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June 13, 2016

On the campaign trail in the USA, May 2016

On the campaign trail in the USA, May 2016

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Monday, June 13, 2016

2016 United States presidential election
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The following is the first edition of a monthly series chronicling the U.S. 2016 presidential election. It features original material compiled throughout the previous month after an overview of the month’s biggest stories.

In this month’s edition on the campaign trail: a former Republican congressman briefly joins the Libertarian Party and runs for vice president; the Democratic Party names its National Convention Platform Drafting Committee amid controversy; and Wikinews interviews a candidate who had a surprisingly strong performance in the West Virginia Democratic presidential primary.

Summary

On the campaign trail in early May, the Republican Party primary race grew more contentious as it reached its final stages. On the same day as the May 3 Indiana primary, Republican front-runner Donald Trump, who held a sizable delegate lead over his two remaining primary challengers, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich, cited the National Enquirer to accuse Cruz’s father of involvement in the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Cruz, whom Trump branded as “Lyin’ Ted,” attacked Trump as a “pathological liar” and “serial philanderer.” Trump won Indiana by a large margin, prompting the second place Cruz to end his campaign. Thereafter, both the media and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus christened Trump as the presumptive nominee, even though he had yet to secure the requisite number of National Convention delegates. The next day, Kasich finally suspended his candidacy. As Trump pivoted into general election mode, he faced a vocal Stop Trump movement within the party and a significant polling deficit against the Democrats. A national CNN/ORC poll showed Trump trailing Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton by double digits. Nevertheless, unlike the GOP, the outcome of the Democratic primary race remained undecided. Although Clinton maintained a significant delegate lead, a CNN poll showed her ahead of sole rival, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, by only eight points. In fact, Sanders won the Indiana Democratic primary, making nine victories out of the latest fourteen contests to that point.

Donald Trump with a taco bowl on Cinco de Mayo.
Image: Donald J. Trump on Twitter.

Commencing his general election campaign, Trump announced he would participate in fundraising after self-funding his primary campaign. He named former presidential rival, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson to head a group to search for a running mate. And, in a show of pro-Hispanic sentiment, he tweeted a photo of himself with a taco bowl on Cinco de Mayo. Still, the Republican Party remained divided. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said he would not commit to endorsing Trump. He called for Trump “to set aside bullying, […] belittlement, and appeal to higher aspirations.” Ryan’s comments drew criticism from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former 2016 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, among others. However, former candidates Lindsey Graham and Jeb Bush, as well as former Presidents George W. Bush and George H. W. Bush, all said they could not support Trump’s candidacy. 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol both called for an independent presidential candidate to run as an alternative to Trump. Ryan called this “a disaster,” and sought unity by inviting Trump to a Republican congressional leadership meeting and offering to step down as chair of the GOP National Convention if Trump so desired. Despite the internal strife, Trump continued his focus on the general election, branding Clinton as “crooked Hillary,” and attacking her for “want[ing] to abolish the Second Amendment.” He also pivoted on policies, advocating for a rise in the federal minimum wage and taxes on the wealthy. The campaign announced that five or six names were on the vice presidential shortlist including former presidential candidate Chris Christie. Quinnipiac polls showed Trump leading or close behind Clinton in head-to-head match ups in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. Clinton won the caucus in Guam and the campaign shifted to West Virginia and Nebraska. On the eve of the May 10 primaries, Cruz, still on the ballot in Nebraska, announced he might restart his campaign if he won the state. Instead, Trump won Nebraska by a wide margin and won West Virginia by an even wider margin. On the Democratic side, Sanders won West Virginia as voters turned on Clinton after she expressed unencouraging views about the coal industry. ABC News exit polling there revealed nearly half of Sanders supporters said they would vote for Trump if Clinton won the nomination.

Vice President Joe Biden, who had been expected to mount a 2016 campaign until he ruled it out in late 2015, admitted in an interview with ABC that he had planned to run for president in 2016 but the plans derailed upon the death of his son Beau. He revealed Senator Elizabeth Warren as his preferred running mate and endorsed her for the Democratic vice presidential nomination. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada cautioned Democrats against nominating a sitting Senator like Warren to avoid decreasing the number of Democrats in the Senate. Trump launched an assault on Warren, referring to her as “goofy” and Pocahontas for a previous claim of Amerindian ancestry. On May 12, Trump had his much anticipated meeting with Ryan. Afterwards, the two issued a joint statement calling the meeting “a very positive step toward unification.” Ryan still withheld his endorsement though Trump asked Ryan to remain as chair of the National Convention. Polls from mid-May showed Trump edging closer to Clinton in national head-to-head match ups, as Trump faced a barrage of controversies. Both Clinton and Romney called on Trump to release his tax records. He said he might release them, but maintained it was “none of [the public’s] business.” Media reports also scrutinized Trump for allegedly acting as his own publicist in the early 1990’s. He denied the allegations outright. Next, The New York Times published an exposé about Trump’s treatment of women throughout the years. The validity of the story came into question when the lead interviewee claimed The Times had taken her account out of context. On May 17, Trump easily won the Oregon primary. The next day, for the first time in months, a Fox News poll showed him with a national lead over Clinton. That same day, he released a list of eleven judges whom he would consider nominating to the U.S. Supreme Court. He later received an endorsement from the National Rifle Association. In the Democratic race, Sanders won the Oregon primary and narrowly lost to Clinton in Kentucky. He was also able to add five of his supporters to the Democratic National Convention platform drafting committee, ensuring greater influence over the party platform. Clinton rejected a debate with him and announced there would be no further primary debates. Trump offered to debate Sanders, which Sanders accepted, though Trump later backed out. Clinton went on the offensive against Trump for his past business bankruptcies, saying he “could bankrupt America like he’s bankrupted his companies.” She won the Washington primary on May 24. However, the next day, an Inspector General report said she did not comply with State Department policy when she sent official e-mails on a private server while Secretary of State.

