Thursday, July 27, 2017

Giant Telescope Atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea Should Be Approved, Judge Says

An artist’s rendering of the Thirty Meter Telescope complex. A judge recommended on Wednesday that the board issue a new permit. Credit Thirty Meter Telescope
The stars are still in reach for astronomers who want to build a $1.4 billion telescope on top of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea.
A year and a half after the Hawaiian Supreme Court revoked the telescope’s building permit, saying that the state Board of Land and Natural Resources had cut corners in the application process, a judge recommended on Wednesday that the board issue a new permit.
The telescope’s opponents, a coalition of native Hawaiians and environmentalists, say that the proliferation of observatories on Mauna Kea has despoiled a sacred mountain and interfered with native Hawaiian cultural practices that are protected by state law.
The judge’s recommendation included the condition that the telescope’s workers and astronomers undergo “mandatory cultural and natural resources training.”
The telescope’s backers, a consortium that includes the University of California, California Institute of Technology, India, China and Canada, called the decision an important milestone, but cautioned that it was only one in a series of bureaucratic and political hurdles to overcome.
Continue reading the main story
The Thirty Meter Telescope, as it is known, would be the largest telescope in the Northern Hemisphere, with a primary light-gathering mirror 30 meters, or some 100 feet, in diameter.
Astronomers say it would be able to study planets around other stars and peer into the black-hole hearts of distant galaxies with a clarity exceeding that of the Hubble Space Telescope.
A protest on the road to the site of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea in April 2015. Credit Hawaii Tribune-Herald, via Associated Press
It is one of three such behemoth telescopes under development worldwide. But the other two, the Giant Magellan Telescope and the European Extremely Large Telescope, are being built in Chile and thus will not be able to survey the half of the universe visible in the Northern sky.
Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s tallest mountain, has long been considered the best observatory site in the Northern Hemisphere and is already home to a passel of large telescopes. It is also a sacred place in Hawaiian culture and religion.
A coalition of cultural activists and environmentalists has opposed the Thirty Meter project, citing, among other things, an environmental impact statement that concluded that 30 years of astronomy had had “an adverse effect” on nature and native culture on the mountain.
At 18 stories high, the new telescope would be the biggest building on the Big Island, an industrial-scale installation, opponents say, that would violate the rules for the mountain, which is a special conservation district.
In 2015, a groundbreaking for the telescope project was broken up by protesters, who then blockaded the road up the mountain, preventing equipment and construction workers from passing.
In December of that year, the Hawaiian Supreme Court concluded that the state board had not followed due process when it approved a building permit before holding what is known as a contested case hearing where opponents could have their say.
The decision was made by retired Judge Riki May Amano, who was appointed by the land board to rehear the case. It followed 44 days of testimony by 71 witnesses over six months in a hotel room in Hilo, Hawaii.
The testimony ended in March with all the participants, pro and con, and their lawyers holding hands and singing “Hawaii Aloha,” according to Clarence Ching, a Hawaiian activist and lawyer who was there.

From Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, a Universe of Discoveries

Mauna Kea’s telescopes have helped advance important discoveries in humanity’s study of the universe.
But the controversy is hardly over. Next the entire Board of Land and Natural Resources will hear arguments and decide whether to accept Judge Amano’s decision. Whichever side wins, the decision will be immediately appealed to the Hawaiian Supreme Court.
Even if the telescope wins in the Supreme Court, it is unclear whether the “guardians of the mountain,” as they called themselves, will relent and let trucks proceed up Mauna Kea.
Gov. David Ige has professed his support for the Thirty Meter Telescope, but he was criticized two years ago for allowing protesters to control the mountain.
Whatever the land board’s decision, Governor Ige said in a statement, “I support the coexistence of astronomy and culture on Mauna Kea along with better management of the mountain.”
In an interview last year, Edward Stone, a Caltech professor who is executive director of the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory, or TIO, as it is officially known, set April 2018 as the deadline for construction to begin.
If the telescope cannot be built on Mauna Kea, he said, it will be built in the Canary Islands, off the coast of Spain.
In a statement, Dr. Stone said, “TMT welcomes the recommendation that a state permit be issued, and we respectfully look forward to the next steps.”
“We are grateful to all our supporters and friends who have been with us during the hearing process and over the past 10 years, and we remain respectful of the process to ensure the proper stewardship of Maunakea.”
In a statement to The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Kealoha Pisciotta, a leader of the opposition to the telescope (and a former telescope operator on Mauna Kea), said she was disappointed “but this is really only the beginning of a very lengthy legal battle that will most likely take us back to the State of Hawaii’s Supreme Court.”

