“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
Photo: Neil Rasmus/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
The Jeffrey Epstein story somehow got even more disturbing today. A New York Times report says that the sex offender and billionaire was using his connections to elite scientists and academics in an attempt to help foster his dream of “seed[ing] the human race with his DNA by impregnating women at his vast New Mexico ranch.”
Despite his 2008 sex-trafficking conviction, Epstein regularly held dinners, lunches, and conferences attended by many of the world’s most prominent scientists, including Steven Hawking. Three people told the Times about one particular pursuit Epstein discussed at these events: “On multiple occasions starting in the early 2000s,” the Times reports, “Mr. Epstein told scientists and businessmen about his ambitions to use his New Mexico ranch as a base where women would be inseminated with his sperm and would give birth to his babies … Mr. Epstein’s goal was to have 20 women at a time impregnated at his 33,000-square-foot Zorro Ranch in a tiny town outside Santa Fe.”
Despite how deranged that sounds, in the world of “transhumanists” — a group of mostly rich and powerful men obsessed with extending and improving human life through genetic science and technology — it apparently didn’t register as a red flag. The allure of Epstein’s financial backing meant that people routinely listened to him talk about batshit ideas while drinking Dom Pérignon on a submarine.
This wasn’t the only wildly nefarious idea Epstein advanced to a group of acquiescent intellectual luminaries. Harvard philosopher Steve Pinker said that Epstein once “criticized efforts to reduce starvation and provide health care to the poor because doing so increased the risk of overpopulation.” He also told another scientist that he was “bankrolling efforts to identify a mysterious particle that might trigger the feeling that someone is watching you,” and mentioned to an unnamed “adherent of transhumanism” that he “wanted his head and penis to be frozen.”
It’s important to note that Epstein expressed these desires to multiple people,who did not head for the hills after hearing them. The lunches and conferences continued into the 2000s, even after Epstein began dropping hints about the “baby ranch.” Which is to say that money poisons even the world’s brightest brains.
Please stop calling me that. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
As one of the great obstructionists in U.S. political history, Mitch McConnell has made peace with being the heel of the Senate: In recent years, he’s embraced such nicknames as Darth Vader, the Grim Reaper, and “Cocaine Mitch,” going as far as selling T-shirts of that last, most ridiculous one. But 34 years into his career on the hill, McConnell has found an alter ego he can’t stand: “Moscow Mitch.”
The name began to take off on social media, in op-eds, and on Morning Joeafter the Senate majority leader blocked two bills that would boost election security, in part by requiring campaigns to disclose any offers of foreign assistance to the intelligence community and the Federal Election Commission. McConnell, who never met a campaign-finance restriction he liked, defended himself by citing his hesitancy to increase federal oversight over state elections and championing the restrictions put in place that increased security for the midterms.
Even with his rationale, the timing was off: McConnell’s block came the day after the Mueller testimony — in which the former special counsel said he feared election interference was the “new normal” — and the day of a Senate Intelligence Committee report stating that Russia hacked into the polls in 2016 to an extent much greater than previously known. Fueled by his consistent downplaying of the Trump-Russia scandal and the special counsel’s investigation, the nickname took off.
On the Senate floor on Monday, McConnell spoke out against the “hyperventilating hacks” who’ve accused him of promoting Russian interests, comparing his treatment to “modern-day McCarthyism.” The Kentucky senator said he would not be bullied into supporting the anti-interference bills and added: “Over the last several days I was called unpatriotic, un-American, and essentially treasonous by a couple of left-wing pundits on the basis of bold-faced lies,” McConnell said. “I was accused of aiding and abetting the very man I’ve singled out as an adversary and opposed for nearly 20 years, Vladimir Putin.”
As most middle-schoolers or Trump targets might know, McConnell’s request to stop being called by the name he doesn’t like was unsuccessful: The nickname appears to be growing, with #MoscowMitchMcTreason and #MoscowMitchUnAmericanTraitor gaining traction on Twitter. Hoping to come to his defense, Trump did the best he could on Tuesday: “Mitch McConnell is a man that knows less about Russia and Russian influence than even Donald Trump,” the president told reporters. “And I know nothing.”
Something big and beautiful is happening in Hawaiʻi. Currently, hundreds of Native Hawaiians and allies are camped at the base of Mauna Kea, a mountain located on Moku o Keawe, or Hawaiʻi Island. They are organizing to protect the summit of Mauna Kea from the construction of a proposed Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).
