“Listening and learning”


Staff & Wire Reports

In this Jan. 16, 2019 file photo, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., center, walks through the halls of the Capitol Building in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

In this Jan. 16, 2019 file photo, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., center, walks through the halls of the Capitol Building in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2019, file photo, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., listens to President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech, at the Capitol in Washington. Omar "unequivocally" apologized Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, for tweets suggesting that members of Congress support Israel because they are being paid to do so, which drew bipartisan criticism and a rebuke from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

In this Feb. 5, 2019 photo, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., arrives for President Donald Trump's State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Twitter dustup, apology not firsts for Minnesota Rep. Omar


Associated Press

Tuesday, February 12

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar has relished the attention attached to becoming one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, eagerly engaging with supporters and critics on social media.

But Omar’s quick thumbs also have caused problems for herself and Democratic leadership. On Sunday, she suggested on Twitter that members of Congress are being paid to support Israel — a comment that drew swift criticism on social media as being anti-Semitic and led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to condemn the statement and demand an apology.

Omar apologized, saying she is “Listening and learning, but standing strong.” She then reaffirmed what she called “the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics.”

She and Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib won November elections to become the first Muslim women elected to Congress, a status that has brought extra scrutiny of their public statements on Israel and Palestinians. Omar also is the first to wear a hijab in the House chamber, after floor rules were changed to allow the head scarf.

Omar replaced Democrat Keith Ellison, who ran for state attorney general, in representing a Minneapolis-area district that is heavily liberal and includes thousands of Somali-Americans as well as significant Jewish populations.

Omar’s family fled Somalia when she was just 8 as civil war tore the country apart. They spent four years in a Mombasa, Kenya, camp with tens of thousands of other refugees. At age 12, the family was sponsored to move to the United States, eventually settling in Minnesota.

Her interest in politics was sparked by her grandfather, and she used his Quran for her swearing-in ceremony.

As she was heading to Washington for the event, she tweeted a picture of herself at the airport with her father, writing, “23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC. Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress.”

Omar has also had to contend with allegations from conservative bloggers that she married her brother to carry out immigration fraud, claims that were picked up in an ad campaign against her last fall by Minnesota Republicans. Omar broadly denied those allegations, calling them “disgusting lies,” but declined to provide documents or answer specific questions about them. She said it would only “further the narrative of those who oppose us.”

Omar is part of a freshman class of women who went to Washington with the goal of shaking things up. A recent “Saturday Night Live” skit parodied them as action heroes, giving Omar the nickname, Ilhan “Get the Hi-Job Done” Omar. The congresswoman retweeted the video along with an emoji of a bicep flexing.

Monday’s dustup isn’t the first time Omar has come under scrutiny for her Twitter posts. She apologized just last month over a 2012 tweet in which she wrote, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” She said she had intended to criticize an Israeli military action and didn’t realize that the “hypnosis” imagery was regarded as an anti-Semitic trope.

She was also criticized after tweeting last month that Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, was “compromised” — something that she later admitted to CNN was based on her opinion, not on any evidence.

Omar sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which oversees foreign assistance and foreign policy issues. She has been named to the House Education and Labor Committee.

In her first month in Congress, she has joined with colleagues to introduce the Freedom of Religion Act, designed as a challenge to President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and she has spoken out against the administration’s immigration policies.

Omar’s political career took off in 2016 when she made history as the first Somali-American to serve in a state Legislature in the U.S. Her tenure in the Minnesota House was brief but still came with national exposure, appearing on a Time magazine cover and in a Maroon 5 music video.

She also had a run-in with a Washington, D.C., taxi driver who she said called her “ISIS.”

Stuck in a Republican-controlled chamber, her legislative portfolio in Minnesota was relatively thin. She repeatedly sought money to help combat a 2017 measles outbreak that impacted the Somali community. She also worked to renovate a popular community center in her district.

After Omar was elected to Congress, she said she was looking forward to going to Washington and planned “to hold this administration accountable and be a true check and balance.”

Follow Amy Forliti on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/amyforliti

Top Pentagon official in Iraq to discuss US troop presence


AP National Security Writer

Tuesday, February 12

BAGHDAD (AP) — The top Pentagon official arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday to consult with American military commanders and Iraqi government leaders on the future U.S. troop presence in Iraq.

Pat Shanahan, the acting secretary of defense, said before his unannounced trip that he wanted to hear first-hand about the state of Iraq’s fight against remnants of the Islamic State group. Shanahan, who is on his first visit to Iraq, is also to meet with Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi.

In remarks to reporters after leaving Washington on Sunday, Shanahan declined to say whether he would propose that additional U.S. special operations troops be brought to Iraq to, in effect, compensate for a pullout from Syria to begin within weeks.

