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Mike Bloomberg has a plan to clean up electricity and it doesn’t need Congress

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natural gas power plant Like everything in stock art world, natural gas power plants are beautiful at sunset. | Shutterstock

Bloomberg would supercharge the EPA to get rid of coal and block new natural gas.

This piece was originally published on December 17 and has been lightly updated.

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg is a problematic presidential candidate for all sorts of reasons. Progressives are irritated that he is attempting to brute-force his way into the Democratic primary by spending more on ad campaigns than the rest of the primary field combined.

Then there’s his lamentable record on civil liberties and race relations. And the fact that he was a Republican as New York City mayor, he endorsed George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection, and he has given money to and hosted fundraisers for Republicans as recently as 2018.

When it comes to climate change, however, Bloomberg’s record is almost entirely positive. He was instrumental in standing up and funding the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, which has been one of the most ruthlessly effective activist campaigns of my lifetime. Recently, the Associated Press, in a “fact check,” rebutted the notion that Bloomberg is single-handedly responsible for all recent coal-plant closures — and it’s true, market forces helped, as did government policy. But everyone who has paid attention to the power sector knows that the kind of activist pressure he has supported frequently makes the difference at the margin.

More recently, Bloomberg pledged $500 million to an expanded Beyond Carbon campaign, which will shoot for a 100 percent clean-energy economy, taking on not only coal but also natural gas, the next key battle in US decarbonization.

This fact has not received enough attention — if Bloomberg brings the same discipline and credibility to the anti-natural gas fight that he brought to the anti-coal fight, it could help shift the national landscape.

Which brings us to the Bloomberg presidential campaign’s first policy proposal on climate change, released in December. (In January, he released a second plan to make buildings zero carbon by 2025.) The first plan is worth noting for just this reason: It explicitly targets natural gas.

The premise of Bloomberg’s campaign is that he is an experienced, level-headed executive, ready to run things with a steady hand. In keeping with that theme, his plan for clean electricity — which targets 80 percent greenhouse gas emission reductions in the power sector by 2028 “moving toward 100% as soon as possible thereafter” — focuses entirely on executive powers. It presumes no legislative help.

It contains only achievable promises, consistent with what can be done by a president, acting alone, within a president’s term. That is somewhat in contrast to the sweeping, speculative plans from the other candidates, and likely to make the plan unpopular among activists, but it is nonetheless a good perspective into what any Democratic president could do if Congress goes the wrong way.

Let’s take a look.

Bloomberg would supercharge the EPA to get rid of coal and block new natural gas

There are several pieces to the plan, including financial support for clean energy technologies, removing fossil fuel subsidies from the tax code, a moratorium on new fossil fuel leases on public land, restoring scientific integrity at the EPA, and putting frontline communities and environmental justice at the heart of federal planning. But the two pieces I want to focus on have to do with coal and natural gas.

Specifically, Bloomberg promises to shut down the remaining 251 US coal plants and replace them with clean energy. And he promises to “stop the rush to build all proposed gas plants.”

Coal plants will be shut down by “increasingly stringent emissions and pollution limits.” Elsewhere, he promises to restore and strengthen all the rules that Trump has been rolling back, so presumably those limits will include tightened regulations on mercury and air toxics, coal ash, SO2 and NOx, and other air and water pollutants.

But the centerpiece, according to campaign advisers, will be a version 2.0 of Obama’s Clean Power Plan (which Trump has also rolled back), targeting 80 percent power-sector carbon reductions by 2028, as well as sharp reductions in local pollutants like SO2 and NOx.

A new CPP that stringent, focused primarily on public health, would wipe out coal power plants. But it would also hit natural gas plants.

In addition, to head off the current incoming rush of new natural gas plants, Bloomberg’s EPA would issue a draft New Source Performance Standard (something else Obama did that Trump rolled back), which would require all new power plants to use the best available technology — namely, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) — to reduce GHG emissions (along with NOx, etc.).

