Attorney general won’t recuse from overseeing Mueller probe
By MICHAEL BALSAMO
Tuesday, March 5
WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General William Barr will not recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel’s Russia probe after consulting with senior ethics officials, the Justice Department said Monday.
The officials advised Barr against recusal from Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said.
“Consistent with that advice, General Barr has decided not to recuse,” Kupec said in a statement.
During his confirmation hearing in January, Barr sought to assuage concerns that he might disrupt or upend Mueller’s investigation as it reaches its final stages.
Some Democrats had raised those concerns, citing a memo Barr had sent to Justice Department and White House lawyers in which he criticized Mueller’s investigation for the way it was presumably looking into whether Trump had obstructed justice.
Barr downplayed the memo during his confirmation hearing, saying it was narrowly focused and shouldn’t be read that he has prejudged the investigation. Barr vowed during the hearing to consult with ethics officials about whether he should recuse himself, but told senators the decision would ultimately be his to make under Justice Department guidelines.
Barr also stated without hesitation that it was in the public interest for Mueller to finish his investigation and that he wanted to release as much information as he can about Mueller’s investigation to Congress and the public.
Under Justice Department guidelines, Mueller will provide a confidential report to Barr that explains his decisions to pursue or decline prosecutions. Barr will then prepare his own report that would be released to Congress. He has said he intends to share some information with the public, though it’s unclear whether Mueller’s actual report will ever be made public.
Former FBI Director James Comey, whose firing is among the things being investigated by the special counsel’s office, said in an op-ed in The Washington Post on Monday that “providing detailed information about a completed investigation of intense public interest has long been a part of Justice Department practice.”
“Every American should want a Justice Department guided first and always by the public interest,” Comey wrote. “Sometimes transparency is not a hard call.”
The president had assailed and ultimately pushed out his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from Mueller’s investigation because of Sessions’ work with the Trump campaign.
The president named Matthew Whitaker, who was Sessions’ chief of staff, as acting attorney general in November. But Whitaker came under fire after he declined to recuse himself from the Mueller investigation even though a top Justice Department ethics official advised him to step aside out of an “abundance of caution.”
Before joining the Justice Department, Whitaker had made critical comments about Mueller’s investigation, including once opining about a scenario in which Trump could fire Sessions and then appoint an acting attorney general who could stifle the funding of Mueller’s probe.
Mining the Moon
March 5, 2019
Author: Paul K. Byrne, Assistant Professor of Planetary Geology, North Carolina State University
Disclosure statement: Paul K. Byrne 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: North Carolina State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
If you were transported to the Moon this very instant, you would surely and rapidly die. That’s because there’s no atmosphere, the surface temperature varies from a roasting 130 degrees Celsius (266 F) to a bone-chilling minus 170 C (minus 274 F). If the lack of air or horrific heat or cold don’t kill you then micrometeorite bombardment or solar radiation will. By all accounts, the Moon is not a hospitable place to be.
Yet if human beings are to explore the Moon and, potentially, live there one day, we’ll need to learn how to deal with these challenging environmental conditions. We’ll need habitats, air, food and energy, as well as fuel to power rockets back to Earth and possibly other destinations. That means we’ll need resources to meet these requirements. We can either bring them with us from Earth – an expensive proposition – or we’ll need to take advantage of resources on the Moon itself. And that’s where the idea of “in-situ resource utilization,” or ISRU, comes in.
Underpinning efforts to use lunar materials is the desire to establish either temporary or even permanent human settlements on the Moon – and there are numerous benefits to doing so. For example, lunar bases or colonies could provide invaluable training and preparation for missions to farther flung destinations, including Mars. Developing and utilizing lunar resources will likely lead to a vast number of innovative and exotic technologies that could be useful on Earth, as has been the case with the International Space Station.
As a planetary geologist, I’m fascinated by how other worlds came to be, and what lessons we can learn about the formation and evolution of our own planet. And because one day I hope to actually visit the Moon in person, I’m particularly interested in how we can use the resources there to make human exploration of the solar system as economical as possible.
In-situ resource utilization
ISRU sounds like science fiction, and for the moment it largely is. This concept involves identifying, extracting and processing material from the lunar surface and interior and converting it into something useful: oxygen for breathing, electricity, construction materials and even rocket fuel.
