Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Calling On a Few Good Men

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis waiting to greet President Trump this month at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. CreditJonathan Ernst/Reuters
Memo To: Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
Dear Sirs, I am writing you today as the five adults with the most integrity in the Trump administration. Mattis, McMaster and Kelly, you all served our nation as generals in battle. Pompeo, you graduated first in your class at West Point and served as a cavalry officer. Tillerson, you ran one of America’s largest companies.
I am writing you directly because I believe you are the last “few good men” who can stand up and reverse the moral rot that has infected the Trump administration from the top.
The last time our country faced such a cancer on the presidency, the Republican Party’s leadership stood up and put country before party to get to the truth. But today’s G.O.P. is a pale imitation of that party. With a few exceptions, it has declared moral bankruptcy and abdicated its responsibility to draw any red lines for President Trump.
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To begin, I ask those of you who honored our country as military officers how you would have reacted if your commanding officer had charged his predecessor with a high crime that violated his constitutional oath — and then a few weeks later this charge was exposed as false by the top military judge advocate?
And Secretary Tillerson, how would your former corporate board have reacted if a top executive at Exxon Mobil had accused a predecessor of a major act of malfeasance and the F.B.I. then told the board the claims were false?
Would you military men have simply said, “Sorry, I just do artillery” or “I’m just staying in my lane”? And Secretary Tillerson, would you only have said, “I just do diplomacy”?
Knowing some of you, I’d like to think not. I’d like to think that you would have taken so seriously your oath to preserve and protect the Constitution, or abide by the highest corporate standards, that you’d have felt impelled to say or do something.
Well, your boss has engaged in such a smear against his predecessor. But Trump’s party, his daughter, his sons, his son-in-law, his chief strategist, his spokespeople all want us to just move on, to give him a pass, and his attorney general is already so tainted that he’s had to recuse himself.
And that is why I’m coming to you few good men.
I’m not asking you to quit; I’m asking you to act — to collectively or individually sit the president down and make clear that you can’t effectively advance our national security unless he does the right thing and apologizes to President Obama, and unless he releases his tax returns to eliminate any questions regarding what we now know is already an eight-month-old F.B.I. investigation into possible collusion between the Kremlin and Trump’s campaign to hack our last election.
Surely none of you believes it’s O.K. for a president to smear his predecessor and then stand by the charge even when it is exposed as a lie.
I’m now in Paris, after almost a week in the United Arab Emirates. I have to tell you, the world is watching.
I had several young Arabs from around the region tell me that when America lets its own leader get away with lying, hiding information and smearing the press or a political opponent, it is taken as a license by all Middle Eastern leaders, or the leaders of Turkey or Russia, to do the exact same thing and say: “See, the American president does it, why shouldn’t we?”
There is a profound sense of loss in the world today that the optimistic, inclusive, generous, rule-of-law America that so many foreigners grew up admiring is disappearing. A poll by Germany’s ARD media group found that the percentage of Germans who think the U.S. is a “trustworthy ally” dropped from 59 percent in November to 22 percent last month.
Trump inherited a “daunting inbox” in foreign policy, but unfortunately “he is making it much worse,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a valuable new book, “A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order.” Trump’s embrace of “protectionism and hostility to immigrants — when the real culprit is new technologies that are eliminating existing jobs and an educational system that is not preparing Americans for new ones — and his rhetoric and policies are increasing doubts overseas about American dependability.” Without an urgent course correction, added Haass, we could end up “not with America first, but with America alone.”
Preventing that is the job of you five good men. I’m certain that none of you would let your children behave with the kind of dishonesty Trump showed in his tweets about Obama — and then just walk away. If you did that you’d consider yourself a failure as a parent. The same is now at stake for you as public servants.
If you say and do nothing when the nation’s leader smears his predecessor — and then maintains his fantasy as fact — not only will he never have the credibility to call on any other country to uphold the highest standards for rule of law, democracy and human rights, but neither will all of you. We will become a lesser country and the world a more dangerous place.
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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A New Form of Stem-Cell Engineering Raises Ethical Questions

As biological research races forward, ethical quandaries are piling up. In a report published Tuesday in the journal eLife, researchers at Harvard Medical School said it was time to ponder a startling new prospect: synthetic embryos.

In recent years, scientists have moved beyond in vitro fertilization. They are starting to assemble stem cells that can organize themselves into embryolike structures.