The U.S. has about 5,200 troops in Iraq to train and advise its security forces, 16 years after the U.S. invaded to topple Saddam Hussein.

President Donald Trump upset Iraqis by saying earlier this month that U.S. forces should use their Iraqi positions to keep an eye on neighboring Iran. That is not the stated U.S. mission in Iraq, and Iraqi officials have said Trump’s proposal would violate the Iraqi constitution.

Trump also has angered Iraqi politicians by arguing that he would keep U.S. troops in Iraq and use the country as a base from which to strike extremists in Syria if necessary, after the 2,000 troops now in Syria depart in coming weeks.

Curbing foreign influence has become a hot-button issue in Iraq after parliamentary elections last year in which Shiite politicians backed by Iran made significant gains. Meanwhile, Shiite militias that fought alongside U.S.-backed Iraqi government troops against IS in recent years, gained outsized influence along the way.

This political tension formed the backdrop to Shanahan’s visit, which marks his first time in Iraq. He took over as the acting Pentagon chief after Jim Mattis resigned as defense secretary in December. It’s unclear whether Trump will nominate Shanahan for Senate confirmation.

On Monday, Shanahan was in Afghanistan, where he met with U.S. troops and President Ashraf Ghani amid a U.S. push for peace talks with the Taliban. Trump has indicated he would like to get U.S. troops out of Afghanistan after 18 years of war, but Shanahan said he has no orders for a troop drawdown.

Although Afghanistan is America’s longest war, fighting in Iraq has taken a heavier toll on American lives. President Barack Obama pulled troops out of Iraq in December 2011 but sent them back in smaller numbers in 2014 after the Islamic State group swept across the border from Syria and took control of much of western and northern Iraq.

Since the height of its self-proclaimed caliphate that included a third of both Iraq and Syria, IS-held territory has now shrunk to a sliver of territory in eastern Syria where remaining Islamic State militants are fighting back.

Trump has not publicly called for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, although he often calls the 2003 invasion a colossal mistake and has said the U.S. should have taken Iraq’s oil as compensation for getting rid of Saddam.

Opinion: India Fears U.S. May Abandon Friends

By Donald Kirk


NEW DELHI ― The prospect of President Trump abandoning friends and allies resonates here for reasons that have nothing to do with North or South Korea.

While focusing on whatever deal Trump’s likely to cook up with Kim Jong-un, let us not forget the priorities in the capital of the world’s second most populated country are a little different. Here in New Delhi, the concern is that Trump’s notion of withdrawing several thousand troops from Afghanistan and all of them from Syria will upset the balance of forces in South Asia.

Nobody here really believes that U.S. talks with the Taliban for easing tensions will have a happy outcome, just as no one takes seriously Trump’s claim that ISIS is really defeated. “The goals of drawing the Taliban into peaceful politics and thus extricating America from a costly and destructive conflict are the right ones,” says The Economist, “but there are sadly many reasons to fear that the framework will not produce either outcome.”

At Jawaharlal Nehru University’s School of International Studies, Professor K.P. Vijayalakshmi was still more emphatic. “Who can trust the Taliban?” she said. “And who believes conflict in Afghanistan will end?” There are too many power-hungry factional leaders to trust any of them.

Complicating the problem is that India remains at odds with its enemy, Pakistan, where fighters from Afghanistan seek refuge in mountain redoubts with the connivance of Pakistanis.

And then, looming over all else, hangs the perpetual problem of Kashmir, divided as ever between Indian and Pakistani areas of control. Incidents keep happening while China has solidified Pakistan’s claim to its part of Kashmir by building a highway as part of its Belt and Road Initiative for driving down the map to the Arabian Sea.

Interestingly, you hear much the same type of skepticism about Trump and Afghanistan as you do in Washington and Seoul about Trump and North Korea.

“The U.S. is desperate to extricate itself from the war, heightened by an unpredictable president,” writes Davood Moradian, director-general of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies in Kabul, in the Indian newspaper The Hindu. “This desperation is matched by growing fears in Afghanistan that the Taliban will seek to overthrow the government.”

No two standoffs are alike, but one abiding fear is that Trump will make huge concessions to his friend Kim Jong-un, who then will carry on undermining the U.S.-South Korean alliance, awaiting the day when the North can take over the South. Meanwhile, we can be sure North Korea will be driving hard to strengthen its economy, its infrastructure, its power system at the expense of South Korea, the United States, Japan and anyone else willing to come up with the money and expertise.

“Any agreement between the Taliban and the U.S. at the expense of the two principal stakeholders — the Afghan government and the people — is doomed to fail,” says Moradian, while “both Pakistan and the Taliban remain despised and distrusted by an overwhelming majority.”

