Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Impeachment Proceedings Need to Start Now

By LAURENCE H. TRIBE, The Boston Globe, 17th May 2017

ALL SPIDER-MAN fans will recognize the line, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We need to act now on that maxim’s converse: When great power is placed in the hands of one who cannot be trusted to act responsibly, we must take that power back. 

That means starting now to trim President Trump’s power to do irreparable harm to the nation and, ultimately, the world. That’s why I’ve previously raised 25th Amendment questions about Trump’s ability to “discharge the powers and duties of his office” and have recently called for immediate initiation of impeachment investigations — akin to convening a grand jury to consider returning a criminal indictment. 

This call may be politically unrealistic; and it wouldn’t advance my progressive agenda. Vice President Mike Pence is no picnic. Nor is House Speaker Paul Ryan. But there’s no time to lose. While the deputy attorney general appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as independent counsel on Wednesday to pursue possible criminal prosecutions and Congress’s intelligence committees dig deeper into who did what with whom to tilt the 2016 election toward Trump, the House needs to start digging now into the Trump administration’s abuses of power and Trump’s blatant violations of his oath faithfully to execute the office of president.

That digging, which might or might not result in impeachment articles and a Senate trial of Trump (and possibly a Senate trial of Attorney General Jeff Sessions as well), cannot wait for the possible passage of legislation (which Trump would veto anyway) to create either a special blue ribbon 9/11-style commission or a commission to inquire into Trump’s mental ability to govern constitutionally. The situation calls for urgent action on multiple fronts, not more delay.

Clear proof of urgency came with Trump’s boastful sharing of highly classified intelligence provided to us by Israel — about a new ISIS strategy for using laptops to blow up civilian airliners, no less — not with our allies but with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister. That urgency was underscored by what had happened just the day before, when Trump suddenly sacked FBI Director James Comey for refusing to pledge that the FBI wouldn’t target Trump himself in its recently accelerated investigation into apparent collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia. And the urgency escalated exponentially with the revelation that former director Comey, whose honesty no one has ever questioned, kept contemporary memos of every Trump intervention in the FBI’s investigation of possible collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia.

Repeating his now characteristic pattern, Trump first fanned out his troops (this time including the national security adviser) to release fake news. He then blurted and tweeted something closer to the truth but said not to worry: Just as he had claimed unfettered authority to decide whether to keep or replace Comey as the leader of the investigation into his campaign, he insisted that he had an “absolute right” as POTUS to decide what top secret information to share with whom for whatever reasons he wished.
It seems increasingly likely that the many parallel ways Trump, his family, and his White House team kiss up to Putin — whose request for Trump to entertain the ambassador, so often found at the center of Trump confidantes’ intrigues, Trump told an interviewer he of course had to grant — will ultimately be explained by the Russian trail of money and its laundering that is finally getting closer attention. But whether that’s the tip of a grossly unconstitutional iceberg or just the strangest bunch of coincidences ever, we need to get to the bottom of the money pit through investigations beyond the reach of Trump’s machinations.

In the meantime the House has a duty to start digging right now into Trump’s seemingly impeachable offenses before any more potentially irreparable harm is done to our national security. Just to name those offenses, they could even include treason — both in acquiring the presidency through what may have been collusion with our adversaries, and in using that office to give those adversaries aid and comfort in return, as well as grow the family fortune at America’s expense.

Those offenses also include what looks every bit like quid pro quo bribery — in offering favorable treatment to Russia (and other governments that aren’t our friends) in return for something Russia might do for him, and in offering a favor to the FBI director, whom Trump described as essentially a job-seeker, in return for assurance that the FBI investigation of Russiagate would exclude Trump himself. Nor is looking into these matters with an eye toward impeachment and possible removal from office optional: Article II Section 4 of the Constitution says the “President [and] Vice President . . . shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” That’s “shall,” not “may.”
Despite that mandate, tradition has made the whole notion of impeachment so radioactive, and the instances of its abuse as a political tool against presidents of the opposing party so distasteful, that the reluctance to invoke it is now palpable. But, given the even greater difficulty of using the 25th Amendment to remove a president who is clueless about constitutional limits and delusional about his duties, we need to get over the allergy to the basic concept of removal through impeachment and stop thinking of it, inaccurately, as retribution for sinister intent.

