Noted & Quoted

2017MarchWeek of March 27 to April 2

Even the negotiation process itself allows the EU to do well by doing good. The EU side is considering opening much of the negotiation to public view by publishing negotiation mandates and other documents. That is a good thing in itself: transparency is essential to create public support for trade deals. But, as Alan Beattie explains, it will also be tactically helpful to the EU side (beyond making a virtue of necessity in leak-prone Brussels). An open negotiation makes it easier to defend red lines — but above all, in the specific case of Brexit negotiations, it is likely to wrongfoot the British side more than it could cause trouble in EU capitals given the deep divisions that May has to bridge at home and the general incoherence of what the Leave campaign promised voters at the referendum.

Some have tried to point out to the British public the imbalance between the EU27 and the UK in the Brexit talks. If the EU side plays its cards right, the UK is in an even worse position than those warnings suggest.

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Week of March 20 to March 26

President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics.

The allegations, if true, would appear to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics, even as US-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.

Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million (£8 million) annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP.

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The texts, posted on a darknet website run by a hacktivist collective, appear to show Manafort’s family fretting about the ethics, safety and consequences of his work for Yanukovych. And they reveal that Manafort’s two daughters regarded their father’s emergence as a key player on Trump’s presidential campaign with a mixture of pride and embarrassment.

In one exchange, daughter Jessica Manafort writes “Im not a trump supporter but i am still proud of dad tho. He is the best at what he does.” Her sister Andrea Manafort responded by referring to their father’s relationship with Trump as “The most dangerous friendship in America,” while in another exchange she called them “a perfect pair” of “power-hungry egomaniacs,” and asserted “the only reason my dad is doing this campaign is for sport. He likes the challenge. It's like an egomaniac's chess game. There's no money motivation.”

By contrast, the Manafort daughters and their mother seemed much more unsettled about Paul Manafort’s work as a political consultant for Yanukovych’s Russia-backed Party of Regions, which is a subject of renewed interest among investigators probing possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

In one March 2015 exchange that appears to be between the two sisters, Andrea Manafort seems to suggest that their father bore some responsibility for the deaths of protesters at the hands of police loyal to Yanukovych during a monthslong uprising that started in late 2013.

“Don't fool yourself,” Andrea Manafort wrote. “That money we have is blood money.”

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If there's anything mitigating the bad news for the White House here, it is that Comey may have also sent subtle signals that the matters under investigation are not principally about the personal conduct of Trump himself. While this is speculation, I do not believe that if Comey had, say, validated large swaths of the Steele dossier or found significant Trump-Russia financial entanglements of a compromising variety, he would have said even as much as he said today. I also don't think he would have announced the scope of the investigation as about the relationship "between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government" or "coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts"; these words suggest one step of removal from investigating the President himself. If the latter were the case, I suspect Comey wouldn't have used words suggestive of the Flynn-Manafort-Page cabal.

But that's reading a lot into a relatively small number of tea leaves. What is clear is that this was a very bad day for the President. In it, we learned that there is an open-ended Russia investigation with no timetable for completion, one that's going hang over Trump's head for a long time, and one to which the FBI director is entirely committed.

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Week of March 13 to March 19

Some rank-and-file White House aides, meanwhile, have become convinced that intelligence agents may be monitoring their phone calls, emails, and text messages. Those fears intensified last week when WikiLeaks released a trove of CIA documents outlining how the agency can break into phones and computers.

In an interview, one White House aide described the elaborate steps he was taking to shield himself. Once he gets home in the evening, he turns off his work phone and stores it in a drawer because, he said, he believes it could be used to listen to him even when it’s off. If he makes a call during off-hours, he uses a separate, personal phone in an adjoining room, where the stowed work device wouldn’t be able to pick up his voice as clearly.

