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The world is burning and drowning. We have to vote for the planet’s future.


Opinion by 

Eugene Robinson


September 14, 2020 at 1:15 p.m. PDT

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The sky over the San Francisco Bay area glowed red-orange last week, as though the region had been transplanted to Mars. People along much of the West Coast sheltered indoors because the air was filled with smoke from unprecedented, hellish wildfires that so far have claimed dozens of lives. More than 10 percent of all Oregon residents were told to evacuate their homes, and the state's chief emergency management planner warned of a possible "mass fatality incident."

Fire wasn't the only element turning against us. For only the second time on record, five tropical cyclones are swirling in the Atlantic Ocean at the same time — including Hurricane Sally, which is gathering strength in the Gulf of Mexico and aiming at vulnerable New Orleans and Mississippi. 

These catastrophes horribly illustrate the stakes in the coming election: at risk is the future of our beautiful, fragile planet. The choice facing voters who care about that future could not be more stark. Democratic nominee Joe Biden accepts the scientific consensus about climate change and wants the United States to lead the world in a transition to clean energy. President Trump has called climate change a "hoax" and encouraged greater production and burning of "beautiful, clean coal."


All of these "natural" disasters were foreseen decades ago by scientists who warned of the unnatural consequences of releasing massive quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They told us the West would become warmer, drier and more susceptible to fire. They told us that tropical storms would become less predictable and more frequent, and that rising sea levels would put coastal cities at greater risk. And they told us that if we don't take coordinated global action to limit carbon emissions, these life-threatening impacts will get much, much worse.

Despite this reality, one of Trump's most consequential acts as president was to withdraw from the landmark Paris agreement committing all the nations of the world to limit global warming to a manageable level. It was a horrendous decision, given how little time we have to act, and how much damage we have to contend with.

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Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, humans have boosted the concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by an incredible 47 percent. Even if countries around the world rapidly reduced their emissions, we would still have to deal with the consequences of the carbon we have already spewed — and the warming that is already taking place.


Heavily populated areas along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts need to be fortified against storm surges at levels once thought unimaginable. Some cities — such as Phoenix, which just recorded its hottest summer ever — will have to prepare to cope with deadly heat; other areas will have to deal with much more rain than they're used to having, or perhaps much less. California, Oregon and Washington may have to rethink their approaches to forest management.

One of the most tragic impacts of the Trump presidency has been to undermine trust in science, and thus in the best tools we have to fight the warming of our world; witness the thousands of people who attended his indoor campaign rally in Nevada on Sunday without wearing masks. Trump has given his supporters permission to believe wild, paranoid, completely untrue rumors about the West Coast fires — including that some of the Oregon blazes were deliberately started by members of antifa. Inventing scapegoats is always much easier than accepting responsibility.

Trump made a quick stop in California on Monday, and Wade Crowfoot, the state's secretary for natural resources, told him about the record-high temperatures the state has seen this year. "It'll start getting cooler, you just watch," Trump said. When Crowfoot said he wished the science agreed with Trump's prediction, the president said with a smirk, "Okay, well, I don't think science knows, actually."


Trump also has a dangerous tendency to forfeit American leadership. China is now by far the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, with the United States an increasingly distant second. Pulling the United States out of efforts to fight climate change eliminates another point of distinction between it and one of its chief geopolitical rivals — and denies the world a champion for the idea that you can have an economy that is both vibrant and clean.

America, and the world, desperately need a president of the United States who fully acknowledges the crisis and chooses to address it. A vote for Trump is a vote for ignorance and environmental ruin. A vote for Biden, who has pledged to rejoin the Paris agreement immediately if he is elected, is a vote for Planet Earth.

I understand it is difficult to focus on a slow-moving crisis such as climate change with so many immediate crises — the covid-19 pandemic, the economic meltdown, the protests over systemic racism — dominating the headlines and buffeting our lives. But the urgent cannot be allowed to obscure the existential. Our sky is not supposed to look Martian. Hurricanes and tropical storms are supposed to come one or two at a time, not in platoons. Climate change is not some future threat. It is here right now — and steadily getting worse.


