Sequencing DNA in the Palm of Your Hand

The light, portable, diminutive biomolecule sequencer fits in the palm of your hand
The light, portable, diminutive biomolecule sequencer fits in the palm of your hand.
The MinION DNA sequencer
The MinION DNA sequencer sits atop a state-of-the-art next-generation sequencer. The MinION is significantly smaller than typical laboratory sequencers that are less conducive to spaceflight.
Credits: Sarah Castro
In nanopore sensing, just as water flows through a drain, an ionic current flows through a nanopore.
In nanopore sensing, just as water flows through a drain, an ionic current flows through a nanopore. When molecules pass through the hole the current is disrupted in characteristic ways, similar to the way the water flow would change if you placed objects in the drain

Much like the miniature, goggle-wearing yellow organisms of the big screen that live to serve, a tiny new device called the MinION™, developed by Oxford Nanopore Technologies, promises to help scientists sequence DNA in space. NASA’s Biomolecule Sequencer investigation is a technology demonstration of the device.

The investigation’s objectives include providing proof-of-concept for the device’s functionality and evaluation of crew operability of a DNA sequencer in the International Space Station’s microgravity environment. While the petite device is already being used to sequence DNA on Earth, it has never been used to do so in space.

Determining the sequence of DNA is a powerful way to characterize organisms and determine how they are responding to changes in the environment. The goal of this technology demonstration is to provide evidence that DNA sequencing in space is possible, which holds the potential to enable the identification of microorganisms, monitor changes in microbes and humans in response to spaceflight, and possibly aid in the detection of DNA-based life elsewhere in the universe.

“The ultimate goal is to be able to do on the space station or on Mars the things we are able to do normally on Earth when we sequence DNA,” said investigator Douglas Botkin, Ph.D. “We want to replicate the laboratory environment, the high-tech equipment and those processes we use terrestrially, and try to demonstrate that functionality in a microgravity environment.”

This has never been done in space before and, if successful, this little device could be a big deal.

“Currently aboard the space station there is not a real-time method for identifying microbes, diagnosing infectious disease, and collecting any form of genomic and genetic data concerning crew health,” said NASA Microbiologist and Project Manager Sarah Castro, Ph.D. “Meeting these needs relies on returning samples from space to Earth and subsequent ground-based analysis, which takes time. Real-time analysis could inform scientific investigations, measure the impact of spaceflight on the human body, inform medical interventions and define the effectiveness of countermeasures.

“You can look at DNA for permanent changes, what spaceflight is doing to your DNA long-term, but also by looking at the RNA, you can see how the human body or other organisms are reacting in real time,” said Principal Investigator Aaron Burton, Ph.D.

During the investigation, crew members will sequence the DNA of bacteria, bacteriophage (a virus that infects and replicates within a bacterium) and rodents from samples prepared on Earth that have known genomic characteristics. Researchers on Earth also will run synchronous ground controls to evaluate how well the hardware is working.

“We absolutely believe that the sequencer will perform successfully in the microgravity environment of space,” said Deputy Project Manager and Project Engineer Kristen John, Ph.D.

The tiny, plug and play sequencer – about the size of a large candy bar – is diminutive compared to the large microwave-sized sequencers used on Earth.

“Most sequencers in Earth-based labs involve optics, fluorescence, lasers and other vibration sensitive components that are not suited for spaceflight or microgravity,” said Castro. “There is huge power consumption at play with those as well.”

Conversely, the compact biomolecule sequencer has minimal moving parts and plugs directly into a laptop or tablet, which supplies power to the device and collects the sequencing data.

The data is collected as the device passes an ionic current through a perforated surface containing nanopores (natural cell membrane ion pores) and measures the changes in the current as biological molecules from samples pass through the pores. The change in current can be used to identify a DNA sequence or other molecules.

Unlike terrestrial instruments whose sequencing run times can take days, this device’s data is available in near real time; analysis can begin within 10-15 minutes from the application of the sample.

If successful, this investigation will allow the implementation of the sequencer into operational microbial monitoring, a vast array of medical operations, a research facility on the ISS and integration into astrobiology-based exploration missions.

“The space station and Earth are end members of the gravity continuum, so if the device works on Earth and in microgravity, then it should work in any environment in between like an asteroid or Mars,” said Burton.

This DNA sequencer is also being tested for diagnostics on Earth. The development of robust procedures for the operation of this device in low-resource environments has direct relevance to field deployment on Earth, such as for medical operations in the regions where immediate access to a full laboratory is not available. Data collected from this investigation may be useful toward additional development of the device. Additionally, maintaining the sequencer as a research facility on the space station holds the potential to support an immeasurable number of scientific investigations, any of which could have Earth-based applications.


composite image of Martian landscape

Real Martians: How to Protect Astronauts from Space Radiation on Mars

SOHO view of a CME April 28-29,2015
A long solar filament erupted into space on April 28-29, 2015. This type of eruption, called a coronal mass ejection, or CME, is sometimes followed by a wave of high-energy particles that can be dangerous to astronauts and electronics outside the protection of Earth’s magnetic system and atmosphere. For our journey to Mars, we will have to incorporate protection against this particle radiation into every aspect of mission planning.

On Aug. 7, 1972, in the heart of the Apollo era, an enormous solar flare exploded from the sun’s atmosphere. Along with a gigantic burst of light in nearly all wavelengths, this event accelerated a wave of energetic particles. Mostly protons, with a few electrons and heavier elements mixed in, this wash of quick-moving particles would have been dangerous to anyone outside Earth’s protective magnetic bubble. Luckily, the Apollo 16 crew had returned to Earth just five months earlier, narrowly escaping this powerful event.