Trump’s invariable reply to claims of alleged abuse echoes Nixon’s infamous remark: “If the president does it, it’s legal.” That was Trump’s answer to challenges to the travel ban directed at Muslims (in places where Trump doesn’t have business interests, not the places that have sent terrorists to kill Americans); to his many financial entanglements in evident violation of the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses; to his sudden discharge of Comey; and, most recently, to his decision to share with our Russian adversaries information too sensitive to share even with our allies. To each allegation of abuse, Trump’s childlike answer is: I’m the president, so I can do no wrong.
We fought a revolution against George III to escape that sort of absolute power, whether grounded in corrupt motives or growing out of incapacity. We fought World War II against such claims of boundless authority. Although we have at times tolerated and even propped up dictators for what they could do for our country, this is the first time in American history that we’ve been led by someone who admires those strongmen and sidles up to them for what they can do or have done not for their country but for themselves, by raping and pillaging their nations and their people as needed. These episodes have this in common: They treat the power with which we have entrusted Trump as a plaything to use as he pleases, not to maintain and guard America’s greatness as he took a solemn oath to do; not to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” but to satisfy his immature ego, his endless need to boast, and his insatiable greed.
So it is time to act — and our constitutional system gives us the tools with which to begin.

Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor and professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School.

Sunday, May 21, 2017


This short film is dedicated to all people who believe in peaceful expansion of our borders.
In the year 1957 the cold war expands to space. The Soviet Union sends Sputnik as the first man-made object into Earth orbit.
Three years later Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space. The so-called "Space Race" seems to be decided.
But in 1961, President Kennedy promised to send American astronauts to the Moon.
The Apollo Project was born. A space ship had to be built that is strong enough to escape Earth's gravitation, land on the moon and bring the crew safely back to our planet.
Digital motion designer Christian Stangl worked with his brother and composer Wolfgang for 18 months on this short film. The foundation were thousands original NASA photographs, taken by the astronauts during the Apollo missions, which were released in September 2015. It is an animated collage using different techniques to bring the stills to life. Amazing to watch!

Monday, May 15, 2017

George Michael Made It Big

THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION YEAR of 2016 reaped all kinds of misfortunes, not the least of which was a steady string of celebrity deaths. Many of the high-profile musician deaths among them ranged from the sad but unsurprising (David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Glenn Frey) to the completely unexpected, namely the loss of two titans in the music world: Prince, age 57, and George Michael, who was four years Prince’s junior.

Adding to the strangeness of it all was that Michael—the Grammy-Award-winning singer-songwriter who sold more than 100 million albums over a thirty-year career and cofounded the British pop duo Wham!—died on Christmas Day, only bolstering the popularity of the only New Wave holiday song to remain on the airwaves: “Last Christmas,” from 1984. The fact that Michael and band-mate Andrew Ridgeley donated all of the single’s proceeds to the famine in Ethiopia at the time is an early indication of Michael’s philanthropic commitments. News reports after his death revealed that Michael, whose net worth (as of 2002) was an estimated £210 million, routinely volunteered at a soup kitchen in England and asked that people not make a fuss over his presence there. Michael’s boyfriend, Fadi Fawaz, discovered him dead in his home in the Oxfordshire village of Goring-on-Thames. “I will never stop missing you,” Fawaz later tweeted.

