Headlines: January 23, 2020
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The Senate Impeachment trial of President Donald Trump continues this week as House impeachment managers roll out their arguments in front of Senators. The opening arguments presented by Representatives Adam Schiff, Hakeem Jeffries, Jerrold Nadler and others, summarized the damning evidence gathered during the House investigations into President Trump’s conduct and replayed clips of witness testimonies recorded during House hearings. Representative Schiff, who leads the House impeachment managers team, cited Alexander Hamilton in his statements on Wednesday and also warned Republican Senators determined to protect Trump of the perils to democracy.
Reports of a witness swap were swiftly shut down by Mr. Schiff. Republicans were rumored to be offering John Bolton’s testimony in exchange for that of Hunter Biden. Schiff responded, “This isn’t like some fantasy football trade…Trials aren’t trades for witnesses.” Hunter’s father, former Vice President Joe Biden also dismissed the idea saying, “This is a constitutional issue…We’re not going to turn it into a farce, into some kind of political theater.” Meanwhile President Trump who is still in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum broke yet another Twitter record posting 142 times in a single day, mostly insults against Democrats over impeachment.
While House impeachment managers on Wednesday focused on the specifics of Trump’s withholding of US military aid to Ukraine in exchange for political dirt on Biden, the second day of arguments is centered on the President’s abuse of power. The Washington Post explained that, “the House impeachment managers used seven hours and 17 minutes of their 24 hours of allotted presentation time, leaving more than 16 hours to be spread across Thursday and Friday.” The President’s own legal team will get time to defend him starting on Saturday. It is not yet decided if witnesses will be allowed to address the Senate and there may be a possible debate and vote on the matter next Wednesday.
Meanwhile a new Reuters/Ipsos poll found that, “A bipartisan majority of Americans want to see new witnesses testify in the impeachment trial.” The number of voters critical of Trump versus supportive has not changed very much. However, the opening of the Senate impeachment trial drew about 11 million viewers, about 2.5 million fewer than the number that tuned in for the start of the House impeachment inquiry last year. And, Fox News’ website just ran a surprising op-ed by senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano making the case for Trump’s removal. Judge Napolitano concluded that the removal of a president needs, “A demonstration of presidential commission of high crimes and misdemeanors, of which in Trump’s case the evidence is ample and uncontradicted.”
In other news, the Trump administration this week formally rolled back Obama-era protections of wetlands and waterways in a giveaway to big agribusinesses, the fossil fuel industries and real estate and golf course developers like Trump himself. The President has boasted about protecting clean water standards, but also repeatedly slammed his predecessor’s regulatory achievements. The New York Times explained, “The new water rule will remove federal protections from more than half the nation’s wetlands, and hundreds of thousands of small waterways. That would for the first time in decades allow landowners and property developers to dump pollutants such as pesticides and fertilizers directly into many of those waterways, and to destroy or fill in wetlands for construction projects.”
Trump’s similar plan to worsen air quality – by removing fuel efficiency requirements in cars – has come under scrutiny this week. His own administration has analyzed the proposed Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule concluded that in the long term such cars would neither be cheaper nor safer. And Trump has also taken aim at desert lands in California, with the government this week announcing a plan to develop tens of thousands of acres of desert land for geo-thermal energy. Critics fear the proposal would gut desert ecological protections and also set off a new water war.
A South Dakota bill attacking the rights of transgender people has passed its first major hurdle. The state’s House State Affairs committee passed a bill that would make it illegal for doctors to perform gender reassignment surgeries for transgender youth. The proposal is being closely watched by right wing anti-trans and homophobic forces in other states like South Carolina, Colorado, Florida, Oklahoma and Missouri. Among the tactics that such forces are using is making gender reassignment treatments equivalent to child abuse, criminalizing parents as well as doctors. ACLU advocate Chase Strangio said, “I cannot imagine what happens to transgender people if these criminal bans pass…I don’t think we can possibly raise the alarm enough, because people are going to die.”
As the wealthy and elite attendees of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, continue their discussions on the global economy US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has followed in Trump’s footsteps in making patronizing statements about the teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg. When asked about her demand to divest from fossil fuel companies the former hedge fund manager and investment banker said to reporters, “Is she the chief economist? Who is she, I’m confused.” He added, “After she goes and studies economics in college she can come back and explain that to us.” Thunberg retorted on social media, “it doesn’t take a college degree in economics to realise that our remaining 1,5° carbon budget and ongoing fossil fuel subsidies and investments don’t add up.”
In other news, the deadly coronavirus strain that has so far killed at least 18 people is continuing to spread despite China’s travel bans. With billions of trips around Lunar New Year potentially supercharging the spread of the disease, there is still no medical consensus on treatment. China has banned travel in at least 4 cities so far.
The International Court of Justice has issued an injunction in a closely-watched case over Myanmar’s genocidal persecution of Rohingya Muslims. The ICJ rejected arguments made by Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ordered that the country must, “take all measures within its power,” to end its treatment of the persecuted minority. The New York Times explained that, “The decision is the first international court ruling against Myanmar over its military’s brutal treatment of the Rohingya. While the court has no enforcement power, any member of the United Nations can request action from the Security Council based on its rulings.” The judge in the case has ordered Myanmar to issue a report within four months on the steps it has taken to ensure compliance and to continue to submit reports every six months. But critics worry that none of it is enforceable unless there is massive international pressure.
And finally in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears to be getting his way as the controversial Brexit bill that he has pushed for just received royal assent as per the country’s obscure monarchical rules. In just over a week the United Kingdom will separate from the European Union more than 3 years after voters narrowly approved a referendum rife with controversy. The British Parliament will now have to ratify the deal before the deadline of January 31st.