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Trump Is Losing the Most Important Impeachment Battle

On Thursday, President Donald Trump stood before the White House press corps, his Air Force One helicopter whirring nearby, and committed an impeachable offense. Then he appeared to commit another. “I would think that if they were honest about it, [the Ukrainian government] would start a major investigation into the Bidens,” he said. “It’s a very simple answer. They should investigate the Bidens. Because how does a company that’s newly formed, and all these companies, if you look at it. … And by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens.”

If the president sounded panicked or otherwise out of it, he had good reason to be. According to a new poll from USA Today/Ipsos, 45% of the country now supports a House vote of impeachment, against 38% who do not. Perhaps more telling, 44% believe that if the Senate were to try the president, he should be convicted and removed from office. Just 35% believe he should be acquitted.

“The survey of 1,006 adults, taken Tuesday and Wednesday, underscores the perilous situation the president finds himself in as House committees subpoena documents and prepare to hear testimony into accusations that he pressured the leader of Ukraine to investigate a political rival, then tried to hide the account of their phone conversation,” writes USA Today’s Susan Page.

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Only so much can be extrapolated about the national mood from a single poll, but these numbers are largely consistent with current trend lines. The latest data from Quinnipiac indicate an even split on impeachment, at 47%—good for a 10-point swing in favor over a five-day period—while a CBS poll released Sunday finds the public approves by a margin of 55% to 45%. FiveThirtyEight, which relies on a weighted average of dozens of polls, indicates that Trump’s approval rating has dipped from 43% to 41% since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry a little over a week ago.

It’s still early, and the Democrats’ latest gambit may yet backfire. Similarly, Hunter Biden’s involvement in a Ukrainian energy company, described aptly by Sarah Chayes in The Atlantic as a “perfectly legal, socially acceptable form of corruption,” could haunt them in the 2020 election. But right now, Trump is losing the impeachment battle that matters most for his political future—the one held in the court of public opinion.

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U.S.-Europe Dispute Puts World Trade at Risk

BRUSSELS—The trade wars threatening to push the global economy into recession are entering a new phase, with the United States and European Union escalating a dispute that endangers the world’s biggest trade relationship.

After the Trump administration slapped steep tariffs on $7.5 billion in EU goods, mainly traditional produce like cheese and wine, the Europeans made clear they would retaliate in kind. Some fear the tariffs could ultimately lead to U.S. taxes on European cars, a big economic blow that Trump has been threatening to deliver for months.

The exchange echoes how the U.S. and China ratcheted up a tariffs fight in recent months that has bruised businesses around the world and stunted economic growth.

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“This step triggers fears of a new round of escalation of tariff wars,” said Alex Kuptsikevich, a financial analyst with brokerage FxPro. “The introduction of tariffs and fears of tit-for-tat steps could further suppress business sentiment, which is already at the lowest levels for years.”

The Trump administration’s latest tariffs target large aircraft but also many typical European products such as olives, whiskey, wine, cheese and yogurt. They will take effect Oct. 18 and amount to a 10% tax on EU aircraft and steep 25% rate on everything else.

The U.S. got the legal go-ahead Wednesday from the World Trade Organization in a case involving illegal EU subsidies for the plane maker Airbus and which predates the Trump administration.

But the EU is expecting a similar case involving U.S. subsidies for Boeing to go in its favor, with a ruling due in coming months. It has said it hopes the two sides can hold off new tariffs, which economically amount to taxes on domestic importers. Sometimes importers pass on the higher costs to consumers, making goods more expensive.

“If the U.S. imposes countermeasures it will be pushing the EU into a situation where we will have to do the same,” said the European Commission’s spokesman, Daniel Rosario, echoing the dark outlook expressed by many EU governments.

“This is a move that will first and foremost hit U.S. consumers and companies and will make efforts towards a negotiated settlement more complicated,” he said.

A group of American alcohol importers, wholesalers, distributors and others released an open letter this week urging an end to the tariffs. They say tariffs on Scotch whisky, liqueurs and wine would affect nearly $3.4 billion in imports and cost 13,000 U.S. jobs, including truckers and bartenders.

Mindful that the tariffs do not actually come into effect for a couple weeks, Rosario stressed that the EU is still open to talking.

The tariffs come on top of existing ones that the U.S. and EU exchanged last year and multiply the headaches for European businesses fretting over Brexit, which could see Britain leave the EU on Oct. 31 without a deal – meaning new tariffs overnight on the heavy flow of trade across the Channel.

More broadly, the tariffs add to uncertainty for the global economy, which has been hit particularly hard by the U.S.’s wide-ranging dispute with China over trade and technology.

The U.S. and European economies are more closely integrated than the U.S. and China, with companies heavily invested across borders, so the potential damage from an escalation could dwarf the dispute with China.

Total U.S. investment in the EU, for example, is three times higher than in all of Asia. And EU investment in the U.S. is eight times that invested in China and India combined. The two sides account for about half of the world economy.

Rising uncertainty over one of the oldest and biggest economic trade paths would further darken the outlook for exporters and manufacturers, which are already cutting down on investment.

The head of the Spanish Federation of Food and Beverage Industries, Mauricio García de Quevedo, said the new U.S. tariffs will make it harder for the companies he represents to compete internationally. And that will contribute to job losses, he said, without providing detail.

The United States is the Spanish sector’s second biggest food and beverage client after the EU, according to the federation. The sector exported 1.7 billion euros ($1.9 billion) last year.

Miguel Blanco, the secretary-general of Spain’s farming sector umbrella group COAG, representing more than 15,000 Spanish farmers and livestock breeders, said the tariffs are “completely unfair and overblown.”

“Once again, the farming sector is going to pay for an EU trade war which has nothing to do with the Spanish countryside,” Blanco said, according to Europa Press.

