Judge tosses Trump documents case, ruling prosecutor was unlawfully appointed

Reuters

Judge tosses Trump documents case, ruling prosecutor was unlawfully appointed

Andrew Goudsward and Sarah N. Lynch – July 15, 2024

Former U.S. President Donald Trump and Special Counsel Jack Smith

(Reuters) -A U.S. judge in Florida on Monday dismissed the criminal case accusing Donald Trump of illegally keeping classified documents after leaving office, handing the Republican former president another major legal victory as he seeks a return to the White House.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who was appointed to the bench by Trump, ruled that Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the prosecution, was unlawfully appointed to his role and did not have the authority to bring the case.

The judge found that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who named Smith in 2022 to oversee investigations involving Trump, did not have the authority “to appoint a federal officer with the kind of prosecutorial power wielded by Special Counsel Smith.”

Cannon also found that Smith’s investigation has been improperly funded through a permanent and unlimited fund Congress set aside in the 1980s for independent investigations.

It marked another blockbuster legal triumph for Trump.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on July 1 that Trump cannot be prosecuted for actions that were within his constitutional powers as president – a landmark decision recognizing for the first time any form of presidential immunity from prosecution. That ruling involved charges pursued by Smith in a separate case against Trump in Washington involving his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Cannon’s ruling came two days after Trump was the target of an assassination attempt at a campaign rally in western Pennsylvania. Trump is set to be formally named the Republican presidential nominee in Milwaukee this week, challenging Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 U.S. election.

Prosecutors are likely to appeal Cannon’s ruling. Courts in other cases have repeatedly upheld the ability of the U.S. Justice Department to appoint special counsels to handle certain politically sensitive investigations.

Trump, in a social media post, said Cannon’s ruling should be a “just the first step” and called for the dismissal of all four criminal cases against him.

“Let us come together to END all Weaponization of our Justice System,” Trump wrote.

Trump was convicted in May on New York state felony charges involving hush money paid to a porn star to avert a sex scandal before the 2016 election. Trump had pleaded not guilty in the documents case and in Smith’s other case, as well as to election-related charges in state court in Georgia.

A spokesperson for Smith did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the documents case, Trump was indicted on charges that he willfully retained sensitive national security documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida after leaving office in 2021 and obstructed government efforts to retrieve the material. Prosecutors have said the documents related to U.S. military and intelligence matters, including details about the American nuclear program.

Two others, Trump personal aide Walt Nauta and Mar-a-Lago property manager Carlos De Olivera, were also charged with obstructing the investigation.

‘BREATHTAKINGLY MISGUIDED’

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said in a statement: “This breathtakingly misguided ruling flies in the face of long-accepted practice and repetitive judicial precedence. It is wrong on the law and must be appealed immediately. This is further evidence that Judge Cannon cannot handle this case impartially and must be reassigned.”

At the very least, Cannon’s ruling throws the future of the case into doubt. Trump’s lawyers have not made a similar challenge to the special counsel in Smith’s election-related case.

Trump’s lawyers challenged the legal authority for Garland’s 2022 decision to appoint Smith to lead investigations into Trump. They argued that the appointment violated the U.S. Constitution because Smith’s office was not created by Congress and the special counsel was not confirmed by the Senate.

Lawyers in Smith’s office disputed Trump’s claims, arguing that there was a well-settled practice of using special counsels to manage politically sensitive investigations.

“This ruling flies in the face of about 20 years of institutional precedent, conflicts with rulings issued in both the Mueller investigation and in D.C. with respect to Jack Smith himself,” said Bradley Moss, an attorney who specializes in national security, referring to an investigation conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller during Trump’s presidency.

Moss also said the ruling raises the question of whether Smith will seek to have Cannon removed from the case.

Cannon’s ruling is the most consequential in a series of decisions she has made favoring Trump and expressing skepticism about the conduct of prosecutors. The judge previously delayed a trial indefinitely while considering a flurry of Trump legal challenges.

In an unusual move, she allowed three outside lawyers, including two who sided with Trump, to argue during a court hearing focused on Trump’s challenge to Smith’s appointment.

Conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas provided a boost to Trump’s challenge to the special counsel. In an opinion agreeing with the court’s decision to grant Trump broad immunity, Thomas questioned whether Smith’s appointment was lawful, using similar arguments to those made by Trump’s lawyers.

Garland appointed Smith, a public corruption and international war crimes prosecutor, to give investigations into Trump a degree of independence from the Justice Department under Biden’s administration.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone, Daniel Wallis and Will Dunham)

The Republican Party platform has an audience of one

MSNBC – Opinion

The Republican Party platform has an audience of one

By Michael Steele, co-host of “The Weekend” – July 12, 2024

The 16-page document reflects the obsessions and quirks of Donald Trump, not the Grand Old Party.

‘Project 2025 has Trump’s revolting DNA all over it’: Why Dems’ infighting over Biden must end

In a matter of days, former President Donald Trump’s anti-democracy agenda will most likely be met with thunderous applause as he officially accepts the Republican nomination for president at the party’s national convention. 

The picture of a lawless America mired in poverty and perversion that Trump will paint isn’t backed up by reality, but it is set to be backed up by the official Republican Party platform.

On Monday, the Republican platform committee advanced a draft of the so-called principles that will guide the Republican Party for the next four years. But this platform isn’t a road map to prosperity for the American people. It doesn’t offer a framework for unity in a fractured country.

Instead, it is a manifesto for one man: Trump.

The 16-page document is written to appeal to Trump’s sensibilities — emotionally, rhetorically and even grammatically (the erratic capitalization reads like one of his unhinged social media rants).

The 16-page document is written to appeal to his sensibilities — emotionally, rhetorically and even grammatically (the erratic capitalization reads like one of his unhinged social media rants).

And because it’s tailor-made for the convicted figurehead of this once-great party, it’s riddled with lies and belligerence designed to divide us further.

Some tenets reflect the heartlessness Trump has ushered in.

For instance, the platform promises to “CARRY OUT THE LARGEST DEPORTATION OPERATION IN AMERICAN HISTORY” — a policy that Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts also backed in his recent interview with “The Weekend” about Project 2025.

Let’s put the logistics of deporting millions of people — many of whom have built lives and started families in this country — and kneecapping the economy aside for a moment. Let’s focus instead on the morality of breaking those families up, of devaluing human lives to the point of boasting about it.

The position flies in the face of President Ronald Reagan’s more measured stance.

After noting that “our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands,” Reagan said:

“Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force. Those who have established equities in the United States should be recognized and accorded legal status. At the same time, in so doing, we must not encourage illegal immigration.”

Reagan later signed substantial immigration reform into law with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. That bill banned the hiring of undocumented immigrants while still ensuring a pathway to lawful permanent residence and eventual citizenship for some 2.7 million undocumented immigrants who entered the country before 1982.

That’s a far cry from today’s Republican Party, which paints an apocalyptic picture of a so-called invasion at the southern border while tanking solutions to the issue at Trump’s direction.

The platform is also riddled with contradictions.

The platform is also riddled with these kinds of contradictions. 

The document highlights the importance of free speech multiple times throughout its pages, pledging to “ban the Federal Government from colluding with anyone to censor Lawful Speech.” In the same document, it vows “to keep foreign Christian-hating Communists, Marxists, and Socialists out of America.” 

Exactly how do you do that? I fervently disagree with communism, Marxism and socialism, but like the views that animate this MAGA platform, they aren’t unlawful, and, as long as their expression doesn’t put people in physical danger, I believe that even views I disagree with shouldn’t be regulated by the government. 0 seconds of 9 minutes, 11 secondsVolume 90% 

Trump’s fatal weakness suddenly exposed

If the government can begin sanctioning everyday people for their political views alone, it sets a dangerous precedent. The platform acknowledges this with the pledge to “hold accountable those who have misused the power of Government to unjustly prosecute their Political Opponents.”

Then, there’s a tapestry of issues that the Republican Party under Trump has proven ineffective at addressing.

“Republicans will reassert greater Federal Control over Washington, DC to restore Law and Order in our Capital City, and ensure Federal Buildings and Monuments are well-maintained.”