That would, at a stroke, cancel 99 percent of those new natural gas plants. (Who knows, maybe a plant or two will figure out how to make CCS feasible.) And because of a quirk of the Clean Air Act, a draft New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) has the force of law as soon as it is issued, but it can’t be challenged in court until it is finalized, which is one reason industry loathes the NSPS provision. (Coal baron Robert Murray took this to the Supreme Court and lost.) Companies will have to begin aligning their future plans around the NSPS the moment a draft is issued.

There are also other tools in the executive toolbox with which to go after natural gas, including national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) for NOx, soot, and ozone, but it is mainly the combination of the CPP2.0 and the NSPS that would take out coal and natural gas.

This is a targeted approach, going after the polluters in the sector, putting public health out front. It lacks a certain inspiration factor, but it has the considerable virtue of being something that a president — at least a president willing to hire good people and invest political capital — has a high probability of being able to accomplish.

All executive actions will face court challenge

Of course any new rules from a Bloomberg EPA would immediately face legal challenge, many of them would end up in the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court shows every sign of being hostile to environmental and climate change rules. There is a decent chance a Roberts Court would kill some or all of any activist EPA’s efforts.

However, there are some countervailing considerations.

First, what the hell else is a president going to do? While Congress mucks around, or just as likely does nothing, a president has to act on the priorities that got him or her elected. Using the powers of the presidency entails court review. The rules can be thoughtful and legally solid, but there’s ultimately not much the president can do if federal or Supreme Court judges choose to act as a partisan enforcers. (There’s no word on whether Bloomberg would support more radical measures like packing the Supreme Court or the federal courts.)

Not a hopeful alliance for climate hawks.

Second, if there’s one thing to learn from Obama’s experience, it’s that deliberate, careful sequencing gets you nowhere. Obama didn’t pull the trigger on EPA carbon regulations until it was beyond clear that there would be no climate change legislation. Many carbon-related rules didn’t have time to go into effect or be upheld in court. In retrospect, Obama should have done what Trump has done: blitzed. Do everything at once. Overwhelm the capacity of opponents to focus.

For Bloomberg, that could mean a whole suite of new agency rules, all at once, alongside whatever may be going on legislatively. The Supreme Court simply doesn’t have the capacity to hear more than a fraction of the resulting lawsuits, and in federal courts, despite the hack judges McConnell is churning out, the legal defenders of Obama regulations have racked up a solid record. Campaign advisers also note that rules premised on public health have a longer and more robust record than carbon-focused rules.

Third, even as cases wind their way through the courts, companies will be realigning around the new targets. That’s what happened around Obama’s CPP, and although that rule ultimately never received a decisive court judgment, companies began shifting their business plans in response. Consequently, next year the US will reach the initial CPP goal — 32 percent power-sector carbon reductions from 2005 levels by 2030 — a decade early.

The same would happen in response to a CPP2.0 targeting 80 percent reductions by 2028, issued early in the next president’s term. By 2024, or whenever the case finally reached the Supreme Court, companies will have realigned around the new direction (which will be reinforced by renewed international climate efforts).

What to take away from Bloomberg’s plan

I don’t personally think much of the idea of Bloomberg as president and I don’t think he has much of a shot anyway — he failed to qualify for the next debates — but on climate policy, perhaps uniquely among policy issues (save gun control), it is worth listening to what he proposes. He is an unconventional face for an environmental campaign and has, for better or worse, brought attention and credibility to the fight against fossil fuels among audiences environmentalists can’t always reach.

Having followed politics for years, I am intensely skeptical of claims that executive experience is any special preparation for the presidency. (Both George W. Bush and Donald Trump promised to “run the government like a business,” so ...) But Bloomberg’s executive experience really does seem to have helped the Beyond Coal campaign. As its leaders were the first to say, Bloomberg helped focus the campaign relentlessly on data and accountability, imposing a discipline that is, ahem, not always present in the nonprofit advocacy world. And it paid off — almost 300 plants, more than half the US fleet, have shut down.

The Bloomberg plan promises “incentives for innovations in data and technology to monitor and analyze sources of pollution, enabling stronger enforcement against polluters.” This suggests he wants to bring that same data-focused accountability back to the EPA. If he, or any president, can do that successfully, it would make a huge difference.