The Federation of French wines and spirits exporters also deplored the U.S. decision.

Antoine Leccia, president of the federation, said “we don’t feel at all initially involved in this litigation so we feel we are a bit hostages of these retaliatory measures.”

“We regret that this country, the United States, a country we worked with for many years, a country that increased its wine consumption and French wine imports now adopts such measures,” he added.

In Germany, which has Europe’s largest economy and focuses heavily on exports, the federation of industry said the U.S. was using the WTO ruing to intensify trade disputes.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened in the past to impose tariffs on European cars, a huge sector in Germany, and some fear this week’s escalation could lead to that.

Joachim Lang, the head of the Federation of German Industries, said “there is a risk that many industries on both sides of the Atlantic will find themselves in a lose-lose situation.”

___

Piovano reported from London. David Rising in Berlin, Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Barry Hatton in Lisbon and Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit contributed to this report.

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The Supreme Court Cases That Could Change the Course of History

Major cases this year address the immigration program for young people (“Dreamers”) known as DACA, the Affordable Care Act (again), and public money for religious schools.

Justices will also consider cases that involve several aspects of defendants’ rights: whether criminal convictions require a unanimous jury, minors can be given a life sentence and a state can abolish the insanity defense.

Some of the most important rulings will address the recognition of rights by the conservative court: gay rights, gun rights and Native rights.

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These cases focus on perhaps the deepest divide on the court: Should the justices base their rulings on the contemporary meaning of words in our laws (or in the Constitution itself) as the public understanding of those concepts changes over time?

Or should they insist that our laws can only be changed from their original meaning by the country’s democratic representatives, who are directly accountable to the people?

<h5><strong>Gay Rights</strong></h5>

The justices will consider three cases on LGBT employment rights.

Gerald Bostock was fired by Clayton County, Georgia, because he is gay. Donald Zarda was fired from his job as a tandem sky-dive instructor for being gay (before his death in a BASE-jumping accident). Aimee Stephens transitioned from male to female identity and was fired from her job as a funeral director.

These cases turn on one word’s meaning: the word “sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Does “sex” mean what legislators thought it meant when the law was passed, barring discrimination against women? Or should it be interpreted more broadly now to mean discrimination against any aspect of sexuality?

<h5><strong>Gun Rights</strong></h5>

It has been almost a decade since the court recognized a fundamental right for individual citizens to bear arms. That case was MacDonald v. Chicago, from the city with the highest total number of gun deaths in the nation.

Since that time, the looming question has been what sort of restrictions would be considered constitutional.

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. New York City puts this question to the test. Licensed gun owners were prevented from transporting firearms outside of their homes, even to a second home or to a shooting competition outside the city. The court must decide if this is a reasonable regulation that leaves the essential right to bear arms intact.

In the midst of growing concern over mass shootings, the ruling may have ramifications for future attempts at gun regulations.

To raise the political stakes even further, five U.S. senators in their now infamous “enemy-of-the-Court” brief threaten that if the court does not dismiss the case, the Senate will have to consider adding more justices to the court in an attempt to shift its partisan balance, known as “packing the Court.”

<h5><strong>Native Rights</strong></h5>

The least-known but potentially most important case of the year is not about widely-discussed gay rights or gun rights, but about Native rights.

Sharp v. Murphy began as a dispute over jurisdiction in a murder prosecution. But it has become a potentially influential case about who represents the rightful government of Eastern Oklahoma.

The historic reservations of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Nations comprise 40% of Oklahoma land. These tribes were forcibly removed from the eastern U.S. to the Oklahoma Territory in the 1830s, some making the journey along the infamous Trail of Tears.

Since then, parts of their reservation land have been seized by the state government or sold to private citizens, so they are no longer part of the reservation. This includes the city of Tulsa.

The argument in the case is that according to the original treaties the petitioners are asking the court to uphold, those lands are rightfully still under the government of the tribes. What exactly this means in terms of ownership and governance is unclear.

This may at first appear to be a small case about a piece of the American West. But if the Native rights claim is recognized by the court, it may also apply in later cases to a surprisingly large proportion of the United States that was once “Indian country” under official treaties. That is why 10 states filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing against the Native rights claim.

A map submitted as an exhibit in the Supreme Court case about the boundaries of tribal reservations in Oklahoma.
Supreme Court <h5><strong>Bigger Implications</strong></h5>

The Native rights claims at issue are not individual rights of the type the U.S. Constitution generally contemplates. They are rights held by an ethnic group. The question of who belongs to the group – and hence has access to the group right – is a divisive one because any answer includes some members while excluding others who claim the same identity.

It also is reminiscent of another proposed group right that is being debated in American politics: reparations. This summer the U.S. Congress held contentious hearings to discuss possible payments as reparations for slavery.

But payments to whom? Both Native Americans and African Americans share a distinct problem yet to be solved: how to determine who is a member of the group.

So in the case of reparations: Would they be paid only to direct descendants of slaves? To all African American descendants no matter when their progenitors arrived in the U.S.? To all people who have any black ancestors regardless of their current status or wealth?

Many Native tribes use what’s called the “blood quantumapproach, which forces individuals to document their lineage and proportional ancestry to prove membership. But scholars in this area argue that this approach is fraught with complications in many contexts.

<h5><strong>Election 2020</strong></h5>

Democratic presidential hopefuls have already grappled with questions around tribal membership and the country’s history of racism. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has dealt with a damaging controversy over her claims to Native American ancestry. Former Vice President Joe Biden has come under fire for his earlier opposition to reparations.

In terms of both legal and political influence, Sharp v. Murphy is a case with potentially major ramifications. And with the combined focus on politically divisive issues like gay rights, gun rights and Native rights, this year’s docket is likely to have an unusually strong presence in the 2020 campaigns.

[ Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter. ]

Morgan Marietta, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Lowell

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Reaganism Must Be Defeated Once and for All

The destruction of the middle class is destroying democracies and paving the way for authoritarian rule.

In 2016, Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk published a paper in the Journal of Democracy showing how, in the era since Reagan led America out of classical economic policy and into neoliberalism (aka “trickle-down” and “supply-side” economics), many Americans have ceased to value democracy.

“In the United States,” they write, “among all age cohorts, the share of citizens who believe that it would be better to have a ‘strong leader’ who does not have to ‘bother with parliament and elections’ has also risen over time: In 1995, 24 percent of respondents held this view; by 2011, that figure had increased to 32 percent.” By the time the paper came out in 2016, fully 49 percent of Americans thought elites should make decisions, rather than “government.”

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And the growing disillusionment with democracy as a way to protect the interests of average voters doesn’t just push them toward solutions hatched by the Heritage Foundation or the Cato Institute; increasingly, Americans would even consider a military junta ruling America, something that would shock the founders.

“In the past three decades,” Foa and Mounk write, “the share of U.S. citizens who think that it would be a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ thing for the ‘army to rule’—a patently undemocratic stance—has steadily risen. In 1995, just one in sixteen respondents agreed with that position; today, one in six agree.”

And it’s not just in the United States; democracies across the world are falling to the power of right-wing strongman leaders. Just in the past few decades we’ve seen this happen in Hungary, Poland, the Philippines, India, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia and, most recently, Brazil. Arguably, it has happened here in the United States with the Electoral College’s selection of Donald Trump as president. Meanwhile, hard-right groups seeking such autocracy are rising fast across Europe, particularly in France, Italy, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

In a recent article for the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria notes this trend, along with Foa and Mounk’s research, and tries to analyze its cause.

“Why is this?” Zakaria writes. “The best I can guess is that we are living in times of great change — economic, technological, demographic, cultural — and in this swirl, people feel insecure and anxious.”

But America and the world have been in the midst of “great change” many times before, including during and after two world wars, but this trend toward authoritarianism has been happening uniquely since the 1980s.

That decade saw the adoption of the radical economic and political ideologies of Thatcherism and Reaganism—neoliberalism—which have since swept the world’s democracies. Even the European Union (with the Maastricht Treaty in 1993) has adopted neoliberal “reforms” that benefitted wealthy elites while forcing austerity on its poorer member nations, inflicting massive pain and inciting right-wing movements in Greece, Spain and Italy, among others.

In the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher led the way in 1978. She rejected government ownership of parts of the commons like railways, busted unions, and later argued that, “There is no such thing as society… [only] individual men and women, and… families.”

Reagan came to power in 1980 with the help of vast amounts of money from corporations and the morbidly rich, made possible by the twin 1976 and 1978 Supreme Court decisions of Buckley v. Valeo and First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, which said that billionaires and corporations owning politicians was “free speech.”

With a nod to his oligarch funders, in his inaugural address, his first day on the job as president, Reagan famously said, “[G]overnment is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

When Reagan flipped our economic system on its head, rejecting two generations of classical Adam Smith economics and replacing it with the Laffer Curve and “supply-side” economics, almost a third of Americans had union jobs and around 60 percent of American families lived in the economic “middle class.” But starting in 2015, as NPR noted, reporting on a Pew study, “middle-income households have become the minority.”

Since David Koch’s failed 1980 run for VP on the Libertarian ticket, American oligarchs have invested billions of dollars in the message that government is bad and can’t be trusted. The most obvious example was the faux-grassroots Tea Party “movement” funded by Koch front groups, causing thousands of Americans to protest “government-run” health care with slogans like, “Keep your goddamn government hands off my Medicare!”

Koch and his oligarch friends suggested, through their surrogates and think tanks, that instead of a functioning democracy we should have a government both owned and run by them and their billionaire buddies.

And that’s largely what we have now, with the Trump administration. As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently tweeted, “A corporate lawyer runs DOL, a pharma exec runs HHS, a coal lobbyist runs EPA, an oil lobbyist runs DOI, a Raytheon lobbyist runs DOD, a steel lobbyist is the US trade rep, and a banking exec runs USDT.” I’d add that a former Verizon lawyer runs the FCC, and midlevel positions across the federal government are now filled with lobbyists and lawyers from industry.

Prior to the Reagan Revolution, Americans usually got what they wanted from the government.

The successes of LBJ’s Great Society programs during the 1960s are a great example: Medicare, Medicaid, Voting Rights Act, Civil Rights Act, cutting poverty in half, Head Start, the National Teacher Corps, hundreds of billions in student college aid, PBS and NPR, Air Quality Act, Water Quality Act, Wilderness Act, National Trails System Act, creating the Cabinet-level Department of Housing and Urban Development, Community Action Agencies, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Child Safety Act, mandating warning labels on cigarettes, the Immigration Act that ended race-based immigration quotas, food stamps, and massive investments in public schools and hospitals… among other things.

In the 1970s, Jimmy Carter followed up by creating the Department of Energy and passing energy programs that would have moved 20 percent of America’s electricity generation to solar by 2000 (it was ended by Reagan), establishing the Department of Education, massively expanding Head Start, passing major laws to regulate coal mining and make it safer, forcing polluters to clean up superfund sites, and doubling our public lands in Alaska. Not to mention winning the Nobel Prize for working out a peace deal between Egypt and Israel that holds to this day.

Before the 1980s, Western Europe and other democracies saw similar expansions of people-based government programs. But nearly all of it came to a screeching halt—and much was even reversed—with the neoliberal Thatcher and Reagan Revolutions.

Today’s standard-bearers for neoliberalism are the Republicans (and a few corporate-owned Democrats), and, as Americans figure out that the probability today of legislation passing that’s supported by the majority of Americans is today equivalent to random chance, they’re revolting.

