Playing God With Mosquitos | Barred From the Air | The Company He Keeps
August 24, 2020
The Good News
- From the brink to the boom: The sea otter rescue plan that worked too well (BBC).
- In The Midst Of The Pandemic, Loneliness Has Leveled Out (Scientific American). Studies show how humanity has adjusted to life at home.
“Tell me with whom you associate, and I will tell you who you are”
“Associate yourself with people of good quality, for it is better to be alone than to be in bad company”
A Man Is Known By the Company He Keeps
(Mark Von Holden via Getty Images)
In 2016, Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten insisted that the company conducts thorough due diligence on its outside partners. “We do extensive vetting on everyone we do business with,” he said at the time. “We do background checks on an international level…[and] on a local level. We check every available database commonly used. We use outside experts who specialize in this area…. So extensive vetting goes on.”
Presumably, Garten would include any Russian business partners in the “extensive vetting” done of “everyone we do business with.” Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team, and now the Republican-led Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, beg to differ.
After a three year investigation, the Intelligence Committee’s 900-plus page report released last week paints a damning portrait of the people Donald Trump chose as his partners for potential projects in Russia. The individuals include an ex-con and others with ties to the Russian government, Russian intelligence, Russian organized crime, Vladimir Putin, international money laundering, human trafficking — the list goes on. As always, when President Trump is questioned about associates who’ve run afoul of the law, his answer is that he “barely knew the guy(s).”
Felix Sater is a Russian-born convicted felon with ties to the Russian Mafia; he met Donald Trump in 2003 while working for Bayrock Group, a real estate development company with offices in Trump Tower. Sater had a Trump Organization business card, an office on the 26th floor just doors away from Trump’s, and, according to the report, “the ability to see Trump frequently and ‘pitch’ business opportunities to him.” Trump would see Sater every day, generally more than once. Sater recalls hundreds of interactions with Trump over the course of their relationship.
In 2007, a story was published in the Times on Sater’s past; Trump distanced himself immediately. “I didn’t really know him very well,” Trump said. Trump claimed he had worked mostly with the owner of Bayrock, Tevfik Arif. The Senate report laid out numerous accusations against Arif, including that he “was involved in Russian organized crime, money laundering and human trafficking dating back to at least 2000.” Arif is alleged to have brought ” ‘thousands’ of women into the United States, primarily from Ukraine.”
Sater was also a central figure in Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference. In 2015 and 2016, he worked with Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen on a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. He pitched the idea to Cohen, telling him it would help get Trump elected. Sater told Cohen, “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it.” Sater said he would manage the project and get Russian President Vladimir Putin’s team on board. “I will get Putin on this program, and we will get Donald elected,” Sater told Cohen.
In 2013, Trump brought the Miss Universe contest to Moscow. The event was hosted by Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov and his pop-singer son, Emin. The Senate report says: “The Agalarovs have significant ties to Russian organized crime and have been closely affiliated with individuals involved in murder, prostitution, weapons trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, narcotics trafficking, money laundering and other significant criminal enterprises. Some of those activities have extended outside of Russia, including to the United States. Aras Agalarov also has significant ties to the Russian government, including to individuals involved in influence operations targeting the 2016 U.S. election. He has access to President Putin and to Putin’s close aide Dimitry Peskov.”
Both the Mueller and Senate reports discuss Irakli Kaveladze, who worked for Agalarov and was in negotiations on a proposed Trump-Agalarov real estate project in Moscow. An October 2000 report from the US General Accounting Office (GAO) connects Kaveladze with money laundering, utilizing Kaveladze-created companies to move more than $1 billion in wire transfer transactions into 236 accounts at two US banks, most of which was then transferred back to accounts in eastern Europe for Russian brokers.
Despite denials, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump’s company continued pursuing a deal for a Trump Tower Moscow with a developer named Andrey Rozov, who worked with Felix Sater and likely has “ties to individuals associated with Russian influence operations.”
- In 2021, 750 million genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes are set to be released in the Florida Keys and a string of surrounding islands. The Environmental Protection Agency granted permission in May to the British-based but US-operated company, Oxitec, to produce the genetically engineered, male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, known as OX5034.
- Aedes aegypti mosquitoes spread deadly diseases like dengue, Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever to humans. Only female mosquitoes bite humans because they need blood to produce eggs. So the plan is to release the GM male mosquitoes who will then hopefully breed with wild female mosquitoes.
- However, the male mosquitoes now carry a protein that will kill off any female offspring before they reach mature biting age. The males, which only feed on nectar, will survive and pass on the genes.
