April 18, 2018 in 2,462 words

‘A political volcano just erupted’: is the US on the brink of the next Watergate?

As Trump threatens to fire Mueller, a journalist who was reporting during Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre reads the warning signs

Pictured above: Robert Mueller departs the Capitol after a closed-door meeting with members of the Senate judiciary committee on 21 June 2017.

Ever since the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, the golden rule for presidents under investigation by a special prosecutor or special counsel has been that the president shall not fire the person conducting the investigation. For there – as medieval maps sometimes warned travelers – “be dragons”.

Donald Trump has been lectured repeatedly on this score by various advisers and pundits. Yet word keeps leaking out of the White House that Trump would like nothing more than to fire Robert Mueller. So far, Trump has heeded the warnings. But how much longer, one wonders, can a man who famously bragged that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it be expected to resist temptation to dismiss the special counsel?

Since May 2017, Mueller, dogged as Inspector Javert in Les Misérables, has been investigating assorted misdeeds allegedly committed by Trump and his aides – from “collusion” with Russians meddling in the 2016 presidential election to the payment of large sums of hush money to a porn actor and a former Playboy model.

Mueller has already either indicted or wrung guilty pleas from 19 people, including Trump’s former campaign chair. What’s more, it appears that Mueller is following a trail left by former FBI director James Comey, whom Trump did fire last year, on a possible obstruction of justice charge against the president.

Clearly, Trump is feeling pinched and would like the cause of his pain to vanish. So let us review the short history of that golden rule everyone keeps warning him about.

Facebook is a tyranny – and our government isn’t built to stop it

America’s founders didn’t envision the power of the corporation. We need a new structure for self-governance that can counter 21st-century monopolies.

Mark Zuckerberg testifies in Washington. ‘Facebook and the other tech monopolies dwarf the power of the state.’

Last week, Senator Dick Durbin asked: “Mr Zuckerberg, would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?”

The Facebook CEO froze and then answered: “No.”

“If you’ve messaged anyone this week, would you share with us the names of the people you’ve messaged?”

Zuckerberg responded in the negative. The questioning drives home the alarming truth about Facebook and other tech giant’s surveillance of billions globally.

Facebook tracks us, and not just the things we’ve shared with our friends. If we use Facebook’s Messenger service, we may have allowed it to access all our contacts, including the names and phone numbers of our doctors, children, favorite pizza delivery services, clients, and . It tracks all of the dates, times, devices, IP addresses, and browser information from every time we’ve visited Facebook; a history of the conversations we’ve had on Facebook Chat and messages in our private inboxes; and of course, every ad we’ve clicked or article we’ve viewed.

Then there’s Google, which tracks users more extensively than Facebook does. We’ve unwittingly allowed Google to keep information on all our locations, every search we’ve done, every news article we’ve read, and every app we’ve used.

We have submitted to this surveillance while the tech giants have profited.

China is taking aim at American farmers in its trade war with the US


Bad news…

In the escalating trade war between China and the US, Beijing is taking aim at American farmers, a key support group for Donald Trump.

Today (April 17), the Chinese commerce ministry announced the importers of US sorghum must pay a hefty deposit worth 178.6% of the value of shipments, effective tomorrow. The preliminary action follows an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation launched in February, after the US imposed tariffs on Chinese solar panels and washing machines. It was announced hours after Washington banned American firms from selling parts to Chinese telecoms giant ZTE for seven years.

The ministry said in a statement (link Chinese) that local businesses were “substantially damaged” by American sorghum imports—mostly used in China to feed livestock or make liquor. US sorghum exports to China were worth just over $2 billion in 2015, and closer to $1 billion over the past two years. In the first two months of 2018, the value of sorghum exports to China rose by 30% year over year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

More than 80% of all US sorghum exports now goes to China, according to the US Grains Council, an industry group. Texas and Kansas, solid Republican-voting states, produce the bulk of America’s sorghum crop.

Do You Have “Advantage Blindness”?


No one wants to think they got to the top through an unfair advantage. You want to feel that you’ve earned it — that your hard work and carefully honed skills have paid off.

But the evidence on diversity in the workplace is conclusive: There are lots of people held back by bias. And that means that some of the people at the top have advanced partly through privilege.

Our research finds the idea of being advantaged to be uncomfortable for many senior leaders. We interviewed David, a senior executive who recognizes both having benefited from unfair advantages and the injustice of bias. He’s tall, middle-aged, well-educated, heterosexual, able-bodied, white, and male — and these provide David with unearned advantages that he intellectually knows he has, but that in practice he barely notices. He tells us he feels an underlying sense of guilt. He wants to feel that his successes in life are down to his abilities and hard work, not unfair advantage. “I feel like a child who discovers that people have been letting him win a game all along,” he says. “How can I feel good about myself succeeding if the game was never fair?”

In speaking with leaders about their built-in advantages, we have seen that David’s experience is widely shared. Acknowledging these advantages can challenge their very identities and sense of worth. If you find yourself in this situation, how should you process it? And what should you do about it?

Britain Just Created An Immigration Crisis Dumber Than DACA

It’s hard to top the boneheaded antics and downright assholery of the Trump administration when it comes to immigration, but Britain is certainly trying its best right now with the ‘Windrush generation’ — a group of child immigrants who arrived in the country legally, but are now at risk of deportation by a system that wants to take-backsies their immigration status.

If you think this sounds exactly like DACA, you’re right…except that these children arrived in the UK over fifty years ago, making this less DACA and more Deferred Action for Grown-Ass Adults.

