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« Reply #2520 on: May 20, 2019, 04:05 AM »

Where women call the shots

The nation’s first majority-female legislature is currently meeting in Nevada. Carson City may never be the same.

By Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
WA Post
May 20, 2019

CARSON CITY, Nev. — She didn’t plan to say it. Yvanna Cancela, a newly elected Democrat in the Nevada Senate, didn’t want to “sound crass.” But when a Republican colleague defended a century-old law requiring doctors to ask women seeking abortions whether they’re married, Cancela couldn’t help firing back.

“A man is not asked his marital status before he gets a vasectomy,” she countered — and the packed hearing room fell silent.

Since Nevada seated the nation’s first majority-female state legislature in January, the male old guard has been shaken up by the perspectives of female lawmakers. Bills prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda. Mounting reports of sexual harassment have led one male lawmaker to resign. And policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices.

Cancela, 32, is part of the wave of women elected by both parties in November, many of them younger than 40. Today, women hold the majority with 23 seats in the Assembly and 10 in the Senate, or a combined 52 percent.

No other legislature has achieved that milestone in U.S. history. Only Colorado comes close, with women constituting 47 percent of its legislators. In Congress, just one in four lawmakers is a woman. And in Alabama, which just enacted an almost complete ban on abortion, women make up just 15 percent of lawmakers.

The female majority is having a huge effect: More than 17 pending bills deal with sexual assault, sex trafficking and sexual misconduct, with some measures aimed at making it easier to prosecute offenders. Bills to ban child marriage and examine the causes of maternal mortality are also on the docket.

“I can say with 100 percent certainty that we wouldn’t have had these conversations" a few years ago, said Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D). "None of these bills would have seen the light of day.”

Nevada didn’t reach this landmark by accident. A loosely coordinated campaign of political action groups and women’s rights organizations recruited and trained women such as Cancela, who became political director of the 57,000-member Culinary Workers Union before she turned 30. One of those organizations, Emerge Nevada, said it trained twice as many female candidates ahead of the 2018 midterm election as it had in the preceding 12 years.

Meanwhile, the election of President Trump in 2016 mobilized Democratic women nationwide, including in Nevada, where women already held 40 percent of statehouse seats.

Along with the gender shift has come a steady increase in racial diversity: Of 63 lawmakers in Nevada, 11 are African American, nine are Hispanic, one is Native American and one, Rochelle Thuy Nguyen (D), 41, is the legislature’s first Democratic female Asian American Pacific Islander.

The result may seem surprising in a state more often defined by the hypersexuality and neon-lit debauchery of the Las Vegas Strip. Until 2017, the legislature included an assemblyman who had briefly appeared as an extra in a film about women being kidnapped and forced to live naked in kennels, according to PolitiFact.

But that lawmaker, Stephen Silberkraus (R), 38, was defeated by a woman, Lesley Cohen (D), 48, who highlighted the film during her campaign. (Silberkraus told reporters that he had been unaware of the film’s sexual nature.) As a member of the Assembly, Cohen is leading a study on conditions for female sex workers in Nevada’s rural brothels, the nation’s only legal bordellos.

“Outsiders ask why and how Nevada — of all places — became first,” Cohen said. “But I say, why not Nevada? Why not everywhere?”

A culture change

Carson City is a tiny frontier town, cradled among the snow-capped Sierra Nevada. For decades in the statehouse, charges of sexual harassment often were shrugged off or belittled, and bills sponsored by women were sometimes mocked.

In 2015, Sen. Patricia Ann Spearman (D), now 64, said legislative leaders refused to schedule a hearing on her bill to promote pay equity for women. “The boys club was like, ‘Why do we need that?’ ” she said. “It was a very misogynistic session."

As recently as 2017, when the legislature approved a public referendum to repeal the "pink tax” on necessities such as tampons and diapers, one assemblyman argued against it, saying it would create a slippery slope.

“Can I add my jockstrap purchases to your list? You might argue it’s not a necessity, but I might beg to differ,” Jim Marchant (R) said at the time. Last November, voters agreed to repeal the tax — and replaced Marchant with a woman, Shea Backus (D).

Even now, female lawmakers in both parties say they receive anonymous phone calls from men commenting on their looks or threatening sexual violence. GOP women “share a lot of common ground and lived experiences with Democratic women,” said Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R), 45.

Still, Nevada also has long history of female leadership. The first woman was elected to the legislature in 1918, before the U.S. Constitution guaranteed women the right to vote. And although the state has never elected a female governor, it has had at least four female lieutenant governors, the first appointed in 1962.

These days, a giant banner strung across Main Street advertises a hotline for victims of sexual harassment and assault. Set up two years ago, after state Sen. Mark Manendo (D), now 52, resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment, witness tampering and other misconduct, the hotline has been buzzing during the current legislative session.

Many women called with allegations of harassment against Assemblyman Michael Sprinkle (D), 51, who stepped down in March. In a statement announcing his resignation, Sprinkle said that he was “taking full responsibility for my actions,” would “continue to seek therapy,” and asked his accusers and family for forgiveness.

“There’s change in this building that is just this amazing story of transformation,” said Assemblywoman Heidi Swank (D), 51, who helped bring the allegations against Sprinkle to light. “And it really highlights the importance of the female majority being not just here, but finally being heard.”

Some female lawmakers say the old guard is literally dying. In November, voters in rural Nevada elected Republican Dennis Hof — a 72-year-old reality TV star and owner of several legal brothels, including the Love Ranch and the Moonlite Bunny Ranch — to the state Assembly. At the time, Hof had been dead for three weeks.

While many female lawmakers say they have found strong male allies this session, a few older men seem to be finding life in the minority difficult.

Democratic Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod, 45, who keeps a “No Bulls--t Allowed” sign on her desk, said one assemblyman frequently asks, “Have you been a good girl today?”

“It’s so inappropriate on so many levels, and it’s that old guard trying to hang on,” she said. “Calling this out is the way you change the world.”

The assemblyman, co-Deputy Minority Leader John Ellison (R), 66, said he has “great respect” for Bilbray-Axelrod. After being contacted by The Washington Post, Ellison sent her a handwritten card asking her to “please accept my apology if I ever said anything offensive to you."

Bilbray-Axelrod said the moment shows that “there is hope for everyone.”

Historically, state legislatures have been “stubborn, slow-to-change institutions, which were heavily male-dominated,” said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Although it’s notable that “one state has crossed into the 50-percent mark to represent women,” she said, “it’s probably a lot more significant that we have 49 legislatures left to go.”

A new generation, a new point of view

Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D) never expected to be here. The 23-year-old teacher who helps Hispanic students learn English said she was inspired to run when she heard Trump on TV saying “awful things about immigrants.”

“I think growing up, you have this idea that politicians aren’t us. They don’t look like me. They don’t have my type of hair. They don’t come from our background. They don’t have to send money back to El Salvador to make sure that their family can make ends meet,” Torres said. “But then you come to realize: That’s the problem.”

Torres signed up for workshops by Emerge Nevada, a national Democratic organization that recruits and trains female candidates. In the legislature, Torres said she has found a spirit of sisterhood.

Benitez-Thompson, 40, has mentored her and given her suits and blazers. She and some of the other women share apartments and joke that they could star in a fun but wonky reality show called “The Real World: Carson City.”

Meanwhile, the women are savoring their first legislative victories. Cancela, who has the logo of the culinary union tattooed across her rib cage, noted that the Senate recently passed her Trust Nevada Women’s Act, which would codify and update abortion rights. It’s now awaiting a vote in the assembly.

Cancela said she was nervous when she defended the measure with a reference to vasectomy that day in March. But she said she willed herself to summon the courage to disrupt the usual order.

“I wanted to be respectful,” she said. “But also make a point.”

Story by Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, photos by Melina Mara, design by Brianna Schroer, photo editing by Karly Domb Sadof, copy editing by Carrie Camillo.

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« Reply #2521 on: May 20, 2019, 04:21 AM »

Europe's centrists draw on Austrian scandal to issue far-right warning

Mainstream parties hope voters will shun populists in wake of ‘politicians for sale’ revelation

Jon Henley Europe correspondent
Mon 20 May 2019 10.37 BST

Politicians from mainstream parties across Europe have called on voters to shun the far right in this week’s European elections after Austria’s vice-chancellor resigned over a video sting that showed him offering public contracts in exchange for financial and campaign backing.

Heinz-Christian Strache stepped down on Saturday after the footage emerged. Hours later, Austria’s chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, announced snap elections, ending the 18-month ruling coalition between his centre-right Austrian People’s party (ÖVP) and Strache’s far-right Freedom party (FPÖ).

The video showed the vice-chancellor proposing to trade government contracts for party donations and favourable media coverage with a woman posing as the wealthy niece of a Russian energy billionaire. He acknowledged the video was “catastrophic” but denied doing anything illegal.

Centrist leaders across the continent made clear they hoped the repercussions of Strache’s downfall would make themselves felt beyond Austria in the European parliament elections, from 23-26 May, in which populist, nationalist and far-right parties are forecast to make gains.

The Freedom party is a key member of an alliance of European nationalist parties led by Matteo Salvini of Italy’s League, who held an inaugural mass rally in Milan on Saturday with the the French National Rally of Marine Le Pen and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

“A few months ago, Marine Le Pen was singing the praises of Heinz-Christian Strache, saying how formidable he was,” France’s economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, said. “He has been forced to resign. We find out why: he was caught trying to sell his services to foreign forces. Behind this nationalist movement is a submission to foreign forces.”

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, sharply criticised “politicians for sale”, saying the EU was facing “populist movements that in many areas are contemptuous of European values, who want to destroy the Europe of our values. We have to stand up to this decisively.”

The scandal appeared to mark the end of Kurz’s widely-criticised experiment at dealing with a successful far-right party by bringing it into the fold and building an alliance, rather than trying to ostracise it at the risk of alienating its voters.

“It’s long been known that rightwing populists destabilise our democracy,” Germany’s Socialist justice minister, Katarina Barley, tweeted. “Sebastian Kurz and the ÖVP brought them into government … The Strache case is a warning to all conservatives: do not work with far-right populists.”

It could also prove a setback for Europe’s resurgent far right. Strache’s obvious eagerness to embrace corruption stands in stark contrast to the “drain the swamp” rhetoric populists routinely deploy in their attempts to portray politics as a battle by decent ordinary people against a venal elite.

The Austrian vice-chancellor’s evident failings could make it more difficult for far-right leaders such as Salvini and Le Pen to present their parties as respectable – just slightly more rightwing – alternatives to the established centre-right.

Initially, the far-right populists sought to downplay the incident. The AfD leader, Jörg Meuthen, dismissed it as an “internal issue”, while the spokesman for the German party’s parliamentary group, Christian Lueth, described it in a now-deleted tweet as a “pseudo-scandal”.

But while neither Salvini nor Le Pen addressed the Austrian scandal directly, it has at the very least given their opponents some much-needed ammunition days before elections in which they face a significant challenge from the far right.

Strache’s behaviour, said Michael Schickhofer of Austria’s Social Democrats, “is symbolic … We can be sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.” Istvan Ujhelyi, a Hungarian Socialist MEP, said Strache would be was “the first domino” to fall. “Next up are Salvini, Le Pen, Orban and the rest of Moscow’s far-right puppets.”

A German TV commentator, Christian Nitsche, said the scandal could show the populists were not invincible. If Austria rejected the far right it would “probably not yet be a turning point on Europe’s wrong path – but a sign of hope that a first country has the strength to turn away from anti-democratic politicians and parties”, he said.

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« Reply #2522 on: May 20, 2019, 04:28 AM »

European elections: how the six biggest countries will vote

French parties are increasingly adopting the p-word while Italy is concerned about taxes

Europa correspondents
20 May 2019 15.26 BST

More than 370 million people will be eligible to vote in the European elections. But as they enter the polling booth they will have very different issues on their mind, as this survey of the six biggest countries conducted by the Europa group of newspapers reveals.

It used to be a dirty word in an open country that is part of the world’s biggest single market. But French parties are increasingly adopting the p-word in this campaign, even if they don’t always say it out loud.

On the far left, La France Insoumise supports “solidarity protectionism” and proposes the idea of a “kilometric carbon tax”: the further the product is shipped, the more it is taxed. The green fringe advocate something similar – a carbon tax at the border of the EU and restrictions on imports from countries that do not permit free union association.

Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally advocates an “intelligent protectionism” that would support the national economy through the restoration of customs duties. The socialists too are revising their position on protectionism, a result of years of social dumping and market disruption. “We assume a form of protectionism and put trade policy at the service of ecology and the fight against inequality,” says Raphaël Glucksmann, leader of the influential Place Publique movement, who heads a common list with the PS.

Even Emmanuel Macron’s movement seems to be converted. Admittedly, the term “protectionism” is not used in the program of the presidential party. But “protection” is, with those of “progress” and “freedom”, the key words of the head of list Nathalie Loiseau. And the campaign slogan is: “A Europe that protects.”

Like the Macronists, the Republican party (LR) is reluctant to use the word “protectionism”. But their draft program defends customs protection, and recommends putting in place, in the face of foreign products, “a double preference, European and French, on the model of the ‘Buy American Act’ by assuming to give priority to our companies and our jobs”. LR wants to reserve 50% of public contracts for local companies.

If this idea, initially borne by the opponents of free trade, eventually became practically consensual, it is because the European construction is perceived as the establishment of a large market that would ultimately promote social insecurity, economic and ecological.

“Protectionism has been constantly associated since the 19th century with the idea of ​​increasing customs duties to protect oneself,” says Olivier Dard, professor of contemporary history at the Sorbonne. “But is this really protectionism that we are looking at today, or a broader idea of protection that goes way beyond simply ideas of tariffs?” Alexandre Lemarié, of Le Monde

“We pay too many taxes,” laments Klodian Qoshja, manager of a leather processing company near the northern city of Vicenza. “Here you have to work 16 hours a day to get an entrepreneur salary.”

Tax is a dirty word in Italy’s industrial north, which far outperforms the south in the wealth it generates. Northern provinces are determined to secure greater fiscal autonomy, but even though their great champion, the (formerly Northern) League party is now in government in Rome, their appeals have had little effect.

“Autonomy will be achieved,” Salvini continues to repeat at his speeches, although his coalition partner, the Five Star Movement, are less enthusiastic. Thus far the League has not suffered for not delivering on one of its core objectives.

In this part of Italy, support for the League runs at more than 40%, dipping to about 30% nationwide – still ahead of the other European election hopefuls.

“The current picture plays in the League’s favour because the topic is much discussed in the regions where autonomy is demanded, while there is a cloak of silence over the other regions,” says Gianfranco Viesti, professor of applied economics at the University of Bari.