Read more from Eugene Robinson’s archivefollow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

Read more:

Submit a question for Eugene Robinson’s Sept. 15 live chat

Read the transcript of Eugene Robinson’s Sept. 8 live chat: We’re in the home stretch of the presidential campaign

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Helaine Olen: The West Coast is on fire. Why is Trump barely paying attention?

Leana S. Wen: Trump could still save thousands of lives. All it would take is an ability to learn from the Woodward book.

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Election 2020: What to know

Updated September 14, 2020

Live updates: Get the latest on the election.

How to vote: Find out the rules in your state. Some states have already started sending out mail ballots; see how to make sure yours countsAbsentee and mail ballots are two terms for the same thing, mostly used interchangeably. Barring a landslide, we may not have a result in the presidential election on Nov. 3.

Electoral college map: Who actually votes, and who do they vote for? Explore how shifts in turnout and voting patterns for key demographic groups could affect the presidential race.

Battlegrounds: Want to understand the swing states? Read about MichiganWisconsinNorth CarolinaFloridaPennsylvania and Minnesota, and sign up for The Trailer and get more states, plus more news and insight from the trail, in your inbox three days a week.

Coming up: Trump and Biden are scheduled to debate three times this fall; here’s what to know about the 2020 presidential debates.


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The New York Times 9/13/20

2. President Trump has attacked Joe Biden for weeks over law and order. But a Times/Siena College poll shows he still trails Mr. Biden in four swing states.

They are Wisconsin, where Mr. Trump’s denunciations of rioting and crime have rallied support on the right but failed to sway voters who dislike him; Minnesota, a Democratic-leaning state that Mr. Trump hopes to flip; Nevada; and New Hampshire.

Every week through Election Day, The Times will bring you dispatches from the swing states to help explain how voters see the race and what issues are driving it.

We also took a closer look at how Senator Kamala Harris’s parents shaped the Democratic vice-presidential candidate. They grew up under British colonial rule on different sides of the planet, but each was drawn to Berkeley, Calif., where they met and rewrote their life plans.

Lindsey Wasson/Reuters

3. The Times reconstructed the White House’s push for a plasma therapy, and found a pattern that helps explain the intensifying concern that President Trump could demand pre-Election Day approval of a vaccine.

For instance, in August, President Trump called the director of the National Institutes of Health, demanding fast action to approve expanded use of convalescent plasma to treat the coronavirus. Even though it didn’t come, Mr. Trump announced the expansion of the treatment anyway, with the F.D.A.’s approval, on the eve of the Republican National Convention.

Tensions over the White House’s urgency to show progress against the pandemic, which has killed more than 193,500 people in the U.S., are also playing out at the Department of Health and Human Services, where political appointees have repeatedly meddled in weekly outbreak reports prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

4. China is harnessing the power of its authoritarian system to bring nearly 200 million students back into classrooms, like one in Wuhan, above.

The Communist Party has rolled out sanitation and distancing procedures with an all-out approach that brooks no dissent, one that would be nearly impossible almost anywhere else. Local officials and party cadres inspect classrooms; apps monitor students and staff members. Some colleges forbid students to leave campus.

President Xi Jinping boasted last week that the country’s return to business and school “fully demonstrated the clear superiority of Communist Party leadership and our socialist system.”

In the U.S., where the seven-day average of daily cases is over 35,500, college campuses are the new coronavirus hot spots, now accounting for more than 88,000 infections since the pandemic began. We’re tracking college case counts here.

Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

5. The White House announcement on Friday that Bahrain would normalize relations with Israel may pave the way for more such moves.

Sudan and Oman may follow suit, according to some analysts, but the real test will be whether Saudi Arabia does so. Israel and Arab leaders in the Persian Gulf have quietly cultivated ties for years, united by antipathy toward Iran.

