What’s a failed fascist to do after a disastrous pandemic, a failed insurrection, and two impeachment trials? Settle down in self-imposed exile and continue festering a gruesome index case of Wind Turbine Brain.
Donald Trump is a longtime enemy of wind turbines, dating back to his days in the war (against Scottish energy officials he was convinced wanted to ruin the view at one of his golf courses). He believes they kill birds, not that he actually gives a shit, and that somehow, despite the lack of any imaginable mechanism, they cause cancer in humans. On Sean Hannity’s Fox News show on Wednesday, Trump weighed in on the shutdown of the Keystone XL pipeline by reminding the public that wind turbines are murder machines that are going to “kill everything.” Let’s hear it straight from the big guy:
“But you see what they did with the Keystone XL pipeline, where they stopped it almost on the first day, and that was never mentioned during the debate. I kept saying you know you’re not gonna be energy independent, you’re not gonna do for Pennsylvania, for Texas, for all of these places where we’re doing so well with energy. We’re not gonna be energy independent in two months from now.
“They’re making windmills all over the place to ruin our land and kill our birds. To kill everything. We’re not gonna be, and they’re very intermittent, as you’ve learned watching over the last four months. It’s intermittent energy. It’s not good, it’s not gonna power our great factories. It’s a real, it’s a problem.”
Hannity then tried to change the subject to something, anything else.
Trump’s insinuation about the “last four months” showing us the dangers of relying wind power—ostensibly a claim tied to utterly baselessconservative lies about the Texas blackout—shows what a steady diet of Fox News will do to a man. The idea turbines kill everything is also some fetid conspiracy sludge pumped from the depths of the fever swamp.
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Back in the real world, the U.S. wind sector is relatively small but growing portion of the energy mix, generating an estimated 8.4% of the country’s utility-scale electricity in 2020. Wind turbine technician is expected to be among the hottest new jobs in the country this decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in the industry could grow 61% by 2029 and future job prospects in the industry as “excellent.”
Part of the reason is the falling cost of installing wind compared to fossil fuels, which happened even under our failed blogger ex-president. Now, the trend could be accelerating with a president living in reality and making steps to address to lower carbon pollution and kickstart the clean energy economy. In May, President Joe Biden approved that the first large-scale offshore wind turbine project in the country off the coast of New England. More recently, his administration began the process of opening two sites off the central and Northern California coastline for the installation of massive wind turbines. It’s part of a push to install 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030, and, more broadly, decarbonize the U.S. electric grid completely by 2035.
The new installations in the works could produce 4.6 gigawatts of electricity (enough to power 1.6 million homes) and, depending on who you ask, kill countless billions of humans with cancer and head injuries.
Joe Biden held his first meeting as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin Wednesday in a get-together that seems to have gone surprisingly well.
During a three-hour sit-down at a summit in Geneva, the world leaders apparently had a far-ranging conversation in which they discussed human rights, cybersecurity, and how to move forward while pursuing “mutual interests.”
Given the events of the past few years, one could’ve imagined it would be difficult to find that kind of common ground—and that Wednesday’s conversation would’ve been hellishly awkward. Just to review: The previous U.S. president was widely accused of basically being a sleeper agent for the Russian government—a bad actor in an apparent plot to bring down our democracy. Said government was also accused of having meddled in American elections (twice!). There have also been ongoing reports from the U.S. intelligence community of disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks emanating from within the Kremlin (or, at least, from inside Russia’s borders)—the likes of which include the widespread SolarWinds espionage campaign that apparently compromised dozens of U.S. companies and numerous federal agencies.
And yet somehow things went pretty smoothly on Wednesday.
“The tone of the entire meeting was good, positive,” Biden said in a press conference following the meeting, and Putin seemed to agree.
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“There has been no hostility,” the Russian president said at his own press event. “On the contrary, our meeting took place in a constructive spirit.”
Biden even apparently gave Putin some presents. The Washington Post reports the president gifted the Russian autocrat with a pair of his beloved aviators, as well as a crystal statue of an American bison. Weird!