“Votes can be maintained by promising autonomy in one part of Italy, but you can avoid losing them in other parts of Italy by not talking about it,” he adds. “It is a party that speaks two different languages ​​in two areas of the country.”

The village where Qoshja has his factory, San Pietro Mussolino, witnessed the highest turnout at a referendum on regional autonomy in 2017, and almost all voters voted in favour.

“We have always had the speech of autonomy in our blood, even before they talked about it,” says Graziano Rancan, a bar owner. “We have paid so many contributions, now we continue to pay contributions but there is not enough money left to develop what we have lacked”.

Paolo Negro Marcigaglia, who runs an organic food company just one block from Qoshja’s leather factory, sees no other options: “We make an appeal to (League leader Matteo) Salvini to keep this promise that the League has been making for decades now.”

“I feel a bit like a worker in a company,” says Marcigaglia, making a metaphor about the state and taxes. “A company in which the owner every year takes away his dividends without investing anything.”

Once it became clear that Britons would have to vote in the 2019 elections, despite having voted to leave Europe almost three years ago, the campaign very quickly became a mirror of the 2016 referendum, a microcosm of the exhausting battle for Brexit.

As the party overseeing the debacle which has seen the UK stumble through almost three years without a departure plan anyone can agree on, Theresa May’s Conservatives are expected to receive a solid kicking, with even many party activists saying they will vote for other parties.

At the last elections in 2014, when the Eurosceptic mood was also strong, the Conservatives won only 24% of the vote. Polling for this month’s equivalent has them on as little a 13%. They could easily place fourth – or worse.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party is polling marginally better, but at little more than 20% – not the sort of level a would-be government should expect.

Labour go into the elections still trying to please both leave and remain supporters by promising only to back a second Brexit referendum as a possible option if no constructive deal can be reached. The party risks annoying voters on both sides of the divide.

Their campaign has so far been mainly marked by a bitter tussle over the wording on the second referendum pledge, which saw Corbyn emerge triumphant over his pro-People’s Vote deputy, Tom Watson, to the intense anguish of remain backers.

Amid this disquiet with the two main parties, who will benefit? The short answer is: the Brexit party. Nigel Farage’s brand new successor-to-Ukip has formally existed for only a few weeks, but is topping polls at about 30% or more, and has unveiled dozens of candidates ranging from former Conservatives to businesspeople and an ex-Marxist.

As ever, Farage is presenting a message to the public that is both coherent and vehement – Brexit is being betrayed – as well as being distinctly light on details.

Farage quit Ukip last year over the party’s hard right, anti-Islam stance under Gerard Batten, and his new venture seems to have well and truly stolen Ukip’s thunder – after intially strong poll results Ukip has slipped to below 5%, which if confirmed would usher in the party’s likely end as a mainstream force. And remember, under Farage Ukip topped the UK’s vote in 2014.

If, as some bill it, the European elections are seen as some sort of proxy second Brexit referendum, the coalescing of leave support around Farage’s group could be an advantage when contrasted with the splits among remainers.

Competing for this vote will be the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, as well as Change UK – the new party set up by 11 former Labour and Tory MPs. Each of them are polling at close to 10%.

What will it all mean come the results? No one really knows, beyond one thing – it’s very unlikely to heal any divisions.

The European elections are perceived in Germany mainly as a vote on national affairs, as a small Bundestag election, so to speak. This year, it is a litmus test of whether Angela Merkel’s grand coalition will be able to hang on through the full legislative period to 2021. Or whether it might collapse early.

For the first time in almost 20 years, Merkel will be absent from the campaign, airbrushed from posters and social media. The elections are the first big test for her successor as CDU leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who must prove she can lead her party into battle. Poll numbers are weak; the party is nervous.

For the SPD, grudging junior coalition partner, the vote is all about whether to stick it out in government – a role that since 2013 has given it some executive power, at the expense of popularity. If the SPD clearly loses its support, it will be harder for them to stay in government. The left wing is pushing for the opposition role to sharpen the profile of the party there. The bar for the European elections is quite high. In the last election, the well-known leading candidate Martin Schulz, then president of the European parliament, gained more than six percentage points for his party – and presented a respectable result at 27.3%.

The SPD is launching Katarina Barley as national top candidate this year. According to surveys, Barley is the best-known among the top candidates in Germany, ahead of leading AFD candidate Jörg Meuthen and Manfred Weber of the CSU-CDU, who wants to become president of the European commission. Only one in four knows him. It is a heavy burden for Weber that the rightwing populist AfD leaves the Union man behind in terms of popularity.

For the Greens, it is important to convert good poll results into electoral success. The party has been on the up for months; a decent European result will boost the party as it fights regional elections that offer the promise of coalition power.

Big European issues are of little concern. Some voters tell campaigners they are concerned about dumping, about tax avoidance, copyright, security and the rise of rightwing populists. But most see this as just another national election, albeit one fought on a bigger stage.

Spain is well practised at heading to the polls. At the end of April, the country held its third general election in under four years, a landmark vote that saw the ruling socialist workers’ party (PSOE) win the most votes but fall short of a majority, the traditional People’s party (PP) humiliated and the breakthrough of the far-right Vox party.

Those results are likely to exert a significant influence on what happens on 26 May, when Spaniards vote in the European elections, but also in regional and municipal ones.

The PSOE will be hoping for a post-general election bounce that will see them win the vote and cement the party’s place as the resurgent party of the European centre-left.

Equally interesting will be what happens on the right. The advent of Vox, which won 24 seats in congress last month, pushed both the PP and the centre-right Citizens party further to the right as the three parties competed for voters.

But the move backfired – particularly for the PP. After his strategy of cosying up to Vox failed to pay off, the PP’s leader, Pablo Casado, is trying to reclaim the centre-ground and has begun denouncing the party as a far-right outfit.

Citizens, meanwhile, is doing its best to stake its claim to that centre-ground and to portray itself as the true party of opposition.

Vox is also recalibrating its approach. Although the party picked up 10.3% of the vote in April – wildly up on the 0.2% it took in the 2016 general election – it did not do as well as had been predicted.

The party, which has followed the populist tactic of favouring social media over traditional media, thinks the approach may have hurt its ability to reach older voters.

Mindful that the great majority of Spaniards are pro-European and still regard the country’s entry into the EU as a landmark moment in the country’s history, Vox is taking a different line to many of the continent’s far-right parties.

“We believe in Europe because we are Europe,” says its European election manifesto.

But it says the EU is in crisis because it is on hock to “certain ideologies and political commitments that have seen ‘the construction of a Europe’ outside the true Europe”. Sam Jones, the Guardian
Dr Jarosław Och is seen in Gdańsk, Poland on 9 May 2019 during the debate of the lead candidates in Pomeranian region.

“Hands off our children,” the leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, Jarosław Kaczyński, intoned in March as the campaign for European parliamentary elections started.

But the declaration is proving uncomfortable. Kaczyński’s intended target was the LGBT community. Awkwardly for Kaczyński, it is the Catholic church, a great ally to the PiS, which has been accused of being a far greater threat to children than the gay community.

Since it came to power in 2015, PiS has sought to rally its conservative base with sound and fury about attempts to introduce more liberal sexual education in Warsaw and other cities run by the opposition.

It seized on statements by the likes of Paweł Rabiej, vice-president of Warsaw, who does not hide the fact that he is gay, who has said he is in favour of the legalisation of gay marriage and gay adoption in Poland. One PiS politician running for election, Elżbieta Kruk, vowed that Poland should be an LGBT-free land.

In another episode, an activist was arrested for hanging posters with an image of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo in a church in Płock. She faces two years in prison for insulting religious feelings.

But the moral onslaught did not change the poll ratings. And a backlash was brewing. Last weekend, Tomasz Sekielski, broadcast a film with fresh revelations about paedophilia in the Polish Catholic church.

The film accused the church in Poland of covering up cases of child sexual abuse by priests, and transferring perpetrators to other parishes. Almost 8 million people have seen it.

The ruling party appear to be floundering, dismissing the paedophile-priests as isolated cases while at the same time raising penalties for paedophilia to up to 30 years in prison.

The opposition promised a new commission to investigate paedophilia in the Polish church.

All of this is a prelude to national elections in the autumn. Defeat for PiS in May will damage its chances of maintaining its hold on government later in the year. A sudden threat from a new constellation on the far right could erode its popularity further.

Poland waits with bated breath. Bartosz T. Wieliński of Gazeta Wyborcza

This article is part of a six-newspaper collaboration called Europa in which work is reported by one or more newspaper and shared for publication with all. The six papers are The Guardian, Le Monde, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, La Vanguardia, La Stampa and Gazeta Wyborcza

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« Reply #2523 on: May 20, 2019, 04:32 AM »

Venezuela’s Collapse Is the Worst Outside of War in Decades, Economists Say

Butchers have stopped selling meat cuts in favor of offal, fat shavings and cow hooves, the only animal protein many of their customers can afford.

By Anatoly Kurmanaev
NY Times
May 20, 2019

MARACAIBO, Venezuela — Zimbabwe’s collapse under Robert Mugabe. The fall of the Soviet Union. Cuba’s disastrous unraveling in the 1990s.

The crumbling of Venezuela’s economy has now outpaced them all.

Venezuela’s fall is the single largest economic collapse outside of war in at least 45 years, economists say.

“It’s really hard to think of a human tragedy of this scale outside civil war,” said Kenneth Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard University and former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund. “This will be a touchstone of disastrous policies for decades to come.”

To find similar levels of economic devastation, economists at the I.M.F. pointed to countries that were ripped apart by war, like Libya earlier this decade or Lebanon in the 1970s.

But Venezuela, at one point Latin America’s wealthiest country, has not been shattered by armed conflict. Instead, economists say, the poor governance, corruption and misguided policies of President Nicolás Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, have fueled runaway inflation, shuttered businesses and brought the country to its knees. And in recent months, the Trump administration has imposed stiff sanctions to try to cripple it further.

As the country’s economy plummeted, armed gangs took control of entire towns, public services collapsed and the purchasing power of most Venezuelans has been reduced to a couple of kilograms of flour a month.

In markets, butchers hit by regular blackouts jostle to sell decomposing stock by sunset. Former laborers scavenge through garbage piles for leftovers and recyclable plastic. Dejected retailers make dozens of trips to the bank in hopes of depositing several pounds’ worth of bills made worthless by hyperinflation.

Here in Maracaibo, a city of two million on the border with Colombia, nearly all of the butchers in the main market have stopped selling meat cuts in favor of offal and leftovers like fat shavings and cow hooves, the only animal protein many of their customers can still afford.

The crisis has been compounded by American sanctions intended to force Mr. Maduro to cede power to the nation’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó. The Trump administration’s recent sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company have made it difficult for the government to sell its main commodity, oil. Together with the American ban on trading Venezuelan bonds, the administration has made it harder for Venezuela to import any goods, including food and medication.

Mr. Maduro blames the widespread hunger and lack of medical supplies on the United States and its opposition allies — but most independent economists say the recession began years before the sanctions, which at most accelerated the collapse.

“We are fighting a savage battle against international sanctions that have made Venezuela lose at least $20 billion in 2018,” Mr. Maduro told supporters in a recent speech. “They are pursuing our bank accounts, our purchases abroad of any products. It’s more than a blockade, it’s persecution.”

Shortages have sunk much of the population in a deepening humanitarian crisis, though a core group of military top brass and high-level officials who remain loyal to Mr. Maduro are able to tap into the remaining resources to survive — or even enrich themselves through illicit means.

Subscribe for original insights, commentary and discussions on the major news stories of the week, from columnists Max Fisher and Amanda Taub.

Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves. But its oil output, once Latin America’s largest, has fallen faster in the past year than Iraq’s after the American invasion in 2003, according to data from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Venezuela has lost a tenth of its population in the past two years as people fled, even trekking across mountains, setting off Latin America’s biggest ever refugee crisis.

Venezuela’s hyperinflation, expected to reach 10 million percent this year according to the I.M.F., is on track to become the longest period of runaway price rises since that in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s.

“This is essentially a total collapse in consumption,” said Sergi Lanau, deputy chief economist at the Institute of International Finance, a financial trade association.

The institute estimates that the drop in Venezuela’s economic output under Mr. Maduro has undergone the steepest decline by any country not at war since at least 1975.

By year’s end, Venezuela’s gross domestic product will have shrunk by 62 percent since the beginning of the recession in 2013, which coincided with Mr. Maduro coming to power, according to the finance institute’s estimates. (Venezuela’s government hasn’t released official macroeconomic statistics since 2014, forcing economists to rely on indicators like imports to estimate economic activity.)

By contrast, the median economic decline in the former Soviet republics was about 30 percent during the peak of the crisis in the mid-1990s, the institute calculates.

For now, the government is concentrating its scarce resources in the capital, Caracas. But the state’s presence is melting in the hinterlands, an absence that has been particularly glaring in Zulia, Venezuela’s most populous state.

Caribbean Sea










By The New York Times

Its capital, Maracaibo, was once Venezuela’s oil powerhouse. A blackout in March plunged the state into a week of darkness and chaos that left about 500 businesses ransacked.

Power has been sporadic ever since, exacerbating longstanding water and gasoline shortages and leaving towns without functional banking systems and cellphone coverage for days on end.

The flea market, a once-bustling maze of stalls from which vendors hawked food and household goods, has become the face of this crisis.

Juan Carlos Valles arrives at his tiny canteen in a corner of the market by 5 a.m. and begins making a broth out of beef bones and frying corn pastries in the darkness. He says his stall has been without power since March, his sales are down 80 percent since last year and each day is a struggle against soldiers who force him to accept nearly worthless low-denomination bills.

Whatever money he makes he immediately invests in more bones and corn flour, because prices go up daily.

“If you take a rest, you lose,” said Mr. Valles, who has run his canteen since 1998. “The money has become worthless. By the time you take it to the bank, you have already lost some of it.”

Real incomes in Venezuela have fallen to levels last seen in the country in 1979, according to the international finance institute, leaving many to survive by collecting firewood, gathering fruit and fetching water in streams.

“The government is talking about solutions in the long and medium term, but the hunger is now,” said Miguel González, the head of the community council at Maracaibo’s Arco Iris shantytown.

He said he lost his job at a hotel when looters ransacked it in March, ripping out even window frames and cable wiring. He now collects wild plums to sell for a few cents in the city’s parks. Most of his community’s diet now consists of wild fruits, fried corn pastries and bone broth, residents said.

Farther from the state capital, conditions are worse.

Toas Island, once a touristic idyll of about 12,000 residents spread over fishing hamlets, has been largely abandoned.

“There’s no local, regional or national government here,” said José Espina, a motorbike taxi driver there. “We’re on our own.”

