For Trump, Venezuela Will Remain a Foreign Policy Priority Until Election Day


.. Yet in a sign of where things now stand in Venezuela, Maduro this week tried to seize the last remaining democratic institution in the country. Security forces and his supporters blocked opposition legislators from entering the National Assembly building, where they were set to reelect Guaido as the head of the legislature.

The dramatic standoff led to a rival lawmaker, dissident opposition member Luis Parra, declaring himself head of the National Assembly, with the backing of Maduro and his party.

It was another blow to a U.S. policy that has so far failed to dislodge Maduro.

Now that Trump’s plate is overflowing—from Iran, after Trump’s decision to kill top general Qassem Soleimani; to North Korea, where nuclear talks with Kim Jong Un have gone nowhere; to Washington, where Trump’s impeachment trial looms in the Senate—Venezuelan opposition members and their supporters worry he will completely lose interest in them.

Despite stiff competition, however, a closer look strongly suggests that Trump’s attention will again turn to Caracas this year.

Source: For Trump, Venezuela Will Remain a Foreign Policy Priority Until Election Day

U.S.-Iran Standoff Pushes Saudi Aramco Shares into Correction Territory—and Analysts Expect it to Drop Further | Fortune


The turmoil in the region since the United States killed Iranian military commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a drone attack in Iraq last week has driven home the Saudi oil company’s vulnerability in an unstable region, contributing to a near 12% drop in the share price since hitting a peak on Dec. 12 that briefly valued the company at more than $2 trillion.

Fears that Saudi Aramco, guardian of Saudi Arabia’s vast oil wealth, could be caught up in any conflict between Iran and the United States have outweighed the boost to the oil company’s revenues from a surge in the oil price since Soleimani was killed.

Source: U.S.-Iran Standoff Pushes Saudi Aramco Shares into Correction Territory—and Analysts Expect it to Drop Further | Fortune

US, Iran Back Away From Conflict—For Now | Defense One


Both the United States and Iran appear to be backing away from open conflict, less than 24 hours after Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers, a strike in retaliation for the killing of Iran’s Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

“Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world,” President Donald Trump said during a press conference on Wednesday morning.

“The fact that we have this great military and equipment…does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it,” Trump said. “American strength, both military and economic, is the best deterrent.”

Source: US, Iran Back Away From Conflict—For Now – Defense One

What We Know About the Missiles Iran Fired Into Iraq | Defense One


Iran has improved the accuracy and maneuverability of its missiles, like the ones fired Tuesday at military installations in Iraq housing U.S. and coalition troops, in part with foreign help.

New guidance systems have increased the lethality of Iran’s missiles, including the short-range Fateh that appears to have been used in the attacks. But many unknowns remain.

“We don’t have a real good, high-fidelity count of the number of missiles that Iran has,” said Michael Elleman, director of the Nonproliferation and Nuclear Policy Programme at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Ellerman estimates that Iran has between 200 and 300 Scud missiles and about 100 Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missiles.

“Once you get beyond 100, it probably doesn’t matter because they have a limited number of launchers and launch crews,” he said.

Source: What We Know About the Missiles Iran Fired Into Iraq – Defense One

Trump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers | TheHill


Democrats are set for a clash with President Trump over war powers and Iran.

House Democrats will vote Thursday on a war powers resolution that would rein in Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran without congressional signoff, a culmination of days of frustration on Capitol Hill with the administration’s strategy.

The vote comes as both Trump and Iranian officials signaled that they were trying to ratchet down tensions inflamed with the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Iran responded with a missile attack Tuesday on two Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops.

Source: Trump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers | TheHill

Democrats ‘utterly unpersuaded’ by evidence behind Soleimani strike | TheHill


Democrats said Wednesday that the Trump administration failed to present evidence supporting the claim that a top Iranian general killed in a U.S. drone strike was planning an imminent attack.

The frustration boiled over after back-to-back closed-door briefings on the strike that killed Iranian Quds Force leader Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said the evidence represented a “far cry” from an imminent attack, while Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) called the briefing “sophomoric.”

“I was utterly unpersuaded about any evidence about the imminence of a threat that was new or compelling,” Connolly said.

Source: Democrats ‘utterly unpersuaded’ by evidence behind Soleimani strike | TheHill

Lessons for a Young Scientist | Nautilus


I sometimes worry that many who would enjoy a scientific career are put off by a narrow and outdated conception of what’s involved.

The word “scientist” still conjures up an unworldly image of an Einstein lookalike (male and elderly) or else a youthful geek. There’s still too little racial and gender diversity among scientists. But there’s a huge variety in the intellectual and social styles of work the sciences involve. They require speculative theorists, lone experimenters, ecologists gaining data in the field, and quasi-industrial teams working on giant particle accelerators or big space projects.

Scientists are widely believed to think in a special way—to follow what’s called the “scientific method.” It would be truer to say scientists follow the same rational style of reasoning as lawyers or detectives in categorizing phenomena, forming hypotheses, and testing evidence.

A related and damaging misperception is the mindset that supposes that there’s something elite about the quality of scientists’ thought and they have to be especially clever.

Academic ability is one facet of the far wider concept of intellectual ability—possessed in equal measure by the best journalists, lawyers, engineers, and politicians.

Source: Lessons for a Young Scientist – Issue 79: Catalysts – Nautilus

Taiwan’s January 2020 elections: Prospects and implications for China and the United States


Taiwan will hold its presidential and legislative elections on January 11, 2020. The incumbent president, Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), appears increasingly likely to prevail over her main challenger, Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT).

In the legislative campaign, the DPP now has better than even odds to retain its majority over the KMT and several smaller parties. As recently as six months ago, President Tsai’s path to re-election looked difficult.

But the eruption of protests in Hong Kong and surprisingly robust economic growth in Taiwan, combined with the latest steps in Beijing’s ongoing pressure campaign, significant missteps by the opposition KMT and potential independent challengers, and continuing tensions between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), have together left her and the DPP in a greatly improved electoral position.

The results of the election will have significant implications for the PRC’s Taiwan policy and for the United States.

Source: Taiwan’s January 2020 elections: Prospects and implications for China and the United States

Is seeing still believing? The deepfake challenge to truth in politics


“In the short term, detection will be reasonably effective,” says Subbarao Kambhampati, a professor of computer science at Arizona State University. “In the longer run, I think it will be impossible to distinguish between the real pictures and the fake pictures.”

The longer run may come as early as later this year, in time for the presidential election.

In August 2019, a team of Israeli researchers announced a new technique for making deepfakes that creates realistic videos by substituting the face of one individual for another who is really speaking. Unlike previous methods, this one works on any two people without extensive, iterated focus on their faces, cutting hours or even days from previous deepfake processes without the need for expensive hardware.

Source: Is seeing still believing? The deepfake challenge to truth in politics

‘Gold rush’: Race is on for health data in East Europe’s frontier market | Reuters


Eastern Europe is a new frontier for private medical care, and insurers and tech startups are racing to steal a march on their rivals by harnessing the region’s health data.

Growing numbers of people in Eastern European states, from Hungary and Poland to Romania, are turning to private health. The shift is being driven by rising wages, coupled with low public health spending which has often led to staff shortages and long waiting times for tests and surgery.

Source: ‘Gold rush’: Race is on for health data in East Europe’s frontier market – Reuters