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Magerman told the Wall Street Journal that Mercer’s political opinions “show contempt for the social safety net that he doesn’t need, but many Americans do.” He also said that Mercer wants the U.S. government to be “shrunk down to the size of a pinhead.” Several former colleagues of Mercer’s said that his views are akin to Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Magerman told me, “Bob believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make. A cat has value, he’s said, because it provides pleasure to humans. But if someone is on welfare they have negative value. If he earns a thousand times more than a schoolteacher, then he’s a thousand times more valuable.” Magerman added, “He thinks society is upside down—that government helps the weak people get strong, and makes the strong people weak by taking their money away, through taxes.” He said that this mind-set was typical of “instant billionaires” in finance, who “have no stake in society,” unlike the industrialists of the past, who “built real things.”

Another former high-level Renaissance employee said, “Bob thinks the less government the better. He’s happy if people don’t trust the government. And if the President’s a bozo? He’s fine with that. He wants it to all fall down.”

The 2016 Presidential election posed a challenge for someone with Mercer’s ideology. Multiple sources described him as animated mainly by hatred of Hillary Clinton. But Mercer also distrusted the Republican leadership. After the candidate he initially supported, Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, dropped out of the race, Mercer sought a disruptive figure who could upend both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Patterson told me that Mercer seems to have applied “a very Renaissance Technologies way of thinking” to politics: “He probably estimated the probability of Trump winning, and when it wasn’t very high he said to himself, ‘O.K., what has to happen in order for this twenty-per-cent thing to occur?’ It’s like playing a card game when you haven’t got a very good hand.”

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To tease apart the central from the extended cognition, we apply the mutual manipulability criterion, testing the existence of reciprocal causal links between the putative elements of the system. We conclude that the web threads and configurations are integral parts of the cognitive systems. The extension of cognition to the web helps to explain some puzzling features of spider behaviour and seems to promote evolvability within the group, enhancing innovation through cognitive connectivity to variable habitat features. Graded changes in relative brain size could also be explained by outsourcing information processing to environmental features. More generally, niche-constructed structures emerge as prime candidates for extending animal cognition, generating the selective pressures that help to shape the evolving cognitive system.

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Over a period of about 20 years after the end of World War II, the US conducted 210 atmospheric nuclear tests. Each was captured by multiple cameras, rolling at around 2,400 frames per second.A handful of the estimated 10,000 mesmerizing test films have been declassified and the National Laboratory, custodians of the material, has uploaded more than 60 videos to a YouTube playlist.

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[T]he Trump budget looks less like a political philosophy and more like a sexual fantasy. It lavishes attention on every aspect of hard power and slashes away at anything that isn’t.


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The conspiracy theorizing also tested what is often called the special relationship between the United States and Britain. American intelligence agencies enjoy a closer collaboration with their British counterparts than any other in the world. GCHQ was the first agency to warn the United States government that Russia was hacking Democratic Party emails during the presidential campaign.

Foreign policy analysts expressed astonishment that Mr. Trump would so cavalierly endanger that partnership. “It illustrates the extent to which the White House really doesn’t care what damage they do to crucial relationships in order to avoid admitting their dishonesty,” said Kori Schake, a former national security aide to President George W. Bush now at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “America’s allies are having to protect themselves against being tarred with the White House’s mendacity.”

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Maybe America’s racial history makes it uniquely hostile to redistributive fiscal policy. But the Republican Party’s brand of economic conservatism is also uniquely extreme, unpopular, and ill-equipped to meet the demands of our second Gilded Age — as the current fight over Obamacare repeal has amply illustrated. Put simply: The constituency for regressive tax cuts, reduced entitlement benefits, and Wall Street deregulation is vanishingly small.

Given the GOP’s vulnerability on these issues, it seems reasonable to believe that left-wing economic populism — broadly defined — is at least part of the solution to the problem of right-wing nationalism. To be sure, such a populism is no surefire antidote to the growth of white reactionary politics in a rapidly diversifying nation that was founded on white supremacy. But nothing is.

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One group at the University of Maryland lined up ten trapped ytterbium ions (ytterbium is just a chemical element) and shined them with periodic laser pulses to mostly, but not completely, flip the ions’ spins. The particles’ spin values snapped into place, completely flipping regardless. They continued flipping and all lining up at half the speed of the laser pulse. If the team altered the pulse a little bit, the ten ions kept with their same cycle, even though intuition says the time crystal’s periodic motion should eventually fall apart. Instead, they preferred to march at the beat of their own drum.