Many countries have expressed a renewed desire to go back to the Moon. NASA has a multitude of plans to do so, China landed a rover on the lunar farside in January and has an active rover there right now, and numerous other countries have their sights set on lunar missions. The necessity of using materials already present on the Moon becomes more pressing.
Anticipation of lunar living is driving engineering and experimental work to determine how to efficiently use lunar materials to support human exploration. For example, the European Space Agency is planning to land a spacecraft at the lunar South Pole in 2022 to drill beneath the surface in search of water ice and other chemicals. This craft will feature a research instrument designed to obtain water from the lunar soil or regolith.
There have even been discussions of eventually mining and shipping back to Earth the helium-3 locked in the lunar regolith. Helium-3 (a non-radioactive isotope of helium) could be used as fuel for fusion reactors to produce vast amounts of energy at very low environmental cost – although fusion as a power source has not yet been demonstrated, and the volume of extractable helium-3 is unknown. Nonetheless, even as the true costs and benefits of lunar ISRU remain to be seen, there is little reason to think that the considerable current interest in mining the Moon won’t continue.
It’s worth noting that the Moon may not be a particularly suitable destination for mining other valuable metals such as gold, platinum or rare earth elements. This is because of the process of differentiation, in which relatively heavy materials sink and lighter materials rise when a planetary body is partially or almost fully molten.
This is basically what goes on if you shake a test tube filled with sand and water. At first, everything is mixed together, but then the sand eventually separates from the liquid and sinks to the bottom of the tube. And just as for Earth, most of the Moon’s inventory of heavy and valuable metals are likely deep in the mantle or even the core, where they’re essentially impossible to access. Indeed, it’s because minor bodies such as asteroids generally don’t undergo differentiation that they’re such promising targets for mineral exploration and extraction.
Indeed, the Moon holds a special place in planetary science because it is the only other body in the solar system where human beings have set foot. The NASA Apollo program in the 1960s and 70s saw a total of 12 astronauts walk, bounce and rove on the surface. The rock samples they brought back and the experiments they left there have enabled a greater understanding of not only our Moon, but of how planets form in general, than would ever have been possible otherwise.
From those missions, and others over the ensuing decades, scientists have learned a great deal about the Moon. Instead of growing from a cloud of dust and ice as the planets in the solar system did, we’ve discovered that our nearest neighbor is probably the result of a giant impact between the proto-Earth and a Mars-sized object. That collision ejected a huge volume of debris, some of which later coalesced into the Moon. From analyses of lunar samples, advanced computer modeling and comparisons with other planets in the solar system, we’ve learned among many other things that colossal impacts could be the rule, not the exception, in the early days of this and other planetary systems.
Carrying out scientific research on the Moon would yield dramatic increases in our understanding of how our natural satellite came to be, and what processes operate on and within the surface to make it look the way it does.
The coming decades hold the promise of a new era of lunar exploration, with humans living there for extended periods of time enabled by the extraction and use of the Moon’s natural resources. With steady, determined effort, then, the Moon can become not only a home to future explorers, but the perfect stepping stone from which to take our next giant leap.
Protesters in Algeria use nonviolence to seek real political change
Updated March 4, 2019
Author: Ghaliya Djelloul, Sociologue, chercheuse au Centre interdisciplinaire d’études de l’islam dans le monde contemporain (IACCHOS/UCL), Université catholique de Louvain
Disclosure statement: Ghaliya Djelloul 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: AUF (Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie) provides funding as a member of The Conversation FR.
Algeria’s 82-year-old president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whose has been in office since 1999, is seeking a fifth term – and many Algerians are not pleased with his decision.
There has been relatively little public opposition to Bouteflika’s continued reign over the past 20 years. But after the country’s state-run news agency announced in February that Bouteflika would stand for re-election, on April 18, protests erupted.
Bouteflika, who has been in poor health since a 2013 stroke, is widely seen as an ineffective head of state in a country suffering from a deep economic crisis. Public appearances by the president are now extremely rare. In December, Bouteflika cancelled a meeting with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, supposedly because he had the flu. Tellingly, Bouteflika is currently reported to be in Switzerland for “medical checks,” despite the political crisis.