Bloomberg has more climate policy on the way. The campaign has also pledged to target 50 percent economy-wide emission reductions by 2030, a more ambitious goal that will certainly require some help from Congress, especially in hard-to-reach sectors like industry and agriculture, but it hasn’t released any policy details on that stuff yet.

Still, a practical but ambitious plan to use the EPA — to prevent a rush to natural gas plants, to drive coal underground for good, and to accelerate a clean-energy transition in the power sector — should be on the agenda of any new Democratic president. And it should get underway on day one, whatever broader legislative efforts may unfold alongside it.

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Procedurally speaking: executive blitzes work. Unless the White House actively chooses to micromanage, every single one of the dozens of executive departments can move at full speed, simultaneously.
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The fiasco at Bill Barr’s Justice Department, explained

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Attorney General William Barr speaking from a podium. US Attorney General William Barr on December 18, 2019. | Bill Pugliano/Getty

The Roger Stone prosecutors’ withdrawal is only part of it.

Attorney General Bill Barr and his allies are centralizing control over the Justice Department and acting in increasingly blatant ways to protect President Donald Trump’s interests and allies.

This became evident in dramatic fashion Tuesday when the entire team prosecuting longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone withdrew from that case after Justice Department higher-ups made clear they planned to override their sentencing recommendation.

But the Stone controversy was just the latest in a series of recent moves by Barr to “take control of legal matters of personal interest to President Donald Trump,” as Carol Lee, Ken Dilanian, and Peter Alexander of NBC News reported.

Senior Justice Department officials also intervened to change the sentencing recommendation for another Trump ally, Michael Flynn, last month. Barr put in a close ally in the politically sensitive US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia job (in a procedurally unusual way). And Barr instituted new rules requiring his personal approval for any new investigations into presidential campaigns, staff, or foreign contributions — something that naturally would help the investigation-plagued Trump campaign.

All this has unfolded as Trump has separately taken revenge on witnesses in the impeachment inquiry: dismissing Alex and Yevgeny Vindman from the National Security Council staff and firing EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland. The president also pulled a Treasury Department nomination for the former US Attorney for DC, who had supervised Stone’s prosecution.

It’s not clear whether Barr is acting in response to explicit private instructions from Trump, but it’s largely irrelevant. Trump has made it unmistakably clear that these are the sorts of things he wants Barr to do — he tweeted before the change to Stone’s sentencing recommendation that it should be changed, and he praised Barr personally for doing so afterward.

It’s a grim situation at the Justice Department. In cases involving President Trump and his allies, it seems career prosecutors will no longer have their judgment respected; instead, Barr will be waiting in the wings to overrule them if he deems it necessary.

Barr’s moves center on the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia

The full story of what’s going on behind the scenes at the Justice Department remains murky, but many of the recent eyebrow-raising events have centered on the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

Many of the most important federal prosecutions involving top US government officials end up getting brought by the US Attorney for DC — because, well, that’s where the government is.

Since September 2017, that post had been filled by Jessie Liu, a veteran of the George W. Bush Justice Department who wasn’t particularly viewed as a “Trump person.” Liu’s office took over Roger Stone’s prosecution once special counsel Robert Mueller’s team wrapped up and pursued it vigorously, winning his conviction at trial. Her office also took over the sentencing process for Michael Flynn and Rick Gates, both of whom were charged in Mueller’s probe. There was no indication she was going easy on Trump allies.

Additionally, Liu’s office handled two other controversial cases that seem to have ended in embarrassing ways for the administration. Her prosecutors indicted former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig for false statements related to his work with Paul Manafort, but Craig was acquitted at trial. Her team also investigated former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a frequent Trump target, for alleged false statements related to a leak — but though leaks suggested McCabe would be indicted, no indictment materialized, for unclear reasons.

In December, President Trump announced his intention to nominate Liu to fill a Treasury Department post. This seemed to be an ordinary enough personnel change after Liu had spent over two years in the post — though she had to be confirmed by the Senate first.

Then, on January 7, the trouble began.

Michael Flynn’s sentencing appears to have been the first problem

It started with a new sentencing memo Liu’s office filed regarding Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser who pleaded guilty for lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Flynn had initially pleaded guilty to this charge in December 2017 and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team. Things seemed to be going according to plan as his December 2018 sentencing hearing approached; prosecutors wrote that a sentence that “does not impose a term of incarceration” would be appropriate for him.