And the oligarch billionaires have been waiting for just this moment, funding massive voter suppression, right-wing media, politicians who tell us that up is down, and efforts to keep their colleague, billionaire Donald Trump, in office. While the outreach to “very fine people” in the neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements is a bit less visible, it’s there, too.

So long as the governments of America and other countries are captives of oligarchs and big corporations, and hang onto anti-worker, anti-middle-class neoliberal policies, citizens will continue to drift toward hard-right “populist” politicians.

Democracies will only begin to revive when we reverse the Reagan Revolution and return to the classical economic and political systems that existed in the Western world before the neoliberal 1980s.

And if that reversal doesn’t happen soon, the trend toward autocratic oligarchy will continue to speed up. As Foa and Mounk note in the conclusion of their research paper, “[W]hat was once unthinkable should no longer be considered outside the realm of possibility.”

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and the author of The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America and more than 25 other books in print. He is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute.

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Trump Calls on China to Investigate Bidens

WASHINGTON—Ensnarled in an impeachment investigation over his request for Ukraine to investigate a chief political rival, President Donald Trump on Thursday called on another nation to probe former Vice President Joe Biden: China.

“China should start an investigation into the Bidens,” Trump said in remarks to reporters outside the White House. Trump said he hadn’t directly asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to investigate Biden and his son Hunter but said it’s “certainly something we could start thinking about.”

Trump and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani have also tried to raise suspicions about Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China, leaning on the writings of conservative author Peter Schweizer. But there is no evidence that the former vice president benefited financially from his son’s business relationships.

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Trump’s requests for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to dig up dirt on Biden, as well as Giuliani’s conduct, are at the center of an intelligence community whistleblower complaint that sparked the House Democratic impeachment probe last week.

The president’s reference to China came unprompted in an unrelated question about the July 25 Ukraine call and moments after he was asked about trade negotiations with China to end a year-long trade war that has been a drag on both nation’s economies.

“I have a lot of options on China, but if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous, tremendous power,” Trump said.

He later alleged without evidence that China had a “sweetheart deal” on trade with the U.S. because of the Bidens.

“You know what they call that,” Trump said. “They call that a payoff.”

Trump’s comments came as he publicly acknowledged that his message to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other officials was to investigate the 2020 Democratic presidential contender. Trump’s accusations of impropriety are unsupported by evidence.

“It’s a very simple answer,” Trump said of his call with Zelenskiy. “They should investigate the Bidens.”

Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.

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Nuclear War Anywhere on Earth Will Doom Us

Nobody can emerge from a nuclear war as a winner, says a US team of scientists, and the planet they inherit may be ravaged by mass starvation.

Their scenario is stark. The year is 2025, they suggest. A dangerous tension has grown more dangerous with the years and suddenly India and Pakistan begin a nuclear exchange. The outcome? More people will die almost immediately than were killed in the entire Second World War.

And the global climate inevitably will feel the heat of the exchange. Up to 36 million tonnes of smoke and soot from subcontinental cities incinerated by even modest nuclear warheads will be blasted high into the upper atmosphere, spread around the globe and darken the skies.

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Planetary average temperatures will drop by at least 2°C and by as much as 5°C, and for the next 10 years regional temperatures could plummet to levels characteristic of the last Ice Age. Rainfall will diminish by 15% to 30%, and so will the productivity of the oceans, terrestrial forests, grasslands and croplands.

Rapid Build-Up

This would be enough to trigger mass starvation around the rest of the globe, according to the scientists’ study, published in the journal Science Advances.

“Nine countries have nuclear weapons, but Pakistan and India are the only ones rapidly increasing their arsenals,” said Alan Robock, of Rutgers University in the US. “Because of the continuing unrest between these two nuclear-armed countries, particularly over Kashmir, it is important to understand the consequences of nuclear war.”

The world’s nuclear arsenal totals around 13,900 weapons: nine-tenths of them held by Russia and the United States. But Britain, France, China, Israel, India and Pakistan are thought to have between 100 and 300 each, and none of these states is bound by treaties that require them to reveal the number of launchers or the number of warheads carried by missiles.

Of these states, Pakistan and India have a long history of military tension – including four conventional wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999, and a long history of claim and counter-claim to the territory of Kashmir.

Professor Robock and nine other scientists, led by Owen Brian Toon of the University of Colorado at Boulder, consulted military and policy experts to develop a simple scenario of how a nuclear war might happen, and then made estimates of the likely yield of 250 weapons that might be used by both nations in the first week of conflict.

India has 400 cities with more than 100,000 people, and by 2025 Pakistan could have an arsenal big enough to attack two-thirds of them; Pakistan has about 60 such dense conurbations and India could react and hit all of them with two weapons each. The expected almost-immediate death toll would be between 50 million and 125 million.

The scientists examined accounts of the only time nuclear weapons were used in anger – over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945 – and made calculations of the impact of nuclear weaponry on brick and steel, cement and stone, pitch and tile, concluding that between 16 and 36 million tonnes of black carbon would rise into the upper atmosphere, spread around the planet and screen the sunlight, for up to a decade, to set up the conditions for poor harvests or no harvests, and severe food shortages.

“An India-Pakistan war could double the normal death rate in the world,” Professor Toon said. “This is a war that would have no precedent in human experience.”

Lesson from Wildfires

This is not the first such study: in 2017 a group of scientists revived concerns about a potential “nuclear autumn” with deadly consequences that would follow a nuclear exchange.

In August this year Professor Robock and colleagues looked at the smoke from devastating Canadian wildfires in 2017 and used these as a lesson for the conflagration and clouds of smoke that would follow thermonuclear strikes on cities, with, once again, deadly consequences for parts of the world far from the conflict zone.

