Thursday, June 22, 2017

Senate Leaders Unveil Bill to Repeal the Affordable Care Act

By ROBERT PEAR and THOMAS KAPLAN


WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans, who have promised a repeal of the Affordable Care Act for seven years, took a major step on Thursday to achieve that goal as they unveiled a bill to end the health law’s mandate that nearly everyone have health care, remake and cut the Medicaid program and create a new system of federal tax credits to help people buy health insurance.

The Senate bill — once promised as a top-to-bottom revamp of the health bill passed by the House last month — instead maintains its structure, with modest adjustments. The Senate version is, in some respects, more moderate than the House bill, offering more financial assistance to some lower-income people to help them defray the rapidly rising cost of private health insurance.

But the Senate measure, like the House bill, would phase out the extra money that the federal government has provided to states as an incentive to expand eligibility for Medicaid. And like the House measure, it would put the entire Medicaid program on a budget, ending the open-ended entitlement that now exists.

It would also repeal virtually all the tax increases imposed by the Affordable Care Act to pay for itself, in effect handing a broad tax cut to the affluent, paid for by billions of dollars sliced from Medicaid, a health care program that serves one in five Americans, not only the poor but two-thirds of those in nursing homes. The bill, drafted in secret, is likely to come to the Senate floor next week, and could come to a vote after 20 hours of debate.

If it passes, President Trump and the Republican Congress would be on the edge of a major overhaul of the American health care system — one-sixth of the nation’s economy.

Graphic

The Senate Is Close to a Health Care Bill, but Do Republicans Have the Votes?

How senators have different priorities on health care.
OPEN Graphic

The premise of the bill, repeated almost daily in some form or other by its chief author, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is that “Obamacare is collapsing around us, and the American people are desperately searching for relief.”

Mr. Trump shares that view, and the Senate bill, if adopted, would move the president a great distance closer to being able to boast about final passage of a marquee piece of legislation, a feat he has so far been unable to accomplish.
In the Senate, Democrats are determined to defend a law that has provided coverage to 20 million people and is a pillar of former President Barack Obama’s legacy. The debate over the repeal bill is shaping up as a titanic political clash, which could have major implications for both parties, affecting their electoral prospects for years to come.

Mr. McConnell faces a great challenge in amassing the votes to win Senate approval of the bill, which Republicans are trying to pass using special budget rules that will allow them to avoid a Democratic filibuster. But with only 52 seats, Mr. McConnell can afford to lose only two Republicans, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie. He may have already lost one — Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, has indicated repeatedly that the bill is too liberal for him.

Democrats are unified in opposing the repeal efforts, and they have already assailed Republicans for 
the work they have done so far, criticizing them for putting the bill together without a single public hearing or bill-drafting session.

In the short term, the possible electoral consequences are more muted in the Senate than in the House, as only two of the Senate Republicans who face re-election next year, Dean Heller of Nevada and Jeff Flake of Arizona, are seen as vulnerable.

But Republican leaders still must contend with internal divisions that will be difficult to overcome. Numerous Republican senators from states that expanded Medicaid are concerned about how a rollback of the program could affect their constituents, and they face pressure from governors back home.

Some senators have concerns based on other issues specific to their states, including the opioid epidemic that has battered states like West Virginia and Ohio. And some of the Senate’s most conservative members could resist a bill that they view as not going far enough in dismantling the Affordable Care Act.


The assessment being made by senators will be shaped in part by an analysis of the bill to be released by the Congressional Budget Office, the official scorekeeper on Capitol Hill.

The budget office found that the bill passed by the House last month would leave 23 million more people without insurance in a decade. Mr. Trump recently told senators that the House bill was “mean,” though weeks earlier he had celebrated its passage.


