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Washington fiddles while America burns

Rarely has the metaphor been more apt: Washington is fiddling while America burns. Congress and the Trump administration are barely negotiating anymore while unemployment remains at levels rarely seen since the Great Depression. Do not be fooled by the stock market’s vitality (which reflects the strength of a handful of stocks that now dominate the indexes): The conditions for tens of millions of Americans are bleak, with few jobs, low incomes and a soaring number of business failures. And despite these emergency conditions — worse than during the crisis of 2008 — Washington simply cannot get its act together.

Political polarization has a lot to do with the breakdown in talks. Democrats and Republicans both gain more from their supporters by standing up to the opposing party than by compromising with it. That makes it very difficult to pass large complicated bills. And Democrats, clearly believing that they have the upper hand, are demanding that Republicans make larger compromises.

But at the heart of the problem is a substantive disagreement. Large numbers of Republicans believe the federal government should not be spending this much money, that the debt burden is rising to unconscionable levels and that the United States is risking its future financial health. Every one of these concerns is either wrong or largely exaggerated.

Let’s start by remembering that this is an almost unique economic situation in which the economy has cratered not because of too much debt, a collapsing financial system, or any of the other usual causes of recession. The coronavirus pandemic has meant that people who would happily buy and sell goods and services cannot do so for fear of infection. Add government rules to that natural caution, and large parts of the economy have simply shut down. It is a great paralysis more than a great depression. And until a vaccine is administered widely, normal levels of economic activity will not return.


How Biden Chose Harris: A Search That Forged New Stars, Friends and Rivalries

Joe Biden winnowed a large list of candidates to four finalists before settling on Kamala Harris, in a process shaped by questions of loyalty. He is eyeing other contenders for top administration jobs.

It was early in Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s vice-presidential search when he asked his advisers a sensitive question about Senator Kamala Harris. He kept hearing so much private criticism of her from other California Democrats, he wanted to know: Is she simply unpopular in her home state?

Advisers assured Mr. Biden that was not the case: Ms. Harris had her share of Democratic rivals and detractors in the factional world of California politics, but among regular voters her standing was solid.

Mr. Biden’s query, and the quiet attacks that prompted it, helped begin a delicate audition for Ms. Harris that has never before been revealed in depth. She faced daunting obstacles, including an array of strong competitors, unease about her within the Biden family and bitter feuds from California and the 2020 primary season that exploded anew.

Though Ms. Harris was seen from the start as a front-runner, Mr. Biden did not begin the process with a favorite in mind, and he settled on Ms. Harris only after an exhaustive review that forged new political alliances, deepened existing rivalries and further elevated a cohort of women as leaders in their party.


A broken cable smashed a hole 100 feet wide in the Arecibo Observatory

One of the world's most prominent astronomical observatories has a hole.

On Monday, a 3-inch-thick cable at the Arecibo Observatory broke, tearing a gash 100 feet long in the reflector dish of the 20-acre radio telescope in Puerto Rico.

The observatory had just reopened after a temporary closure due to Tropical Storm Isaias when the cable, which helped support a metal platform, snapped at about 2:45 a.m. ET. Now the facility is closed again as engineers assess the damage, according to the University of Central Florida, a co-operator of the telescope.

It was not immediately clear how the cable broke or whether the damage was related to Isaias.


Online game Fortnite sues Apple after getting kicked off App Store for sidestepping payment system

Popular video game Fortnite was no longer appearing on the App Store after its maker, Epic Games, announced a cheaper payment system that sidestepped Apple’s.

Epic Games, maker of popular online video game Fortnite, said Thursday it is suing Apple over “anticompetitive conduct” after tech giant kicked the game’s app off its App Store.

Apple booted the video game off its App Store after the gaming company released a payment system that sidestepped Apple’s.

Fortnite maker Epic Games released a feature Wednesday that lets users choose how they want to pay for in-app purchases — either through the App Store or Play Store, or from Epic directly, which saves up to 20 percent. By Thursday, Fortnite had been removed from the store.

For years, Apple has strictly enforced its policy of charging app developers a 30% cut of whatever money they earn in payments from Apple customers. In some cases, the fee is only 15%.


Trump administration scraps limits on methane leaks at oil and gas sites

Source: Washington Post

The Obama-era regulations overturned by Trump restricted the potent greenhouse gas.

The Trump administration is scrapping limits on methane leaks, allowing oil and gas companies to decide how much of the potent greenhouse gas can escape into the atmosphere from wells, pipelines and storage tanks.

The new rules, to be issued by the Office of Management and Budget later today, effectively rescind the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate methane, the largest component of natural gas. Although it dissipates faster than carbon dioxide, methane is estimated to be at least 25 times and as much as 80 times more potent in terms of trapping heat in the atmosphere.

The administration said methane would now be regulated under the Clean Air Act like other volatile compounds, but the rules governing those smog-forming compounds are comparatively weak.

EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler was set to announce the new rules in Pittsburgh, in a battleground state that has the most extensive shale gas resources in the country.

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/08/13/trump-administration-scrap-limits-methane-leaks-oil-gas-sites/

Trump wants to define what it means to be truly American. His Kamala nickname exemplifies that.

We knew President Trump would come up with a nickname for Kamala D. Harris as soon as Joe Biden named the California senator as his running mate.

