A fascinating new book seriously tackles the question of extraterrestrial life from the perspective of leading astronomers, astrophysicists, geneticists, and neuroscientists.
Theoretical physics may be difficult and complicated, “but it does have sex appeal.” So says quantum physicist Jim Al-Khalili. “It’s easy to find an audience for popular science or for a TV documentary about the Big Bang or about black holes,” he recently told me. Al-Khalili’s work in the field has led to the fascinating new book Aliens: The World’s Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, which explores what he believes is the likely possibility of alien life.
The Iraqi-born, UK-based Al-Khalili’s intro opens with an anecdote: The Nobel Prize–winning physicist Enrico Fermi is jokingly discussing flying saucers with some colleagues at the Los Alamos National Laboratory when he poses a simple question: “Where is everybody?” His point, Al-Khalili writes, is that the universe is so massive and contains so many planets, that it makes little sense for Earth to be the only place where life blossomed, unless our planet is “astonishingly and unjustifiably special.”
President Trump has set off a political firestorm after firing FBI Director James Comey, just weeks after Comey confirmed the FBI was investigating whether Trump’s campaign collaborated with Russia to sway the 2016 election. Trump said he made the decision based on the recommendation of newly appointed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who both faulted Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server. Rosenstein faulted Comey’s remarks last July, when he announced the FBI would not seek charges against Clinton. The New York Times reports Sessions had been charged with coming up with reasons to fire Comey. For more, we speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept.
“YOU’RE FIRED!” That’s what Donald Trump would bark from his boardroom chair at the end of each episode of “The Apprentice.” For years, millions of Americans would smile, laugh, and even cheer in front of their television sets as the property tycoon performed his signature move.
There is little to laugh about this week. The firing of FBI Director James Comey by President Trump will be remembered as a dark and depressing day in the downward spiral of American democracy. It’s difficult to disagree with the scathing assessment of CNN’s senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who described the sacking as a “grotesque” abuse of power. “This is the kind of thing that goes on in non-democracies,” he told host Wolf Blitzer in a clipthat has since, deservedly, gone viral. “They fire the people who are in charge of the investigation.” Toobin continued: “This is something that is not within the American political tradition. … This is not normal, this is not politics as usual.”
There is indeed nothing “normal” about removing the head of the FBI from his post less than four months into a new presidency — and an FBI boss who has been credited with delivering that president his election victory, against the odds. You have to go all the way back to 1993 to find the last — and only other — time a president (William J. Clinton) decided to dismiss his FBI chief (William S. Sessions). And the latter, unlike Comey, was accused of a long list of bizarre ethics violations including, as the Washington Post reported at the time, “charging the government for personal travel,” diverting FBI aircraft to pick up his wife, Alice Sessions, in other cities, and deploying FBI cars “to take her to get her nails done.”
Nor is there anything “normal” about an American president sending his long-standing head of private security, and former bodyguard, to hand-deliver a letter of termination to his FBI chief. There are tinpot dictators in Africa who would have avoided doing that simply in order to avoid giving the wrong impression. Tinpot Trump, however, didn’t care. (His brutish security chief, Keith Schiller, lest we forget, spent the presidential campaign smacking Latino protesters and manhandling Latino reporters on behalf of his boss.)
Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was also sacked by Trump via hand-delivered letter. The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, was sacked by Trump after he refused to resign. What do Comey, Yates, and Bharara have in common? “They all were investigating Trump when they got fired, and there’s a Russia thread in each of their cases,” observes Shannon Vavra of Axios.
“You’re fired!” This is how Tinpot Trump deals with those who seek to hold him to account. We can’t say we weren’t warned. He has, after all, never hidden his authoritarian inclinations, his brazen disregard for political, legal, and social norms.
The FBI director, James Comey, asked the justice department for more resources for his investigation into alleged ties between the Donald Trump election campaign and Russia just days before he was fired, it was reported on Wednesday.
Comey’s abrupt dismissal has shaken Washington, triggering a torrent of unanswered questions and fears that America is facing its biggest constitutional crisis since the Watergate scandal.
Accusations that Trump is seeking to quash the FBI inquiry were further fuelled by claims, reported by the New York Times and Associated Press, that Comey had recently told Congress that he had requested more resources to support the Russia investigation from the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.
Asked if Trump knew of this, the White House deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said: “Not that I’m aware of and I think that would be a better question for the Department of Justice.”
Ian Prior, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, described the reports that Comey had sought additional resources as “totally false”.
The White House was struggling to deal with the fallout of Tuesday’s stunning decision to topple Comey, which once again saw Trump smash precedents and stir bitter political divisions.
There were numerous questions over why Trump had acted now rather than when he took office, whether Rosenstein was pressured to take up the issue shortly after taking up his post, what Comey knows and why the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was allowed to influence the decision, after he was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation because of past contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US.
US President Donald Trump has defended his dismissal of FBI Director James Comey, fighting a storm of criticism that the ouster was aimed at blunting a probe into his presidential campaign’s possible collusion with Russia to sway the 2016 election.
The White House on Tuesday said Comey was fired over his handling of an election-year FBI probe into then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.