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Oct 22, 2017, 12:53 AM
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 on: Oct 21, 2017, 06:32 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Spain government will seek to impose direct rule over Catalonia

Speaking after crisis cabinet meeting, PM Mariano Rajoy says he will ask senate for approval to invoke untested powers

Saturday 21 October 2017 13.16 BST

Madrid will seek senate approval to take over the Catalonian government and hold early elections, the Spanish prime minister has said.

Mariano Rajoy was speaking on Saturday after a special cabinet meeting held in the wake of Catalonia’s efforts to unilaterally declare independence.

He said the Spanish government did not want to invoke previously untested powers it held under article 155 of the constitution, but it had been forced to do so.

The government was not revoking Catalonia’s autonomy, Rajoy said, but the move will still be regarded as inflammatory by those in the region who want to break away from Spain.

The move, which takes the country into uncharted legal waters, was sparked by Catalonia’s banned independence referendum on 1 October. King Felipe VI said the crisis must be resolved “through legitimate democratic institutions. We do not want to give up that which we have built together.”

Autonomy is a highly sensitive issue in semi-autonomous Catalonia, which lost its powers under Spain’s military dictatorship. Home to 7.5 million people, the region fiercely defends its language and culture.

There are fears of unrest if Madrid seeks to impose direct rule of any kind, and the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, has said such a move could push regional politicians to declare unilateral independence.

Rajoy said on Friday that Spain had reached a “critical point” after weeks of political limbo and that his government had to act to stop the rule of law being “liquidated”.

The prime minister is likely to announce plans to take control of Catalonia’s 16,000-strong police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, whose leader, Josep Lluis Trapero, could face up to 15 years in jail on sedition charges for failing to contain separatist protests before the referendum.

Madrid could also seek to force new elections – its preferred solution to Spain’s most protracted political crisis since its return to democracy in 1977 – as early as January.

Rajoy is due to hold a press conference on Saturday afternoon to announce his plans, which must pass through the Senate where his conservative People’s party holds a majority. That process would take about a week.

As tensions remain high, independence supporters are expected to rally in Barcelona on Saturday night to call for the release of Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez. The leaders of two powerful grassroots separatist groups have been in jail since Monday, pending investigation into sedition charges.

Puigdemont has said he has a mandate to declare independence after the referendum, which his administration says resulted in a 90% yes vote. Turnout for the poll, however, was given as 43%, with many Catalans who back unity having stayed away.

Accounting for about a fifth of Spain’s economic output, Catalonia is evenly split over whether to break away from Spain, according to opinion polls. Supporters say the region does too much to prop up the rest of the national economy and would thrive if it went its own way, but opponents say Catalonia is stronger as part of Spain and that a split would spell economic and political disaster.

Nearly 1,200 companies have shifted their legal headquarters to other parts of Spain since the referendum, hoping to minimise instability.

 on: Oct 21, 2017, 06:21 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Rachel Maddow Reveals the Sickening Reason Trump Hasn't Talked About the U.S. Soldiers Killed in Niger

He made a terrible decision and hopes to keep his critics distracted.

By Chris Sosa
October 20, 2017, 10:53 PM GMT

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow explained how President Trump's decision to include Chad on his travel ban may have endangered the lives of servicemembers in Niger, four of whom were recently killed under circumstances that have not been adequately explained.

By including Chad on the travel ban against the advice of foreign policy experts and multiple officials, U.S. soldiers lost Chadian ground support in Niger. Multiple terrorist groups, including ISIS and Boko Haram, are active in Niger. But Chad began to remove its soldiers immediately following Trump's travel ban.

"Those Chadian troops were really doing something in Niger. They were protecting those villages in that whole region from ISIS militant groups being able to operate freely and be able to take more territory from there once again," Maddow explained. "And pulling those troops out had an immediate effect in emboldening those ISIS attacks.”

Less than one week after Chad began removing troops from the region, four American soldiers were killed in an ambush.

“So, no wonder the president doesn’t want to talk about it," Maddow said.

Watch the full segments: https://vid.me/D9JRB


Democrats accuse Republicans of sabotaging Trump-Russia probe

Democrats on a congressional panel say members of its Republican majority are trying to sabotage an investigation into suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, raising concerns the two parties will reach contradictory conclusions.

By Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats on a congressional panel say members of its Republican majority are trying to sabotage an investigation into suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, raising concerns the two parties will reach contradictory conclusions.

Republicans on the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee have coached witnesses, scheduled interviews without first requesting important documents, and many fail to attend witness interviews, four sources close to the investigation said.

On one occasion, three sources said, Republican Representative Trey Gowdy told Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House aide, that he was testifying voluntarily and could leave whenever he liked. After about two-and-a-half hours, one of the sources said, Kushner took the cue and left before Democrats had finished questioning him. Kushner’s lawyer and Gowdy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The panel has heard from about 10 witnesses, the sources said. But given the lack of preparation and the absence of many Republican members, hearings amount to “going through the motions” rather than a serious investigation, one source said.

Two Republican committee staffers, speaking on the condition of anonymity, also criticized what they called a partisan effort to discredit rather than investigate allegations that some aides or advisers to Republican Trump’s election campaign may have colluded with Russia, which has been under U.S. sanctions for several years.

The conduct of the probe so far, those staffers and other sources said, threatens to undermine the committee’s reputation for bipartisanship under former Republican chairman Mike Rogers, who led the committee from 2011 to 2015.

Representative Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, said that while she would like to believe the panel “will come together unified in its conclusions and submit a joint report, I’m not overly optimistic that this will be the case.”

Another committee Democrat, Representative Eric Swalwell, said, “That is our North Star, unity and consensus on what happened. Now along the way we’ve seen disruptive behavior that has I think impeded our investigation, and despite that we still are doggedly trying to find out what happened.”

Asked for comment, Jack Langer, a spokesman for Republican committee chairman, Representative Devin Nunes, said in a statement: “With this article, Reuters is acting as a loyal, obedient stenographer of the Democrats’ utterly baseless complaints.”

Langer did not respond to Reuters’ request to address specific complaints made by the Democrats.


Democratic members and staffers on the committee have said nothing publicly about the Republicans’ possible motives for fear of destroying any chance to produce a bipartisan report, four sources said.

Democrats said that the Republicans appear to want to undermine the credibility of Fusion GPS, a political research firm that commissioned former British spy Christopher Steele to produce a dossier on Trump while he was running for president.

Investigators are attempting to confirm or dismiss the contents of Steele’s dossier, which outlined Russian financial and personal links to Trump’s campaign and associates.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in January that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign of hacking and propaganda to undermine faith in the U.S. election, denigrate Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and help Trump. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Trump disputes he and his associates colluded with Moscow, calling probes by Congress and a special counsel a “witch hunt.”