With the November election nearing and U.S. efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord foiled, Israel’s détentes with both Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, along with the start of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, have helped spotlight President Trump’s sudden turn toward ending, rather than starting, conflicts.


Heather Cox Richardson


9h  · 

September 9, 2020 (Wednesday)

Back in April, when America had reached the unthinkable level of 50,000 dead from Covid-19, news broke that Trump had been briefed way back in January on how deadly the coronavirus was but had not acted on that information. Trump defended his lack of action by saying he had been misled by the CIA briefer, who had, he tweeted, “only spoke of the Virus in a very non-threatening, or matter of fact, manner….”

Trump lied. He knew.

On January 28, at a top secret intelligence briefing, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien told Trump that the coronavirus would be the “biggest national security threat” of his presidency. It registered. Trump’s head popped up as O’Brien’s deputy, Matt Pottinger, told Trump it could be as bad as the 1918 pandemic, and that it was spread fast by people who showed no symptoms.

On February 7, just two days after his acquittal in the Senate on the charges of impeachment, Trump picked up the phone and called journalist Bob Woodward, who was surprised to hear the president talk not about the acquittal, but about the new virus. Trump told Woodward: “This is deadly stuff.” He explained that the virus is transmitted by air, and that it was five times more dangerous than “even your strenuous flus.”

And yet, on February 2, Trump had said in a Fox News Channel interview before the Super Bowl that “we pretty much shut it down coming in from China.” Trump continued to hold large indoor rallies where he insisted the coronavirus was similar to the flu and that it would soon disappear. Twenty days after his call to Woodward, he was still telling Americans not to worry and he refused to prepare for the coming crisis. Trump told Woodward that he was not telling Americans the truth because he didn’t want “to create a panic.”

By March 19, Trump told Woodward that Covid-19 was killing young people as well as older folks, although throughout the summer he continued to insist that children should go back to school because they were “almost immune” from the virus. On April 3, Trump said at a briefing: “I said it was going away and it is going away.” On April 5, he told Woodward “It’s a horrible thing. It’s unbelievable.” On April 13, as he dismissed the need for masks, the president told Woodward “It’s so easily transmissible, you wouldn’t even believe it.”

Over the course of 18 interviews, Trump spoke for nine hours to journalist Bob Woodward. He had apparently been angry at his aides for shielding him from Woodward before the journalist published his book Fury in 2018, thinking he could charm Woodward into presenting him in a better light, as he had shaped coverage of himself in the tabloids in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s. Trump also urged senior staff and officials to talk to Woodward, who ended up getting interviews with senior adviser Jared Kushner, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger, and former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, among others.

Apparently, White House aides warned Trump against talking to Woodward, but not only did he do so, he permitted Woodward to record the conversations. So when White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany today tried to say that Trump had never tried to downplay the virus, a reporter retorted: “It’s on tape, Kayleigh.”

When this story broke, Trump immediately tried to reassure his base by releasing yet more names of people he would consider for any new Supreme Court seats (the list is now more than 40 people long), and told reporters that perhaps he had misled Americans because he is “a cheerleader for this country.” Trump defenders were left trying to find someone to blame for the recorded interviews. Apparently, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham helped to persuade Trump to talk to the famous journalist and tonight, Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson blamed Graham for the debacle, implying he had deliberately undercut the president.

In his final interview with Woodward on July 21, Trump told him, “The virus has nothing to do with me…. It's not my fault. It's — China let the damn virus out."

The book has other stunning information as well. Among other things:

Trump’s former top national security officials do not support him. Former Defense Secretary James Mattis told Woodward that Trump is “dangerous” and “unfit” to be commander in chief. Trump’s former Director of National Intelligence, former Indiana Senator Dan Coates, who is a conservative Republican, told Woodward that he suspected Putin had something on Trump. According to Woodward, Coats “continued to harbor the secret belief, one that had grown rather than lessened, although unsupported by intelligence proof, that Putin had something on Trump.” Woodward wrote: “How else to explain the president’s behavior? Coats could see no other explanation.”