The irony is palpable. On Jan. 6, 2021, a mob of pro-Trump extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol, where they shattered windows, ransacked offices and trashed the emblem of American democracy. Federal authorities estimate that Trump’s foot soldiers wreaked $2.73 million in damage.

Now, Republicans claiming to support law and order have largely backed Trump’s promise to pardon the rioters who desecrated a building paid for by U.S. taxpayers while also threatening to undermine the self-governance of our capital city. 

Then there’s the platform’s vow to “END INFLATION,” a problem already under control.

Just this Thursday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that year-over-year inflation rose only 3% last month — a sharper decrease than expected, continuing a steady reduction from a peak of 9% two years prior.

Or maybe Trump means the inflation that he will kick off with his other campaign pledges, as economists have warned that the drastic increases in tariffs he has endorsed would decimate that progress and worsen inflation.

The current Republican platform is incoherent, hate-filled and ham-fisted, but that should come as no surprise. It was made in the image of the man who will accept the party’s nomination in just a few days.

A famous speech in “Macbeth” compares life to “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing,” as the Scottish king’s empire implodes.

The platform of this once-great party has “sound and fury” in spades and is being told by no shortage of idiots, but unfortunately, it doesn’t signify “nothing.” It signifies what will guide the MAGA party if it is given the chance to write laws that govern your life.

Vote accordingly.

For more thought-provoking insights from Michael Steele, Alicia Menendez and Symone Sanders-Townsend, watch “The Weekend” every Saturday and Sunday at 8 a.m. ET on MSNBC.

Michael Steele is a co-host of “The Weekend,” which airs Saturdays and Sundays at 8 a.m. ET on MSNBC. He is a former lieutenant governor of Maryland and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. 

Resilience in the Face of the Onslaught

By Charles M. Blow – July 11, 2024

A blurry photo shows President Biden speaking at a podium in front of the American flag.
Credit…Jamie Kelter Davis for The New York Times

Joe Biden is still standing, refusing to bow out — he reiterated that once again in a lengthy and mostly successful news conference on Thursday night. Some may view it as selfish and irresponsible. Some may even see it as dangerous. But I see it as remarkable.

Despite sending a clear message — in his recent flurry of interviews and rallies, in his stalwart address this week to members of the NATO alliance and in his letter on Monday to congressional Democrats, in which he assured them that “I wouldn’t be running again if I did not absolutely believe I was the best person to beat Donald Trump in 2024” — there’s still a slow drumbeat from luminaries, donors and elected officials trying to write Biden’s political obituary.

The talent agency mogul Ari Emanuel (a brother of Rahm Emanuel, Biden’s ambassador to Japan), recently said Biden “is not the candidate anymore.” In a post on X, the best-selling author Stephen King said that it’s time for Biden “to announce he will not run for re-election.” Abigail Disney, an heiress to the Walt Disney fortune, said, “I intend to stop any contributions to the party unless and until they replace Biden at the top of the ticket.”

They seem to believe that they can kill his candidacy, by a thousand cuts or by starving it to death.

But none of this sits well with me.

First, because Biden is, in fact, his party’s presumptive nominee. He won the primaries. He has the delegates. He got there via an open, organized and democratic process.

Forcing him out, against his will, seems to me an invalidation of that process. And the apparent justification for this, that polls, which are highly fluctuant, now indicate that some voters want him replaced, is insufficient; responses to polls are not votes.

Yes, two weeks ago, Biden had a bad debate, and may well be diminished. Yes, there’s a chance he could lose this election. That chance exists for any candidate. But allowing elites to muscle him out of the race would be playing a dangerous game that is not without its own very real risk. It won’t guarantee victory and may produce chaos. The logic that says you have to dump Biden in order to defeat Trump is at best a gamble, the product of panicked people in well-furnished parlors.

Furthermore, no one has really made the case that whatever decline Biden may be experiencing has significantly impacted his policy decision-making or eroded America’s standing in the world. The arguments center on the visual evidence of somewhat worrisome comportment but mostly speculation about cognition.

That is just not enough.

I am not a Biden acolyte. I’ve never met the man. And I’m not arguing against the sense among those who have seen him up close and express worry. I’m not pro-Biden as much as I am pro-stay the course.

Like Biden’s Democratic doubters, I want above all to prevent Trump from being re-elected and to ensure the preservation of democracy. It’s just that I believe allowing Biden to remain at the top of the Democratic ticket is the best way to achieve that.

And since that’s the goal, perhaps the best argument in Biden’s favor is that his mettle has been revealed by the onslaught of criticism he has endured since the debate, much of it from other liberals.

Biden’s support hasn’t cratered, as one might have expected. Which suggests that the idea that Biden can’t win — or that another Democrat would have an easier run — is speculative at best.

Indeed, when I saw one headline that read, “Poll finds Biden damaged by debate; with Harris and Clinton best positioned to win,” I thought: Hillary Clinton? Now we’re truly in fantasy baseball territory.

And in the national poll on which that article was premised, Biden trailed Trump by just one percentage point while Vice President Kamala Harris led Trump by just one percentage point; in both cases, well within the margin of error.

A new Washington Post-ABC News-Ipsos poll found that Biden and Trump are tied nationally.

As for hypothetical candidates like Harris — who I do believe would acquit herself well at the top of the ticket — that same poll shows her performing slightly better against Trump than Biden does. But that is in the abstract, before the chaos of a candidate change, and before she received the full-frontal assault that being the actual nominee would surely bring. And in an era of opposition to “wokeness” and the values of diversity, equity and inclusion, that frontal assault, directed at the first Black, Asian American and female vice president, would be savage.

The potential drag on down-ballot races is a legitimate concern for some Democrats, but it appears to be the panic of some down-ballot candidates that has exacerbated the problem, as more than a dozen House Democrats and one Senate Democrat have called for Biden to leave the race.

There’s no guarantee that swapping out candidates would leave Democrats in a better position, but I believe the case is building that the continued dithering among Democrats about Biden’s candidacy is doing further damage to their chances.

Biden’s candidacy may not survive. But forcing him out of it may hurt Democrats more than it helps them, even with voters who say they want a different choice.

More on President Biden:

David French: Biden Has an Inner Circle Problem. He’s Not the Only One. – July 11, 2024

Ezra Klein: Democrats Are Drifting Toward the Worst of All Possible Worlds – July 11, 2024

Charles M. Blow is an Opinion columnist for The New York Times, writing about national politics, public opinion and social justice, with a focus on racial equality and L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

What Does the G.O.P. Have Against America?

By Paul Krugman – July 11, 2024

A lectern and a teleprompter at an outdoor rally for Donald Trump. In the middle ground is a crowd of people and in the background are palm trees.
Credit…Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

While Democrats tear themselves apart over President Biden’s disastrous debate performance and his refusal to consider stepping aside, the Republican National Committee, without much fanfare, has released its 2024 platform.

Compared with previous platforms, it dials back references to abortion — downplaying what is, for Republicans, a losing issue. That choice goes along with Donald Trump’s recent attempt to distance himself from the extremist Project 2025 — even though that blueprint was concocted by some of his close political allies. Here, Trump is clearly employing sleight of hand in an effort not to be seen as autocratically inclined. But at this point, if you believe that, I have a degree from Trump University I’d like to sell you.

In any case, there’s nothing moderate about a platform whose first plank reads, “SEAL THE BORDER, AND STOP THE MIGRANT INVASION” and whose second item calls for “THE LARGEST DEPORTATION OPERATION IN AMERICAN HISTORY.” (Yes, the list is in all caps, just in case you need help imagining Trump shouting it to you from a Mar-a-Lago ballroom.)

I’ll have a lot more to say about Republican policy ideas in the weeks ahead. For today, however, I want to focus not on what the platform proposes but what it says about the G.O.P. image of America today — a dystopian vision that bears hardly any resemblance to the vibrant country I know, a nation that has coped remarkably well with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Republicans may try to brand themselves as patriots, but they truly appear to despise the nation they live in.