In the early days of human space flight, scientists were only just beginning to understand how events on the sun could affect space, and in turn how that radiation could affect humans and technology. Today, as a result of extensive space radiation research, we have a much better understanding of our space environment, its effects, and the best ways to protect astronauts—all crucial parts of NASA’s mission to send humans to Mars.

“The Martian” film highlights the radiation dangers that could occur on a round trip to Mars. While the mission in the film is fictional, NASA has already started working on the technology to enable an actual trip to Mars in the 2030s. In the film, the astronauts’ habitat on Mars shields them from radiation, and indeed, radiation shielding will be a crucial technology for the voyage. From better shielding to advanced biomedical countermeasures, NASA currently studies how to protect astronauts and electronics from radiation – efforts that will have to be incorporated into every aspect of Mars mission planning, from spacecraft and habitat design to spacewalk protocols.

“The space radiation environment will be a critical consideration for everything in the astronauts’ daily lives, both on the journeys between Earth and Mars and on the surface,” said Ruthan Lewis, an architect and engineer with the human spaceflight program at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “You’re constantly being bombarded by some amount of radiation.”

Radiation, at its most basic, is simply waves or sub-atomic particles that transports energy to another entity – whether it is an astronaut or spacecraft component. The main concern in space is particle radiation. Energetic particles can be dangerous to humans because they pass right through the skin, depositing energy and damaging cells or DNA along the way. This damage can mean an increased risk for cancer later in life or, at its worst, acute radiation sickness during the mission if the dose of energetic particles is large enough.

Fortunately for us, Earth’s natural protections block all but the most energetic of these particles from reaching the surface. A huge magnetic bubble, called the magnetosphere, which deflects the vast majority of these particles, protects our planet. And our atmosphere subsequently absorbs the majority of particles that do make it through this bubble. Importantly, since the International Space Station (ISS) is in low-Earth orbit within the magnetosphere, it also provides a large measure of protection for our astronauts.

“We have instruments that measure the radiation environment inside the ISS, where the crew are, and even outside the station,” said Kerry Lee, a scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

This ISS crew monitoring also includes tracking of the short-term and lifetime radiation doses for each astronaut to assess the risk for radiation-related diseases. Although NASA has conservative radiation limits greater than allowed radiation workers on Earth, the astronauts are able to stay well under NASA’s limit while living and working on the ISS, within Earth’s magnetosphere.

But a journey to Mars requires astronauts to move out much further, beyond the protection of Earth’s magnetic bubble.

“There’s a lot of good science to be done on Mars, but a trip to interplanetary space carries more radiation risk than working in low-Earth orbit,” said Jonathan Pellish, a space radiation engineer at Goddard.

In this image taken by the Viking 1 orbiter in June 1976, the translucent layer above Mars’ dusty red surface is its atmosphere. Compared to Earth’s atmosphere, the thin Martian atmosphere is a less powerful shield against quick-moving, energetic particles that pelt in from all directions – which means astronauts on Mars will need protection from this harsh radiation environment.

A human mission to Mars means sending astronauts into interplanetary space for a minimum of a year, even with a very short stay on the Red Planet. Nearly all of that time, they will be outside the magnetosphere, exposed to the harsh radiation environment of space. Mars has no global magnetic field to deflect energetic particles, and its atmosphere is much thinner than Earth’s, so they’ll get only minimal protection even on the surface of Mars.

Throughout the entire trip, astronauts must be protected from two sources of radiation. The first comes from the sun, which regularly releases a steady stream of solar particles, as well as occasional larger bursts in the wake of giant explosions, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, on the sun. These energetic particles are almost all protons, and, though the sun releases an unfathomably large number of them, the proton energy is low enough that they can almost all be physically shielded by the structure of the spacecraft.

Since solar activity strongly contributes to the deep-space radiation environment, a better understanding of the sun’s modulation of this radiation environment will allow mission planners to make better decisions for a future Mars mission. NASA currently operates a fleet of spacecraft studying the sun and the space environment throughout the solar system. Observations from this area of research, known as heliophysics, help us better understand the origin of solar eruptions and what effects these events have on the overall space radiation environment.

“If we know precisely what’s going on, we don’t have to be as conservative with our estimates, which gives us more flexibility when planning the mission,” said Pellish.

The second source of energetic particles is harder to shield. These particles come from galactic cosmic rays, often known as GCRs. They’re particles accelerated to near the speed of light that shoot into our solar system from other stars in the Milky Way or even other galaxies. Like solar particles, galactic cosmic rays are mostly protons. However, some of them are heavier elements, ranging from helium up to the heaviest elements. These more energetic particles can knock apart atoms in the material they strike, such as in the astronaut, the metal walls of a spacecraft, habitat, or vehicle, causing sub-atomic particles to shower into the structure. This secondary radiation, as it is known, can reach a dangerous level.

There are two ways to shield from these higher-energy particles and their secondary radiation: use a lot more mass of traditional spacecraft materials, or use more efficient shielding materials.

The sheer volume of material surrounding a structure would absorb the energetic particles and their associated secondary particle radiation before they could reach the astronauts. However, using sheer bulk to protect astronauts would be prohibitively expensive, since more mass means more fuel required to launch.

Using materials that shield more efficiently would cut down on weight and cost, but finding the right material takes research and ingenuity. NASA is currently investigating a handful of possibilities that could be used in anything from the spacecraft to the Martian habitat to space suits.