The Harvard group’s setup was a little different. They loaded the regular carbon lattice of a diamond with impurities in the form of nitrogen atoms—so many impurities that the diamond turned black. Their crystal also required a pulsing force, in this case a microwave field, and they also watched the impurities’ spins flip back and forth, snapping into place with their own lower frequency, a longer period. This caused the diamond to fluoresce... Their system was so complex that the theory doesn’t fully explain the behavior, said Soonwon Choi.

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'How much money do you need to get off the ground?’ Herzfeld asked.

‘A million dollars or so, just to get it organised,’ Taylor replied.

‘You’ve got it,’ Herzfeld replied.

And that was it. The conversation to approve the money for the ARPANET, the computer network that would eventually become the internet, took just 15 minutes. The ARPANET was a product of that extraordinary confluence of factors at the agency in the early 1960s: the focus on important but loosely defined military problems, freedom to address those problems from the broadest possible perspective and, crucially, an extraordinary research manager whose solution, while relevant to the military problem, extended beyond the narrow interests of the DoD. An assignment grounded in Cold War paranoia about men’s minds had morphed into concerns about the security of nuclear weapons and had now been reimagined as interactive computing, which would bring forth the age of personal computing.

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Week of March 6 to March 12

Green notes that advances coming out of plasma physics could allow for the future development of inflatable structures that can generate a magnetic dipole of 1 or 2 tesla. That could [be] enough to shield Mars against the solar wind, and it wouldn’t need to be anything near as large as the planet itself.

The Planetary Science Division worked with scientists from Ames Research Center, the Goddard Space Flight Center, and a number of universities to run simulations of this scenario (PDF). The team found that a magnetic shield would allow Mars’ atmosphere to find a new equilibrium. Currently, it has stabilized at roughly 1% the density of Earth’s atmosphere, thanks to the release of gases from internal pockets. With the shield, that could increase by several times and allow the surface temperature to rise to an average of 4 degrees Celsius (7 degrees Fahrenheit).

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Trump's spectacles... are swiftly gobbling up the time that Republicans thought they possessed. In a mere seven weeks, their president has become a national joke. And he can't change, because he's diseased. He will, therefore, soon also become an existential threat to his party. We shall then see, I'd wager, a "conservative" movement to remove him. For the Republican Party, the cost of Trump's benefits are simply too high.

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When candidate Trump said Hillary Clinton was a criminal who belonged in prison, he was exposing himself to a libel suit. And the suit might not have succeeded, because Trump could have said he was making a political argument rather than an allegation of fact.

But when President Trump accuses Obama of an act that would have been impeachable and possibly criminal, that's something much more serious than libel. If it isn't true or provable, it's misconduct by the highest official of the executive branch.

How is such misconduct by an official to be addressed? There's a common-law tort of malicious prosecution, but that probably doesn't apply when the government official has no intention to prosecute.

The answer is that the constitutional remedy for presidential misconduct is impeachment.

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The party’s current leader, the president, questions the intelligence community’s findings, motives and integrity. Republican leaders in Congress have opposed the creation of any special investigating committee, either inside or outside Congress. They have insisted that inquiries be conducted by the two intelligence committees. Yet the Republican chairman of the committee in the House has indicated that he sees no great urgency to the investigation and has even questioned the seriousness and validity of the accusations. The Republican chairman of the committee in the Senate has approached the task grudgingly. The result is that the investigations seem destined to move slowly, produce little information and provide even less to the public. It is hard not to conclude that this is precisely the intent of the Republican Party’s leadership, both in the White House and Congress.

This approach not only is damaging to U.S. national security but also puts the Republican Party in an untenable position. When Republicans stand in the way of thorough, open and immediate investigations, they become Russia’s accomplices after the fact.