Trump allegedly said “my f***ing generals are a bunch of p*****s” because they prioritized alliances over trade deals.

Trump dropped the information that his administration has developed a “nuclear… weapons system that nobody’s ever had in this country before. We have stuff that you haven’t even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There’s nobody—what we have is incredible.” Other sources confirmed to Woodward that the American military has developed a new weapons system. They would not talk about it, and were surprised that Trump had told Woodward about it.

On CNN, Carl Bernstein said that Woodward’s Trump tapes were worse than the Nixon tapes. The last line of Woodward's book reads: “Trump is the wrong man for the job.”

Stunningly, there was a second story today at least as big as the information in the Woodward book. Trump told Woodward that he was not telling Americans the truth because he didn’t want “to create a panic.” But he has, of course, spent the last several months explicitly trying to do just that: create a panic by claiming that dangerous anarchists are attacking our cities. It turns out he and his staff are trying to manipulate our national intelligence assessments to justify his argument.

Representative Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, today released a whistleblower complaint alleging that senior Trump officials politicized, manipulated, and censored intelligence to benefit Trump. Brian Murphy was the Acting Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis in the Department of Homeland Security. He claims that between March 2018 and August 2020, he repeatedly complained that security leaders were undercutting intelligence that showed Russia was working to undermine the United States.

That attempt to hide Russian attacks on America escalated this May. At the time, Chad Wolf was serving as the acting Secretary of Homeland Security, although the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s nonpartisan watchdog, says he was appointed to that office illegally. The complaint says that Wolf “instructed Mr. Murphy to cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States, and instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran. Mr. Wolf stated that these instructions specifically originated from White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien. Mr. Murphy informed Mr. Wolf he would not comply with these instructions, as doing so would put the country in substantial and specific danger.”

The complaint also concerns the DHS Threat Assessment leaked yesterday to Politico. Wolf and his deputy Ken Cuccinelli—also appointed illegally, according to the GAO—prohibited the release of the threat assessment because it discussed both the threat of white supremacists and of Russian influence in the United States. This, they said, would reflect badly on the president. “Mr. Cuccinelli stated that Mr. Murphy needed to specifically modify the section on White Supremacy in a manner that made the threat appear less severe, as well as include information on the prominence of violent ‘left-wing’ groups.” Wolf wanted to add information about the ongoing unrest in Portland, Oregon.

Murphy refused to sign off on their alteration of the intelligence report, warning that it was “an abuse of authority and improper administration of an intelligence program. Wolf ordered it revised anyway. Murphy warned that the final version of the threat assessment would “more closely resemble a policy document with references to ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups than an intelligence document.” This is the document leaked in draft form to Politico yesterday.

That document was representative of a systemic effort to change intelligence reports, swinging them away from information on white supremacists and toward the language of the president. Murphy claims that Wolf and Cuccinelli repeatedly told him “to modify intelligence assessments to ensure they matched up with the public comments by President Trump on the subject of ANTIFA and ‘anarchist’ groups.”

Murphy also charges that administration officials, including then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, lied to Congress, when she knowingly provided “inaccurate and highly inflated claims of known or suspected terrorists entering the United States through the southwest border.”

Schiff has asked Murphy to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, September 21, at 10:00 am.

Former Director of National Security Daniel Coats, who continues to insist that Russia is attacking the 2020 election process, also spoke up today to demand that the intelligence community resume its in-person briefings to Congress about election security. “[Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin ought to be very happy with the way this is turning out,” Coats said. “He can only view his efforts as successful.”

There is a third major story today. Wildfires driven by winds are burning across California, Oregon, and Washington. California alone has lost more than 2.5 million acres this year, and Washington has lost almost a half a million this week alone. Oregon has lost 300,000. At least 7 people have died. The region is blanketed with smoke and an eerie orange haze, and in places, ash falls like rain.

President Trump speaks with then-Homeland Security Secretary John  F. Kelly during a Memorial Day visit to Arlington National Cemetery in 2017.





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