NYT

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Saudi Arabia Rewrites Succession as King Replaces Heir With Son, 31

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Mohammed bin Salman last year in France. Credit Stephanie De Sakutin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
BEIRUT, Lebanon — King Salman of Saudi Arabia promoted his 31-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, to be next in line to the throne on Wednesday, further empowering a young and ambitious leader who has upended the ruling family at a time of deep Saudi involvement in conflicts across the Middle East.
The king’s decision to remove the previous crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, 57, capped two and a half years of dramatic changes that have erased decades of royal custom and reordered the power structure inside the kingdom, a close American ally. And it came as Saudi Arabia was already grappling with low oil prices, and intensifying hostilities both with Iran and in its own circle of Sunni Arab states.
In sweeping aside Mohammed bin Nayef, the king marginalized a large cadre of older princes, many with foreign educations and decades of government experience that the younger prince lacks. If Mohammed bin Salman does succeed his father, he could rule the kingdom for many decades.
Prince Mohammed’s swift rise and growing influence had already rankled other princes who accused him of undermining Mohammed bin Nayef. But such complaints are likely to remain private in a ruling family that prizes stability above all else.
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“A lot of people are happy that a younger generation is coming to power, but those who are upset are the older generation, no doubt about it, who are not to used to this kind of dramatic change,” said Joseph A. Kechichian, a senior fellow at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, who has extensive contacts inside the family. “Even if people are uncomfortable, at the end of the day this is a monarchical decision, and people will either have to accept the new arrangement or they will essentially have to keep their mouths shut.”
The young prince, known as M.B.S., emerged from obscurity after his 81-year-old father ascended to the throne in January 2015. He has since accumulated vast powers, serving as defense minister, overseeing the state oil monopoly, working to overhaul the Saudi economy and building ties with foreign leaders, including President Trump.
His supporters praise him as working hard to fulfill a hopeful vision for the kingdom’s future, especially for its large youth population. His critics call him power hungry, and fear that his inexperience has embroiled Saudi Arabia in costly problems with no clear exits, like the war in neighboring Yemen.
Since the death of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz Al Saud, in 1953, control of the absolute monarchy has been passed between his sons, a system that raised questions about the future as the brothers grew older and began dying.
After ascending the throne, King Salman addressed the issue by naming Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince, the first time a member of the third generation was put in the line of succession.
Now, the royal reordering has ended the career of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who served as interior minister and was widely respected by Saudis and their foreign allies for dismantling Al Qaeda’s networks in the kingdom after a string of deadly bombings a decade ago.
King Salman’s decrees on Wednesday removed Mohammed bin Nayef from both the line of succession and his post as interior minister, to which he named Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef, 33, another young prince with little experience relevant to the ministry’s extensive security, law enforcement and intelligence duties.
Another of the king’s sons, Prince Khalid bin Salman, was recently named ambassador to the United States. He is believed to be in his late 20s.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s rise has been meteoric.
Since his father named him deputy crown prince, or second in line to the throne, he has spearheaded the development of a wide-ranging plan, Saudi Vision 2030, which seeks to decrease the country’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and loosen some of the conservative, Islamic kingdom’s social restrictions.
As defense minister, he had primary responsibility for the kingdom’s military intervention in Yemen, where it is leading a coalition of Arab allies in a bombing campaign aimed at pushing Houthi rebels from the capital and at restoring the government.
That campaign has made limited progress in more than two years, and human rights groups have accused the Saudis of bombing civilians, destroying the economy of the Arab world’s poorest country, and exacerbating a humanitarian crisis by imposing air and sea blockades.

Rise of Young Prince Shatters Decades of Saudi Royal Tradition

Read more — in English and Arabic — from Ben Hubbard and Mark Mazzetti on Prince Mohammed bin Salman's quick rise and his rivalry with his cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef.

