a conference room near Appel’s cramped, third-floor office than the professor set to work. He summoned a graduate student named Alex Halderman, who could pick the machine’s lock in seven seconds. Clutching a screwdriver, he deftly wedged out the four ROM chips—they weren’t soldered into the circuit board, as sense might dictate—making it simple to replace them with one of his own: A version of modified firmware that could throw off the machine’s results, subtly altering the tally of votes, never to betray a hint to the voter. The attack was concluded in minutes. To mark the achievement, his student snapped a photo of Appel—oblong features, messy black locks and a salt-and-pepper beard—grinning for the camera, fists still on the circuit board, as if to look directly into the eyes of the American taxpayer: Don’t look at me—you’re the one who paid for this thing.

(More here.)

Remembering the biggest mass murder in the history of the world

Chinese peasants suffering from the effects of the Great Leap Forward.
By Ilya Somin August 3, WashPost

Who was the biggest mass murderer in the history of the world? Most people probably assume that the answer is Adolf Hitler, architect of the Holocaust. Others might guess Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who may indeed have managed to kill even more innocent people than Hitler did, many of them as part of a terror famine that likely took more lives than the Holocaust. But both Hitler and Stalin were outdone by Mao Zedong. From 1958 to 1962, his Great Leap Forward policy led to the deaths of up to 45 million people – easily making it the biggest episode of mass murder ever recorded.

Historian Frank Dikötter, author of the important book Mao’s Great Famine recently published an article in History Today, summarizing what happened:

Mao thought that he could catapult his country past its competitors by herding villagers across the country into giant people’s communes. In pursuit of a utopian paradise, everything was collectivised. People had their work, homes, land, belongings and livelihoods taken from them. In collective canteens, food, distributed by the spoonful according to merit, became a weapon used to force people to follow the party’s every dictate. As incentives to work were removed, coercion and violence were used instead to compel famished farmers to perform labour on poorly planned irrigation projects while fields were neglected.

(More here.)

High prices make once-neglected ‘orphan’ drugs a booming business

By Carolyn Y. Johnson August 4 at 6:23 PM

Three decades ago, Congress listened to the plight of Americans sick with diseases so rare many people had never heard of them. They were victims of a pharmaceutical market failure — “orphans” ignored by drug companies because, the thinking went, tiny groups of patients would lead to trifling sales.

To make the business viable, Congress — pushed by patients and a popular television show that highlighted rare diseases — passed the Orphan Drug Act. The 1983 law offered drug companies attractive tax credits and monopolies to develop treatments for rare diseases, radically transforming the pipeline of orphan drugs.

Now, rare diseases are no longer a neglected niche of the pharmaceutical business; they are a tantalizing moneymaking opportunity. More than 400 treatments have been approved since the law passed. Last year, nearly half of all novel drugs approved were treatments for orphan diseases.

But critics and some medical experts are concerned that the Orphan Drug Act may have backfired.

(More here.)