Trump AG pick says he’s discussed Mueller probe with Pence
By ERIC TUCKER
Monday, January 28
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, William Barr, says Vice President Mike Pence is among the officials with whom he’s discussed the special counsel’s Russia’s investigation.
Barr said in written responses to Senate questions made available Monday that he and Pence have had occasional conversations since the spring of 2017. He said some of those conversations included “general discussion of the Special Counsel’s investigation in which I gave my views on such matters as Bob Mueller’s high integrity and various media reports.”
Barr said he never gave Pence legal advice or provide confidential information.
Mueller is investigating potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 presidential election.
Barr also said he would resign if Trump claimed executive privilege to cover up evidence of a crime.
Senate bill would require public report from Mueller probe
By MARY CLARE JALONICK
Monday, January 28
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal are proposing that special counsel Robert Mueller be required to submit a report to Congress and the public when his Russia investigation is complete.
Legislation introduced by Grassley, R-Iowa, and Blumenthal, D-Conn., on Monday would require any special counsel to send a report to lawmakers and the public at the end of an investigation. The legislation would also require a report within two weeks if a special counsel is fired, transferred or resigns.
Both Grassley and Blumenthal sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Grassley, who was the chairman of the panel until December, said in a statement that people “have a right to know” how the government conducts business and how tax dollars are spent. He said the bill would ensure that the public has access to special council findings in any administration.
The legislation would require that the report include “all factual findings and underlying evidence,” according to the senators.
“A special counsel is appointed only in very rare serious circumstances involving grave violations of public trust,” Blumenthal said. “The public has a right and need to know the facts of such betrayals of public trust.”
Mueller is investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and contacts with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign
The bill introduction comes as the panel is prepared to vote on nomination of William Barr to be attorney general this week or next. Barr, who would oversee the Mueller probe and would be in charge of releasing any information, has said he believes Congress and the public should be told the result of the investigation but has stopped short of committing to release a report in full.
In another bipartisan effort, Grassley and Blumenthal supported legislation last year to protect Mueller’s job. The bill, approved by the Judiciary panel in April, would allow any fired special counsel to seek a judicial review within 10 days of removal and put into law existing Justice Department regulations that a special counsel can only be fired for good cause.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to hold a vote on the bill, however, saying it was unnecessary.
Venezuela allows US diplomats to stay, defusing showdown
By MANUEL RUEDA and EDITH M. LEDERER
Sunday, January 27
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela defused a potential showdown with the United States, suspending a demand that U.S. diplomats leave the country as Washington called on the world to “pick a side” in the South American nation’s fast-moving crisis.
Socialist President Nicolas Maduro broke relations with the United States on Wednesday after the Trump administration and many other nations in the region recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president, a move that Maduro called a coup attempt.
Maduro gave U.S. diplomats three days to leave the country, but the Trump administration said it wouldn’t obey, arguing that Maduro is no longer Venezuela’s legitimate president. That set the stage for a showdown at the hilltop U.S. Embassy compound Saturday night, when the deadline was to expire.
But as the sun set on Venezuela’s capital, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Maduro’s government was suspending the expulsion to provide a 30-day window for negotiating with U.S. officials about setting up a “U.S. interests office” in Venezuela and a similar Venezuelan office in the United States. The U.S. and Cuba had a similar arrangement for decades before the Obama administration restored diplomatic relations with the communist-run island.
The State Department did not confirm the Venezuelan government’s account, reiterating only that its priority remains the safety of its personnel and that it has no plans to close the embassy.
Earlier Saturday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the U.N. Security Council: “Let me be 100 percent clear — President Trump and I fully expect that our diplomats will continue to receive protections provided under the Vienna Convention. Do not test the United States on our resolve to protect our people.”
In the Security Council meeting, critics and supporters of Maduro’s government faced off in a reflection of the world’s deep divisions over Venezuela, which is mired in political confrontation as well as an economic collapse that has caused millions to flee the country.
During the debate, which was requested by the U.S., Pompeo urged all nations to end Venezuela’s “nightmare” and support Guaido.
“Now is the time for every other national to pick a side,” Pompeo said. “No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem.”
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia charged that the Trump administration is trying “to engineer a coup” against Maduro. He said Venezuela doesn’t threaten international peace and security, and he accused “extremist opponents” of Maduro’s government of choosing “maximum confrontation,” including the artificial creation of a parallel government.
