Posted: August 27, 2019 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, Foreign Affairs, U.S. Politics | Tags: 2019 G7, 2020 G7, Amazon fires, Amazon rain forest, Bernie Sanders, Brazil, Donald Trump, election security, Elizabeth Warren, Emmanuel Macron, Federal Election Commission, guns, Jair Bolsonaro, Joe Biden, Mitch McConnell, Trump Doral resort, Trump tax returns, Vladimir Putin, White supremacists
Is it just me, or are we really approaching the point at which U.S. democracy cannot be saved? Trump wants to hold next year’s G7 at his private Doral resort in Florida, which would mean that foreign countries would literally have to pay his family business for the privilege of attending. And Trump will likely try to invite Putin next year after he “went to the mat for Putin” over the weekend.
As we approach next year’s presidential election, the Federal Election Commission, the agency that enforces campaign finance laws, is going out of business. Trump and McConnell have stymied legislative efforts to secure our elections.
House Democrats aren’t doing much to control the lawless madman president, much less take steps toward impeaching him. They are making efforts to get his tax returns through the courts, but Rep. Richard Neal refuses to ask New York to provide Trump’s state tax returns.
It’s beginning to look like the race for the Democratic presidential nomination will be between three deeply flawed septuagenarian candidates: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.
I hope you’ll check out the links above; there simply isn’t time or space for me to provide excerpts here. And there are so many emergencies that I didn’t mention, such as Trump’s war on immigrants, the problem of easily available guns and the rising threat of white supremacist violence.
Today’s top emergency is the burning of the Amazon rain forest in Brazil.
The Washington Post: What you need to know about the Amazon rainforest fires.
The Amazon — nearly four times the size of Alaska — is a vast sink for storing carbon dioxide and a key element of any plan to restrain climate change. Any increase in deforestation there would speed up global warming as well as damage an important refuge for biodiversity.
Studies show the 2.2 million-square mile forest is nearing a tipping point, at which large fragmented portions of the rainforest could transform into an entirely different, drier ecosystem, leading to the acceleration of climate change, the loss of countless species and disaster for the indigenous populations that call the tropical rainforest home….
The trees and plants of the Amazon forest pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as part of photosynthesis. Destruction of the forest releases carbon stored in the trees and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide used by them.
People are the cause of the Amazon fires.
…most fires in the Amazon are caused by humans, set either accidentally or intentionally.
Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research found the country has lost more than 1,330 square miles of forest cover to development since January, when President Jair Bolsonaro took office. That’s a 39 percent increase over the same period in 2018. July in particular featured a huge spike in forest loss, with an area larger than the city of Los Angeles lost in a single month.
Why would anyone want to hard the Amazon rain forest?
The biggest economic interest groups eating away at the Amazon are cattle grazers and soybean growers. “Directly after deforestation, mostly what we see is pasture,” said Mikaela Weisse, a fellow at the World Resources Institute. Later, soybean growers expand by taking over pasture lands.
Mining, timber and development firms are also eyeing the region for expansion, encouraged by Bolsonaro’s election.
There’s much more helpful (and horrifying) information at the WaPo link.
The New York Times: Brazil Says It Will Reject Millions in Amazon Aid Pledged at G7.
Hours after leaders of some of the world’s wealthiest countries pledged more than $22 million to help combat fires in the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s government angrily rejected the offer, in effect telling the other nations to mind their own business — only to later lay out potential terms for the aid’s acceptance.
President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil expressed his ire in a series of Twitter posts on Monday, and specifically criticized and taunted President Emmanuel Macron of France, who had announced the aid package at the Group of 7 summit meeting. Their comments extended a verbal feud between the two leaders.
But early the next day, Mr. Bolsonaro offered possible terms for the acceptance of the aid package when he spoke to reporters in the capital, Brasília.
He said that if Mr. Macron withdrew “insults made to my person,” and what Mr. Bolsonaro interpreted as insinuations that Brazil does not have sovereignty over the Amazon, he would reconsider.
“To talk or accept anything from France, even with their very best intentions, he will have to withdraw his words, and then we can talk,” Mr. Bolsonaro said. “First he withdraws them, then he makes the offer, and then I’ll answer.”
Mr. Bolsonaro, who has suggested earlier that Mr. Macon’s real motive is to shield France’s agriculture from Brazilian competition, had tweeted on Monday that the president “disguises his intentions behind the idea of an ‘alliance’ of the G7 countries to ‘save’ the Amazon, as if we were a colony or a no-man’s land.”
He sounds a lot like like Trump.
The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board: Editorial: The Amazon is burning and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro doesn’t care.