Soon, experts predict, they will learn how to engineer these cells into new kinds of tissues and organs. Eventually, they may take on features of a mature human being.

In the report, John D. Aach and his colleagues explored the ethics of creating what they call “synthetic human entities with embryolike features” — Sheefs, for short. For now, the most advanced Sheefs are very simple assemblies of cells.

But in the future, they may develop into far more complex forms, the researchers said, such as a beating human heart connected to a rudimentary brain, all created from stem cells. Such a Sheef might reveal important clues about how nerves control heartbeats. Scientists might be able to use other Sheefs to test out drugs for diseases such as cancer or diabetes.

Whatever else, it is sure to unnerve most of us.

Established guidelines for human embryo research are useless for deciding which Sheefs will be acceptable and which not, Dr. Aach argued. Before scientists get too deeply into making Sheefs, some rules must be put in place.

Dr. Aach and his colleagues urged that certain features be kept off limits: Scientists, for example, should never create a Sheef that feels pain.

“We’re going to have to get a lot of input from a lot of quarters,” Dr. Aach said in an interview. “The problems are just too big.”

Scientists began grappling with the ethics of lab-raised embryos more than four decades ago.
In 1970, the physiologist Robert G. Edwards and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge announced they had been able to fertilize human eggs with sperm and keep them alive for two days in a petri dish. During that time, the embryos each divided into 16 cells.

Dr. Edwards won the Nobel Prize in 2010 for his research, which opened the door to in vitro fertilization. The discovery also made it possible to study the earliest moments of human development.

Governments around the world began deliberating over how long research laboratories and fertility clinics should be allowed to let these embryos grow. In 1979, a federal advisory board recommended that the cutoff should be 14 days.

The so-called 14-day rule came to be embraced not just by scientists in the United States but in other countries as well. One attraction of the guideline was that it was easy to follow.

At 14 days, a human embryo develops its first clear feature: a ridge of cells, called the primitive streak, which marks the body’s central axis. It is where the spine will later develop.

There are even more important changes happening at the same time, although they are harder to see. The embryonic cells develop into three types, called germ layers. Each of those germ layers goes on to produce all the body’s tissues and organs.

Adherence to the 14-day rule led to tremendous advances. In 1998, scientists isolated stem cells from early embryos and eventually figured out how to develop them into just about any tissue in the body, from heart muscle to nerves.

In 2007, scientists figured out how to reprogram adult cells into embryolike stem cells, a discovery that one day may lead to personalized treatments for degenerative diseases.

For decades, scientists did not break the 14-day rule — but only because they did not know how. Scientists could keep human embryos alive for just over a week, without freezing them.

But last year, two teams of scientists determined how to grow human embryos for 13 days. Those advances hinted that it might be possible to allow scientists to tack on a few days more, by changing the 14-day rule to, say, a 20-day rule.

But Dr. Aach and his colleagues argued that rules based on the time since fertilization were useless for embryos that were not formed by fertilization.

A hint of the future arrived in a study published this month by researchers at the University of Cambridge. They built microscopic scaffolding into which they injected a mixture of two types of embryonic stem cells from mice.

This triggered communication by the cells, and they organized themselves into the arrangement found in an early mouse embryo.

While these artificial embryos developed from embryonic stem cells, it may soon become possible to build them from reprogrammed adult human cells. No fertilization or ordinary embryonic development would be required to build a mouse Sheef.

“We need to address this now, while there’s still time,” Dr. Aach said.

Sophia Roosth, a Harvard historian of science who was not involved in the new paper, said she did not think ethicists would have to start from scratch to find rules for these strange new Sheefs. She was optimistic that experts could draw on the many regulations in place for other kinds of research — including cloning, human tissue studies, and even studies on animals.

“I don’t think the baby has to be thrown out with the bathwater,” she said.

Henry T. Greely of Stanford University was less optimistic. While it is important to have a discussion about Sheefs, he said, it may be hard to reach an agreement on limits as enforceable as the 14-day rule.

“Whether you could come to some consensus is really doubtful,” he said.

Even if ethicists do manage to agree on certain limits, Paul S. Knoepfler, a stem cell biologist at the University of California, Davis, wondered how easy it would be for scientists to know if they had crossed them.