Nebenzia urged Pompeo to say whether the U.S. will use military force.
Pompeo later told reporters who asked for a response, “I am not going to speculate or hypothesize on what the U.S. will do next.”
Pompeo was accompanied to New York by Elliott Abrams, who was named a day earlier as the U.S. special representative for Venezuela. Abrams is a former assistant secretary of state for Latin America who worked at the White House when a 2002 coup in Venezuela briefly ousted Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.
On his first day on the job, Abrams met with exiled leaders of Venezuela’s opposition. He also spoke by phone with Guaido, the leader of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress. Abrams reaffirmed U.S. support for Guaido as interim president, said Kimberly Breier, the current assistant secretary of state for the region.
The Security Council, the U.N.’s most powerful body, has not taken action on the Venezuelan crisis because of the divisions. The Security Council’s five veto-holding permanent members could not unite behind a statement on Venezuela, presenting widely differing texts.
The leaders of two of those council nations — France and Britain — joined Spain and Germany to turn up the pressure on Maduro, saying Saturday that they would follow the U.S. and others in recognizing Guaido as president unless Venezuela calls a new presidential election within eight days.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said that if there is no announcement of a new election in the next days, the 28-nation bloc “will take further actions, including on the issue of recognition of the country’s leadership.”
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza dismissed the deadline.
“Europe is giving us eight days?” he asked the council. “Where do you get that you have the power to establish a deadline or an ultimatum to a sovereign people. It’s almost childlike.”
Arreaza asked that someone show him where in Venezuela’s constitution it says an individual can proclaim himself president.
Guaido says he is acting in accordance with two articles of the constitution that give the National Assembly president the right to hold power temporarily and call new elections.
While the council debated, a man identifying himself as Venezuela’s military attache in Washington posted a video saying he had broken with Maduro and now would report to Guaido.
“The armed forces have a fundamental role to play in the restoration of democracy,” Col. Jose Luis Silva said in the video, which he said was shot at his office in the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, sitting in front of the nation’s red, blue and yellow flag.
He called on other members of the military to join him in supporting Guaido, saying they need to avoid “attacking” protesters whose only aim is to feed themselves.
Guaido celebrated Silva’s decision to defect.
“We welcome him and everyone who with honesty want to follow the constitution and the will of the Venezuelan people,” he said on social media after attending a small assembly in Caracas to discuss the opposition’s next moves.
Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for U.S. National Security Council, encouraged others to follow Silva’s lead “to protect constitutional order, not to sustain dictators and repress its own people.”
Venezuela’s top commanders have pledged loyalty to Maduro’s government in the days since Guaido declared himself interim leader on grounds that Maduro’s re-election last year was fraudulent — an allegation supported by the U.S., the European Union and many Latin American nations.
But support for Maduro’s rule is weaker among the military’s rank and file, whose households are suffering from widespread food shortages and hyperinflation like their civilian counterparts. Last week, a small National Guard unit stole a stockpile of weapons in what it said was an attempt to oust Maduro. The uprising was quelled and 25 guardsmen arrested.
The standoff has plunged troubled Venezuela into a new chapter of political turmoil that rights groups say has already left more than two dozen dead as thousands take to the street demanding Maduro step down.
Associated Press writer Manuel Rueda reported this story in Caracas and AP writer Edith M. Lederer reported from the United Nations.
Amazon deforestation, already rising, may spike under Bolsonaro
January 28, 2019
Author: Robert T. Walker, Professor of Latin American Studies, University of Florida
Disclosure statement: Robert T. Walker 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.
Partners: University of Florida provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Over the past 25 years that I have been conducting environmental research in the Amazon, I have witnessed the the ongoing destruction of the world’s biggest rainforest. Twenty percent of it has been deforested by now – an area larger than Texas.
I therefore grew hopeful when environmental policies began to take effect at the turn of the millennium, and the rate of deforestation dropped from nearly 11,000 square miles per year to less than 2,000 over the decade following 2004.
But a new political climate in Brazil, which set in even before President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, has led to a recent increase in the pace of rainforest felling. And Bolsonaro, a former army officer, made Amazonian development a core campaign pledge.