Start with item No. 10, which begins with the promise to “STOP THE MIGRANT CRIME EPIDEMIC” — presumably one of the justifications for mass deportations. Any attempt to carry out such deportations would be a humanitarian, social and economic nightmare. But leaving that aside, the whole premise is false. There is no epidemic of migrant crime in America.

Yes, some Americans have been the victims of terrible crimes, and some of the perpetrators have been migrants. But violent crime in America, homicides in particular, which surged during the last year of the Trump administration — a year of low immigration — has plunged over the past two years.

And Americans have been signaling by their behavior, literally voting with their feet, that our big cities feel fairly safe. Downtown foot traffic on nights and weekends — that is, traffic that mainly reflects people going out for shopping and entertainment rather than for work — is close to or above prepandemic levels in many major cities.

Far from facing a crime “epidemic,” America has been highly successful in recovering from the Trump crime wave.

The G.O.P. platform also pledges to “MAKE AMERICA THE DOMINANT ENERGY PRODUCER IN THE WORLD.” The subtext here is the pervasive belief on the right that woke environmentalists have undermined the U.S. energy sector.

Given how often one hears this asserted, it’s a bit shocking to look at the data and learn that America produced more energy in 2023 than ever before. In fact, we’ve become a major energy exporter, for example selling Europe vast quantities of liquefied natural gas that helped it reduce dependence on Russian supplies after Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine.

The area in which we’re really lagging China is renewable energy, which the Biden-Harris administration is promoting — and Republicans hate.

Further, the platform promises to “END INFLATION, AND MAKE AMERICA AFFORDABLE AGAIN.” In reality, inflation is already way down — from 9 percent at its peak to just 3 percent as measured by the Consumer Price Index, and is probably down to 2.4 percent according to an alternative price index preferred by the Federal Reserve. Gasoline and groceries are just as affordable, as measured by their prices compared with the average hourly earnings of nonmanagerial workers, as they were in 2019.

So what are Republicans talking about? Are they promising to roll back the price increases that took place almost everywhere as the world economy recovered from the pandemic? We haven’t seen deflation on that scale since the Great Depression — not exactly an experience we want to repeat.

Why does the Republican vision of America, as revealed in the party’s platform, bear so little resemblance to reality? A large part of it, I believe, is that the party instinctively favors harsh, punitive policies — which obliges it to believe that failure to pursue such policies must lead to disaster, even when it doesn’t. Democrats haven’t been deporting millions or toying with the idea of shooting protesters, therefore, the logic seems to go, we must be experiencing a crime epidemic. Democrats care about the environment, therefore they must be hampering energy production. Democrats want to expand health care coverage and alleviate poverty, therefore they must be feeding runaway inflation.

For a little while, reality seemed to cooperate with some of these grim visions, mainly because of spillovers from the pandemic and its aftermath. We did have a spike in homicides, although it mostly happened on Trump’s watch. We did have a burst of inflation, but it’s behind us.

Bottom line, there’s no reason at all to believe that Republicans have moderated their extremist agenda. Energy independence — which we have already achieved! — won’t be on the ballot this year. Health care, abortion and, probably, birth control will.

Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a distinguished professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography.

Rising Frustration in Houston After Millions Lost Power in Storm

With outages expected to last days, a top state official promised to look into whether the utility company could have done more to prepare for Hurricane Beryl.

By J. David Goodman and Ivan Penn July 10, 2024 

Reporting from Houston and Los Angeles.

Toppled power poles block part of a street, as cars approach.
Fallen power lines littered the roads in Galveston after Hurricane Beryl hit the Texas coast on Monday.Credit…Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

The sun felt hotter than usual in Houston this week, as millions of sweltering residents emerged from the rapid thrashing of Hurricane Beryl to face a prolonged power outage — the largest ever seen by the city’s utility, according to the state’s lieutenant governor.

The outages from the storm affected as many as 2.7 million customers across the state, mostly in and around Houston. Despite a promise by the utility, CenterPoint Energy, to restore power to one million customers by the end of the day on Wednesday, large swaths of the nation’s fourth-biggest city remained without power.

The scale of the outages raised questions about whether enough had been done to prepare the city, just 50 miles from the Gulf Coast, for the kinds of storms that climate scientists predict will arrive with greater frequency.

“For a Category 1 hurricane to result in over a million customer outages in its immediate aftermath demonstrates that there is plenty of need for the resiliency hardening investments,” said Wei Du, an energy expert with PA Consulting and a former senior analyst and engineer for Con Edison.

Beryl was not a particularly strong storm when it made landfall early Monday. But the hurricane struck at the heart of Houston with a ferocity that toppled trees into power lines and that knocked over 10 transmission towers, officials said.

By late Tuesday, some 1.5 million of CenterPoint’s customers still had no power — and little sense of when it would return. Neighbors reported flickerings of light to each other on group chats, hoping for signs of progress. Many shared a map of open Whataburger locations, suggesting that the fast-food chain was a better way to find out about available electricity service, compared with the spotty information released by the utility.

As the temperatures rose, so did many residents’ anger.

“The response has been too slow,” said Patricia Alexander, 79, who sat in a cooling center in northwest Houston to get a break from the heat inside the senior center where she lives. “The mayor said he was looking out for senior centers and that CenterPoint’s teams were prioritizing senior facilities, but I don’t believe it, because we don’t have air-conditioning.”

Cars make their way in the darkness toward a nonfunctioning traffic light.
About 2.2 million customers — 80 percent of the utility’s customers in the Houston area — lost power in the storm, a CenterPoint Energy spokesman said.Credit…Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

The sheer number of damaged lines accounted for the extent of the outages, which surpassed those during Hurricane Ike in 2008. After that storm, the utility described making efforts to better manage the vegetation around power lines.

Company officials said they had been surprised by the behavior of the storm, which initially was expected to strike further south but instead hit near Matagorda, Texas, after strengthening somewhat and then spiraling north toward Houston.

“No one should have been surprised,” said Dan Patrick, the state’s lieutenant governor, who has been acting in place of Gov. Greg Abbott while he travels abroad.

Mr. Patrick said in a news conference that he wanted the utility to focus on restoring power, but that afterward the company would need to explain its preparations for the storm.

“If they made mistakes beforehand, then that will be addressed,” Mr. Patrick said. “The real question is: Were they as prepared as they should be? And that’s up to them to answer, and they will answer not only to the public but to the P.U.C.,” he added, referring to the state’s Public Utility Commission.

Texas officials have spent much of the past few years worrying about the vulnerability of the state’s power grid to extreme cold after a failure during a winter storm in 2021.

But amid increasingly frequent extreme heat, the grid has also been tested in the summer, not just during storms but also on hot, cloudless days when energy demand is high.

“It’s not just during a storm: Texas in general tends to have more outages on a blue sky day than other states,” said Doug Lewin, an energy consultant and the author of the Texas Energy and Power newsletter. “We rank very poorly compared to other states. We’ve got a long way to go.”

In CenterPoint’s last three annual reports to federal regulators, including the most recent one in February, the utility said it had risks related to aging facilities. “Aging infrastructure may complicate our utility operations’ ability to address climate change concerns and efforts to enhance resiliency and reliability,” the company told the Securities and Exchange Commission.

A spokeswoman for CenterPoint said that the company had monitored Beryl’s development and had prepared, but “a lot of the issues were just purely because the hurricane hit more intensely than we expected.”

In particular, the company said, many of the outages occurred after trees fell on power lines.

“While we tracked the projected path, intensity and timing for Hurricane Beryl closely for many days, this storm proved the unpredictability of hurricanes as it delivered a powerful blow across our service territory and impacted a lot of lives,” Lynnae Wilson, senior vice president for CenterPoint, said in a statement.

About 2.2 million customers — 80 percent of the utility’s customers in the Houston area — lost power in the storm, a company spokesman said.

Utility experts said that power companies have little excuse for not being ready for events that develop over the course of days, in particular when the primary job is to deliver safe, reliable service.

“Most of all, it really is the preparation issue,” said Robert McCullough, of McCullough Research, a consulting firm based in Portland, Ore. “Mild storm. Why weren’t we better prepared?”