And Professor Toon was part of the team of scientists that – in 1983, around the most tense months of the Cold War – first developed the theory of “nuclear winter” that might follow all-out global thermonuclear war, to propose that there could be no winners, and no safe neutral zones, in such a conflict.

“Nuclear weapons cannot be used in any rational scenario but could be used by accident or as a result of hacking, panic or deranged world leaders,” Professor Robock said. “The only way to prevent this is to eliminate them.”

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The President Is Attacking Our Children

Okay, I’ll admit it. Sometimes I can’t take the bad news. It’s too much. It’s so extra, as the kids like to say.

When I hit that wall of hopelessness and anxiety so many of us have become familiar with, I take what I think of as a “kid break.” I stare into the faces of my three children seeking solace and sanity. I remind myself that they are the why of it all.

Seamus, who is seven, and I do our special four-part kiss. I arrange five-year-old Madeline’s hair into Dutch braids or bear-ear buns. Twelve-year-old Rosena and I talk about her five-minute YouTube-inspired craft projects. I connect with those three nodes of antic energy, creativity, and goodness and I feel a little better.

Unfortunately, kid breaks don’t represent a long-term solution to my problem. They’re too brief to keep my hopes afloat, nor is it fair to continually cling to my kids’ narrow shoulders to keep my head above the surging waters. Still, sometimes it really does help to see the world, however briefly, through their eyes, because despite everything, they’re having a good time.

Check out how cool they are: Madeline and Seamus are lying on opposite ends of the couch, both in their pajamas, both reading, both humming under their breath. It’s early morning. Soon they’ll have to go upstairs and get ready for school. From the other room, I reach for my phone to capture this unconscious and beautiful moment, but before I can, Seamus leaps up, adds a lyric to Madeline’s tune and starts dancing, whipping a piece of fabric around his head. She sits up and watches, rapt, humming ever louder.

Seamus spins further into the room until I can’t see him anymore, but I watch her watching him and think: They’re going to be A-OK.

All three of them. Kind and caring of one another and others. But the world they’re growing into is another matter entirely. It’s not A-OK. What do I do about that? I have to do more than day-dream that Greta Thunberg will become Queen of the World and declare a carbon-free future by fiat.

“Tronald Dump! Tronald Dump! Tronald Dump!”

One morning, not too long ago, Madeline and I were playing “interview.” It’s a game all of us like in which one person asks random questions and the other has to answer instantly, off the top of his or her head. Sometimes, admittedly, it can get tedious (for me, at least) because they always start by asking, “What’s your favorite animal?” and they remember if I mention a different one than last time.

On this day, as it happened, I needed the game to distract Madeline, while I put a pair of hand-me-down school-uniform pants on her, so I played it, machine-gun style:

“Who is your favorite person?”

“My family and everyone in the whole world,” she responded instantly.

“Just name one person.”

“Can I say three? Bronwyn, Autumn, and JoJo!” Those are her friends from the neighborhood. I’m hoping that one of these days they’ll start a band and, as I’ve told them, call it “JoJo and the Sea Walls.” It’s an inside joke that panders to girls 6 to 60 who are obsessed with Jojo Siwa, a 16-year-old cultural phenom with giant hair bows and glitter-encrusted dance numbers. Still, they weren’t amused and probably won’t let me manage the band.

“What’s your favorite song?”

“Why Don’t You Just Meet Me in the Middle.” Okay, maybe they’re not quite as A-OK as I like to imagine, since “The Middle” is a truly repulsive earworm of a song, especially when its lover-duet lyrics are sung by a five year old.

“What’s your least favorite food?”

“Hot sauce and anything spicy.”

“Who’s your least favorite person?”

“Michael Jackson and Donald Trump. I hate them!”

And there it was, direct from the black-and-white world of a five year old: the pop idol who sang lead on “ABC,” the song they love, and who also hurt kids: a fact they know from too much exposure to National Public Radio and a long car ride ill-timed to coincide with breaking news about the release of the documentary film Leaving Neverland. (Its topic was Jackson’s child sexual abuse.) And — why am I not surprised in our household? — the illegitimate president of the United States who yells and throws tantrums like a spoiled five year old, lies like a spoiled seven year old, tweets like a spoiled 12 year old, and more than two-and-a-half years after entering the Oval Office continues to rewrite the rules of the game and the world in ways that are anything but healthy for children, not to speak of other living things.

Madeline is fierce and funny and fragile like any five year old. I fear that the world Donald Trump is taking such a hand in creating won’t have room for her — and, on some deep level, I suspect, she senses that, too, and it makes her mad.

The news on NPR was playing in the kitchen one morning recently when Madeline came in. “Turn it off!” she demanded, her voice stentorious and aggrieved. “I do not want to hear that man’s voice today!” Another morning, seeing the president’s photo in the newspaper on the table, she pounded it with her fists, chanting, “Tronald Dump! Tronald Dump! Tronald Dump!”

Now that Madeline is in school — she started kindergarten after Labor Day — she’s trying to be a nicer person. She talks a lot about how she needs to be “nice.” So, after declaring that Michael Jackson and Donald Trump were the worst people in the world, she added, her voice thick with a saccharine school-edge, “But I would still treat them nicely.”

She says it, in fact, with such fervor that initially I wonder whether she’s inverted the meaning of the word nicely. If she hasn’t, she may have to. The Trump administration is taking out after the future of my kids and Madeline, her brother, and her sister sense it.

The Donald’s Assault on the Future

Before Donald Trump was a household word as a hotelier, a womanizer, and the 45th president of the United States, “trump” was a verb meaning to supercede, dominate, outrank. How perfect, as it happens, for a man who is, in all modesty, trying to trump the future — Madeline’s, Seamus’s, and Rosena’s.