This project has been in the works for years, and has drawn opposition from Native Hawaiians who object to the environmental and cultural impact of a massive 18-story, five-acre telescope complex on sacred land. In Hawaiian moʻolelo (stories and traditions), Mauna Kea represents the piko (umbilical cord) and thus birthplace of Hawaiʻi island and the Hawaiian people. The summit is associated with a number of important akua (gods and goddesses), and is the site of numerous burials, altars and other spiritually powerful sites.
The opposition to telescope construction on Mauna Kea has a long history,dating to 1968, when the first telescope was built on the mountain. There are currently 13 telescopes already on the summit, several of which are no longer even in use. Many of these were built without proper permits and over community protests and lawsuits expressing concerns about environmental impact — Mauna Kea is the primary aquifer and source of freshwater for the island — and protection of significant cultural sites. There is a clear history of mismanagement of the observatories, including problems with waste disposal and spills.
In 2015, Native Hawaiians and allies halted the TMT project by camping out and blocking the road to construction crews for months, until the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court officially stopped construction in December 2015. After working its way through state courts, the TMT project was recently reissued the required building permits. On July 10, Hawaiʻi Gov. David Ige announced that construction would shortly resume. This sparked the call for Native Hawaiian kiaʻi (a Hawaiian language word meaning protectors, which they prefer to being called “protesters”) to return to Mauna Kea, where over the last week and a half they have created a remarkable puʻuhonua (sanctuary). The Puʻuhonua o Puʻuhuluhulu is an organized society, governed by the principle of kapu aloha, a prohibition against acting without kindness and love towards all. It offers free meals, medical care, and classes on topics related to Hawaiian language, history, environment and more to anyone willing to show up to support the cause.
While what’s happening at Mauna Kea is inspiring to many Native Hawaiians and other Indigenous peoples around the world, proponents of the TMT and mainstream media alike have often represented the struggle simplistically as a fight between science and culture. In such discourse, what is often presumed to be the self-evident good of advances in astronomy for humanity is often pitted against what is portrayed as a minority of Native Hawaiians clinging to outdated and selfish traditions. There are many problems with representing Native Hawaiians’ efforts to protect Mauna Kea in this way, and as a Native Hawaiian scholar who studies the history of science in Hawaiʻi and the larger Pacific, I want to highlight several here.
First, Western science, including astronomy, has always been directly implicated in colonialism in Hawaiʻi and other Pacific Islands. James Cook, the British naval captain who was the first European to set foot in Hawaiʻi, undertook his three Pacific voyages as scientific expeditions, his first voyage commissioned by the Royal Society of London in 1769 to view the transit of the planet Venus from the Pacific to aid in studies of global longitude and navigation. Cook’s presence in many Pacific Islands ushered in devastating diseases and other Western influences that drastically changed Indigenous Pacific worlds.
The rhetoric of scientific advances being good for all humanity rings hollow in the Pacific context due to much more recent histories as well. After World War II, the U.S. and France used their Pacific territories as testing grounds for nuclear weapons. The reasoning the U.S. provided Marshall Islanders as to why they should vacate their home, Bikini Atoll, was that the nuclear tests would be “for the good of mankind.” What was not explained or adequately compensated for was that Bikini Atoll and other test sites would become permanently uninhabitable and that Marshall Islanders would experience thyroid cancers, miscarriages and a number of other deadly health impacts from the testing. So, Indigenous Pacific peoples have many good reasons to be skeptical of promises of a “greater good” — promises which have long served the interests of colonial powers at the direct expense of Indigenous Pacific lives and lands.
Children seen playing on art installation that aims to show unity amid Trump-era hostility
A set of fluorescent pink seesaws has been built across the US-Mexico borderby a pair of professors seeking to bring a playful concept of unity to the two sides of the divide.
Installed along the steel border fence on the outskirts of El Paso in Texas and Ciudad Juárez in Mexico, the seesaws are the invention of Ronald Rael, a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and Virginia San Fratello, an associate professor of design at San José State University, who first came up with the concept 10 years ago.
In an Instagram post that has received tens of thousands of likes, children and adults can be seen playing and interacting on both sides of the fence using the seesaws, which provide “a literal fulcrum” between the countries, according to Rael. He said the event was about bringing “joy, excitement and togetherness at the border wall”.