A house stands surrounded by floodwaters.
The outages from Beryl came less than two months after powerful thunderstorms knocked out power across Houston in May.Credit…Daniel Becerril/Reuters

In April, CenterPoint filed a resiliency plan with the state, proposing to spend billions to “modernize and harden our existing infrastructure” to increase reliability. A significant focus, according to the plan, is to modernize the company’s transmission and distribution systems.

After a series of powerful hurricanes struck Florida two decades ago, that state took steps to improve its electrical infrastructure.

The process, which included burying a targeted number of power lines, appeared to bear fruit, according to a 2024 report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The power grid grew more resilient to storms, the report found.

But simply burying power lines underground is not always the best solution, experts say, particularly in areas that are prone to flooding, like many parts of Houston.

“In areas where you worry more about water, you can end up making the system more vulnerable and more expensive when you underground,” said Ted Kury, director of energy studies for the Public Utility Research Center at the University of Florida. “Storm hardening is often a choice between what type of damage you’re more concerned about,” he added.

If it’s water, you go aboveground and accept the wind damage, he said, and “if it’s wind, you might want to underground” but would then have to worry about the water.

The $2.19 billion investment plan proposed by CenterPoint includes upgrading or replacing existing poles and structures to meet current wind loading standards, and improving the distribution system to prevent automatic shut-offs. The plan also proposes a pilot program to assess whether “utility-scale” microgrids can speed up the restoration of power during a fire or weather emergency.

The plan, which still needs state approval, calls for making these investments over a three-year period from 2025 to 2027.

A committee of the Texas Legislature was set to meet on Monday in Austin to discuss the utility resiliency issue — but the meeting was canceled because of the storm.

Delay is becoming more costly. Greenhouse gas emissions are increasing the capacity of the atmosphere to hold moisture, leading to more rain, more flooding and more potential for trees to fall, said Karthik Balaguru, a researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “I think Houston is an area that we should expect more outages,” he said.

The outages from Beryl came less than two months after powerful thunderstorms knocked out power across Houston in May. Hundreds of thousands of residents lost power in that storm, and many of the same people found themselves again dumping spoiled food and looking for cool air this week.

“This is a double whammy,” said Cleveland James, 70, of West Houston, describing the almost back-to-back storms as he sat in the local cooling center. “I lost power for five days. So that doesn’t give me much encouragement that it will come back soon. I think it’ll take a week.”

Ms. Alexander, nearby, said she worried that Beryl would not be the last time she found herself without power this summer.

“This is going to happen again,” she said of the storm, only the second to get a name this hurricane season. “I mean, we’re only in the B’s.”

Shannon Sims contributed reporting from Houston.

J. David Goodman is the Houston bureau chief for The Times, reporting on Texas and Oklahoma. More about J. David Goodman

Ivan Penn is a reporter based in Los Angeles and covers the energy industry. His work has included reporting on clean energy, failures in the electric grid and the economics of utility services. More about Ivan Penn

The Devil May Be Enjoying This Election Season, but I Am Not

Thomas L. Friedman – July 9, 2024

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

When I look at my country’s presidential contest, the first thought that comes to mind is that only the Devil himself could have designed this excruciating mess.

Both men running for president right now are unfit for the job: One is a good man in obvious cognitive and physical decline, and the other is a bad man who lies as he breathes, whose main platform is revenge — and who is in his own cognitive tailspin.

But the most important difference for the country — where you really see the Devil at work — is in the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. The plain fact is that only one party in America’s two-party system is ready to defend our constitutional order anymore. The other party is interested only in gaining and holding power for the sake of it.

The G.O.P.’s moral emptiness is manifested in several ways. The party has been purged of virtually every Republican politician unwilling to submit to its Dear Leader — Donald Trump, who attempted to overturn our last presidential election. The wife of a Republican-appointed Supreme Court justice advocated overturning the results of the election on utterly bogus grounds, which shows you just how little respect that party now has for our sacred institutions. And it is ready to renominate Trump even though many of those who worked most intimately with him in his first term — including his vice president, secretary of defense, secretary of state, chief of staff, national security adviser, press secretary, communications director and attorney general — have warned the country in speeches, interviews and memoirs that Trump is erratic, immoral and someone who must never be let near the White House again.

One of the biggest mistakes Americans would be making if they were to elect Trump again is assuming that because we survived four years of his norm-busting, law-abusing, ally-alienating behavior once, we can skate by again without irreparable damage. It is the political equivalent of assuming that because you played Russian roulette once and survived you can play it again. That’s insane.

But that is precisely why this election is so important and precisely why the Democratic Party, which still prioritizes defending our democracy, must urgently produce a presidential candidate with the wits, vitality and appeal to independents to build an electoral majority to preserve our constitutional order.

Nothing else matters today — nothing, nothing, nothing.

But the leader the Democratic Party has right now, President Biden — someone I admire but who clearly has lost a step cognitively and physically — has combatively dug in his heels, lashed out at his critics and dared them to challenge him at the convention, despite the mounting calls for him to step aside. One would hope that his wife and family, who surely know the extent of his physical and mental frailties, would prevail upon him to step aside, but they won’t — seemingly oblivious to the risk this is posing to the country and the whole Biden legacy.

My God, the Devil must be enjoying this. I am not.

If Biden were to win, we’d all need to pray that he can get out of bed every day to carry out his agenda as well as he did in the past. If Trump were to win, we’d all need to pray that he stays in bed all day so that he can’t carry out his impulsive agenda, which seems driven first and foremost by which side of the bed he gets out of.

We can do better than this — and we must. Because this is also no ordinary election season. We are at a profound hinge of history that is going to put us on a roller coaster of job market volatility, geopolitical volatility and climate volatility.

The artificial intelligence revolution of the past four years is widely expected to slam into the white-collar job market in the next four like a Category 5 hurricane. The lengthy Hollywood writers strike last year was just a tiny foretaste of what this destabilizing revolution in white-collar work will look like.

At the same time, we are in the middle of defining the post-post-Cold War order, now that the U.S.-dominated post-Cold War order has come unstuck since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Managing a hostile Russia — aligned with an increasingly hostile China, aligned with malign actors like Iran and North Korea, and super-empowered nonstate actors like Hamas, the Houthis and Hezbollah — will take not only incredibly wise U.S. leadership but also a U.S. leader able to forge multiple alliances. The post-post-Cold War world can’t be managed by a lonely American superpower telling all its allies to spend more on defense or we will leave you to the tender mercies of Vladimir Putin.

And finally, speaking of hurricanes, there is every indication that our core climate change challenge — how we manage the disruptive weather that is already unavoidable and avoid the disruptive weather that would become unmanageable — is now on our doorstep. The decisions we make in the next four years may be our last chance to avoid the unmanageable.

Those are just a few of the anticipated challenges facing the next president. And God save us from the unanticipated ones, like massive climate-driven migrations amplifying geopolitical instability. America always needs clearheaded and vigorous leadership, but we need it now more than ever.

Democrats, if they are being responsible, need to imagine Biden two or three years from now, given the inevitable march of time. Do those running the Biden campaign and those Democratic Party leaders who tell Biden to hang tough really believe that in two years he will have the capacity to carry out the rigorous job of president, with all its pressures, even on a good day? He is already saying he doesn’t want to schedule events past 8 p.m., but the presidency has never been and will never be an 8 a.m.-to-8 p.m. job.

And can you imagine the conspiracy theories that will be circulating on social media and Fox News over “who is actually making decisions?” at the Biden White House when people see a president in two years who is more physically and verbally impaired? The only-Biden Democrats — and the Biden campaign — owe the country an answer to that question. I take no joy in asking it, but ask it we must.

Ditto for Trump. What will it mean for America in the age of A.I. to have a president who swore in an affidavit in a 2022 court case, “Since at least Jan. 1, 2010, it has been my customary practice to not communicate via email, text message, or other digital methods of communication”?

What will it mean to have a president who is a crude-oil-loving climate change skeptic when nearly 70 million Americans were under heat alerts last Sunday, a day on which temperatures in Las Vegas hit 120 degrees for the first time in recorded history?