Damming the Tapajós
At stake is what becomes of the region around the Tapajós River, one of the Amazon’s largest tributaries and home to about 14,000 Munduruku tribal people. The Munduruku have until now successfully slowed down and seemingly halted many efforts to turn the Tapajós into the “Mississippi of Brazil.”
The Tapajós River is the Amazon’s last undammed clearwater tributary. The basin that surrounds it is roughly equal to 15 percent of the Brazilian Amazon region and about the size of France. This remote area has a great deal of biodiversity, and its trees store large quantities of carbon.
Because the Amazon rainforest absorbs a lot of the carbon emitted through the burning of fossil fuels, climate scientists consider its preservation key to preventing an uptick in the pace of global warming.
Brazil is planning to build a series of big new hydroelectric dams and webs of waterways, rail lines, ports and roads that can overcome logistical obstacles standing in the way of exporting commodities and other goods.
The government did suspend plans to build an 8,000-megawatt dam at the heart of this sprawling project in 2016. At the time, it cited the “unviability of the project given the indigenous component” and stated it would stop building big dams in 2018, before Bolsanaro took office.
Yet many observers remain very concerned about how Bolsonaro’s presidency will affect the Munduruku and the rainforest they protect. Groups like International Rivers – a nonprofit dedicated to the “protection of rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them” – are not about to declare victory.
South American gambit
Brazil’s Amazon development plans are part of a broader gambit that includes all the South American nations. First conceived in 2000, the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America is designed to build a continental economy through new infrastructure that provides electricity for industrialization and facilitates trade and transportation.
Known widely by its Spanish and Portuguese abbreviations as IIRSA, this initiative is turning the Amazon, 60 percent of which is located on Brazilian territory, into a source of hydropower and a transportation hub connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It will become easier to ship Brazilian soybeans to global markets, and manufacturing will expand, stimulating population growth in the Amazon.
The blueprint for this bid to develop the Amazon, which also includes portions of Peru, Bolivia and six other countries, calls for building more than 600 dams, 12,400 miles of waterways, about 1.2 million miles of roads, a transcontinental railway and a system of ports, much of it in the tropical wilderness.
New wave of development
Bolsonaro has not yet confronted the Munduruku or taken concrete actions to keep his promises about developing the Amazon. But he has taken steps that point in this direction with the officials he has selected for key posts. He has also transferred responsibilities for demarcating indigenous lands from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Agriculture, which an agricultural lobbyist is running.
The new Brazilian president’s plans for the Amazon come on the heels of decades of deforestation following the construction of roads and hydropower facilities during the 1960s and 1970s. This initial wave of construction opened the sparsely populated region to an influx of newcomers, and contributed to the destruction of about a fifth of the forest over four decades.
Then came a wave of stronger environmental policies – such as the stricter enforcement of logging laws, the expansion of protected areas and the voluntary decision by soybean farmers to refrain from clearing the forest – which lowered Brazil’s Amazon deforestation rate after 2000. It seemed to me and others that a new era of Amazonian conservation had dawned.
But that was before I understood the full implications of the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America.
This plan is far more ambitious than earlier infrastructure projects which were completed by the end of the 1970s, and I believe that it could wreak even more destruction.
Should all of its components be built, the new transportation and energy infrastructure would be likely to spark a new wave of deforestation that I fear could have disastrous impacts on the indigenous communities living in the region. The new projects need only to repeat what the earlier projects did. This would bring total deforestation to 40 percent.
Climate scientists such as Carlos Nobre worry that this magnitude of forest loss would push the Amazon to a “tipping point” and undermine the process of rainfall recycling, which replenishes the Amazon’s supply of water. The outcome would be a drier climate in the Amazon, which has already begun to experience droughts, and the transformation of the forest into savanna. Indigenous people would suffer, and the Amazon’s biodiversity would disappear.
A massive increase in the pace of Amazonian deforestation could bring about climatic changes in both South and North America. Scientists predict that precipitation would decline in many areas of the Americas, including the southeastern part of South America and the Mississippi River Valley. The whole world would suffer from reduced agricultural production in these two regions, which are important global suppliers of agricultural commodities like corn and soybeans.