Electricity and running water are available for only a few hours a day. The boat that provided regular service to the mainland broke down last month. An oil barge lent by the state oil company occasionally tugs a rusty ferry carrying meager supplies of subsidized food — a precarious lifeline for the island’s poorer residents.

Hyperinflation has reduced the island’s entire budget to the equivalent of $400 a month, or just 3 cents per estimated resident, according to the mayor, Hector Nava.

The hospital has no medication and no patients. The last person to be hospitalized died in agony a day later without treatment for her kidney disease, doctors at the hospital said.

As Toas hospital’s beds stand empty, 2-year-old Anailin Nava is wasting away in a nearby hut from malnutrition and treatable muscular paralysis. Her mother, Maibeli Nava, does not have money to take her to Colombia for treatment, she said.

The four stone quarries that are the island’s only industry have been idle since robbers stole all power cables connecting them to the grid last year. Local opposition activists estimate up to a third of the residents have emigrated from the island in the past two years.

“It used to be a paradise,” said Arturo Flores, the local municipality’s security coordinator, who sells a fermented corn drink from a bucket to local fishermen to round up his salary, which is equivalent to $4 a month. “Now, everyone is fleeing.”

On the other side of Zulia state, in the ranching town of Machiques, the economic collapse has decimated the meat and dairy industries that had supplied the country.

Power cuts have idled the local slaughterhouse, once one of the largest in Latin America. Armed gangs extort and rustle cattle from the surviving ranchers.

“You can’t produce if there’s no law,” said Rómulo Romero, a local rancher.

Local shopkeepers have pulled together to repair power lines and keep telecom towers running, to feed public workers, and to procure diesel for backup generators.

“We have practically taken on the functions of the state,” said Juan Carlos Perrota, a butcher who runs Machiques’ chamber of commerce. “We can’t just put a lock on the door and call it quits. We have hope that this will improve.”

Anatoly Kurmanaev and Nataly Angulo reported from Maracaibo. Johandry Montiel contributed reporting from Machiques.

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‘Unfathomable evil’: Trump’s proposed plan to pardon war criminals provokes massive backlash

Common Dreams
20 May 2019 at 07:40 ET                  

Progressives, human rights advocates, and journalists responded with outrage on Saturday to a New York Times report that President Donald Trump “has requested the immediate preparation of paperwork needed to pardon several American military members accused or convicted of war crimes.”

Unnamed U.S. government officials told the Times that on or around Memorial Day, Trump may pardon multiple servicemembers involved with “high-profile cases of murder, attempted murder, and desecration of a corpse.”

As the newspaper reported:

    The requests are for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs, who is scheduled to stand trial in the coming weeks on charges of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive with a knife while deployed in Iraq.

    They are also believed to include the case of a former Blackwater security contractor recently found guilty in the deadly 2007 shooting of dozens of unarmed Iraqis; the case of Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, the Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010; and the case of a group of Marine Corps snipers charged with urinating on the corpse of a dead Taliban fighter.

“These are all extremely complicated cases that have gone through a careful system of consideration,” Gary Solis, a retired military judge and armor officer who served in Vietnam, told the Times. “A freewheeling pardon undermines that whole system.”

Solis warned that pardoning servicemembers accused or convicted of war crimes “raises the prospect in the minds of the troops that says, ‘Whatever we do, if we can get the folks back home behind us, maybe we can get let off.'”

The news on Saturday came after Trump, earlier this month, pardoned former Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, who was convicted of murdering an Iraqi prisoner in 2008. As Common Dreams reported at the time, human rights advocates decried that decision as “a presidential endorsement of a murder that violated the military’s own code of justice.”

The Times report—on which the White House and Justice Department declined to comment—was met with similar condemnation.

The Atlantic‘s Adam Serwer, who spoke out against Trump’s pardon of Behenna, tweeted, “This incentivizes the commission of war crimes by our opponents and allies, and in doing so puts U.S. servicemembers at greater risk.”

    Gonna say this again—this incentivizes the commission of war crimes by our opponents and allies, and in doing so puts US servicemembers at greater risk. https://t.co/jsEmw7UHn8

    — Adam Serwer🍝 (@AdamSerwer) May 18, 2019

Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth said, “Think of the horrible message that sends to would-be war criminals around the world.”

    Trump is threatening to pardon US military members accused or convicted of killing civilians and other war crimes. Think of the horrible message that sends to would-be war criminals around the world. https://t.co/yEsDAfR8lX

    — Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) May 18, 2019

Murtaza Mohammad Hussain, a reporter at The Intercept, denounced Trump’s expected move as “a huge injustice to those whose lives they destroyed and a message that America will tolerate war crimes.”

    Trump is getting ready to pardon some of America’s most horrifying recent war criminals. A huge injustice to those whose lives they destroyed and a message that America will tolerate war crimes: https://t.co/2uBwqa6sDy pic.twitter.com/5TloLVJgXH

    — Murtaza Mohammad Hussain (@MazMHussain) May 18, 2019

Their criticism was echoed by others, including journalist Ryan Devereaux, who suggested that “if you were to make a list of ‘top notorious U.S. war crimes of the post-9/11 era’ it would look a lot like the president’s pardoning plans.”

    If you were to make a list of “top notorious U.S. war crimes of the post-9/11 era” it would look a lot like the president’s pardoning plans — literal murderers’ row https://t.co/ykuftZh8EU

    — Ryan Devereaux (@rdevro) May 18, 2019

    Who pardons war criminals? DICTATORS. What is the signal you give by doing this? No amount of violence whether at home or abroad will be punished; no one will be held accountable. https://t.co/qU6kvQUZNZ

    — Jodi Jacobson (@jljacobson) May 18, 2019

    Fuck this. Unfathomable evil recognizing unfathomable evil. https://t.co/cwfryocl9t

    — Scott Tobias (@scott_tobias) May 18, 2019


No holds Barred: Trump and his troops push for imperial presidency

With his compliant attorney general, the man in the White House is taking aim at the constitutional balance of powers

David Smith in Washington
20 May 2019 06.00 BST

William Barr, the attorney general, came face to face this week with Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, at the Capitol in Washington. Shaking her hand, Barr was said to have joked: “Madam Speaker, did you bring your handcuffs?”

The remark, at a ceremony honouring fallen law enforcement officers, was a riposte to Pelosi’s quip a week earlier that if all members of the Trump administration were arrested, the jail in the Capitol basement would be overcrowded. (There is in fact no such jail.)

But it was also indicative of how Barr, and his paymaster in the White House, are perceived to be laughing in the face of congressional oversight and the rule of law. Indeed, following the sporting maxim that attack is the best form of defence, Trump had adopted the language of a tinpot dictator, denouncing the Russia investigation as a failed “coup”, branding his pursuers as traitors and threatening to lock them up.

“My Campaign for President was conclusively spied on,” he tweeted at 7.11am on Friday. “Nothing like this has ever happened in American Politics. A really bad situation. TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!”

    He’s attempting to create a counter-narrative based on conspiracy theories in which the FBI is cast as the villain
    Sidney Blumenthal

The intention, critics argue, is to turn the tables and delegitimise the case laid out against him in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference, or at least crank up a giant fog machine that leaves the electorate weary and confused. But one side-effect could be a slide into an imperial presidency.

“Investigate the investigators!” has been the battle cry of Trump, Republicans and media allies ever since Barr produced a four-page summary of Mueller’s report that misleadingly implied Trump had been completely cleared of collusion and obstruction of justice. In fact the report documented numerous contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials and identified 11 instances in which Trump or his campaign attempted to illegally impede the investigation.

On 25 March, the day after Barr’s letter was released, the Fox News host Sean Hannity bristled with self-righteous indignation and thirsted for vengeance.

“This must be a day of reckoning for the media, for the deep state, for people who abuse power, and they did it so blatantly in this country,” he told viewers in a furious 25-minute monologue. “If we do not get this right, if we do not hold these people accountable, I promise you, with all the love I can muster for this country and our future for our kids and grandkids, we will lose the greatest country God has ever given man. We will lose it.”

That set the template for Trump, a regular viewer. Having spent two years trying to discredit Mueller’s work as a witch-hunt and hoax, he stepped up demands for an investigation into its origins and pushed the claim that the FBI spied on his 2016 campaign.

Sidney Blumenthal, a former assistant and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, said: “He’s attempting to create a counter-narrative based on conspiracy theories in which the FBI chiefly is cast as the villain of the deep state. It’s what is known as chaff. It’s to throw people off of the actual object itself and distract them from his well-documented crimes of obstruction of justice in the Mueller report.”

Trump is backed by Republicans, eager to grab ammunition that comes to hand. They have falsely claimed the investigation was triggered by a dossier from the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, which included reference to a so-called “pee tape” in Moscow, and cited anti-Trump text messages between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page to allege inherent bias.

But it is Barr who has emerged as the president’s most indispensable ally, his improbable Darth Vader. Testifying on Capitol Hill earlier this month, the attorney general used the incendiary word “spying” to describe FBI surveillance of the Trump campaign, a term later rejected by the FBI director, Christopher Wray.

Barr has asked John Durham, the US attorney in Connecticut, to examine whether the FBI erred in seeking a special federal court warrant to conduct surveillance on the former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. An investigation into the legality of the warrant is already under way, led by the justice department inspector general, Michael Horowitz, who is due to release his findings in coming weeks.

Barr is also working with Wray, the CIA director, Gina Haspel, and the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, to review intelligence-gathering techniques used to investigate the Trump campaign. In the meantime, ever loyal to Trump, Barr continues to defy Congress’s demands for the release of the unredacted Mueller report and underlying materials.

Democrats sense a crude ploy by Trump to deflect and distract, parry and prevaricate. Congressman Jared Huffman of California said: “It’s a smokescreen, obviously an attempt to change the subject like everything else he does. I almost don’t want to dignify it because it’s so preposterous that any time someone investigates Donald Trump or disagrees with Donald Trump they are being treasonous or they need to be locked up.

“This is a slippery slope to a banana republic if this is where we’re heading. And I think most Americans get that. You just don’t call for your political enemies to be investigated and jailed in the United States.”

Huffman called for an impeachment process and hearings.

“If Richard Nixon was the imperial presidency, this is the imperial presidency on steroids without any sideboards or adult supervision of any kind,” he said. “It’s a real crisis. I still believe we’re going to get through it because I think the institutions and the fabric of this country are still rooted in the rule of law and democracy and checks and balances, but we’re being tested like never before and I would be lying if I said I didn’t worry about it.”

‘Trumpification of the DoJ’

One of the rich ironies of Republican claims of bias in the FBI is that during the election the agency kept its Trump investigation secret but talked openly about its scrutiny of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. The then director, James Comey, held an extraordinary press conference in which he branded Clinton’s handling of emails as secretary of state as “extremely careless”. Eleven days before the election, Comey announced the FBI was reviewing more Clinton messages. Many Democrats have still not forgiven him.

    Barr says Trump’s campaign was ‘spied’ upon. Trump claims treason. Both are incendiary. Neither is true
    Adam Schiff

Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, tweeted on Friday: “Barr says Trump’s campaign was ‘spied’ upon. Trump claims treason. Both are incendiary. Neither is true. Barr suggests a finger was put on the scale to affect the election. But the Trump probe was kept secret; the Clinton one wasn’t. It’s the Trumpification of the DoJ.”

Matthew Miller, former director of the office of public affairs for the justice department, said: “There are a few galling things. First, it would have been crazy for the FBI not to investigate [Trump’s] campaign given what Mueller found. Second, it would have been very easy for the FBI to stop Trump becoming president if that was their intention by leaking what they found. Third, the FBI publicly criticised his opponent: the FBI did have an impact but it was to hurt Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump!”

Miller, now a partner at Vianovo and justice and security analyst for MSNBC, added: “It’s a brazenly cynical strategy by the president and his allies. He hasn’t had a great explanation for what he did so what he’s done for two years is attack the investigation.

“The notion has existed since Watergate that there should be a separation between the White House and Department of Justice. It’s been erased. It’s just gone. It will probably come back when there’s a Democratic president, because they tend to be more sensitive to elite opinion, but the next Republican president will [not] see any reason to restore it.”

Just as the justice department is succumbing to Trump, so Congress is also struggling to maintain its status as a co-equal branch of government. The White House continues to stonewall House subpoenas for documents and hearings, not only regarding the Mueller report but Trump’s tax returns and other matters. The Democratic-led House judiciary committee has voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress but the party is divided over whether to impeach his boss.

Max Bergmann, a former state department official, said: “We’re seeing an effort by the president to neutralise this as an issue for the 2020 election. He sees a gap because the Democrats have shown reticence in their willingness to prosecute the case against him. We have a situation where there is a vacuum and Trump sees an opportunity to attack the investigation, partly because Democrats aren’t using the results of it to attack him.

“The problem with not using the levers of congressional power is that it lends credence to the arguments Trump has been making. In the public’s mind, it might seem that because Trump is not being impeached, maybe he was exonerated. What is amazing about the Republican side is the ability to manufacture outrage over nothing; they eat, sleep and breathe scandal politics. Democrats are terrified of it and and run from it, even when it’s the biggest political scandal in American history. The inaction over the last four weeks has been unconscionable.”

‘We’ve crossed a Rubicon’

It was perhaps no coincidence that Trump hosted Viktor Orbán, strongman leader of Hungary, at the White House this week.

Bergmann, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress thinktank in Washington, and director of the Moscow Project, charting Trump’s involvement in Russian attacks on US democracy, said: “We’ve crossed a Rubicon. For the past two years, Trump has not been able to use the justice department to seek revenge against his opponents and as a political tool.

“Now he and his team have learned, and Trump has appointed someone in Barr who is a Washington insider, knows the justice department and is able to operate as the president’s hatchet man. For the past two years, we’ve said the institutions have held. Now we’re at a critical pivot where Trump has learned how to use the institutions to his advantage.

“It’s a dark turn. With the decline of our institutions, the decline of our moral authority, Trump is trying to turn the the moniker of an ‘imperial presidency’ into an autocratic presidency along the lines of Viktor Orbán or Vladimir Putin.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher for the future of American democracy in 2020.”


Trump lashes out at Justin Amash after Republican talks of impeachment

    Mitt Romney declines to join calls for Congress to act
    No holds Barred: Trump pushes for imperial presidency

Ed Pilkington in New York
20 May 2019 20.03 BST

As Donald Trump opened fire on Justin Amash, the Michigan representative who became the first Republican in Congress say he had engaged in “impeachable conduct”, Mitt Romney declined to join the fight.

The former presidential nominee and Republican senator from Utah accused Trump of lacking humility, honesty and integrity – but stopped short of calling for his removal from power.

Romney was scathing about the picture of the president that emerges from the Mueller report into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the redacted version of which he said he had spent two days reading in full. He said on Sunday its findings were “troubling, unfortunate and distressing”.

But he said he did not think it was time for Congress to call for impeachment.