The ‘Windrush generation’ — named after the passenger liner/ex-Nazi troop carrier that brought the first group to British shores — comprises over 500,000 people who emigrated from places such as Jamaica and India to Britain between 1948 and 1971 as part of a free movement program between Commonwealth countries. This program was particularly encouraged by the British government, who were eager for people to help rebuild the country and stem the labor shortage that comes with sending your able-bodied to get machine gunned in a trench. These legal migrants — the majority of whom were children — went on to form a major part of British society and culture, despite the best efforts of the numerous racist and very-actual-fascist political parties of the time.

This nicely segues us to the present day, where at least 57,000 of these people are now falling foul of modern anti-illegal immigration laws.

The mice of NYC may be contributing to antibiotic resistance


They’re cute until you remember they don’t bathe regularly and can live in your homes.

Humans and mice: a dynamic duo as old as civilization itself. Where we thrive, they thrive. Yet the mice living near us may carry genes that contribute to the looming threat of superbugs.

In two side-by-side studies published today (April 17) in the journal mBio, researchers analyzed stool, kidney, and liver samples from over 400 mice living in five residential buildings and two commercial buildings in New York City. They found evidence of pathogens capable of making us sick, and some of the microbial genes capable of making bacteria resistant to certain antibiotics.

For their work, researchers from Columbia University and the US Centers for Disease Control teamed up with a local pest management company to visit seven sites in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens. They scouted the trash rooms of large apartment buildings in Laconia, Allerton, the Upper West Side, Chelsea, and Fresh Meadows and the kitchens of commercial buildings in Tremont and Dyker Heights, and collected 416 mice total over the course 13 months between 2014 and 2015.

Then, the team went hunting for microbes. The team took samples of stool and kidney tissue to look for bacterial genes, and liver samples to look for viral genes. In a lab, they replicated and analyzed the genes of all the microbial life they could find.

Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles

Scientists explain how plastic-eating enzyme can help fight pollution.

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles – by accident. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles.

The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan. Scientists have now revealed the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug.

The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests showed they had inadvertently made the molecule even better at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles. “What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock,” said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. “It’s great and a real finding.”

The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic – far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speeded up even further and become a viable large-scale process.

This year’s hottest cultural trend is flip phones

Take your $600 smartphone and throw it straight in the trash.

Have you ever wanted to externalize your frustration with how connected modern technology is by pointedly ignoring what our tech overlords want us to buy? Then you’ll be delighted to learn that this year’s hottest cultural trend is none other than the humble flip phone, an object you can probably find forgotten in a junk drawer at your parents’ house (with no charger, of course). Thanks to widespread 1990s nostalgia, and the everpresent dread of knowing how tech companies hold all the data of our lives, the obsolescence of the flip phone has turned into a sort of modern day security blanket. With all of the coverage these old timey gadgets have gotten so far this year, it seems like everyone with even a slight dislike of technology is thinking about it.

On the one side are the folks who embrace the flip phone solely as a means of socio-political resistance. “The flip phone is the new protest statement,” declared one article that recently appeared in several newspapers including The Seattle Times. “I don’t need that phone. I have everything I need without it,” wrote Katie Reid for The Baltimore Sun in a March op-ed about wanting to discourage her daughter from relying on smartphones. In January, writer Kathleen Davis wrote a piece for Fast Company called “This Is What It’s Like To Not Own A Smartphone In 2018.” “Being cut off from push notifications when I’m not at my desk hasn’t made me feel uninformed, but it’s probably helped me keep a shred more of my sanity,” she wote. Deryn Isaac, writing for Portland alt-weekly Willamette Week that month, shared similar feelings: “Since I made the switch to a brick phone, I have felt refreshingly less connected.”

For others, it’s just the new way to be cool. Daniel Day-Lewis and Kim Kardashian-West were both recently spotted using flip phones (Day-Lewis in low key black, Kardashian-West wielding one shaped like a pink Ferrari) and billionaire Warren Buffett has no desire to ever let his go.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

In 2012, Kansas passed one of the largest income tax cuts in the state’s history. Today, it serves as a cautionary tale. Read more: https://www.theatlantic.com/video/ind…

This film was directed by Melinda Shopsin and produced by ITVS Independent Lens. It is part of The Atlantic Selects, an online showcase of short documentaries from independent creators, curated by The Atlantic.

After it’s revealed that Fox News host Sean Hannity is Michael Cohen’s anonymous third client, he tries to downplay the relationship and defend himself on-air.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

Stephen vaguely recognizes the facial composite based on Stormy Daniels’ description of the Trump henchman who allegedly threatened her and her child.

Watch Stephen Colbert’s full unedited interview with former FBI Director and ‘A Higher Loyalty’ author James Comey.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.

The popular animated show is facing harsh backlash for the way it responded to criticism about the character Apu.

THANKS to ABC News for making this program available on YouTube.

戌年お疲れ様です!伝説のマッサージ師まるシリーズ。Legendary Masseur Maru heals the Shiba Inu.


NASA Basically Missed a Huge Asteroid That Passed Unnervingly Close to Earth

We only had a few hours of warning.

While the world was busy doing its thing on Saturday, a giant asteroid the size of a football field whizzed by our planet.

NASA scientists noticed the massive asteroid at an observatory in Arizona just a few hours before it gave Earth a surprise flyby.

A mere 21 hours after that initial sighting, Asteroid 2018 GE3 came a little too close for comfort.

Travelling around 106,000 kilometres per hour (66,000 miles per hour) the asteroid was as far away from Earth as half the average distance between Earth and the Moon.

And while that may sound far away, in space-terms, that’s spine-chillingly close.

The situation is especially terrifying when considering the sheer size of the asteroid.


Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?