He added that it was also about finding “meaningful ways on both sides with the recognition that the actions that take place on one side have a direct consequence on the other side”.
The second set of Democratic debates kicked off on Tuesday night, and the opening round revolved around one big question: Should Democrats focus on big policies to dramatically change our economy and our country — or on narrow policies that are just enough to beat Donald Trump? Should they go all in for Medicare-for-all and a Green New Deal, or more narrowly seek a public option and some funding for clean energy?
But by the end of the night, one candidate became the most notable advocate for ambition, and one had been selected, seemingly by the moderators, as the voice of moderation. Read on to see which candidates ended the night ahead, who fell behind, and where the primary discussion on everything from health care to climate change goes from here.
Winner: Elizabeth Warren
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had a starkly different debate night performance than last month’s NBC debate, where she also landed on Vox’s winners list. Rather than staying above the fray, she dove right in, engaging in robust debates on health care and immigration policy with moderates like Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney. Warren again cemented her status as the Big Plans candidate, most notably during a memorable exchange with Delaney that may well have been the sound bite of the night.
“I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for,” she grumbled.
Notably, one person she didn’t tussle with was Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Warren and Sanders were placed next to each other at center stage, and acted seemingly in concert on Team Medicare-for-all, parrying the jabs from the moderates flanking them. If Sanders was the team’s bad cop for blasting moderates, Warren played the role of good cop well. She made a personal appeal for Medicare-for-all by bringing up the story of Ady Barkan, a progressive activist with Lou Gehrig’s disease who has had to rely on crowdsourcing to fund his medical care.
Warren wasn’t just teaming up with Sanders because she likes him; she played the moment to her advantage. While Medicare-for-all is first and foremost Sanders’s idea (he “wrote the damn bill,” after all), Warren’s arguments appeared to define the conversation in the health care debate. And beyond Medicare-for-all, she pressed her signature ideas, most notably a wealth tax on the top earners in America — which prompted more sparring with Delaney.
Warren’s impassioned argument for Medicare-for-all may help her make inroads with Sanders’s supporters, a key group she’s making a play for in the primaries. On Tuesday morning, Warren’s team rolled out a list of endorsements that included progressive Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a high-profile Sanders supporter in 2016. Her debate performance was yet another a powerful appeal to Sanders’s base.
Winner: John Delaney
This might be the only time that John Delaney finds himself on one of these lists, in either the winner or loser category, so he should savor it. He did not actually dominate the debate in terms of time spent talking, but it sure felt that way as the CNN moderators, especially Jake Tapper, kept turning to Delaney to explicitly make the case against Sanders’s and Warren’s ambitious plans to remake the way America provides health care, energy, education, and much more.
It was a role that someone was inevitably going to claim, and one that several other candidates, like Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, attempted to claim over the course of the night. But Delaney had, before the debate, been very direct in critiquing the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-all, so when it came time for moderators to prompt debates over those ideas, he got called on first, and got to have back-and-forths with both Warren and Sanders.
Did he come out ahead in those back-and-forths? Not especially: Warren’s denunciation of Delaney (that his campaign is about “what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for”) was effective and probably the most memorable moment of the night. And the main competitor for Delaney’s niche — the pragmatic, vaguely centrist candidate who can beat Trump and make American government boring again — wasn’t onstage Tuesday night. It’s Joe Biden, and he will have a near monopoly on the centrist lane Wednesday night.
But night one was, overall, more centrist-heavy, and Delaney’s ability to dominate that corner of the debate and take the argument to Warren and Sanders was notable. It’s not clear that there’s a lane for a non-Biden centrist, but there certainly isn’t a lane for six of them. Considering how little an impression his campaign has made to date, Delaney made a respectable case Tuesday night that he can own that lane.
Winner: the Republican Party
If you were Donald Trump or another Republican lawmaker running for reelection in 2020, you probably had a good time watching tonight’s debate. Several of the major issues were framed by the moderators in terms Republicans would love: Will you take private insurance from Americans to give them Medicare-for-all? Will you raise taxes on the middle class to do it? Will you decriminalize illegal border crossings and give unauthorized immigrants free health care? Are Democrats going too far to the left?