“I don’t think there is the full element which you need to prove the obstruction of justice case,” he told CNN’s State of the Union.

Mueller did not find that Trump or his aides conspired with Russia but he did lay out 11 instances of possible obstruction of justice by Trump or his campaign and indicated Congress should decide how to proceed. Controversially, attorney general William Barr said in his own summary of the then unseen Mueller report that Trump had not obstructed justice.

    I don’t think there is the full element which you need to prove the obstruction of justice case
    Mitt Romney

Romney’s sharp but qualified criticism of Trump came a day after Amash became the first Republican to break ranks and call for impeachment. In a stream of tweets, Amash said the Mueller report showed “President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment”.

Amash and Romney are significant figures within their party, as they stand virtually alone in having the temerity to challenge Trump in public. But the fact that Romney would not join Amash on impeachment is an indication of the impenetrable wall of opposition the party is likely to erect should Democrats initiate proceedings.

Just why became clear later on Sunday, when Trump aimed his Twitter account at Amash.

Saying he was “never a fan”, he called Amash “a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy”.

Trump also accused Amash of not having read the Mueller report – the congressman made much of saying he had in fact read all 448 pages – and, while repeating familiar complaints about Mueller, wrote: “Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents [sic] hands!”

In fact, Amash’s sole call for impeachment on the Republican side may not do much to move the political dial. Democrats are edging closer to launching proceedings, but not for the reasons the congressman outlined.

Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House intelligence committee, told CBS’s Face the Nation there were no signs of the Republican-controlled Senate moving towards impeachment. Nonetheless, Democrats were becoming more minded to take it on, he said, as a tool to increase pressure on the Trump administration to hand over key documents, including the unredacted Mueller report, that it is refusing to submit to congressional oversight.

“What may be pushing towards impeachment has less to do with Justin Amash and more to do with the administration engaging in a maximum obsctructionism campaign against Congress,” Schiff said.

Romney, who ran unsuccessfully against Barack Obama in 2012, said impeachment was not just a legal matter. It must also, he said, “consider the practicality of politics, and the American people are just not there”.

He added: “The Senate is not there either.”

Democratic leadership has also considered public opinion, and what impeachment might do to motivate Trump’s base, when weighing up whether to make the move.

Despite his reluctance to go all the way into impeachment, Romney has showed himself willing to take on Trump. In April he issued a statement saying: “I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the president.”

He told CNN the Mueller report distressed him.

“The number of times there were items of dishonesty, misleading the American public and media – those are not things you would want to see from the highest office in the land.”

He said that in terms of three crucial features of a president – humility, honesty and integrity – Trump has “distanced himself from some of the best qualities of the human character”.

Such was his disgust with Trump as a presidential candidate in 2016, Romney wrote in his wife Ann on to the presidential election ballot, thereby voting for her instead. He told CNN he had not yet decided if he would do the same next year.


Democratic leaders put on the spot after GOP lawmaker makes powerful case for Trump impeachment

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet - COMMENTARY
20 May 2019 at 11:52 ET                  

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan posted an incisive tirade against President Donald Trump and his administration on Saturday afternoon, becoming the first Republican lawmaker to call for impeaching the commander in chief as a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

And in the process, he displayed a more cogent, compelling and thoughtful grasp on the findings laid out in the Mueller report and the requirements for impeachment than most top Democrats have shown. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who called for impeachment shortly after reading the report, has been one of the most influential and outspoken Democrats on the topic.

And to be sure, Amash is not a typical Republican. He has been strongly critical of Trump in the past, and if anyone were to make a list of GOP lawmakers who’d be most likely to support impeaching Trump, Amash would certainly be at the top of the list. His decisive turn against the president isn’t a sign that the rest of his party will soon come to the same conclusion. Still, it was notable how forcefully and emphatically he made his case.

He began by announcing his forceful “principal conclusions” from the report, echoing the language Attorney General Bill Barr used to shape public opinion about Mueller’s findings:

    1. Attorney General Barr has deliberately misrepresented Mueller’s report.

    2. President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.

    3. Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances.

    4. Few members of Congress have read the report.

“I offer these conclusions only after having read Mueller’s redacted report carefully and completely, having read or watched pertinent statements and testimony, and having discussed this matter with my staff, who thoroughly reviewed materials and provided me with further analysis,” he said.

It was interesting, but effective, that Amash focused first on Barr’s deceptions. It was important because of how the Mueller report has been so grossly misrepresented by Republicans, the media, and even some Democrats — all led by Barr’s initial spin.

“Barr’s misrepresentations are significant but often subtle, frequently taking the form of sleight-of-hand qualifications or logical fallacies, which he hopes people will not notice,” wrote Amash.

Impeachment, he said, is warranted when an official commits “high crimes and misdemeanors,” a phrase which he reads to imply “conduct that violates the public trust.” By this standard, the Mueller report shows Trump’s behavior was impeachable — despite Barr’s attempts to convince the public otherwise.

He noted, too, that he agrees with the hundreds of former federal prosecutors who have said that Trump’s actions outlined under the analysis of obstruction of justice in the report would have resulted in the indictment of any other person. And the standard of proof, he argued, is not even as high for impeachable offenses as it would be for a criminal showing. Congress only needs to conclude that the official carried out “careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct.”

In one of his most compelling and important points, Amash emphasized the dangers of not impeaching the president, something top Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler seem to have ignored:

    Impeachment, which is a special form of indictment, does not even require probable cause that a crime (e.g., obstruction of justice) has been committed; it simply requires a finding that an official has engaged in careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct.

    — Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 18, 2019

He also included a mild critique of some Democrats calling for impeachment now, saying, “We’ve witnessed members of Congress from both parties shift their views 180 degrees—on the importance of character, on the principles of obstruction of justice—depending on whether they’re discussing Bill Clinton or Donald Trump.”

But the most scathing critique was his argument — which is practically undeniable — that on this matter, most lawmakers aren’t actually well informed.

“Few members of Congress even read Mueller’s report; their minds were made up based on partisan affiliation—and it showed, with representatives and senators from both parties issuing definitive statements on the 448-page report’s conclusions within just hours of its release,” he concluded. “America’s institutions depend on officials to uphold both the rules and spirit of our constitutional system even when to do so is personally inconvenient or yields a politically unfavorable outcome. Our Constitution is brilliant and awesome; it deserves a government to match it.”


Deutsche Bank staff saw suspicious Trump and Kushner activity – report

    New York Times releases explosive report on Russia-linked bank
    Employee says ‘nothing happened’ after she raised concerns

Ed Pilkington in New York
20 May 2019 19.59 BST

Several financial moves by legal entities controlled by Donald Trump and Jared Kushner between 2016 and 2017 triggered suspicious activity alerts inside Deutsche Bank, a major lender to the Trump family, according to a report in the New York Times.

The newspaper said it had been in touch with five existing or former Deutsche Bank employees, one of whom spoke on the record. They said they had been alerted to possible illicit activity when they were working in the team responsible for combating money laundering, and had recommended the federal government be notified.

Suspicious activity reports were prepared for filing with the US treasury for investigation as possible federal financial crimes. According to the Times, bank executives overruled the employees and did not alert the government.

The Times pointed out that the “red flags raised by employees do not necessarily mean the transactions were improper”.

Deutsche Bank has become a lightning rod for concerns about the financial propriety of real-estate deals pursued by Trump and his wider family, including his son-in-law Kushner, a key adviser, before and after the billionaire entered the White House. Trump is thought to have borrowed at least $2bn from the German bank – some $300m still outstanding.

In the House of Representatives, Democrats have been drilling into the link between the Trump Organization and Deutsche Bank. Last month two committees – financial services and intelligence – issued subpoenas for documents from the bank.

Trump counter-attacked by launching a lawsuit against Deutsche Bank in an attempt to stop it complying with the subpoenas. The lawsuit claimed the demand for documents amounted to harassment of the president and his family.

The former Deutsche Bank employee who spoke openly to the Times, Tammy McFadden, said she prepared suspicious activity reports and recommended they be sent to federal watchdogs.

“You present them with everything, and you give them a recommendation, and nothing happens,” she said.

McFadden told the Times she was fired after raising concerns about transactions, among them contacts between Kushner Companies and Russian individuals in the summer of 2016. Deutsche Bank has been fined for laundering billions of dollars for Russians.

Deutsche Bank told the Times “the suggestion that anyone was reassigned or fired in an effort to quash concerns relating to any client is categorically false”. The bank also told the Times it had increased its scrutiny of potential money laundering.

The Trump Organization said it had “no knowledge of any ‘flagged’ transactions with Deutsche Bank”.

Kushner Companies said any allegation involving its links with Deutsche and money laundering were “totally false”.

Among Trump's claims of a “fake news” conspiracy against him, the Times is a prominent target. In a statement to Reuters about the Deutsche Bank report, a Kushner Companies spokeswoman sounded a familiar note, saying the paper “tries to create scandalous stories which are totally false when they run out of things to write about”.


NYT Deutsche Bank money-laundering bombshell will make ‘serious problems’ for president: Trump biographer

Raw Story

The New York Times broke a story Sunday that revealed staff of Deutsche Bank were hired especially for their expertise of money-laundering.

The bank staff recommended that they contact federal investigators about possible criminal activity in the accounts of President Donald Trump and his senior aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

“The transactions, some of which involved Mr. Trump’s now-defunct foundation, set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect illicit activity, according to five current and former bank employees,” the Times reported. “Compliance staff members who then reviewed the transactions prepared so-called suspicious activity reports that they believed should be sent to a unit of the Treasury Department that polices financial crimes.”

The bank rejected the recommendation, and it appears now it might spark another investigation, according to Trump biographer David Cay Johnston.

“We know for a fact that Donald Trump has been involved in money laundering in the past, fined for it,” Johnston said. “We know that Deutsche Bank is fined over $600 million just for laundering money for Russian oligarchs and are nondenial denials. The Trump Organization said we never heard of this. Why would you? It was locked up in the bank. The bank said we didn’t stop anyone. The story makes it clear.”

He noted that former Deutsche Bank employee Tammy McFadden pushed it up the chain of command, but then the career began to go badly after that.

“So in addition, The Times has a pregnant line in it. It says that is there are other, ‘politically connected people’ who also were swept up,” Johnston said. “It’s clear that David Enrich, a very good reporter at The New York Times has seen these documents and other people whose money laundering suspicion of money laundering activities were also apparently quashed by the people at the private banking unit of Deutsche Bank in New York. This is for Donald Trump a really serious problem.”

Daily Beast reporter Betsy Woodruff also noted that this was quite a shock to those closely watching the Russia investigation. Most commentators found it strange that special counsel Robert Mueller didn’t know about this. She said that they “expected that Mueller would try to pull threads in terms of whether Trump had engaged in financial transactions or developed business relationships that could affect the way he thought about American foreign policy vis-a-vis Russia.”

That’s one reason why Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Maxine Waters (D-CA) plan to focus on that part of the investigation to pull “additional threads,” she explained.

“What this story suggests and indicates is that there is more to the story of Trump’s relationship with Deutsche Bank than we already know, even given all the investigating that’s already happened,” Woodruff said.


House Democrats could penalize those who won’t comply with subpoena by cutting their department’s funding

Raw Story

President Donald Trump has ordered his top aides and department chiefs to refuse to comply with any subpoenas from House members seeking to do additional investigations in wake of the special counsel’s report. The Democrats are thinking of issuing a penalty for Trump team members who defy the law.

An Axios report said that Democrats are thinking of withholding funding to departments of subpoenaed witnesses who refuse to cooperate.

Congress’ greatest power is using the budget to do the people’s business.

“Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee are writing the bills that will fund the federal government for the next fiscal year — including the ones that will fund the Justice Department and the Treasury Department, two of the departments that have been resisting subpoenas,” wrote Axios.

A different House committee could ask for the Appropriations Committee to include a clause that would exclude funding to departments that are refusing to comply with subpoenas.

Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) blasted Democratic chairmen Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) for refusing to impeach when it could “help him have access to all kinds of documents.” Indeed a Congressional subpoena is also supposed to give you access to all kinds of documents. It’s that Trump is refusing to comply with the subpoenas. If Trump were to be impeached, it can be assumed that he would continue to comply with subpoenas.

Discussions for the plot are preliminary according to officials and their staff, but it’s part of the conversation.

“We look at it as, ‘Okay, what’s our recourse?’ This is one of them. We also have contempt orders and fines,” one aide to a senior Democrat said.

Given how long it takes to approve appropriations bills, the budget plan might not work for a quick option, one House appropriations aide said.


‘Eric the Slack-jawed and Princess Ivanka’: Rick Wilson hilariously pummels the entire Trump family –and the GOPers who worship them

Raw Story

In a brutally funny and sarcastic column for the Daily Beast, GOP consultant Rick Wilson called upon Republicans to give up even trying to appear to be anything other than Trump yes-men and, while he was at it, Wilson also mocked the faux-royal family of the president.

Under a Game of Thrones-inspired headline “Trump Is on the Iron Throne, and American Democracy Is Dead,” Wilson wrote, “For Republicans eager for the next, inevitable step of Trumpism and tired of some musty 240-year-old Constitution getting in the way of rallies, rage-tweeting and lib-owning, I’ve got a modest proposal: Why not end this republic, and launch a glorious new era of royals and royalty, where a man who behaves like a king can actually be one and govern as he desires?”

“After all, he’s surrounded not by coequal members of a representative legislature and independent judiciary, but by lackeys and lickspittles groveling at his gouty feet. Inside this Trump kingdom, advisers rise and fall not based on merit, performance, or ideas but instead on fealty, servility, and an ability to abase themselves to the king’s many whims. Let’s just cut to the chase,” he acidly continued.

According to Wilson, the author of “Everything Trump Touches Dies,” among those deaths can be found the Republican Party.

“Be honest with yourselves; how far is the leap from President Trump to King Trump in your minds? How many Trump supporters have wondered unironically about a third term for the Donald, or of replacing one Trump with another when this girthy beast finally strokes out?” he wrote. “You weaponized the Republican caucus to support His Majesty in the House so egregiously you took an ass-beating from the politically incompetent Democrats, losing 40 seats in 2018. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell holds the line for Trump and former Tea Party super-constitutionalist stalwarts like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee have gone full royalist, along with Lindsey Graham.”

He then turned his eye on the “royal” House of Trump.

“Princess Ivanka and royal consort Jared of the House of Kushner hold government jobs of no discernible function but of enormous consequence. Why? The walls of Castle Trump keep that secret, thank the gods,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, the two have the ear of the King and are literally above the law when it comes to security clearance laws, ethics rules, and the use of federal offices to enrich themselves. Those things aren’t wrong in the new world. They’re just part of Trumpian droit du douchebag.”