Prince Mohammed has taken a hard line on Iran, saying in a television interview last month that dialogue with the Shiite power was impossible because it sought to take control of the Islamic world.
“We are a primary target for the Iranian regime,” he said, accusing Tehran of seeking to take over Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia, which is home to Mecca and Medina. “We won’t wait for the battle to be in Saudi Arabia. Instead, we’ll work so that the battle is for them in Iran.”
Saudi Arabia and Iran stand on opposite sides of conflicts in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen while seeking to lessen each other’s influence across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Prince Mohammed has looked for mentorship to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The two men have recently worked in tandem to isolate Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism, an accusation their small neighbor denies.
The removal of Mohammed bin Nayef, who had warm relations with the emir of Qatar and his father, could make it even harder for the tiny nation to reach an accommodation with its neighbors, analysts said. And some wondered whether the young prince’s assertiveness would further destabilize the region.
“This is a time when we really need some quiet diplomacy. We need coolheaded politicians who are able to defuse tensions rather than inflame them,” said Maha Yahya, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “There has been a far more aggressive stance in Saudi foreign policy under King Salman, and now it might get worse.”
Prince Mohammed faces great economic challenges, with low oil prices continuing to sap the state budget, scarce job opportunities for the kingdom’s youth and declining consumer confidence.
Saudi Arabia reported a 4 percent rise in its domestic stock market after the changes were announced. But oil prices continued to fall on Wednesday, with the international crude benchmark dropping 1 percent to around $45.50 a barrel.
Prince Mohammed’s increasing power over the world’s largest oil exporter could have far-reaching consequences.
Traditionally, the Saudi royal family largely left the operation of the energy industry to technocrats, but Prince Mohammed has taken a more direct role.
In particular, he has drawn criticism for driving an initial public offering of the state oil giant, Saudi Aramco, a highly secretive company that has underpinned the kingdom’s economy and generated tremendous wealth for decades. He has also made pronouncements on oil production policy that sometimes seemed to undercut more experienced Saudi energy officials.
“The problem is that he is unpredictable, and it is not clear who he is relying on for advice,” said Paul Stevens, a Middle East oil analyst at Chatham House, a London-based research organization.
Prince Mohammed’s promotion comes at an awkward time for the Saudi oil industry.
Production cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, largely orchestrated by the Saudis last year, have so far failed to lift flagging prices, presenting the Saudis and other big oil producers with few good options. Major oil exporters could further cut output, or the Saudis could go back to a policy they pursued in late 2014: allowing prices to fall, forcing smaller, lower-margin producers out of the market and, as a result, grabbing more market share.
Prince Mohammed has pursued a uniquely public profile for the traditionally private kingdom, giving interviews to Western news outlets and taking high-profile trips to China, Russia and the United States, where he dined with Mr. Trump in March.
Saudi news outlets portrayed the move as an orderly reshuffle, repeatedly broadcasting a video clip of the new crown prince deferentially kissing the hand of his predecessor and saying that 31 of 34 members of a council of senior princes had approved the appointment.
The departing prince’s profile had waned as that of his younger cousin grew, although he remained popular with the Western officials he cooperated with on security and intelligence matters.
In 2009, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was wounded when a militant, who came to his palace saying he wanted to turn himself in, detonated a bomb hidden in his rectum. People who have met with the prince recently said the injury’s effects have lingered, although it was unclear whether they played a role in the king’s decision to replace him.

Democrats Seethe After Georgia Loss: ‘Our Brand Is Worse Than Trump’

