Donald Trump’s lawyers fail at basic lawyering: Privacy
President Donald Trump may be focusing on how to wriggle out of the Russia scandal that threatens to envelop his administration, but in order to do that, his legal team will first need to get their proverbial house in order. Exhibit A: The fact that …
Trump’s lawyer caught gossiping about White House dramaVICE News
NYT: Cobb overheard talking about colleagues, Russia probe at DC steakhouseCNNall 37 news articles »
The attorneys representing Donald Trump in his Russia scandal have seemingly been in a race to see who could screw up in the most embarrassing fashion. Two of them have had late night email feuds with strangers. One accused a reporter of being on drugs. One of them was fired after he threatened someone. Now one of his attorneys has found an entirely new way to screw up: he unwittingly gave away secrets about the internal workings of Trump’s legal team when he was overheard in a restaurant.
The incredible story comes by way of the New York Times, which reveals that one of its reporters overheard Trump attorney Ty Cobb (yes that’s his real name) while they were both dining at the same steakhouse (link). Cobb was overheard accusing his colleague, White House Counsel Don McGahn, of having his own spies within the administration.
The Times contacted the White House to follow up on what it had overheard Cobb saying, and in the process McGahn became aware of what Cobb had said about him. This prompted McGahn to privately “erupt” at Cobb. It also led Chief of Staff John Kelly to “reprimand” Cobb for having discussed such things in public at a restaurant where he could be overheard. This is just some of the dysfunction that’s going on within Trump’s no-star legal team.
Donald Trump hired Ty Cobb as a White House lawyer so taxpayers would have to pick up the tab, even though Cobb is directly representing Trump in the Russia scandal. But this may backfire, as it means Cobb and Trump don’t have the usual attorney-client privilege. Nor is there any such privilege between Trump and McGahn. For that matter, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is targeting McGahn as a potential witness or co-conspirator, as he helped Trump craft his attempted cover-up of Donald Trump Jr’s Russia meeting.
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As Russia scandal moves forward, Team Mueller isn’t done growing
An attorney working on the Justice Department’s highest-profile money-laundering case recently transferred off that assignment in order to join the staff of the special prosecutor investigating theTrump campaign’s potential ties to Russia, POLITICO …
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More than a month ago, Trump announced he was “drawing documents now” to tackle “a serious problem, the likes of which we have never had.”
But it’s another of Darwin’s theories, his least appreciated (at least to judge by popular books), that is his most seditious — and that this year finally gets the thorough defense it deserves.
A little over a decade after he published “On the Origin of Species,” in which he described his theory of natural selection shaped by “survival of the fittest,” Darwin published another troublesome treatise — “The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relationship to Sex.” This expanded on an idea he mentioned only briefly in “Origin.” Sometimes, he proposed, in organisms that reproduce by having sex, a different kind of selection occurs: Animals choose mates that are not the fittest candidates available, but the most attractive or alluring. Sometimes, in other words, aesthetics rule.
Darwin conceived this idea largely because he found natural selection could not account for the ornaments seen in many animals, especially males, all over the world — the bright buttocks and faces of many monkeys and apes; the white legs and backside of the Banteng bull, in Malaysia; the elaborate feathers and mating dances of countless birds including bee-eaters and bell-birds, nightjars, hummingbirds and herons, gaudy birds of paradise and lurid pheasants, and the peacock, that showboat, whose extravagant tail seems a survival hindrance but so pleases females that well-fanned cocks regularly win their favor. Only a consistent preference for such ornament — in many species, a “choice exerted by the female” — could select for such decoration. This sexual selection,as Darwin called it, this taste for beauty rather than brawn, constituted an evolutionary mechanism separate, independent, and sometimes contrary to natural selection.
To Darwin’s dismay, many biologists rejected this theory. For one thing, Darwin’s elevation of sexual selection threatened the idea of natural selection as the one true and almighty force shaping life — a creative force powerful and concentrated enough to displace that of God. And some felt Darwin’s sexual selection gave too much power to all those females exerting choices based on beauty. As the zoologist St. George Jackson Mivart complained in an influential early review of “Descent,” “the instability of vicious feminine caprice” was too soft and slippery a force to drive something as important as evolution.