Panel chairman Nunes, a Trump ally, was forced to step aside from leading the probe in April after the House Ethics Committee said it was investigating allegations that he disclosed classified information without authorization. Democrats on the committee praise Representative Mike Conaway, the Republican who took Nunes’ place leading the investigation.

Nevertheless, Nunes is investigating Fusion GPS and Steele on his own. On Oct. 10, Nunes subpoenaed the firm’s partners, a source familiar with the matter said.

Sources familiar with the origins of the dossier said Steele received no money for his work on it from any Russian entity or person or from the FBI. It has been widely reported that supporters of Republican Jeb Bush, one of Trump’s opponents for the party’s presidential nomination, initially paid for research that was later picked up by Clinton supporters.

The House and Senate intelligence committees, created in the aftermath of U.S. spy scandals exposed in the 1970s, have long traditions of avoiding partisan feuds.

Three sources familiar with the House committee’s workings said Democrats had requested a meeting of all members to resolve differences, but the Republicans rejected the idea.

If the rift cannot be healed, the sources said, the Democrats could write their own report and seek to associate it with what is expected to be a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report.

Representative Adam Schiff, the House committee’s top Democrat, wrote in The Washington Post last weekend that he still hoped members could arrive at a common conclusion.

“This remains my hope – not consistency for the sake of consistency, or at the cost of incomplete work, but in the service of a public that has too often been forced to choose between competing narratives of the same events,” Schiff wrote.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Mark Hosenball; Writing by Warren Strobel; Editing by John Walcott and Grant McCool)


Jaws Drop As Trump Tries To Handpick Attorneys In Charge Of Investigating His Administration

By Sean Colarossi

"For him to be interviewing candidates for that prosecutor who may in turn consider whether to bring indictments involving him and his administration seems to smack of political interference."

Donald Trump’s disregard for the rule of law continued on Thursday as a new report indicates that the president has personally interviewed several candidates for U.S. Attorney positions in New York.

According to Politico, one of the candidates Trump personally interviewed “would have jurisdiction over Trump Tower and be in a position to investigate the Trump administration.”

More from the report:

    President Donald Trump has personally interviewed at least two potential candidates for U.S. attorney positions in New York, according to two sources familiar with the matter — a move that critics say raises questions about whether they can be sufficiently independent from the president.    

    The Southern District of New York is an especially notable position since it has jurisdiction over Trump Tower. Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney there, has asserted he was conducting an investigation into the Trump administration when Trump fired him along with all other U.S. attorneys — as is standard when an administration switches — earlier this year.    

    “It is neither normal nor advisable for Trump to personally interview candidates for US Attorney positions, especially the one in Manhattan,” Bharara tweeted Wednesday.    

    It is rare for a president to interview candidates for the 93 U.S. attorney jobs. Former President Barack Obama never interviewed a U.S. attorney candidate during his two terms, according to Matthew Miller, who served as Justice Department spokesman under the Obama administration.

Once again, Trump is proving that there is no abuse of power he won’t commit so long as it gives him the opportunity to protect his administration as investigations into his corruption continue to pile up.

Democrats were quick to express how troubled they are by the latest revelation.

In a statement on Thursday, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein slammed Trump for putting his hands all over the attorney hiring process, particularly in jurisdictions that could directly involve investigations of him.

“The U.S. attorney for the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York — like the U.S. attorney for Washington D.C. — would have jurisdiction over many important cases, including those involving President Trump’s personal and family business interests,” Feinstein said, according to Politico.

The Democratic senator added: “There’s no reason for President Trump to be meeting with candidates for these positions, which create the appearance that he may be trying to influence or elicit inappropriate commitments from potential U.S. attorneys. U.S. attorneys must be loyal to the Constitution — not the president.”

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal also spoke out against Trump meeting with attorney candidates, saying it could directly impact the ongoing investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia with respect to the 2016 election.

“To be very blunt, these three jurisdictions will have authority to bring indictments over the ongoing special counsel investigation into Trump campaign collusion with the Russians and potential obstruction of justice by the president of the United States,” he said, according to the same Politico report.

Blumenthal added: “For him to be interviewing candidates for that prosecutor who may in turn consider whether to bring indictments involving him and his administration seems to smack of political interference.”

Trump’s attempt to handpick attorneys who could ultimately be in charge of investigating him or indicting his associates is stunning – even for a president who has spent his short time in the White House trying to thwart ongoing criminal investigations at every turn.


Senate investigators have interrogated Russians present at Trump Tower meeting

Bob Brigham
Raw Story
20 Oct 2017 at 20:25 ET                  

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr told CNN that investigators have interviewed “some of the Russians” who were present at the notorious June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.

Sen Burr (R-NC) declined to identify which Russians have been interviewed so far. There were four Russians who have been publicly identified as attending the meeting, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, translator Anatoli Samochornov and Ike Kaveladze.

“It’ll be over when we finish,” Sen Burr told CNN. “We have a responsibility to check to check everybody that might have any information that’s pertinent to the areas that we’re looking at. We’re not going to stop until we’ve seen all of them.”

    Senate investigators have spoken with several Russians who attended a June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. https://t.co/g2nl8kCN3N pic.twitter.com/42HjBVlvCx

    — CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) October 21, 2017

President Donald Trump “personally dictated” Don Trump Jr’s misleading statement about the meeting.


Race, lies, and videotape: John Kelly’s attack on Rep. Frederica Wilson is an attack on democracy itself

Arun Gupta
21 Oct 2017 at 06:58 ET                  

John Kelly, the adult in the room, the one who is supposed to stop Trump from leading the United States “on the path to World War III,” has shown his true colors.

Kelly’s attacks on Florida Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson — over how Trump handled the combat death of a U.S. soldier — were a mix of fabrications, militarism, and authoritarianism. They show contempt for democratic principles. Kelly also spoke in language reeking of a military coup, indicating that he believes his job is to control “sorry” civilians, the 99 percent of Americans who are not active-duty soldiers.

And Kelly’s broadsides recall Trump’s instinct to attack racial minorities whenever he lands into trouble of his own making.

Given how Trump spews falsehoods and generates controversy to divert attention from his train-wreck presidency, it’s worth remembering how this controversy began.

On Oct. 4, four U.S. soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger. The Special Forces soldiers may have been set up by local leaders they were meeting with, and the mission reportedly suffered from poor intelligence, and a lack of preparation and contingency planning. It recalls Trump’s approval of a poorly planned raid on Yemen that resulted in the deaths of up to 30 civilians and one U.S. soldier.