“While Trump treats Princess Tiffany as if she were the daughter of a chambermaid and Eric the Slack-jawed as if he should be sent as a hostage to some other royal house, it’s Don Jr. who is the current heir apparent, already emulating the King in every tangible way,” he continued before noting the senior Trump history of multiple wives and multiple infidelities with, “He’s behind on wives and mistresses, but he’s got time.”

Wilson then finished with a bitter and damning flourish.

“And so, my Republican friends, it’s time to embrace monarchy. Let your id be your guide, your past be a memory, and Trump be your King. Bend the knee. You’ve gotten quite good at it.”


Conservative rains holy hell on ‘Republican grovelers and quivering sycophants’ who are fleeing Amash to defend Trump

Raw Story

Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin — as big a “never-Trumper” as there is — was quick to call out the colleagues of Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) who turned on him or remained silent after the GOP lawmaker made the irrefutable case that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report showed Donald Trump committed impeachable crimes.

In a quickly put-together column for the Washington Post, Rubin ripped into representatives of the party she once belonged to, calling them both “grovelers” and “quivering sycophants” — neither a term of endearment.

According to Rubin, “Why are Republicans such quivering sycophants, willing to lie and debase themselves in support of an unpopular president who is repudiating many of the principles they have spent their lives advancing?”

There are, she notes, three types of Republicans populating Congress right now.

“First are the cynics who know Trump is unfit, if not dangerous; however, they’ll get what they can (e.g., judges, tax cuts) and bolster their resumes (e.g., working for the administration, getting fawning Fox News coverage). When Trump bottoms out, they’ll move on, probably insisting they were secretly against Trump all along,” she began.

“In the second category are Republicans convinced that they’ll never find work if they speak out against Trump,” she continued. ” They’ll lose their offices and/or offend Republican officialdom, including think tanks, right-wing media, donors, party activists, and elected officials. (They are part of a right-wing ecosystem; some might call it a racket.) No plum lobbying gigs or Fox contributorships for them. They fear ostracism would ruin them financially and personally, leaving them in a political wilderness from which they fear they’d never return.”

Lastly, “there are the cranks, the zealots, the racists and the haters — a group, it turns out, much larger than many ex-Republicans could ever fathom. This includes not just the overt white nationalists and the tea party crowd but also those who have been simmering with personal resentment against ‘liberal elites.'”

“Vice President Pence insists he and his fellow evangelical Christians are hapless victims; the children and grandchildren of Dixiecrats fume that everything went downhill in the 1960s. Some of these people will insist they are not racists nor misogynists — but yet they sure seem to have an extraordinarily high tolerance for those who are,” she added.

“I’d love to think Amash’s statements free and embolden many more Republicans in the House and Senate to step forward,” she lamented before conceding, “Is that likely? No.”

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« Reply #2525 on: May 20, 2019, 05:32 AM »

MSNBC’s Morning Joe busts GOP hypocrisy on impeachment: ‘They all trash Trump behind closed doors’

Travis Gettys
20 May 2019 at 07:13 ET                   

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough busted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for “lying” about fellow Republican Rep. Justin Amash — who became the first GOP lawmaker to describe President Donald Trump’s behavior as impeachable.

Amash tweeted out his conclusions over the weekend after reading special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, and he believes Trump committed multiple impeachable offenses — but McCarthy dismissed those concerns as a cry for attention and accused the Michigan Republican of siding more with Democrats in his voting record.

“He’s just lying,” Scarborough said. “Hey, Republicans, your leader is lying about a fellow member who spoke his mind.”

Amash has voted with Trump more than 60 percent of the time, including 91.7 percent in this congressional term, and the “Morning Joe” host exposed McCarthy’s hypocrisy on the president — whom he privately worried was compromised by Russia.

“It’s very interesting, Kevin McCarthy behind closed doors — remember this?” Scarborough said. “What’s so interesting is that Kevin McCarthy … I think you’ll remember this, just like so many other republicans who trashed Donald Trump by the day behind closed doors, wasn’t it Kevin McCarthy that was talking about Donald Trump’s connection with Vladimir Putin and he was curious about Dana Rohrabacher.”

“He’s the hypocrite that goes on TV and says, ‘I don’t think (Amash) ever supported Donald Trump,'” he added. “(McCarthy) said Donald Trump might be guilty of treason.”

The “Morning Joe” host said Republicans privately agree with Amash, but refuse to say so publicly.

“They all trash Donald Trump behind closed doors, they all know that these offenses are impeachable,” Scarborough said. “They all say it behind closed doors but, turn on the cameras, and they become cowards. Justin isn’t, and he’s getting trashed by his leader.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLgGNcNUMDk

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« Reply #2526 on: May 21, 2019, 03:41 AM »

World’s first malaria vaccine launched in a pilot program


Malaria remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of one child every two minutes. Most of these deaths are in Africa, where more than 250,000 children die from the disease every year. Children under 5 are at greatest risk of its life-threatening complications. Worldwide, malaria kills 435,000 people a year, mostly kids.

This week, a pilot program to immunize babies in Malawi with the RTS,S vaccine was launched to evaluate it the vaccine can jump-start stalled progress in the battle against the disease.

Thirty years in the making, RTS,S is the first, and to date the only, vaccine that has demonstrated it can significantly reduce malaria in children. In clinical trials, the vaccine was found to prevent approximately 4 in 10 malaria cases, including 3 in 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria. The vaccine also cut the level of severe anemia—the most common reason kids die from the disease—by 60%.

A 4-dose schedule is required, with the first dose given as soon as possible after five months of age, doses two and three given at monthly intervals after that, and the fourth dose given 15–18 months after the third dose. In the Phase 3 trial, the vaccine was generally well tolerated, with adverse reactions comparable to those of other childhood vaccines. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) carried out a scientific assessment of RTS,S and concluded that the vaccine has an acceptable safety profile in a scientific opinion issued in July 2015. The vaccine is a complementary malaria control tool – to be added to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention, including the routine use of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying with insecticides, and the timely use of malaria testing and treatment.

In a World Health Organization (WHO) statement, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said tremendous gains against malaria have been made over the past 15 years with the use of bed nets and other measures, but progress has stalled or even reversed in some areas.

    “We need new solutions to get the malaria response back on track, and this vaccine gives us a promising tool to get there,” he said. “The malaria vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of children’s lives.”

Along with Malawi, pilot programs to make the RTS,S  available along with other routine childhood vaccine are also slated for selected areas of Ghana and Kenya. The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) has been working on vaccination recommendations, and its Malaria Policy Advisory Committee has been addressing issues related to public health use of the vaccine.

Aside from the WHO and the three countries’ health ministries, other groups collaborating on the pilot program include PATH, a nonprofit health group based in Seattle. And GSK is donating up to 10 million vaccine doses. Three global health groups are financing the program at a cost of nearly $50 million: Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; and Unitaid.

    Today's the day! Historic start in Malawi to malaria vaccine use in routine childhood immunization programme #malariavaccine #EndMalaria #malaria pic.twitter.com/N37nOyjWAY

    — Kate OBrien (@Kate_L_OBrien) April 23, 2019

The pilot program’s goal is to reach 360,000 children each year in the three countries. Health ministries will guide where the vaccine will be given, focusing on areas with moderate-to-high transmission. The WHO will use the results from the pilot program to guide its policy recommendations on the wider use of the RTS,S vaccine. Specifically, it will be looking at its impact on child deaths, uptake in target populations, whether parents bring their children in for all four doses, and vaccine safety with routine use.

Kate O’Brien, MD, MPH, Director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals, said young infants are at the highest risk of severe outcomes, and so having a vaccine that can prevent disease in children and infants would be a groundbreaking new strategy.

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« Reply #2527 on: May 21, 2019, 03:45 AM »

How air pollution affects human health


Since the U.S. Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1963, the issue of air pollution has remained embedded in American consciousness. Regardless of national and global awareness, most Americans haven’t realized how air pollution affects human health or the degree of its impact, even with seemingly marginal exposure. An estimated 92 percent of the global population live in areas with dangerously high levels of air pollution.

Environmental scientists worldwide are working toward long-term solutions to the problem of air pollution and human health effects. Countries and communities must understand the extent of the impact, where it’s most concentrated, and what must be accomplished at government and individual levels to reduce population exposure.


While most of the world’s population focuses their attention on global terrorism and economics, scientists are becoming increasingly alarmed at how air pollution affects human health. Research indicates that 5.5 million people around the globe die prematurely every year due to indoor and outdoor air pollution.

People suffer both short-term and long-term health effects from air pollution, causing diseases and complications in nearly every system of the body. Some of these include:

    Respiratory and cardiovascular diseases
    Neuropsychiatric complications (i.e., seizures, attention deficits, palsies, migraine headaches, and mood disorders)
    Eye irritation
    Skin diseases
    Birth defects
    Premature death

The EPA has narrowed air pollutants down to six major offenders found in varying degrees in cities around the world.

    Nitrogen Oxides: Highly reactive gas primarily affecting the respiratory system
    Sulfur Oxides: Reactive gas linked to industry and affecting the respiratory system
    Particulate Matter: Extremely small particles and liquid droplets in the air affecting the respiratory system and causing premature death
    Carbon Monoxide: Odorless, colorless gas produced through combustion processes, deadly at high levels
    Ground-Level Ozone: Gas that’s a primary component of smog, affects respiratory and cardiovascular systems, and causes premature death
    Lead: Highly toxic metal that impacts cognitive function, hypertension, fertility, the circulatory system, and the immune system


According to an article published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, low-quality vehicle fuel, usually gasoline and oil, have been found to emit greater amounts of polluting gas. This is especially true when they are used in engines that don’t meet emissions standards. Because of this, initiatives have long been underway to replace diesel and gasoline with cleaner sources of energy, such as liquified natural gas and alcohol.

In many cities, the problem extends beyond personal transportation. Public transportation vehicles contain engines that violate environmental standards. While environmental scientists work toward replacing energy sources, cities are compelled to improve public transportation systems by building or extending their subways, trams, and electrical bus routes.

It’s not just vehicles that contribute to poor air quality, though. Air pollution rises proportionately to population and industry, and it’s also affected by weather patterns and natural disasters.

According to the American Lung Association’s 2018 State of the Air report, the top five most polluted cities by ozone air pollution are:

    Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.
    Bakersfield, Calif.
    Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, Calif.
    Fresno-Madera, Calif.
    Sacramento-Roseville, Calif.

The lists organized by year-round and short-term particle pollution include the same cities at different rankings, except for Sacramento. It is replaced by Fairbanks, Ala. as the No. 1 and No. 4 city, respectively.

Of the 5.5 million people around the world who die prematurely each year due to air pollution, more than half of them occur in China and India where rapidly growing economies outpace environmental efforts. Six of the top ten cities ranked for high levels of air pollution are in India, while China’s clean air efforts have kept their cities off the top ten list.

Other cities on the WHO’s top ten list:

    Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia
    Pasakha, Bhutan
    Novi Sad, Serbia
    Cairo, Egypt


As governments and scientists work together to find solutions, you can educate yourself about air pollution and human health in your area. According to the Journal of Thoracic Disease, these steps can be taken to reduce individual exposure to air pollutants.

    Stay indoors: Closely monitor your local air quality index reports and stay inside with doors and windows closed during peak pollution hours.
    Clean indoor air: Use portable or central air cleaning systems to filter the air in your home.
    Reduce exertion levels: The human body demands a greater supply of oxygen during times of increased physical activity. Consuming larger amounts of air and oxygen also increases the intake of air pollutants. Confine periods of exertion to hours with best air quality.
    Avoid polluted microenvironments (such as trafficked roads): Don’t walk or engage in outdoor activity near traffic, especially during rush hours. When commuting, set your vehicle’s ventilation system to the recirculate mode and turn on the air conditioner.
    Use respirators: For many people, respirators are uncomfortable and impractical. However, if you live in an area with higher air pollution levels, you’re advised to wear a properly sealed respirator when tolerable.
    Stay informed: Knowing the state of air pollution will help you stay safe and healthy. Researching the latest journal publications, monitoring the air quality in your area and adapting to the latest innovations in pollution reduction are all great ways to combat the issue.

If your passion for the environment extends beyond staying abreast of the latest developments, consider earning an Online Environmental Studies Degree from Virginia Wesleyan University. Our program is ideal for those who want to help make a lasting impact on the future and improve humans’ relationship with the environment. We’ll equip you with the interdisciplinary courses and real-world skills required to excel in the workplace. Earn your degree on a flexible timeline that fits your schedule, often in as little as 12 months.

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« Reply #2528 on: May 21, 2019, 03:48 AM »

99% of the world’s electric buses are in China


When New York announced the addition of 15 new electric buses, it was a big deal. After all, at the end of last year, there were only 300 electric buses in the whole America, so every bit helps. But in China, it wouldn’t even make the news. Out of 425,000 e-buses worldwide at the end of last year, some 421,000 were in China, a new Bloomberg report finds.

China has taken a firm lead in the world of electric buses, which have become the norm in many Chinese cities. Shenzhlen alone, a city of 12 million inhabitants, has a fleet of over 16,000 electric buses, and it’s making a huge difference. China’s electric buses save more diesel than all the world’s electric cars combined.

To achieve this wide-scale implementation, China used a top-down approach (as is usually the case with the Asian country). National objectives were implemented, both for manufacturers and municipalities, and the policy was used to nurture a productive competition between major cities. Meanwhile, in the US, the opposite is happening — the current administration discourages the national implementation of low-emission transport, and local markets are trying to fill in the void. Even in Europe, which is doing a bit better than the US with 2,250 electric buses, policy has not been decisive enough to fuel a revolution in electric transportation. The rest of Asia, despite some progress, also lags behind.

China isn’t slowing down its transition to electric buses, with the fleet projected to rise to over 600,000 buses by 2025, according to the Bloomberg report. The rest of the world is expected to also increase its numbers but will struggle to catch up to China’s head start.

Buses are excellently suited for transitioning to electric engines: they follow a relatively short and stable route and can be easily recharged between rides. They also transport many more people than a regular car, which means that the positive impact is maximized.

However, this doesn’t exactly tell the whole story. Electric buses (like all electric cars) are effective only if the electricity they use comes from renewable sources. In China, that’s not really the case, as most of the country still relies on coal (though renewables have been steadily rising). This means that places with a lot of renewable energy are even better-suited for electric buses, and China’s fleet might not be quite as green as we might think at first glance.

Secondly, rapidly-urbanizing countries such as China are implementing electric buses right off the bat — whereas other places, especially in Europe, made an earlier transition to hybrid buses. In London, for instance, there are 3,240 hybrid and 96 electric buses (from a fleet of 9,396). These hybrid buses, while not as effective as electric ones, also make a positive impact.

