Comey set for closed-door interview with House Republicans
By MARY CLARE JALONICK
Friday, December 7
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are preparing to interview James Comey behind closed doors Friday, hauling the former FBI director to Capitol Hill one final time before they cede power to Democrats in January.
Comey will appear for the interview after fighting a subpoena in court. Under a deal struck with the House Judiciary Committee, he will be free to speak about the questioning afterward and a transcript will be released. He had argued that Republicans would selectively leak details from the interview.
The interview comes as GOP lawmakers are wrapping up a yearlong investigation into decisions made at the Justice Department during the 2016 presidential election. Republicans argue that department officials were biased against Donald Trump as they started an investigation into his campaign’s ties with Russia and cleared Democrat Hillary Clinton in a separate investigation into her email use. Comey was in charge of both of those investigations
Democrats, who will also attend the interview, have said the GOP investigation is merely a way to distract from and undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Mueller took over the department’s investigation when he was appointed in May 2017.
Over the last year, Republicans on the Judiciary and House Oversight and Government Reform panels have brought in a series of officials and said after the closed-door meetings that there is ample evidence of bias. The investigation’s most public moment was a 10-hour hearing in which former FBI special agent Peter Strzok defended anti-Trump texts he sent to a colleague as he helped lead both investigations. Strzok defiantly fought with angry Republican lawmakers in a riveting hearing that featured Strzok reading aloud from his sometimes-lewd texts and Democrats openly yelling at their GOP counterparts.
Comey, who has testified publicly on Capitol Hill about both the Clinton and Russia investigations, balked at the subpoena because he said committees were prone to selectively reveal information for political purposes.
“Don’t do it in a dark corner and don’t do it in a way where all you do is leak information,” said Comey’s attorney, David Kelley.
The Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, decried Comey’s use of “baseless litigation” and called it an “attempt to run out the clock on this Congress,” a reference to the few weeks left before Democrats take control. Both Goodlatte and South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the Oversight panel, are also retiring at the end of the year.
A transcript of the interview will be released “as soon as possible after the interview, in the name of our combined desire for transparency,” Goodlatte said.
A Justice Department watchdog report released in June said Comey was “insubordinate” in his handling of the Clinton email investigation in the explosive final months of the 2016 campaign. But it also found there was no evidence that Comey’s or the department’s final conclusions were motivated by political bias toward either candidate.
The report said the former FBI director, who announced in July 2016 that Clinton had been “extremely careless” with classified material but would not be charged with any crime, repeatedly departed from normal Justice Department protocol. Yet it did not second-guess his conclusion that Clinton should not have been prosecuted, despite assertions by Trump and his supporters that anyone less politically connected would have been charged.
Why the rise of populist nationalist leaders rewrites global climate talks
December 5, 2018
Graduate Fellow, Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, Stanford University
Arjuna Dibley does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
The election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil not only marks the rise of another populist nationalist leader on the world stage. It’s also a turning point for the global politics of climate change.
When the new president takes office in January 2019, by my estimate at least 30 percent of global emissions will be generated from democracies governed by populist nationalist leaders.
As climate policymakers meet at this week’s UN climate conference in Poland (a country itself governed by a populist nationalist party) people who care about achieving the Paris Agreement goal should push for and develop new strategies for advancing policies to reduce emissions within countries headed by these leaders.
Populism and cutting national emissions
What is populist nationalism? Although both populism and nationalism are contested terms, political scientist Francis Fukuyama, offers this tidy synthesis of the characteristics associated with populist nationalists leaders in democracies.
Firstly, these leaders define “the people” narrowly to refer to a single national identity which is oftentimes anti-elitist. Secondly, they promote policies which are popular among their selected people, or base of support, in the short term but may not be in the long-term economic, social or environmental interests of the country. Thirdly, populist nationalists are expert at capitalizing on their supporters’ cultural fears about a loss of status in society.
Over the past five years there have been several populist electoral victories in countries that are among the highest emitters of greenhouse gases. This includes the U.S., India, Indonesia, Mexico, Poland and the Philippines. While these regimes each represent a different brand of populist nationalism, they exhibit the basic characteristics I’ve just described.
From my perspective as a scholar focused on global energy and climate policies, it’s clear that the political structure of populist nationalism makes introducing policies to reduce, or mitigate, emissions in democracies difficult.
Mitigation policies require leaders to expend short-term political capital for long-term economic and environmental gains. However, populists have shown a particularly strong disinterest for doing so, particularly if those short-term costs would affect their prioritized group of the people.
Perhaps the clearest example of this is President Donald Trump’s unwinding of the Clean Power Plan. It may bring short-term benefits to his base, which includes coal miners and related interests, but it is not aligned with long-term energy market trends in the U.S. toward natural gas, wind and solar for generating electricity and away from coal.