Some of the candidates took such questions in stride, successfully navigating what will certainly be Republican talking points come the general election. But some of them had a hard time — with Warren and Buttigieg, for example, getting bogged down in explaining how Americans will pay less on net under their Medicare-for-all plans as their health insurance premiums go down even if their taxes go up. It felt more like a dodge than a straight answer to a simple question.
Moreover, many of these ideas are simply unpopular. A recent survey by Marist found that replacing people’s private insurance with Medicare-for-all, giving health insurance to unauthorized immigrants, and decriminalizing illegal border crossings are all opposed by most Americans.
There is a case for using primary elections to shift the Overton window on some topics, from health care to guns. But it’s also true that this can be politically risky. As Vox’s Matt Yglesias argued, it may be better for Democrats to run on more popular progressive ideas — many of which, like a $15 minimum wage, a wealth tax, and a Green New Deal, would still transform America.
Tuesday night’s debate spent much time on unpopular Democratic proposals instead. Expect some of tonight’s moments to appear in GOP attack ads in the future.
Loser: the policy needs of black voters
The second Democratic debates are taking place in Detroit, a city that is roughly 80 percent black and has the fourth-largest black population in the United States. Yet as candidates gave their opening statements on Tuesday night, they had very little to say about the issues affecting the thousands of black voters living in the city — or the millions of black voters living in the Midwest.
It marked the beginning of a debate that did not truly begin a discussion of race until more than an hour and 40 minutes had passed, and only briefly touched on the candidates’ specific plans about how they would help black voters concerned about things like the economy, health care, policing, and education.
But the candidates’ debate over the needs of black voters and other voters of color were hardly given as much time as other topics discussed Tuesday night. (For instance, health care got almost 30 minutes of time, but candidates failed to discuss issues like maternal and infant mortality and how it disproportionately affects black women and their babies.) And the fact that these issues weren’t covered until they were raised in a short, separate discussion gave the impression that the needs of black voters are separate from the needs of Midwestern voters. It’s an odd distinction given how many black voters live in the Midwest, many of them in rural areas.
At roughly one-fifth of the Democratic electorate, black voters are a group that candidates will need to win the nomination, and they want politicians to have a serious debate about the issues affecting their lives and communities. The candidates — and the debate moderators — would do well to remember that.
Everything the host network did tonight baffled me. Much of the debate, moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper, Don Lemon, and Dana Bash, seemed like it was designed to confront Democrats with Republican arguments and create a spectacle at the expense of substantive debate.
For starters, CNN spent the first 10 minutes on a patriotic display and then cut to commercial. Bam, 10 minutes gone.
After one-minute opening statements by all the candidates, Tapper pivoted to health care — but repeatedly interrupted the candidates to enforce an absurdly short time limit, making it impossible for candidates to give full and interesting answers on some difficult policy questions.
And the line of questioning Tapper pursued was notable for its GOP-friendly framing. He focused on trying to get Democrats to admit that they would increase taxes on the middle class to pay for their health care plans and to stoke a conflict over whether the party had gone too far left.
This wasn’t just a Tapper problem. Bash and Lemon asked candidates to respond to shallow Republican arguments — Bash’s repeated questions about whether expanding America’s welfare state would “incentivize” unauthorized immigration was a particular lowlight — and aggressively enforced the time limits.
And throughout the night, the moderators dedicated an inexplicable amount of time to John Delaney and Steve Bullock — two candidates who are polling at a single percentage point combined — in order to try to instigate a series of fights between them and the more progressive frontrunners. Per a New York Times count, these two also-rans both spoke for more time than Amy Klobuchar, a better-polling moderate candidate, and Beto O’Rourke, who has nearly three times as many supporters in the poll averages as Bullock and Delaney combined.
This debate could have been much better — more illuminating, less chaotic, and more representative of what’s actually going on the race. It’s intrinsically hard to successfully produce a debate with 10 candidates onstage; it’s even harder when the network pushes for more heat than light.
The world’s top professional cyclists are riding toward the Tour de France finish line this weekend, and they’ll get there safer and cleaner than in previous years. Tramadol, a performance-enhancing opioid, has been banned from cycling at the request of riders themselves — an unlikely move in a sport marred by doping scandals. Tramadol is a common opioid painkiller used in the U.S. and across the world, and linked to peloton crashes in cycling. Since it isn’t banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), athletes in high-intensity sports frequently abuse the drug to push past their pain threshold. But as the head doctor of the International Cycling Federation puts it, the evidence against the drug has been piling up for years.