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We are now condemned to live in exciting times. Boredom is, quite clearly, underrated. At the same time, I must confess that as Trump’s victory settled, my despair was coupled with a rush of blood to the head. I felt my fear, including for my family, giving me a sense of purpose. I at least knew what I believed in and what I hoped America could still become. And, in one way or another, even if we don’t quite consciously want it, it’s something we all apparently need — something, whatever it is, to fight for. Now Americans on both sides of the ever-widening divide will have it.

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President Trump is now wallowing in fury, we are told, because he can’t make the Russia story disappear; he can’t stem the leaks to the media; and he can’t seem to realize his promises. Some reports tell us that unflattering comparisons to Barack Obama’s early accomplishments are “gnawing at Trump,” while others say he went “ballistic” when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, because it telegraphed capitulation to Trump’s foes.

But all of these things are connected by a common thread: Trump is enraged at being subjected to a system of democratic and institutional constraints, for which he has signaled nothing but absolute, unbridled contempt. The system is pushing back, and he can’t bear it.

From: At the root of Trump’s new fury: Total contempt for American democracy - The Washington Post

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Week of February 27 to March 5

What is your name? Where are we? What is the date? Who is the president of the United States? If the person knows all four answers, they are said to be “alert and oriented to person, place, time, and POTUS.” When they get one of the answers wrong, it is good practice to reorient them...

All kinds of things can cause these lapses in memory, from chronic dementia to a temporary head injury. So, some patients are alert, conversant, and are otherwise “with it” enough to understand the gravity of the news I end up breaking to them. It’s actually a fascinating moment, and I have become deeply curious as to what each patient’s reaction will be. Each time now, I stop, take a big breath, look them squarely in the eyes, and then I reveal to them the full, undeniable truth of the situation: The president of these United States is Donald J. Trump. I pause. I do not break eye contact.

For the most part, it isn’t pretty.

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Sherman argues in the interview that without the Iran deal, “you’d probably be at war.”

Flournoy agrees, in an answer that is particularly revealing as to how she and the others choose to interpret Trump’s Alpha Male theory of the world:

“I can tell you as someone who was responsible for oversight of military planning in the Pentagon, had Wendy failed and the negotiations failed, the only option left on the table would have been to use military force to take out that program, and we would have gone [and done that]. That would have started a third war in the broader Middle East. … So let's be fact-based and realistic about the consequences of the policy choices that were made. … Tough talk is easy, but actually advancing American interests in a way that's smart is a lot harder.”

In our conversation, Flournoy, who is now CEO of the bipartisan think tank Center for a New American Security, discusses for the first time publicly her decision not to go work for the Trump administration, after having been asked to serve as deputy to Defense Secretary James Mattis. She says she declined because it would violate her “sense of values” to work for Trump.

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[I]f Einstein’s equations break down anywhere, they are most likely to do so at the edge of a black hole, where the fabric of space-time is being stretched more severely than any other place in the cosmos. As Laing says: “It’s the ultimate test.”

For example, if the shadow is precisely circular, this would indicate our galaxy’s black hole is not rotating. However, most predictions suggest that it should be spinning – which would produce a disc that has a dent.

The production of this evidence will strain the ingenuity and technological expertise of astronomers to their limits. Vast amounts of data, collected from observatories across the planet, will have to be combined to create a single image, an international collaboration that is being led by Shep Doeleman at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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Week of February 13 to February 19

The most painful aspect of this has been to watch people I previously considered thoughtful and principled conservatives give themselves over to a species of illiberal politics from which I once thought they were immune.

In his 1953 masterpiece, “The Captive Mind,” the Polish poet and dissident Czeslaw Milosz analyzed the psychological and intellectual pathways through which some of his former colleagues in Poland’s post-war Communist regime allowed themselves to be converted into ardent Stalinists. In none of the cases that Milosz analyzed was coercion the main reason for the conversion.
They wanted to believe. They were willing to adapt. They thought they could do more good from the inside. They convinced themselves that their former principles didn’t fit with the march of history, or that to hold fast to one’s beliefs was a sign of priggishness and pig-headedness. They felt that to reject the new order of things was to relegate themselves to irrelevance and oblivion. They mocked their former friends who refused to join the new order as morally vain reactionaries. They convinced themselves that, brutal and capricious as Stalinism might be, it couldn’t possibly be worse than the exploitative capitalism of the West.