What will it mean in an age when there is no important problem that can be solved by one country alone — whether mitigating climate change, regulating A.I., dealing with massive global migrations or confronting nuclear proliferation — to have a president who believes in America first and only, and that most allies are freeloaders, that U.S. tariffs are paid by China, not American consumers and that global multilateral institutions — NATO, the W.T.O., the European Union, the W.H.O., the U.N. — are an alphabet soup of useless “globalists”?

Of course, I will vote for Biden if he is the Democratic nominee. And you should, too. We have to do anything we can to stop Trump. But Democrats continuing to insist on putting him there are behaving with dangerous recklessness.

I repeat: Just because we managed to barely survive the Trump stress test to our constitutional order once — not without some serious damage — does not mean our democracy can survive another four Trump years with his now Supreme Court-fortified sense of impunity. Especially if we combine the self-induced stress levels from a second Trump term with the boiling external stresses already building up around us.

That would indeed be playing Russian roulette again — only this time with a fully loaded pistol. That’s a game only the Devil himself would design.

More on the 2024 presidential candidates:

Gail Collins and Bret Stephens: The Presidential Fitness Test Is Back – July 8, 2024

Charles M. Blow, Ross Douthat, David French, Nicholas Kristof, Pamela Paul, Lydia Polgreen, Derek Arthur, Sophia Alvarez Boyd, Vishakha Darbha and Jillian Weinberger: Who Should Lead the Democratic Ticket? Six Columnists Weigh In. – July 4, 2024

Charles M. Blow: Forcing Biden Out Would Have Only One Beneficiary: Trump – July 3, 2024

Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs Opinion columnist. He joined the paper in 1981 and has won three Pulitzer Prizes. He is the author of seven books, including “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” which won the National Book Award.

Omnipotent SCOTUS bows to the Court of King Donald

Omnipotent SCOTUS bows to the Court of King Donald

John Hanno – July 4, 2024

I’m astonished, on this Independence Day 2024, the near 250th anniversary, of America’s Founding Father delegates of the Second Continental Congress declaring the original Thirteen Colonies emancipated from the Monarch of Great Britain, King George III., at having to rationalize SCOTUS’s irrational political proclamation, returning subordination of America’s Democratic experiment back to a now unfettered, kleptocratic, facist minded, autocratic King.

The Mighty Oz has spoken. Six extreme right justices of the highest court in the land have shown their true colors. They clearly believe 250 years of American jurisprudence is suspect, and that our elected legislative branch’s of government can’t be trusted to fashion unbiased laws, that large segments of our judicial branch’s of government can’t be trusted to rule fairly and without favor, that the Democratic Institutions which have served us dependably for many decades, can’t be trusted to dispense scientific and reasoned judgments, that the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees Freedom of the Press, is just more proof of a deep state conspiracy, that disaffected members of the Rockefeller, Eisenhower, Regan conservative Grand Old Party can’t be trusted to engage in bipartisan governance, and that pro choice women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ folks, environmentalists, gun rights and labor advocates, teachers and librarians, the secular and non christians, all can’t be trusted on anything, and that large majorities of We The People, who are at loggerheads on dozens of critical issues, with this new trump conscripted MAGA cult, with the rich and powerful, and with SCOTUS itself, can’t be trusted.

The uncompromising SCOTUS answer to litigants who seek justice and reasoned deliberation from the Court, and who sometimes kneel in prayer on the steps of the Supreme Court building, begging for help, is:

“You’ve no power here! Begone, before someone drops a house on you too!” Wizard of Oz

This Court’s rulings; sometimes applying originalist or textualist interpretations, sometimes not, sometimes narrow, sometimes expansive, sometimes quick, sometimes slow, sometimes follow The Doctrine of Stare Decisis, but only if it suits them. These consequential decisions, more often than not, render unprecedented and confusing views of the U.S. Constitution, and are befuddling to common folks and legal scholars of every stripe alike.

They might advocate for Fundamental Rights, for corporations yes, but seldom for the less powerful. It’s almost as if they’re taking directives from wealthy, fawning benefactors expecting quid pro quo from justices, or from powerful political party leaders and operatives bent on undermining both the Constitution and our Democracy. Pandering to the rich and powerful, no matter how convoluted in reasoning and no matter how demented or suspect the litigant, is not beyond the courts ability to excuse the un-American and un-Democratic conduct of a demented citizen suffering a boggled mind. One would think that judges who aren’t accountable to anyone, or to any set of rules, who have lifetime jobs, would not be intimidated by the person who hired them.

“As for you, my fine friend, you’re a victim of disorganized thinking. You are under the unfortunate delusion that simply because you run away from danger, you have no courage. You’re confusing courage with wisdom.” — The Wizard of Oz

The 6 far right Supreme Court Jesters (SCJOTUS) have now putinized the Presidency of the United States. trump was always envious of putin and Kim Jong’s luxury of ruling as Kingly monarchs unconstrained by rules, laws, precedent, integrity, equity, honesty, human decency, and above all, the truth. Toss in the express ability to break any of our mortal laws, including retribution and exacting revenge on any perceived member of one’s enemy’s list, and having been granted the capability of disappearing a political rival, and America’s Democracy is no longer the model for the world to aspire to.

“Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Dorothy

Justice Sotomayor Dissented:

“Looking beyond the fate of this particular prosecution, the long-term consequences of today’s decision are stark. The court effectively creates a law-free zone around the president, upsetting the status quo that has existed since the founding. This new official-acts immunity now ‘lies about like a loaded weapon’ for any president that wishes to place his own interests, his own political survival, or his own financial gain, above the interests of the nation.

“Sotomayor said that the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, invents “an atextual, ahistorical, and unjustifiable immunity that puts the President above the law.””

“Their ruling, she went on, makes three moves that she said “completely insulate Presidents from criminal liability.” Sotomayor said the court creates absolute immunity for the president’s exercise of “core constitutional powers,” creates “expansive immunity for all ‘official acts,'” and “declares that evidence concerning acts for which the President is immune can play no role in any criminal prosecution against him.””

“Orders are nobody can see the Great Oz! Not nobody, not nohow!”— Doorman

Sotomayor warned that the ruling “will have disastrous consequences for the Presidency and for our democracy” and that it sends the message: “Let the President violate the law, let him exploit the trappings of his office for personal gain, let him use his official power for evil ends.”

She added, “Even if these nightmare scenarios never play out, and I pray they never do, the damage has been done. The relationship between the President and the people he serves has shifted irrevocably. In every use of official power, the President is now a king above the law.”

In her own written dissent, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said that the majority’s ruling “breaks new and dangerous ground.

“Departing from the traditional model of individual accountability, the majority has concocted something entirely different: a Presidential accountability model that creates immunity—an exemption from criminal law — applicable only to the most powerful official in our Government,” she wrote.

“These things must be done delicately, or you hurt the spell.” Wicked Witch of the West

Jackson warned that under the majority’s “new Presidential accountability mode,” a hypothetical president “who admits to having ordered the assassinations of his political rivals or critics…or one who indisputably instigates an unsuccessful coup…has a fair shot at getting immunity.”

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” — The Wizard of Oz

Chief Justice Roberts rebukes the 3 liberals on the court, suggesting that his three liberal colleagues had misinterpreted the majority’s opinion and were engaging in “fear mongering.” Roberts argued that they “strike a tone of chilling doom that is wholly disproportionate to what the Court actually does today.” He wrote that “like everyone else, the President is subject to prosecution in his unofficial capacity.”

“My goodness, what a fuss you’re making! Well naturally, when you go around picking on things weaker than you are. Why, you’re nothing but a great big coward!” Dorothy

A Biden campaign adviser, on the other hand, said that the ruling doesn’t change what happened on Jan. 6, 2021.

“Donald Trump snapped after he lost the 2020 election and encouraged a mob to overthrow the results of a free and fair election,” the adviser said. “Trump is already running for president as a convicted felon for the very same reason he sat idly by while the mob violently attacked the Capitol: he thinks he’s above the law and is willing to do anything to gain and hold onto power for himself.”