Resistant to global pressure
Secondly, as several country-level case studies have shown, developing policies to reduce national emissions is often a top-down and elite-driven activity. This is particularly true in high-emitting middle-income democracies like Mexico or Indonesia. In these countries, mitigation policies, like carbon taxes, have not emerged by way of large scale social movements but by top-down policy processes supported by international donors and nongovernment actors. In these countries, climate mitigation is at risk of being overridden by policies with more popular appeal.
In a forthcoming paper on Mexico, a colleague and I investigate incoming President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO’s) mitigation policy. The AMLO administration has publicly committed to reduce emissions through a little-known set of carbon pricing policies, while at the same time responding to a popular demand to reduce fuel prices by increasing domestic oil refining. In the contest between the top-down mitigation policy and the widespread popular demands for low gasoline prices, it is likely that the latter will take priority.
A third issue relates to the international governance of climate mitigation. Under the Paris Agreement, governments are asked to progressively ratchet up their emission reduction goals. This mechanism assumes political leaders will respond to international pressure to increase their ambition. However, populist nationalists have shown that they are not motivated by international reactions to their climate policies.
Take Indonesian President Joko Widodo, for instance, who was elected into office in 2014. As I have described elsewhere, one of his first moves in office was to shut down a US$1 billion mitigation policy program funded by the Norwegian government. This decision to close the agency breached the bilateral agreement between Indonesia and Norway, and points to the disregard shown by some of these leaders to international political pressure.
As these short anecdotes suggest, the mechanism by which populist nationalists hold and retain political power makes it difficult to introduce climate mitigation policies. Their interest is to prioritize short-term programs which favor their select group of the people, rather than longer-term mitigating policies which have widespread economic and environmental benefits. Also, because they don’t comply with traditional norms of international relations, it will not be possible to coerce this group into meeting the Paris Agreement goals.
However, there are some ways countries that want to make reach consensus on global climate policies can better engage these leaders.
Ways to engage
As a starting point, it is important to emphasize the short-term benefits of climate mitigation policy to populists.
I believe policymakers and advocates would be well-served in drawing attention to how clean energy may bring multiple short-term benefits to the people on whose support these leaders rely, including lowering domestic air pollution, low cost energy, improved health outcomes and less reliance on foreign fuel imports. Indeed on some of these points, Bolsonaro, has recently said that he will increase the country’s hydropower and nuclear capacity.
Further, recent research suggests the cultural dimension of populist nationalism is of central importance. Rather than reducing emissions and tackling global climate change, it may be better to frame mitigation as part of a large-scale effort towards modernization; that is, modernizing energy systems, transportation systems and infrastructure. A narrative built around modernization, highlighting the economic and societal benefits for all, may resonate more with the disaffected middle classes who have led the rise of populist nationalism.
At the international level too there may be some approaches to ensuring the international governance regime continues in the face of this current wave of populist nationalism. As scholars David Victor and Bruce Jones have recently argued, it may be useful to form small groups – or clubs – of countries which share similar interests to focus on clean technology and policy innovation. Focusing on shared interests within small clubs may work better than trying to push populist nationalists to comply with broad international agreements.
Populist nationalist leaders, like Bolsonaro, are the consequence of deeply entrenched economic, political and cultural shifts that have occurred in democracies over decades. These leaders, in other words, are likely to be a feature of democratic politics for some time into the future.
To continue to make progress on global climate agreements, I think it’s crucial that negotiating countries meet national populist leaders on their own terms for ongoing attempts to save the climate.
Ben Marshall is a Friend of The Conversation: It’s fair to say the more ‘populist’ the government, the more autocratic, and therefore the more corrupt. In that context, money talks loudest, not citizens or scientists.
I often argue that the biggest issue facing us isn’t global warming but corrupt governance that prevents us from acting on it. That’s as true here in Australia as it is in Russia or Brazil.
Those designer babies everyone is freaking out about – it’s not likely to happen
December 10, 2018
A Cecile JW Janssens
Research Professor of Epidemiology, Emory University
A Cecile JW Janssens does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
When Adam Nash was still an embryo, living in a dish in the lab, scientists tested his DNA to make sure it was free of Fanconi anemia, the rare inherited blood disease from which his sister Molly suffered. They also checked his DNA for a marker that would reveal whether he shared the same tissue type. Molly needed a donor match for stem cell therapy, and her parents were determined to find one. Adam was conceived so the stem cells in his umbilical cord could be the lifesaving treatment for his sister.
Adam Nash is considered to be the first designer baby, born in 2000 using in vitro fertilizaton with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, a technique used to choose desired characteristics. The media covered the story with empathy for the parents’ motives but not without reminding the reader that “eye color, athletic ability, beauty, intelligence, height, stopping a propensity towards obesity, guaranteeing freedom from certain mental and physical illnesses, all of these could in the future be available to parents deciding to have a designer baby.”
The designer babies have thus been called the “future-we-should-not-want” for each new reproductive technology or intervention. But the babies never came and are nowhere close. I am not surprised.