For the next 12 days Trump was silent about the soldiers deaths, consumed with the urgent work of Tweeting about NFL players, “Liddle’ Bob Corker,” Fake News, Mike Pence’s football game stunt, “badly broken” Obamacare, and how Puerto Rico’s financial crisis was “largely of their own making.”

On Oct. 16, when questioned directly about his silence, Trump pivoted to attacking past presidents. Claiming, falsely as usual, “The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other Presidents, most of them didn’t make calls” to relatives of soldiers killed in combat. (Trump backpedaled on this claim in the same press conference.)

In other words, Trump politicized how presidents respond to the deaths of U.S. soldiers. Then Trump upped the ante. The next day he dragged Kelly into the mudpit by saying Obama didn’t call the four-star general when his son died in 2010.

The uproar exploded that same day when Rep. Wilson recounted the call Trump made to the family of one the dead soldiers, Sgt. La David Johnson. A decades-long friend of the Johnsons, Wilson accompanied his pregnant widow, Myeshia Johnson, to the airport to receive her husband’s remains. On the car ride over, Johnson received a call from Trump that was put on speakerphone.

Wilson listened in on the call. As did Johnson’s mother. As did John Kelly.

Wilson told a TV station that Trump told the grieving Myeshia Johnson that her now-dead husband “knew what he signed up for … but when it happens, it hurts anyway.” Wilson said Trump’s comments were “so insensitive.”

Trump reacted with more falsehoods, calling Wilson’s claims “totally fabricated.” The problem for Trump is that Johnson’s mother verified the conversation.

Cowanda Jones-Johnson, confirmed Wilson’s account to the The Washington Post, adding “President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.”

What’s lost in the controversy is how Trump treated the Johnson family.

Politico reported that Wilson said, “The sad part about it is, he didn’t know La David’s name. [Trump] kept calling him ‘your guy.’ Your guy did this. Your guy did that. … everyone knows when you go to war, you could possibly not come back alive. But you don’t remind a grieving widow of that. That’s so insensitive.”

Wilson added that Myeshia “was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part.”

This is the controversy Kelly choose to wade into. He did so by delivering his remarks from the White House briefing room. Kelly said he was “stunned” that a member of Congress “would have listened in on that conversation” and was “brokenhearted” at the “selfish behavior” of a member of Congress.

Kelly also delivered a bizarre exposition on what is no longer “sacred” in America — women, life, religion, Gold Star families, and “the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield.” In Kelly’s mind, the sacredness of combat deaths was “eroded a great deal” by Wilson, whom he called “this woman.” Maybe Kelly was discretely criticizing Trump who’s besmirched everything he holds sacred, but Kelly never referenced him like he did Wilson.

Kelly can be excused for not knowing, at least at first, that Wilson has known the Johnson family for multiple generations, going back to when she was a principal at an elementary school that La David’s father attended. So Wilson had every familial right to be in on the call. For that alone she deserves an apology from Kelly.

But even if she wasn’t a friend, Wilson had every democratic right to be in on the call as the Congresswoman for the district in which the Johnson family lives.

That is just one reason Kelly’s attack is so dangerous. He elevated soldiers above the rest of the society, as “the best 1 percent this country produces,” combat soldiers as “the best men on Earth,” and those who die in combat, as “the finest men and women on this Earth.”

This was no accident. Kelly pleaded with the media to “keep … sacred” the deaths of soldiers in combat. When it came time to take questions, of which he only took three, each time he limited it to reporters who were “a Gold Star parent or sibling” or those who “know a God Star parent or sibling.”

The Trump White House seized on Kelly’s militarism like hyenas on a fresh carcass. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters it was “highly inappropriate” to question Kelly because he’s a “four-star Marine general.” Sanders added that the controversy “should have ended yesterday after General Kelly’s comments.”

It’s noteworthy that Sanders comment about it being highly inappropriate to question Kelly came in response to his false claims about Wilson. So, to the Trump administration, generals can’t be questioned even if they may be lying.

Kelly wrongly accused Wilson of grandstanding during the 2015 dedication of an FBI field office in Miami, saying she took credit for the funding when the ceremony was about two agents who had been killed in action and whom the building was named for.

Reporters quickly revealed that Kelly was aping his boss in spreading falsehoods. Wilson, as video showed, told of how she worked with Republicans to rapidly expedite the process for naming the building after the slain agents. She never took credit for funding.

Kelly got other major elements wrong about the episode, such as the amount of money involved and the fact that the funding was approved even before Wilson entered Congress.

Even more significant is that Kelly thinks he has every right, as a white man, general, and Gold Star parent, to listen in on Trump’s call. But Wilson’s presence profaned the call, despite the fact she is a family friend and representative in Congress, which is the only body empowered by the U.S. Constitution to declare war.

Maybe it irked Kelly that “this woman” is an outspoken Black woman. Kelly attacked Wilson for doing her job, which involved defending the family and memory of the only African-American among the four soldiers who died in the raid in Niger.

Kelly seems to be drinking Trump’s white supremacist Kool-Aid. He serves a president whose rise to power  is a compendium of anti-Black racism, whether it is housing discrimination, calling Blacks “lazy,” leading the lynch mob against the innocent Central Park 5, acting as birtherism-in-chief against Obama, saying African-Americans are “living in hell,” attacking Black athletes peacefully protesting against police brutality he encourages, saying there are “very fine people” among murderous Neo-Nazi mobs, trying to strip Blacks of the right to vote, labeling Black Lives Matter activists as terrorists, and abandoning 3 million Black and brown U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico to barbaric conditions. Then again, Trump is an equal-opportunity racist when it comes to Mexicans, Muslims, Jews, and every other minority.

But this time, in choosing to beat up on Wilson, Trump and Kelly found someone who punches back harder.

Wilson countered administration criticism by saying, “The White House itself is full of white supremacists.” Gen. John Kelly can now count himself among those ranks as well.


Welcome to your 'democracy' America

Election '18: Extreme Redistricting Sets the Stage for a Huge Republican Stranglehold Victory in the House in 2018

A virtual majority of House seats are already deemed to be highly safe for GOP.

By Steven Rosenfeld
October 19, 2017, 5:19 PM GMT

FairVote, the national democracy reform group, has dismal news for Democrats seeking to regain a House majority in 2018. Unless there is a turnout wave of voters disgusted with Republicans unlike anything seen in decades, they can forget it.

“For 2018, FairVote’s model makes high-confidence projections of the winners in 374 of 435 U.S. House races,” its Monopoly Politics 2018 report said. “Of these 374 projections, 208 races are safe for Republicans and 166 are safe for Democrats.”

The House of Representatives has 435 seats, with 218 needed for a majority. If all the current Democrats are re-elected, they need 24 additional seats for a House majority. However, FairVote’s study did not find enough competitive races.