Born to a Greek Cypriot immigrant father in north London in the early 1960s, George Michael entered the world as the younger brother of sisters Yioda and Melanie and, years later, in desperate need of an Anglicized stage name. His birth certificate reads “Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, DOB: June 25, 1963.” Stating his full name in an interview, he added, “To the outside world I am, and always will be, known as something else. But it’s not my name.” In keeping with this defiance, Georgios/George would go on to push the limits of normative sexuality and become a trailblazer for out gay male artists. Biographer Rob Jovanovic comments that his birth came at an anguished time, since his maternal uncle, who was probably gay, had committed suicide by putting his head in a gas oven. Michael wouldn’t learn of this loss until he was a teenager. He speculates that his mother anguished over his sexual orientation because of her brother’s fate. “It’s a tragic story,” he later said of his uncle, and proof of “how much more difficult it must have been as a gay man in the 1950s.”

Around 1970, meanwhile, the Panayiotou family (renamed Panos) moved to Burnt Oak, Edgware, close to the restaurant his father owned and operated, where Georgios began violin lessons and later took to the drums. A pivotal moment came in the fall of 1975 when, beginning school at Bushey Meads School in Hertfordshire, he was seated next to an eleven-year-old Andrew Ridgeley (also in green blazer and tie) and began a lifelong friendship and collaboration that would be later be known as Wham!

By 1981, when Ridgeley had relocated to South London and was living the starving artist’s life, Michael (who still went by the surname Panos) had already come up with the melody for the hit “Careless Whisper,” which his older sister (always on hand to cut him down to size), had dubbed “Tuneless Whisper.” To become famous, he and Ridgeley would have to generate new songs and revise their whispery ballad, and the pair was determined to do just that. In the summer of 1982, Wham! got off to a wobbly start with the semi-rap single, “Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do?),” which was reminiscent of Blondie’s “Rapture” and that spoken bit about “Fab Five Freddy” and “eating cars.” But Wham! recovered quickly with “Young Guns (Go for It!)” and an appearance on BBC1’s Top of the Pops show, which sent the single soaring. Soon thereafter, Michael began breaking away from Ridgeley with his first solo song, “Bad Boys.” And while their debut album Fantastic remained in the Top 100 for two years, Michael decided that “Careless Whisper” would be a solo single, so he flew to Miami on a big budget allocated by Epic Records to make the music video. Unhappy with the look of his hair, which his sister had styled for him, in the first cut, he insisted that the video be entirely reshot.

Wham!’s second album, Make it Big (1984)—hailed by Rolling Stone as an “almost flawless pop record”—elevated the duo to the ranks of Duran Duran and The Human League. Emblematic of the uplifting and synthesized sound of the 1980s were songs like “Everything She Wants” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.” The latter had been inspired by a note Ridgeley had written to his parents that read “Wake me up up,” to which Michael teasingly added “before you go go.” Calling themselves Wham!, they were one of the few bands (among them Danny Elfman’s Oingo Boingo) with an onomatopoetic name, and it even boasted the exclamation point that the pair loved to slap on their song titles. Their most popular songs, especially the back-to-back number one hits (the first to reach such heights since the Beatles), lived up the hype of Wham!’s name. Michael and Ridgeley became the first Western act to play in Communist China.

A musician’s solo career is ideally one in which they retain the fans of their erstwhile band, building on but reinventing the earlier sound and expanding the fan base to reach the rhyming sweet spot of show business: fame and acclaim. Michael accomplished all of this, dissolving Wham! amicably in 1986 with the ambition, later described in his own words, to “set myself the challenge of getting up there on the American level with Madonna and Jackson, that circle of people—that was my goal.” He reached that goal with his debut album Faith, which included a title song that pushed into new acoustic territory. (The queer afterlife of the song “Faith” can be found in the 2002 film The Rules of Attraction, in which two boyfriends jump on a hotel bed in the buff while lip-synching the tune.) Aside from Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey,” Michael’s “Monkey” is the greatest simian song of the era that, with a cheeky sense of humor, asks “Why can’t you do it?/ Why can’t you set your monkey free?” He could be addressing either the Wicked Witch of the West or a lover who can’t free himself of his personal demons.