Weird gifts aside, Wednesday wasn’t without its frictions—though they mostly came during Biden’s post-meeting press appearance during which he fielded questions from a cadre of confused journalists. Reporters seemed to want to know why, after four years of railing against Trump’s cozy relationship with the Kremlin and decrying Russia as a threat to American democracy, No. 46 seems to now want to kick things off with such a chummy, conciliatory attitude. One Associated Press reporter posited the following:
AP REPORTER: “U.S. intelligence has said that Russia tried to interfere in the last two presidential elections and that Russian groups are behind hacks like SolarWinds and some of the ransomware attacks you just mentioned. Putin, in his press conference just now, accepted no responsibility for any misbehavior. Your predecessor opted not to demand that Putin stop these disruptions. So what is something concrete, sir, that you achieved today to prevent that from happening again?
Biden didn’t really have a great answer for that, offering that—unlike with Trump—Putin knows that “there are consequences,” he said. “He knows I will take action.”
The two leaders apparently discussed some potential strategies for cybersecurity moving forward—though the details weren’t immediately apparent. “I talked about the proposition that certain critical infrastructure should be off limits to attack, period. By cyber or any other means,” said Biden, explaining that he had presented Putin with a list of the 16 sectors deemed “critical infrastructure” by the U.S. Those included “telecommunications, healthcare, food and energy,” and others.
“Principle has to be backed up by practice,” Biden offered at one point. “Responsible countries need to take action against criminals who conduct ransomware activities on their territory,” he said, while remaining vague on the specifics of what that “action” would be.
Unless we want to live out the rest of our days in subterranean fallout shelters, it behooves our country to maintain good ties with other nuclear powers—so it’s not a bad thing that U.S.-Russian relations stay solid. That doesn’t make Biden’s folksy “shrug emoji” re: Putin not somewhat funny given just how much shit Joe’s talked in the lead-up to this moment.
In March, Biden called Putin a “killer” who will “pay a price” for his meddling in American democracy, ostensibly referring to ongoing cyberattacks and the alleged Russian interference in recent presidential elections. On the campaign trail, he was even more vociferous, leaning heavily on claims that his rival, Trump, was “cozy” with the Kremlin and implying that—by contrast—he would play hardball with the Russian leader when he reached the White House.
Granted, all of the allegations about Putin’s corruption and ill repute are true, though the ballooning of Russia’s significance into some sort of global puppet-master capable of manipulating U.S. domestic politics and threatening to take over the world, are not. Serious analysts take issue with the interpretation of Russia as an ambitious conquerer, with some claiming many of the country’s actions are more defensive against Western aggression than outwardly provocative of it.
That doesn’t mean the image of Russia as a global bogeyman hasn’t been immensely profitable for politicians in America. For the past few years, Democrats have essentially used Putin and Russia writ large as a political foil to the values of the West, to liberal democracy, and to the Democratic Party. By inflating the stumbling petro-state-in-decline into a fiery geopolitical adversary—and aligning their political enemies somewhat cartoonishly with it (Trump, many members of the GOP and others)—they effectively scared the bejeezus out of many of their constituents, enough to get themselves elected (or re-elected) and to keep the political donations flowing. Conversely, Trump and the GOP have been just daft and craven enough to take the accusations of Putinism as some sort of weird compliment, laundering them into a bizarrely successful brand of sex appeal with their machismo-hungry, rightwing base.
Of course, now that Biden is in office, he clearly believes that reconciliation with a nuked-up oligarchy is probably better than a continued war of words and outward belligerence—a reality that Putin has likely understood and counted on all along. As much as we might have cultural or ethical qualms with one another, political stability and a lack of global hellfire are goals Washington and Moscow can both agree on.
The electric vehicle startup Workhorse filed a complaint in federal court on Wednesday challenging the U.S. Postal Service’s decision to award a 10-year, multibillion-dollar vehicle manufacturing deal to a defense contractor earlier this year.
Back in February, the USPS announced that it had selected Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Defense to produce its next generation of vehicles, which are slated to be rolled out in 2023. You’ll perhaps best remember this announcement for the polarizing design mockups that accompanied it, which featured cartoonishly rounded-out mail vehicles that looked like a fleet of goofy clown cars.
Prior to the announcement of that contract — which will allow Oshkosh 10 years to deliver a mix of internal combustion-powered and battery-electric vehicles — Workhorse had proposed building an all-electric vehicle fleet for USPS, an idea that quickly won the support of many key U.S. lawmakers.