The twice impeached ex president trump, four times indicted by grand juries, convicted on 34 felony counts, awaiting 3 additional trials on scores more felonies for attempting to overturn the 2020 election and overthrow our government, and for stealing top secret confidential documents, was found guilty of rampant fraud personally and in his business, was also found guilty of sexual assault and libel, has so far escaped being held accountable for his 6 years long crime spree. Because he’s been able to spend more than $100 million dollars of other people’s money on legal fees, in order to delay all of his pending cases, that accounting probably won’t happen before the 2024 presidential election.

“Lions, and tigers and bears! Oh my!” “Lions, and tigers and bears! Oh my!” “Lions, and tigers and bears! Oh my!” Dorothy, Tim Man and Scarecrow.

Soon after the court issued the ruling, Trump celebrated the decision on his Truth Social account, writing in all caps: “Big win for our Constitution and democracy. Proud to be an American!”

“Some people without brains do an *awful* lot of talking, don’t they?” The Scarecrow

trump’s conspirators are numerous, starting with the republi-cons in the U.S. Senate, who could have stopped him long ago. Minority Leader McConnell said the former president was “practically and morally responsible” for the attack on the Capitol on January 6. But after voting to acquit, McConnell argued that he believed it was unconstitutional to convict a president who was no longer in office.

“For 23 years, I’ve been dying to tell you what I thought of you, and now… well, being a Christian woman (Senator), I can’t say it!” — Auntie Em

All of the members of the MAGA republi-con congress could have held trump accountable by not condoning or endorsing every hair-brained scheme, criminal conduct, grift and assault on our Democratic institutions, our courts, the independent press and the American voters.

“Back where I come from there are men who do nothing all day but good deeds. They are called phila… er, phila… er, yes, er, Good Deed Doers.” — The Wizard of Oz

The embarrassing and comical parade of U.S. Congress men and women, dressed in their cult leader’s blue suit and red tie costume, who pontificated outside the New York court about the injustice of the American system of justice’s attempts to hold trump accountable for his one man crime wave, will be remembered in history for their un-American and treasonous butt kissing of an angry, demented megalomaniac bent on retribution and revenge.

“You’re right, I am a coward! I haven’t any courage at all. I even scare myself.” The Cowardly Lion

The U.S. Constitution establishes 3 equal branches of government. The partisan deadlocked legislative branch has proved powerless to hold trump and many of his cowardly conspirators accountable. The many courts who have ruled against and prosecuted trump for his crimes, in spite of scores of trump lawyers filing hundreds of frivolous, obfuscating briefings aimed primarily at delaying accountability until after the election, have been mostly neutered by this unjustifiable Supreme Court ruling on immunity. This rogue court has attempted to not only usurp and strip legislatures, the lower courts and our Democratic institutions of their Constitutional powers, they have empowered the executive branch and the president with a broad immunity contrary to the founding fathers intensions.

There are some hero’s in this American tragedy. Although the U.S. Senate voted 57-43 to acquit trump at his impeachment trial, for his role in inciting the horrific attack on the U.S. Capitol, the largest number of senators in history, voted to find a president of their own party guilty of an impeachment charge. Voting to find Trump guilty were GOP Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania.

The Republicans in the House censured and forced out Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of my home state of Illinois, for their courageous role in the January 6th Committee hearings and for referring trump’s conduct to the Justice Department. Liz Cheney has more balls than all the MAGA republi-con men in congress combined.

On September 17, 1787: Benjamin Franklin presided over the first day of the Constitutional Convention, in his home town of Philadelphia.

The day began with a prepared speech from Ben Franklin (PA) who, eighty-one years old and painfully afflicted with gout and kidney stone, was unable to read the speech himself and delegated that task to Wilson (PA).

On September 18, 1787, the final day of the Convention, this now famous quote of Benjamin Franklin was recorded in a journal kept by James McHenry, a Maryland delegate to the Constitutional Convention. 

Elizabeth Willing Powel of Philadelphia, asked Dr. Franklin: “Well Doctor what have we got, a republic or a monarchy – A republic replied the Doctor if you can keep it.”

Oblique view of Powel house, looking southwest
Elizabeth and Samuel Powel’s house at 244 South Third Street, Philadelphia, where the conversation between Elizabeth Powel and Benjamin Franklin might have taken place. Historic American Buildings Survey. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

It appears we must rely on another 81 year old patriot to help preserve our Democratic Republic. Although not as eloquent as Benjamin Franklin, and in spite of his word fumbles and stutters, President Joseph Biden believes he’s up to the task. I also believe he is. One very important advantage, is Joe Biden’s ability to bring people together to solve America’s and the world’s monumental problems. With the highly qualified and diverse people he’s brought into his administration (none of them indicted, resigned, fired or in prison), to the 50 countries he’s help assembled to defend Ukraine against trump’s brother from another mother, the Biden administration has more than risen to the task over the last 3 1/2 years. But Uncle Joe can’t do it himself, everyone in his administration must step up. And the voters must award the President with a big D Democratic House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. Joe Biden is remarkably adept at overcoming trying times.

Frightened? Child, you’re talking to a man who’s laughed in the face of death, sneered at doom, and chuckled at catastrophe. I was petrified.” — The Wizard of Oz

trump, on the other hand, hires people not for their expertise at governing or solving problems, but for their ability to dismantle the critical Democratic institutions they’re tasked with running, for their talent at ignoring laws and regulations, for engaging in self-serving financial enrichment, and for turning a blind eye to trump’s chaotic reign of terror. During his administration, the media had flow charts of the dozens of trump appointees who were fired, resigned, indicted, tried, convicted and sent to prison. And all of them had to hire lawyers, and their lawyers had to hire lawyers, and their lawyers, lawyers had to hire lawyers.

And a Final Word From the Library of Congress Blog:

“Another source of Elizabeth Willing Powel’s influence was her own social and political dexterity, which she deployed to make her home a gathering place for the city’s political elite from the revolutionary period through George Washington’s presidency. Among the regulars at Powel’s dinners and parties were George and Martha Washington, with whom the Powel’s became close friends. Letters exchanged between the couples are in the George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress. One of these, from Elizabeth Powel to George Washington, dates from the third year of Washington’s first term as president, a time when he was hoping he would be able to resign the presidency and go home.

Detail of letter from Elizabeth Willing Powel to George Washington
“May you, till the extremest old age, enjoy the pure Felicity of having employed your whole Faculties for the Prosperity of the People for whose Happiness you are responsible, for to you their Happiness is intrusted.” Elizabeth Willing Powel to George Washington, November 17, 1792, George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division.

In his 1789 inaugural address, and in many private letters as well, Washington made clear that he was longing to return to his retirement at Mount Vernon. Less than a week after his inauguration, he wrote to former military officer and South Carolina legislator Edward Rutledge that when he accepted his “duty to embark” on the presidency, which he described as “the tempestuous and uncertain Ocean of public life,” he “gave up all expectations of private happiness in this world.” In the fall of 1792, seeing the end of his first term in sight, Washington began planning his exit. Elizabeth Willing Powel was among the friends who convinced him to stay. In her letter she warned him that his political opponents would see his resignation as a sign that he believed the republican experiment had failed and, fearing for his own reputation, had “withdrawn from it that you might not be crushed under its Ruins.” She pleaded with him: “For Gods sake do not yield . . . to a Love of Ease, Retirement, rural Pursuits.”

Please don’t retire Joe !

George Clooney: I Love Joe Biden. But We Need a New Nominee.

By George Clooney – July 10, 2024

President Biden at a fundraiser in Los Angeles in June.Credit…Alex Brandon/Associated Press

I’m a lifelong Democrat; I make no apologies for that. I’m proud of what my party represents and what it stands for. As part of my participation in the democratic process and in support of my chosen candidate, I have led some of the biggest fund-raisers in my party’s history. Barack Obama in 2012. Hillary Clinton in 2016. Joe Biden in 2020. Last month I co-hosted the single largest fund-raiser supporting any Democratic candidate ever, for President Biden’s re-election. I say all of this only to express how much I believe in this process and how profound I think this moment is.

I love Joe Biden. As a senator. As a vice president and as president. I consider him a friend, and I believe in him. Believe in his character. Believe in his morals. In the last four years, he’s won many of the battles he’s faced.

But the one battle he cannot win is the fight against time. None of us can. It’s devastating to say it, but the Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fund-raiser was not the Joe “big F-ing deal” Biden of 2010. He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate.