The album Faith would announce many of the themes that unify Michael’s solo career: faith, love, patience, and, as is par for the course of pop superstardom, sex. It was the last of these that generated his most notorious single (released only months after his duet with Aretha Franklin), “I Want Your Sex.” For all the press it received, it was not the strongest entry into the pop charts due to a sleazy beat and awkward lines that sound like a parent giving his kid “the talk”: “Sex is natural/ Sex is fun/ Sex is best when it’s one on one.” Despite the fact that it celebrated monogamy, the song (aided by a steamy video with Michael’s then girlfriend Kathy Jeung) didn’t fail to generate controversy: deejay Casey Kasem refused to utter the song’s title on his national broadcast, saying instead “George Michael’s latest hit is up five notches this week,” and many radio outlets censored the song by replacing the “s” word with the four letter word “love.”

Having peaked in the late 1980s, Michael followed the likes of Jackson, Boy George—and, we now know, Prince—by dissolving into substance abuse and fodder for the tabloids. The year 1998 proved that Michael was pursuing new kinds of public exposure. He was arrested in Will Rogers Park in Los Angeles for cruising a bathroom and exposing himself to an undercover policeman on so-called “potty patrol.” Michael, who was essentially entrapped by the Beverly Hills PD, would later tell MTV, “It was a stupid thing to do, but I’ve never been able to turn down a free meal.” He then transformed the embarrassment into an up-tempo song called “Outside” that satirized the incident. In it, he celebrated sex al fresco and gave new meaning to his cover of Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” which had sailed to the number one spot on the UK and American charts seven years before. More importantly, the incident forced the artist to confront what he had known since he was 26 but had kept secret. Back in England, he referenced his mother’s death as a factor in his depressed state of mind and told talk-show host Michael Parkinson: “The day I knew I was gay was when I knew I was in love with a man. … [T]he press knew I was gay, but until they could get something nasty, they were playing the game.”

When the game ended, George Michael’s career grew even more interesting in its emotional intensity. A song like “Amazing” is proof that he never abandoned his faith in love’s power to redeem—“I never thought my savior would come”—but it’s found on his fifth and final solo album, 2004’s Patience, when his best days were already behind him. A vocalist with astounding flexibility, Michael could hold his ground when sharing the microphone with the likes of Elton John, who revered Michael’s songwriting skills, and Aretha Franklin (on 1987’s “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)”), which provided the Queen of Soul with her first number one song in the UK. Michael acted as a bridge between the thoroughly closeted acts like Liberace and Freddy Mercury, whose flamboyance he appropriated and honored (he stole the show at an AIDS fundraiser and tribute to Mercury after the Queen frontman’s death in 1991) and fully out acts like Adam Lambert and Rufus Wainwright (whose indictment of American exceptionalism, “Going to a Town,” George Michael covered on 2014’s Symphonica). Rivaled only by Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out,” “Freedom! 90” has become a coming-out anthem in the GLBT community.

What will be Michael’s legacy? Thematically, the song “Faith” is a great complement to the Madonna classic, “Like a Prayer” (minus the burning crosses); it, too, blended spirituality and sexuality in irreverent ways that outraged and obsessed mainstream America. Michael’s “Faith” (released two years before Madonna’s hit song) opens with a church organ, then the randy lyric: “Well I guess it would be nice if I could touch your body/ I know not everybody has a body like you.” In addition to the gospel choirs on the song “As,” there’s a bossa nova tune called “Jesus to a Child,” reportedly written for Michael’s lover Anselmo Feleppa who died of AIDS in 1993. After Michael’s death, the founder of ChildLine disclosed that Michael had contributed all of the song’s royalties to her charity.

To millions of fans, George Michael will remain the “father figure” of which he sang with a blend of lust and longing, and for that, we can collectively say: Wham, bam, thank you, Georgios Panayiotou—or, as you will be forever loved and remembered—George Michael.
By Colin Carman, The Gay and Lesbian Review, March 2017

Saturday, May 13, 2017

With bicycles, impoverished indigenous girls in Guatemala get a taste of freedom

With bicycles, impoverished indigenous girls in Guatemala get a taste of freedom
Indigenous girls in northern Guatemala must often travel great distances to get to school, a factor that leads to high drop out rates. Bicycles help them stay in school. © UNFPA/Alejandro De León