Surprisingly, though, at that hearing, the judge in Flynn’s case, Emmet Sullivan, raked Flynn over the coals, saying he felt “disgust” and “disdain” for what Flynn did, and strongly suggested he might give Flynn some prison time. However, Sullivan offered Flynn the opportunity to delay his sentencing to get credit for further cooperation with the government, and Flynn jumped at the chance.

Yet instead of cooperating further, Flynn decided to dump his lawyers and hire a conservative firebrand, Sidney Powell. He also did not agree to give prosecutors the testimony they wanted in a case against one of his business associates, Bijan Rafiekian. Filings from Powell grew increasingly defiant, seeming to reject Flynn’s previous acceptance of responsibility for his false statements and imply that Flynn had been set up by the government. (Powell eventually filed a motion to have Flynn’s guilty plea withdrawn.)

The prosecutors in Flynn’s case were not at all happy with this turnabout, and as his new sentencing date approached, they let Judge Sullivan know in a January 7 filing.

“Given the serious nature of the defendant’s offense, his apparent failure to accept responsibility, his failure to complete his cooperation” in Rafiekian’s prosecution, “and the need to promote respect for the law and adequately deter such criminal conduct, the government recommends that the court sentence the defendant within the applicable Guidelines range of 0 to 6 months of incarceration,” prosecutors wrote.

That is: They had changed their recommendation, and now think Flynn may well deserve to be locked up. And Liu signed off.

Yet about three weeks later, as filings back and forth from the prosecution and defense continued, the government curiously shifted its position. Now, prosecutors stressed, they agreed with the defendant “that a sentence of probation is a reasonable sentence.”

According to NBC News, this change came about because “senior officials at the Justice Department” intervened. Liu, again, signed off.

That same day, she exited her job.

Liu was replaced — before she had been confirmed to her new post — with a Barr ally

Liu’s exit from the US Attorney’s job was odd. Yes, she had been nominated for something else in the Treasury Department, but she hadn’t yet been confirmed for it by the Senate. And her confirmation hearing was expected to take place in just a few weeks, so it was unclear why there needed to be such haste in removing her.

Indeed, the New York Times reports that Liu “initially told colleagues that she would stay on as U.S. attorney until the Senate confirmed her” — but that she and Barr “then agreed that she would leave early in the new year so that someone else could run the office if the confirmation process stretched on.”

And the identity of Liu’s replacement may help clarify things. The interim US Attorney for the District of Columbia would be Timothy Shea, one of Barr’s “closest advisers” (per the Associated Press). Shea had been serving as a counselor to Barr at the Justice Department.

Shea’s appointment can certainly be interpreted as an attempt by Barr to bring this US Attorney’s office and all the politically charged cases it handles under his control — or, at the very least, under the control of a trusted ally.

And the timing of the Flynn sentencing dust-up certainly raises questions of whether Shea was slotted in — and Liu was pushed out — very quickly in an attempt to prevent something similar from happening again.

Then something similar happened with Roger Stone

By this Monday, it was time for another high-profile sentencing recommendation from the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. This one involved Roger Stone, the longtime Trump adviser who was convicted last November on seven total counts of obstruction, false statements, and witness tampering.

The probation office had calculated that guidelines for a sentence for Stone’s crimes would be between 87 and 108 months (about seven to nine years). And prosecutors told the judge in Stone’s case that such a sentence would indeed be “appropriate.” The new interim US Attorney, Shea, signed on.

Trump flipped his lid. “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” he tweeted at 1:48 am on Tuesday.

And later in the morning, word leaked out to a Fox News reporter that indeed the Justice Department would not allow this recommended sentence.

Anonymous Justice Department officials have insisted to various reporters that they were not responding to Trump’s tweet in doing this, and that the decision to override the prosecutors was made before the tweet. This claim has been greeted with much skepticism.

As for why Shea allowed the sentencing recommendation in the first place, the New York Times reports that one official claims there was a “breakdown in management” and no clear approval was given by top officials.