“The best way to stop particle radiation is by running that energetic particle into something that’s a similar size,” said Pellish. “Otherwise, it can be like you’re bouncing a tricycle off a tractor-trailer.”

Because protons and neutrons are similar in size, one element blocks both extremely well—hydrogen, which most commonly exists as just a single proton and an electron. Conveniently, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and makes up substantial parts of some common compounds, such as water and plastics like polyethylene. Engineers could take advantage of already-required mass by processing the astronauts’ trash into plastic-filled tiles used to bolster radiation protection. Water, already required for the crew, could be stored strategically to create a kind of radiation storm shelter in the spacecraft or habitat. However, this strategy comes with some challenges—the crew would need to use the water and then replace it with recycled water from the advanced life support systems.

Polyethylene, the same plastic commonly found in water bottles and grocery bags, also has potential as a candidate for radiation shielding. It is very high in hydrogen and fairly cheap to produce—however, it’s not strong enough to build a large structure, especially a spacecraft, which goes through high heat and strong forces during launch. And adding polyethylene to a metal structure would add quite a bit of mass, meaning that more fuel would be required for launch.

“We’ve made progress on reducing and shielding against these energetic particles, but we’re still working on finding a material that is a good shield and can act as the primary structure of the spacecraft,” said Sheila Thibeault, a materials researcher at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

One material in development at NASA has the potential to do both jobs: Hydrogenated boron nitride nanotubes—known as hydrogenated BNNTs—are tiny, nanotubes made of carbon, boron, and nitrogen, with hydrogen interspersed throughout the empty spaces left in between the tubes. Boron is also an excellent absorber secondary neutrons, making hydrogenated BNNTs an ideal shielding material.

Computer simulation of Martian polar plume
This computer simulation, based on data from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, spacecraft, shows the interaction of the streaming solar wind with Mars’ upper atmosphere. MAVEN is gathering information on the space environment at Mars—information that will be key to planning a human mission to Mars in the 2030s.

“This material is really strong—even at high heat—meaning that it’s great for structure,” said Thibeault.

Remarkably, researchers have successfully made yarn out of BNNTs, so it’s flexible enough to be woven into the fabric of space suits, providing astronauts with significant radiation protection even while they’re performing spacewalks in transit or out on the harsh Martian surface. Though hydrogenated BNNTs are still in development and testing, they have the potential to be one of our key structural and shielding materials in spacecraft, habitats, vehicles, and space suits that will be used on Mars.

Physical shields aren’t the only option for stopping particle radiation from reaching astronauts: Scientists are also exploring the possibility of building force fields. Force fields aren’t just the realm of science fiction: Just like Earth’s magnetic field protects us from energetic particles, a relatively small, localized electric or magnetic field would—if strong enough and in the right configuration—create a protective bubble around a spacecraft or habitat. Currently, these fields would take a prohibitive amount of power and structural material to create on a large scale, so more work is needed for them to be feasible.

The risk of health effects can also be reduced in operational ways, such as having a special area of the spacecraft or Mars habitat that could be a radiation storm shelter; preparing spacewalk and research protocols to minimize time outside the more heavily-shielded spacecraft or habitat; and ensuring that astronauts can quickly return indoors in the event of a radiation storm.

Radiation risk mitigation can also be approached from the human body level. Though far off, a medication that would counteract some or all of the health effects of radiation exposure would make it much easier to plan for a safe journey to Mars and back.

“Ultimately, the solution to radiation will have to be a combination of things,” said Pellish. “Some of the solutions are technology we have already, like hydrogen-rich materials, but some of it will necessarily be cutting edge concepts that we haven’t even thought of yet.”


Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis speaks during an interview on Fox News Channel's 'The Kelly File' in New York September 23, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Second Coming of Christ - Pablo Stanley

A stupid Kentucky county clerk who had been jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples secretly met Pope Francis during his visit to the United States last week, a meeting she called greatly encouraging. Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis and her husband met the pope during the Washington leg of his U.S. visit, she and her lawyer told American media.

Relusion is religion plus delusion.The reluded person is ignorent to science and fact and convinced that the holy scriptures of their religion are fact. The church tries to relude its members. Most of reluded people are victims of childhood indoctrination.

With the issue of same-sex marriage dividing Americans, the pope’s meeting with Davis and Francis’ comments on Monday may further embolden local officials across the United States who have said they will not issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

Religion is a system of wishful illusions together with a disavowal of reality, such as we find nowhere else but in a state of blissful hallucinatory confusion. Religion’s eleventh commandment is Thou shalt not question.

In Texas, Alabama and elsewhere a number of clerks and judges who stated their opposition to gay marriage have thrown up roadblocks to the unions.

Alabama Probate Judge Nick Williams said he would be willing to follow stupid Davis. “Absolutely, I feel the same way. This is a cause worth standing up for,” said Williams, who ordered his deputies in Washington County not to issue any licenses at all since the court’s June decision.

The pope, returning home from a 10-day trip to the United States and Cuba on Monday, said government officials had a “human right” to refuse to discharge a duty if they felt it violated their conscience.

The U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriages legal across all 50 states last June.

When a man has once brought himself to accept uncritically all the absurdities that religious doctrines put before him and even to overlook the contradictions between them, we need not be greatly surprised at the weakness of his intellect.

Davis’ attorney, Mat Staver, told CBS News, “The fact that (the pope) met with Kim Davis sends a message that he is someone who stands with those individuals who are standing up for their religious convictions, that religious freedom is a worldwide message that the pope wants to convey.”

The God of the Bible and Quran is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Gay activists reacted harshly to the meeting. “It’s nothing short of appalling that the Vatican would turn its back on countless LGBT members and families by lending its support to someone who has brought so much pain to LGBT families,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, a gay and transgender media monitoring group.