Following a victory in the Washington Republican primary, Trump traveled to New Mexico, where the sitting Republican governor Susana Martinez snubbed his event. Trump attacked Martinez during the rally, later asking, “If I have a Republican that’s not on my side, why should I be particularly nice to that person?” Shortly thereafter, during a speech in California, he renewed attacks against Romney, Cruz, Kristol, and Jeb Bush. Former rival Marco Rubio announced he would release the delegates he won during the primary to support Trump and said he would be willing to go on the campaign trail for Trump, if asked. Rubio also apologized to Trump for derogatory comments he made earlier in the campaign. Trump mathematically secured the Republican nomination, when an uncommitted slate of delegates in North Dakota committed to supporting him. Meanwhile, the Libertarian Party commenced its National Convention and nominated for president, on the second ballot, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee. Also on the second ballot, for vice president, the party nominated Johnson’s pre-selected running mate, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld, who had just left the Republican Party to become a Libertarian. Trump called Johnson a “fringe candidate.” Johnson was not the last such candidate introduced in late May. Seemingly ending his search for an alternative to Trump, Kristol tweeted that he had found an “impressive” independent candidate. Bloomberg reported the candidate was little-known writer David A. French of the National Review. On the final day of May, Trump held a press conference in which he revealed the veterans charities he donated to after raising $5.6 million during a fundraiser he held in January in lieu of attending a debate. Trump excoriated the national press for its coverage of his campaign and referred to one reporter as “sleaze.” With the June 7 California primary ahead, Clinton received the endorsement of California Governor Jerry Brown. The latest polls showed her with a two point advantage over Sanders in the state. In the Real Clear Politics average, she led Trump in the general election nationally by 1.5%.

Ex GOP congressman joins LP, seeks VP, then leaves

As soon as Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination, Libertarian Party (LP) membership applications doubled. Longtime Republican consultant Mary Matalin, former Massachusetts governor William Weld, and former Congressman Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan, were among those who left the GOP in May to find a new home in the LP. While Matalin enthusiastically backed Libertarian presidential runner-up Austin Petersen, and Weld won the party’s vice presidential nomination; Bentivolio, who had endorsed Dr. Ben Carson for president before joining the party, had a much different experience.

Congressman Bentivolio
Image: United States Congress.

“It was suggested by a few supporters I run [for vice president] as a libertarian,” says Bentivolio, a teacher and veteran of the Vietnam and Iraq wars, who earned the moniker “the accidental Congressman” after his surprising 2012 election, “I briefly entertained the idea of running and spent time investigating the party.”

Bentivolio, 64, unexpectedly won the Republican nomination to represent Michigan’s 11th Congressional District in 2012, after the sitting Congressman, Thaddeus McCotter, a 2012 presidential candidate, was unable to run for re-election after his petitions to qualify for the primary ballot were deemed fraudulent. Upon his victory in the general election, Bentivolio went to Washington, joining the House Committee on Small Business and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He took an active role in introducing and sponsoring successful legislation, becoming, according to an historian of the House, one of the most effective freshmen Congressmen of recent times. GovTrack listed him as the most transparent Republican freshman in the 113th United States Congress. Nevertheless, during his single term, he frequently bucked the party leadership, voting against a resolution to the 2013 government shutdown, calling for the impeachment of President Barack Obama, and agreeing to seek congressional hearings over chemtrails. In 2014, Bentivolio lost his seat to attorney Dave Trott, a primary opponent with a fundraising edge and the backing of the Republican establishment. After leaving Congress, Bentivolio suffered financial difficulties and had to file for bankruptcy in 2015, partly the result of his expensive primary campaign against Trott.

When Bentivolio joined the LP in May, he filed a Form 2 with the Federal Election Commission to run for vice president. Libertarian national chairman Nicholas Sarwark encouraged Bentivolio to run for his old congressional seat in addition to vice president. This was not well received by the local Libertarian Party, which feared such a run would violate Michigan’s sore-loser law; the same law that prevented Gary Johnson from appearing on the ballot in 2012. As a consequence, the local party nominated another candidate to run for the seat.

“The district delegates [five in total] voted for another as the House candidate”, recounts Bentivolio, “[the candidate’s] wife was the deciding vote.”

Afterwards, Bentivolio expressed doubt about the party platform, saying it amounted to “judicial supremacy,” which he rejects, referencing the 1857 Dred Scott case, which affirmed the rights of slaveholders. He added, “I am 100% pro-life and an abolitionist and many in the Libertarian Party are pro-choice and support slavery in their immigration policy.” He cited these as his reasons for ending his vice presidential campaign.