Darwin’s sexual selection theory thus failed to win the sort of victory that his theory of natural selection did. Ever since, the adaptationist, “fitness first” view of sexual selection as a subset of natural selection has dominated, driving the interpretation of most significant traits. Fancy feathers or (in humans) symmetrical faces have been cast not as instruments of sexual selection, but as “honest signals” of some greater underlying fitness. Meanwhile, the “modern synthesis” of the mid-1900s, which reconciled Darwinian evolution with Mendelian genetics, redefined evolutionary fitness itself not in terms of traits, but as the survival and spread of the individual genes that generated the traits. Genes, rather than traits, became what natural selection selected.
And so things largely remained until now. This summer, however, almost 150 years after Darwin published his sexual selection theory to mixed reception, Richard Prum, a mild-mannered ornithologist and museum curator from Yale, has published a book intended to win Darwin’s sex theory a more climactic victory. With THE EVOLUTION OF BEAUTY (Doubleday, $30), Prum, drawing on decades of study, hundreds of papers, and a lively, literate, and mischievous mind, means to prove an enriched version of Darwin’s sexual selection theory and rescue evolutionary biology from its “tedious and limiting adaptationist insistence on the ubiquitous power of natural selection.” He feels this insistence has given humankind an impoverished, even corrupted view of evolution in general, and in particular of how evolution has shaped sexual relations and human culture.
As Prum knows, he’s in for a fight. The biologists who most militantly defend the adaptationist Darwinian view of evolution, such as Richard Dawkins, do not gladly suffer dissent. But true to his argument, Prum seeks to prevail less through brute force of attack than by making his case with clarity, grace and charm. Like a bowerbird arranging its display for potential mates, he seeks not to best his chesty, chattering rivals, but to persuade the open-minded. The result is a delicious read, both seductive and mutinous.
Richard Prum is first and foremost an obsessive birder. Having personally seen over a third of the world’s 10,000 known bird species, he draws on his observations and wide reading to defeather and gut the adaptationist view that beauty is an “honest signaling” of evolutionary fitness. His attention never strays far from nature, and his writing in these bird passages is minutely detailed, exquisitely observant, deeply informed, and often tenderly sensual. When describing, say, the “throbbing” display of the lavishly decorated argus bird, he delivers a feathery brush of the erotic.
Prum is also an expert on the evolution of feathers, and he writes of them with the insight and appreciation one hears in the funnest art critics — think Kenneth Clark crossed with Sister Wendy. Prum makes an elegant, plausible argument that rather than having evolved for flight, feathers may actually have first evolved as a decorative surface for sexual display: fitness as a downstream benefit of beauty. The art-critic overtones come not by chance. Prum considers birds artists. Manakins (Prum’s study group) carefully choreograph their dances. Bowerbirds mastered perspective in their bower building eons before human painters grokked it during the Renaissance.
Bowerbird males provide Prum some of his most convincing examples. These remarkable birds woo their potential mates by constructing circles, cones, or maypole-like structures out of twigs, then ornamenting both the structures and the ground within and around them with stones, shells, beetle cases, colorful fungi and other found art. Both the architecture and the male’s behavior invite the female to observe and consider while leaving her both the space to do so and a clear escape path. In some bowerbird species the male laboriously arranges and rearranges his display, examining it from various angles and making small fixes, writes Prum, with the care of a “fussy florist.” The males of several species observe the female examining their work while half-hidden behind a tree or some fencelike part of the bower. If she likes what she sees, she stretches her neck and raises her tail in invitation, and the male comes to mate. (This takes only seconds, and the two will never meet again.) If she doesn’t, she leaves.
Prum believes these and similar courtship appeals in other species have arisen from a long, multigenerational, co-evolutionary conversation between mating partners. The male’s aesthetic and social qualities are repeatedly tested, judged and (through selection) modified according to whether they please potential mates. Thus the females’ individual preferences, says Prum, help drive evolution.
Like all selection, this is not intended to reach any particular goal; it just unfolds according to the demands of either fitness, or in this case, beauty. A trait selected for its beauty, of course, might create problems by selecting for ornaments that work against fitness. But, most crucially in the end, and often offsetting these problems, this “aesthetic” courtship, says Prum, creates an environment, temperaments and rituals — a sort of culture — that give the female sexual choice, autonomy and safety. (As noted, she doesn’t get everything; once she and the male mate and part, she raises the offspring by herself.)
Prum sees such aesthetic choices as driving a gradual “aesthetic remodeling” — an evolutionary reshaping of mating behavior, and even of male social behavior more widely, by the civilizing pressure of female preference. Prum stresses this is not about emasculating males, or dominating them; it’s simply about selecting for males who allow females autonomy and choice.