Still, the big picture is clear: when it comes to electric buses, China is dominating. We can only hope that more competition will spring in other parts of the world.

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« Reply #2529 on: May 21, 2019, 03:49 AM »

The world decreased coal energy usage for the first time since the Industrial Revolution


According to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), investors have dramatically withdrawn their investments in coal. In the last three years, investments in new coal-fired power plants have dropped by 75%. Also, for the first time since the industrial revolution, there has been a reduction in coal capacity across the globe. Until recently, humans had been using more and more coal. Now we’ve finally starting to back away — another sign that coal’s best days are well behind it.

Another nail in the coffin

The IEA report World Energy Investment 2019 shows that a total of 236 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired plants are currently under construction worldwide. That’s still quite a lot — the equivalent of 740 million solar panels. However, investors’ confidence has dwindled. In 2015, the Final Investment Decisions (FIDs) fund for coal plants signed off 88 GW for construction but pledged only 22 GW in 2018.

Most of the new coal capacity is planned for India and China. Meanwhile, the EU and US have dramatically cut back on this fossil fuel, reducing overall use by 25% and 40%, respectively, over the last decade. And more and more plants will have to be closed. For instance, to meets its Paris Agreement carbon emissions target, the EU will have to shut down all of its coal-fired power plants by 2030.

Across the world, coal-fired plants are responsible for around 38% of global electricity demand. But despite the huge number of planned power plants for the future, the rate at which old coal plants are being decommissioned is now higher than the rate of new plants coming online. The IEA says that a staggering 30 GW of coal-based generators were retired in 2018.

In the past couple of years, banks, hedge funds, cities, universities, religious entities and even the heirs to the Rockefeller fortune have withdrawn trillions of dollars from coal investments. If this trend continues, it will only be a matter of time until FIDs tumble to a big, fat zero. And when this happens, coal will officially become history.

The findings suggest that more and more investors want to pivot to more sustainable forms of energy. However, the report also found that although new energy infrastructure is needed to meet the growing and robust energy demands, there doesn’t seem to be enough capital flowing towards energy efficiency and cleaner supply sources. In other words, investors are being careful, looking at both sides of the street. But they certainly can’t stall forever — sooner or later, capital investors will have to place their bets, and the odds are stacked against coal and fossil fuels

    “Energy investments now face unprecedented uncertainties, with shifts in markets, policies and technologies,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “But the bottom line is that the world is not investing enough in traditional elements of supply to maintain today’s consumption patterns, nor is it investing enough in cleaner energy technologies to change course. Whichever way you look, we are storing up risks for the future.”

    “Current investment trends show the need for bolder decisions required to make the energy system more sustainable,” Dr. Birol said. “Government leadership is critical to reduce risks for investors in the emerging sectors that urgently need more capital to get the world on the right track.”

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« Reply #2530 on: May 21, 2019, 03:51 AM »

Julian Assange: Sweden files request for arrest over rape allegation

Prosecutor asks for order to begin process of extraditing WikiLeaks founder from UK

21 May 2019 09.11 BST

The Swedish prosecutor leading an investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange has filed a request with a local court for him to be detained in absentia.

If granted, the court order would be the first step in a process to have the WikiLeaks founder extradited from the UK, where he is serving a 50-week sentence for skipping bail.

Sweden reopened the rape investigation last week. It was begun in 2010 but dropped in 2017 after Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Assange, who denies the accusation, was arrested in London last month after spending seven years inside the embassy.

“I request the district court to detain Assange in his absence, on probable cause suspected for rape,” the deputy chief prosecutor, Eva-Marie Persson, said in a statement on Monday.

She said she would issue a European arrest warrant for Assange to be surrendered to Sweden if the court decided to detain him.

Sweden’s decision to reopen the rape investigation casts doubt on where Assange may eventually end up, with US authorities already seeking his extradition over conspiracy charges relating to one of the biggest leaks of classified information.

A lawyer representing Assange in Sweden said he would tell the district court it could not investigate the prosecutor’s request until he had conferred with his client and learned whether or not he wished to oppose a detention order.

“Since he is in prison in England, it has so far not been possible even to speak to him by telephone,” Per Samuelson told Reuters.

Assange, an Australian national, took refuge in the embassy after fighting unsuccessfully through the British courts to avoid extradition to Sweden.

The British courts will have to rule on the Swedish and US extradition requests. Sajid Javid, the UK home secretary, will have the final say on which takes precedence.

Persson said: “The outcome of this process is impossible to predict.” Citing information from UK authorities, she said Assange would serve 25 weeks of his UK sentence before he could be released.

A British judge has given the US government a deadline of 12 June to outline its case against Assange.

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« Reply #2531 on: May 21, 2019, 04:05 AM »

Millions without water in Libya as armed group cuts off supply

Gunmen claiming to be loyal to Khalifa Haftar force shutdown in Tripoli and nearby cities

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor
Tue 21 May 2019 05.00 BST

Water supplies to the Libyan capital and surrounding cities have been cut off after an armed group stormed a control room, leaving millions of people without water as summer temperatures begin to climb.

The gunmen arrived on Sunday at the control room in Jafara run by a consortium known as the Great Man-Made River project, which transports water via a vast underground network of pipes from the Sahara into Tripoli, a city of more than 2 million people, and other coastal areas. The group forced staff to shut down the water pipes connected to underground wells.

The group claimed to be supporters of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA). Haftar’s force dominates the east and south of Libya and has been trying to take the capital from the UN-backed government of national accord (GNA).

The link with Haftar has been disputed, with some claiming the armed group is operating independently and the GNA is making a link to undermine support for the controversial general.

Haftar’s forces have been besieging Tripoli since 4 April with tacit support from countries including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, but it is generally accepted that the LNA’s plans for a quick victory and the defeat of the GNA have been thwarted.

The agency that oversees the water project, first commissioned by the former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, insisted it had never taken sides in the current civil strife but said water supplies should never be used to pursue any interest. “Water is God’s gift to all and should not be used to dictate or bargain under any conditions at all,” the authority said.

As a result of the attack water will not just be cut to Tripoli, but also to Gharyan and some other western mountain cities. It is not known how long it will take to restore supplies, but the incident underlines the vulnerability of Libya’s civil fabric to a prolonged war. The authority previously warned it was finding it difficult to repair leaks due to the fighting. Libya periodically suffers from water outages.

The GNA accused the armed group in coordination with Haftar’s forces of seeking to “lock the water from the capital to lower the morale of its inhabitants”.

It is likely that Haftar will disown the action, but the episode, however quickly it is resolved, may rebound badly on the warlord as he seeks to persuade the international community he can be the upholder of security against the criminal militias who have afflicted the weak GNA government in Tripoli. It will also add to the sense that the siege is deepening a general lawlessness in Libya that others, including Islamic State, are beginning to exploit. There have been a number of Isis hit-and-run attacks in the past month, mainly in the south of the country.

The east and west of Libya have been divided for much of the time since Gaddafi was ousted with the help of Nato-backed forces in 2011.

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« Reply #2532 on: May 21, 2019, 04:07 AM »

Hungary accused of fuelling xenophobia with anti-migrant rhetoric

Council of Europe’s damning report says human rights violations must be urgently addressed

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels
Tue 21 May 2019 09.00 BST

Europe’s top human rights watchdog has accused Hungary’s government of violating people’s rights and using anti-migrant rhetoric that fuels “xenophobic attitudes, fear and hatred”.

A damning report from the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatović, concluded: “Human rights violations in Hungary have a negative effect on the whole protection system and the rule of law” and should “be addressed as a matter of urgency”.

The commissioner, whose report is based on meeting government ministers and civil society groups during a five-day visit to Hungary in February, issued a devastating critique of the Hungarian asylum system that has resulted in “practically systemic rejection of asylum applications”. Voicing alarm at the “excessive use of violence” by police in removing foreign nationals, she criticised a policy of denying food to those refused asylum.

Hungary’s government has been urged to lift its “crisis situation” laws. The commissioner argued emergency measures could not be justified when the government received only 671 asylum applications in 2018.

Viktor Orbán’s government declared “a crisis situation due to mass immigration” in 2015 and built a fence topped by razor wire along the country’s southern border with Serbia. That year, hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants passed through Hungary, mostly trying to reach western Europe.

Asylum seekers in Hungary now live in two transit zones along the border as part of a law that the UN said violated Hungary’s international obligations to refugees.

The human rights commissioner also raised the alarm about Hungarian laws that “stigmatise and criminalise” work by non-governmental organisations. NGOs that receive foreign grants are required to label themselves as “receiving foreign funding” on their websites, while those who work with asylum seekers risk a one-year prison sentence for providing information. Mijatović said Hungary’s laws had a continuous chilling effect on NGOs and noted that some groups faced intimidation, stigmatisation and smear campaigns.

Another section of the report accused the government of backsliding on gender equality, via a new family protection action plan that focuses on women as childbearers.

Mijatović’s report is published amid stalemate in Brussels over an EU procedure to sanction Hungary for violations of the rule of law. Since the European parliament triggered the bloc’s rule of law mechanism last autumn, the process has languished in the EU council of ministers.

In an 18-page rebuttal of Mijatović’s findings, the ministry of foreign affairs said Hungary fulfilled “all of its international obligations that deal with the safeguarding of human rights of asylum seekers and refugees”. It said maintaining a crisis situation was absolutely justified because of the “proximity of immigrants” in the Balkans. Police behaved in a lawful, professional and justified way, the ministry said.

It also said the government was committed to easing “the multiple burden” on women and rejected criticism of its treatment of NGOs, saying that a recent UN report had made unsubstantiated claims.

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« Reply #2533 on: May 21, 2019, 04:08 AM »

Malawi goes to the polls: 'A lot is going wrong in this country'

Millions of Malawians vote in the latest contest to pit an elderly ruler against a younger challenger

Jason Burke and Charles Pensulo in Lilongwe
Tue 21 May 2019 07.24 BST

Millions of Malawians are voting on Tuesday in the latest election contest in Africa to pit an elderly ruler against a younger challenger, part of what many observers see as a generational battle across the continent.

The incumbent, Peter Mutharika, a 78-year-old former law professor, is seeking a second five-year presidential term but faces a strong challenge from Saulos Chilima, 46. Chilima, a former telecoms executive, was Mutharika’s closest ally and vice-president before a split last year.

More than half of the 6.8 million registered voters are under 35, and this group could determine the outcome if they turn out to vote. Polls opened for 12 hours from 6am local time (0400 GMT).

Jaston Baula, 24, a student at Malawi Polytechnic, said he had not been interested in politics until Chilima announced his candidacy. “Chilima has got what takes to solve what’s wrong in this country,” he said. “We’ve realised that a lot of things are going wrong in this country, like rampant corruption and disregard for the young.”

A new generation of politicians is emerging across Africa, reflecting seismic social, economic and demographic shifts that are poised to change the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

In South Africa this month, Mmusi Maimane and Julius Malema, both 38, led opposition parties against the African National Congress, led by the incumbent president Cyril Ramaphosa, 66.

In Uganda, the singer and parliamentarian Bobi Wine, 37, has led protests against Yoweri Museveni, 74. In Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa, 76, narrowly beat Nelson Chamisa, the 41-year-old leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, in an last July.

Omar al-Bashir, 75, was ousted from power in Sudan in April by a protest movement and the military. Young people played a key role. And in Algeria, demonstrations led by a new wave of activists forced the resignation of AbdelAziz Bouteflika, 82, last month after 20 years in power.

In Malawi, Atupele Muluzi, the 40-year-old son of the former president Bakili Muluzi, is also standing.

George Phiri, a political commentator, said: “Young people are very motivated to vote in this election because they feel that they are represented and that the election is theirs and that their dreams will be fulfilled once their desired candidates win the election.”

Though Chilima is popular among young and urban dwellers, Mutharika can still rely on support from rural communities drawn in by promises of further investment in infrastructure and subsidies for agriculture.

“I know that people want to try something new, but the president has my vote because there is evidence of the development that he has been carrying out,” said Mark Mose, 38, a subsistence farmer in Chimombo.

Malawi’s roads and electricity supply have improved under Mutharika. Since 2014, inflation has fallen from 23% to below 9%. “I can assure you in the next five years we will get to the level of Singapore or Malaysia,” Mutharika told cheering supporters at his final rally on Saturday.

If more diverse in terms of age, candidates are less so in terms of gender. The former president Joyce Banda withdrew from the contest, leaving eight male contenders.

The president’s other main rival is the opposition leader, Lazarus Chakwera, who came second to Mutharika in 2014, losing by 450,000 votes.

Mutharika came to power vowing to tackle corruption but was caught up in a scandal when the country’s anti-graft agency implicated him in kickbacks over a multimillion-dollar contract to supply food to the police. He shrugged off accusations of a $200,000 bribe, saying he believed it was an “honest donation” to his party.

“Malawians have lost trust in this administration,” said Gift Trapence, of the Centre for the Development of People, a rights group. “We have had many cases of impunity in terms of not arresting corrupt people connected to the ruling party. Many people are very angry and want to cast a vote of no confidence in the government.”

Malawi won independence from Britain in 1964. It was ruled by Hastings Banda as a one-party state until the first multi-party elections in 1994.

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« Reply #2534 on: May 21, 2019, 04:29 AM »

Trump stops ex-White House counsel Don McGahn testifying to Congress

    Justice department says McGahn cannot be compelled to talk
    House panel chair Jerry Nadler condemns intervention

Sabrina Siddiqui and David Smith in Washington
21 May 2019 23.02 BST

Donald Trump has blocked the former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying before Congress about the special counsel report on Russian election interference, prompting sharp criticism and even threats of impeachment.

In a legal opinion released on Monday, the justice department said lawmakers on Capitol Hill cannot compel McGahn, who was subpoenaed by the House judiciary committee, to answer their questions under oath.

“The Department of Justice has provided a legal opinion stating that, based on long-standing, bipartisan, and constitutional precedent, the former counsel to the president cannot be forced to give such testimony, and Mr McGahn has been directed to act accordingly,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said in a statement.

“This action has been taken in order to ensure that future presidents can effectively execute the responsibilities of the office of the presidency.”

McGahn is a central figure in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, often standing in the way of Trump’s efforts to obstruct justice. According to investigators, McGahn threatened to resign when the president ordered him to have Mueller fired.

McGahn was also dispatched by Trump to convince the former attorney general Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. (Sessions did not heed the president’s demands.)

Travelling to a rally in Pennsylvania, Trump was asked why he was asking McGahn to defy a congressional subpoena. “Well, as I understand it, they’re doing that for the office of the presidency, for future presidents,” he replied, according to a pool report. “I think it’s a very important precedent. And the attorneys say that they’re not doing that for me. They’re doing it for the office of the president. So we’re talking about the future.”