Taking to the streets
Popular resistance to his re-election bid has only grown over the past weeks. From Algiers to Oran, people young and old have taken to the streets and campuses across the North African country to peacefully protest the continuing hold of Bouteflika and his inner circle on power.
Economic crisis has worsened in Algeria as oil revenues plunged with falling oil prices. The unemployment rate is near 12%, with the youth rate at 29%. With half of the population younger than 25, Bouteflika’s government is facing a structural and social crisis of unprecedented proportions.
Several candidates have registered to run against Bouteflika, but protesters say elections in Algeria are not free or fair. Some opposition parties plan to boycott the presidential vote if Bouteflika stays in the race.
In March 3 written statement, Boutelika said that he will run for re-election but step down soon after if elected. No timetable was given, and the offer has not brought calm.
Large-scale public protests are unusual in Algeria, where the National Liberation Front – a political regime in power since independence from France in 1962 – regime has violently crushed all signs of dissent. In 1988, more than 500 were killed during Algeria’s “black October” demonstrations, which were followed by a military coup in 1992 and subsequent civil war.
Security forces also met 2001 protests by Algeria’s Kabyle people with violence; 160 were reportedly killed. Other opposition movements, such as protests in 2011 and an anti-shale gas movement in 2015, flared but weakened quickly.
Algeria largely stood out the Arab Spring – a series of protests in 2010 and 2011 that brought down authoritarian governments in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere – in part because of memories of the country’s brutal civil war of the 1990s.
Today, however, protesters of all ages and walks of life are out in strength – students, working men and women, and journalists resisting state censorship. All are calling for a return to the rule of law and demanding that Bouteflika renounce running for a fifth term.
The atmosphere of Algeria’s protests is generally festive. As they march down city streets, protesters often sing popular football anthems with a political twist to express their demands. Songs ring out from Algeria’s 1962 independence movement and the social movements of the 1980s. From balconies overhead, women sing out their support.
While there has also been anger and indignation, fiery speeches, violence and clashes with police have been relatively limited. A “million-man march” on March 1 was reported to be mostly peaceful, with the state news agency claiming that 183 people were injured.
Pro-democracy protesters sing Algerian football songs, adjusting their lyrics to reflect the current situation in Algeria. For more information, see the documentary Babor Casanova, by Karim Sayad (2015).“
The street as public forum
The moving crowds, rallies and meetings have turned Algeria’s streets into something of a public forum. In a country where the government does not allow a real political dialogue, this is how the Algerian people practice their politics.
Protesters demand an end to the rule of Bouteflika and his clan. This includes the president’s brother Saïd and other family members who have a controlling hand in state affairs and the economy.
The Algerian resistance has also taken to social media to share messages of hope, filling the web with broad smiles and forceful slogans about political change in their country. Twitter posts show that citizens are remaining positive about their chances of democracy.
In an effort to keep control, prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia has warned demonstrators that a ”Syrian scenario“ – civil war – may result if Bouteflika isn’t returned to office on April 18.
Unlike in the past, the protests have even received some domestic media coverage – particularly after journalists protested Bouteflika’s rule – both in mainstream papers as well as private broadcasts. Ongoing coverage shows streets and squares occupied by protestors, with police officers surrounded by demonstrators.
Algerian protesters are also gaining an international audience, with support from the Algerian diaspora in Paris, Montreal, Geneva and other cities.
Is the regime losing its grip?
Across the nation, the feeling that the 57-year-old regime’s grip on power may finally be slipping.
So far, the protesters’ strategy has been resolutely nonviolent. They have even made peaceful gestures toward the police and expressed their civic responsibility in unexpected ways, including cleaning the streets after demonstrations.
By resisting political pressure and fatalism through nonviolence, everyday citizens are seeking to change how power may be exercised in Algeria, peacefully yet insistently calling on the government to allow dissent and listen to what its people have to say. Real dialogue, they say, is the only way to restore the legitimacy of Algeria’s government in the eyes of its people.
Will peaceful protest be enough to shift the balance of power in Algeria? The future of the movement is uncertain, yet a fifth term for Bouteflika is clearly unthinkable for many citizens.
Translated from the original French by Clea Chakraverty and Leighton Kille.