Monday, July 24, 2017

What Jared Kushner's Statement Reveals About Russian Methods

If the accounts are true—and, given that their accounts have changed in the past, these latest accounts could change too—then, taken together, the Trump Jr. emails and Kushner’s statement show a Russian side that is experimenting with ways of getting the Trump team’s attention. They show a side that really is, as one former Obama administration official told me, “throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what would stick.”
According to the emails Trump Jr. released two weeks ago, some Russians who insist they were acting in a private capacity tried approaching the campaign through Rob Goldstone, the British tabloid journalist turned music promoter, and through the Agalarov family, themselves builders and aspiring pop culture icons who had forged a tie to the Trumps through the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. Goldstone told Trump Jr. that the Agalarovs had “very high level and sensitive information” on Hillary Clinton and that it “is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump - helped along by Aras and Emin [Agalarov].” They, in turn, seem to have sent Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who is close to Yury Chaika, the Russian prosecutor general, or, as Goldstone refers to him, “the Crown prosecutor of Russia.”

Kushner’s statement describes his ignorance of the people involved in the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower that resulted—he even says he asked his assistant to make a fake phone call to him, to rescue him from a meeting he and other participants have claimed was about adoptions. But the statement is telling in that it outlines even more approaches, ways the Russians seemed to be poking around for openings. There was the formal meeting with then-Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak at the reception for Trump’s April 2016 foreign policy speech. Kushner says the encounter “lasted less than a minute”—which other witnesses confirm—and that Kislyak suggested lunch at the embassy, which Kushner says he didn’t take him up on.
Then there was a more aggressive approach, an email from someone using the name Guccifer400, who Kushner says tried to extort the Trump campaign to the tune of 52 bitcoin for not publishing Trump’s tax return. It’s unclear if this was a Russian attempt, or just a highway robber riffing on Guccifer, the publisher of stolen Democratic National Committee documents who American intelligence believe is a front for a Russian government hacker.

After the election, Vladimir Putin reached out directly to the Trump camp to congratulate them on their victory, and Kislyak again asked for a meeting, which took place on December 1, 2016. It is in this meeting, according to Kushner, that the president’s son-in-law asked the Russian if there were “an existing communication channel at his embassy” through which “Russian generals” could supply the Trump transition team with information on Syria. This seems to be a confirmation of the Post’s May story that Kislyak radioed back to Moscow, saying Kushner was looking for a back channel; both the Post story and Kushner’s statement say such a channel was never set up, though Kushner denied it would have constituted a “secret back channel” as the Post described it.

Indeed, the Russians clearly thought the meeting went well, because a week later, according to Kushner, the Russian embassy requested another audience with the Trump team. “I declined,” Kushner wrote in his statement of this request, as well as of the embassy probing for another time Kushner could meet Kislyak. The third poke in this series was the Russians requesting a meeting with Kushner’s assistant. “In order to avoid offending the Ambassador,” Kushner writes, “I agreed.” Kislyak met with Kushner’s assistant on December 12, 2016.
Apparently, this meeting went well, too, but was also an opportunity to find another opening, with Kushner’s assistant reporting back that Kislyak—who, in my personal experience, is not a shy man—wanted yet another meeting. This time it would be with Sergey Gorkov, head of Vneshekonombank (VEB), the Russian state development bank that was, among other things, responsible for building up Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. According to Kushner, Kislyak said Gorkov was “a banker and someone with a direct line to the Russian President who could give insight into how Putin was viewing the new administration and best ways to work together.” Kushner says, “I agreed to meet Gorkov because the Ambassador has been so insistent, said he had a direct relationship with the president, and because Mr. Gorkov was only in New York for a couple days.”