We should blame religion itself, not religious extremism – as though that were some kind of terrible perversion of real, decent religion. Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. Many people would sooner die than think.

The plaintiffs who sued stupid Davis in federal court indicated the pope’s meeting has no legal effect. “The pope is not an American citizen, and he is not a member of our government. He is entitled to meet with whoever he likes and have any opinion he wants to have,” Joe Dunman, an attorney representing the plaintiff couples suing stupid Davis, said in a statement.

Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, distinctly heard the voice of Jesus telling him to kill women, and he was locked up for life. George W. Bush says that God told him to invade Iraq.  A pity God didn’t vouchsafe him a revelation that there were no weapons of mass destruction.

The stupid Davis couple traveled to Washington and met the pope at the Vatican embassy last Thursday, ABC News and CBS News reported.

“It was really very humbling to even think that he would want to, you know, meet me or know me,” Davis told ABC. “I put my hand out, and he grabbed it, and I hugged him, and he hugged me and he said, ‘Thank you for your courage’.”

For all the genuine warmth of his smile, the track record of Pope Francis suggests he sees it as his job not just to comfort the afflicted, but also to afflict the comfortable. And however delicately he fine-tunes his language, the hard fact is that he believes the United States is as much a part of the problem as the solution.

For more than a century, popes have made nuanced criticisms of the free-market capitalism that drives the American dream. But Pope Francis, with an unprecedented vigor, is locking horns with much that Washington and Wall Street hold dear.

“He told me before he left, he said, ‘Stay strong.’ That was a great encouragement,” stupid Davis said.

Davis said knowing that the pope agreed with what she was doing “kind of validates everything.”

Francis has enchanted and bewildered the world in equal measure with his compassion and his contradictions. But he has also proved himself a wily and sophisticated politician. Understanding this side of Francis—capable of crafty maneuvering, unafraid of confrontation, ready to seek out unlikely allies—is essential for understanding the complicated effect he is having on politics.

No one doubts the sincerity of the Pope’s pursuit of goodness. And surely no one disagrees with his condemnation of aggression and hatred against the young, the vulnerable, and the poor. But too often, his political naiveté got the better of him. As a result, many of his controversial pronouncements, if rigorously implemented at the policy level, would pose a threat to overall human welfare. Specifically, his ideas about violence, the environment, and markets deserve a critical look.

ABC reported that the pope gave stupid Davis a rosary, which she plans to give to her Catholic parents.

The Vatican has not yet released pictures and it was not clear if they would.

Neither Davis nor Staver could be reached for comment.

Davis was jailed for five days in September for refusing to comply with a judge’s order to issue the licenses in line with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Davis has said her beliefs as an Apostolic Christian prevent her from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Her church belongs to a Protestant movement known as Apostolic Pentecostalism.

To keep a low profile, stupid Davis went to the Vatican embassy in a sports utility vehicle with her hair in a different style than her normal look, Staver told CBS.

Conservative Christians, including some Republican presidential candidates, have said Davis is standing up for religious freedom.

But the American Civil Liberties Union, which went to court to ensure same-sex couples can obtain marriage licenses in Rowan County, has argued she has a responsibility as an official to issue the licenses, regardless of her views.

The ACLU, in papers filed on Sept. 21 with the judge hearing the case, asked the court to require Davis to stop making alterations to the licenses, such as removing any reference to the Rowan County clerk’s office.

Pope Francis is enjoying strong approval ratings from Americans, according to an Ipsos/Reuters poll conducted Sept. 21-28, before the meeting with Davis was disclosed.

According to the poll, 73 percent said they strongly agreed or agreed somewhat with a statement by the pope, “If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Many Catholics have interpreted the comments as a softening of the Church’s hardline stance.


By Andrés Velasco

Latin America has a new export: populist backlash. It first landed on the warm and receptive shores of the Mediterranean, nurturing support for Greece’s Syriza and Spain’s Podemos. Now it has reached the United Kingdom.

Corbynismo, the ideology of the long-marginalized British MP Jeremy Corbyn – who admired Venezuela’s late president, Hugo Chávez, thinks Vladimir Putin was justified in invading Ukraine, and now heads Britain’s venerable Labour Party – sounds familiar to anyone acquainted with Latin America. It calls for monetary financing of fiscal deficits (now called “people’s quantitative easing”), nationalization of industry (beginning with the railroads), and an end to competition and the private provision of public services. This is the stuff that former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his supporters thought – wrongly, it seems – they had consigned to the dustbin of history.

Of course, this new populism (Hillary Clinton’s Democratic rival Bernie Sanders is also a card-carrying member) has much fodder. As Martin Wolf has emphasized, the 2008-2009 financial crisis made voters understandably angry at “greedy plutocrats and their lackeys in politics and media.” Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman (who sometimes sounds like a Corbynista, but isn’t one) and Wolfgang Munchau stress that Europe’s moderate left lost popular support by being too ready to embrace the extreme version of fiscal austerity demanded by Germany and its orthodox allies.

But being mad is not the same as being right. The new European populists are parlaying legitimate frustration into a misguided set of policies that can only produce more of the same. Latin Americans learned this the hard way in decades past. Europeans (and perhaps Americans) may be about to as well.

Three conceptual confusions cause Corbynismo to get crucial matters completely wrong.

The market for potatoes is not like the market for loans. Yes, bankers are greedy. And, yes, financial markets require close supervision and regulation. But what is true of financial markets need not be true of other markets.

