March 7, 2014

Someone's gotta do it.

Here's a video interviewing some of the 400,000 brave souls eager to take a one-way trip to Mars. While some candidates are depressed and lonely on Earth, seeing little or no purpose for their continued existence here, others would be leaving behind wives, boyfriends, and children in the pursuit of doing something good and noble — becoming part of the first group of humans to colonize the red planet.

Personally, while I think it's awesome to be alive at the dawn of the era where humanity is beginning to try to colonize the universe, I sure as anything don't want to spend three years in an enclosed metal tube, drifting away from the tiny planet where everyone I have ever known exists, to colonize from scratch a dusty, empty rock. So I'm pretty thankful that there are people out there ballsy or gutsy or stupid or brave enough to do it, instead. John Aziz

12:16 p.m. ET

President Trump on Friday elevated the U.S. Cyber Command to become the 10th unified command in the U.S. military, putting it on equal footing with the likes of the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Strategic Command. The move is aimed to "strengthen our cyberspace operations and create more opportunities to improve our nation's defense," Trump said in a statement, per Politico.

Trump added that the promotion will also "help streamline command and control of time-sensitive cyberspace operations by consolidating them under a single commander with authorities commensurate with the importance of such operations."

Cyber Command will continue to be led by the director of the National Security Agency, Navy Adm. Michael Rogers, although Defense Secretary James Mattis will reportedly consider further separating it from the NSA, with a recommendation expected at a later date, The Washington Post reports.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) responded to the news positively in a statement. "I am pleased with today's announcement elevating U.S. Cyber Command to a unified combatant command," he said. He added that "while we welcome this elevation, there is much more to be done to prepare our nation and our military to meet our cybersecurity challenges." Jeva Lange

11:56 a.m. ET
Mark Lyons/Getty Images

President Trump is headed to Camp David on Friday to discuss national security, joined for his sojourn to Maryland by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Though the topic at hand for the weekend is South Asia strategy, a long-running foreign policy struggle within the Trump administration is what the president will do about the 16-year war in Afghanistan. On Friday, Foreign Policy published a deep dive into Trump's approach to the conflict — including the revelation that Trump personally met with the CEO of a mining company last July about the prospect of harvesting Afghanistan's natural resources:

In his conversation with Michael Silver, the head of American Elements, a firm specializing in the production of advanced metals and chemicals, Trump learned of the enormous wealth buried beneath the Afghan soil: perhaps more than $1 trillion in untapped mineral resources in the form of copper, iron, and rare earth metals.

Trump's interest in the mining plan was first sparked by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who met with Trump in Riyadh in May, according to an administration official. "We are sitting on enormous wealth," Ghani told Trump. “Why aren't the American companies in this instead of China?"

Deeply reluctant to continue a 16-year-old war that has left more than 2,400 Americans dead and cost more than one trillion dollars, the news of Afghanistan's mineral wealth struck a chord with the president. "Trump wants to be repaid," said a source close to the White House. "He's trying to see where the business deal is." [Foreign Policy]

Two unnamed administration officials confirmed the meeting to Foreign Policy, and the prospect of "an incredible economic windfall" apparently has the president considering handing the war off to thousands of private military contractors who could get the job done on the conflict side of things. That's the proposal pitched to Trump by Erik Prince, the founder of private security firm Blackwater and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, though even Prince admits the idea isn't very popular: "McMaster generally does not like this plan," Prince told Foreign Policy, while Mattis at least seems to be "not hating me."

Read more about the quagmire in Afghanistan and Trump's varied options to solve it at Foreign Policy. Kimberly Alters

10:36 a.m. ET

With the effort to remove Confederate monuments back on the national stage after violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, historian Erin Blakemore took to Twitter to discuss the Jefferson Davis Highway, an effort by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) to "memorialize their version of history" in the 1910s and 1920s. While the grand vision of a cross-country superhighway was never realized, the highway was constructed in bits and pieces, leading to many so-called Jefferson Davis Highways that have lasted into the 21st century.

(University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee/Library of Congress)

"Since there was no federal highway system [in the early 1900s], states often relied on public support — sometimes from interest groups — for road [funding]," Blakemore explains. "And the Lincoln Highway — named after the great emancipator — infuriated members of the UDC. They decided to build a Southern analog. Their vision was just as grand. It would stretch from Arlington, Virginia, to San Diego, California, and spread the Lost Cause vision of the South."

Blakemore added: "Imagine how tempting it would have been for a county, city, or state to be presented with ample funding for a highway with the only caveat being that it was named after the man who symbolized the Confederacy and the UDC's vision of heroic white supremacy."

By the 1920s, the government had started numbering highways and it "was not enthused" by the idea of naming one after Jefferson Davis. "But states could do whatever they wanted!" Blakemore writes. "So highways named after Jefferson Davis — and the markers that went along with them — remained. This is how you got memorials to the Confederacy in surprising places like San Diego."

Markers that remain today have become targets after Charlottesville: One monument in Arizona was covered in what was likely tar Thursday. Rep. Reginald Bolding (D-Ariz.) said that while he is working to change the highway's name, "vandalizing these monuments is not productive," 12 News reports.