After Gary Johnson and William Weld won the party’s presidential and vice presidential nominations at the 2016 Libertarian National Convention, Bentivolio offered his perspective on Johnson and Weld. Though he considered Johnson, “a nice guy and honest,” he felt Johnson “thinks government has all the answers.” In contrast, Bentivolio said he personally believes “government is the problem” and only supports “a government within the strict limitations clearly expressed in the Constitution.” He described Weld, a Council on Foreign Relations member who proposed strict gun control measures as governor, as someone who “supports big government.”

Bentivolio has left the LP and now is an independent. He remains undecided on whether to support Donald Trump for president. To help him decide, he is currently researching claims of a woman named “Katie Johnson” who filed a lawsuit accusing Trump of rape. Trump’s attorneys dismiss the suit as a hoax.

DNC aims for unity with Platform Drafting Committee picks; controversy ensues

Every four years, the Democratic Party holds its National Convention, nominating a presidential ticket and conducting official business. One important item is the drafting of a party platform to express the party’s principles and vision for the future. A special committee is formed to draft the document. In May, fifteen individuals were named to the committee. Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz selected four of the members while the two presidential candidates picked the remaining eleven in proportion to the votes each candidate received in the primaries. Hillary Clinton, the party’s presidential front-runner, selected six. Bernie Sanders chose five, though the DNC rejected one of his original picks, a union leader, leading to charges of anti-union bias in the DNC. Still, upon the release of the names, The Nation magazine argued Sanders’ input provided the committee with a “progressive majority.” Wikinews was able to reach out to one of Sanders’ picks to see what he planned for the platform.

McKibben in 2008.
Image: Hotshot977.

For the committee, Wasserman Schultz tapped Congressman Elijah Cummings, who is to serve as the head; Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the only returning member from 2012; former Congressman Howard Berman; and Bonnie Schaefer, former Chief Executive Officer of Claire’s. Clinton selected Ambassador Wendy Sherman; Neera Tanden, head of the Center for American Progress; Ohio Representative Alicia Reece; Carol Browner, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Congressman Luis Gutiérrez; and union leader Paul Booth. Sanders picked Dr. Cornel West; Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the US Congress; James Zogby, head of the Arab American Institute; Deborah Parker, a Native American activist; and Bill McKibben, a renowned environmentalist.

Sanders speaks at a May 18 rally in Vallejo, California.
Image: Shelly Prevost.

McKibben, a Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College who co-founded the climate change awareness organization 350.org, tells Wikinews that his Vermont roots may explain why Sanders selected him for the committee. However, McKibben has worked with Sanders previously on climate and energy issues, and The Boston Globe has described him as “probably the nation’s leading environmentalist.”

“I’d like to see [the platform] reflect the fact that since the last election the planet’s climate has deteriorated dramatically, with record temperatures, melting ice, and dying coral”, says McKibben, “So that means we need to move more aggressively, both to cut our reliance on fossil fuels and to boost renewable energy.”

McKibben is not the only member who prioritizes environmental issues. Browner, who headed the EPA during the entire presidency of Bill Clinton, has worked under President Obama as the director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy. While the environment is given a strong emphasis, Sanders has raised the point that labor representation on the committee is lacking.

In 2012, union leaders Donna Harris-Aikens of the National Education Association and Thea Lee of the AFL-CIO were on the committee. This year, the only union leader is Booth of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Sanders attempted to include National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro, but Wasserman Schultz vetoed the pick. Sanders, in a press conference, accused the DNC of “not want[ing] representatives of labor unions on the platform drafting committee.” The DNC rejected the charge.

“We worked carefully with both campaigns to ensure overall balance and representation,” says DNC spokeswoman April Mellody, “[we] have 100% confidence that the views of our allies in the Labor community will be well represented in our Party’s platform as they have always been.”

Amid the division, McKibben expresses hope that though the platform is often “forgotten not long after it’s written,” perhaps the 2016 platform “will play a role in uniting the party.”

The committee is set to convene at the 2016 Democratic National Convention July 25–28 in Philadelphia.

DNC Platform Drafting Committee


Interview with overachieving West Virginia Democratic protest candidate

In the May 10 West Virginia Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton 51.4 percent to 35.8 percent. Of the remaining 13 percent, nearly nine went to little-known protest candidate Paul T. Farrell Jr., a Huntington, West Virginia attorney who entered the race to challenge President Obama’s energy policies. Wikinews reached out to Farrell to ask a few questions about the campaign.

Results by county for Paul T. Farrell Jr.

██  5%

██ 5–10%

██ 10–15%

██ 15–20%

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Image: MB298.

During the campaign, Farrell did not hold any fundraisers and his only spending was the $2,500 filing fee to appear on the ballot. He believes Obama’s policies, which Clinton supports, have hurt the coal industry, a major sector of West Virginia’s economy. Many West Virginians, even Democrats, share this view. While mining still makes up 17 percent of West Virginia’s gross domestic product (compared to 3 percent nationally), since 2009, coal production has declined around 45 percent in the south part of the state. 332 mines have closed and almost 10,000 jobs or 35 percent of those in the industry, have been lost. West Virginia’s unemployment is the worst in the nation. According to ABC News exit polls from the primary, only 26 percent of West Virginia Democrats want to continue Obama’s policies.