Gorkov is a particularly suspect figure. Before spending the last 10 years working in key roles in Russian state banks, Gorkov briefly lived in exile in London. He had spent a decade working for Mikhail Khodorkovsky at his oil company Yukos, before Putin jailed Khodorkovsky for 10 years in 2003 and dismantled the company, selling the biggest chunks to his friend Igor Sechin. Many other Yukos executives were jailed, including Gorkov’s subordinate, who served eight years of a 15-year sentence; many more, like Gorkov, were forced to flee the country to avoid a similar fate. But Gorkov somehow managed to return both to the country and to top positions in state jobs. “How he was able to escape prosecution in the YUKOS case is the biggest mystery of the whole case,” one of Gorkov’s colleagues told Russian Forbes. The speculation is that he cut a deal with the Kremlin, thanks in part to his ties to the FSB (he went to the KGB academy).
The meeting between Kushner and Gorkov has drawn particular scrutiny because VEB, Gorkov’s bank, is subject to U.S. sanctions for its role in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It has also been tied to espionage before. In 2015, one of the bank’s New York employees, Evgeny Buryakov, was arrested and charged with being a spy and gathering information for Russia’s clandestine service, or SVR. (Buryakov, who pleaded guilty in 2016 and was deported, was charged by the office of then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whom Trump fired in March.)

Kushner’s description of the meeting is doubly strange, and, if accurate, shows Gorkov to be a deft operator, skilled at getting his hooks into his subject. He gave Kushner two gifts: “a piece of art from Nvogorod, the village where my grandparents were from in Belarus,” and “a bag of dirt from the same village.” Though Kushner’s grandparents, both Holocaust survivors, were indeed from Belarus, it seems Kushner may have misremembered the name of the village: Nvogorod seems like a misspelling of Novgorod, one of two ancient cities in Russia by that name. In either case, it seems Gorkov did his research on Kushner—and wanted to show it. He also wanted Kushner to be aware of his stature, bragging to him “that he was friendly with President Putin.” (Kushner says that they didn’t discuss sanctions or “specific policies” and did not speak again.)

Though we are still missing big pieces of the puzzle, and though Kushner and Trump Jr. have proven themselves to be unreliable narrators when it comes to the extent of their involvement with the Russians, these two documents together give us a hint of how Russians went about trying to establish a connection with the Trumps, whom they were heavily advertising on state television as the way to restart U.S.-Russian relations. The emails and public statement describe a search, a process of poking and testing, of trying to find a pressure point or an opening. This is consistent with the intelligence on the Russians’ election-meddling effort, which has been described as a multi-pronged and opportunistic one. “The Russians had a line of, say, 1,000 ways to attack,” an intelligence official told me recently. “They don’t need all of them to get through. Just a few are enough.”

The Atlantic

How the Health Bill Could Cost Senators in the Next Election

One of the health care bills under consideration by Republican leaders would take health insurance away from 32 million people over the next decade, creating a cohort of Americans who could be motivated to vote against senators who approved the measure.
The Senate could vote as early as Tuesday, but it is not yet clear which of the two bills in contention that the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, intends to bring up. The plan that would leave 32 million without coverage would repeal some of the most important parts of the Affordable Care Act without any replacement.
If they pass the bill, some Republicans might put themselves in a difficult situation because many of them won their last election by fewer votes than the number of people who would lose health coverage in their state under the proposed legislation. The comparison shows the scale of the problem some Republicans might face in close races in 2018 and 2020.
Margin of victory
in last election
Newly uninsured
by 2019
Republican senators
Up for re-election in 2018
or in 2020
1 million
1.5 million
2.0 million
2.5 million
Marco Rubio
Ted Cruz
John Cornyn
Thom Tillis
Patrick J. Toomey
David Perdue
Richard M. Burr
Jeff Flake
Cory Gardner
Johnny Isakson
Roy Blunt
Bill Cassidy
John McCain
John Kennedy
Dean Heller
Ron Johnson
Todd Young
Mitch McConnell
Tom Cotton
Rand Paul
Lindsey Graham
Joni Ernst
Pat Roberts
Lamar Alexander
John Boozman
Thad Cochran
Steve Daines
Shelley Moore Capito
Dan Sullivan
Jim Risch
Deb Fischer
Roger Wicker
Mike Rounds
Lisa Murkowski
Note: Excludes senators where the margin of victory is greater than the number of uninsured.
Of course, not everyone who faces a tougher insurance market will be swayed to vote against incumbent Republican senators who backed the bill, if only because voters won’t see the effects immediately. Under the repeal without replacement bill, Obamacare’s expanded Medicaid coverage would end in 2020, after the 2018 midterm election. Under the other Senate bill under consideration, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, big cuts to Medicaid would start in 2021, the year after the next presidential election.
Still, many voters might be worried about the prospect of losing coverage, or entering an insurance market that no longer has the protections of the Affordable Care Act, as they cast their votes next year and in 2020.