Whatever happened, it’s extraordinarily unusual for federal prosecutors to walk back their sentencing recommendation the very next day. And once it became clear that’s what would happen, all four Stone prosecutors withdrew from the case in apparent protest. (One, Jonathan Kravis, quit the Justice Department entirely; the other three are remaining.)

After that, a new prosecutor on the case, John Crabb, submitted a filing to the court saying that the previous sentencing memo for Stone “does not accurately reflect the Department of Justice’s position on what would be a reasonable sentence in this matter.” Crabb wrote that the government believes “a sentence of incarceration far less than 87 to 108 months’ imprisonment would be reasonable under the circumstances” — but that they’ll defer to Judge Amy Berman Jackson on what exactly that would be.

The capper on this, for now, occurred Tuesday evening, when Axios’s Jonathan Swan reported that Trump would in fact withdraw Jessie Liu’s nomination to that Treasury post — a move that meant she would not testify before a Senate committee at a scheduled confirmation hearing later this week. Whether this is an effort to retaliate against the person who oversaw Stone’s prosecution or simply an attempt to avoid ugly testimony, it certainly makes Liu’s ahead-of-schedule replacement by Shea look even more questionable. (Liu resigned Wednesday night.)

Meanwhile, Barr ensured Trump can’t be investigated without his approval

That’s all the recent action (that we know of) from this single US Attorney’s office, but Barr has also made a much more wide-ranging change that could be of massive importance to President Trump.

NPR reported last Thursday that Barr has instituted a new Justice Department rule requiring his personal approval for the opening of any investigation of a presidential candidate, a campaign, campaign staff, or a potentially illegal foreign contribution.

Remember: Trump’s 2016 campaign was eventually plagued not just by the Russia counterintelligence investigation but also by an investigation into hush money for Stormy Daniels (Michael Cohen eventually pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance law with the payments). There have been various investigations of foreign money potentially making its way to the Trump campaign or allied groups (as well as some involving foreign money to Hillary Clinton’s campaign).

What Barr is ensuring with this new rule is that there will be no surprises from pesky independent-minded investigators. If it touches a presidential campaign, he will have to sign off on it.

How he will use that authority isn’t yet clear. But he and his allies at the top of the Justice Department have already shown a distinct willingness to intervene in procedurally unusual and inappropriate ways in cases of interest to President Trump.

So how bad are things?

Despite all the drama over the sentencing recommendations for Flynn and Stone, we should note that in both cases, the final decision on sentencing lies with a judge, not prosecutors. So, inappropriate though these moves may be, it’s not clear if they will actually change anything. (Trump does, of course, have the power to pardon both of them or commute their sentences.)

Beyond that, there are some complications to the narrative that the Justice Department is being entirely bent to serve President Trump’s interests.

For one, Rudy Giuliani’s close allies Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were arrested last October and indicted by prosecutors from the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) for campaign finance violations.

Parnas, Fruman, and two other defendants are awaiting trial, and prosecutors have said they expect to file a superseding indictment at some point with further charges. This continuing probe reportedly imperiled Giuliani as well. One would think that a Justice Department wholly responsive to Trump’s whims would not be investigating his lawyer.

But though this investigation is headed by SDNY, an office with a reputation for independence, there have been reports that Justice Department leaders in Washington later got involved as well. The current state of the investigation remains unclear.

Other politically controversial choices also await. Barr has appointed John Durham, the US Attorney in Connecticut, to head a freewheeling investigation into purported malfeasance from Trump-Russia investigators. The Justice Department is deciding whether to charge Trump ally Erik Prince with lying to Congress and violating US export laws. The Andrew McCabe investigation is still hanging out there without a clear resolution. News even broke recently that prosecutors were investigating James Comey in connection with years-old leaks.

In all these cases, is the Justice Department going to act like President Trump’s political attack machine (or defense mechanism)? Or is it going to respect the judgment of its prosecutors and weigh cases carefully before bringing charges? We’ll have to wait and see. But the signs from Barr of late have not been encouraging.

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Trump’s purge

Trump at a rally in New Hampshire on February 10. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump’s interference with Roger Stone’s sentencing shows the real lesson he took from impeachment: that he has impunity.