Was he tired? Yes. A cold? Maybe. But our party leaders need to stop telling us that 51 million people didn’t see what we just saw. We’re all so terrified by the prospect of a second Trump term that we’ve opted to ignore every warning sign. The George Stephanopoulos interview only reinforced what we saw the week before. As Democrats, we collectively hold our breath or turn down the volume whenever we see the president, who we respect, walk off Air Force One or walk back to a mic to answer an unscripted question.

Is it fair to point these things out? It has to be. This is about age. Nothing more. But also nothing that can be reversed. We are not going to win in November with this president. On top of that, we won’t win the House, and we’re going to lose the Senate. This isn’t only my opinion; this is the opinion of every senator and congress member and governor that I’ve spoken with in private. Every single one, irrespective of what he or she is saying publicly.

We love to talk about how the Republican Party has ceded all power, and all of the traits that made it so formidable with Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, to a single person who seeks to hold on to the presidency, and yet most of our members of Congress are opting to wait and see if the dam breaks. But the dam has broken. We can put our heads in the sand and pray for a miracle in November, or we can speak the truth.

It is disingenuous, at best, to argue that Democrats have already spoken with their vote and therefore the nomination is settled and done, when we just received new and upsetting information. We all think Republicans should abandon their nominee now that he’s been convicted of 34 felonies. That’s new and upsetting information as well. Top Democrats — Chuck Schumer, Hakeem Jeffries, Nancy Pelosi — and senators, representatives and other candidates who face losing in November need to ask this president to voluntarily step aside.

All of the scary stories that we’re being told about what would happen next are simply not true. In all likelihood, the money in the Biden-Harris coffers could go to help elect the presidential ticket and other Democrats. The new nominee wouldn’t be left off ballots in Ohio. We Democrats have a very exciting bench. We don’t anoint leaders or fall sway to a cult of personality; we vote for a president. We can easily foresee a group of several strong Democrats stepping forward to stand and tell us why they’re best qualified to lead this country and take on some of the deeply concerning trends we’re seeing from the revenge tour that Donald Trump calls a presidential campaign.

Let’s hear from Wes Moore and Kamala Harris and Gretchen Whitmer and Gavin Newsom and Andy Beshear and J.B. Pritzker and others. Let’s agree that the candidates not attack one another but, in the short time we have, focus on what will make this country soar. Then we could go into the Democratic convention next month and figure it out.

Would it be messy? Yes. Democracy is messy. But would it enliven our party and wake up voters who, long before the June debate, had already checked out? It sure would. The short ramp to Election Day would be a benefit for us, not a danger. It would give us the chance to showcase the future without so much opposition research and negative campaigning that comes with these ridiculously long and expensive election seasons. This can be an exciting time for democracy, as we’ve just seen with the 200 or so French candidates who stepped aside and put their personal ambitions on hold to save their democracy from the far right.

Joe Biden is a hero; he saved democracy in 2020. We need him to do it again in 2024.

George Clooney is an actor, director and film producer.

More on Joe Biden and 2024:

Bret Stephens: The Abyss Stares Back at Joe Biden: July 9, 2024

Clark Hoyt: I Share a Birthday With President Biden. Ask Me About Our Age. – July 10, 2024

James Carville: Biden Won’t Win. Democrats Need a Plan. Here’s One. – July 8, 2024

The Editorial Board: The Democratic Party Must Speak the Plain Truth to the President – July 8, 2024

I Share a Birthday With President Biden. Ask Me About Our Age.

New York Times – Guest Opinion

By Clark Hoyt – July 10, 2024

A black-and-white portrait of a smiling President Biden.
Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

Mr. Hoyt was a reporter, editor, Washington bureau chief and news executive for Knight Ridder and later served as public editor of The Times.

President Biden and I have something in common: We were born on Nov. 20, 1942 — he in Scranton, Pa., I in Providence, R.I.

He and I once even joked about it, long before anyone could suggest we were too old for our jobs. He was vice president of the United States. I was a journalist.

Mr. Biden is having a very hard time right now, and I get it. That awkward, stiff walk of his? The White House physician says it’s the result of “wear and tear” on his spine. Tell me about it. I’ve had to get shots into my spine to alleviate excruciating pain caused by a collapsed vertebra.

The president and I share other health issues common for folks our age. We each have atrial fibrillation, an occasionally irregular heartbeat that can lead to a stroke. We take Eliquis for it. (Thank goodness for Medicare for me, the White House Physician’s office for him. It’s an expensive drug.) We also suffer from sleep apnea, which can make you wake up over and over, snorting and choking, leaving you tired and unable to focus during the day. We’re both being treated with continuous positive airway pressure that involves wearing a mask attached to a machine by the bed that pumps air into you all night. My wife laughingly calls me Mr. Hose Head.

There’s more, but you get the point: Aging isn’t fun. We do what we can. Mr. Biden works out five days a week. I work with a trainer twice a week and walk at least 10,000 steps a day. None of our physical problems would be disqualifying, perhaps, even for the most demanding job there is. Yeah, that gait might be embarrassing for the leader of the free world, but it’s not disqualifying. But there’s another aspect to getting old that few of us like to admit. It’s the mental decline that goes with the physical.

For nearly half a century I was a journalist, reporting and editing the news. Put me at a keyboard and the prose flowed. Now there are good days and bad — days when I know the word I’m searching for but just can’t bring it up from the La Brea Tar Pit of memory. Sometimes, if I sit for a few minutes, it will pop out. Other times I have to resort to tricks — googling what I think might be synonyms or, when that doesn’t work, reconstructing the whole sentence to circumvent the missing piece. When reading a news story I’ll often find myself asking “Who?” when someone’s last name appears on second reference. Worse are those days when I read an entire page of a book and realize I haven’t absorbed a bit of it.

Oh, the so-called executive function — the mental skills that allow me to manage everyday life — works just fine. I know where I am, what day it is, remember appointments and upcoming social engagements and handle the myriad details of getting through the day, even if my energy is sometimes gone by the end of it. But I’m not president of the United States, with the weight of the world on my shoulders.

Oops. I forgot to mention that I retired nine years ago, at 72. I was sure I had plenty left to contribute, but it was time to pass the responsibility to the next generation. I’ve kept busy, editing projects for a nonprofit news site for a couple of years, and now I’m working with my wife, also a retired journalist, on a nonfiction book about the terrible consequences of nuclear testing.

Watching the president’s debate with Donald Trump last month, I couldn’t help wondering sometimes if he even knew where he was and what was going on — that slack-jawed, vacant stare, the thin, raspy voice, the inability to articulate clear thoughts or parry the flood of falsehoods flowing from his opponent. This sure wasn’t the Joe Biden I recall spending an evening with a decade or so ago. Back then, we were in a relaxed setting at the Washington apartment of John Marttila, Mr. Biden’s longtime political adviser and strategist. Mr. Biden at the end of a grueling day was sharp, funny, empathetic, clear in his arguments about why the United States needed to get out of Afghanistan. His voice was strong, with no hint of the childhood stutter that pops up from time to time.

The president and the White House have floated a number of excuses for the debate fiasco. He just had an off night. He had a cold and was exhausted. He’d recently traveled across multiple time zones and was suffering jet lag. The aides helping him get ready had stuffed him too full of facts and statistics. Yet those off nights seem to be happening more frequently, and now there are reports he’s asking that nothing be scheduled after 8 p.m. — forget that the White House issued a statement saying that the president is capable of acting “with sharpness and resolve, every moment of every day.” Exhausted from a cold? He sounded just great the very next day, reading from a teleprompter. Too much travel before the debate? He’d been back in the Eastern time zone for 11 days, resting and preparing for those 90 minutes we’d all love to forget.

I can’t say his interview that aired Friday night with a sympathetic George Stephanopoulos on ABC News was reassuring. Asked if he’d watched the debate afterward, the president replied, “I don’t think I did, no.” Really? He doesn’t clearly remember that?