Republican Senators Most at Risk

Marco Rubio
Ted Cruz
John Cornyn
Thom Tillis
Patrick J. Toomey
David Perdue
North Carolina
Difference between margin of victory and number uninsured
Among Republican senators, 31 are running for re-election in 2018 and 2020.
Of those, 22 are running in races where the number of uninsured under the repeal without replacement bill would be greater than the margin of victory in their last election, a sign that voters affected by the Republican health plan could possibly sway the outcome against them.

Low Turnout May Help Republicans

Many Republicans who are up for re-election and support the repeal bill are surely counting on people upset about this legislation to not show up to vote, or to vote for them regardless.
That might be a reasonable political calculation because low-income Americans, who would be among the most hurt by the destruction of the A.C.A., tend to vote at lower rates than more affluent families.
But Republican senators ought to remember that older Americans, for whom this bill would also have devastating effects, tend to vote at higher rates than younger people. In the last presidential election, many of these voters broke for Donald Trump, but they might be less inclined to back Republican candidates once this bill becomes law.
Election turnout
By annual income
By age
100k - 149k
10k - 14k
15k - 19k
20k - 29k
30k - 39k
40k - 49k
50k - 79k
75k - 99k
18 - 29
30 - 44
45 - 59
Note: Data for 2012. Source:
Note: Data for 2016
The Senate repeal without replacement bill would cut Medicaid spending by $842 billion over 10 years compared to current law, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans are opposed to such drastic cuts, including the vast majority of Democrats and a solid majority of independents, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. But about 54 percent of Republican voters support big cuts to the program, which may help explain why some lawmakers from the party are ambivalent about or hostile toward the program.
In addition, the deep Medicaid cuts in the Senate bill would have a disproportionate impact on older people. That’s because 64 percent of people in nursing homes rely on the program, including many middle-class people who have depleted their savings.
Correction: July 24, 2017
An earlier version of a graphic with this article misspelled the surname of a Republican senator from North Carolina running for re-election in 2020. He is Thom Tillis, not Tills.

Friday, July 21, 2017

A Broader Sweep


RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Just after dawn, a line of officers marched to the gate outside Fidel Delgado’s home here with guns drawn, one holding a rifle. Mr. Delgado emerged barechested from his home and with a look of confusion.
“¿Qué necesita?” he asked: What do you need?
About 20 minutes later and 10 miles away, Anselmo Morán Lucero sensed exactly why officers had come. He spotted them as he was returning from a night out, and turned his truck around. But an unmarked S.U.V. pulled in front of him and another flashed its lights behind him, blocking his escape.
They asked his name. They asked if he knew why he was being arrested. Mr. Lucero nodded.
Every day around the United States, from before sunrise until late into the night, people like Mr. Delgado and Mr. Lucero are being picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, the front-line soldiers in President Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration.
Fidel Delgado is led away by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. Melissa Lyttle for The New York Times
More than 65,000 people have been arrested by the agency since President Trump took office, a nearly 40 percent increase over the same period last year and as sure a sign as any that the United States is a tougher place today to be an undocumented immigrant.
But I.C.E. is in some ways operating in enemy territory in California, home to more than two million undocumented immigrants and hostile to the idea of mass deportations. Because local law enforcement often will not turn over undocumented immigrants in their custody, I.C.E. must make most of their arrests at homes, at workplaces and out on the street, which is more complicated than simply picking people up from jails — and potentially more dangerous.
So when a team of immigration agents gathered at 4:30 on one already warm morning in June, their chief, David Marin, warned them to stay away from any sign of danger.
After going over notes on each of the men they were after, the team pulled off in their unmarked S.U.V.s. Eight hours later, five men would be in custody, awaiting the start of deportation proceedings.
The New York Times followed the team for a day as it navigated the streets and politics of Southern California, and spoke with some of the men they arrested and the families they may soon be leaving behind.