President Trump Is Attacking Their Environment

He’s selling off national parks to loggers and miners, making fervently sure that ever more carbon will be pumped into the skies, and that more noxious chemicals and industrial waste will flow into the waters of this land.

We live in New London, Connecticut, a relatively small town, just 5.5 square miles, so two million acres is incomprehensible to me. But that’s the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments out West. Or at least it was until Trump’s Interior Department began moving to shrink these wild public lands for the benefit of private interests.

National Geographic has been keeping track of his administration’s abuse of natural resources. By now, it has recorded 15 major assaults on the natural world since he entered the White House in January 2017, including the undermining of the Endangered Species Act. Until July 2018, the act that protects the black footed ferret and the grizzly bear, among many other species, put more weight on safeguarding their imperilled habitats than on economic considerations. Once this administration got its hands on it, however, the money side instantly won out and the animals and the rest of us (including my kids) lost.

In August, the New York Times counted 84 environmental laws or regulations that the Trump administration has already rolled back with more to come, even as it promotes pipelines and works to open previously pristine national parks to oil and natural gas drilling. According to a recent report prepared by New York University Law School’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, such changes “could significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions and lead to thousands of extra deaths from poor air quality every year.”

Not so surprisingly, my kids love ferrets and bears and butterflies and want clean water and clean air.

Trump Is Attacking Their Education

He’s slashing public education budgets, opening space to even more for-profit schools, and modeling a bully swagger that’s a caricature of every bad kid.

My kids go to good public schools in New London. The little ones attend schools that offer theater, music, and visual arts every week. The older one is in a non-profit charter school that focuses on interdisciplinary work and community investment, while cultivating a strong, kind school culture. They are all thriving and happy; the schools themselves, less so. Each of them is struggling, while the message from the top is: make do with less.

A budget analysis from the Center for American Progress finds that the Trump administration’s 2020 education budget proposal would eliminate 29 public school programs, including after-school programming in poor communities and professional development for teachers, while cutting a total of $8.5 billion, a 12% decrease from the fiscal year 2019 budget. Over the last two years, the Department of Education has suggested even more massive cuts, though Congress has rejected them. We can only hope that its members will again “just say no” to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s grim proposals. Still, even the money that does get to cities and municipalities is so much less than what such schools and their teachers and kids really need.

The public college scene is bleak, too. The way things are looking now, my kids may be going to plumbing school! College has never been more expensive and recent moves by the Department of Education have made accrediting for-profit colleges that bilk their students so much easier.

Trump Is Attacking Their Future

The world is on fire. That phrase used to be a rhetorical device for expressing the urgency of problems. Now, from the Amazon toIndonesia’s forests, it’s literally, as well as existentially, true! Donald Trump is making the future so much more perilous for my children by lowering the bar for nuclear war and accelerating the pace of the climate crisis.

James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climatologists, has been ringing the alarm bell about climate change for decades. The Columbia University professor has shown vividly how, thanks to the burning of fossil fuels, the Earth’s climate has already moved above the temperature range that supported the previous 10,000 years of civilization. In “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene,” a “hothouse Earth” scenario put together by leading ecologists in 2018, they suggested that, if greenhouse gas emissions weren’t cut — and they’re still rising! — with reasonable rapidity, there could be a point of no return. Critical planetary systems could spiral out of control, causing “serious disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies,” even if those emissions were then curbed in a serious way. This should terrify us all, at least for our children’s sake, if not our own.

And speaking not just of something, but of someone who should terrify us all, consider President Trump’s recent response to hurricane season. “Nuke ’em,” he suggested during a hurricane briefing at the White House and he wasn’t just kidding around. He meant it! The president actually said, “I got it. I got it. Why don’t we nuke them?” Given how many of our tax dollars go to nuclear weapons, there should be some use for them, right? We should deliver true “fire and fury” somewhere, so why not directly into the eye of a hurricane? Despite having no true military superpower rival, the United States is on track to spend $494 billion on nuclear weapons over the next 10 years, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office analysis, and closer to $2 trillion over the next three decades.

Trump Is Attacking Their Bodies

In Trump’s world, health care is not a right, it’s a gold-plated privilege that makes lots of money for his friends in the insurance industry. In the meantime, he’s fighting Obamacare and Medicare for All, and in that fight, he sets himself against three kids I love.

It Shouldn’t Be Donald Trump’s Future (Which Is No Future at All)

To say the least, all of this leaves me distressed, disturbed, and depressed. Under the circumstances, it’s easy enough to just throw up my hands and bury my head in the sand. That, unfortunately, doesn’t help Seamus, Madeline, and Rosena one little bit, nor does it help the millions of other kids threatened by the Trumpian assault on the future. So I carry on, putting one foot in front of the other and doing my best to keep working, however small the scale, for the better future that President Trump is so eager to deny them.

After all, the future doesn’t belong to him or to me. It belongs to my kids and your kids and all the generations to follow.

The skies, the mesas, the old growth forests, the seas, and everything else, all the richness, beauty, diversity of our ecosystem doesn’t belong in Donald Trump’s wallet. It’s ours, not his. It belongs to all of us — and none of us — at the same time. That means our job, above all, is to protect it and so our children, all of them!

The post The President Is Attacking Our Children appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Snowden Knows Exactly Why No One Wants to Be a Whistleblower

“I have a lot of respect for whistleblowers,” President Donald Trump said at a news conference Wednesday, before qualifying, “but only when they are real.” It remains unclear what the first U.S. president who comes from reality television means by “real.” What is clear is that the impeachment inquiry announced last week by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has infuriated Trump as it picks up steam. The inquiry is based largely on the complaint of a single whistleblower, who revealed, through legally prescribed channels, details of Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to investigate one of Trump’s 2020 presidential rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. That a single whistleblower could trigger Trump’s potential impeachment reminds us how important whistleblowers are to a functioning democracy. It also compels us to recognize that far too many of them over the years have been vilified, persecuted and prosecuted for their courageous acts.

