👋 Away Message: Hi there! Matt is currently out on parental leave. He'll return August 30th-ish. More details can be found here. In the meantime, Joe (the voice of the newscast/podcast) will be publishing an abridged version of WTF Just Happened Today? every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can expect 5-7 news items covering a slightly wider range of political news in about two sentences each. We'll return to our regularly scheduled WTFJHT programming when Matt returns in late August.
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1/ Trump dismissed climate change as a hoax, calling for “global warming” to “come back fast” as a dangerous deep freeze hits the Midwest where a polar vortex is expected to drop temperatures to negative 30F with the wind chill driving temperatures as low as negative 50F or 60F — the lowest in more than two decades. Roughly 83 million Americans – about 25% of the U.S. population – will experience temperatures below zero this week. Weather and climate are two different things: Weather is what you experience in the moment, while climate is the broader trend. Trump’s tweet, asking “What the hell is going on with Global Waming?” – misspelling “warming” – suggests he doesn’t understand the difference between climate and weather. In 2017, Trump also tweeted that the U.S. could use some “good old Global Warming” while most of the Northeast was experiencing record-breaking cold weather. (Chicago Tribune / Vox / CNN)
📌 Day 733: 73% of Americans believe that climate change is real– a jump of 10 percentage points from 2015, and three points since last March. 72% also said that global warming is personally important to them. (New York Times)
📌 Day 685: Global emissions of carbon dioxide have reached the highest levels on record. Global emissions grew 1.6% in 2017 with 2018 expected to increase 2.7%. The U.S. is the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon emissions, but that hasn’t stopped the Trump administration from moving to roll back regulations designed to limit those emissions from vehicle tailpipes and power-plant smokestacks. As United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said this week at the opening of the 24th annual U.N. climate conference: “We are in trouble. We are in deep trouble with climate change.” (Washington Post / New York Times)
📌 Day 676: The National Climate Assessment concludes that global warming is already “transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us.” The findings from the landmark scientific report, issued by 13 federal agencies, are at odds with the Trump administration’s environmental deregulation agenda, which Trump claims will lead to economic growth, and its plans to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. The report predicts that the effects of global warming could eliminate as much as 10% of the U.S. economy by the end of the century, and warns that humans must act aggressively now “to avoid substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment, and human health and well-being over the coming decades.” The first report, released in November 2017, concluded that there is “no convincing alternative explanation” for the changing climate other than “human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases.” Trump recently questioned the science of climate change, saying that “I don’t know that it’s man-made” and that the warming trend “could very well go back.” (New York Times / Associated Press / Washington Post / CNN)
📌 Day 627: A U.N. report on the effects of climate change predicts a strong risk of an environmental crisis much sooner than expected. The report finds that the atmosphere could warm by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels by 2040 if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, which would cause sea levels to rise, intensify droughts, wildfires, and poverty, and cause a mass die-off of coral reefs. To prevent 2.7 degrees of warming, greenhouse pollution must be reduced by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and fully eliminated by 2050. The use of coal as an electricity source would have to drop from nearly 40% today to between 1% and 7% by 2050. Renewable energy would have to increase to about 67%. Trump has mocked the science of human-caused climate change, vowing to increase the burning of coal, and he intends to withdraw from the 2015 Paris agreement. The world is already more than halfway to the 2.7-degree mark and “there is no documented historic precedent” for the scale of changes required, the report said. (New York Times / Washington Post)
2/ U.S. intelligence chiefs contradicted Trump’s claims about North Korea, Iran, and ISIS. Trump previously claimed that “We have won against ISIS” as justification for withdrawing 2,000 troops from Syria, he pledged that North Korea is on the path to fully denuclearize, and withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, claiming the country posed a nuclear threat. The Worldwide Threat Assessment, released by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, however, outlines that North Korea is “unlikely to give up” its nuclear stockpiles because Kim Jong-un sees them as “critical to regime survival,” and that Iran is not “currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activity” needed to make a bomb. Coats also said that ISIS “very likely will continue to pursue external attacks from Iraq and Syria against regional and Western adversaries, including the United States.” The report also concluded that China is positioned to conduct cyberattacks against American infrastructure and that “Moscow is now staging cyberattack assets to allow it to disrupt or damage U.S. civilian and military infrastructure during a crisis.” (New York Times / Washington Post / Politico / CNN / The Guardian)