“Phony Kamala” is what the president seems to have settled on. Perhaps it’s some kind of triple entendre, meant to poke at superficial California stereotypes, question her fidelity to law and order as a former prosecutor and kick up some dust by imposing a purity test for a multiracial candidate who has injected the Biden campaign with enthusiasm among Black voters.

It is another example of how the president has tried to appoint himself as the gatekeeper in chief with his divisive and narrow attempt to define what is truly American. We’ve seen it before in his travel bans, his hiring, his language — and now in his effort to define the newly minted Democratic ticket. Unable to put a dent in Biden’s lead in the polls, Trump and his Republican operatives are now trying to tarnish Harris with charges that she is too extreme, too liberal, too leftist and — in a twist — not quite black enough.

Former George W. Bush aide Ari Fleischer claimed Harris “is just not that historically exciting to African Americans.” Republican booster Nick Adams took to Twitter to question whether Harris herself could be considered African American since her mother is Indian and her father is Jamaican. Republicans have shifted from trying to determine who is authentically American to determining who is authentically Black.


Worried Lenders Pounce on Landlords Unable to Pay Their Loans

Some hedge funds and private equity firms that lent money to property owners are now suing them for falling behind on interest payments

Five months into the pandemic, hotel rooms remain largely unreserved, office space sits empty and hardly anyone is venturing into malls. Commercial tenants are struggling to pay their rents, and property owners are struggling to make payments on the loans they took out to finance the buildings.

Some real estate investors, including the hedge funds and private equity firms that hold those loans, have had enough. Unwilling to risk any more missed interest payments, they are taking property owners and developers to court, hoping to foreclose on their interests in the properties and minimize their financial losses.

Already, there are a few high-profile battles, including one involving a retail complex in Times Square that is owned by the family of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law. The operators of the Mark Hotel, one of Manhattan’s most luxurious hotels, with Art Deco-inspired rooms and a suite that can cost $10,000 a night, recently beat back a foreclosure attempt in court.

These cases have been initiated by a type of lender that is driven largely by narrow financial interests, but real estate lawyers and lenders expect foreclosure proceedings to become more widespread the longer commercial tenants fail to keep up with the monthly rent checks. Given that a full economic recovery from the pandemic is probably years in the making, things could get much uglier in the commercial real estate market before they improve.


Trump's Cabinet From Hell

The contest is over. Meet the winning Worst.

If you run into Attorney General William Barr over the weekend, be sure to congratulate him.

The readers have spoken! Barr was the runaway winner of our vote for Worst Trump Cabinet Member. He swept the field last fall, too. What we need now is a Worst Museum where we can put Barr’s portrait looming over the door.

The Worst of Trump is clearly a topic people are pondering. We got thousands of responses to the contest. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos came in second and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo third.

They were far, far behind the leader. But give DeVos credit — it’s not easy to build up so much rancor when you’re in a relatively low-profile cabinet post. “Betsy DeVos is one I particularly love to hate because of her smug arrogance, while being the very picture of ignorant incompetence,” wrote a voter.


After Trump, America Needs Accountability for His Corruption

Restoring the rule of law is not the same as “lock her up.”

Last week, NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro asked Joe Biden whether, if elected, he could envision Donald Trump being prosecuted. Biden replied that the prosecution of a former president would be a “very, very unusual thing” and probably “not very good for democracy.” The former vice president said he would not stand in the way if the Justice Department wanted to bring a case, but when Garcia-Navarro pressed him, he suggested she was trying to bait him into a version of Trump’s threat against his 2016 opponent: “Lock her up.”

Biden’s reticence is understandable, because a president who runs the White House as a criminal syndicate creates a conundrum for liberal democracy. In a functioning democracy, losing an election should not create legal liability; there was a reason Trump’s “Lock her up” chant was so shocking.

But you can’t reinforce the rule of law by allowing it to be broken without repercussion. After four years of ever-escalating corruption and abuses of power, the United States cannot simply snap back to being the country it once was if Trump is forced to vacate the White House in January. If Biden is elected, Democrats must force a reckoning over what Trump has done to America.

Of course, a Biden victory is far from assured, and if he loses, there may be no stopping this country’s slide into a permanent state of oligarchic misrule. But right now, while there’s still hope of cauterizing Trumpism, ideas about post-Trump accountability are percolating in Democratic and activist circles.


Biden Camp: Trump Sabotaging USPS Is Desperate Man's 'Assault On Democracy'

Source: Talking Points Memo

President Donald Trump suggested on Thursday that he was intentionally blocking additional funding for the US Postal Service in an effort to disrupt attempts to expand mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic — an effort that the Biden campaign has called a desperate man’s “assault on democracy.”

Biden campaign rapid response director Andrew Bates told TPM in a statement that Trump’s effort to deny a Democratic proposal for additional funding for the USPS amounted to a selfish move to deprive Americans of their fundamental right to vote safely.

“Even Donald Trump’s own campaign has endorsed voting by mail, and his own administration has conclusively refuted his wild-eyed conspiracy theories about the most secure form of voting,” Bates said in the statement. “This is an assault on our democracy and economy by a desperate man who’s terrified that the American people will force him to confront what he’s done everything in his power to escape for months — responsibility for his own actions.”

Trump suggested as much during a White House press conference Wednesday, implying that perhaps without the additional funding, his woes about vote-by-mail, which he is convinced will hurt him in November, will just disappear.

Read more: https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/trump-usps-sabotage-desperate-man-assault-democracy
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