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Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate, was joined by his fiancée, Alisha Kramer, as he addressed his supporters after his defeat in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District special election on Tuesday night. Credit Christopher Aluka Berry/Reuters
Democrats scrambled to regroup on Wednesday after a disappointing special election defeat in Georgia, with lawmakers, activists and labor leaders speaking out in public and private to demand a more forceful economic message heading into the 2018 elections.
Among Democrats in Washington, the setback in Georgia revived or deepened a host of existing grievances about the party, accentuating tensions between moderate lawmakers and liberal activists and prompting some Democrats to question the leadership and political strategy of Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader.
But the overarching theme among Democrats was a sense of sharp urgency about crafting a positive agenda around kitchen-table issues. Congressional Democrats have already been meeting in private to shape a core list of economic policies, but their work did not reach any conclusive point during a long season of special elections.
“The Democratic caucus is united in our view that our message, heading into 2018, should be aggressively focused on job creation and economic growth,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a member of the Democratic leadership team, said on Wednesday morning.
Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, said the defeat was “frustrating” and urged a shake-up at the top of the party.
Continue reading the main story
“Our leadership owes us an explanation,” said Mr. Moulton, who voted against Ms. Pelosi in the last leadership election. “Personally, I think it’s time for new leadership in the party.”
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Some lawmakers are questioning anew the leadership and political strategy of Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader. Credit Al Drago/The New York Times
By fiercely contesting a congressional race in the conservative Atlanta suburbs, Democrats had hoped to make an emphatic statement about the weakness of the Republican Party under President Trump. Their candidate, Jon Ossoff, raised about $25 million, mostly in small donations, and assertively courted right-of-center voters with promises of economic development and fiscal restraint.
That vague message, Democrats said Wednesday, was plainly not powerful enough to counter an onslaught of Republican advertising that cast Mr. Ossoff as a puppet of liberal national Democrats, led by Ms. Pelosi. While Mr. Ossoff made inroads by exploiting Mr. Trump’s unpopularity and a backlash against health care legislation approved in the House, Democrats said they would have to do more to actually win.
Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, met early Wednesday morning with a group of lawmakers who have been conferring about economic messaging, according to two people present who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Mr. Luján told the group that his committee would examine the Georgia results for lessons, but stressed that Democrats have consistently exceeded their historical performance in a series of special elections fought in solidly Republican territory.
Representative Eric Swalwell of California, a third-term lawmaker close to party leaders, said Democrats would “crystallize our message on jobs, on health care” in the coming months. The results in Georgia and other special elections, he said, should encourage Democrats to campaign across a huge map of districts.
“We need to compete everywhere,” Mr. Swalwell said on Wednesday morning. “We want to be the party that’s for your job, for your health care and for your kids’ future.”
Others in the party were far more caustic, calling Mr. Ossoff’s defeat a warning to Democrats who see red-tinged suburban districts as the keys to winning power, and saying that Ms. Pelosi would undermine the party’s candidates for as long as she holds her post.
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Mr. Ossoff’s supporters showed their dismay after results came in showing Karen Handel in the lead at a viewing party at the Westin Atlanta Perimeter North, on Tuesday night. Credit Kevin D. Liles for The New York Times
Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, who tried to unseat Ms. Pelosi as House minority leader late last fall, said she remained a political millstone for Democrats. But Mr. Ryan said the Democratic brand had also become “toxic” in much of the country because voters saw Democrats as “not being able to connect with the issues they care about.”
“Our brand is worse than Trump,” he said.
Ms. Pelosi, of California, has consistently rejected calls to step down and there was little indication on Wednesday that her leadership post was at risk. A top aide dismissed the idea that her lightning-rod status might have hurt the Democratic effort in Georgia, and pointed out that in some polls the Republican speaker, Paul D. Ryan, is viewed even more dismally.
Any Democratic leader would become a target for the right, said the aide, Drew Hammill, Ms. Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff.
“Republicans blew through millions to keep a ruby red seat and in their desperate rush to stop the hemorrhaging, they’ve returned to demonizing the party’s strongest fund-raiser and consensus builder,” he said. “They don’t have Clinton or Obama so this is what they do.”
But in a possible omen, the first Democratic candidate to announce his campaign after the Georgia defeat immediately vowed not to support Ms. Pelosi for leader. Joe Cunningham, a South Carolina lawyer challenging Representative Mark Sanford, said Democrats need “new leadership now.”
“Time to move forward and win again,” Mr. Cunningham wrote on Twitter.
Even Democrats who are not openly antagonistic toward Ms. Pelosi acknowledged that a decade of Republican attacks had taken a toll: “It’s pretty difficult to undo the demonization of anyone,” said Representative Bill Pascrell of New Jersey.
In some respects, the sniping over the Democrats’ campaign message mirrors a larger divide in the Democratic Party, dating back to the 2016 presidential primaries and earlier. Senator Bernie Sanders and his supporters have pressed Democrats to embrace a more bluntly populist message, assailing wealthy special interests and endorsing the expansion of social-welfare programs, while more moderate Democrats in the party leadership have favored an approach closer to Mr. Ossoff’s.