Although registered Democrats outnumber Republicans roughly 577,000 to 378,000 in West Virginia, Republican presidential candidates have won the state in every election since 2000. ABC exit polls indicate a third of Democrats plan to vote in November for Trump, who has campaigned in favor of the coal industry. Trump is popular in West Virginia, having won 77 percent in the state’s GOP primary. He holds a 27 point lead over Clinton in the latest Public Policy Polling head-to-head match up.

West Virginia Democrats have a history of going against the national party establishment. Notably, prison inmate Keith Russell Judd won 41 percent in the 2012 primary against Obama, who was seeking re-election. Judd was on the ballot again in 2016, but received only 1.8 percent of the vote. Judd’s 2012 performance was one of the reasons Farrell cited for entered the race. In addition, he told the Charleston Gazette–Mail back in January that the candidates running did not share “West Virginia values.” He had hoped to secure some national convention delegates but just fell short. He was able to come in second place in the coal-rich Mingo County, where he outpaced Clinton 23.7 percent to 21.4 percent.

With Wikinews, Farrell discusses, his specific problem with Obama’s energy policy, what he is looking for in a presidential candidate, and his views on Trump.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.png How were you able to get over 8% of the vote in the West Virginia Democratic Primary?

Farrell: The 2016 Democratic nominees for President of the United States support President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan executive order which we disparagingly refer to as the “war on coal.” West Virginia voters take exception to abruptly bankrupting our economy without a comprehensive plan to rebuild our infrastructure. The presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton, lost all 55 counties in West Virginia. Voters did not cast a ballot for me; they cast a ballot for the candidate with “WV” listed after his name in protest to Mrs. Clinton’s energy policy.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.png Do you plan on supporting the Democratic presidential nominee come November?

Farrell: No. I will support the candidate that adopts a platform that rebuilds our economy which President Obama dismantled and pledges to pass legislation during his/her first “100 days.”

Wikinews waves Left.pngWSSWikinews waves Right.png What are your thoughts on presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump?

Farrell: Mrs. Clinton made the campaign promise to put “coal miners and coal companies out of business.” Mr. Trump says he will fight for West Virginia. Even if Mr. Trump is full of shit, I choose to fight rather than surrender. Most of the southern coal fields of West Virginia stand with me.



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June 7, 2016

United States of America and India begin their bilateral dialogue in Washington

United States of America and India begin their bilateral dialogue in Washington

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is presently on his fourth visit to United States Of Amercia after assuming the Prime Ministerial Position in May 2014. Narendra Modi met Barack Obama on Tuesday at White House which also included a working lunch along with Vice President Joe Bidden. The two head’s of the state also hosted a joint press conference.

Prime Minister Modi and President Obama shake hands during a joint press interaction in 2015

Climate Change was the major focus area during the joint statement. Both nations expressed their commitment in reaching a



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May 30, 2016

Australian Opposition Leader pledges to save Great Barrier Reef

Australian Opposition Leader pledges to save Great Barrier Reef

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Monday, May 30, 2016

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Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten, speaking in Cairns yesterday has pledged an A$500 million fund towards research and programs to help protect Australia’s environmental icon The Great Barrier Reef.

File photo of The Great Barrier Reef.
Image: Jorge Láscar.

Recent surveys indicated coral bleaching has killed more than a third of coral in the Great Barrier Reef’s north and central regions. “All of this is at risk if serious action is not taken to protect it. The Great Barrier Reef is an environmental treasure Australia holds on trust for the world,” said Mr. Shorten.

The Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies performed the surveys. Bleaching is associated with higher-than-average water temperatures resulting from El Niño events, affected by climate change.

ARC said bleaching had affected all but seven percent of the reef. This bleaching event is the third of its kind with notable occurrences in 1998 and 2002. This event in particular has had the biggest impact on the reef so far.

Two weeks ago, James Cook University scientists said the government would have to commit A$10 billion over the next decade or the reef would be incurable in half that time.

$500 million has been promised towards the investment in research and protection of the reef by Mr Shorten over four years.



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May 19, 2016

Carbon dioxide levels in southern hemisphere exceed 400ppm for first time

Carbon dioxide levels in southern hemisphere exceed 400ppm for first time

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

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The 10th Annual Greenhouse Gas Index of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published on Wednesday May 18, 2016 has stated that during the past 25 years, as a result of human activity,the direct warming effect in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide has increased by 50 percent above pre-industrial levels.

This comes as measurements taken by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) together with Bureau of Meteorology of Australia has shown that for the first time the level of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere of the southern hemisphere has been recorded as rising above the 400 parts per million (ppm) indicator. The Cape Grim recording station located in Tasmania, Australia recorded the level exceeding 400ppm on May 10 with confirmation coming from Casey Station in Antarctica which recorded a level exceeding 400ppm on Saturday. Paul Krummel, Research Group Leader CSIRO, anticipates that these levels will not fall back below 400ppm for many decades.

The CSIRO noted that in the northern hemisphere carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere are already above 400ppm indicator. At present though the level falls back below the 400ppm level, particularly in Spring, due to the northern hemisphere’s large seasonal variations.