A transaction involving potatoes happens at one point in time only: the buyer parts with her money, the seller parts with his tubers, and that is it. A financial transaction, by contrast, happens over time: the borrower gets the money today and promises to repay in a month, year, or decade. This makes finance especially susceptible to crooks and con men. And because expectations and confidence about future events are crucial, governments must, like European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, stand ready to do “whatever it takes” to stabilize financial markets.

As the great Cuban-Argentine-American economist Carlos Díaz-Alejandro pointed out long ago, financial markets are not disciplined by the threat of bankruptcy. When banks get into trouble, governments always save them or wish they had (think Lehman Brothers). Regulation needs to provide the discipline that markets cannot.

But followers of Corbynismo are wrong to infer that the ills of financial markets infect all other markets, all the time. Countries, whether rich or poor, do not need a Potato Supervisory Board with new and enhanced regulatory powers.

It is great to be Keynesian – but during both halves of the cycle. Yes, orthodox economists of (mostly) Teutonic origin peddle a lethal fiscal-policy prescription. When the economy is booming, they claim, expenditure must be cut (or, if all else fails, taxes raised) in order to reduce demand. When the economy is tanking, expenditure also has to be cut in order to restore confidence and revive investment. For some European economies, this prescription has caused a needlessly long recession.

But it does not follow that, as Corbynistas believe, large budget deficits and debts are harmless. On the contrary, when debts become unsustainable and governments have no option but to close hospitals and slash pensions, it is the poor and vulnerable who suffer most.

The way to render an aggressively counter-cyclical fiscal policy feasible is by relying on modern budget rules. A modern Keynesian government does not hesitate to increase spending in the face of a recession. But, in order to do that, it needs the high credibility and low debt that follow from having saved and repaid debt during the upswing.

We did this in Chile during the copper price boom of 2006-2008, running budget surpluses of up to eight percentage points of GDP. When Wall Street melted down, we had the fiscal room to apply one of the most aggressive anti-crisis plans anywhere. A rigorous fiscal rule, designed and applied by center-left governments, made it all possible.

Progressive ends are not the same as statist means. There is nothing inevitable or God-given about suffering, injustice, and inequality. That is why modern social democrats and progressive liberals are eager to right social wrongs. But effectiveness requires agnosticism about the policies required to achieve lofty ends.

Consider health care. Different things work differently in different places. Britain has a single payer and a single service provider: the National Health Service. Canada has a single public payer but mostly private providers. Obamacare establishes a public mandate to buy private insurance (with public subsidies for the poor) to finance services provided by (mostly) private hospitals and clinics.

The same is true in education, pensions, or housing for the poor. States are right to spend generously on education; but, of the world’s top ten universities listed by the Shanghai ranking, seven are private. Successful pension systems often have a solidarity pillar (public) and a contributory pillar (private). And so on. This is old hat to students of modern public policy. Yet the Corbynistas seem to have assimilated none of it.

That is the bad news. The good news is that the ideas already exist to provide a progressive alternative to 1960s-vintage Corbynismo. Some were developed in the rich world; others in emerging countries. Political leadership – Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, is one example – is now required to push those ideas forward.


By Joschka Fischer

Until a few weeks ago, Europeans believed they lived in a kind of sanctuary, insulated from the world’s current conflicts. Certainly, the news and images of drowned migrants were dreadful; but the tragedy occurring south of Italy, Greece, and Malta, seemed a long way off.

Syria’s brutal civil war, which has been raging for years, seemed even farther away. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad deployed poison gas and later barrel bombs filled with nails and metal fragments against his rebellious population. And those who escaped Assad’s henchmen found themselves confronted by the terror of the Islamic State. Hundreds of thousands were killed, and millions of Syrians have fled, with most living in camps in Jordan, Lebanon, or Turkey for years, in appalling conditions and with no hope of improvement.

So, sometime this summer, when the last glimmer of hope of a return to Syria disappeared and an alternative to Assad and the Islamic State no longer seemed realistic, these people started heading toward Europe, which seemed to promise a future of peace, freedom, and security. The refugees came via Turkey, Greece, and the Balkan states, or across the Mediterranean to escape similar chaos in Eritrea, Libya, Somalia, and Sudan.

In August, thousands of refugees became stranded at Budapest’s Keleti train station for days on end when Hungary’s vexed and incompetent government deliberately allowed the situation to escalate. Eventually, thousands of men, women, and children – and even old and disabled people – started to make their way on foot toward the Austrian border. At this point Europe, witnessing an exodus of biblical proportions, could no longer ignore the challenge and the consequences of the crises in its neighboring region. Europe was now directly confronted with the harsh realities from which it had appeared to be a sanctuary.

Europe was, no surprise, unprepared. The European Union lacked the civilian, diplomatic, and military tools needed to contain, let alone resolve, the crises and conflicts in its neighborhood. And, once the migrants headed for Europe, the EU’s common asylum policy failed, because the so-called Dublin III agreement provided no effective mechanism to distribute asylum-seekers among all members states after their initial registration in EU border states (in particular Greece and Italy). Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s call for European solidarity went unheeded.

When thousands of refugees arrived in Budapest on their way to Germany and Scandinavia, a humanitarian disaster loomed, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had to choose: either take in the refugees or risk further escalation of the crisis in Budapest. Germany probably could not have stood idly by even for another two days.

Merkel took the brave and correct decision to let the refugees enter Germany. For this, she deserves wholehearted respect and full support, all the more so in view of the icy response of many within her own party.