The fires raging at the edges of the Amazon rainforest are, at the moment, largely consuming lands that had already been converted from their natural state into tracts waiting to be farmed or developed. Nevertheless, some of the blazes are eating away at the rainforest itself, reducing its size by a football field a minute. And one of the most disturbing things about them is that they aren’t part of the cycle of nature, like a California wildfire might be, but are intentionally set in many cases to get rid of brush and felled trees to make way for soy fields and beef grazing grounds. That reflects Brazil’s troubling return to a policy of deforestation that, if unabated, could have grave consequences for efforts to counter the worst effects of global warming.
The reason the Amazon is burning is because Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who followed Donald Trump’s populist, anti-establishment playbook to win election last year, wants it to. He thinks the Amazon should not be protected, and that lands reserved for indigenous peoples should not be recognized — all in the name of economic growth. That see-no-evil approach is another point Bolsonaro has in common with Trump, who has sought to make an alarming amount of public lands available for oil and gas drilling and other extractive industries, such as uranium mining — the health of the planet be damned.
At the just-concluded G-7 meeting in France, international leaders criticized Bolsonaro for his land-use and environmental policies, which include telling those who would cut the rainforest that his government would no longer stop them. So the rate of deforestation, while still far below what it had been a dozen years ago, has been increasing. The G-7 also announced more than $20 million in aid to Brazil and Bolivia for firefighting equipment — a drop in the bucket considering the need, advocates say — and French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to put together an alliance to push for reforestation.
Bolsonaro was not receptive; he accused the leaders of embracing colonialism by telling Brazil what to do. But there’s nothing colonial in asking a neighbor to stop lighting fires that affect the rest of us….
We are all joined by the hard reality that our continued release of carbon into the atmosphere — whether it be from the cars we commute in or the forest Brazilians burn to grow food — is endangering us all. It’s a reality not recognized by Bolsonaro. Nor by Trump, who neither joined the criticism of Bolsonaro’s policies nor showed up for the G-7 climate talks that led to the fire aid package. Both presidents’ disregard for the well-being of the world is, literally, playing with fire. That won’t end well.
The Washington Post: How beef demand is accelerating the Amazon’s deforestation and climate peril.
There are approximately 1.5 billion cows in the world, a population second only to humans among large mammals. They can be raised anywhere: from the Arctic to the equator, on prairies, in deserts and on mountains.
Cattle ranchers in the Brazilian Amazon — the storied rainforest that produces oxygen for the world and modulates climate — are aggressively expanding their herds and willing to clear-cut the forest and burn what’s left to make way for pastures. As a result, they’ve become the single biggest driver of the Amazon’s deforestation, causing about 80 percent of it, according to the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.
The ecological devastation is done in the service of the surging demand for beef. About 80 percent of Brazil’s beef is consumed domestically, said Nathalie Walker, the director of the tropical forest and agriculture program at the National Wildlife Federation.
Read more at the WaPo.
I admit, I’m feeling extremely pessimistic today. If anyone has more positive news, I’d love to read about it. I love you guys.
Posted: April 11, 2019 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Adam Schiff, Chelsea Manning, computer crimes, conspiracy theories, corruption, Fox News, Julian Assange, Maryanne Trump Barry, Richard Neal, Steven Mnuchin, Trump tax returns, William Barr
Painting by Karen Kinser
There’s way too much news this morning, but this is how we live now. Day after day the shocks come and it becomes more and more difficult to keep track of the corruption, the lawlessness, and the lack of ethics of this of this monstrous administration.
This morning Julian Assange was arrested and dragged kicking and screaming out the Equadorian embassy in London. The British courts will decide whether to extradite him to the U.S. to face charges of computer hacking and conspiracy. He is not charged in the U.S. with publishing stolen information, but for actively helping Chelsea Manning to discover the password that allowed him to break into U.S. State Department computers. More charges may be added in the future. Tweets from a British journalist.
The New York Times: Julian Assange Arrested on U.S. Extradition Warrant, London Police Say.
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who released reams of secret documents that embarrassed the United States government, was arrested by the British police on Thursday at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he had lived since 2012, after Ecuador withdrew the asylum it had granted him.
The Metropolitan Police said that Mr. Assange had been detained partly in connection with an extradition warrant filed by the authorities in the United States, where he could face of a charge of computer hacking, according to an American official, if he is extradited.
President Lenín Moreno of Ecuador said on Twitter that his country had decided to stop sheltering Mr. Assange after “his repeated violations to international conventions and daily-life protocols,” a decision that cleared the way for the British authorities to detain him.
The relationship between Mr. Assange and Ecuador has been a rocky one, even as it offered him refuge and even citizenship, and WikiLeaks said last Friday that Ecuador “already has an agreement with the UK for his arrest” and predicted that Mr. Assange would be expelled from the embassy “within ‘hours to days.’ ”
Yesterday was also a huge news day. Cover-Up General Barr appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee and revealed himself to be not only a political hack and Trump lackey but also a Fox News-style conspiracy theorist when he announced that he thinks U.S. intelligence agencies “spied” on Trump’s campaign. I wonder if he thinks Seth Rich hacked the DNC too? In his testimony Barr never expressed any concern about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election to help Trump. The New York Times reports:
With the Russia investigation complete, Mr. Barr said he was preparing to review “both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign,” including possible improper “spying” by American intelligence agencies.