Document: Memo From the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

But in four contested special elections in Republican districts — including two, in Kansas and Montana, featuring Sanders-style insurgents — neither method provided the party with a breakthrough victory.
In the absence of a smashing win that might have settled the left-versus-center debate, Democrats may face a longer process of internal deliberation before they settle on an approach that is broadly acceptable in the party.
The goal of the party’s efforts so far, lawmakers said, has been to come up with an economic narrative that can cut across regional and ideological lines, that candidates can embellish with local and personal flourishes.
Republicans followed a similar model before they captured the House in 2010, using a broad but cutting slogan — “Where are the jobs?” — that left candidates ample room to match the political sensibilities of their districts.
Part of the Democrats’ challenge now, though, is that the jobless rate has plummeted since then and many of the districts they are targeting are a lot like the Georgia seat: thriving suburbs filled with voters who have only watched their portfolios grow since Mr. Trump took office.
Even as they smarted from their defeat on Wednesday, Democrats signaled they intend to compete across a vast swath of the country in 2018. Mr. Luján, moving to calm the party, circulated a memo to lawmakers and staff that declared there was “no doubt that Democrats can take back the House next fall” in the midterm elections. He wrote that there were six to eight dozen seats held by Republican lawmakers that would be easier for Democrats to capture than Georgia’s Sixth.
Citing snippets of private polling, Mr. Luján said there were Republican seats in southern Arizona and Florida, northern New Jersey and the Kansas City, Kan., suburbs, where Democratic challengers were already ahead of Republican incumbents.
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Representative John Lewis spoke at the viewing party for Mr. Ossoff. Credit Kevin D. Liles for The New York Times
Democrats need to win 24 Republican-held seats in order to win control of the House.
On the Republican side, jubilation over their victory in Georgia mixed with lingering unease about the overall political environment. While Ms. Handel defeated Mr. Ossoff by about 10,000 votes and nearly four percentage points, Republican outside groups had to spend $18 million defending a district where the party’s candidates won easily for decades.
And on the same night, a little-watched special election in South Carolina gave the Republican Party another scare, as an obscure Democrat, Archie Parnell, came within 3,000 votes of capturing a solidly Republican congressional district, with voter turnout far behind the Georgia race.
Nick Everhart, a Republican strategist in Ohio, said the party should not allow its relief at having kept Democrats at bay turn into complacency. Up to this point, he said, Republicans have been beating Democrats only on solidly red turf.
“To pretend that there are not serious enthusiasm-gap issues with the G.O.P. base and more crucially, independents fleeing, is missing the lessons that need to be learned before truly competitive seats are on the board,” Mr. Everhart said.
Still, the immediate aftermath of the Georgia election was plainly tougher on the Democratic side, as the party endured a fourth special election that ended with a better-than-usual showing by a defeated Democrat. That pattern may put Democrats on track to gain power in the 2018 elections, but 17 months is a long wait for a party so hungry to win.
D. Taylor, an influential labor leader who is president of Unite Here, the hospitality workers’ union, said the Democratic Party was “out of excuses on its electoral performance.”
“In red states or blue states, Democrats should be able to compete — and win,” Mr. Taylor said in a statement. “Millions of Americans are desperate to be led by political leaders who stand for something, are willing to take risks, and are willing to tell the truth and engage Americans where they live. That just isn’t happening.”

Q&A: Why a top mathematician has joined Emmanuel Macron’s revolution

French President Emmanuel Macron has promised his country a revolution—and after a comfortable victory in the parliamentary elections, he is well-positioned to deliver. Macron’s brand-new centrist and reformist party, La République En Marche!, won 308 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly yesterday. Almost half of his delegates are women; most have never been active in politics.
What the upset will mean for French science is unclear. Macron has promised to raise the country’s research spending from 2.2% of gross domestic product to 3% and give universities more autonomy. He aims to make France a world leader in climate and environmental science and has promised €30 million to help attract foreign scientists using a website named “Make Our Planet Great Again.” Most French scientists were relieved that Macron defeated far-right candidate Marine Le Pen last month, but reforms in science and higher education are likely to meet resistance from leftist groups.
Science talked to one of En Marche!’s new National Assembly members, mathematician and Fields medalist Cédric Villani, 43, who won 69% of the vote in a constituency south of Paris. Villani, who heads the Henri Poincaré Institute in the capital, has won a book prize from the American Mathematical Society in 2014 and joined the prestigious Pontifical Academy of Sciences last year. Frequent media appearances over the past decade—and his trademark silk ascot and spider brooch—have made him one of France’s best-known scientists. (He also gave a TED talk explaining what’s so sexy about math.)

Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: Why did you run, and why with Macron?
A: I never recognized myself in any national political movement. But Macron’s party is enthusiastically pro-European, which has become very rare among national parties in France. It also went very much against the old political tradition of systematically attacking opponents during the presidential election; instead it promoted benevolence, pragmatism, and progress. And the party welcomed nonpoliticians with professional expertise.
Q: What do you hope to achieve in the National Assembly—in general, and for science?
A: I hope to participate in making France feel confident again—in its government, in its own abilities, and in the future. As to science, that’s a complex ecosystem, and the issues in France are well known. The efficiency of the competitive research funding agencies is one issue. How to reward researchers with significant achievements is another. How to organize the governance of universities. University entrance selection. The ratio of public and private investment in R&D. Patenting scientific discoveries and bringing products to market. And so on. There isn’t one particular topic I want to be associated with; I intend to push for the improvement of the science system as a whole.
Q: Do you have concrete measures in mind?
A: There is no simple solution. I would advocate better scientific steering of the National Research Agency. I’m in favor of awarding some researchers a special status, based on international evaluations, that comes with a reduced teaching load. On university governance, I favor relaxing the laws and making them less complicated. And universities should do a better job of informing students on the career outcomes of the degrees they offer.
But in doing this, my goal isn’t just to serve science. My goal is to serve society with scientific expertise as a tool. Currently, scientific knowledge within French political circles is close to zero. It’s important that some scientific expertise is present in the National Assembly.
I hope to participate in making France feel confident again—in its government, in its own abilities, and in the future.
Cédric Villani, Henri Poincaré Institute
Q: Part of the scientific community has yet to be convinced that Macron is really interested in science.
A: We will see. He sent a strong first signal by according science policy its own ministry, by nominating a very competent minister, Frédérique Vidal, and giving her a broad mandate. Her nomination was welcomed by everybody, including the most radical faction of the scientific community. Macron’s welcome to foreign climate scientists was important as well. He is a president who believes science is part of global politics. It is important that scientists step in and become part of the political process. Now, if there is enough money in the system, a good balance between basic and applied research, and good governance—in other words, if the system works—chances are that the scientific community will be happy.
Q: Is this the end of your career in mathematics?
A: My research essentially stopped when I became institute director in 2009 and started to get more involved with the media. Now, I will leave the directorship. Often in life when you want to gain a new experience, you need to put something aside. But the current political situation in France is so unique and extraordinary that it is more than worth it.

Summer Solstice: A Great Moment to Ponder the Sun

By NICHOLAS ST. FLEUR


Wednesday at 12:24 a.m. Eastern Time marks the summer solstice, the scientific start to summer for half the world. The Northern Hemisphere will dip toward the sun, basking in its warmth for longer than at any other time. The solstice occurs because the Earth spins on a tilted axis. This slouch of 23.5 degrees is also responsible for the other seasons.

The summer solstice offers the perfect opportunity to ponder the explosive ball of plasma that makes our very existence possible.

And for the United States, this is a remarkable time for the sun. On Aug. 21, the country will experience a total solar eclipse, when the moon passes in front of the sun and casts its shadow on parts of the Earth. The centerline of the eclipse will cut through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina. For about two minutes, sections of those states will experience totality, when the moon engulfs the sun and turns day into night.

During those precious minutes of darkness, skygazers will have the chance to see the sun like they may have never seen it before. Its white outer atmosphere, called the corona, will surround the moon like a lion’s mane. This is the only time when people can see the corona from the ground, and it offers scientists an excellent opportunity to study the sun’s mysteries.

At more than a million degrees, the roaring corona is hundreds of times hotter than the solar surface beneath it, and researchers are not sure why. By studying the corona, scientists hope to better understand the solar processes that fuel its extreme heat and cause its violent eruptions.

But observing the sun from 93 million miles away can yield only so much insight. The information we collect from the eclipse is a preview of the solar data deluge to come over the next decade.

“Everyone who has an opportunity to see totality is going to get a glimpse at a part of the sun that in roughly a year from now we will actually touch,” said C. Alex Young, a solar astrophysicist for NASA.

Next July, NASA plans to launch the Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft that will probe the plasma puzzle by dipping into the corona. It will travel closer to the sun than any Earth spacecraft has ever done before, venturing within four million miles of the scorching surface by 2024, according to NASA.

“The main two goals are to understand why the corona is hotter than the surface, and why the solar wind gets accelerated up to a million miles an hour,” said Eric Christian, one of the NASA scientists working on the Parker Solar Probe.

Protected by a special heat shield, the craft will observe the sun’s magnetic field, electrical field and the energetic particles from the solar wind.

“It will revolutionize our understanding of the sun,” Dr. Christian said. “It’s the first time we get to go where the action is.”