Spotting a primitive streak is easy. Determining whether a collection of neurons connected to other tissues in a dish can feel pain is not.

“It gets pretty tricky out there,” Dr. Knoepfler said. “They’ve opened the door to a lot of tough questions.”

Follow Carl Zimmer on Twitter @carlzimmer

In Gorsuch, Conservative Activist Sees Test Case for Reshaping the Judiciary

Leonard A. Leo, executive vice president of the conservative Federalist Society, at his office in Washington. CreditLexey Swall for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Deep into the Senate’s 68-page questionnaire of Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, the Supreme Court nominee was asked to describe how he had come to President Trump’s attention.
The first thing he wrote was, “I was contacted by Leonard Leo.”
Most Americans have probably never heard of Leonard A. Leowho has long served as executive vice president of the Federalist Society, an organization of conservatives and libertarians who “place a premium on individual liberty, traditional values and the rule of law.” But as Mr. Trump begins the process of filling what could be the most federal court vacancies left to any president in nearly a half-century, Mr. Leo is playing a critical role in reshaping the judiciary.
He sits at the nexus of an immensely influential but largely unseen network of conservative organizations, donors and lawyers who all share a common goal: Fill the federal courts with scores of judges who are committed to the narrow interpretation of the Constitution that they believe the founders intended.
“The Supreme Court needs to be an institution that helps to undergird limited constitutional government,” said Mr. Leo, 51, whose cerebral, unassuming demeanor belies the enormous clout he has developed in Washington.
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It is a worldview that has brought Mr. Leo and his allies together with a range of conservative players. In addition to major corporate backers such as Google and Chevron, the Federalist Society’s supporters include well-known industry-oriented and libertarian-minded business leaders like Charles G. and David H. Koch; the family foundation of Richard Mellon Scaife; and the Mercer family, which gave significantly to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign and helped start Breitbart News.
Cardboard cutouts of Judge Neil M. Gorsuch at the Judicial Crisis Network’s booth at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month. CreditAl Drago/The New York Times
This judicial reformation is being coordinated from Washington by a relatively small team closely aligned around Mr. Leo, who is on leave from the Federalist Society while he helps the White House shepherd the Gorsuch nomination. The network includes John G. Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation and Ann Corkery, a Washington lawyer who along with her husband, Neil, oversees the Judicial Crisis Network and related dark-money groups that also support the cause.
While a free-market agenda and the desire to place judges who will be more skeptical of federal and state regulations is a driving force, several central players in the group are also motivated by intense religious beliefs.
“We can have an incredible impact,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network. Ms. Severino counts among her clients Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, a group of Catholic nuns who participated in a lawsuit that reached the Supreme Court alleging that Obamacare limited their religious freedom.
Judge Gorsuch, 49, is their first test case, with his confirmation hearing set to begin on Monday — but the conservative activists say more is at stake than just the Supreme Court.
“Make no mistake,” Mr. Leo said in a speech last month at the Ronald Reagan Dinner at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “How we deal with this vacancy now, the strength that we as the pro-Constitution movement demonstrate in this fight, will determine the extent to which we are able to both nominate and confirm pro-Constitution judges as we move forward.”


The Money Behind Conservative Legal Movement

Tens of millions of dollars flow each year to a collection of non profit groups — from the Federalist Society to the Judicial Crisis Network — that are trying to reshape the federal and state judicial systems. Most of the money moves anonymously, other is disclosed. Here we take a look.
Mr. Trump already has 124 judgeships to fill — a backlog created by Senate Republicans who blocked the confirmation of many of President Barack Obama’s nominees. That includes 19 vacancies on the federal appeals courts.
Because of the age of many judges today, the White House expects between 70 to 90 appeals court positions to open up over the next four years. That would give Mr. Trump the opportunity to fill anywhere from one-third to half of all appellate seats — a profound impact considering that those courts are often the final word on thousands of cases that never reach the Supreme Court.
The scale and sophistication of the right’s judicial confirmation efforts would seem to portend a dark period ahead for the left, which, despite having made great strides under Mr. Obama, finds itself outmaneuvered.
“The right wing, very purposely and methodically, has built a stable of nominees that fit their ideological profile, and it’s been a national movement, well organized and strategized,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, who serves on the Judiciary Committee. “Frankly, I think the progressives of the Democratic Party have been less vigilant and vigorous than the right.”