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Mr. Barr said, adding that he believed “spying did occur.” Mr. Trump and his allies have accused the F.B.I. and other government officials of abusing their power and cooking up the Russia investigation to sabotage the president.
“I am not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it’s important to look at them,” Mr. Barr said. Later he said he wanted to ensure that there was no “improper surveillance” — not suggesting there had been, but that the possibility warranted review.
It was not immediately clear what Mr. Barr was referring to, and he did not present evidence to back up his statement. The F.B.I. obtained a secret surveillance warrant on a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page, after he left the campaign, and reports have suggested it used at least one confidential informer to collect information on campaign associates.
Mr. Barr said that he will work with the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, to examine the origins of the bureau’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign, and that he would soon set up a team for that effort. He noted that Congress and the Justice Department’s inspector general have already completed investigations of that matter, and that after reviewing those investigations he would be able to see whether there were any “remaining questions to be addressed.”
It’s pretty clear no to anyone with half a brain that Barr sees his job as acting as Trump’s personal lawyer and not the top law enforcement officer in the U.S. representing the American people.
Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: Adam Schiff just issued a stark warning about William Barr.
“I’m shocked to hear the attorney general of the United States casually make the suggestion that the FBI or intelligence community was spying on the president’s campaign,” Schiff told me. “I’m sure it was very gratifying to Donald Trump.” [….]
Schiff pointed out that the bipartisan Gang of Eight — the leaders and intelligence committee chairs in both parties — were already briefed by the Justice Department after Trump made yet another version of the assertion. At the time, the Democrats issued a joint statement saying nothing they had been told supported the notion of untoward conduct.
“It’s unclear to me what Barr was referring to,” Schiff said. He noted that he was unaware that the statement he and other Democrats put out had ever been “contested by anyone on either side of the aisle.”
“All I can make of it is that he wanted to say something pleasing to the boss, and did so at the cost of our institutions,” Schiff said.
Asked if Schiff would seek another briefing from the Justice Department on Barr’s latest claim, Schiff said: “We’ll certainly try to get to the bottom of many of the things he has been saying over the last two days — his references to investigation into the president’s political opponents.”
“His testimony raises profound concern that the attorney general is doing what we urge emerging democracies not to do, and that is, seek to prosecute your political opponents after you win an election,” Schiff continued, in an apparent reference to Barr’s vow to examine the beginnings of the investigation, precisely as Trump has long demanded….
“The big picture is this,” Schiff said. “The post-Watergate reforms are being dismantled, one by one. The Trump precedent after only two years is that you can fire the FBI director who is running an investigation in which you may be implicated as president.”
Last night, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin intervened in House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard Neal’s demand that the IRS turn over Trump’s personal and business tax returns. The law says that the decision to turn over tax returns fall on the head of the IRS and that Mnuchin must give 30 days notice before he can get involved. But no one in the Trump administration seems to care about those silly things called laws. Axios:
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to meet House Democrats’ request to hand over 6 years of President Trump’s tax returns by the Wednesday’s deadline, stating he needs more time for review, but providing no details as to whether he will comply.
Details: Mnuchin said in a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) that his agency has consulted with the Justice Department to review the lawfulness of the request. He said it “raises serious issues concerning the constitutional investigative authority, the legitimacy of the asserted legislative purpose and the constitutional rights of American citizens.”
Also last night, we got a timely reminder of why we need to see Trump’s taxes.
The New York Times: Retiring as a Judge, Trump’s Sister Ends Court Inquiry Into Her Role in Tax Dodges.
President Trump’s older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, has retired as a federal appellate judge, ending an investigation into whether she violated judicial conduct rules by participating in fraudulent tax schemes with her siblings.
The court inquiry stemmed from complaints filed last October, after an investigation by The New York Times found that the Trumps had engaged in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the inherited wealth of Mr. Trump and his siblings. Judge Barry not only benefited financially from most of those tax schemes, The Times found; she was also in a position to influence the actions taken by her family.
Judge Barry, now 82, has not heard cases in more than two years but was still listed as an inactive senior judge, one step short of full retirement. In a letter dated Feb. 1, a court official notified the four individuals who had filed the complaints that the investigation was “receiving the full attention” of a judicial conduct council. Ten days later, Judge Barry filed her retirement papers.
The status change rendered the investigation moot, since retired judges are not subject to the conduct rules. The people who filed the complaints were notified last week that the matter had been dropped without a finding on the merits of the allegations. The decision has not yet been made public, but copies were provided to The Times by two of the complainants. Both are involved in the legal profession.
The Trump crime family is so corrupt that it’s impossible to keep up with the daily revelations about them.
I’ll post some more links in the comment thread. What stories are you following today?