Over time this will reduce the population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in the area and thereby reduce the spread of disease to humans.
- Green-lighting the pilot project, which has been debated for years, drew a swift outcry from environmental groups, who warned of unintended consequences. One group condemned the plan as a public “Jurassic Park experiment.” Activists warn of possible damage to ecosystems, and the potential creation of hybrid, insecticide-resistant mosquitoes. (BBC)
- Russian media reported Sunday that Alexei Navalny, the prominent Russian opposition leader who was poisoned last week as he was leaving Siberia on a flight back to Moscow, was under constant surveillance by federal security agents during his Siberian trip.
- For several days Navalny remained comatose, held in a Siberian hospital in Omsk without permission to be released. Only after intense international scrutiny and expressions of concern from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron was permission granted. Navalny was evacuated to Berlin, Germany on Saturday morning in a medical ambulance funded by the foundation of Russian philanthropist and former telecommunications mogul Dmitry Zimin.
- Upon arrival, a convoy of ambulances under heavy guard by German police delivered him to Berlin’s Charité hospital. He was still comatose and in critical condition when admitted. Navalny’s colleagues and supporters accused authorities of endangering his life and trying to cover up a proper investigation of the suspected poisoning. (WaPo, $)
Additional World News
- Why Would Russia Poison Aleksei Navalny Now? (NYT, $)
- Spy on the inside: Former Green Beret charged with spying for Russia (NBC)
- I Was Detained By Belarus President Lukashenko’s Regime (Buzzfeed)
- Telegram messaging app is crucial to Belarus protest (LA Times, $). Mass demonstrations have gone mobile.
- Chinese submarine appears to be using underground base in South China Sea (CNN)
- Life on the other side of the virus: Chinese state media dismisses attacks on Wuhan’s huge pool party as ‘sour grapes’ (Guardian)
- Vacationing Israeli Teen Says She Was Gang-Raped, Shocking the Nation (NYT, $)
- An unfriendly alliance: Venezuela’s Maduro thanks Iran for helping oil industry overcome U.S. sanctions (Reuters)
- Trump administration to tap into frozen Venezuelan government funds to revive efforts to oust Maduro (WaPo, $)
- Complex systems science allows us to see new paths forward (Aeon)
- Viruses have big impacts on ecology and evolution as well as human health (Economist, $)
- ‘I’m Only One Human Being’: Parents Brace for a Go-It-Alone School Year (NYT)
- Federal judge halts Betsy DeVos’s controversial rule sending coronavirus aid to private schools (WaPo)
- Covid in the Classroom? Shhh. Some Schools Are Keeping It Quiet (NYT)
- Can air purifiers help stop coronavirus spread indoors? (Vox)
- 5 Things We Know About Flying Right Now (NYT)
Barred From the Air
- Andrew Napolitano is a prominent Fox News personality who became a frequent critic of Donald Trump. According to a new book about the rightwing TV network, Attorney General William Barr met with Rupert Murdoch at the media mogul’s New York home in October 2019, where he told Murdoch to “muzzle” Napolitano.
- According to the book’s author, CNN media reporter Brian Stelter, subjects covered at the meeting included media consolidation and criminal justice reform. “But it was also about Judge Andrew Napolitano.” Napolitano is a New Jersey superior court judge who joined Fox News in 1998. In early 2019, he told friends he had been on Trump’s shortlist for the supreme court. But he broke ranks later in the year, labeling Trump’s approaches to Ukraine, seeking political dirt on rivals, “both criminal and impeachable behavior.”
- In a column dated October 3 Napolitano wrote: “The criminal behavior to which Trump has admitted is much more grave than anything alleged or unearthed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and much of what Mueller revealed was impeachable.” Citing an unnamed source, Stelter writes that Trump “was so incensed by the judge’s TV broadcasts that he had implored Barr to send Rupert a message in person … about ‘muzzling the judge’. [Trump] wanted the nation’s top law enforcement official to convey just how atrocious Napolitano’s legal analysis had been.”
- Barr — who has been widely accused of riding roughshod over the rule of law in service of Trump and his own authoritarian view of the presidency — carried out the president’s request. Fox News’ audience remains loyal to Trump; Stelter writes that some Fox employees “justified the benching of the judge by claiming that viewers hated him: ‘Why are we going to book someone who kills our ratings?’” (Guardian)
Rage Against the (Sorting) Machines
- Shortly after USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy issued a public statement Tuesday saying he wanted to “avoid even the appearance” that any of his policies would slow down election mail, USPS Headquarters instructed all maintenance managers around the country not to reconnect or reinstall any mail sorting machines that had already disconnected.
