By Robert A. Vella

Impeachment trial update

Before getting to today’s main topic, I’ll briefly cover the latest developments in President Trump’s impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate.  What occurred yesterday was primarily rhetorical he-said-she-said exchanges between Democrats and Republicans in their opening arguments which were chastised by the presiding officer (i.e. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts) like a grade-school teacher who was more concerned about peaceful decorum than about the actual merits of each side’s position.  Since this blog is adverse to rhetoric, I’ll not detail it further and instead provide links for you to read for yourselves (see:  Democrats scale back language as Trump and GOP press ahead with attacks on Senate impeachment trial and House and White House impeachment legal teams offer stark contrast on facts and style).

However, there were three more substantial developments.  First, Roberts announced an “agreement” allowing classified evidence to be reviewed by senators in private regarding an account of Vice President Mike Pence’s September 18th call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by Pence’s foreign policy adviser Jennifer Williams.  Second, Senate Republicans voted against the admission of evidence publicly released via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) ruling concerning the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) role in withholding military aid to Ukraine (i.e. the incident which led to impeachment).  Third, public opinion has shifted markedly against Trump over the last week with one poll showing 57% of likely voters supporting his removal from office;  and, Nate Silver’s 538 blog – which analyzes and averages a series of opinion polls – currently has Trump’s presidential disapproval rating at 53.8% while only 42% still approve of him, and public support for removing him from office at 50.5% while 45.6% don’t want him removed.

The State of the World

Today’s “Doomsday Clock” announcement marking the most apocalyptic conditions since the early Cold War era when the U.S.S.R. successfully developed the thermonuclear hydrogen bomb 67 years ago is shining much needed light on just how dire the state of the world really is right now.  Despite the naivety of the inexperienced young and the blissfully unaware, a confluence of irrepressible forces are converging on modern civilization at ever increasing rates.  As evidenced by the narrowly avoided war between the U.S. and Iran a few weeks ago, international tensions are heating up globally causing new conflicts, breaking up longstanding alliances, and dramatically changing the geopolitical alignment which had been relatively stable for decades.  Arms control is being thrown by the wayside, and nuclear proliferation is now a foregone conclusion.  At the same time, political extremism (i.e. primarily the fascist variety) working in concert with ethnic and religious hostilities are on the rise virtually everywhere.  Competition over dwindling resources exacerbated by neoliberal economic policies and especially by climate change, are triggering domestic social instability (i.e. socioeconomic inequalities) as well as conflict between nations and regions.  To those who assume that this is somehow normal or sustainable are fooling themselves.  Those in the know understand that neither assumption is correct.  Logically, the path we are currently on can lead to only one place.

The following are just what is in the news today relating to this story:

From:  Doomsday Clock moves to 100 seconds to midnight — closest point to nuclear annihilation since Cold War

The Doomsday Clock moved to 100 seconds to midnight  – the closest symbolic point from an “apocalypse” since 1953.

The decision was made on Thursday by The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which announced it from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

“We argued that the global situation was abnormal,” Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, said during the press conference of the decision to keep last year’s Clock the same, but noted that nuclear and climate situations are “worsening.”

Astrophysicist Robert Rosner, who also sits on the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said “the fact that the clock is now a mere 100 seconds from midnight signals really bad news. What we said last year is now a disturbing reality in that things are not getting better.”

Rosner added that a particular concern is the undermining of the public’s ability to understand what’s true from what’s false. “Past experience has taught us that even in the most dismal periods of the Cold War, we can come together. It is high time we do so again.”

From:  Trump Removes Pollution Controls on Streams and Wetlands

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Thursday will finalize a rule to strip away environmental protections for streams, wetlands and other water bodies, handing a victory to farmers, fossil fuel producers and real estate developers who said Obama-era rules had shackled them with onerous and unnecessary burdens.

From Day 1 of his administration, President Trump vowed to repeal President Barack Obama’s “Waters of the United States” regulation, which had frustrated rural landowners. His new rule, which will be implemented in the coming weeks, is the latest step in the Trump administration’s push to repeal or weaken nearly 100 environmental rules and laws, loosening or eliminating rules on climate change, clean air, chemical pollution, coal mining, oil drilling and endangered species protections.