“How is it that there has been just one whistleblower?” Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, asked in a tweet. “Gee I wonder,” replied Edward Snowden, one of the world’s most famous whistleblowers. Ed Snowden has been living in exile in Moscow since 2013 after he released to journalists millions of pages of documents he had taken out of the National Security Agency, where he had worked on the nation’s most closely guarded surveillance programs.

Snowden’s derisive quip to Bharara is grounded in his own hard-earned experience. Snowden witnessed what he thought was a vast web of illegal, unconstitutional surveillance activities being conducted at the NSA. He left his home in Hawaii with a trove of top-secret electronic files and flew to Hong Kong, where he met with journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill. Holed up in a hotel room over the course of days, Snowden walked the trio of reporters through the myriad spy programs that he considered illegal, including the dragnet collection of all cellphone call records in the U.S., potentially vacuuming up the internet browsing activity of everyone on the planet and spying on cellphone calls of world leaders, for starters.

“The question that we have to ask is: Why?” Snowden said on the “Democracy Now!” news hour, days after the release of “Permanent Record,” his memoir. “Don’t we need, as a public, to understand what the government is doing … behind closed doors?” Snowden’s memoir details his trajectory as a young computer expert, inspired by the attacks of 9/11 to join the military and then, after an accident, to move into the intelligence community.

Snowden became increasingly alarmed by the vast surveillance state that he was helping to build, but knew that, if he were to follow the formal channels for raising concerns, it wouldn’t end well. “NSA whistleblowers who did go through this process had their lives destroyed,” he said on “Democracy Now!” “They lost their careers, they lost their homes, in some cases they lost their families, because of the stress and retaliation and consequences they face.”

The list of whistleblowers who have suffered for their acts gets increasingly longer: NSA whistleblowers Thomas Drake, Bill Binney and NSA contractor Reality Winner; the CIA’s Jeffrey Sterling; and U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, to name just a few. Some went through official channels; others went straight to the press. Their disclosures served the public, and, in return, zealous government prosecutors brought the hammer down on them.

“Some of them lost their freedom,” Snowden said from his home in exile. “Chelsea Manning right now is sitting in prison. We have had so much mistreatment of whistleblowers here.”

Lawyers for the current whistleblower have written that their client is currently under federal protection, and that they fear for the person’s safety. Edward Snowden understands what worries this whistleblower. “The government made me public enemy number one. I was the most wanted man in the world,” he said. Ultimately, he chose to go directly to the press, instead of risking the official channels that often fail the whistleblower. He is willing to return to the U.S. to face trial, provided it is fair and open to the public, not if he is tried in secret, unable to present his reasons for his disclosures. “I don’t believe participating in that kind of system advances the interests of justice; I think that perpetuates a system of injustice.”

The post Snowden Knows Exactly Why No One Wants to Be a Whistleblower appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Wall Street Is Killing Local Newspapers

Though lacking the size and prestige of The New York Times or The Washington PostThe Storm Lake Times is arguably just as important.

Two years ago, the small, bi-weekly Iowa paper (circulation: 3,000) won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for taking on agricultural water pollution in the state. If it weren’t for vibrant local papers, stories like these might never come to light.

Unfortunately, all over the country, private equity and hedge funds have been scooping up these cash-strapped papers — and looting them into irrelevance or bankruptcy.

Here’s how it works.

Investors put down a fraction of the purchase price and borrow the rest — and then saddle the company with that debt. Layoffs and cutbacks follow, which leads to a shabbier product. Circulation and revenue decline, then more cuts, and the cycle accelerates.

Eventually the paper is a shadow of its former self, or turned to ashes completely. Wall Street wins, the public loses.

Perhaps the most infamous recent example was the breakdown of the 127-year-old Denver Post. Since private equity firm Alden Global acquired the paper, it has cut two out of every three staff positions — twice the industry rate for downsizing.

To add insult to injury, the firm has been using staff pension funds as its own personal piggy bank. In total, they’ve moved nearly $250 million into investment accounts in the Cayman Islands.

Employees who remain grapple with censorship. Last April, Dave Krieger — editorial page editor of Alden’s Boulder Daily Camera — was fired after self-publishing an opinion piece headlined “Private Equity Owners Endanger Daily Camera’s Future.”

In solidarity, Denver Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett resigned, complaining that his publishers were also censoring stories that might offend Alden.

Alden’s Digital First Media runs many other big papers, putting hundreds of newsroom staff at risk of censorship and layoffs. Millions of readers, in turn, may learn only what Alden deems fit for them.

It’s not a new pattern. In 2008, a year after billionaire Sam Zell bought the Tribune Co. — publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and other venerable publications — the company filed for bankruptcy, saddled with $13 billion in debt in what’s been called “the deal from hell.”

After it emerged from bankruptcy, the company was left in the hands of — you guessed it — private equity.

The march of these buyout barons continues. This summer, New Media Investment Group (owner of GateHouse Media) announced plans to buy Gannett. The $1.38 billion deal would unite one-sixth of all daily newspapers across the country, affecting 9 million print readers.

New Media anticipates cutting $300 million in costs each year, suggesting layoffs comparable to those at The Denver Post are in the offing — even as the company and its investor owners harvest profits.

This is a crisis. This country lost more than a fifth of its local newspapers between 2004 and 2018, while newspapers lost almost half of their newsroom employees between 2008 and 2018.

A few lawmakers are catching on.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) recently introduced the Stop Wall Street Looting Act to curb these abuses, with Warren specifically calling out private equity firms for decimating local newspapers.

Senator Bernie Sanders recently introduced an ambitious plan of his own, calling for a moratorium on major media mergers and encouraging newsrooms to unionize nationwide.