The complaint — which is still sealed, but is likely to be at least partially unsealed by a judge in the coming weeks — has the potential to impact the likelihood of a large government agency switching to an entirely electric fleet, something President Joe Biden has repeatedly signaled his support for.
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Although USPS declined to comment on the ongoing litigation, it said that “preproduction design, tooling and facility preparation are proceeding on schedule with the first (next generation delivery vehicles) estimated to appear on carrier routes in 2023.”
Funding has proven to be a major sticking point in the fight to electrify the USPS fleet. Although Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has committed to at least 10% of the USPS fleet being electric vehicles, he wrote in a March letter to lawmakers providing government assistance could help to roll out a majority electric fleet in the next decade. Biden has sought approval for a more urgent plan, calling upon Congress in January to approve an $8 billion funding package to ensure that the USPS’s fleet of approximately 650,000 vehicles is completely electric and zero-emission in the next decade.
Retired blogger Donald Trump may be shrinking from public view, but his legacy will remain imprinted on the U.S. for decades to come, particularly when it comes to the judiciary. That could have huge ramifications on all types of policy, but particularly climate
On Tuesday, District Judge Terry A. Doughty, who Trump appointed to the federal court in Louisiana’s western district, blocked President Joe Biden’s pause on federal oil and gas leasing. The preliminary injunction means that the case will wend through the courts, but the administration must unpause leasing. The judge ruled that Biden needed Congress to approve any moratorium.
In approving the preliminary injunction, Doughty wrote in his decision that “Millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake” due to the pause. The ruling gives the 14 conservative state attorneys general who sued the administration a boost, but it’s a bust for the planet, particularly considering what the future could hold as Congress and the administration push other climate policies.
The lease pause is the barest of minimums when it comes to climate policy. The Biden administration has gone to bat for a Trump-era lease and the moratorium on new federal leases is small potatoes compared to the oil and gas wells already in the ground or along the seafloor. It was also only a moratorium, not a full stop. Yet Republican attorneys general opposed it, and they won in front of a Trump-appointed judge. There are 226 other Trump-appointed judges in the court system and a dramatically reshaped Supreme Court standing as the final boss.
Republican attorneys general have already put a full-court press on anything Biden might do. Hell, 17 of them backed the completely fabricated voter fraud case and tried to subvert the will of the people in choosing Biden as president. They’ve since filed a slew of lawsuits, including other, more consequential ones against Biden’s early climate policies. One of them challenges the federal government’s ability to set something called a social cost of carbon that’s essential to gauge the costs and benefits of climate policy.
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“I get where [the plaintiffs] are coming from—you don’t like what this implies, so you think the concept should be thrown out—but that’s not correct,” Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at New York University, told Earther at the time it was filed.
That appears to the rule of thumb with the moratorium as well. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey of West Virginia, one of the states that sued the Biden administration, declared in a statement, “For our country’s sake, we must prevail over the Biden Administration’s radical, anti-fossil fuel, China First energy policies.”
The statement misses the point that this isn’t anti-fossil fuel policy, but pro-habitable-planet policy. But even with these gaps in logic, the attorneys general looking to stall or outright block climate policy will now be doing so in a court system stocked with potentially sympathetic judges. While the conspiracy theory-riddled election fraud lawsuit never went anywhere even with those judges in place, it appears that climate policies could, unfortunately, be a casualty.
One of the far-right goons awaiting trial for storming the Capitol on Jan. 6—who was infamously photographed inside Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office—wants out of home detention to go to a car show.
A lawyer for Richard “Bigo” Barnett wrote in a motion to United States District Court Judge Christopher Coopers that classic cars are their client’s “lifelong hobby,” according to the Daily Beast. Currently, “Bigo” is prohibited from traveling outside of a 50-mile radius of his home without permission from the court and has been “terminated from his career position as a window salesman.” His attorney, Joseph McBride, wrote the travel restrictions interfere with his ability to “buy inventory that he must inspect, appraise, negotiate, and purchase in person,” which is now his primary source of income. Barnett’s lawyers are seeking to have any work-related travel requests be handled by his pretrial services officer instead of the court, as well as that he be allowed to attend a car show in his home state of Arkansas on June 18 overnight.
“This is the only way that he has the opportunity to make ends meet, provide for his family and pay for his legal defense,” McBride said, according to the Daily Beast.