But Merkel was not alone in embodying humane values at this decisive moment. Civil-society groups in Germany, Austria, and elsewhere mobilized to a hitherto unseen extent to meet – together with the public authorities – the enormous challenge posed by the influx. Without the public’s active empathy, the authorities would never have managed. With the support of such ad hoc coalitions, Europe should do whatever it takes to ensure the refugees’ successful integration.

The influx launched during the “refugee summer” will change Germany and Europe. The EU will be able to address the challenge – and seize the opportunity – of integrating the newcomers only together and in the spirit of European solidarity. Should unity crumble in this crisis, the consequences for all parties involved – especially the refugees – will be grave.

First and foremost, a new, effective system for securing Europe’s external borders must be established as quickly as possible. This includes a joint procedure for judging asylum claims and a mechanism to distribute the refugees among EU countries fairly. Moreover, if the EU wants to maintain its core values, including the abolition of internal borders, it will need to focus on stabilizing its Middle Eastern, North African, and Eastern European neighbors with money, commitment, and all its hard and soft power. A united approach will be crucial.

But Europe should avoid the kind of dismal realpolitik that would betray its core values elsewhere. It would be a grave mistake, for example, to sell out Ukraine’s interests and lift the sanctions imposed on Russia out of the mistaken belief that the Kremlin’s assistance is needed in Syria. Cooperation with Russia, however useful and advisable, must not come at the expense of third parties and Western interests and unity. Attempting to redeem past mistakes is not advisable when it means making even bigger ones.

To be sure, there is a risk that the refugee crisis will strengthen nationalist and populist parties in EU member states. But the renationalization of politics within the EU gained traction long before the summer of 2015, and it is not a result of the refugee crisis. At its heart lies a fundamental conflict over Europe’s future: back to a continent of nation-states, or forward to a community of shared values? Convinced Europeans will need to marshal all their strength – and muster all their nerve – in the times ahead.


Turkish magazine, Nokta's cover

After giving his testimony to a prosecutor at the İstanbul Courthouse on Wednesday as part of a trial in which he stands accused of “insulting” corrupt Erdoğan in his newspaper columns, veteran journalist Hasan Cemal told reporters that despots cannot rule forever.

The Erdoğanist regime is definitely a dictatorship. There are many similarities between what the Erdoğanist regime has been doing the last years and the late 1930s of Germany. Journalists can only do their jobs by taking risks. And this risk is a serious risk. Like Hidayet Karaca, a journalist can be imprisoned for nine months without any indictment written and without any right to appeal to higher courts. This is all thanks to a special closed pseudo-court system that Erdoğanists created in order to punish their critics.

The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office interrogated Cemal, who is also the chairman of the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24), because of the allegedly insulting content of his columns, including one published in P24 titled “The number one [person] who is responsible for the bloodshed is the sultan in the palace, period!” Cemal is known for strongly criticizing corrupt Erdoğan for his repression of those who refuse to endorse his desire to introduce a corrupt presidential system in Turkey.

Erdoğan has gone beyond the elasticity limit of democracy, turning himself to a hateful dictator.  He knows that if he gave up his power, he would be hanged in a public square for his huge corruption and myriad crimes.  There is no way out now.  Catharsis to this Turkish tragedy will not be easy, but very bloody.

In his statement to the journalists, Cemal emphasized that those who support democracy and freedoms will always win in the end. “Journalists who defend the freedom of their profession will triumph over despots. I told the prosecutor that none of my articles contain insults or even mean to insult anyone. They are simply strong criticism [of Erdoğan], which should be considered permissible given our freedom of expression,” Cemal told reporters.

Abdullah Gül, corrupt Erdoğan’s predecessor and AK Party co-founder, said the party was built on different policies than the ones in motion today: When our party [Virtue Party] was closed and we [co-founders] were forming the AK Party, our policies were different. In the end, we saw that this type of polarizing politics did not work for us or our mission or our party. We wanted to come together with principled, strong-willed people and therefore people from outside our worldview joined the party.

After the June 7 general election, in which the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was unable to retain its parliamentary majority and continue as the only party in government, corrupt Erdoğan declared an end to the Kurdish peace process. The settlement process was started in 2012 in conjunction with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to bring an end to the country’s terrorism problem by recognizing Kurds’ socio-cultural rights. Since then, over 140 members of the security forces have been killed in clashes with the heroic PKK.

Abdülhamit Bilici, the head of the Cihan news agency, also came to the İstanbul Courthouse to show his support for Cemal. Cemal received the prestigious Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism from Harvard University this year.

Yaşar Yakış, one of the founders of the AK Party, says: One of the most important issues for me when the party was being formed was that deputies should only ever have immunity for the things they say in parliament. It is plain and open that there is no need to protect the deputies outside of the things they do in Parliament. I became the target of attacks in my constituency for professing that politics is not an arena to get wealthy in. We were extremely careful with the issue of corruption. We were supposed to fight prohibition and poverty, and there were good steps taken in the beginning. However, subsequent developments now reinforce the notions that there has been a regression from these ideals.

İhsan Yilmaz is waiting for his turn in jail since Erdoğanists are very open with their hatred for him and when in jail, they will be very pleased to torture him. This is the same, or worse even, for the editor-in-chief of the paper Zaman and several other colleagues of his. Yilmaz’s only pseudo-crime is to report everything as it is and to maintain a critical stance toward Erdoğanism. For Erdoğanists, journalism means that you obey the state and rulers and do not criticize them. If not, they easily label you a traitor. As a matter of fact, Erdoğan personally labeled Yilmaz a traitor at a public gathering. Since then, Yilmaz has been receiving all sorts of threats. Yilmaz no longer uses public transport since he is concerned about Erdoğanist mobs. They raided the Hürriyet daily offices and were not criticized by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) leadership.