I study the prediction of complex diseases and human traits that result from interactions between multiple genes and lifestyle factors. This research shows that geneticists cannot read the genetic code and know who will be above average in intelligence and athleticism. Such traits and diseases that result from multiple genes and lifestyle factors cannot be predicted using just DNA, and cannot be designed. Not now. And very unlikely ever.
Designer babies are next
The inevitable rise of designer babies was proclaimed in 1978 after the birth of Louise Brown, the first IVF baby, as the next step toward “a brave world where parents can select their child’s gender and traits.” The same situation occurred in 1994 when a 59-year-old British woman stretched the limits of nature by giving birth to twins using donated eggs that were implanted in her womb at a fertility clinic in Italy.
The response was the same in 1999, when a fertility clinic in Fairfax, Virginia, offered sex selection of embryos to screen against diseases that only happen in boys. In 2013, when 23andMe was granted a patent for a tool that predicts the likelihood of traits in babies based on DNA of two parents, the question of patenting designer babies was raised. In 2016, when the U.K. permitted a woman to donate her healthy mitochondria to a couple using IVF to conceive a child, raising the number of parents to three, fears of unnatural children rose again. Last month, when Genomic Prediction, a New Jersey company, announced its DNA screening panel for embryos would also assess the risk for complex diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease that are caused by multiple genes, fears of engineering babies with high IQ or athletic prowess emerged.
The same issues arose on Nov. 26 when He Jiankui reported at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong that he had successfully edited the DNA of twin baby girls born last month.
The designer baby doom scenarios have not evolved with the technology. It’s been the same story for decades. It’s the same “desirable” traits and the same assumption that parents want to select these traits if technology allowed. But no one seems to be questioning whether these traits are solely a product of our genes such that they can be selected or edited in embryos.
Wondering about designer babies was understandable in the early days, but repetition of these supposed fears now suggests lack of understanding of how DNA, and the genes they encode, work.
Designing favorable traits in babies is not simple
Although there are exceptions, DNA generally differs between people in two ways: There are DNA mutations and DNA variations.
Mutations cause rare diseases like Huntington’s disease and cystic fibrosis, which are caused by a single gene. Mutations in the BRCA genes substantially increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Selecting embryos that do not have these mutations removes the entire or main cause of disease – women who don’t have BRCA mutations can still develop breast cancer through other causes, like all women.
Variations are changes in the genetic code that are more common than mutations and associated with common traits and diseases. DNA variants increase the likelihood that you may have a trait or develop a disease but do not determine or cause it. Association means that in several large study populations, a DNA variant was more frequent among people with the trait than those without, often only slightly more frequent.
These variants don’t determine a trait, but increase its likelihood by interacting with other DNA variants and nongenetic influences such as upbringing, lifestyle and environment. To design such traits in embryos would require multiple DNA changes in multiple genes and orchestrating or controlling relevant environment and lifestyle influences too.
Let’s compare it to driving a car. DNA mutations are like the flat tires and the failing brakes: technical problems that make driving problematic, no matter where you drive. DNA variations are like the color and the type of car, or other features of the car that may affect the driving experience and even might create problems over time. For example, a convertible is a delight when driving on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard on a breezy summer evening, but cruel when crossing a high mountain pass in midwinter. Whether features of the car are an asset or a liability depends on the context and that context might change — they are never ideal all the time.
Most DNA mutations do nothing else other than cause the disease, but DNA variations may play a role in many diseases and traits. Take variations in the MC1R “red hair” gene, which not only increases the chance that your child will have red hair, but also increases their risk of skin cancer. Or variations in the OCA2 and HERC2 “eye color” genes that are also associated with the risk of various cancers, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. To be sure, these are statistical associations, reported in the scientific literature, some may be confirmed; others may not. But the message is clear: Editing DNA variations for “desirable” traits may have adverse consequences, including many that scientists don’t know about yet.
We can see this in the analysis of He Jiankui’s gene-edited babies. By trying to make the babies resistant to HIV, He might have greatly increased susceptibility to infections by West Nile virus or influenza.
To be sure, even though complex traits such as intelligence, athletics and musicality cannot be selected or designed, there will be opportunists who will try to offer these traits, even if totally premature and unsupported by science. Like Stephen Hsu, the co-founder of Genomic Prediction who said about his offer to test embryos for polygenic risk, the risk of a disease based on multiple genes, “I think people are going to demand that. If we don’t do it, some other company will.” And also He said: “There will be someone, somewhere, who is doing this. If it’s not me, it’s someone else.” People need to be protected against this irresponsible and unethical use of DNA testing and editing.
Science brought incredible progress in reproductive technology, but didn’t bring designer babies one step closer. The creation of designer babies is not limited by technology, but by biology: The origins of common traits and diseases are too complex and intertwined to modify the DNA without introducing unwanted effects.