I fear we are witnessing a similar process unfold among many conservative intellectuals on the right.

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The precarious feeling of uncertainty will nonetheless persist, at least until U.S. authority, in Europe or anywhere else, is seriously challenged. And there are signs that a challenge is coming. In the past few days, the Russian government has recognized passports from the phony “republics” that Russian-armed, Russian-controlled “separatists” have created in eastern Ukraine — perhaps, as one Russian official suggested, as a prelude to granting them Russian passports or even annexing the territories outright. Russian planes repeatedly buzzed a U.S. destroyer on patrol in the Black Sea. Most ominously, Russia has reportedly deployed a new generation of cruise missiles, a move that violates existing arms treaties and could make it easier for Russian bombs to reach European capitals.

There is no reason to think that these small “tests” will not be repeated. And if any one of them explodes into something worse, then talk of “shared values” will not help. Nor will repeated reassurances from Cabinet members. At some point, the enforced ambiguity will fall away, it will not be possible to disguise reality with “Swedish incidents” and we will learn what the president actually believes. I just hope that we are all prepared.

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Our partners in the international order we created - some of whom we conquered to make it possible - are now seeking to defend it from us. Let's say that again, Defend it from us. How do we now as loyal Americans look at the warnings of the French and the Germans, as well as the British and our other erstwhile allies' warnings? This is a complicated question which different people, depending on their professions and governmental responsibilities and personal dispositions, must answer in different ways. But we cannot ignore the fact that the American experiment is now in a kind of exile - taken refuge elsewhere - and the executive power of the American state now under a kind of, hopefully temporary, occupation.

We face a comparable dynamic at home. I have been thinking for weeks that the central challenge and reality of the Trump Era is what do you do as an institutionalist when the central institutions of the state have been taken over, albeit democratically, by what amount to pirates, people who want to destroy them? To put it another way, do the institutions and norms which Trump and his gang are trying to destroy become shackles and obstacles in the way of those trying to defend them? There['re] no easy answers to these questions.

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We are on numerous fronts in an unprecedented and perilous situation. No government likes leaks. Sometimes leaks are illegal. This is something that can be addressed on its own. The key here is the substance of what we're learning. It speaks for itself. That's why it's been so damaging. Even Republicans, who have been remarkably willing to give Trump a pass on virtually anything as long as he will sign key legislation, have been unable to ignore this. This is no 'political assassination'. That is a ridiculous and preposterous claim. The facts we are learning speak for themselves. When leaks are this damaging and this tied to the fundamental operations of government, it's not about the leaks or the motives. It's about what we're learning and what we need to know.

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Stuff in Space is a realtime 3D map of objects in Earth orbit, visualized using WebGL.

The website updates daily with orbit data from and uses the excellent satellite.js Javascript library to calculate satellite positions.

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Satirizing war—condemning war—is easy. What’s not easy is extending the tragedy of war beyond the politicians, beyond the world leaders, beyond those higher-ups that are typically held responsible and laying some of that blame on our shoulders—us watching at home—as well. To great effect, Verhoeven uses news footage to give context to the world beyond the story, showing us the broader strokes of the war—the galactic politics, and so on. It’s a technique he similarly deployed in Robocop, using media not only to further develop the world, but to establish a sense of voyeurism that brings us closer to the act. As a viewer, you become complicit with the mayhem plaguing Detroit, or the war machine that grinds out pointless death after pointless death. Famously, one of the newsreels in Starship Troopers asks “would you like to know more?” Well, yes. Of course we would. We have news streaming into our brainpieces 24/7, assuring us that things are terrible somewhere, if not everywhere. This question that Starship Troopers poses is almost rhetorical because there’s at least part of us that loves the mayhem, that loves the war machine.