Hürriyet was lucky in the sense that it has received huge international support. The US ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, visited the Hürriyet offices to show solidarity. Unfortunately, the Hizmet movement-inspired media are not as lucky as their colleagues at Hürriyet. Unfortunately, they have been discriminated against without any legal or concrete reason. For about two years the government has been engaged in a genocide against the movement’s participants and their institutions, yet they have not heard a voice of sympathy or solidarity. Yilmaz is not asking for it but this is, for the record, a double standard. These double standards against practicing Muslims in Turkey have actually paved the way for the emergence of Erdoğanism. Erdoğanists have been skillfully reaping the benefits of this discrimination. The majority of Turkey’s White Turks, and the Western governments that want to work only with them because of similar lifestyle, will never understand this mistake. The majority of Turks consider themselves conservative and religious, and they will always negatively respond to such double standards. This means that corrupt Erdoğan may go today, but tomorrow we can easily have another one.

Why not try, this time, to stick to the principles and voice equal concern for journalist Mehmet Baransu, who has been in solitary confinement without any indictment, and Gültekin Avcı, who has been jailed by a judge who previously sued him. Messrs Avcı, Baransu and Karaca were only engaged in journalism and the Erdoğanists have so far not been able to present any evidence otherwise.

If journalism is crucial for democracy, why are Western democracies, chiefly the US, turning a blind eye to injustices that have been perpetrated against these journalists?


Russia began striking targets in Syria for the first time on Wednesday, hitting three Syrian provinces alongside Syrian government aircraft, a Syrian security source said. The strikes have hit several areas in central Homs and Hama and also in the government stronghold of Latakia.

The need to negotiate with leaders as unsavory as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is an unfortunate reality of diplomacy. But western leaders should be careful not to confuse that necessity with the idea promoted by Russia that the Syrian crisis can be resolved only if Assad stays in power. Nor should they believe that Assad’s ongoing rule is the only way to prevent the collapse of the Syrian state and protect Syria’s diverse communities.

“Implementing the agreement between Syria and Russia to counter international terrorism and eliminate the Islamic State group, and in cooperation with the (Syrian) air force, Russian planes today carried out several air strikes targeting [the Islamic State (IS) group],” Syrian state television reported.

Although Russia has stated that its purpose in conducting raids in Syria is to fight the IS, the areas which the Syrian state TV reported had been struck in Homs are mostly controlled by al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, while those hit in Latakia are held by a coalition known as the Army of Conquest, which includes al-Nusra.

Vladimir Putin has long sought to portray Assad as a bulwark against the self-declared Islamic State. But far from a stabilising factor or a solution to the Isis threat to basic rights, Assad is a major reason for the rise of extremist groups in Syria. In the early days of Syria’s uprising, between July and October 2011, Assad released from prison a number of jihadists who had fought in Iraq, many of whom went on to play leading roles in militant Islamist groups. These releases were part of broader amnesties, but Assad kept in prison those who backed the peaceful uprising.

The areas targeted in Hama include places controlled mostly by Islamist and rebel groups, as well as those held by al-Nusra and groups that have pledged allegiance to IS.

After the strikes on Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US opposed Russian strikes which a US official told AFP hit Syrian opposition forces, not Islamic State targets.

The raids came just hours after the upper chamber of the Russian parliament unanimously voted to gave Putin permission to use the country’s air force in Syria.

Head of the presidential administration Sergey Ivanov told media that no ground troops would be sent and that the operation would be limited to airstrikes.

Ending Assad’s systematic attacks on civilians is key to any realistic strategy for containing Isis, rebuilding the social fabric that is essential to countering extremism and preserving a functioning Syrian state. Given the animosity that these attacks generate, curbing them is probably also a prerequisite to any successful peace talks.

Unfortunately, Russia and Iran, the principal proponents of engaging with Assad, have generated no visible pressure to stop this slaughter. On the contrary, Russia has opposed stepped-up efforts at the UN security council to curb Assad’s use of barrel bombs.

It is time to stop closing our eyes to these horrific crimes. Halting Assad’s atrocities, as well as those by other groups, should be the first item on the agenda for any negotiation.

Over the past several years the Russian government has offered a nearly constant stream of warnings to Occcident about the perils of intervening in Syria’s civil war. Armed intervention would lead to the inevitable empowerment of radical forces and to the deepening of the — already vast — cleavages between the country’s various ethnic and religious groups.

The experience of Iraq and Libya, where Western interventions left power vacuums that were almost immediately filled by various kinds of gangsters and radical Islamists, shows the result of any military campaign, even one of limited air strikes, would inevitably lead to total anarchy.

Although intervention might seem like a solution, it would actually create an environment in which already dangerous radical Islamists would become even more dangerous.

Over the past several decades Occident has militarily intervened in numerous Arab countries, but lasting successes are virtually impossible to find. The disasters, meanwhile, are all too obvious.

However, it is important to think about precisely why a position of skepticism regarding the use of force is so justified.

Despite the fact that it is popularly conceived of as entirely different and distinct from diplomacy or politics, war is simply the continuation of a political conflict through violent means. Yes, the military’s uniforms and rigid hierarchy are quite different from what we expect to see in the political realm, but the sense of difference this creates is a false one.

The fundamental goals of any successful military campaign are inherently political in nature: the destruction of an unfriendly regime, the cessation of certain kinds of objectionable activity, or the imposition of control over a certain territory.