Newspapers have been critical to American democracy since its founding. By allowing huge corporations to gut newspapers in the name of making a buck, we’re putting a price tag on that democracy when we need it most.

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No Good Reasons to Avoid Impeaching Trump

The impeachment inquiry aimed at Donald Trump has elicited a near-palpable sigh of relief among many Americans deeply anxious about the damage he has done to the presidency and country. Each new poll suggests rising support among the electorate to terminate Trump’s presidency. Given how Trump has devastated constitutional protections, human rights and ethical boundaries over the past two and a half years, causing untold damage to the nation, impeachment ought to be welcome news across the political spectrum. But many on both the right and the left are calling the process into question—for different reasons, of course.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to launch an impeachment inquiry into Trump over a whistleblower complaint against how he seemingly used his office for personal gain has been met with predictable backlash from the president’s most ardent supporters. Right-leaning media outlets, which have provided oxygen to Trump’s base, have doubled down on the ongoing theme of “fake news” to explain away the pesky facts. “Everything you’re seeing is deception,” says rabid right-wing shock jock Rush Limbaugh, echoing what Trump has told his supporters in the past.

Meanwhile, those Republicans who continue to tie their political fortunes to Trump’s have fixated on how his shenanigans came to light rather than the content of the whistleblower’s complaint—an echo of Trump’s own approach. They have vainly attempted to refocus attention onto former Vice President Joe Biden and the supposed corruption around his son Hunter that Trump was seemingly asking Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s new president, to investigate. But they have refused to address the illicit way Trump went about with his “investigation” into Biden.

‘Exhibit A’ is Chris Wallace’s recent interview with White House adviser Stephen Miller on Fox News. Wallace had revealed that Trump had engaged two private lawyers in addition to his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to dig up dirt on Biden and demanded to know why Trump didn’t use the American intelligence agencies at his disposal instead of private lawyers. Miller repeatedly obfuscated; ultimately, he had no answer. Indeed, none of Trump’s backers has a valid answer to his abuse of power.

Republican lawmakers, in attempting to avoid facing the clearly documented misconduct of their president, claimed they had not yet had time to read the whistleblower’s report. Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rightly lambasted her colleagues on Twitter, saying, “There is almost no excuse for a member of Congress to have not read the whistleblower report by now. It’s a few pages. This is literally our jobs. If you don’t have the commitment to be here and do the work, cut your fancy fundraisers & make the time, or quit.” Ocasio-Cortez had earlier admonished her own party over its inaction. Just as the Ukraine story was breaking, she tweeted: “At this point, the bigger national scandal isn’t the president’s lawbreaking behavior—it is the Democratic Party’s refusal to impeach him for it.”

Some have dismissed the pursuit of impeachment as folly, arguing that it distracts from the much-needed legislative work Americans elected their representatives for. In fact, Trump’s press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, trotted out this argument after Pelosi’s impeachment announcement, saying it “destroyed any chances of legislative progress for the people of this country by continuing to focus all their energy on partisan political attacks.”

Grisham failed to mention that House Democrats have passed a number of bills addressing corruption, gun control and many other critical issues. However, that legislative agenda has been entirely stymied by one of Trump’s most effective allies, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has singlehandedly imposed a bottleneck on bills in the Senate. In fact, Democrats have pursued impeachment-related investigations through at least half a dozen committees while also debating and passing bills in the House, proving that it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Some have suggested that backing impeachment based on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report or the Ukraine whistleblower complaint legitimizes intelligence agencies like the FBI and the CIA, whose pasts are replete with repressive tactics. It is absolutely true that both agencies are known for spying on progressive movements, overthrowing democratic governments and generally obstructing freedom, democracy and progress. There is also a legitimate critique of how the CIA whistleblower in the Ukraine story is being lionized versus how whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden, who exposed the mass crimes of the U.S. government, have been demonized. Still, none of that negates the whistleblower’s documentation of Trump’s abuse of power.

There are those who suggest it is better to beat Trump at the polls than through impeachment, as though the two are mutually exclusive. Jacobin’s Bhaskar Sunkara last week tweeted an article he had written in The Guardian in April titled, “Impeachment is the wrong way to beat Trump.” In it, he argued that “The way to defeat a rightwing political coalition is through leftwing politics, not political theater.” But one can argue that using the levers of government and exercising the congressional check on the president is a legitimate use of existing political power. Indeed, it is the most principled path for elected representatives during a time when a single individual—Trump—has laid waste to laws and ethics.

Pursuing impeachment does not prevent the practice of left-wing politics. On the contrary, it furthers it by helping to expose and publicize the illegitimacy of a rabidly right-wing president and his tactics, which so many of the nation’s conservatives have bought into since 2015.

Some on the left have also argued that an impeachment vote will strengthen Trump’s hand, enabling him to play the martyr, survive a Senate vote (which is likely but not guaranteed), and go on to win reelection because of impeachment, not in spite of it. However, if history is any indicator, an impeachment process will shine greater light on Trump’s misdeeds. Just as support for President Richard Nixon’s impeachment started at a meager level and grew as the process played itself out, if Trump survives an impeachment vote because his backers in the Senate refuse to abandon him, he may go on to lose at the polls because of the impeachment process.

It took Democrats more than two years to begin an impeachment inquiry, holding back because they were terrified of losing House seats in swing districts. Democrats had put their party’s political power over their duty to uphold the Constitution and check a rogue president. Still, their move is better late than never, and if impeachment is to mean anything it ought to apply to a president like Trump for any one of hundreds of offenses, from brutal violations of the rights of immigrant children to blatant profiteering off the presidency.

If any president is deserving of impeachment, it is Trump.

The post No Good Reasons to Avoid Impeaching Trump appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

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