Attacking the Amazon
To be sure, some of this construction is already underway in Brazil, particularly for hydropower. So far, 140 dams have either been built or are under construction, notably the Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River and the Santo Antônio and Jirau dams on the Madeira Rivers. And Bolsonaro’s predecessors had downsized some of the Amazon’s protected areas to facilitate development.
These protected tracts of land cover 43 percent of the Brazilian Amazon and are essential to maintaining biodiversity and sequestering carbon.
When Bolsonaro addressed world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland for the first time, he promised to protect the environment in his country – which he called “a paradise.”
I remain skeptical, however, given that he seems to be staffing his government in preparation for construction projects that could devastate the Amazon, reducing its biodiversity and destroying its ecological and cultural treasures.
Can you life-hack your way to love?
January 28, 2019
Author: Joseph Reagle, Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Northeastern University
Disclosure statement: Joseph Reagle 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.
There’s never been a shortage of dating advice from family, friends and self-help authors. Yet in the digital age, people are turning to nerdy hacker-types as guides.
At first, they might seem like an odd source of romantic advice, but think again: Computer programmers created the systems of quizzes, swipes and algorithms that millions rely on for matchmaking. Who better to explain how to make the most of these digital tools?
This new approach to dating takes advantage of the power of data. “Quantitative futurist” Amy Webb, for instance, created a handful of fake accounts depicting the types of men she wanted to marry and learned what her highly-rated competitors’ profiles looked like. After applying these insights to her own profile, she became the most popular woman on JDate, an online dating site for Jewish people. Mathematician Christopher McKinlay similarly hacked his profile on OkCupid and crawled thousands of profiles to identify the clusters of women he most wanted to target.
With hundreds of candidates in hand, both had to then filter the field: Webb created a sophisticated spreadsheet, and McKinlay went on 88 dates. In the end, each found a spouse.
All of this is part of a new approach to life, as a thing to be hacked and optimized by way of a quantified self.
People track what they eat, the hours they work, the items they own and countless other details, hoping to experience better health, improved productivity and greater contentment. However, in my forthcoming book, “Hacking Life: Systematized Living and its Discontents,” I reveal how the quest for the optimum path can lead you astray. In the case of dating, trying to optimize can be foolishly naive and misunderstand the nature of the task.
Counting on love
Consider the case of former software engineer Valerie Aurora, who in 2015 returned to the dispiriting task of online dating. This time, she hoped she might make the experience palatable, fun even, by hacking dating. Inspired by Webb, Aurora developed a spreadsheet for ranking candidates with positive and negative attributes, including flaws that were so bad they were “dealbreakers.”
However, with experience, Aurora realized that she had been too inflexible about dealbreakers. She wrote, “I am now in a happy relationship with someone who had six of what I labeled ‘dealbreakers’ when we met. And if he hadn’t been interested in working those issues out with me, we would not be dating today. But he was, and working together we managed to resolve all six of them to our mutual satisfaction.”
It is a mistake to believe that an ideal match is somewhere out there, just waiting to be rated and ranked. Instead, people invest and grow in their relationship. A good match can be found, but psychology research suggests a good relationship is made.
Searching far and wide
Taking a data-centric approach can also lead to a never-ending search. Technology entrepreneur Sebastian Stadil went on 150 dates in four months – more than one a day! At the end, he wrote, “I still believe technology can hack love, though that belief is likely irrational.” He confessed that “having more matches increased my odds of finding someone interesting, but it also became an addiction. The possibility of meeting that many people made me want to meet every one of them, to make sure I wouldn’t miss the One.”
It’s a paradox of choice in the digital age: A better match could be just one more date – and data-point – away. Hackers who know their computer science recognize this as the puzzle of “optimal stopping,” which seeks to determine how long someone should hold out for a better option.
There is no perfect solution, but there is a reasonable formula: Figure out your parameters, like how soon you want to be in a relationship and how many dates you want to go on in search of the right person. Say you’ve given yourself a year and 100 dates – two a week. The math says you should go on dates with 37 percent of them without committing, and then – after the 37th person and about four and a half months – pursue the first person who’s better than all the others you’ve met.
Of course, this still assumes that the problem of starting a relationship is a matter of quantity, measurement and optimization. Aurora’s experience suggests that making a match is as much about interpersonal negotiation as it is about data and analysis.
Joseph Reagle is the author of: Hacking Life: Systematized Living and Its Discontents. MIT Press provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.