Hitching to Trump

There was little question to whom Mr. Trump would turn when he was putting together his list of possible Supreme Court nominees last year: Mr. Leo, who has spent almost his entire legal career at the Federalist Society, after graduating from Cornell Law School in 1989.
A bookshelf in Mr. Leo’s office displays trinkets related to Supreme Court justices.CreditLexey Swall for The New York Times
The father of seven children and fond of speaking in biblical allusions, he rose to prominence more than a decade ago as the Republican Party’s co-chairman of Catholic outreach. At Justice Antonin Scalia’s funeral last year, he read from the Old Testament.
When President George W. Bush made his two nominations to the Supreme Court in 2005, picking Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., Mr. Leo assumed the responsibility of coordinating outside campaigns to buttress their Senate confirmations. It is a role — which he has described as analogous to running a political campaign — that he has reprised with the Gorsuch confirmation.
Mr. Leo has an exalted reputation among conservatives, including Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who is now head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Pruitt recalled in a speech last year at the conservative bastion Hillsdale College how he was in Washington for a Federalist Society meeting in 2013. Mr. Leo asked him to stay an extra night for dinner, without giving a hint of who might show up.
“Any time that Leonard asks you to go to dinner, you stay, because he feeds you well,” Mr. Pruitt said. But it was not only the menu that was impressive. Mr. Pruitt arrived to see Justices Scalia and Clarence Thomas at the table.
“We spent three hours talking about the Constitution and things that we were involved in as attorneys general,” Mr. Pruitt recalled. “It was a fabulous time.”


Older Judges and Vacant Seats Give Trump Huge Power to Shape American Courts

Mr. Trump could soon find himself responsible for appointing a greater share of federal court judges than any first-term president in 40 years.
Mr. Leo has been at the center of Mr. Trump’s judicial selection process since last spring, when Donald F. McGahn II, Mr. Trump’s campaign lawyer and now the White House counsel, introduced them. It helped enormously that Mr. Leo came to the campaign at a critical time of need.
Mr. Trump’s relationship with the conservative moment was tenuous at best. Last March, a prominent group of Catholic leaders in the United States, including several with close ties to Mr. Leo, published an open letter in National Review, a conservative magazine, declaring Mr. Trump “manifestly unfit to be president of the United States.” It was the type of rejection that was becoming all too worrisome for Mr. Trump. At the same time, a faction of delegates threatened to block his nomination.
So in May, in an unprecedented move for a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump shrewdly released the first of two lists of people he was considering to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Scalia, at first with help from Mr. Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation. Judge Gorsuch’s name was added in a second version of this list, with Mr. Trump thanking the Federalist Society and Heritage for their help.
Polls showed this published list of 21 names was a significant factor in the election. Of the one-fifth of voters who said the Supreme Court was the most important issue in their decision, 57 percent voted for Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump gave broad discretion to Mr. Leo and his colleagues. Mr. Trump’s most important criterion, these lawyers said, was that he wanted judges who were “not weak” and of “high quality.”
Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network, said efforts to secure Judge Gorsuch’s seat on the Supreme Court reflected the consensus of voters who put President Trump in power.CreditT.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times
Their approach in coming up with candidates was similar to President Ronald Reagan’s. “They had this very sophisticated, detailed frame of reference from which they could begin to say, ‘O.K., well, who understands these things like we do?’” Mr. Leo said in an interview, referring to the Reagan era. “As opposed to an administration that might sit around and say, ‘Who’s a really smart lawyer who’s been really accomplished?’ Or, ‘Hey, what about my frat buddy from 1964?’”
And as Reagan did by nominating Justices Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy, Mr. Leo and his conservative colleagues have looked for judges who can serve as long as possible. “Young is good,” Mr. Leo said. “There will be an opportunity for a transformation of the federal bench.”