The White House’s intervention was condemned by Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the judiciary committee. “The Mueller report documents a shocking pattern of obstruction of justice,” he said in a statement. “The president acted again and again – perhaps criminally – to protect himself from federal law enforcement.

“Don McGahn personally witnessed the most egregious of these acts. President Trump knows this. He clearly does not want the American people to hear firsthand about his alleged misconduct, and so he has attempted to block Mr McGahn from speaking in public tomorrow.”

The move is the latest example of the Trump administration’s “disdain for the law”, added Nadler, who said the committee will meet as planned on Tuesday morning and still expects McGahn to appear.

Another Democratic member of the committee, David Cicilline, went further in his criticism, suggesting that impeachment of Trump would be warranted if McGahn did not respond to the subpoena.

“Let me be clear: if Don McGahn doesn’t testify, it is time to open an impeachment inquiry,” he told the MSNBC network. “The president has engaged in an ongoing effort to impede our ability find the truth, to collect evidence, to do our work … No one is above the law, including the president of the United States.”

Cicilline admitted he did not know if his view was shared by other members of Democratic leadership but added: “We may well be forced into a position to have to open a formal inquiry in order to facilitate the collection of the evidence that we need to see.”

The justice department’s legal opinion does not prevent McGahn testifying if he so chooses, although it would be potentially at risk to his own career. Trump has mused about instructing Republicans to cease dealing with his law firm, Jones Day, the Associated Press reported.

Matthew Miller, former director of the office of public affairs for the justice department, tweeted: “Just show up and testify, McGahn. This isn’t about some garden-variety Congressional-executive branch dispute, but as one of your predecessors described it, a cancer on the presidency. Think about your place in history.”

McGahn was subpoenaed by Nadler last month and, under instruction by the White House, failed to meet an initial deadline to appear before the committee. Nadler threatened to hold McGahn in contempt of Congress if he did not meet a second deadline of 21 May.

McGahn, who left the White House last year, has increasingly become the subject of Trump’s ire following the release of the redacted Mueller report. Last week, the president tweeted he was “never a big fan” of McGahn and suggested it was the former White House counsel, and not Mueller, who was on his chopping block at the time of the investigation.

The Trump administration has repeatedly blocked attempts at oversight by the Democratic-controlled House. Last month it instructed the former personnel security director Carl Kline not to testify at a hearing into alleged lapses in White House security clearance procedures. Last week the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, refused to comply with a congressional subpoena to hand over Trump’s tax returns.

Nadler’s committee has previously voted to hold the attorney general, William Barr, in contempt for refusing to provide the unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence to Congress.


Judiciary Democrat vows to push impeachment proceedings if Don McGahn does not testify on Tuesday

Raw Story

A member of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team on Monday promised to pursue initiating impeachment proceedings if former White House Counsel Don McGahn refused to testify on Tuesday.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, is also a member of Congressional leadership as chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC).

MSNBC’s “Meet the Press Daily” guest host Steve Kornacki asked Cicilline about the White House instructing McGahn to ignore the subpoena.

    BREAKING: @RepCicilline: “If Don McGahn doesn’t testify, it is time to open an impeachment inquiry….No one is above the law including the president of the United States.” #MTPDaily pic.twitter.com/ClND8cONyv

    — Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) May 20, 2019


Federal judge sides with House Oversight Democrats on subpoena for Trump financial records

Raw Story

U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta on Monday ruled that President Donald Trump must abide by a Congressional subpoena for the president’s financial records.

The judge said Trump’s attorneys “have not raised a ‘serious legal question[] going to the merits.'”

Trump has seven days to comply with the subpoena.

    Breaking: DC judge Amit Mehta upholds House subpoena for Trump financial records https://t.co/zSe5HnBSQt pic.twitter.com/B8xC5xnREg

    — Mike Scarcella (@MikeScarcella) May 20, 2019


‘Really bad day for the president’: Ex-prosecutor reveals why judge’s new ruling is devastating for Trump

Raw Story

President Donald Trump suffered a damning legal setback on Monday, a career former prosecutor explained on MSNBC.

U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta ruled against Trump with a blistering decision on Monday.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner was interviewed by MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on “The Last Word.”

“Glenn Kirschner, you were in the courtroom when this case was argued and here you have an opinion by the judge in your hands today saying he actually didn’t hear any serious issues raised by President Trump’s lawyer,” the host noted.

“When I sat in that courtroom, I was shaking my head because I heard the president’s lawyer William Consovoy say things like Congress can’t investigate a president who violates criminal statutes and Congress can’t investigate a president who violates the Constitution, for example, the emoluments clause and Congress can’t investigate a president who may have a financial interest, a conflict of interest in legislation he supports or executive orders he authors,” Kirschner explained.

“And Judge Metha was shaking his head,” he recalled. “He was being polite, but you could see he was buying into none of it. So when I see him use a word like your arguments were unfathomable, I was fully expecting this kind of an opinion to be handed down.”

However, there was one part of the opinion which surprised Kirschner.

“What I wasn’t expecting necessarily, Lawrence is that it would be handed down so quickly. Let me tell you, after 30 years in courts — including decades in the courts of Washington, D.C. — rarely do things happen quickly, but the fact that judge meta handed down this decision in six days is pretty remarkable,” he noted.

“I do think the sort of dam is breaking at this point. And this is a great day for transparency and for accountability, but a really bad day for the president’s seemingly endless attempts to cover up his own misconduct,” he concluded.


Michael Cohen’s closed-door testimony was just unsealed — here are 6 stunning moments from the hearings

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet
21 May 2019 at 22:24 ET                   

In addition to testifying in public, President Donald Trump’s former and fixer lawyer Michael Cohen has testified extensively behind closed doors to congressional committees. On Monday, two of the transcripts from those sealed hearings were released.

They revealed some new bombshell claims, such as Cohen’s accusation that one of Trump’s lawyers directly instructed him to lie to Congress, as well as some elaboration on previously known claims.

Here are six of the stunning moments contained in the transcripts:

1. Cohen says Trump encouraged him to do three of the crimes he’s going to prison for.

    MR. RATCLIFFE: So we’ve identified two crimes that you say you believe Donald Trump in some way directed you to take the actions for which you have pled guilty.

    MR. COHEN: No, sir. Three.

        MR. RATCLIFFE: Okay. What is the third?

        MR. COHEN: The third one is the misstatement to Congress.

        MR. RATCLIFFE: Yeah. So I got that.

        MR. COHEN: Two for campaign finance violation and one for misrepresentation — well, for lying to Congress.

        MR. RATCLIFFE: All right.

        MR. COHEN: I mean, you don’t think that l just decided to pay Stormy Daniels money on my behalf, right?

    2. He described how it was customary for Trump to screw over business partners.

        Q: Well, did he ever ask you to renege on contracts that The Trump Organization had?

        COHEN: Some of the things that I did was reach out to individuals, whether it’s law firms or small businesses, and renegotiate contracts after the job was already done, or basically tell them that we just weren’t paying at all, or make them offers of, say, 20 cents on the dollar.

        Q: Did you do things at his direction that, as you sit here today, you know were wrong?

        COHEN: Well, of course, it’s wrong. I mean, somebody does a job and they put in a bill – many of these folks, you know, lost everything. One gentleman yesterday saw me on television, and he wrote to me in a text message. I could send it to you. And I think he was from Ohio. And he said, you know, I remember for Trump University that I had done — I think it was printing work. I can send it to you. But he had done some work printing for Trump University, and we ended up paying them only 20 cents on the dollar because Trump University had its own issues, and he ended up losing the company.

        Q: And in that example, were you involved in doing that?

        COHEN: I handled all of that.

        Q: Did Donald Trump tell you, go pay 20 cents on the dollar?

        COHEN: Yes.

        Q: He said to you, pay specifically 20 cents on the dollar?

        COHEN: Yeah, because there was X amount of dollars that was in the bank, and what we did is divided it by the amount of money that was outstanding and owed, and it came out to approximately 20 cents on the dollar.

    3. He says Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow told him specifically to lie to Congress.

        THE CHAIRMAN: And just to be perfectly clear about this, the statement about the Trump Tower negotiations ending in January that was part of your original draft was false, and Mr. Sekulow knew that it was false?

        MR. COHEN: Yes, sir.

        THE CHAIRMAN: Was part of the intention in releasing this statement publicly when your testimony would be private and doing so well in advance of your testimony, to telegraph to others what the party line should be in particular about the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations?

        MR. COHEN: I wouldn’t say that it was to telegraph the message. Everybody knew the message. lt was just reinforcement of the message.

    4. He described Trump coaching him on multiple occasions about the false Russia narrative.

        Q: That May – did you have any conversations with the President other than that May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office about your testimony?

        COHEN: I spoke with the President on several occasions on the phone. O And what – how many times do you think you spoke to him?

        COHEN I don’t — I don’t recall.

        Q: You said several times, though?

        COHEN: Yes.

        Q: And what did he say to you about your upcoming testimony?

        COHEN: I don’t recall specifically, but it’s all .. the message that he would constantly relay had to do with it’s all — it’s not — this investigation is not going anywhere, just — there’s no Russia. I mean, I don’t know how many times he said to me: There’s just no Russia. This whole thing is a giant witch hunt. lt’s a witch hunt. And, again, I knew exactly what he meant, but he doesn’t have to — for me, he didn’t have to say it more than once. I got it the first time, you know, what we were all in agreement on.

        Q Would this be a good example of what you called code?

        COHEN: Yes.

    5. Cohen reminded Republicans he used to be a big fundraiser for them before his crimes were exposed.

    Republicans like to pretend Cohen is just a nobody who turned against Trump, rather than a deputy finance chair of the RNC:

        MR. RATCLIFFE: Okay. I want to ask you about that. Are you done?

        MR. COHEN: I am.

        MR. RATCLIFFE: Okay. So —

        MR. COHEN: You don’t seem to like me very much.

        MR. RATCLIFFE: I like everybody.

        MR. COHEN: I actually am a pretty nice guy.

        MR. RATCLIFFE: So –

        MR. COHEN: You know, I’m sorry, just one more. You guys really did love me when I raised about $140 million with Steve Wynn (ph) for the year, right?

    (It should be noted, however, that despite Cohen’s claims to be a good guy, he has a long history of threatening people.)

    6. Sekulow also dangled a pardon to Cohen to “shut down” the Russia investigation.

        Q: Now, having had the opportunity to think about this for almost a week, do you have any better recollection as to the nature and substance of any conversations you had with Jay Sekulow about pardons?

        COHEN: Nothing greater than what I had already stated to the committee.

        Q: Okay. You testified last time about the notion of a pre-pardon, and that you had a conversation with him about that?

        COHEN: Correct.

        Q: And that that might relate – that might be conferred upon individuals other than you as well?

        COHEN: Yes. And that pre-pardon wouldn’t work, again, because then you waive your Fifth Amendment rights since you now have immunity, so the concept disappeared rather quickly.

        Q: Can you state again what Sekulow said about the reason why at least he was considering giving pardons to you and perhaps others?

        COHEN lt was to shut down the inquiries and to shut the investigation down.

        Q: And do you know whether – did he relay to you any conversations he had had with the President, who he referred to as the client, in that: on that topic?

        COHEN: Virtually all my conversations were — referred back to the client. Jay wasn’t going to speak on behalf of the President, he was relaying messages back and forth, and as well giving me legal advice in certain respects.

        Q So is it your testimony that whatever discussions that Jay Sekulow had regarding pardons was done with the knowledge and authority of the President?

        COHEN: I believe so.


Michael Cohen testimony reveals why Donald Trump Jr. is terrified of testifying under oath about Trump Tower Moscow

Raw Story

President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney testified under oath that the president’s namesake son lied to Congress about the family’s Trump Tower Moscow project.

On Monday, the House Intelligence Committee, led by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), released 600-pages of Cohen’s testimony during his two closed-door sessions testifying under oath.

“Asked by Schiff during the March closed-door hearing whether it would be inaccurate for Trump Jr. to say that he merely had a ‘vague or ‘passing’ familiarity with the project, Cohen replied that it would be ‘inaccurate,'” Politico reported.

Trump, Jr. may not be the only Trump family member facing exposure.

Ivanka Trump may also face legal liability, as does her father.


Consequences for Trump’s actions are stacking up: Washington Post columnist

Raw Story

On Monday, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank railed against President Donald Trump for preempting Alabama’s abortion ban.

Alabama has signed into law one of the most restrictive abortions bans in the country in an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade. The ban makes abortions illegal even in the case of rape and incest.

Milbank explained that even though Trump tweeted about his view of abortion, it failed.

    As most people know, and for those who would like to know, I am strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions – Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother – the same position taken by Ronald Reagan. We have come very far in the last two years with 105 wonderful new…..

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 19, 2019

“He was trying to distance himself from Alabama’s new law begging the Supreme Court to ban abortions even for victims of rape and incest. But it no longer matters what Trump thinks — and not just because the Alabama ban is already signed into law. Trump put Alabama on course to do what it has done,” Milbank wrote.

He then explained how Trump’s behaviors have led to divisive policy decisions with real-life consequences. He noted examples such as Trump’s travel ban, policies toward China, Iran, and the border wall.

“This is just one of many cases in which Trump seems to be catching up with the consequences of his own actions. His policies toward China, Iran and on the southern border have likewise produced a variety of ill effects and unforeseen consequences,” he said.

Adding, “Unforeseen, but not unforeseeable: Trump seems to govern by smashing crockery, undoing decades of precedent and causing upheaval for its own sake — without much regard for what the consequences might be.”

He then said that Trump could have avoided the “unforeseen consequences.”

“Virtually all of these unforeseen consequences could have been avoided if Trump had spent a few minutes foreseeing them. Instead, they took months to show themselves. And they could take years to repair,” Milbank said.


Nicolle Wallace warns Donald Trump why the first GOP congressman to back impeachment changes everything

Raw Story

MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace explained the significance of Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) taking to Twitter to make the case for impeaching President Donald Trump.

The “Deadline: White House” host, who was a top Republican strategist prior to her career in broadcast journalism, offered her thoughts on the importance of impeachment proceedings officially becoming bipartisan.

“And then there was one,” Wallace reported. “One Republican member of Congress willing to say out loud what any honest broker who’s taken the time to read the Mueller report would say, that Donald Trump’s conduct as described by Robert S. Mueller meets the threshold of impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“In any other moment in history this would not be a debatable conclusion, but in this moment with this president … this one relatively unknown congressman has done something extraordinary, by reading the report that explicitly says Robert Mueller could not exonerate Donald Trump on obstruction, Republican Congressman Justin Amash came to his own conclusions, which he tweeted over the weekend,” she explained.

The host read two tweets from the Republican lawmaker.