“If American democracy were to collapse,” Cornell political scientist Tom Pepinsky recently wrote, “you almost certainly wouldn’t notice it.”

The past week has been a testament to just how right he was.

While much of the country was preoccupied with the New Hampshire primary Tuesday night, something remarkable happened: Every single prosecutor working on Roger Stone’s case resigned in protest. The apparent reason: Attorney General Bill Barr’s intervention in the case on behalf of the president leading the government to file a new sentencing recommendation, one that contradicted the seven- to nine-year prison sentence request for Donald Trump’s political ally that prosecutors had initially asked for.

The four prosecutors who resigned — Aaron Zelinsky, Jonathan Kravis, Adam Jed, and Michael Marando — are career officials, not political appointees. They had worked diligently to prove that Stone had made false statements, obstructed justice, and tampered with witnesses in relation to the Russia scandal and Robert Mueller’s investigation, and secured a conviction in November. Now Trump and Barr are trying to get Stone off easy.

This kind of presidential interference with the Justice Department is hardly normal; one former Justice Department official called it a “break-glass-in-case-of-fire moment.” Yet President Trump is publicly reveling in this brazen attack on DOJ independence, tweeting “congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr” on Wednesday morning “for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought.”

This is not an isolated incident, but rather part of a new pattern of politicizing the federal bureaucracy. Since his acquittal in the impeachment trial last week, Trump and his staff have been on a personnel replacement tear — firing and threatening officials across the government they see as disloyal with almost no pretext. The examples that we’re currently aware of:

  • The White House removed Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified during the House Ukraine scandal hearings, from his post on the National Security Council. Trump called on the military to begin disciplinary hearings against Vindman and removed his brother from his NSC post.
  • Trump outright fired EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, another key impeachment witness.
  • Trump personally ordered that former US Attorney Jessie Liu’s nomination to be the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crime be withdrawn. In her last posting, Liu had supervised the prosecution of Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, and Paul Manafort.
  • A White House staffer told the New York Post that they’d be pulling the nomination of Elaine McCusker, a career Defense Department staffer who had challenged the administration’s block on aid to Ukraine, to be Pentagon comptroller. “This administration needs people who are committed to implementing the president’s agenda, specifically on foreign policy, and not trying to thwart it,” the staffer said. (McCusker’s nomination has yet to be formally withdrawn.)

Independently, any one of these actions would be troubling. Put together, the pattern is terrifying. Trump has emerged from the impeachment scandal with a belief in his impunity, and is currently attempting to bend the US government to his will — to punish officials who have allegedly crossed him and to protect his political allies who have broken the law.

During the impeachment trial, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) claimed after voting to acquit Trump that he had “learned his lesson.” It was risible then — and grotesque now. Trump has emerged from acquittal newly emboldened to pursue his own interests and vendettas, with a Republican Party fully willing to look away.

It’s been one week since his acquittal. Can our democracy withstand what’s to come?

The real illness of American democracy

One of the central pillars of democratic government is that the law remain as independent as possible from the political interests of those in power. What unites Trump’s actions of this past week is that they each represent an assault on this general principle.

If the president and his allies are above the law, attempts to punish their crimes undermined at the highest level, then he can engage in whatever lawbreaking he wants with impunity. If the staff of the government need to be loyal to this leader, or else risk job loss or even (in Lt. Col. Vindman’s case) threats of prosecution, then the state becomes a vehicle for advancing the president’s crass political interests rather than the good of the people.

This all may sound alarmist. And it’s true that democracy didn’t die in the past week. But this “everything is fine” objection misses the point in two ways.

First, Trump’s actions create a chilling effect. Federal prosecutors are now on notice that the attorney general is willing to interfere with their cases if they implicate the president’s friends, and thus they will be less inclined to risk it. Civil servants have been warned that speaking up against presidential lawbreaking or abuse of power will cost them their jobs.

If Trump suffers no consequences for this behavior — and the Republican-dominated Senate just showed why he almost certainly will not — then this will likely materially affect our ability to stop future Trumpian abuses. Trump’s cronies will feel freer to break the law, and nonpartisan civil servants less likely to blow the whistle when they do.

Second, democratic degradation doesn’t tend to happen all at once, these days.