Looking at Syria, it is extremely hard to see how the use of organized violence by outside actors would actually address any of the country’s multitudinous political conflicts. This is particularly true of most important, violent, and bloody conflict in Syria today, that between the Sunni majority and the ruling Alawite minority.

As was the case in Iraq, where a de facto ethnic partitioning of the country occurred despite the presence of several hundred thousand American and allied troops, a conflict of this nature has a brutal internal logic to it, a logic that, for better or worse, is almost impervious to outside intervention.

Russia’s skepticism regarding the ability of outsiders to influence Syria was right, then, not because it was a Russian argument but because the preponderance of evidence suggests that it is the right one. This is important to remember as some voices, particularly those on the anti-Imperialist left, have done a very rapid about-face and reconsidered the merits of bombing Syria when they learned that the bombs to be dropped would be Russian and not American.

If it is a bad idea for the Saudis, Americans, Turks, or Israelis to bomb Syria, then it is also a bad idea for the Russians to do so, and for exactly the same reasons. The laws of logic and evidence don’t suddenly stop applying to a foreign military because its officers speak Russian.

All of the evidence suggests that military intervention will accomplish nothing, and all of the arguments about the likely failure of Western intervention apply equally well to Russia. The bombs, tanks, fighter jets, and helicopter gunships now arriving in Latakia won’t be any more effective in solving Syria’s political problems because the writing on them is in Cyrillic, and the explosions from Russian airstrikes won’t succeed in magically repairing Syria’s fractured political institutions.

The Kremlin, of course, can pretend that its intervention in Syria gives it relevance and that it means it has returned to a position of power throughout the wider Middle East. It can pretend that its soldiers and sailors will restore the status quo and return Assad to a position of unquestioned supremacy. The Kremlin can pretend whatever it likes.

The reality, however, is that Russia is spending a substantial sum of its ever-scarcer resources on a mission that, by its very nature, is doomed to failure. The only hope, and it is unfortunately a faint one, is that the powers recognize this sooner rather than later.

The bombing is being carried out at the behest of the Syrian government. Russia says that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had asked Moscow to step in, with Russian state channel Russia Today saying this made the intervention legal under international law, unlike the US-led anti-Islamic State airstrikes that began last year.

Ivanov added that Putin had decided to ask to deploy Russian planes due to the large number of Russian and former USSR nationals who had chosen to join the Islamic State group and now posed a grave threat to Russian national security.

“This is not about reaching for some foreign policy goals, satisfying ambitions, which our Western partners regularly accuse us of. It’s only about the national interest of the Russian Federation,” the official said.

Putin had requested similar permission from the Federation Council to deploy military forces abroad ahead of the annexation of Crimea in March 2014.
Russia’s powerful Orthodox Church has since voiced support for Moscow’s decision, calling it a “holy battle”.

“The fight with terrorism is a holy battle and today our country is perhaps the most active force in the world fighting it,” the head of the Church’s public affairs department, Vsevolod Chaplin said, according to Interfax news agency.

The move, however, is likely to be seen as controversial internationally with some experts warning that Russian involvement would not help defeat IS but would likely lengthen the conflict which has raged since 2011. While Moscow has suggested that it will focus on hitting IS targets, many are concerned that Russian support could also be used to crush other opposition groups.

Russia has already provided 32 jets to Syria this month alone and has long been sending military advisors to Damascus in an attempt to prop up Assad, a long-term Russian ally.

The US, which has long opposed Assad and demanded that he must go, on Tuesday said it would open “lines of communication” with Russia to avoid “misjudgment and miscalculation” over the skies of Syria.

“This morning, [Defence] Secretary [Ashton] Carter directed his staff to open lines of communication with Russia on deconfliction,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters at a press briefing.

“The purpose of these deconfliction discussions will be to ensure that ongoing coalition air operations are not interrupted by any future Russian military activity, to ensure the safety of coalition air crews and to avoid misjudgment and miscalculation,” Cook said. But, US ally Saudi Arabia, which has long been one of the strongest Assad opponents, said that it would begin considering military action to oust him if he did not step down.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Tuesday that there could be “no future” for Assad regardless of what Russia or anyone else wants.

“There are two options for a settlement in Syria. One option is a political process where there would be a transitional council,” Jubeir said, describing this as the “preferred option”.

“The other option is a military option, which also would end with the removal of Bashar al-Assad from power. This could be a more lengthy process and a more destructive process, but the choice is entirely that of Bashar al-Assad.”

Russia’s announcement follows a reportedly heated meeting on Syria between US President Barack Obama and Putin at the UN this week.

The move to step up Moscow’s military engagement also comes as France announced that it would launched a probe into Assad’s government for carrying out crimes against humanity. Paris prosecutors opened a preliminary inquiry into crimes happening between 2011 and 2013 on 15 September.

The French investigation is largely based on evidence from a former Syrian army photographer known by the codename Caesar, who defected and fled the country in 2013, bringing with him some 55,000 graphic photographs.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France had a “responsibility” to take action.

“Faced with these crimes that offend the human conscience, this bureaucracy of horror, faced with this denial of the values of humanity, it is our responsibility to act against the impunity of the assassins,” Fabius told us.

While Assad is unlikely to stand trial in a French court, the inquiry could add to political pressure on the Syrian leader in the midst of a diplomatic row between the West and Russia and Iran over his fate.

More than 240,000 people – many of them civilians – have been killed since an uprising against Assad’s rule began in 2011. While the West and its allies in the Gulf states and Turkey were quick to call for his overthrow, the opposition movement has since fractured, with the rise of groups like the Islamic State now overshadowing the fight against Assad.

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