“Of the 61 seats our high-confidence model did not project, 22 favor Republicans and another 21 are toss-up seats, and Republicans need only win 10 of these to maintain their majority,” they continued. “We project that Republicans are likely to maintain control of the House, unless Democrats have more than 55% of the national party preference.”

FairVote’s biennial assessment is a gloomy report on the anti-democratic nature of House elections. It posited that neither funding nor candidate qualities will sufficiently matter in 2018 for Democrats because of other structural hurdles. These include the non-competitive partisan landscape of most House districts, who those districts backed for president in 2016, how Republicans segregated voters by party when remapping congressional districts in 2011, and how most Democrats live in cities, unlike Republicans, who are more spread out across the country.

The likely result will be a disaster for democracy and civic participation, they said, especially in the 374 races where they make “high-confidence projections.”

“In these districts, the challengers will be powerless to affect the outcome, regardless of their funding, their qualities as candidates, or their ability to motivate supporters,” FairVote said. “Many voters in those districts will be alienated due to a predetermined outcome, and the incumbents will not be accountable to voters based on their performance. The electoral incentives for Members will be to move further to the ideological, more partisan extremes in the polarized electorates of primary elections, as that is the only election most of them have any risk of losing.”

FairVote has a near-perfect record of predicting electoral outcomes in recent House elections. Their analysis finds there are not enough competitive House races in 2018 for the Democrats to stage a comeback—unless voter turnout and disgust with the GOP reach levels not seen in many decades (which they don’t expect).

“Of the 701 high-confidence projections we made for 2014 and 2016 House races, 700 (99.9%) were correct,” FairVote said. “This level of accuracy is a testament to just how uncompetitive U.S. House elections are. It is instructive not only that we can accurately project results so early, but also that we do not need to take into account anything other than prior congressional and presidential election results. FairVote’s model does not need to factor in opinion polling, campaign spending, scandals, challenger quality, or the incumbent’s voting record to achieve such high levels of accuracy.”

FairVote said its confidence comes from the country’s increasing partisan divides.

“At the core of our model is the concept of partisanship, a measure of the underlying partisan preference of a given district,” they explained. “Safe districts, in which we are highly confident of the outcome, include 208 Republican districts. This means Republicans need to win only ten of the remaining 61 seats to maintain control of the House. In a year where the national party preference is split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, Republican candidates are projected to win 244 districts (56%)—53 more than Democrats.”

The notion that House Republicans could win a 50-plus-seat majority in 2018 is galling—after voting repeatedly to strip health insurance from tens of thousands of voters in scores of congressional districts. But that’s because extreme redistricting, in which GOP-majority state legislatures segregated voters by party when drawing lines, created congressional districts where the reliable Republican turnout averaged 56 percent, and where the average Democratic turnout—in fewer districts—was upwards of 69 or 70 percent. (Those figures were cited in a 2017 Supreme Court ruling over North Carolina’s unconstitutionally race-based gerrymander.)  

FairVote said that other recent federal court decisions finding extreme partisan gerrymandering benefited Republicans didn’t result in more balanced congressional delegations—because when GOP state legislatures went back to the drawing board, they simply adjusted the boundaries to further entrench their advantage.

“New court-ordered maps in Florida and Virginia, created to resolve illegal gerrymanders, actually reduced the number of competitive districts even further in the lead up to 2016,” they said. “There are now just 45 competitive districts in the United States House. In most of the remaining 390 U.S. House districts, the outcome of general elections is effectively predetermined. Supporters of the minority party, whether they make up 5% or 45% of the electorate, have little chance of winning representation.”

They explained that political geography—where each party’s voters tend to live—only reinforces the gains made by partisan gerrymandering.

“Today, there is one underlying geographical phenomenon that makes partisan skew toward the Republican Party inevitable under our current winner-take-all system: Democratic voters tend to be clustered in cities, while Republicans are more spread out across the suburbs and rural areas,” they said. “As a result, Democratic-leaning districts are more Democratic than Republican-leaning districts are Republican. In 2012 and 2014, the average partisanship of Republican-leaning districts was 61.5% Republican, while the average partisanship of Democratic-leaning districts was 65.0% Democratic. Because of this discrepancy, an equal number of votes will earn Republicans a greater number of seats, because more Democratic votes are ‘wasted’ running up large margins of victory in heavily Democratic districts.”

This sorting “effectively predetermines” the election outcomes, FairVote said.

“The tens of millions of voters that support the minority party in these districts have little chance of electing a representative that shares their views, and the power of gerrymandered districts and political geography ensure that one party will retain an arbitrary chamber majority in all but their most lopsided electoral defeats.”

The solution they propose—besides redistricting reform where citizen commissions, not elected officeholders, draw the lines—is to replace the winner-take-all system of elections with what’s known as ranked-choice voting. A handful of cities now do this, and Maine will start using this system for its statewide elections in 2018. Under the system, voters list their candidate preferences in order. If nobody wins on the first ballot, then the candidates with the fewest votes are removed and their voters’ second choice is added to the tally until someone emerges with a majority.

Ranked-choice voting more closely tracks local electorates’ preferences, FairVote said. But it is nowhere close to being considered on a national scale. The next big test case for it may be in Massachusetts, where there are efforts underway to place it on the ballot for 2018 or 2020.



James Carville rants it’s hard for Democrats to win elections when voters don’t care that Republicans lie

Tom Boggioni
21 Oct 2017 at 09:39 ET                  

Appearing on the Overtime segment of HBO’s Real Time, Democratic strategist James Carville went off on an entertaining rant, complaining that it is hard for Democrats to win elections because they refuse to bald-face lie like Republicans.

Speaking with host Bill Maher, Carville’s complaint was particularly timely as the Trump administration is under attack after White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has been called out about lying about a black congresswoman from Florida.

“Lying doesn’t get you very far in the Democratic Party,” Carville began as he compared Democrats to Republicans. “They will all come out of the woodwork if you say tax cuts create surpluses as they do. You’re a Democrat, you can’t run against immigrants. You just can’t do it, if you did you wouldn’t be a Democrat.”

As the panel moved on to other topics, Carville once again returned to Republican lying.

“All of these people, they document this,” he said of GOP campaign promises and statements on topics like global warming. “It’s overwhelming the number of lies they call them out on. But people don’t care! They don’t care.”

“And if you ask yourself, why , when yo go back and looks at how many special counsels, independent prosecutors, et cetera, et cetera, are Republicans?” he noted. “You know how many there are? All of them! Because if a Republican is under the investigation, we can’t have a Democrat investigator.”

“Why is there never a Democratic independent counsel?” Carville asked. “It’s because we accept the fact that they will raise hell and not pay attention to what a Democrat says.”