The Jan. 6 riots, stoked by Donald Trump as part of a doomed effort to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 elections, resulted in multiple deaths. Footage of Barnett putting his feet on Pelosi’s desk was widely broadcast in news reports about the riots. He also left a note in her office, which has been the subject of dispute.
While prosecutors say it said, “Nancy, Bigo was here, you bitch,” Barnett’s attorneys have unconvincingly claimed it instead said, “Nancy, Bigo was here, biatd” (which in turn they say was a spelling error, as he was trying to write the slightly less offensive “biatch”). This defense has been undermined somewhat by court documents showing Barnett told a local news station the note indeed said “bitch.”
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According to a prior Daily Beast report, Barnett posed with firearms in photos on Facebook and wrote on one account that he “came into this world kicking and screaming, covered in someone else’s blood” and was “not afraid to go out the same way.” In a separate post, he wrote he was “undeniably” white and nationalist, “so that makes me a white nationalist.”
Barnett, who faces charges of entering and remaining on restricted grounds, violent entry, and theft of public property, was released from custody into home detention with a GPS monitor in April. According to KWNA-TV, he recently set up a website asking for donations to fund his legal defense, offering signed photos of him in Pelosi’s office as a reward for a contribution of $100 or more.
The Daily Beast reported that prosecutors have urged the court to reject the car show request, stating that Barnett has previously been involved in a “civil dispute” (hmm) at a prior show.
There’s never been any substantive evidence whatsoever that Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential race was due to fraud: It’s been debunked time and again, by everyone from Trump’s own DOJ chief to local election officials. Yet Trump spent the weeks after the election cooking up a series of fruitless, conspiracy theory-filled lawsuits in various states attempting to have the results tossed out, pressuring various state officials to do it for him, and signal-boosting hoaxes purporting to show he really won. The result, on Jan. 6, was Trump inciting a riot at the Capitol that failed to come anywhere close to its goal of preventing congressional certification of the results but ended with multiple deaths.
The newly released emails shed more light on the behind-the-scenes machinations in December 2020 and beyond by White House personnel, in particular chief of staff Mark Meadows, to cajole and coerce DOJ officials into abusing the department’s powers on behalf of Trump. At that time, former Attorney General Bill Barr was no longer in Trump’s good graces after failing to turn up widespread evidence of voter fraud (as it didn’t exist) and was in the process of resigning.
As CNN noted, the records show that on Dec. 14, 2020, Trump’s assistant emailed documents “From POTUS” purportedly showing “cover-up of voting crimes” in Michigan to senior DOJ officials Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue, who forwarded them to U.S. attorneys for the state’s eastern and western districts. Within an hour, Trump had announced Barr would be leaving the DOJ and promoted both of those officials—Rosen to acting attorney general and Donoghue to his acting deputy. According to the New York Times, over the next few weeks, Trump pressured Rosen to have the DOJ join onto lawsuits seeking to have the election results overturned, floating the idea of replacing Rosen if he didn’t play ball.
Meadows was previously known to have been involved in a Trump-led pressure campaign to have the Georgia secretary of state somehow alter the outcome of the state’s election results, the Times wrote. But the newly released emails show he also repeatedly pushed Rosen and the DOJ to launch investigations of ridiculous claims, such as a tale about nefarious Italian operatives who had used military technology and satellites to remotely hack into voting machines and flip votes for Trump. This was despite a longstanding directive that virtually all White House officials do not discuss investigations or prosecutions with the DOJ.
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Meadows cited this important finding to a translated letter, purportedly from a person in Italy and addressed to “Illustrious Mr. President,” that claimed “direct knowledge” of a “data switch” plot between the CIA, an Italian aerospace company, and a European Union military commander to rig the election for Biden using satellite transmitters of some kind.
“Our associates in the conservative part of the Italian secret services have been working since the beginning of November, 2020, to ensure that the truth is known and that the American people realize the result voted for: the re-election of President Trump,” the document, signed by “The Director Carlo Goria,” concluded.
The Italian theory was promoted by Trump supporters under the hashtags #Italygate and #ItalyDidIt, according to Reuters, and was boosted in early January by a press release from a Sarasota, Florida-based organization called Nations in Action (which fights “the collapse of civil society”) that detailed a supposed deposition of an arrested employee of the aeronautics company. In reality, Reuters found, the employee had been arrested in December 2020 over an unrelated cyber espionage plot targeting unmanned fighter jet and military/police aircraft programs, with the documents alleging a connection to the elections being transparent bullshit.