No, there comes a time. For each of us, it’s individual. Mr. Biden has a decision to make. He’s a decent, honorable, principled man with a long record of accomplishment. At this late date, only he can decide whether continuing his re-election campaign risks everything — especially his reputation for selfless public service and, should he lose to a convicted felon with contempt for the Constitution and the rule of law, the very future of our Republic.

We should learn from this and never again have to face a presidential election with two candidates many Americans believe are too old for the rigors of the job. Mr. Trump is only three years younger than Mr. Biden and has been showing plenty of signs of mental slippage himself, something largely overlooked and needing far more attention.

We need to consider a constitutional amendment setting upper age limits for elected federal officials, especially president and vice president. Huge majorities in both parties favor it. There should be vigorous discussion about the precise limit, but a starting point could be to declare that candidates are ineligible to run if they’re going to be older than 75 at the end of their term. And I’d say the age limit should apply to federal appointees as well, including judges and justices of the Supreme Court.

The question of age in the highest office won’t be resolved even if President Biden decides to step aside for a younger Democratic candidate — something he’s so far adamantly resisting. And Mr. Trump, who would be 82 at the end of his second term, is staying in the race.

It might be too late for this election now, but it isn’t too late to start a constructive conversation about leadership and age. Our society needs to be confident that those entrusted with the most powerful offices in the land at a time of unrelenting challenges are up to the task.

More on President Biden:

The Editorial Board:The Democratic Party Must Speak the Plain Truth to the President – July 8, 2024

Rachael Bedard: The Struggles of President Biden and the Truth About Aging: July 5, 2024

Frank Bruni: Biden Cannot Go On Like This – June 28, 2024

Clark Hoyt was a reporter, editor, Washington bureau chief and news executive for Knight Ridder and later served as public editor of the Times.

Extreme heat waves broiling the US in 2024 aren’t normal: How climate change is heating up weather around the world

The Conversation

Extreme heat waves broiling the US in 2024 aren’t normal: How climate change is heating up weather around the world

Mathew Barlow and Jeffrey Basara, UMass Lowell – July 9, 2024

Visitors walk past a sign reading 'Stop: Extreme Heat Danger' in Death Valley National Park during a heat wave on July 7, 2024. <a href=
Visitors walk past a sign reading ‘Stop: Extreme Heat Danger’ in Death Valley National Park during a heat wave on July 7, 2024. Etienne Laurent/AFP via Getty Images

Less than a month into summer 2024, the vast majority of the U.S. population has already experienced an extreme heat wave. Millions of people were under heat warnings across the western U.S. in early July or sweating through humid heat in the East.

Death Valley hit a dangerous 129 degrees Fahrenheit (53.9 C) on July 7, a day after a motorcyclist died from heat exposure there. Las Vegas broke its all-time heat record at 120 F (48.9 C). In California, days of over-100-degree heat in large parts of the state dried out the landscape, fueling wildfires. Oregon reported several suspected heat deaths.

Extreme heat like this has been hitting countries across the planet in 2024.

Globally, each of the past 13 months has been the hottest on record for that month, including the hottest June, according to the European Union’s Copernicus climate service. The service reported on July 8, 2024, that the average temperature for the previous 12 months had also been at least 1.5 C (2.7 F) warmer than the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average.

The 1.5 C warming threshold can be confusing, so let’s take a closer look at what that means. In the Paris climate agreement, countries worldwide agreed to work to keep global warming under 1.5 C, however that refers to the temperature change averaged over a 30-year period. A 30-year average is used to limit the influence of natural year-to-year fluctuations.

So far, the Earth has only crossed that threshold for a single year. However, it is still extremely concerning, and the world appears to be on track to cross the 30-year average threshold of 1.5 C within 10 years.

A chart shows yearly averages and the trend line going out 10 more years before it crosses 1.5 C for the 30-year average.
Global temperatures showing the trend line averaged over 30 years. Copernicus Climate Change and Atmosphere Monitoring Services

We study weather patterns involving heat. The early season heat, part of a warming trend fueled by humans, is putting lives at risk around the world.

Heat is becoming a global problem

Record heat has hit several countries across the Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia in 2024. In Mexico and Central America, weeks of persistent heat starting in spring 2024 combined with prolonged drought led to severe water shortages and dozens of deaths.

Extreme heat turned into tragedy in Saudi Arabia, as over 1,000 people on the Hajj, a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, collapsed and died. Temperatures reached 125 F (51.8 C) at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on June 17.

A large number of people in traditional clothing covering them from their necks to their wrists and ankles walk on wide pathway, some carrying umbrellas for shade.
Muslim pilgrims spent hours in extreme temperatures and humidity during the Hajj in June 2024 in Saudi Arabia. Over 1,000 people died in the heat. AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool

Hospitals in Karachi, Pakistan, were overwhelmed amid weeks of high heat, frequent power outages, and water shortages in some areas. Neighboring India faced temperatures around 120 F (48.9 C) for several days in April and May that affected millions of people, many of them without air conditioning.

In Greece, where temperatures were over 100 F (37.8 C) for days in June, several tourists died or were feared dead after going hiking in dangerous heat and humidity.

Japan issued heatstroke alerts in Tokyo and more than half of its prefectures as temperatures rose to record highs in early July.

The climate connection: This isn’t ‘just summer’

Although heat waves are a natural part of the climate, the severity and extent of the heat waves so far in 2024 are not “just summer.”

A scientific assessment of the fierce heat wave in the eastern U.S. in June 2024 estimates that heat so severe and long-lasting was two to four times more likely to occur today because of human-caused climate change than it would have been without it. This conclusion is consistent with the rapid increase over the past several decades in the number of U.S. heat waves and their occurrence outside the peak of summer.

These record heat waves are happening in a climate that’s globally more than 2.2 F (1.2 C) warmer – when looking at the 30-year average – than it was before the industrial revolution, when humans began releasing large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions that warm the climate.

Two global maps show much faster warming per decade over the past 30 years than in the past 120 years.
Global surface temperatures have risen faster per decade in the past 30 years than over the past 120. NOAA NCEI

While a temperature difference of a degree or two when you walk into a different room might not even be noticeable, even fractions of a degree make a large difference in the global climate.

At the peak of the last ice age, some 20,000 years ago, when the Northeast U.S. was under thousands of feet of ice, the globally averaged temperature was only about 11 F (6 C) cooler than now. So, it is not surprising that 2.2 F (1.2 C) of warming so far is already rapidly changing the climate.

If you thought this was hot

While this summer is likely be one of the hottest on record, it is important to realize that it may also be one of the coldest summers of the future.

For populations that are especially vulnerable to heat, including young children, older adults and outdoor workers, the risks are even higher. People in lower-income neighborhoods where air conditioning may be unaffordable and renters who often don’t have the same protections for cooling as heating will face increasingly dangerous conditions.

Extreme heat can also affect economies. It can buckle railroad tracks and cause wires to sag, leading to transit delays and disruptions. It can also overload electric systems with high demand and lead to blackouts just when people have the greatest need for cooling.

The good news: There are solutions

Yes, the future in a warming world is daunting. However, while countries aren’t on pace to meet their Paris Agreement goals, they have made progress.

In the U.S., the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act has the potential to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by nearly half by 2035.

Switching from air conditioners to heat pumps and network geothermal systems can not only reduce fossil fuel emissions but also provide cooling at a lower cost. The cost of renewable energy continues to plummet, and many countries are increasing policy support and incentives.

A chart shows the number of heat waves is likely to be four times higher in a world 2.7 F (1.5 C) warmer and nearly five times higher in a world 6.3 F (3.5 C) warmer. Both scenarios are possible as global emissions rise.
Actions to reduce warming can limit a wide range of hazards and create numerous near-term benefits and opportunities. National Climate Assessment 2023

There is much that humanity can do to limit future warming if countries, companies and people everywhere act with urgency. Rapidly reducing fossil fuel emissions can help avoid a warmer future with even worse heat waves and droughts, while also providing other benefits, including improving public health, creating jobs and reducing risks to ecosystems.

Read more:

Mathew Barlow has received funding from the NOAA Modeling, Analysis, Predictions and Projections Program to study heatwaves.

Jeffrey Basara has received funding from the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation to study flash drought and extreme temperatures.