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Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr at the White House.

At this point, we’ve all gotten inured to this kind of authoritarian overreach by the president. We know who Trump is, we know what he’s going to do, and we’ve priced it into our understanding of what life in America today is like. It seems fanciful to imagine huge demonstrations in the streets in the way that, say, the 2017 Muslim ban galvanized thousands of Americans to storm the country’s airports shortly after Trump’s inauguration.

But this fatigue — the paradox that when everything is outrageous, nothing is — is exactly the mechanism that authoritarian attacks on democracy rely on. The slowness, the passage of time, dulls the public’s outrage. The authoritarian gets away with another abuse of power. This is how democracy has been dismantled in countries like Hungary and Venezuela.

“We would not look to the passage of a law, or necessarily even the outcome of an election, to determine if democracy had collapsed,” as Pepinsky puts it.

If a rogue president were to lay waste to the rule of law, Americans would like to think they’d be out in the streets to protest against it. And yet that is exactly what Trump has been doing these past few days — and it feels like a regular week. It wasn’t labeled the week when democracy died because there won’t be a week when democracy died. It just doesn’t work that way.

And that should make the stakes of the 2020 election clear: whether we as a nation are going to allow this anti-democratic rot to spread, or whether we put a stop to it with the democratic means at our disposal.

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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - Kid Time

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Click here to go see the bonus panel!

This is the closest to autiobiography I will ever get

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On Vision Zero, DC can learn from Oslo and Helsinki

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A version of this article was first published on the WashCycle.

In 2019, Oslo and Helsinki each had zero pedestrian and bicyclist deaths, while DC had 14. The three cities are roughly the same size in terms of population—so what accounts for the difference?

For one thing, Oslo had a head start. In 1975, the Norwegian capital had 41 traffic deaths, while DC had 74. By 2010, Olso got down to one fatality, while DC had 27.

Curbed’s Alissa Walker reports on the steps Oslo has taken to tackle Vision Zero:

Over the last five years, the city has taken dramatic steps to reduce vehicular traffic in its downtown, including replacing nearly all on-street parking with bike lanes and sidewalks. Major streets have been closed to cars, and congestion pricing raised the fee to drive into the city center, with the goal of making most of downtown car-free by 2019.

Oslo has not only reduced the number of places where it is possible to drive, the city has also lowered the speed limit, which significantly contributes to a reduction in deaths, said Christoffer Solstad Steen of Trygg Trafikk, a national road safety organization, in an interview with Aftenposten.

One effort cited by Steen that may have contributed to the drop in child deaths are the new “heart zones” drawn around Oslo’s schools, where officials are making physical changes to streets to protect students walking and biking to school, including closing streets to cars during school hours.

So there’s nothing magical about it. Having fewer drivers, going slower while creating more space for cyclists and pedestrians is what it takes. I don’t think anyone is surprised by that. Which leads one to ask? If we already know how to get to zero deaths, why haven’t we done it?

But there is hope for DC still, based on Oslo’s example.

“Progress was also uneven for Oslo in the early years after setting its own Vision Zero goal,” Curbed reports. “But it’s Oslo’s car-free zones that have made the difference, Steen told Aftenposten, because overall roadway deaths haven’t reduced across Norway in recent years the way Oslo’s have plummeted.”

Similarly, Helsinki’s path to zero pedestrian and cyclist deaths in 2019 relied on reducing speed limits, increasing traffic control, and developing rescue services.

As SmartCitiesWorld reports:

Helsinki decided to lower speed limits in 2018, and the new limits took force last year. Currently, the speed limit on streets in residential areas and the city centre is primarily 30 km/h. The speed limit on main streets is 50 km/h in suburban areas and 40 km/h in the inner city.

The City will start installing 70 new traffic control cameras and making alterations aimed at improving the safety of pedestrian crossings in the most dangerous locations this year.

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Trump Cuts Scheduled Federal Pay Raise, Citing “Serious Economic Conditions” in the Country

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President Donald Trump smiles while standing under an umbrella on the South Lawn.

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Nothing gets Trump concerned about debt or the economy like stiffing workers
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Is the economy strong? Only when not giving out raises... Said every dick head boss ever.
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