By this point in the book, Prum, having made his case so well in birds, turns to the implications of sexual selection for Homo sapiens. He nimbly mines both the animal and human literature to show how, for one human trait after another, adaptationist explanations miss the mark while aesthetic explanations hit home. His catalog of Things Natural Selection Can’t Explain but Sexual Selection Easily Can includes homosexuality, a tendency toward monogamy, both sex’s taste and capacity for sex outside of female fertility periods, the deweaponization of the human male through the evolutionary shrinkage of almost every body part except the brain and the evolution of human paternal care, which is highly unusual among our fellow apes and close primate cousins. To name just a few.
Consider, for instance, this handful of well-known distinguishing human traits: our constant interest in sex, permanent breasts, big penises, and, last but hardly least, women’s orgasms. Except for constant sexual interest (and possibly female orgasm) in bonobos, none of these traits evolved in our fellow ape species. Prum argues that they evolved in humans because they help women evaluate men’s prosocial-pleasure potential. When sex offers orgasm at relatively low pregnancy risk, it provides a way not just to reproduce but to assess potential mates’ attention to female desires, tastes and choices. Essentially, Prum says, humans evolved to negotiate and have sex as a sort of display ritual. The boudoir is our bower.
One of Prum’s takeaways is that, given all this, we have choices to make. All sexual selection, he says, is shaped by conflicts between male and female anatomy, physiology, and agendas. Prum argues that sexual species tend to evolve toward one of two responses to this conflict. One evolutionary response is for males to use greater size to control or coerce the female and curb her power over whether, with whom, and how often she will mate and reproduce. This approach is common in many duck species and gorillas, whose dominant males use the threat of force to command exclusive mating access to the females in their groups and often murder the offspring of their predecessors. The other evolutionary answer is the aesthetic route — the resolution of differences between male and female needs and desires by behaviors and rituals that respect the other sex’s priorities and their decisions about how to pursue them.
Prum proposes that we humans have evolved along the latter path, and that, given our powers of thought, conscience and agency, we can accelerate that aesthetic and social evolution. This, he asserts, is why beauty should not be seen as merely the stamp of quality assurance that conventional evolutionary theory thinks it is. Beauty, rather, forms the foundation of an entire, complex evolutionary dynamic — one that can influence how we treat each other.
And that’s a huge problem.
Late last week, the United States tracked a North Korean intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) test that once again overflew Japan before landing in the Pacific.
The IRBM is the latest in a series of North Korean provocations this year that has included the test of a hydrogen bomb and an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) among other events. There is little the United States and its allies can do in response except to deter Pyongyang. Suggestions that the United States and Japan shoot down North Korean missile tests—an option often bandied about by certain political commentators are fanciful. Neither the United States or Japan likely has such a capability—even if they were so inclined.
“U.S. Pacific Command detected and tracked what we assess was a single North Korean ballistic missile launch at 11:57 a.m. (Hawaii time) Sept. 14. Initial assessment indicates the launch of an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM),” U.S. Pacific Command spokesman Cmdr. Dave Benham wrote in a Sept. 14 email.
“The launch occurred in the vicinity of Sunan, North Korea and flew east. The ballistic missile overflew the territory of northern Japan before landing in the Pacific Ocean east of Japan. We are working with our interagency partners on a more detailed assessment and we will provide a public update if warranted.”
Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association told The National Interest last month that intercepting such tests would be extremely difficult. Other experts also agreed with Reif’s assessment.
“Shooting down a North Korean missile on a test trajectory—as was the case with the 8/29 HS-12 test—is an entirely different and even more difficult challenge,” Reif said.
“Our BMD systems are not designed or postured to defend the open ocean. And we couldn’t rely on THAAD, since there are no THAAD batteries in the Japan. Patriot is also a no go, since it is designed to defend against slower short-range missiles during their terminal phase.”
Today we commemorate the 16th anniversary of what Al-Qa’ida termed its Planes Operation, the most consequential terrorist attacks in history. That operation left 19 dead jihadists, 2,978 dead innocent victims, plus thousands of injured. Not to mention the World Trade Center complex annihilated, four jetliners destroyed, the Pentagon badly damaged, and a nation changed forever.
In Lower Manhattan and at the Pentagon – all rebuilt with appropriate memorials to that day – the usual solemn 9/11 remembrances will take place. Those who recall may think back, briefly, to that sunny Tuesday morning when the world changed. Some will speak of it. Just as my parents and their friends once bored me with their exact memories of where they were on November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, now my friends and I bore our children with precise recollections of 9/11.