CHISEC, Guatemala – Like many girls in Pecajbá, in Guatemala, Gladys Azucena Cho Cuc was forced to drop out when she reached secondary school. The high school was simply too far from home.
In rural communities around here, girls travel an average distance of about 8 km to get to class. Their commute often takes them over corn fields and rivers, and some girls spend part of their journey in the dark.
These communities are largely indigenous, and many face high rates of discrimination and gender-based violence. Fearing their daughters may be harassed or assaulted, many parents pull them out of school.
Hundreds of vulnerable girls received bicycles to help them stay in school. © UNFPA/Alejandro De León
In March, the UNFPA-supported Opening Opportunities programme, with the United Nations Foundation, the Population Council and the Girl Up Campaign, delivered bicycles to roughly 250 girls who had been forced to drop out or who were at risk of abandoning their studies.
The bicycles ease the difficulty of getting to class, and for safety, the girls can travel together. "Now I can go to high school because I have a bicycle and it's safer to travel in a group," Gladys told UNFPA.
Poverty is common among the country’s indigenous communities. Many have limited access to drinking water, health services, safe roads and school. Those in the Chisec district face especially high rates of poverty.
Girls in these areas tend to drop out of school and get married early. One study from 2015 showed that out of every 10 girls who are married or become pregnant, nine drop out of school. Only four of the 10 have received information about how to prevent pregnancy.
But bicycles will help these girls continue their educations – which in turn will help them learn how to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy.
"A bicycle has the power to change lives," said Verónica Simán, UNFPA’s representative in Guatemala. “More than a form of transportation, it is a symbol of freedom and autonomy, and a resource which allows these girls to continue studying and not give up on their life plans.”
The Open Opporunities programme also reaches girls with comprehensive sexuality education, and works with community leaders to empower and support girls. © UNFPA/Alejandro De León
"Without a bicycle, I couldn't have continued studying,” explained Juana Toj Gómez, who is now a university student and Opening Opportunities mentor in Chisec. “The institute was so far that it took a long time to return home at night. My older sisters didn't have bicycles and they couldn't finish their studies."
Since 2013, Opening Opportunities has worked with more than 50 Mayan Q'eqchi' communities, getting community leaders to actively support girls’ education and the prevention of child marriage.
The programme has also identified 2,500 girls and adolescents who are ready to start high school – about 60 per cent of whom had already dropped out. These girls were connected with mentors from the community.
The mentors are all young women, like Ms. Gómez, who speak the local indigenous language and have received training in empowering youth. In community-based safe spaces, these mentors offer lessons in comprehensive sexuality education, which includes accurate information about reproductive healthhuman rights, healthy relationships and gender equality.
These and other efforts are helping poor, rural girls in northern Guatemala see the world differently. For those armed with information, education and transportation, barriers give way to possibilities.
Over the last 14 years, the Opening Opportunities has benefitted more than 14,000 girls and adolescents in Guatemala. UNFPA has supported the programme for the past 12 years.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The psychology of the to-do list (or why your brain loves ordered tasks)

Studies have shown that people perform better when they have written down what they need to do. What makes the to-do list such an effective productivity tool? By LOUISE CHUNN

Almost everyone struggles with getting stuff done. But some of us struggle with the stage before that: just figuring out what it is we need to do. The to-do list is, in theory, the answer. It’s a time-honoured system that’s beautiful in its simplicity: work out what needs to be done and in what order, write down the tasks, do them, and then, one-by-one, cross them out.
Psychologist and author Dr David Cohen believes his struggle to stay organised is helped, but not entirely solved, by his to-do lists, which must be on paper – preferably in a diary – and need to be constantly monitored. “My family think I’m chaotic,” he says, “but I would be much more so without my lists – they’ve kept me in line for years.”
Cohen puts our love of to-do lists down to three reasons: they dampen anxiety about the chaos of life; they give us a structure, a plan that we can stick to; and they are proof of what we have achieved that day, week or month.