- An email sent by the director of maintenance operations said: “Please message out to your respective Maintenance Managers tonight. They are not to reconnect / reinstall machines that have previously been disconnected without approval from HQ Maintenance, no matter what direction they are getting from their plant manager.”
- A subsequent email sent to individual maintenance managers across various regions forwarded that request along with a single sentence: “We are not to reconnect any machines that have previously been disconnected.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the emails confirm what she believed, that the USPS’s stated “suspension” of these new policies does not mean reversing them.
- The emails also show the emptiness of DeJoy’s promises to ensure there won’t be any interference with mail delivery in the coming election, since the USPS is apparently not willing to take the bare minimum step of plugging machines back in even if they haven’t been moved.
- As one postal worker at a maintenance facility in the northwest said about multiple machines that had been decommissioned, the damage has already been done. “There are a lot of machines targeted or pulled already.” (Vice)
Additional USA News
- ‘It was great’: In leaked audio, Trump hailed low Black turnout in 2016 (Politico)
- Hitting where it hurts: The strategy behind the Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump PAC (Vox)
- The permanent outsider (WaPo, $)
- Inside Trump’s Chaotic, Desperate Reelection Campaign (NY Mag)
- The bird is the word: Twitter slaps warning label on Trump tweet for violating ‘election integrity’ rules (NBC)
- How the ‘Useful Idiots’ of Liberal New York Fueled Income Inequality (NYT, $)
- Biden is already forming a government. Here’s what his Cabinet could look like. (Politico). For anyone interested in counting their chickens before they hatch.
- Residents flee as Gulf Coast sees possible tandem hurricanes (AP)
- Could the US and Caribbean be heading for their worst hurricane season? (Guardian). Predictions for a staggering storm season.
- To non-mathematicians, a math problem that had stumped experts for 50 years must have seemed like trying to untangle multiple strings of conjoined Christmas lights while handcuffed and blindfolded. Here’s what happened. Half a century ago, a brilliant young mathematician named John Horton Conway discovered a knot. Not a physical knot, like those in shoelaces or long hair or strings of lights, but a conceptual tangle in a bewildering corner of mathematics known as — what else? — knot theory.
- Knot theory is a subspecialty of a field of mathematics known as topology, which is concerned with the study of spaces. Topology is useful for understanding DNA and protein folding, a process in which things are very long and tend to stick to themselves, causing them to get all knotted up. When topologists think of knots, however, they don’t imagine a length of rope with a gnarled twist in the middle.
- To them, a knot is more like an extension cord in which the two ends have been plugged together and the whole thing has been tossed onto the floor in a mess of crisscrosses. It’s essentially a closed-loop with various places where the loop crosses over itself. These loops exist in spaces with higher dimensions that are pretty hard to explain to a non-topologist. There are thousands of these kinds of conceptual tangles in knot theory, but Conway’s discovery was special, not so much for what it was, but for what it might, or might not, be.
- At first glance, Conway’s knot is rather nondescript by the standards of higher-dimensional knot theory. It has just 11 crossings, or places where it overlaps itself. But Conway’s knot has one property that made it the subject of intense mathematical scrutiny: whether the Conway knot was something called “slice,” an important concept in knot theory.
- Confused yet? Everybody was, since no one for 50 years could prove or disprove if Conway’s knot was “slice.” That is, until Lisa Piccirillo, a grad student from Maine, heard a speaker at a math conference in the summer of 2018 say that mathematicians had long suspected the Conway knot was not, in fact, slice, but no one had been able to prove it. “That’s ridiculous,” she thought to herself. “We should be able to do that.” And a few days later, she solved it, which makes her a real celebrity in Math World. Spoiler alert: it’s not slice. (Boston Globe)
- This Is What Authoritarianism Looks Like (Atlantic, $)
- Office Life at the Pentagon Is Disconcertingly Retrograde (Wired). Some feel the intelligence stronghold is behind the times.
- The Big Tech Extortion Racket (Harpers)
- The new lawless frontier: The Wild, Wild West of Space Law (The Walrus)
- How Two British Orthodontists Became Celebrities to Incels (NYT, $)
- Apple apologizes to WordPress, won’t force the free app to add purchases after all (Verge)
- Slowing Down in a Rapid World: What Does Boredom Do to Us—and for Us?
- A history of why we hoard, when we store, and who collects (Aeon)
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