Those words are disturbing indeed to those who can’t see a deal between Trump and Kim ending happily. We know perfectly well, if Trump goes along with an end-of-war declaration, that North Korea will intensify the pressure for a “peace treaty,” arguing U.S. troops and bases are no longer needed. Trump might like to pull most of them out, but he’s constrained by U.S. law from reducing the current 28,500 by more than 6,000. The North Koreans would be glad to see the number go down by that much — with every expectation of more reductions in the next few years.

The impression is that Trump is taking huge risks everywhere. The North Korean record of abiding by agreements over the years is perfect. They’ve never kept any of them. Trump is also gambling on sharply scaling down the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and pulling all of them out of Syria.

At Jawaharlal Nehru University, professor Vijayalakshmi wondered why the United States isn’t more interested in India’s fears about weakening U.S. defense of the region. I told her the United States is now obsessed with North Korea while perhaps not considering India’s strategic interests. The real fear is that Trump is risking America’s stake in the region while friends and allies no longer count on the United States to defend them in time of need.


Donald Kirk has been a columnist for Korea Times, South China Morning Post many other newspapers and magazines. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

The Conversation

Donald Glover and the state of ‘black genius’

May 17, 2018

Author: Phillip L. Cunningham, Assistant Professor of Media Studies, Quinnipiac University

Disclosure statement: Phillip L. Cunningham 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.

Donald Glover, under his hip-hop pseudonym Childish Gambino, recently released a provocative music video for his single, “This Is America.”

The video, with its violent imagery and references to blackface minstrels, came as a surprise for Childish Gambino fans previously accustomed to his witty, sardonic style. As a result, it has been the subject of much analysis by fans and scholars alike.

As a black popular culture scholar, I find the most intriguing conversations have been about Glover’s creative genius. The focus on Glover’s creativity shifts us away from discussions of his black nerd persona, about which I have previously written. Music has been one of the few arenas in which African-Americans have been afforded genius status. The locus for this shift is hip-hop. Hip-hop, however, historically has been subject to criticism, not acclaim.

Hip-hop and black genius

These proclamations of Glover’s genius coincide not only with the hip-hop’s coming of age, but also with Glover’s creative growth.

Recently, the genre has been receiving its genius bona fides, with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical “Hamilton” receiving the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in drama and rapper Kendrick Lamar receiving the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in music for his album, “DAMN.” These events coincide with hip-hop surpassing rock as the most-purchased music genre in the United States.

Glover is no stranger to being hailed as a genius, though it mostly has been for his work on his FX series “Atlanta.” “This Is America,” however, represents Glover’s maturation as a recording artist. Though also praised for Childish Gambino’s 2016 funk album “Awaken, My Love!” he faced concerns about whether it was an ode to or mere imitation of soul and funk legend George Clinton.

Nonetheless, “This Is America,” like “Atlanta,” mostly has been lauded for its authenticity and originality, both of which historically have served as hallmarks of genius. Both use hip-hop as the means for, and subject of, Glover’s interrogation of race and representation and suggest that he has shed the frivolity for which Childish Gambino previously had been known.

Who gets to be a ‘black genius’?

Genius is often contested and granted to a rare few. Indeed, though Glover and hip-hop gradually have been afforded genius status, black women in hip-hop have not.

Who grants genius status? Much of Glover’s critical acclaim has come from white critics, which explains why some black listeners approach Glover and “This Is America” with trepidation.

That said, rising filmmaker and Glover’s contemporary Lena Waithe – known best for her work on “Master of None” – heralded “This Is America” as the “truth dipped in chocolate brilliance.” “This Is America” indicates that Glover may be reaching his prime.


Kristianna Thomas: What is the definition of genius? Rap and Hip Hop are two waves in the global music scene, and there are a lot of artists, especially in Africa, that gets nada air play in the states. Since the debut of Black Panther there has been an interest in Africa and African culture, but it seems to be totally a fading fade. According to the article, the Black Genius’s of Hip Hope and Rap have been mostly praised by White Critics. There has been a vibrant music scene in Africa that is not heard in this country, are these African Artists any less of genius that Black American artists? While we in the states push harder for more kids to get into the fields of Math, Science and engineering, there are less Blacks in these areas. Where are the black geniuses in Science, Math and Engineering, or are we forever seen as bright if we dance and sing? Sammy Davis Jr was a genius in his own right, but that is in relations to the 1950’s. So, we have not progressed and further than the days of Mr. Jim Crow.

The Conversation

Starling murmurations: the science behind one of nature’s greatest displays

February 6, 2019

Authors: A. Jamie Wood, Senior Lecturer, Departments of Biology and Mathematics, University of York

Colin Beale, Senior Lecturer in Ecology, University of York

Disclosure statement: A. Jamie Wood has received funding from The Royal Society for research related to this article and receives research funding from other bodies for unrelated projects. Colin Beale receives funding from Natural Environment Research Council and various conservation-related NGOs for ecological research in the UK and overseas.