According to the CSIRO the concern with the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not that is has exceeded 400ppm but that it increases approximately 3ppm a year and could lead to an increase in global temperatures. World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said “This should serve as yet another wake-up call to governments about the need to take urgent action to make the cuts in CO2 emissions necessary to keep global temperature rises to well below 2 degrees celsius.”



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October 31, 2015

Exxon Mobil under fire for misleading the public about climate change

Exxon Mobil under fire for misleading the public about climate change

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Saturday, October 31, 2015

On Friday, a coalition of civil rights and environmental leaders sent a letter to the Department of Justice, urging an investigation into ExxonMobil

to uncover weather they have been deliberately obscuring information on climate change for years. Such action has recently received the endorsement of several democratic presidential candidates. 

Reports allege that in the 1990s under a new chairman and chief executive, Lee R. Raymond, Exxon engaged in a disinformation campaign by funding and supporting right leaning organisations that perpetuated information that was in contradiction to the scientific consensus on climate change. Such reports also allege that Exxon made a concerted effort to block American participation in an international climate treaty, The Kyoto Protocol.

Exxon has denied suppressing climate research and publicly acknowledged the need to address the problem. The organization stated that they “have remained committed to pursuing climate change research and have worked closely alongside other top scientists on the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since its inception in 1988 – a collaboration that continues to this day.”

The movement started gaining momentum last month when Inside Climate News and The Los Angeles Times that Exxon scientists knew decades ago as early as 1977 of the dangers posed by climate change, but nerveless actively sowed the seeds of doubt as to the nature of anthological climate change.

“Given the damage that has already occurred from climate change — particularly in the poorest communities of our nation and our planet — and that will certainly occur going forward, these revelations should be viewed with the utmost apprehension,” they wrote. “They are reminiscent — though potentially much greater in scale — than similar revelations about the tobacco industry.”

A spokesman for the Justice Department, Wyn Hornbuckle, said the department was reviewing the letter from the advocacy groups, but had no additional comment on it.

The idea of DOJ investigation is not without precedent. Indeed anti- racketeering laws successfully used to prosecute tobacco companies for misleading the public about the dangers of cigarettes, those pressuring the DOJ are intending to employ similar such strategies.



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October 8, 2015

UN drops proposal to assist climate refugees

UN drops proposal to assist climate refugees

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

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The creation of a body designed to assist with the relocation of people who’s homes are threatened by climate change has been removed from Monday’s update of a UN draft agreement in the lead up to the December climate conference negotiations.

A previous draft crafted by the UN included a “climate change displacement coordination facility” that would provide “organised migration and planned relocation”, with further provisions to provide compensation and emergency relief for people who’s homelands have been left uninhabitable as a result of climate change. However a reference to such a body has ben removed from a revised text released in the lead up to the Paris conference. Australia opposed the measure. Indeed a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said,

“Australia does not see the creation of the climate change displacement coordination facility as the most effective or efficient way to progress meaningful international action to address the impacts of climate change, Australia is already working closely with our Pacific partners on these important issues.”

the UN estimates that climate change will displace 250 million people worldwide by 2050. Many of Australia’s low lying pacific island neighbours are at significant risk. Nations such as Kiribati, The Solomon Islands and Tuvala, face dangers to their food security, water supply and eroding coast lines. Kiribati has already bought land in Fiji, primarily to be used for agricultural purposes to help assure the nations food security. President Anote Tong has also raised the idea of having to relocate the entire nations population if sea levels continue to rise.

In light of this advocates have argued that a new international framework needs to be created to safeguard the interests of climate refugees or alternatively propose sufficient amendments to the current refugee convention, which as it currently stands does not cover them because they are not fleeing persecution.

Indeed last month Loane Teitiota, a Kiribati man who has been living in New Zealand was deported back to his native country after a failed attempt to be seek refugee status on the grounds of climate change. Mr Teitota argued that returning to Kiribati constituted a serious risk to both his and his family’s health due to contaminated water supplies and rising sea levels. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key stated that he did not find Mr Teitiotas’ plea to be a “credible argument.”



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August 6, 2014

Australian–US team of scientists finds Atlantic warming causes Pacific climate trends

Australian–US team of scientists finds Atlantic warming causes Pacific climate trends

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

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A team of scientists from Australia and US has found a solution for a challenging problem in climate research. Climate models predicted more greenhouse gases would weaken the equatorial Pacific trade winds. However, over the past two decades, observations showed this Walker circulation was getting stronger, accelerating sea level rise in the western Pacific, and consequent changes in global climate. The researcher team reports, “The answer to the puzzle is that recent rapid Atlantic Ocean warming has affected climate in the Pacific”. Their study, “Recent Walker circulation strengthening and Pacific cooling amplified by Atlantic warming”, was published on Sunday in Nature Climate Change.

While previous research supposed natural variability alone accounted for cooling in the eastern Pacific, this study highlights a previously overlooked climate feedback: as the Atlantic warms, it alters the winds over the Pacific, depressing the ocean temperature there. As coauthor Shayne McGregor of the University of New South Wales explains, “the main cause of the Pacific wind, temperature, and sea level trends over the past 20 years lies in the Atlantic Ocean […] We saw that the rapid Atlantic surface warming observed since the early 1990s, induced partly by greenhouse gases, has generated unusually low sea level pressure over the tropical Atlantic. This, in turn, produces an upward motion of the overlying air parcels. These parcels move westward aloft and then sink again in the eastern equatorial Pacific, where their sinking creates a high pressure system. The resulting Atlantic–Pacific pressure difference strengthens the Pacific trade winds.”