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“By oath, intelligence officials’ first duty is to ‘defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,’ “ Evan McMullin, the former C.I.A. operative and Republican congressional aide, who ran for President last year as an independent, pointed out on Twitter. In the cases of Flynn and the Trump campaign aides who reportedly were intercepted speaking numerous times with Russian intelligence agents, a case can be made that the leaks were driven primarily by alarm about the possible infiltration and subversion of the U.S. political system. In other words, the leakers were motivated by patriotism, not politics. To quote another of McMullin’s tweets: “So, the real scandal isn’t that the President of the United States of America appears to have been co-opted by America’s greatest adversary?”

From a constitutional and moral perspective, the country now faces a momentous question: How far did the Russian penetration of Trump’s campaign go, and what is the real basis of his desire to team up with Putin? From a political perspective, the urgent issue is a more prosaic one: How many Republicans on Capitol Hill will break with the White House and demand a proper independent investigation of the entire Russia/Trump imbroglio, either by a specially formed select committee or, even better, a 9/11-style commission?

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Week of February 6 to February 12

Infrastructure. Tax cuts for workers and parents. A better tax code for business.

Not a war with the judiciary. Tax cuts. Not CNN or Nordstrom’s perfidy. Jobs. Not Bannon’s theories about Islam or the crisis of the West. (And you know I like theories about the crisis of the West!) Bridges and roads and tunnels.

This isn’t complicated. In fact, it’s kind of easy.

Which is good advice for anyone in crisis, new presidents included. If you can’t figure out how to handle the hardest stuff, try something simple for a while.

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I've been thinking about this sequence of events all day—and it's a disturbing one, albeit in an amusing and harmless context:

  • The President saw a single line of an article on a television show.
  • He tweeted that single line with apparently no idea who the author was or what the publication was, and indeed without reading the rest of the article.
  • Nobody in the White House vetted the tweet to discover the readily apparent fact that the article in question sharply criticized the President and supported the decision about which he was angrily complaining.
  • Nobody warned the President that the article was written by an author who had written numerous other articles ungraced by pleasant words about him—indeed, an author who has been calling him a threat to national security for nearly a year.
  • Nobody warned the President that the site he was about to praise has had a great deal of such writing by other writers as well.

It is a portrait in inconsequential and comical miniature of the incompetence and dysfunction we've been seeing since day one of the Trump Administration.

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Comments often serve as identity badges, said Joseph Reagle, the author of “Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web” and a professor of communication studies at Northeastern University. “You see this particularly on social media,” he told me. The comment is meant to tell the world, “This is who I am.” People may also comment to gain approval and solidarity with their social group, he said. “It’s a way of saying, ‘I am like you.’” Of course, offering a correction can also be a means of propping up one’s own ego.

Entering the comments fray can seem futile. “What I have learned from the little commenting I have done is that it accomplishes nothing and provokes the very opposite of rational, thoughtful discourse,” wrote Elisabeth Carroll.

After reading all the survey data and talking to some commenters by phone, my views of comments and commenters have come full circle. Setting aside the trolls, who should, as a rule, be ignored or blocked, I can’t help thinking that on a certain level, commenters want the same thing I do — to have our ideas heard and carefully considered. We all want to have a say, if only we could find a way to stop shouting.

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“An iconic moment from the Trump era: Canadian Mounties, on a freezing winter day, helping a refugee family flee over the US border.”

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The emerging details contradict public statements by incoming senior administration officials including Mike Pence, then the vice president-elect. They acknowledged only a handful of text messages and calls exchanged between Flynn and Kislyak late last year and denied that either ever raised the subject of sanctions.

“They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia,” Pence said in an interview with CBS News last month, noting that he had spoken with Flynn about the matter. Pence also made a more sweeping assertion, saying there had been no contact between members of Trump’s team and Russia during the campaign. To suggest otherwise, he said, “is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.”

Neither of those assertions is consistent with the fuller account of Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak provided by officials who had access to reports from U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies that routinely monitor the communications of Russian diplomats. Nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

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