Watch the video below via HBO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9m-DmMlBSQ8

 on: Oct 21, 2017, 06:06 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
In Election, Austria’s Nazi Past Raises Its Head

OCT. 20, 2017
NY Times

An anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim party won the Austrian elections on Sunday past, and its leader might form a government with a party founded by ex-Nazis.

So much for the hopes of spring that election results in the Netherlands and France hinted that the political tide in Europe had turned away from the far right. Last month, Alternative for Germany became the first far-right party to enter Germany’s Parliament since World War II, winning 13 percent of the vote and 94 parliamentary seats.

In Austria, the leader of the victorious People’s Party, Sebastian Kurz, 31, has tried to put a fresh, young face on his stodgy conservative party, changing its traditional black color to a trendy turquoise. But there’s nothing forward-looking about his platform, which taps into the fears that the 90,000 migrants Austria took in from 2015 to 2016 are siphoning away social benefits from hard-working Austrians, and that Muslims pose a cultural and security threat.

And according to preliminary results, the Freedom Party, founded by ex-Nazis in the 1950s, was in a race for second, with about 26 percent of the vote, to the People’s Party’s more than 31 percent. A coalition government of the two parties could be in the cards.

Like right-wing extremists elsewhere in Europe, the Freedom Party enjoys good relations with people close to President Trump. A delegation of Freedom Party leaders attended an election-night party in Trump Tower last November, and a party leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, posted on Facebook that he had met with Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. And, like other right-wing European parties, it has close ties with President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

This presents a challenge to Mr. Kurz. “We have to establish a new political style in this country,” he told supporters on Sunday, “we have to create a new culture.” But if this is what he really wants to achieve, he must reject the Freedom Party, its ugly past, its unholy relationships with the Kremlin and with the baser impulses of the Trump administration, and form — as he well can — his new government with either the center-left Social Democrats, which received nearly 27 percent of the vote, or in coalition with a group of smaller parties.

Mr. Kurz is staunchly pro-European. Only by rejecting the hatred and divisions of the past can his new government play a constructive role in shaping a future for Austria and for Europe, where nationalist fears must be tackled by addressing citizens’ legitimate concerns about security and economic fairness without ceding ground to xenophobes.

 on: Oct 21, 2017, 06:02 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Brazil's LGBT pop sensation: 'I want to give them strength'

In a country where 343 LGBT people were killed in 2016, singer and openly gay drag queen Pabllo Vittar has become a symbol of resistance

Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro
Saturday 21 October 2017 05.00 BST

Despite its permissive reputation and the wild, cross-dressing costumes seen at its street carnivals, Brazil is an increasingly dangerous country for LGBT people. According to the non-profit Bahia Gay Group 343 LGBT people were killed in 2016, compared to 260 in 2010.

Against this backdrop of prejudice, however, the country’s latest pop sensation is an openly-gay drag queen in a flowing platinum wig whose glossy pop videos have been watched hundreds of millions of times.

Pabllo Vittar, 22, has 4.9 million followers on her Instagram, enjoys the patronage of Anitta, one of Brazil’s most famous singers, and recently starred on the cover of celebrity magazine Contigo with the headline: “Who is this phenomenon?”

Besides her commercial success, Vittar has also become a symbol of resistance for those Brazilians dismayed by the rising influence of a self-appointed moral minority who have won a string of recent victories in the country’s culture wars.

“People have really embraced my ideas, my work, my engagement,” said Vittar in an interview at Rio de Janeiro’s YouTube studios, before the launch of her latest single, Corpo Sensual – Sexy Body.
‘I like to be a girl, I like to be a boy.’

Dressed in skin-tight trousers and outsized fake eyelashes, Vittar said many fans share their problems with her. “They tell me a lot about their daily struggle to go out on the street being gay, being drag,” she said. “I want to give them strength so they can continue being who they are.”

She told Fantastico, a primetime TV show: “I like to be a girl, I like to be a boy.”

Such plain speaking has helped push Vittar onto the front lines of a string of skirmishes with Brazil’s new right, a loose alliance of free market advocates, those angry over political corruption, and the growing number of evangelical Christians.

When a Brazilian judge overturned a long-standing federal ban on discredited “gay conversion” therapy, Vittar tweeted “we are not ill” to over 600,000 followers – and was applauded for her stance.

After she appeared alongside Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie at the Rock in Rio festival, actor Fabio Assunção welcomed her presence in a rising tide of what he called “neo-fascism” and “totalitarianism”.
Brazilian queer art exhibition cancelled after campaign by rightwing protesters
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“You represent the possibility of truth in a sea of hypocrisy. Your public figure is the voice of many suffocated people,” Assunção wrote in a Facebook post.

Vittar, 22, and her two sisters, Phamella (her twin) and Polyanna, 23 were raised by their mother Verônica, a nurse, in the poor, provincial states of Pará and Maranhão.

Born Phabullo da Silva, she always knew she was gay, and was bullied at school where her notebooks were ripped up and soup was thrown over her at lunchtime.

“When you suffer prejudice, your self-esteem is low, you don’t want to do anything, you don’t want to leave the house,” she said.

Pabllo had sung since she was a child and began making herself up at 16. At 18, she overcame her fears and went out in drag for the first time, to a Halloween party at an underground gay club in the city of Uberlândia, in the interior of Minas Gerais state.

“I was really ugly,” she said, collapsing into giggles. “But I had a lot of fun.”

Soon after, a TV producer saw a YouTube video of Vittar, who has a powerful and melodic voice, singing a Whitney Houston song and she was hired as one of two vocalists on a raucous, late night television show called Love and Sex.

The video for her first hit, Open Bar, featured a cast of drag artists partying in a swimming pool. The glossy pop video she and Anitta filmed in the Moroccan desert with for the hit Sua Cara (Your Face) – recorded with American group Major Lazer – has been watched 242m times.

Anitta – born Larissa Machado – has also faced down fierce criticism for the sexual empowerment expressed in her lyrics. “She takes a position and raises the feminist banner. She’s wonderful,” Vittar said.

But despite the superstar friends, Pabllo still talks to her mother every day, who she credits her for supporting her throughout, unlike many Brazilian families hostile to gay children.

“Even before my sexuality flowered, my mother already talked very openly about this with me,” she said. “My family always really respected me and gave me total freedom to do everything I wanted.”

Such progressive attitudes are not reflected across Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro, an extreme rightwing lawmaker currently polling second for next year’s presidential elections, has said he could not love any child of his if they turned out to be gay.