Russia, China, and Iran are “probably already are looking to the 2020 U.S. elections as an opportunity to advance their interests,” according the Worldwide Threat Assessment report. Dan Coats warned that these countries “will use online influence operations to try to weaken democratic institutions, undermine U.S. alliances and partnerships and shape policy outcomes in the United States and elsewhere.” (Politico)
Russia offered North Korea a nuclear power plant after negotiations with the Trump administration to denuclearize stalled. The plan called for Moscow to operate the plant and transfer all waste back to Russia, reducing the risk that North Korea could use the power plant to build nuclear weapons. (Washington Post)
3/ Roger Stone pleaded not guilty to witness tampering, obstruction of justice and lying to Congress. Stone’s indictment alleges that he was the conduit between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which published Democratic National Committee emails in the summer of 2016, and that “a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton campaign.” Robert Mueller has previously accused 12 Russian intelligence officers of hacking those emails, and the U.S. intelligence community consensus is that those Russians “relayed material it acquired from the DNC and senior Democratic officials to WikiLeaks.” (NPR / Washington Post / CNBC / ABC News / New York Times / Reuters)
- Mueller and the Justice Department are considering another indictment of Stone or have plans to charge others, according to the defense attorney for Andrew Miller, who’s fighting a subpoena from Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mueller is seeking information Miller has about Stone’s communications regarding WikiLeaks and Russian hackers around the time they disseminated damaging hacked Democratic emails. The development came shortly after acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker claimed that Mueller’s investigation was “close to being completed.” (CNN)
4/ The Senate Judiciary Committee delayed a vote on William Barr’s nomination for attorney general as Democrats raised concerns about whether he would allow Mueller to finish his probe and publish his report. Barr has repeatedly refused to provide a firm guarantee that he will release the report to Congress and the public. The committee postponed its vote on Barr until its next meeting. (Washington Post / Politico)
- A bipartisan pair of Senators introduced legislation that would require Mueller to provide a summary of his findings to Congress and the public. The new legislation from Richard Blumenthal and Chuck Grassley would remove the decision to make the report public from the attorney general, who now decides what happens once Mueller submits his findings. (CNN)
poll/ 32% of Republican and Republican-leaning voters would like the GOP to nominate “someone other” than Trump in 2020. 65% want the GOP nominate Trump. (Washington Post)
John Bolton disclosed what appeared to be a confidential note to send 5,000 U.S. troops to Colombia as tensions rise in Venezuela. The national security adviser had written the note on a yellow legal pad, which he held against his chest with the notes facing out during a White House briefing while announcing new sanctions against Venezuela’s national oil industry. When asked about the note, the White House replied: “All options are on the table.” The Defense Department said it hasn’t received any orders to this effect. (Washington Post)
The Trump administration has started making a new, low-yield nuclear weapon that the Department of Energy claims is designed to counter Russia. The W76-2 is believed to be about half as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The report claims that smaller nuclear warheads will help balance the threat from Russian forces. (NPR)
Three Republican Senators introduced a plan to repeal the federal estate tax. Fewer than 2,000 of the wealthiest Americans are expected to pay the tax annually. (Washington Post)
More than a million federal contractors aren’t guaranteed back pay after working during the shutdown. The contractors who clean, guard, cook and do other jobs at federal workplaces are also among the lowest-paid laborers in the government economy, generally earning between $450 and $650 a week. (Washington Post)
Trump’s re-election campaign plans to sue former White House staffer Cliff Sims for violating his non-disclosure agreement in his new tell-all book about his experience in the White House. Trump distanced himself from Sims, calling the former aide “a mess” and just “a low level staffer that I hardly knew.” In Sims’ book, “Team of Vipers,” he writes that “it’s impossible to deny how absolutely out of control the White House staff — again, myself included — was at times.” Trump is reportedly “very pissed off” and “really hopping mad” at Sims. (Washington Examiner / Politico / Washington Post)
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