Meadows forwarded the separate “Carlo Goria” document to Rosen and other DOJ officials on Jan. 1, along with a YouTube video of retired CIA official turned One America News contributor Brad Johnson endorsing the Italian satellite theory. Donoghue replied to Rosen that the email was “pure insanity.”
Rosen wrote that he was pressured by the White House to have the FBI immediately meet with Johnson to begin investigating the Italian satellites, which he refused to do. He also said he told Rudy Giuliani, the president’s sweat-brained personal attorney, to stop bothering him on the matter.
“Yes. After this message, I was asked to have FBI meet with Brad Johnson, and I responded that Johnson could call or walk into FBI’s Washington Field Office with any evidence he purports to have,” Rosen wrote back to Donoghue. “On a follow up call, I learned that Johnson is working with Rudy Giuliani, who regarded my comments as ‘an insult.’”
“Asked if I would reconsider, I flatly refused and said I would not be giving any special treatment to Giuliani or any of his ‘witnesses,’ and re-affirmed yet again that I will not talk to Giuliani about any of this,” Rosen added.
Other emails show that on Dec. 29, Trump’s assistant at the White House emailed the DOJ asking them to pursue a 54-page legal brief seeking to have election results in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Nevada thrown out by the Supreme Court over “unconstitutional changes” in voting procedures, according to NBC News. Attorney Kurt Olsen, a private attorney and Trump ally, also emailed a DOJ official the brief, requesting a meeting with Rosen.
In other emails from Meadows to DOJ officials on Jan. 1, the chief of staff urged DOJ officials to investigate a bullshit theory that “signature match anomalies” in a county in Georgia were large enough to flip results for Trump. Rosen also received courtesy of Meadows a list of complaints about the election process in New Mexico compiled by a local Republican Party official.
In response to Meadows’ email concerning Georgia, Rosen emailed Donoghue, “Can you believe this? I am not going to respond to the message below.” Donoghue quipped, “At least it’s better than the last one, but that doesn’t say much.”
Finally, other emails showed that Meadows messaged then-Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark with pleas to talk to a Georgia lawyer named Byung J. Pak who could allegedly back up the claims of voter fraud in the state. As NBC News reported, Clark was one of the candidates Trump considered as a replacement for Rosen in case the acting attorney general failed to cave to his demands.
According to CNN, House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney sent letters on Tuesday to Meadows, Rosen, Donoghue, Clark, and other DOJ colleagues asking them to present themselves to the committee for testimony. Meadows told the network in response to a request for comment on the appropriateness of the emails, “I’ll let you answer that. Obviously, I’m not going to comment on anything that may or may not have happened.” He refused to state whether he would testify.
“These documents show that President Trump tried to corrupt our nation’s chief law enforcement agency in a brazen attempt to overturn an election that he lost,” Maloney wrote in a press release. “Those who aided or witnessed President Trump’s unlawful actions must answer the Committee’s questions about this attempted subversion of democracy. My Committee is committed to ensuring that the events leading to the violent January 6 insurrection are fully investigated.”
QAnon, the rabidly pro-Donald Trump conspiracy theory and future of the GOP, may have been seriously wounded by its godhead’s failure to ascend to transcendent levels of power this year. But they haven’t gone away, and the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are warning Congress that disaffected believers may even become more violent, CNN reported on Monday.
There are innumerable strains of QAnon, which is less a coherent set of beliefs than a massive, disorganized grab bag of conspiracy theorists ranging from Flat Earthers and anti-Semites to evangelical Christians and people who believe in time travel. What united all these fringe types into one semi-coherent movement was a belief in Q, an unknown individual or individuals who posted to image boards like 4chan and neo-Nazi hub 8chan claiming to be a highly placed intelligence official in the Trump administration.