“Support your children because whether they are gay or not, they will always be your children,” Vittar said. “When you throw positivity to the world, it responds.”

 on: Oct 21, 2017, 05:57 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Grass-Fed Beef Will Not Help Tackle Climate Change, Report Finds

By Daisy Dunne

Billed as a more environmentally friendly way to rear cattle, grass-fed beef has been the red meat of choice for many a climate-conscious carnivore.

Indeed, research has suggested that grazing cattle can help offset global warming by stimulating soil to take up more carbon from the atmosphere. This process, known as soil carbon sequestration, is one way of reducing the amount of human-induced greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

However, a report released Tuesday by the Food Climate Research Network at the University of Oxford found that cattle fed on grass release more greenhouse gas emissions than they are able to offset through soil carbon sequestration.

This means that grass-fed beef is "in no way a climate solution," said the lead author of the report.

Carbon from cattle

Livestock contribute to human-induced climate change by producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Cattle release methane through belching and passing wind, as well as in manure. Livestock also contribute to global warming indirectly through deforestation.

Overall, the livestock industry is responsible for around 15 percent of global human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Approximately 80 percent of these emissions come directly from ruminant animals, such as cattle.

The majority of the world's cattle are "grain-fed." In most cases, this means that the animals begin life grazing in the field, before being transferred indoors to be fed on grains, such as corn and soy.

However, a growing number of livestock producers are choosing to feed their cattle on a diet purely of grass. These "grass-fed" animals spend the majority of their days grazing outside.

Though both types of cattle contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions, it has previously been suggested that grass-fed cows could have a lower carbon footprint.

This could be because grazing cattle can stimulate plant growth, which in turn leads to higher levels of soil carbon sequestration, said Dr. Tara Garnett, lead author of the new report. She told a press conference this week:

"Animals help with carbon sequestration by nibbling away and chomping away, which stimulates the plants to grow. That can cause the plants to put down deep roots."

This process means that more organic carbon could become fixed in the soil, Garnett said.

Chewing the fat

To understand the impact of grazed cattle, researchers from the Food Climate Research Network spent two years analyzing the available scientific research on grass-fed livestock sector emissions, as well as its potential impacts on carbon sequestration.

The researchers reported that grass-fed beef contributes very little to the global protein supply, accounting for just one gram of protein, per person, per day. In comparison, ruminants as a whole contribute 13g of protein to the global average protein intake, per person, per day.

The chart below shows how different animals and crop contribute to the average daily protein intake.

The average global protein intake derived from different animals and plants per person, per day, in grams.
Garnett et al. (2017) Data Source: FAO

Despite making only a marginal contribution to global protein intake, grazed beef accounts for between a quarter and a third of all greenhouse emissions from ruminant livestock, said Garnett:

"It's worth comparing [emissions to protein intake] because grazed beef have reasonably significant emissions when compared to the amount of protein that they provide."

The researchers also analyzed the total carbon sequestration potential of the world's grasslands. They reported that, if all of this grassland were grazed on by ruminants, 20 to 60 percent of the annual emissions of grass-feed could be offset by carbon sequestration.

However, this estimate assumes that the environmental conditions are right for soil carbon sequestration to take place, Garnett added:

"It's an optimistic estimate. The climate and the rainfall conditions needs to be right [for soil carbon sequestration to take place]. If you overgraze the grassland, then you will get an annual loss of carbon from the soil."

Climate solution?

Despite the potential impacts of soil carbon sequestration, grass-fed beef is, overall, a net contributor to carbon emissions and, therefore, a driver of human-caused global warming. Garnett said:

"This report concludes that grass-fed livestock are not a climate solution. Grazing livestock are net contributors to the climate problem, as are all livestock. Rising animal production and consumption, whatever the farming system and animal type, is causing damaging greenhouse gas release and contributing to changes in land use."

The research suggests that the best way to tackle livestock emissions is to cut global levels of meat consumption, said Garnett.

"Ultimately, if high-consuming individuals and countries want to do something positive for the climate, maintaining their current consumption levels but simply switching to grass-fed beef is not a solution. Eating less meat, of all types, is."

 on: Oct 21, 2017, 05:52 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Toyota's next-generation electric cars to charge in just a few minutes

Solid-state batteries hold the key to charging cars as quickly as refueling.

Toyota is working on a next-generation electric car powered by a new type of battery which will mean improved range and significantly reduced charging times compared to today's vehicles.

By using solid-state batteries instead of the lithium-ion cells used by the likes of Nissan, Tesla and BMW today, Toyota believes it can achieve a longer range than current electric cars, while cutting recharge time from almost an hour to just a few minutes.

But, according to a report by Japanese daily newspaper Chunichi Shimbun, cited by Reuters, Toyota is still several years away from making these cars available to the public. The report claims the firm's first solid-state battery powered cars will arrive in 2022, going on sale in Japan first.

Toyota will be looking to use the new battery technology to leapfrog its rivals, who, in the form of Tesla at least, have already accelerated away.

The Japanese firm's traditional rivals are also poised to strike, with Nissan, General Motors, BMW and the Volkswagen Group, which is made up of Audi, VW, Porsche, Skoda and others, all preparing to launch electric vehicles before the end of the decade.

Meanwhile, Toyota has ploughed money into the development of hydrogen-powered vehicles, like the Mirai. While many claim hydrogen fuel cells powering electric motors will be the eventual replacement to the internal combustion engine, the electric car charging infrastructure has grown much more quickly than a hydrogen refueling network. In the UK, for example, there are just a handful of hydrogen fueling stations, compared to the thousands of electric charging points.

BMW is also looking at solid-state batteries for future electric vehicles, with plans to prepare the technology for mass production in the next 10 years.

 on: Oct 21, 2017, 05:50 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
This new botnet could take down the internet - and it's rapidly spreading across the world

New botnet spotted enslaving internet-of-things (IoT) devices, said Check Point.

Jason Murdock

Up to a million organisations around the world have already been infected by a new computer bot network that has the potential to "take down the internet", researchers warn.

According to cybersecurity company Check Point, a new botnet has been spotted which is enslaving internet-of-things (IoT) devices – mainly internet routers and remote cameras. "The next cyber-hurricane is about to come," the firm claimed in a report this week (19 October).

Research suggested that the new botnet is evolving at a rapid pace, and could soon be weaponised to launch cyberattacks in the same fashion as "Mirai" last year.

Check Point said: "While some technical aspects lead us to suspect a possible connection to Mirai, this is an entirely new and far more sophisticated campaign that is rapidly spreading worldwide."

"It is too early to guess the intentions of the threat actors behind it, but with previous botnet DDoS attacks essentially taking down the internet, it is vital that organisations make proper preparations," the team noted.

When the Mirai botnet hit a year ago, in October 2016, the computing power was exploited to take a slew of US websites offline – including Twitter, Reddit and Netflix – using denial of service attacks.