Partners: University of York provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.

Watching starling murmurations as the birds swoop, dive and wheel through the sky is one of the great pleasures of a dusky winter’s evening. From Naples to Newcastle these flocks of agile birds are all doing the same incredible acrobatic display, moving in perfect synchrony. But how do they do it? Why don’t they crash? And what is the point?

Back in the 1930s one leading scientist suggested that birds must have psychic powers to operate together in a flock. Fortunately, modern science is starting to find some better answers.

To understand what the starlings are doing, we begin back in 1987 when the pioneering computer scientist Craig Reynolds created a simulation of a flock of birds. These “boids”, as Reynolds called his computer-generated creatures, followed only three simple rules to create their different patterns of movement: nearby birds would move further apart, birds would align their direction and speed, and more distant birds would move closer.

Some of these patterns were then used to create realistic looking animal groups in films, starting with Batman Returns in 1992 and its swarms of bats and “army” of penguins. Crucially this model did not require any long-range guidance, or supernatural powers – only local interactions. Reynolds’s model proved a complex flock was indeed possible through individuals following basic rules, and the resulting groups certainly “looked” like those in nature.

From this starting point an entire field of animal movement modelling emerged. Matching these models to reality was spectacularly achieved in 2008 by a group in Italy who were able to film starling murmurations around the rail station in Rome, reconstruct their positions in 3D, and show the rules that were being used. What they found was that starlings sought to match the direction and speed of the nearest seven or so neighbours, rather than responding to the movements of all of the nearby birds around them.

Simple rules, complex patterns

When we watch a murmuration pulsate in waves and swirl into arrays of shapes it often appears as if there are areas where birds slow, and become thickly packed in, or where they speed up and spread wider apart. In fact this is largely thanks to an optical illusion created by the 3D flock being projected onto our 2D view of the world, and scientific models suggest that the birds fly at a steady speed.

Thanks to the efforts of computer scientists, theoretical physicists and behavioural biologists we now know how these murmurations are generated. The next question is why do they happen at all – what caused starlings to evolve this behaviour?

One simple explanation is the need for warmth at night during the winter: the birds need to gather together at warmer sites and roost in close proximity just to stay alive. Starlings can pack themselves into a roosting site – reed beds, dense hedges, human structures like scaffolds – at more than 500 birds per cubic metre, sometimes in flocks of several million birds. Such high concentrations of birds would be a tempting target for predators. No bird wants to be the one that a predator picks off, so safety in numbers is the name of the game, and swirling masses create a confusion effect preventing a single individual being targeted.

However, starlings often commute to roosts from many tens of kilometres away, and they burn up more energy on these flights than could be saved by roosting in marginally warmer places. Therefore the motivation for these colossal roosts must be more than temperature alone.

Safety in numbers could drive the pattern, but an intriguing idea suggests that flocks may form so that individuals can share information about foraging. This, the “information centre hypothesis”, suggests that when food is patchy and hard to find the best long-term solution requires mutual sharing of information among large numbers of individuals. Just as honeybees share the location of flower patches, birds that find food one day and share information overnight will benefit from similar information another day. Although larger numbers of birds join roosts when food is at its scarcest, which seems to provide some limited support for the idea, it has thus far proven extremely difficult to properly test the overall hypothesis.

Our understanding of moving animal groups has expanded enormously over the past few decades. The next challenge is to understand the evolutionary and adaptive pressures that have created this behaviour, and what it might mean for conservation as those pressures change. Possibly we can adapt our understanding and use it to improve the autonomous control of robotic systems. Perhaps the rush-hour behaviour of the automated cars of the future will be based on starlings, and their murmurations.

In this Jan. 16, 2019 file photo, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., center, walks through the halls of the Capitol Building in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122306433-4b31d82990be4bf186828ac58a7c1ae6.jpgIn this Jan. 16, 2019 file photo, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., center, walks through the halls of the Capitol Building in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

FILE – In this Feb. 5, 2019, file photo, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., listens to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech, at the Capitol in Washington. Omar "unequivocally" apologized Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, for tweets suggesting that members of Congress support Israel because they are being paid to do so, which drew bipartisan criticism and a rebuke from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122306433-7208e830dd634f9f90e038e0e320530a.jpgFILE – In this Feb. 5, 2019, file photo, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., listens to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech, at the Capitol in Washington. Omar "unequivocally" apologized Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, for tweets suggesting that members of Congress support Israel because they are being paid to do so, which drew bipartisan criticism and a rebuke from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

In this Feb. 5, 2019 photo, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., arrives for President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122306433-b2e8c1ddc5054431a7bce4f0bcbf9033.jpgIn this Feb. 5, 2019 photo, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., arrives for President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Staff & Wire Reports