Read Blakemore's full thread below. Jeva Lange

9:47 a.m. ET

Mitt Romney issued a stirring plea on Facebook on Friday for President Trump to apologize over his comments earlier this week that apparently equivocated white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, with counter-protesters. "Whether [Trump] intended to or not, what he communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn," Romney wrote.

Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, added gravely that "our allies around the world are stunned and our enemies celebrate; America's ability to help secure a peaceful and prosperous world is diminished."

The potential consequences are severe in the extreme. Accordingly, the president must take remedial action in the extreme. He should address the American people, acknowledge that he was wrong, apologize. State forcefully and unequivocally that racists are 100 percent to blame for the murder and violence in Charlottesville. Testify that there is no conceivable comparison or moral equivalency between the Nazis — who brutally murdered millions of Jews and who hundreds of thousands of Americans gave their lives to defeat — and the counter-protesters who were outraged to see fools parading the Nazi flag, Nazi armband, and Nazi salute. And once and for all, he must definitively repudiate the support of David Duke and his ilk and call for every American to banish racists and haters from any and every association. [Mitt Romney, via Facebook]

Many other Republicans have spoken up about Trump's approach to the Charlottesville violence. On Thursday, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker (R) said: "We're at a point where there needs to be radical changes that take place at the White House itself."

Read Mitt Romney's full comments on Facebook. Jeva Lange

9:32 a.m. ET

Could President Trump be considering a pardon for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange? That is the latest rumor after California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) met with Assange earlier this week to discuss "what might be necessary to get him out" of asylum, The Daily Caller reports.

The rumors reignited Friday morning when an account that tracks who the Trump family follows shared that Donald Trump Jr. followed Assange:

Assange faces sexual assault charges in Sweden and if he returned there, he could be deported to the U.S. where he could face a potential death penalty for leaking documents with Edward Snowden. To avoid the charges, Assange has lived in the Ecuadorian embassy since 2012.

In his interview, Rohrabacher suggested that Assange might be pardoned in exchange for information about the Democratic National Committee email leak last year. "[Assange] has information that will be of dramatic importance to the United States and the people of our country as well as to our government," Rohrabacher told The Daily Caller. "Thus if he comes up with that, you know he's going to expect something in return. He can't even leave the embassy to get out to Washington to talk to anybody if he doesn't have a pardon."

Assange notably has argued that Russia was not involved in the DNC hack, contrary to reports by U.S. intelligence. Rohrabacher has been criticized for being too soft on Russia.

Rohrabacher added, "I can't remember if I have spoken to anybody in the White House about this," but "there has already been some indication that the president will be very anxious to hear what I have to say if that is the determination that I make." Read the full interview at The Daily Caller. Jeva Lange

8:15 a.m. ET
Win McNamee/Getty Images

As The Beatles once said, baby you can drive my car — if you have my toothbrush, toothpaste, gum, hand sanitizer, stapler, staple remover, business cards, napkins, and cough drops on hand at all times. Those are just some of the items chauffeurs of Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) are required to never be without, a leaked eight-page instruction manual obtained by Politico shows.

The manual also demands Rokita's drivers avoid "unnecessary conversation" with the lawmaker and "avoid sudden acceleration or braking." Drivers are also expected to serve as a human shield to block photographers from taking embarrassing pictures of Rokita, and to bring him a cup of black coffee and empty his trashcan whenever they pick him up at home, Politico adds.

Drivers are additionally supposed to collect information from "as many people as possible" at Rokita's events while also taking pictures for social media and taking note of "all interactions." Drivers are also to make sure Rokita has a drink at all times, but never let him be photographed with a drink.

Rokita is hoping to challenge Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) for his Senate seat next year, but he'll first have to beat fellow Republican Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) in the primary. Rokita's staff blames Messer for leaking the high-maintenance memo.

Still, Rokita's campaign spokesman, Tim Edson, argued in defense of the eight-page memo: "There is nothing embarrassing about always being prepared," he said. Read the full memo at Politico. Jeva Lange

7:38 a.m. ET
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Four in 10 Americans believe that "both sides" were equally responsible for the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, indicating that President Trump's comments at a combative press conference earlier this week resonated with more of the public than expected. Another 46 percent of Americans believe that far-right groups were most responsible for the violence, the SurveyMonkey poll found, whereas just 9 percent believe counter-protesters are most to blame.

Trump's choice to lay blame on "both sides" was heavily criticized by the media. "He is right that there are two sides: the vestigial tail of the Confederacy and the United States of America; the white supremacists and their targets; the president and the patriots," wrote Fast Company. Former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted, "There is only one side."

The SurveyMonkey poll found the majority of Republicans believe both sides are "equally" responsible for the violence in Charlottesville, while 66 percent of Democrats believe far-right groups get the biggest cut of the blame. Among independents, 51 percent think far-right groups are most responsible, followed by 38 percent who think both sides share the blame. The poll reached 2,181 respondents on Thursday online.

"These findings reflect the fact that, because of the nation's partisan divide and fractured media, we no longer agree on basic facts," writes Axios. "That makes civil debate impossible."

So where did the "both sides" thinking originate? The Week's Ryan Cooper goes back to the Civil War in his investigation, and explores the origins of the phrase "alt-left" here. Jeva Lange

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