With the passing of time we can see the Planes Operation and its impacts with a clarity that was previously out of reach. In the months after 9/11, when shock turned to an outrage that birthed a national unity which proved as intense as it was fleeting, a new era dawned for America in a long-term struggle against Islamist terrorism and extremism. How has that conflict panned out over the last 16 years?
In the first place, it ought to be noted that our Intelligence Community has done a commendable job of keeping mass-casualty terrorism away from our shores since 9/11. In particular, FBI-NSA teamwork, in near-seamless collaboration with close foreign intelligence partners, has foiled hundreds of terrorist plots “left of boom” as they say in the spy trade. Jihadists have executed exactly zero “big wedding” attacks in the United States in the last 16 years – and it’s not for any lack of trying.
Indeed, since 9/11 the FBI-NSA counterterrorism partnership has grown so effective at stopping jihadists before they kill that civil libertarians routinely complain that many of these would-be terrorists are harmless ne’er-do-wells and fantasists entrapped by government informants. This is a by-product of the success of our domestic counterterrorism in recent years.
Although jihadists, usually self-styled, have killed Americans at home since 9/11, most of these terrorists have been inspired – not directed – by violent co-religionists overseas. In a typical case, the worst of these attacks, the June 2016 slaughter at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, killed 49 innocents; yet their murderer, Omar Mateen, a native-born American citizen, despite clearly being inspired by the Islamic State, was not directed by them except in his own diseased mind.
Read the rest at The Observer …
Two American tourists are receiving hospital treatment for burns after being attacked by an unknown female at the Saint Charles train station in Marseilles, who hurled acid at the group of four young women.
The attack with hydrochloric acid occurred on Sunday shortly after 11am, the La Provence newspaper reported, while the group of four was waiting for their transit to Paris. Two of the women are receiving treatment for burns, including a possible eye injury, while the others are being treated for shock, a French official told AP.
One suspect, aged between 41 and 51 years old, has been taken into custody. Police say there does not seem to be a terrorist or religious motive, and the woman appears to be mentally unbalanced.
French prosecutors are not investigating the acid attack on four American women in Marseilles as an act of terror, AP later reported.
The Trump administration fears that the bitter dispute among allies will damage U.S. interests.
The Pentagon is taking additional steps to ensure that U.S. and Russian battlefield commanders are able to directly communicate with one another after an airstrike on U.S. proxy forces near Deir al-Zour, Syria, that wounded several fighters Saturday, the United States’ highest -ranking military officer said.
Politics, North America
President Trump is taking on a tough but necessary task at the UN.
President Donald Trump will be hosting a meeting on Monday in New York on reforming the United Nations. With that, the president is taking on a very tough but very necessary task. The institution is in serious need of reform but achieving that will be very difficult. Yet, unless it reforms substantially, the UN faces the prospect of becoming less relevant and having its very mission and existence questioned.
Promoting security, human rights, humanitarian assistance and sustainable development are the primary responsibility of the individual member states, and assisting members in these four areas is the core mission of the UN—including peacekeeping, assisting refugees, facilitating international agreements on important issues and prodding countries to carry out their obligation under international law. However, the UN apparatus has become unwieldy, bureaucratically overburdened, inefficient, ineffective and fiscally irresponsible. These problems need to fixed.
Since becoming Secretary General, Antonio Guterres has emphasized reform—his focus of effort and the proposals he has developed do not pertain to adjusting the organization’s mission. Rather, they focus solely on how it carries its responsibilities, with the goal of increasing the organization’s capacity to implements its current mission more effectively by becoming more integrated, more transparent and more accountable. The meeting is aimed at boosting his initiatives.
The Trump/Guterres event will be well received and there will be many positive statements in support of reform. However, the actual implementation of the reforms will face serious challenges.
A key challenge is disagreement among member states on what needs to be done. When it comes to what reform actually means, different countries and voting blocs have varying priorities. The United States and its allies want the United Nations to take greater initiative in reforming management to increase transparency, accountability, effectiveness and efficiency. Rising powers are eager to join the Security Council as permanent members, but are unwilling to embrace the management reforms necessary to reduce waste and increase efficiency and effectiveness, because those moves are unpopular with the developing countries whose votes they will need to achieve their Security Council aspiration.
Russia has denied taking part in the strike, despite a U.S. statement Saturday that specifically indicated Russian aircraft participated in the bombing.