Q claimed that Trump and the U.S. military were waging a secret, Underworld-style war against a cabal of cannibalistic, child-raping Satanists that just so happened to be made of Democrats and Hollywood celebrities; eventually, they said, Trump would launch a massive military crackdown called “the Storm” on the evil syndicate, which would entail things like mass arrests and executions. This mirrored Trump’s anti-“deep state” rhetoric quite well, and Q’s ramblings subsequently went viral among conservatives on sites like Facebook and Twitter as Trump helped cultivate QAnon’s growth. Over the past few years, numerous QAnon believers have been arrested for crimes ranging from the murder of a Gambino crime family boss and an armed standoff at the Hoover Dam to stalking and death threats.
QAnon groups were involved in attempting to overturn the 2020 election results in a riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, which resulted in multiple deaths and Trump’s second impeachment trial. While they reacted with disbelief and confusion after Joe Biden was sworn into office later that month, many of them quickly devised new rationalizations to keep believing in Trump’s secret puppet-master status. According to CNN, an unclassified FBI threat assessment sent to members of Congress last week, titled “Adherence to QAnon Conspiracy Theory by Some Domestic Violent Extremists,” warns some QAnon adherents may grow weary of serving as “digital soldiers” and instead turn to real-life violence.
Some of the movement’s more vehement participants now believe they “can no longer ‘trust the plan” set forth by its mysterious standard-bearer, known simply as ‘Q’,” the FBI assessment states. While a number of them might “disengage from the movement or reduce their involvement,” the FBI wrote, others who still believe Q on the whole pedophile conspiracy thing may seek to physically harm “perceived members of the ‘cabal’ such as Democrats and other political opposition—instead of continually awaiting Q’s promised actions which have not occurred.”
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“The participation of some domestic violent extremists (DVE) who are also self-identified QAnon adherents in the violent siege of the US Capitol on 6 January underscores how the current environment likely will continue to act as a catalyst for some to begin accepting the legitimacy of violent action,” the threat assessment warned.
It continued: “The FBI has arrested more than 20 self-identified QAnon adherents who participated in the 6 January violent unlawful entry of the Capitol. These individuals were charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct in a restricted building and obstruction of an official proceeding, according to court documents and press reporting based on court documentation, public statements, and social media posts.”
According to the Associated Press, lawyers for some of the alleged QAnon rioters have tried to portray their clients as merely gullible, rather than committed wannabe insurrectionists.
Christopher Davis, counsel for accused rioter Douglas Jensen, wrote that his client was tricked by “very clever people, who were uniquely equipped with slight, if any, moral or social consciousness,” according to the AP.
“For reasons he does not even understand today, he became a ‘true believer’ and was convinced he doing a noble service by becoming a digital soldier for ‘Q,’” Davis added. “Maybe it was mid-life crisis, the pandemic, or perhaps the message just seemed to elevate him from his ordinary life to an exalted status with an honorable goal.”
The report itself has hung in limbo for months, according to CNN. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, first requested the FBI produce a report on QAnon in December 2020, but the agency only handed over a version designated “for official use only” to legislators in February 2021. In April, FBI Director Christopher Wray committed to releasing a public version, though he was cautious to clarify the FBI’s only interest is in investigating federal crimes committed by QAnon members and not the movement itself.
While the FBI and DHS are warning that QAnon could once again trigger violence and disruption, similar warnings have gone unheeded in the past. An elaborate nationwide network of offices called “fusion centers” that share intelligence between federal, state, and local police, proved conveniently useless in the leadup to Jan. 6, with the Trump-era FBI and DHS either sitting on intelligence about violent right-wing extremists or refusing to act on it. Those same fusion centers had often played a key role in crackdowns on protesters such as the Black Lives Matter movement or environmentalists demonstrating against pipelines.
Conservation advocates are gearing up for a major win. On Friday, the Forest Service said it would “repeal or replace” a Trump-era rollback that allows companies to build roads and other infrastructure in much of America’s largest national forest. It could be biggest victory for public lands the Biden administration has delivered yet—if the details pan out.
Three months before leaving office, President Trump opened up more than half of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest, to road building, logging, mining, and other development. That decision reversed protections under the Alaska Roadless Rule, which President Bill Clinton signed into law in 2001. The new development was first reported by the Washington Post.
“Taking an axe to Tongass old-growth protections was among the most reckless and irresponsible of the previous administration’s environmental rollbacks. Indigenous communities, hunters and anglers, the tourism and fishing industries, those who care about protecting our planet’s biodiversity and climate—all opposed removing roadless protections on the Tongass,” Andy Moderow, Alaska director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement.