An Unplanned Arrest

As the sun crept above the horizon, the officers gathered on a hill just a few yards away from Mr. Delgado’s home. But it was not Mr. Delgado they had come for; it was his son Mariano.
Mariano Delgado, 24, had returned to Mexico in 2011 after he was convicted of drunken driving. Since illegally re-entering the United States, he has been arrested four times for assault with a deadly weapon.
Immigrants like him are called “criminal aliens,” and there are so many of them in Southern California that Mr. Marin says it is effectively impossible to go after anyone else. But under President Trump, agents are encouraged to also arrest undocumented immigrants without serious criminal records, a break from the Obama administration’s policy of mostly leaving those immigrants alone.
So here and across the country, agents now make more “collateral” arrests — undocumented people they come across while looking for someone else. That was about to happen.
When officers, guns out, approached the chain-link fence surrounding the home, the dogs began barking loudly, joining the squawking chickens. Fidel Delgado emerged.
The elder Mr. Delgado, 46, and his wife, María Rocha, told the officers that their son had moved to Texas months ago. They readily admitted to being in the country illegally, but added that they work. Their youngest son, 16, is an American-born citizen. When the agents shook him out of bed, he began to sob.
After taking Fidel Delgado’s fingerprints, they ran them through a database. Within minutes, they learned that he had once crossed the border illegally, twice in the same day, and had been sent back to Mexico.
A couple of officers debated what to do: Should they take both parents and call Child Protective Services for the boy? Did they believe that Mariano Delgado was no longer living there, even though they thought he was home as recently as the week before?
“If he doesn’t give up the son, we’re going to take him,” one officer said.
They left the wife behind and led Mr. Delgado to a van, where he was soon shackled. The handcuffs would leave marks.
Melissa Lyttle for The New York Times
Later that morning, Ms. Rocha, 50, leaned against the chain-link fence that surrounds their home, bleary-eyed and in shock.
“My husband, they had no reason to take him,” she said. “They weren’t searching for him.”
The family has lived in the three-bedroom white house in a blue-collar, semirural enclave of Riverside for three years, paying $1,300 a month in rent. Ms. Rocha, who cleans offices in nearby Corona, a more upscale community, said she brings home about $1,200 a month. Her husband, who milks cows at a dairy, earns about $12 an hour.
The couple married in Mexico 24 years ago, just before heading north. “We came here for a better life,” she said. In all her years in the United States, she said, she had never had problems with “la migra,” as the immigration agency is known.
By the afternoon, Mr. Delgado had been released by immigration agents, who decided that he was not a threat to public safety. He was given a notice that he must comply with any orders from immigration agents and returned to work the next day.