From:  ‘Forever chemicals’ found in Cincinnati drinking water

So-called “forever chemicals” used to make Teflon and other products have been found in Cincinnati’s drinking water during a series of new laboratory tests.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) – an activist group with a long history of combating forever chemicals – discovered the toxic substances during tap water tests in 43 cities across the U.S., including Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio.

The man-made chemicals are called forever chemicals because they don’t break down over time and build up in the bloodstream and organs.

Also known as PFAS, the chemicals are used in the manufacture of waterproofing material, such as GoreTex, stain-resistant or flame-resistant coating on carpets and clothing, even for food wrappers.

From:  Wuhan coronavirus: 2 cities locked down, disrupting Lunar New Year travel plans of millions

Authorities in China have enforced a partial lockdown of transport links in and out of the central city of Wuhan and nearby Huanggang, disrupting the Lunar New Year travel plans of millions as part of efforts to contain a deadly coronavirus outbreak.

The lockdowns come as the Chinese government revealed that seven of the 17 people who have died from the Wuhan coronavirus did not have pre-existing conditions before they contracted the illness.

Wuhan — ground zero for the pneumonia-like respiratory virus — “temporarily” closed its airport and railway stations on Thursday for departing passengers. All public transport services in the city of 11 million people have also been suspended until further notice.

See also:  Deadly new coronavirus has reached the US. Here’s how to protect yourself.

From:  World Court Orders Interim Protection for Myanmar’s Rohingya

(Bloomberg) — The International Court of Justice has ordered the implementation of emergency measures to protect Myanmar’s minority Muslim Rohingya population from genocide, ruling on a request by The Gambia on Thursday.

The Muslim-majority African country has accused Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention using so-called “clearance operations” that began in earnest in 2017, resulting in the deaths and rapes of thousands of Rohingya living in western Rakhine State. As many as 740,000 Rohingya were forced to flee for their lives across the border to Bangladesh.

The president of the United Nation’s highest tribunal, Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, ordered Myanmar “to take all measures within its powers” to prevent the killings and attacks on its Rohingya minority, adding the group remains “extremely vulnerable.” He instructed the government to ensure the preservation of evidence and that its military, other armed units or government officials do not commit acts of violence against the ethnic group.

From:  Trump Opens Door to Cuts to Medicare and Other Entitlement Programs

WASHINGTON — President Trump suggested on Wednesday that he would be willing to consider cuts to social safety-net programs like Medicare to reduce the federal deficit if he wins a second term, an apparent shift from his 2016 campaign promise to protect funding for such entitlements.

The president made the comments on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Despite promises to reduce the federal budget deficit, it has ballooned under Mr. Trump’s watch as a result of sweeping tax cuts and additional government spending.

Asked in an interview with CNBC if cuts to entitlements would ever be on his plate, Mr. Trump answered yes.

From:  The Union Membership Rate In The U.S. Fell Again Last Year

The share of U.S. workers who belong to a labor union dropped from 10.5% to 10.3% in 2019, even as public approval of unions reached its highest level in years.

Just 6.2% of workers in the private sector were union members last year, a 0.2% drop compared to a year earlier, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate was essentially unchanged in the public sector, where organized labor is much stronger and 33.6% of workers are union members.

The numbers are consistent with a decades-long decline in union membership, now hovering near an all-time low since the Labor Department started formally tracking the rate in 1983. One in 5 workers were union members that year, versus an estimated 1 in 3 at labor’s peak in the 1950s.

From:  Overhaul US labor laws to boost workers’ power, new report urges

More than 70 scholars, union leaders, economists and activists called on Thursday for a far-reaching overhaul of American labor laws to vastly increase workers’ power on the job and in politics, recommending new laws to make unionizing easier and to elect worker representatives to corporate boards.

The report argues strengthening labor unions and worker power would be the most effective strategy to combat America’s economic inequality and corporations’ sway over the economy and politics.

“Today, the struggle to preserve democracy in the face of extreme wealth concentration is acute because we live in an historical moment when vast disparities of economic power have been translated into equally shocking disparities in political power,” says the report, Clean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Economy and Democracy.

Evacuations after chemical released at California plant

Trump restores funding for Texas program that excludes Planned Parenthood

HUD’s fair housing policies could promote further racial discrimination, experts say

FAA Lowered Bar for Southwest Approvals, Whistleblower Alleges

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