If Biden puts the 20-year-old protections back on the books, it could mean the Tongass will once again be shielded from destructive industry, protecting the people and wildlife who call it home. But as Moderow pointed out, the White House hasn’t said exactly what protections it will instate.
“We applaud the Biden administration’s and the Forest Service’s commitment to addressing that rollback,” Moderow said, “but also want to make clear that a full reinstatement of roadless protections is a necessity.”
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The forest plays a crucial role in climate efforts, as it sequesters 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. The U.S. is home to 154 national forests, but recent research found the Tongass holds 44% of the total carbon stored by all of them. Chopping down trees in the Tongass for lumber or to clear space for development removes that essential source of sequestration, which could turn the carbon sink into a carbon source.
Development would also erode the forest’s incredible biodiversity. The Tongass is full of old-growth cedar, spruce, and hemlock trees, as well as five varieties of Pacific salmon, grizzly bears, Sitka black-tailed deer, bald eagles, and rare varieties of wolves and goshawk birds.
Several Indigenous communities, including the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian, also call the Tongass National Forest their home and rely on it to live. Development could endanger sites long-considered sacred by Native people and threaten their water supply and ability to perform traditional cultural practices.
This past January, a coalition of Indigenous organizations, Alaska businesses, and environmental organizations sued the U.S. government in an attempt to block the Trump administration from stripping protections. Let’s hope that Biden reinstates full protections for the forest immediately, making that case obsolete.
Biden should go even further and protect land across the U.S. On his first day in office, Biden issued a pause on new oil and gas leasing on public lands, and this month, he announced a plan to suspend oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, undoing a policy Trump pushed through last year. But last month, his administration also said it will defend another Trump-era massive oil and gas drilling project in the Arctic, and writer Branko Marcetic recently reported that the administration has approved nearly 1,179 drilling permits on federal lands so far.
Clearly, Biden’s got a ways to go to show he’s serious about conservation. Reviving protections for the Tongass would be a good start.
It recently came to light that the Trump-era Department of Justice quietly seized phone records of journalists at the Washington Post, CNN, and the New York Times to suss out their sources as part of the administration’s rabid crackdown on leakers. Well, apparently the witch hunt didn’t stop there: In 2017 and 2018, a grand jury compelled Apple to fork over metadata from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, according to a Thursday report from the New York Times.
The subpoena also covered records from at least a dozen people connected to the committee members, including aides, family members, and one minor. Records of Representative Adam Schiff of California, committee chairman and a frequent target of Trump’s playground insults, were among those seized, sources familiar with the matter told the Times.
Apple provided the agency with metadata and account information, but did not share photos, emails, or other content, a person familiar with the inquiry told the Times. But that’s hardly a comfort given the well-demonstrated fact that you can still learn a shit ton about a person from their metadata—where they are, what they’re up to—especially when combined with publicly available info such as their social media posts.
All told, prosecutors found no evidence within the seized data that tied the committee members to leakers. Apple was under a gag order from the DOJ that prohibited the company from publicly discussing the matter, according to the Times. That order expired this year, at which point Apple contacted the committee members, who purportedly did not know they were even being investigated. The Post, Times, and CNN similarly had no clue their reporters had been under federal investigation until the DOJ notified each outlet in recent weeks.
Over the years, administrations from both sides of the aisle have relied on court orders to obtain journalists’ records as part of leak investigations. Even still, current and former congressional officials familiar with the inquiry told the Times that they could not recall an instance in which the records of lawmakers were also seized in these cases.
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In the wake of the report, Schiff called for the Inspector General to investigate Trump’s “weaponization of law enforcement” in what he denounced as a “terrible abuse of power.”
“It also makes the Department of Justice just a fully owned subsidiary of the president’s personal legal interests and political interests,” he told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Thursday.
The DOJ promised to stop secretly obtaining the records of journalists on Saturday after coming under fire from media outlets, lawmakers, and President Joe Biden, who condemned the practice as “simply, simply wrong” in response to the agency’s latest disclosures.
The $2.25 trillion infrastructure package that President Joe Biden proposed in March didn’t go big enough to meet the scale of the climate crisis. Now, it’s looking like we may not even see those too-small propositions come to light.