A few months later, in November, a variant of the Mirai botnet was deployed to take approximately 900,000 Deutsche Telekom routers offline, leaving customers without internet.

Essentially, IoT botnets are made up of web-connected smart devices that are infected with malicious software. With the popularity of the IoT, many products are being rushed to market without proper security – leaving them open to attack.

In the last few days of September, Check Point noticed an "increasing number of attempts" by unknown hackers to exploit several existing vulnerabilities in IoT devices.

It found that malware was being used against wireless IP cameras such as "GoAhead, D-Link, TP-Link, AvTech, Netgear, MikroTik, Linksys, Synology" and others.

The attempted infiltrations were coming from different sources, suggesting a botnet was at work.

"So far we estimate over a million organisations have already been affected worldwide, including the US, Australia and everywhere in between," Check Point warned.

The company's research started at the end of September 2017, and the team said it "soon realised" that it had stumbled upon the "recruitment stages of a vast IoT botnet".

In the last few days, the team said, the botnet has been evolving. "It is vital to have the proper preparations and defence mechanisms in place before an attack strikes," experts said.

In July, a 29-year-old man admitted to launching the Deutsche Telekom hack and was convicted in a German court. Known only as Daniel K., a court in Cologne handed him a suspended sentence of a year and eight months for "attempted commercial computer sabotage".

The culprits behind the latest wave of botnet activity remain unknown at the time of writing.

 on: Oct 21, 2017, 05:44 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Nasa's new Mars mission InSight hopes to uncover the mysteries of the Red Planet's interior

InSight is set for launch in May 2018.

By Aristos Georgiou

Nasa's next mission to Mars, the first to examine the Red Planet's interior, is set to go ahead next May. The spacecraft will depart from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in what will also be the first ever interplanetary space launch from America's West Coast.

The mission, called InSight, was originally planned for March last year; however, it was postponed due to a leaky container which creates near-vacuum conditions for the lander's main sensors. The part has since been redesigned and Nasa can now confirm the project is back on track.

"We have fixed the problem we had two years ago, and we are eagerly preparing for launch," said Tom Hoffman, InSight Project Manager of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Nasa hope that data gathered from the mission will help us to understand more about how all rocky planets, including the Earth formed.

"Because the interior of Mars has churned much less than Earth's in the past three billion years, Mars likely preserves evidence about rocky planets' infancy better than our home planet does," said Bruce Banerdt, InSight Principal Investigator and leader of the international team that proposed the mission.

Currently, the spacecraft is undergoing final assembly and testing conducted by Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

Opportunities to reach Mars only occur roughly every two years and last just a few weeks due to its alignment with the Earth. So, while an exact date for the launch has not been given, the craft is expected to reach Mars sometime in November 2018, if the mission is successful.

The lander, which includes two unfolding solar panels that span 20 feet (6 metres), will touch down permanently near the equator of the Red Planet and will place its instruments on the surface using a robotic arm.

A heat probe will dig up to 10 feet (3 metres) into the Martian surface and will examine the energy coming from the planet's interior. Meanwhile, an incredibly sensitive seismometer, able to detect ground movements half the diameter of a hydrogen atom, will detect any seismic activity or meteor impacts, revealing more information about what's going on below the surface.

Finally, the lander will analyse radio transmissions between itself and Earth to determine exactly how Mars rotates on its axis giving researchers clues about the size of the planet's core.

InSight takes its place alongside a host of other current and planned missions to Mars by various space agencies, which will lay the groundwork for human exploration of the Red Planet, a goal Nasa hopes to achieve sometime in the 2030s.

 on: Oct 21, 2017, 05:41 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
How the world's oldest known writing system was recovered after centuries

For 3,000 years, cuneiform was the primary means of communication in the Middle East and Mediterranean.

By Louise Pryke
October 21, 2017 15:46 BST

It is a little-known piece of history that Saddam Hussein was a great fan of ancient Mesopotamian literature. His enthusiasm for epics written in cuneiform – the world's oldest known form of writing – can be seen in his own efforts at writing political romance novels and poetry. Hussein's first novel, Zabibah and the King, blended the Epic of Gilgamesh with the 1001 Nights, and was adapted into a television series and a musical.

Indeed, the Iraqi dictator was said to be so immersed in his novel-writing that he left much of the military strategising to his sons leading up to the 2003 war. He continued writing in prison, using a card table as a writing desk. This example from the modern genre of "dictator literature" provides an unusual insight into the diverse reception of cuneiform literature in the modern day.

The decipherment of cuneiform in the late 18th century, a tale of academic virtuosity and daring, revealed a "forgotten age" and challenged the traditional, biblical view of history. One scholar was even put on trial for heresy for the wonders he uncovered in the translated script.

For over 3,000 years, cuneiform was the primary language of communication throughout the Ancient Near East (roughly corresponding to the Middle East today) and into parts of the Mediterranean. The dominance of the cuneiform writing style in antiquity has led scholars to refer to it as "the script of the first half of the known history of the world". Yet it disappeared from use and understanding by 400 CE, and the processes and causes of the script's vanishing act remain somewhat enigmatic.

Cuneiform is composed of wedge-shaped characters and was written on clay tablets (often likened to marks made by a chicken scratching in the mud). Unlike other ancient writing media, such as the papyri or leather scrolls used in Ancient Greece and Rome, cuneiform tablets survive in great abundance. Hundreds of thousands of tablets have been recovered from ruined Mesopotamian cities.

The discoveries yielded from the recovery of cuneiform writing continue to unfold in unexpected and exciting ways. In August this year, mathematicians at an Australian university made international headlines with their discovery involving a 3,700-year-old clay tablet containing a trigonometric table. The researchers said the cuneiform table reveals a sophisticated understanding of trigonometry — in some ways more advanced than in modern-day mathematics!

Lost in translation

It is difficult to overstate the influence of cuneiform literature in the ancient world. Many languages throughout a vast geographical span over thousands of years were written in cuneiform, including Sumerian, Hittite, Hurrian and Akkadian. Among these, Akkadian (an early cognate of Hebrew and Arabic) became the lingua franca of the Near East, including Egypt, during the Late Bronze Age.

Cuneiform was used to preserve the official royal correspondences between leaders of empires, but also simple transactions and record-keeping that were part of daily life. Over time, the skill of writing moved outside the main institutions of cities, such as temples and scribal schools, into the hands of citizens, as well as into private homes.

Despite its dominance in antiquity, the use of cuneiform ceased entirely at some point between the first and third centuries CE. The great empires of the Ancient Near East experienced a long decline over many centuries, which ultimately resulted in the loss of Egyptian hieroglyphs and cuneiform as written languages.