In less harried days, our memories might have done the work. Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik was perhaps the first to note the brain’s obsession with pressing tasks. The so-called “Zeigarnik effect” – that we remember things we need to do better than things we’ve done – stemmed from observing that waiters could only recall diners’ orders before they had been served. After the dishes had been delivered, their memories simply erased who’d had the steak and who’d had the soup. The deed was done and the brain was ready to let go.
More recently, a study by professors Baumeister and Masicampo from Wake Forest University showed that, while tasks we haven’t done distract us, just making a plan to get them done can free us from this anxiety. The pair observed that people underperform on a task when they are unable to finish a warm-up activity that would usually precede it. However, when participants were allowed to make and note down concrete plans to finish the warm-up activity, performance on the next task substantially improved. As Bechman notes: “Simply writing the tasks down will make you more effective.”
Some people resist this kind of structure, however. They think it will stymie their creativity or prevent them from being flexible with their working day. For time management expert David Allen – whose book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity has made him a cult figure in the field –these free-spirited types are plain wrong. He believes anyone with a full schedule and no structure will struggle to cope. A system is needed – and scribbled notes on hands won’t cut it.

It’s not enough to scrawl “bank” or “Mum” on a Post-it note, says Allen – you need more detail. Is it an email, a visit or a phone call, and for what purpose? If your to-do list isn’t clear and to the point, your tasks probably won’t get done – and they certainly won’t be prioritised.
Detail isn’t the only important factor, however: you also need to be realistic about how long things will take if you want to construct a workable timetable for the day. That means factoring in the potential for floating off onto social media or other distractions if you know you’re susceptible.
One trap people fall into is to consistently avoid tackling the larger, more major projects. The best way to overcome this is to break them down into much smaller, achievable blocks. “Write my novel” is a pretty foreboding task; “outline first chapter of my novel” is far friendlier and stands a chance of getting done.
Does Cohen finish everything on his lists? “Oh God no! I found an old diary the other day from six years ago, and there was something in there that I still haven’t done.” On the other hand, he has written 35 books – on subjects ranging from body language to Sigmund Freud’s cocaine use – so his to-do lists are yielding pretty impressive results. (The Guardian, 10.05.17)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Discover Europe on InterRail

Interrailers from Algeciras en route from Bruges to Antwerpen.
The time has come to make that InterRail trip! Take to the rails for a whistle-stop tour of Europe. Meet other travellers, improve your English, experience everything Europe has to offer and collect lifelong memories along the way.

Europe's modern rail network makes train travel easy, comfortable, efficient and environmentally-friendly. With an InterRail Pass you have the freedom to travel wherever you want in and between all of 30 participating European countries for a certain period of time. The main exception is that high-speed trains and night trains often require a paid seat reservation. Step on board the train with your buddies and discover Europe's secrets.

Here are 7 Interrail tips to fall in love with train travel in Europe, plus 10 cheap backpacking tips. You can easily book accommodation at Youth Hostels around the continent. Bon voyage!

Related article: Cómo viajar de Lisboa a Atenas en tren de la forma más barata

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Unequal Scenes Project

Unequal Scenes portrays scenes of inequality in South Africa from the air

Discrepancies in how people live are sometimes hard to see from the ground. The beauty of being able to fly is to see things from a new perspective - to see things as they really are. Looking straight down from a height of several hundred meters, incredible scenes of inequality emerge. Some communities have been expressly designed with separation in mind, and some have grown more or less organically.
During apartheid, segregation of urban spaces was instituted as policy. Roads, rivers, “buffer zones” of empty land, and other barriers were constructed and modified to keep people separate. 22 years after the end of apartheid, many of these barriers, and the inequalities they have engendered, still exist. Oftentimes, communities of extreme wealth and privilege will exist just meters from squalid conditions and shack dwellings. 
My desire with this project is to portray the most Unequal Scenes in South Africa as objectively as possible. By providing a new perspective on an old problem, I hope to provoke a dialogue which can begin to address the issues of inequality and disenfranchisement in a constructive and peaceful way. 
Johnny Miller