Agency Under a Microscope

Before heading out to their targets for the day, the I.C.E. team gathered in the darkness in the parking lot of a small hardware store. Mr. Marin, the enforcement supervisor, quizzed his officers:
What time will this man start to leave his home? Which way will that one turn when he pulls out of his driveway? When will the other one arrive back from his night shift?
The officers had been watching the men they were after for days, learning their habits so they could capture them easily.
Mr. Marin, 48, has worked in immigration enforcement for more than two decades, starting when the agency was called Immigration and Naturalization Services. In the 1990s, he said, officers would spend much of their time rounding up immigrants in front of home repair stores, routinely arresting people so many times that they would know them by sight. Within hours of a bus ride returning them to Mexico, Mr. Marin said, they would be on their way to the United States again.
Like roughly half of the other officers, Mr. Marin began his career in the military, serving as a Marine. He amassed tattoos the way others collect shot glasses: On his left forearm is the first letter of the word “Christian” written in Arabic, commemorating his work collecting intelligence on the Taliban in Pakistan.
Though he had to pass a basic Spanish course early in his career, today Mr. Marin hardly speaks a word of it. But many officers do. Nearly 40 percent of Mr. Marin’s officers are Latino, he said, and many of them hear refrains of “How can you do this to your own people.” They do not apologize.
But the agency is under a microscope here. Arrests in the Los Angeles region are up only 17 percent since Mr. Trump took office, far less than in the rest of the country, according to I.C.E. statistics.
Members of Congress and local officials routinely call Mr. Marin’s cellphone when they hear of arrests in their area.
“People want to know if we’ve gone into schools, if we’re standing in the market, but that’s not what we do,” Mr. Marin said, driving before dawn. “We know an arrest is a traumatic event for a family. We know the impact it has, and we take it very seriously.”

Luck Runs Out

While Mr. Delgado was being questioned, other members of the team were waiting for Mr. Lucero, who had already been deported once.
Mr. Lucero, 51, and his wife, Jamie, 47, arrived from a small village in the Mexican state of Puebla more than three decades ago. He had built a thriving landscaping business, tending to yards of homes in upscale Orange County.
In 2006, Mr. Lucero was convicted in a domestic violence case and spent several months in jail, then was deported. But he had reconciled with his wife and was eager to return to her and their six children, two of them born in the United States. So he crossed the border illegally again.
Immigration officials had tried to get the Orange County sheriff’s office to hold Mr. Lucero for them when he was in jail for a day on a new domestic violence charge in 2014. But the sheriff declined, according to I.C.E. Many California sheriff and police departments do not cooperate with immigration officials, saying it erodes trust in law enforcement among immigrant populations. Mr. Trump has threated to punish these so-called sanctuary cities and counties, saying they harbor lawbreakers.
For several nights before the I.C.E. team showed up, Mr. Lucero said, he had dreams of immigration agents coming to get him. The night before, he and his wife tried their luck at a nearby casino, playing the slot machines until daybreak. They had won a couple of hundred dollars and left just before 6 a.m.
When they began driving home, Ms. Lucero’s brother, with whom the family lives, warned them that immigration officers were near. But Mr. Lucero was unable to evade them.
Anselmo Lucero in the I.C.E. van. Melissa Lyttle for The New York Times
Hours after his arrest, Jamie Lucero, her eyes red with tears, pulled out a blue folder with Mr. Lucero’s papers neatly organized, including documents showing he had completed an anger-management program and followed the rules of probation from his domestic violence case. She was planning to take the folder with her when she visited him in detention, though the papers are unlikely to have a bearing on his new deportation case.
Barbara Davidson for The New York Times
Their 29-year-old son, Urie, said that the week before, four officers had come to the door holding a picture of a bald man they said they were after. They never mentioned the man’s name, and Urie Lucero said he did not recognize the man.
But the officers came inside the home and looked around. The family is convinced that the visit and the picture of the bald man were ruses to try to scope out Anselmo Lucero’s whereabouts. “That’s how they are getting people,” Urie Lucero said.
Jamie Lucero said the officers had told her not to bother paying for a lawyer because he faced certain deportation.
By lunchtime, the agents had five immigrants in custody: three of their six targets of the day, as well as Mr. Delgado and another man they found in the home of a target. Typically, officers successfully arrest about half the people they are looking for, Mr. Marin said, so this was a good day.
“Criminals off the street, that’s our goal,” he said while standing inside the San Bernardino processing center, where immigrants from the region are taken each day.
The men they had arrested sat inside a small holding cell clutching their brown-bag lunch of a turkey sandwich and apple. Mr. Marin and one of his deputies headed for lunch at a small Mexican taqueria.