A Small Network

Even before Mr. Trump walked into the East Room of the White House on Jan. 31 to name Judge Gorsuch as his first Supreme Court nominee, the public relations campaign to confirm him had started.
“Neil Gorsuch’s talent and skill would make for a great #SupremeCourt Justice,” said a post sent out on Twitter by the Judicial Crisis Network on the afternoon before the announcement.
By that point, television and radio advertisements about Judge Gorsuch were already on their way to stations across the country. The campaign focused on five states picked for a very explicit reason: Each had a Democratic senator up for re-election next year, and all the states had voted to elect Trump.
Outdoorsman Video by Judicial Crisis Network
This more public part of the push — Mr. Leo has never been particularly comfortable in the spotlight — has been handled by Ms. Severino, 40, a Harvard Law School graduate who served as a clerk to Justice Thomas and is a frequent speaker at Federalist events. Ms. Severino said the group’s efforts to secure Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation reflected the consensus of American voters, who picked Mr. Trump in part because of the Supreme Court choices he said he would make.
Television ads supporting Judge Gorsuch aired in states that voted for Mr. Trump and have Democratic senators up for re-election next year. CreditJudicial Crisis Network
But an examination of the Judicial Crisis Network’s operations and financial records suggests that the group, in fact, has an incredibly narrow base. In 2015, the last year that tax records were available, the Judicial Crisis Network’s entire budget of $5.7 million appears to have come from a single donor, an organization called the Wellspring Committee, based in Manassas, Va., that describes its mission as advancing “limited government and free markets.” Judicial Crisis and a sister organization, the Judicial Education Project, reported in tax returns that they had a total of only two employees and no volunteers, and instead largely relied on outside consultants, like CRC Public Relations, a Virginia firm that also lists the Federalist Society and other conservative groups as clients.
Ms. Severino, asked whether her group was simply a shell to secretly move money on behalf of others, said the Judicial Crisis Network should not be judged based on the size of its staff.
“We are not trying to be a large membership organization,” Ms. Severino said in a written statement, sent by CRC, which asked that the remarks be attributed to her. “There are others who excel at that type of work, and we are happy to support them as allies.”
It is clear that there are close personal ties among the leaders of the push to confirm Judge Gorsuch. Ann and Neil Corkery help run a network of nonprofit organizations like Catholic Voices USA, an organization that promotes the church’s views. They also help Mr. Leo in managing the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, tax records show.
Mr. Trump has 124 judgeships to fill, including 19 vacancies on the federal appeals courts.CreditAl Drago/The New York Times
There are even overlaps with the funding. Mr. Corkery is listed as treasurer of the Judicial Crisis Network. A separate Internal Revenue Service filing shows that Ms. Corkery is president of the Wellspring Committee. Tax records from the past two years also show that Mr. and Ms. Corkery were paid nearly $600,000 to help run 15 nonprofit groups, including the Judicial Crisis Network. They declined requests to discuss their overlapping roles in these organizations.
The impact of this intertwined network can also be seen in a number of state-level efforts to appoint more originalist judges.
Last year, the Judicial Crisis Network and a second organization it donated money to bought political advertisements in two Supreme Court races in Arkansas, which are decided directly by voters. The advertising by the groups, which spent far more than the candidates themselves, attracted widespread attention to what has normally been a low-profile race.
The intervention was considered disturbing enough that the Republican-controlled state legislature held a special hearing last year where those targeted by the groups testified.
“I suppose some with misplaced or contorted egos might be flattered these shadowy groups would spend over a half-million dollars directed to keep one off the court,“ said Clark W. Mason, a Little Rock, Ark., lawyer who was one of the candidates for the Supreme Court. “But I am outraged. They are attempting to shift the scale of justice.”
The legislature this year failed to pass a law that would require a group like Judicial Crisis to disclose the source of its funding if it wants to play a similar role in future elections in the state.
Judicial Crisis has also donated more than $2 million to the Republican Attorneys General Association — making it the single largest contributor in the 2016 election cycle, as it sought to elect top state law enforcement officers who could bring conservative-inspired cases to state or federal courts with judges the group also helped put into place.
Mark Holden, general counsel of Koch Industries, a donor to the Federalist Society, said in an interview that the efforts of these conservative legal activists were necessary to overcome a bias favoring judges who put their agendas before the law.
“It’s very important that we have the right people in place, people who will follow our laws, judges who will follow our laws as they have been written and not as they wish they were written,” Mr. Holden said.
One point all the parties agree on: Mr. Trump must not repeat the mistake that Mr. Bush made in moving slowly to fill the many vacancies in the federal court system.
Mr. Leo is ready to play his part.
“Those nominations to the lower federal courts are a high priority to the president and for senior administration staff,” Mr. Leo said in an interview last month that was broadcast on C-Span. He said the number of vacancies was historic. “It is something that is very much on the president’s mind.”
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