Coauthor Malte Stuecker of the University of Hawaii Meteorology Department reports that “Our study documents that some of the largest tropical and subtropical climate trends of the past 20 years are all linked: Strengthening of the Pacific trade winds, acceleration of sea level rise [three times faster than the global average] in the western Pacific, eastern Pacific surface cooling, the global warming hiatus, and even the massive droughts in California”. His colleague cauthor Fei-Fei Jin adds, “We are just starting to grasp the scope of the impacts of this global atmospheric reorganization and of the out-of phase temperature trends in the Atlantic and Pacific regions”. Work earlier this year by coauthor Matthew England, University of New South Wales, showed the stronger winds have churned up the waters of the Western Pacific Ocean, so more heat flows from the winds into the water. This appears to explain why global surface temperatures have recently risen more slowly.

Coauthor Axel Timmermann of the University of Hawaii notes a further amplifying effect: “Stronger trade winds in the equatorial Pacific also increase the upwelling of cold waters to the surface. The resulting near-surface cooling in the eastern Pacific amplifies the Atlantic–Pacific pressure seesaw, thus further intensifying the trade winds […] It turns out that the current generation of climate models underestimates the extent of the Atlantic–Pacific coupling, which means that they cannot properly capture the observed eastern Pacific cooling, which has contributed significantly to the leveling off, or the hiatus, in global warming.” As Professor England said, “It will be difficult to predict when the Pacific cooling trend and its contribution to the global hiatus in surface temperatures will come to an end. […] However, a large El Niño event is one candidate that has the potential to drive the system back to a more synchronized Atlantic/Pacific warming situation.”



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July 28, 2014

Scientists analyse effects of global warming, atmospheric ozone on crops

Scientists analyse effects of global warming, atmospheric ozone on crops

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Monday, July 28, 2014

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A research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Colorado State University of the US and the University of Sheffield of the UK has analysed effects of global warming and ozone pollution over 2000–2050 on the worldwide production of wheat, rice, maize and soybean. The study was published in journal Nature Climate Change yesterday.

The scientists found reduction of crop yields by 2050 exceeded 10% of 2000 levels, substantially decreasing food security, in all cases examined. Several scenarios were considered because of uncertainty of future levels of ozone pollution. They estimated by 2050, increasing population and changing diet would increase world food needs by 50 percent. As coauthor Colette Heald told The Huffington Post, “The climate projections are quite consistent […] the future of ozone pollution is very different […] leading to either offsetting or reinforcing effects [of climate change] on crops”. By 2050, undernourishment would increase by either 49 percent or by 27 percent, depending on the scenario.

The study focuses on ozone–temperature covariation: ground-level ozone increases with temperatures. Heald said although temperature and ozone are separately known to impact crop yields, “nobody has looked at these together”. Depending on region and crops, the yields may be primarily sensitive to ozone —in the case of wheat— or heat —in the case of maize— alone, providing a local estimation of relative benefits of climate change adaptation versus ozone regulation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes, “Ground-level ozone causes more damage to plants than all other air pollutants combined”, highlighting the importance of air quality for agriculture. Results of NCLAN studies, published in a paper by AS Heagle in 1989, show dicot species, such as soybean, cotton, and peanut, lose more yield from ozone than do monocot species such as sorghum, field corn, and winter wheat. The researchers found that ozone pollution caused 46 percent of previously heat-attributed damage to soybean crops.

The model does not include the effect of rising carbon dioxide concentration, which has complex and potentially offsetting impacts on global food supply. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says some crops may have higher yields with increased levels of carbon dioxide. However, global warming also increases probability of extreme crops-damaging weather events such as floods, droughts, and extreme temperatures. Climate change affects distribution of weeds, pests, and diseases. Heald noted the findings show pollution reduction is also important. “An air-quality cleanup would improve crop yields […] Ozone is something that we understand the causes of, and the steps that need to be taken to improve air quality.”

As Heald told The Huffington Post, US surface ozone has dropped partly due to the Clean Air Act. “Despite an increase in vehicle miles driven and energy consumption, surface ozone has declined by 25 percent on average across the U.S. from 1980 to 2012 […] However, the future of ozone air quality in the U.S. and around the world will depend on local emissions, the use of pollution control technology, regulations, and air quality policy.”

The study was supported by the Croucher Foundation, US National Science Foundation, and US National Park Service.



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June 6, 2014

Queen\’s Speech sets out Coalition government\’s final year agenda

Queen’s Speech sets out Coalition government’s final year agenda

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Friday, June 6, 2014

File:Queen Elizabeth II delivering 2013 Queen’s Speech.jpg

Queen Elizabeth II, opening Parliament in a similar event last year.
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Queen Elizabeth II formally reopened Parliament on Wednesday and announced the legislative agenda of the UK government for the final year of the Coalition’s five year term. New measures introduced covered crime, the economy, energy and house building.