Cuneiform's sphere of influence shrank after the sixth century BCE, before vanishing entirely. The disappearance of cuneiform accompanied, and likely facilitated, the loss of Mesopotamian cultural traditions from the ancient and modern worlds.

There are several schools of thought surrounding the disappearance of cuneiform, including competition with alphabetic languages (where letters correspond to sounds) such as Aramaic and Greek, and the decline of writing traditions. However, the process of the transition from cuneiform to alphabet is yet to be clearly understood.

Deciphering the code

The resurrection of cuneiform writing systems was described by legendary Sumerologist Samuel Noah Kramer as an "eloquent and magnificent achievement of 19th century scholarship and humanism".

In the 15th century, cuneiform inscriptions were observed in Persepolis (in modern-day Iran). The script's patterned dashes were not immediately recognised as writing. The name "cuneiform" (a Latin-based word meaning "wedge-shaped") was given to the undeciphered writings by Oxford professor Thomas Hyde in 1700.

Hyde viewed the cuneiform markings as decorative rather than conveying language — a widely held view in academic circles of the 18th century. Despite some efforts to popularise the name "arrow writing", "cuneiform" gained general acceptance. Yet cuneiform remained cryptic, and its ancient masterpieces buried and inscrutable.

Writing Cuneiform: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbZ2asfyHcA

The modern-day decipherment of cuneiform owes a great debt to the rulers of the Persian Achaemenid dynasty, who reigned in what is modern-day Iran in the first millennium BCE. These rulers made cuneiform inscriptions recording their achievements.

The most important of these inscriptions for the decipherment of cuneiform was the Behistun inscription, which recorded the same message in three languages: Persian, Elamite and Akkadian. This trilingual inscription was carved into the face of a cliff in Behistun in what is now western Iran.

Detailing the successes of King Darius I of Persia, the Behistun inscription was inscribed on rock some 100 metres off the ground around 520 BCE. In 1835, Henry Creswicke Rawlinson was training troops of the Shah of Iran when he encountered the inscription. In order to reach the writings and transcribe them, Rawlinson needed to dangle from the cliffs, or to stand on the very top rung of a long ladder. From these precarious positions, he copied as much of the inscription as possible.

A "Kurdish boy", whose name seems to be lost to history, assisted the daring endeavour. The boy was said to have used pegs dug into the rock wall as anchors to swing across the cliffs and reach the most inaccessible parts of the writing. Returning home, Rawlinson began working to unlock the secret of the lost script, perhaps with his pet lion cub by his side.

Of the three languages, the Old Persian was the first to be decoded by Rawlinson. Scholars working on deciphering the script gained a sense of the chronological placement of the inscription and recognised some repeated signs, thereby gleaning something of the content and structure of the writings.

The presence of king lists in the Behistun inscription, which could be compared with lists in Herodotus' Histories, provided a point of reference for deciphering the signs. Other Greek historians, and the Bible, were also consulted in the process. Through the contributions of a number of scholars in the first half of the 19th century, cuneiform slowly began to reveal its secrets.

The significance of the Behistun inscription in the translation of cuneiform is often likened to the importance of the Rosetta Stone for deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs. In recent years, the inscription has been the focus of restorative efforts, after sustaining various types of damage — notably when Allied troops used the inscription for target practice during World War II. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Cuneiform controversy

As the deciphering went on, divisions developed in the academic community over whether efforts to unravel cuneiform had proven successful. Part of the controversy stemmed from the extreme intricacy of the writing system. Cuneiform languages are made up of a collection of signs, and the meaning of these signs shows a great deal of variety.

In the Akkadian language, for example, a cuneiform sign may have a phonetic value — but not always the same phonetic value — or it may be a logogram, symbolising a word (such as "temple"), or a determinative sign, such as for a place or an occupation. This gives the translation of cuneiform a puzzle-like quality. The translator must select the value of the sign that appears best suited to the context.

Some scholars probably had sensible reasons for questioning the deciphering of cuneiform. Others held the inaccurate view that ancient Assyrians would have lacked the capacity to comprehend such a difficult writing system. To resolve the controversy, the British scientist W.H. Fox Talbot suggested a kind of cuneiform competition.

The British Royal Asiatic Society held the contest in 1857. Four scholars – Fox Talbot, Rawlinson and a Dr Hincks and a Dr Oppert – made unique translations of a single, previously unseen, cuneiform inscription. Each scholar then sent their translation in strict confidence to the society for comparison. After opening the sealed letters and examining the four translations, the society decided that the similarities between them were sufficiently compelling to declare cuneiform deciphered.

The rediscovery of cuneiform literature was not without further controversy. Fierce debates were conducted in eloquent handwritten letters over who had contributed to the discovery and decipherment of texts, and who deserved credit for the achievement.

As well as this, the content of the literature caused friction in the academic communities of the 19th century. Prior to the rediscovery of cuneiform, the most prominent source for the Ancient Near East was the Hebrew Bible. The ability of cuneiform literature to provide a new perspective on the rich history of Egypt and Mesopotamia was embraced by many, but viewed with suspicion by others. For some, the translation of the long-forgotten writings raised the possibility of conflict between cuneiform sources and biblical literature.

Perhaps one of the most overt examples of these tensions in scholarly circles can be seen in the career of Nathaniel Schmidt from Colgate University. Schmidt was tried for heresy in 1895, due to the view that many of his translations of cuneiform appeared contrary to biblical traditions. He was dismissed from his position at Colgate in 1896. Following his dismissal, the eminent scholar was recruited by Cornell University (his controversial departure from Cornell made his appointment something of a "bargain"), where he taught Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Coptic, Syriac and many other ancient languages.

From cuneiform to the stars

The recovery of cuneiform has provided access to an embarrassment of textual riches, including hundreds of thousands of legal and economic records, magico-medical texts, omens and prophecies, wisdom literature and lullabies.

Masterpieces of ancient literature, such as the Gilgamesh Epic, Ishtar's Descent to the Underworld and Enuma Elish, have found new audiences in the present day. One can now even find cuneiform cookies.

Cuneiform has also aided scientific mysteries. Babylonian records of a solar eclipse, written in cuneiform, have helped astronomers figure out how much Earth's rotation has slowed.

The decipherment of the cuneiform script has reopened a timeless dialogue beyond ancient and modern civilisations, providing continued opportunities to better understand the world around us, and beyond.

 on: Oct 21, 2017, 05:26 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
The week in wildlife – in pictures

Migratory birds, rutting stags and leaping salmon are among this week’s pick of images from the natural world

Compiled by Eric Hilaire
Friday 20 October 2017 15.33 BST

Click to see all: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2017/oct/20/the-week-in-wildlife-in-pictures

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