This is awful news because, with a slim Senate majority, Democrats may have a tight window of time to pass meaningful climate legislation. The disastrous process calls to mind the missteps of the Obama administration.
The White House seems more interested in chasing bipartisan support for the bill than averting climate breakdown. Last month, Biden offered to shave more than half a trillion dollars off his original proposal in an effort to get Republicans on board. Then last week, he proposed an even larger cut that would bring the total price tag down to a far-more-modest $1 trillion.
“Democrats, for some reason, start with extremely modest proposals, and then try to whittle them down into almost meaningful meaningless proposals by the time they try to negotiate,” said Mark Paul, an economist at the New College of Florida who focuses on climate.
Despite these cuts, Republicans still didn’t bite: On Tuesday, the bipartisan infrastructure negotiations collapsed due to irreconcilable differences.
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Yet Biden is still courting bad faith actors’ support for the infrastructure bill. Case in point: His National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy pitched the plan to the American Petroleum Institute, the fossil fuel industry’s top lobbying group, at the White House on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the administration is priming climate advocates for some major losses in the bill, including losing the clean electricity standard, which was a hallmark climate proposal. But it wants us not to worry. “I just don’t want people to think that a loss of any one thing, or a reduction in the cost, is going to be the end of the discussion,” McCarthy told Politico. (She added that Biden “is not looking to negotiate a weak amount of investment that won’t be consistent with his vision for what we need to do now, that’s going to keep our country strong.” Strong language!)
The mealy-mouthed messaging isn’t exactly inspiring confidence. Green New Deal champions like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, and Sen. Ed Markey have indicated that they won’t vote for the watered-down proposal, meaning the administration isn’t just failing to solicit Republican votes but also losing support within its own party. These climate advocates are right to draw this line, and recent history shows us why.
“We have a Republican party that has no interest in serving the country but just wants to be obstructive at every corner, not to negotiate. I’m not sure why Biden didn’t learn from the Obama years,” Paul said. “He seems hell-bent on repeating Obama’s mistakes.”
On the campaign trail, President Barack Obama promised to take the climate crisis—or global warming, as it was more often called at the time—seriously by reducing pollution and building out clean energy to replace oil. But when he took office in 2009, his administration continually sidelined the issue, instead focusing on issues like health care and financial reform. (It’s not as though Obama won perfect policy on the issues he focused on, either—he made massive compromises on both issues, getting rid of the public option for health care and bailing out the banks that caused the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis).
In doing so, Obama put a key piece of climate legislation, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (also known as Waxman-Markey for the two representatives who sponsored it), on the back burner. The bill, which focused on a cap-and-trade plan for greenhouse gas emissions, was Democrats’ big climate proposal of the time. It wasn’t exactly a radical bill, and it was designed with bipartisanship in mind, boasting support of oil companies such as Shell and BP.
Still, without Obama’s energy, backers of the bill couldn’t drum up enough support to pass it. The legislation made it through the House in June 2009, but without presidential support, excitement about the bill died down. Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid never even brought it to the Senate floor for a vote.
“It was precisely because Obama never put his political capital behind climate change that we saw the legislation never get off the ground, ” said Paul.
Obama didn’t get another chance to back a big climate bill, either. The following midterm election, Republicans gained control of the House. Democrats wouldn’t regain control of both houses of Congress until more than a decade later.
Now, with Democrats holding both chambers of Congress and the White House once again, Biden could face the same fate. If just one Democratic dies, flips parties, or becomes too sick to work, the party will lose its Senate majority. Even if that doesn’t happen, the next midterm election could spell trouble.
“The chance of Democrats, making up any seats in the Senate in the next election cycle is extraordinarily slim, so I think that the Biden administration has an obligation to work with Congress to push green infrastructure spending through the reconciliation process right now,” Paul said, referring to an arcane legislative process that allows a simple majority of the Senate to pass spending bills.
Passing a bill by reconciliation would still require getting conservative Democrats on board, including West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who’s sent mixedsignals about his willingness to back big climate spending initiatives. But Paul says it could be possible to win Manchin’s support, for instance by creating climate policies that would benefit Manchin’s constituents.
“We need to … focus on generating green jobs and particular generating those jobs in swing districts, generating jobs and districts that are still in economic crisis and have been in economic decline,” he said. “The moment’s now.”