    Here are my principal conclusions:
    1. Attorney General Barr has deliberately misrepresented Mueller’s report.
    2. President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.
    3. Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances.
    4. Few members of Congress have read the report.

    — Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 18, 2019

    Contrary to Barr’s portrayal, Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment.

    — Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 18, 2019

“The detonation of that truth-bomb didn’t sit well with Trump who tweeted this, ‘Justin is a loser who plays into our opponent’s hands,'” Wallace noted.

“Yep, the president wrote that,” she added.

“But unfortunately for Trump, the congressman may be the rare Republican not scared of his mean tweets,” she continued. “Amash is tweeting again this afternoon, doubling down on his original defense of calling for impeachment and fact-checking Trump and his allies point-by-point-by-point.”


West Michigan voters are backing their GOP congressman’s calls for impeachment: ‘Nothing but positive comments’

Raw Story

President Donald Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill are lashing out at the first Republican Congressman to back impeachment.

On Saturday, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) made a powerful case for impeachment, which he then pushed again on Monday.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who chairs the far-right House Freedom Caucus, said they will be discussing whether to eject Amash from the group.

Meadows claimed that Amash would have a tough time getting re-elected after backing impeachment.

“Anytime that you come out against the president of your own party makes it very difficult to support in any primary challenge,” Meadows argued.

But Marcy Wheeler, a top national security expert who lives in Michigan, disagreed.

“I’ve heard nothing but positive comments about Amash’s statements. A lot of really enthusiastic comments and surprise,” Wheeler said. “But what does Mark Meadows know [about] West Michigan?”

“When I say I’ve heard nothing but positive comments, I don’t mean, second hand heard via DC. I mean Amash’s comments have been the topic [of] very spirited discussions every time I leave the house in Amash’s district,” she noted.

    I've heard nothing but positive comments about Amash's statements. A lot of really enthusiastic comments and surprise.

    But what does Mark Meadows know abt West Michigan? https://t.co/6M6MmIIfj6

    — emptywheel (@emptywheel) May 20, 2019

    When I say I've heard nothing but positive comments, I don't mean, second hand heard via DC. I mean Amash's comments have been the topic of of very spirited discussions every time I leave the house in Amash's district.

    — emptywheel (@emptywheel) May 20, 2019


Scathing Washington Post editorial rips GOP for not having the courage to stand up to Trump

Raw Story

On Monday a scathing editorial in The Washington Post ripped the GOP for consistently selling out to President Donald Trump. A lone Republican, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) spoke out against Trump and said that special counsel Robert Mueller’s reports confirms that he has committed impeachable offenses.

    Here are my principal conclusions:
    1. Attorney General Barr has deliberately misrepresented Mueller’s report.
    2. President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.
    3. Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances.
    4. Few members of Congress have read the report.

    — Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 18, 2019

    Few members of Congress even read Mueller’s report; their minds were made up based on partisan affiliation—and it showed, with representatives and senators from both parties issuing definitive statements on the 448-page report’s conclusions within just hours of its release.

    — Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 18, 2019

“We highlight Mr. Amash’s tweets not to endorse every word but to contrast his approach with that of the rest of his party. It is not too much to ask that members of Congress suppress knee-jerk partisanship and actually read a major report on the president’s behavior,” the editorial said.

The editorial went on to explain how Republicans have sold out to Trump. It noted that while members of the GOP were vocal during the Obama administration about values and principles that they have now “succumbed” to the president.

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch "i have no soul, only a rancid abscess'  McConnell (R-Ky.) has quietly acquiesced in the trashing of free trade and the diminution of congressional prerogatives. Mr. Barr, a veteran of the George H.W. Bush administration, promised to bring professionalism and order back to the Justice Department but, after gaining Senate confirmation, morphed into an aggressive defender of the president and propagator of Trumpian conspiracy theories,” the editorial explained.

The editorial then noted that Amash maybe looking to challenge Trump in 2020.

“Mr. Amash may be preparing to run for president next year on the Libertarian Party ticket. But the Libertarian nomination is not so valuable a prize that Mr. Amash’s words can be waved away as cynical, as some Republicans have tried to do. Making himself a pariah in his own party — and, as of Sunday, drawing a primary challenger in his House district — is a high price to pay for any politician. But what is the price of abandoning all principles?” the editorial board said.


"i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell is working to keep Trumpism alive — no matter what voters say in 2020

Raw Story

Fearful of losing the Oval Office and knowing the highly-charged 2020 election will kick into high gear in January of 2020, political insiders claim that Senate Majority leader Mitch "i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell (R-KY) is trampling all the rules of the Senate to get as many of Donald Trump’s court nominees approved as quickly as he can.

According to a report in Politico, Trump plans to use packing the courts with rightwing judges as a campaign boast to rally his base – and McConnell is doing all he can to make Trump’s wishes come true.

“Trump’s team believes that stacking the judicial system with conservative judges galvanizes the base, demonstrates his ability to follow through on a 2016 campaign promise and will help win over crucial 2020 states like Colorado, Florida and North Carolina,” the report states, before adding, ” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has done everything he can to help quicken the pace, changing procedural rules to limit debate time and lower the voting threshold Supreme Court justices must clear to get approved.”

According to Daniel Goldberg, legal director at the Alliance for Justice, “I am not sure how they can speed it up anymore. Mitch McConnell has already eroded almost every rule and norm to expedite Trump’s far-right judges with as little transparency and vetting as possible.”

The report notes that conservative activists who are helping shepherd like-minded jurists through the approval process have an underlying strategy to pack the benches with younger judges who can hand down rulings for generations.

Additionally, they are tackling the lower courts due to a logjam at the Supreme Court.

“Given how few cases the Supreme Court takes, the appeals court are making a ton of important decisions in which they are the last word,” explained Rorie Solberg, a professor of political science at Oregon State University.

Politico notes that the Senate will have confirmed 15 judges in the past six weeks due to McConnell’s maneuvering.

“Obviously that’s going to be one of the most lasting legacies of the Trump administration and the next 25 to 30 years,” boasted Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I think it’ll remain a priority especially when our Democratic colleagues don’t seem too interested in legislating, particularly in the House.”


How our republic could die in the age of Trump — in a stunning parallel to the fall of Rome

Thom Hartmann, Independent Media Institute
21 May 2019 at 21:01 ET                   

The American republic could die, just like Rome.

Wavering for some time on the verge of becoming a complete oligarchy, America is on the verge of flipping from a democratic republic to a strongman or autocratic form of government, something that’s happened to dozens of democracies in the past few decades, but never before here. It’s possible we won’t recover from it.

The death of a republic is different from the death of a nation; Rome was a nation for nearly 2,000 years, but its period of being a republic was only around 300 years long. For the rest, it was a brutal empire with a small but wealthy and corrupt ruling class and a thin patina of democracy-for-show.

Trump is openly defying the norms and laws of our republic, while calling for the imprisonment of both his political enemies and members of the very law enforcement agencies that might hold him to account. And he’s only able to do it because billionaires like Rupert Murdoch, with Fox News, and the billionaires Republicans depend on to fund their re-elections are providing him with cover.

And they’re largely able to do that because five “conservatives” on the Supreme Court empowered billionaires to own the political system with the 1976 Buckley and 2010 Citizens United decisions.

Already, it is evident there are similarities between the end of the Roman Republic and America today when it comes to political theater. In the Roman Republic, the question of what was “real” or “fake” was decided by the people and common sense until the republic began to splinter in the first century BCE. Once the political/power cracks appeared, truth and lies became a constant matter of debate. Today we have a reality-show president who has told over 10,000 lies, many uncritically repeated daily by the media and others aggressively defended by politicians owned by the same billionaires who support Trump. Trump is constantly at war with the truth and “fake news.”

Republics die when the price of losing political struggles becomes higher than individual politicians are willing to pay, so they just roll over in favor of the interests of whoever is most powerful. Republics die when compromise is seen as betrayal, and a single principled vote, position or statement is enough to cause donors and party to turn their back and end a political career, or even end a person’s ability to earn a living.

In Rome, after the republican phase ended in the first century BCE with the assassination of Julius Caesar, it often meant physical death; in America today it means political and economic death, but the dagger at the heart of what the founding fathers called our “republican form of government” is no less sharp.

A republic falters because it ceases to be functional and democratic—meeting the needs of the people and being governed by the people—when behind-the-scenes plutocrats, warlords, or corporations achieve near total—and nearly invisible—political/financial dominance over the visible political process.

This failure of governance and plutocratic takeover is followed by threats of overwhelming political destruction, and, in the final stages, violence often takes over.

That was when, in 1933, the Weimar Republic became the Nazi tyranny; in 1938 when Mussolini dissolved parliament and replaced it with the Chamber of Fascist Corporations; in 1980 when Augusto Pinochet replaced Chile’s constitution with one that banned opposition political groups; in 2016 when President Erdogan of Turkey brutally responded to a coup attempt. Recently we’ve also seen it in Russia, the Philippines, Brazil, Hungary, and Poland.

The forces driving the death of our republic include Trump trying to prosecute those who investigated him for his campaign’s Russia ties and his disavowal of the rights and powers of the first branch of American government, the Congress. Fueling the process for nearly two generations are the right-wing billionaires funding politicians who tolerate the promotion of deadly white supremacist violence, all in the pursuit of lower taxes, higher profits, and a dog-eat-dog political ideology that doesn’t let average people get their needs met through the political process.

The disintegration of the Roman Republic began, writes Edward J. Watts, the author of Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell Into Tyranny, in the years around 100 BCE when politicians became rigidly bound to their patrons and thus refused to compromise, raising the cost of normal political activity to a level where egalitarian governance became a sham. Instead of disagreeing with each other, Roman politicians began to prosecute each other and fund reactionary “populist” forces.

Watts told me that the consequence, over the next century, was political violence and the end of the republic; by the time of Augustus, Rome had become an autocratic, plutocratic empire and democracy was dead, even though the iron-fisted empire would last another 1,400 years, finally petering out (no pun intended) as the modern Catholic Church.

A republic is dying when the price of political activism becomes so high that the only people willing to engage in it are also willing to kill or die for their positions. But before the physical killing and dying happens, first comes financial and political killing and dying.

When politicians are terrified that the wrong statement or vote will lose them their political and financial patrons—or could even get them thrown in jail or killed—they cease to be players in a republican democratic drama, and instead become sycophants to and enablers of the plutocrats who have the actual political power, even though they don’t hold office.

This is the position elected members of the Republican Party find themselves in today relative to the billionaires and industries that own them, and the white supremacists and religious zealots they’ve invited in as allies; the future of our democratic republican form of government will depend on whether they continue to encourage this poison, or reject it.

The modern Republican Party has, since the Reagan era, stood exclusively for making the very rich much richer, privatizing Social Security, ending Medicare and Medicaid, gutting food stamps and other programs to help those in poverty and the working poor, increasing levels of poison and pollution in our air and water, and turning our entire school system over to for-profit vultures.

These are all pretty unpopular positions, so to get elected the GOP has pulled together a coalition of white supremacists, gun fanatics, and religious zealots who want total control over women and their bodies.

That’s nearly enough people to win the occasional election, but the real force behind the modern GOP are the plutocrats, the billionaires who fund everything from “conservative” think tanks, to super PACs (and their social media troll farms), to billion-dollar media buys.

Republican politicians now live in such fear of these billionaires and the corporations who made them rich that they’re unwilling to acknowledge simple science like climate change or the impact of industrial pollution on children.

These are the signs of a dying republic.

Into this moment in history comes Donald Trump, going after the walls and floors of our political house with a sledgehammer. Institutions that were treated with respect and even reverence are ridiculed as “weak” or “useless” by Trump; the hard-right billionaires cheer him on and keep writing checks to the GOP.

These are the symptoms of a republic in crisis.

    Calling the press “the enemy of the people.”
    Refusing to interact with Congress as the Constitution dictates.
    Packing the courts with demonstrably unqualified ideologues.
    Lying to the people on a daily basis.
    Embracing autocrats while trashing traditional allies.
    Breaking the law and flaunting a Nixon-era “guideline” from the DOJ saying that the president can’t be prosecuted, while he runs out the clock on the statute of limitations.
    Bragging that he’s making money on the presidency and daring anybody to stop him.
    Putting lobbyists in charge of public lands, our banking system, and our environment.
    Embracing violent and hateful people and movements, both at home and abroad.
    There’s a lot of hand-wringing going on in the press and in D.C. about Trump’s political and legal excesses. What everybody seems to be missing is the permanent damage he’s doing to our republic by finding the loose floorboards under our republic, the loopholes and norms of political behavior that have been enforced for centuries out of good will and respect, rather than fear of the law.

Like a petulant child or a juvenile delinquent, he delights in breaking them right in front of us.

Nixon didn’t want to turn over the tapes, but when the courts told him to, he complied. Hillary Clinton didn’t want to testify for more than eight hours about Benghazi, but when Congress demanded it, she showed up. These have been American norms since the presidency of George Washington.

It’s entirely possible that Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr are right that Congress now has no real means to enforce their subpoenas and requests for testimony and documents; if so, it’s been that way since the founding of the republic.

Our government has functioned from one administration to another since its founding not because presidents and members of Congress were afraid of going to jail; things have held together because our politicians have, almost without exception, honored the institutions of our nation, even when they didn’t need to fear them.

Our Constitution, in many very real ways, is rather weak when faced with parties or persons who flaunt its norms, or won’t use the tools it provides to ensure accountability.

There was, for example, no jail cell waiting for Mitch McConnell when he refused to allow President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland to even have a single hearing. Nobody had ever done such a thing because there’d never in our history been a Senate majority leader with so little respect for our nation and our Constitution, or so much loyalty to a small group of billionaires.

But now there’s a man in the White House so craven in his lust for personal wealth and power, and so owned by fossil-fuel interests, bigots, and religious fanatics that he’s willing to exploit that weakness in our Constitution to take an ax to the roots of our tree of liberty.

He is our nation’s Augustus Caesar, the killer of a republic and the herald of a corrupt and collapsing empire.

He’s willing to break laws in public and dare Congress to hold him responsible, while starting an “investigation” into those concerned about a foreign power breaking our election laws to make him president. He openly praises thugs and killers, both foreign and domestic, and delights in pardoning war criminals.

America will not “bounce back” from the Trump presidency when it ends, and may lose all ability to recover at all if that presidency lasts six rather than two more years.

If Republicans in the Senate are too cowardly to repudiate the petro-billionaires who threaten to fund their primary opponents, we will continue on the rapid downward slide Rome experienced in the first century BCE.

And if Democrats don’t take strong, immediate, and decisive action to curb GOP excesses, we may well never again have a chance to return to our democratic-republican roots.

Democrats “getting a spine” isn’t just good politics; it may be the last hope to salvage our republic and preserve our constitutional form of government.

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and author of more than 25 books in print. He is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

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