Business and economy

The next year of legislative changes would, the speech claimed, “deliver on [the government’s] long-term plan to build a stronger economy and a fairer society”. On economics, it promised the government would continue to lower taxes, produce an updated Charter for Budget Responsibility to “ensure that future governments spend taxpayers’ money responsibly”, and continue reduction of the deficit.

On employment law, the Queen’s Speech announced reduction in employment tribunal delays and plans to try and “improve the fairness of contracts for low paid workers” — a response to “zero-hours” contracts. The Institute of Directors support reforms to zero-hours contracts, specifically by removing “exclusivity” clauses. The speech also announced the introduction of a “collective pension” system similar to schemes in use in the Netherlands.

The government is also to increase penalties on companies that do not pay employees minimum wage, and reform National Insurance contributions by self-employed people. The government also plans to extend the ISA and Premium Bond savings schemes and abolish the 10% tax rate on savings. The speech also promised more house building, and also to introduce legislation to reduce the use of plastic bags.

Crime and law

The speech announced the government would seek to pass a new Serious Crime Bill “to tackle child neglect, disrupt serious organised crime and strengthen powers to seize the proceeds of crime”. Another bill will be introduced to deal with modern slavery and human trafficking and to support victims of these offences. The speech also said the government “will lead efforts to prevent sexual violence in conflict worldwide”.

The Serious Crime Bill would also include an increase in the sentence for those who bring about “cyberattacks which result in loss of life, serious illness or injury or serious damage to national security, or a significant risk thereof”. Under the Computer Misuse Act 1990, these are currently subject to a ten year prison sentence, but the punishment would now risk imprisonment for life. Punishment for cyberattacks that cause “a significant risk of severe economic or environmental damage or social disruption” would increase from the current ten year maximum tariff to fourteen years.

Jim Killock from the Open Rights Group said existing laws already allow effective prosecution of those engaging in cyberattacks.

The speech also announced legislation would be introduced “to provide that where a person acts heroically, responsibly or for the benefit of others, this will be taken into account by the courts”.

Constituents would be able to “recall” an MP who had been found guilty of misconduct under a proposed law that will be debated. The Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith described the current plans as “meaningless” and said voters had been “duped”. The Bill would force a by-election if 10% of voters signed a petition within eight weeks, but only if a Commons committee had decided the MP could be recalled. This latter requirement will make it “impossible to recall anyone” according to Goldsmith.

Business minister Michael Fallon defended the recall proposals: “we have to protect MPs from being recalled by people who just disagree with them[…] What you have to ensure is an MP can’t be hounded out just because people disagree with them back in their constituency.”

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he agreed with Goldsmith the bill was not perfect, and he wanted “a radical California-style recall” system, but he had settled for a “modest” bill to satisfy “Conservative Party resistance”. Goldsmith claimed Clegg had been “the architect of the current Recall Bill”.

Tim Aker, head of policy for the UK Independence Party, said: “The decision to only offer recall voting on a signed-off-by-Parliament-basis reflects a political class that does not know, does not trust and certainly does not represent its people.”

Fracking

Green MP Caroline Lucas spoke in opposition to the government’s fracking proposals.
Image: The Health Hotel.

The speech included measures to make it easier for businesses to engage in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of shale gas. The Institute of Directors said laws “must be updated if the UK is to enjoy the benefits of our shale potential”, specifically by scrapping laws on trespass to allow the gas extraction to occur. The British Chamber of Commerce also support such a reform: “While fracking may be unpalatable to some, it is absolutely essential, and business will support legislative measures to exploit Britain’s shale gas deposits”. Activists from Greenpeace fenced off Prime Minister David Cameron’s home in Oxfordshire with a sign reading “We apologise for any inconvenience while we frack under your home”, and delivered a £50 cheque — identified as the maximum compensation suggested for property owners.

Simon Clydedale from Greenpeace UK said of the fracking proposals: “The prime minister is about to auction off over half of Britain to the frackers, including national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty like the Cotswolds. Fracking won’t deliver energy on a meaningful scale for years, if ever, by which time we’ll need to have moved away from dirty fossil fuels and towards high-tech clean power if we’re to head off dangerous climate change.”

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP, spoke in opposition to the fracking proposals after the Queen’s Speech: “Not only does this bill defy public opinion, it denies people a voice. To allow fracking companies to drill under people’s homes and land without their permission is to ignore public interest in pursuit of the vested interests of a few.” A poll conducted by YouGov found 74% of respondents opposed the plans.

Reaction

Following the Queen’s Speech, politicians from all parties debated the direction of the government in the year ahead.

Prime Minister David Cameron said that the Queen’s Speech showcased “a packed programme of a busy and radical government”, whose “long-term economic plan is working but there is much, much more to do”, and it would “take the rest of this Parliament and the next to finish the task of turning our country around”.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “We would have a Queen’s Speech with legislation which would make work pay, reform our banks, freeze energy bills and build homes again in Britain. A Queen’s Speech which signals a new direction for Britain, not one which offers more of the same.”

Cameron described Miliband as having a “rag bag, pick-and-mix selection of statist Seventies ideas [… a] revival of Michael Foot‘s policies paid for by Len McCluskey‘s money” — a reference to controversies surrounding the substantial funding Labour gets from trade union Unite.

Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron said of the Queen’s Speech: “I suspect the pensions proposals will be around for a generation or more and will be remembered. It’s about making sure they are fairer, cheaper, more secure, more reliable and potentially better for people.”

Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd said: “This was an uninspired Queen’s Speech delivered by a government that has well and truly run out of steam.”

Angus Robertson, the leader of the Scottish National Party in Westminster, said the Queen’s Speech barely mentioned Scotland: “The absence of any mention at all of the Westminster parties’ plans for Scotland in the Queen’s Speech is extraordinary. […] In this – the year of the biggest opportunity in Scotland’s history – Scotland hardly even gets a nod at Westminster, and not a single mention of future plans for improving government in Scotland.”

The speech made brief mention of Scotland: “My government will continue to implement new financial powers for the Scottish Parliament and make the case for Scotland to remain a part of the United Kingdom.”



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December 31, 2012

Expected U.S. Senate special election taking shape in Massachusetts

Expected U.S. Senate special election taking shape in Massachusetts

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Monday, December 31, 2012

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With Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts’s nomination and likely approval as U.S. President Barack Obama’s choice to replace the retiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Kerry’s Senate seat is expected soon to be vacated, making necessary a special election to choose a new Senator. That potential race is now taking shape with two candidates having emerged as the frontrunners for their respective parties’ nominations: Republican Senator Scott Brown and Democratic Representative Ed Markey.

Republican Senator Scott Brown
Image: United States Congress.

Massachusetts law adopted in 2004 requires a vacated seat to be filled permanently through special election held 145 to 160 days following vacation. This law was passed purportedly to prevent then-Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, from naming a replacement for Kerry, who was at the time, the Democratic presidential nominee. No such election occurred until long-time Senator Ted Kennedy died in office, vacating his seat in 2009. At the time, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick named Democrat Paul G. Kirk as a temporary replacement. Kirk chose not to run for the seat, and instead the Democrats nominated Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who lost to Brown. Now, Patrick reportedly wishes to again name a temporary replacement who will not run in the special election. Candidates for this position include: Victoria Reggie Kennedy, the widow of Ted Kennedy; former governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis; and the retiring Congressman Barney Frank.

Amid the Senate’s consideration of the Affordable Health Care for America Act, Brown’s 2010 election broke the Democrats’ filibuster-proof super-majority in the chamber. As the first Massachusetts Republican elected since Edward Brooke in 1972, Brown gained a reputation in the Senate as a political moderate, stressing bipartisanship. However, in the most expensive Senate race in the nation’s history in 2012, he lost the seat to the liberal Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren, who tied him to conservative Senate Republicans. After the defeat, Republican Senators Dan Coats of Indiana, John McCain of Arizona, and Olympia Snowe of Maine each asked Brown to run for Senate again. He alluded to a potential return during his farewell address earlier in December, noting, “As I’ve said many times before, victory and defeat is temporary … Depending on what happens, and where we go, all of us, we may obviously meet again.” Though former Governor William Weld is also considered a potential Republican primary candidate, Brown leads him in opinion polls by a wide margin. Additionally, a December 17–18 poll conducted by WBUR shows Brown with a 58 percent favorability rate in his state and ahead of potential Democratic nominees Markey, former Congressman Marty Meehan, and Congressmen Mike Capuano and Stephen Lynch.

Democratic Representative Ed Markey
Image: United States Congress.

Patrick, Kennedy, Coakley, and Meehan have all denied interest in the seat as have other Democrats speculated to jump in including actor Ben Affleck and attorney Edward M. Kennedy, Jr., Ted Kennedy’s son. Though Lynch and Capuano have expressed interest in the seat, Markey is thus far the only announced candidate. In a statement to The Boston Globe, Markey affirmed “this fight is too important” not to run and “there is so much at stake” in the election. He added that an official announcement would come in January. Markey, who has served in Congress since 1976, previously ran for the Senate seat in 1984 but withdrew before the primary; Kerry went on to win the primary and seat that year. Markey intends to focus his campaign on global warming, gun control, protection of Social Security and Medicare, and government spending for jobs. He has secured endorsements from both Kerry and Victoria Kennedy, and with a war chest of $3.1 million from his congressional campaigns, has significantly more funds than any of his potential primary opponents. According to political scientist Peter Ubertaccio of Stonehill College, that may discourage prominent Democrats thinking about entering the race. Nevertheless, State Senator Benjamin Downing has announced he is exploring a potential bid.

Though Markey has more money than Brown’s $464,000 left from his 2012 campaign, Ubertaccio, in his analysis of the race, notes Brown has more recent campaign experience than Markey, who has not had a competitive campaign lately. Moreover, he finds Markey “very much a creature of Washington, which can be problematic in a tough statewide race.” He sees the rush to support Markey as unusual, and as a way to discourage Democratic challengers to Markey. Jon Keller of Boston’s CBS affiliate notes the rush was likely to allow Markey to begin attacks on Brown rather than Democrats, but he concludes the lack of choice for Democrats may give Brown an advantage as an outsider running against the insiders’ hand-picked successor.



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  • “Republican leads race to fill Ted Kennedy’s vacated US Senate seat” — Wikinews, January 15, 2010

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