NYT

Government Spying Allegations in Mexico Spur Calls for Inquiry

By KIRK SEMPLE


MEXICO CITY — After reports this week that sophisticated government-owned surveillance software was used to spy on some of Mexico’s most prominent journalists and activists, victims and others have demanded an independent inquiry into the allegations.

The calls came in response to an article by The New York Times and to a parallel report by several Mexican and international organizations, both of which found that the Israeli-made spyware, which was sold to the Mexican government on the strict condition that it be used only against terrorists and criminal groups, was deployed against some of the government’s most outspoken critics.

The software, called Pegasus, can infiltrate a smartphone and allow spies to monitor all activity on it, including calls, texts and emails.

Nine victims of the spyware campaign have filed a criminal complaint with the Mexican attorney general’s office. They include lawyers looking into the still-unsolved disappearance of 43 students in 2014; a leader of an initiative to pass anticorruption legislation; and the journalist who uncovered a scandal involving the family of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Those calling for an investigation say the only way a truly independent inquiry can be guaranteed is to bring in an international team of experts, as the government did after the students disappeared. The government, however, ended that group’s mandate before its work was complete.

“Will the government have the capacity and will to investigate itself?” asked Mario E. Patrón, the executive director of the Miguel Augustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center, a human rights group in Mexico that was among the targets of the spyware attacks. “I think we all know what the answer is.”

The Times’s article and the report — produced by a group of organizations in conjunction with the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto — cautioned that there was no conclusive evidence that linked the spying to specific government agencies in Mexico.

A spokesman for the Peña Nieto administration issued a statement on Monday emphasizing that point and using it to defend the government. “For the government of the republic, the respect of privacy and the protection of personal data of all individuals are inherent values of our liberty, democracy and rule of law,” said the spokesman, Daniel Millán.

He invited people “who could have been victims of the actions described in the article” to present their complaints to the attorney general’s office.

Still, the findings provoked broad outrage, with many laying responsibility — if not for the spying itself, then at least to initiate a thorough inquiry — on the shoulders of the administration.

“This new, chilling evidence confirms that Mexican journalists and human rights defenders are a target of illegal practices designed to interfere and hinder their work,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, the Americas director at Amnesty International, said in a statement. The findings “show a clear pattern of illegal use of technology in an attempt to control any criticism against those in power.”

In a measure of the volume of reaction, the hashtag #GobiernoEspía, or #SpyGovernment, became the top trending topic on Twitter in Mexico on Monday and a top trending topic globally. In Mexico, the topic dominated social media and figured prominently in the news media on Monday and into Tuesday.

The level of anger was likened by some to the public reaction that greeted the so-called Casa Blanca scandal in 2014. That was spurred by reports that the president’s wife had received a special deal on the purchase of a mansion from a government contractor close to the president.

The episode weakened Mr. Peña Nieto’s standing and cast doubt on his stated commitment to the rule of law.

The administration has in recent weeks also been under pressure to better protect journalists.

At least 104 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000, including six this year so far, and at least 25 others have disappeared, according to press freedom groups.

The pressure on the government intensified last month with the killing of Javier Valdez Cárdenas, a widely respected journalist who reported drug trafficking in his home state, Sinaloa.

The findings this week “only add to the idea that, rather than protecting the press, the Mexican government views it as a dissident group or even as an enemy,” Guillermo Osorno, a founder of Horizontal.mx, a digital magazine, wrote in an opinion piece published by The New York Times en Español.

But the reaction was also mitigated somewhat by a certain cynicism in a country where wiretapping has been a time-honored tradition in politics, and allegations of spying by the government against its critics are not new.

Raymundo Riva Palacio, a columnist for El Financiero newspaper, wrote Tuesday that in 2015, the paper reported on an extensive government spying program that targeted cellphones. In response, he said, “nothing happened.”

He welcomed the reports this week “for the possibility of finally provoking a reaction from President Enrique Peña Nieto.”

But many commentators have been underwhelmed by the administration’s early response, which struck some as highly defensive and a reaffirmation of the widely held view that the government is more interested in preserving its authority than in enforcing the rule of law.

“If it wasn’t them, isn’t the Mexican government worried that someone is going around spying?” wrote Carlos Puig, a columnist for the Milenio newspaper. “Shouldn’t it be the government itself asking for an investigation? Or is it simply that they already know the answer?”




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