The Daily 202: Comparing prosecutors to preschoolers, Barr defends political interference at the Justice Department

The Daily 202: Comparing prosecutors to preschoolers, Barr defends political interference at the Justice Department

September 17, 2020 at 11:22 AM EDT with Mariana Alfaro Attorney General Bill Barr lashed out against federal prosecutors during a speech on Wednesday night that made a full-throated case for his absolute right to wade into politically charged cases. arrow-right “When something goes wrong at the Department of Justice, the buck stops at the top,” he said. “And because I am ultimately accountable for every decision the department makes, I have an obligation to ensure we make the correct ones. … Anything less is an abdication.” Barr overruled the sentencing recommendation made by career prosecutors for Roger Stone after President Trump’s longtime political adviser was convicted of lying to lawmakers as they probed Russian interference in the 2016 election. All four prosecutors quit the case. One testified under oath that Barr’s push for leniency was politically driven and inappropriate. The Department of Justice’s inspector general is reviewing Barr’s handling of the matter. AD AD Barr’s Justice Department also moved in May to drop charges against Michael Flynn, even though Trump’s former national security adviser pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his dealings with a Russian diplomat before Trump was sworn into office. The judge in the case pushed back against the highly irregular maneuver. A hearing is scheduled for the same day as the first presidential debate. In June, Barr ousted Geoffrey Berman as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York at a time when he was overseeing investigations into Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon . Last week, a senior prosecutor resigned who has been working with Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham on his investigation into how U.S. intelligence agencies pursued allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Hartford Courant reported that Nora Dannehy resigned partly out of concern that the top of the Justice Department is pressuring Durham’s team to produce results before the election. Democrats fear Barr, with the aim of helping Trump, will make announcements related to the investigation ahead of election. Barr has not ruled out that he will do so. AD AD Against this backdrop, Barr compared prosecutors to preschoolers. “Name one successful organization where the lowest-level employees’ decisions are deemed sacrosanct. There aren’t any,” Barr said during a Constitution Day event hosted by the conservative Hillsdale College. “Letting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it’s no way to run a federal agency.” Barr argued that presidential appointments and Senate confirmations of U.S. attorneys and senior Justice Department officials are what legitimizes their power. He argued that, if voters are unhappy with the political considerations driving sentencing recommendations by his Justice Department, they can always throw the president and any of the senators who voted to confirm him out of office come Election Day. “Political accountability — politics! — is what ultimately ensures our system does its work fairly and with proper recognition of the many interests and values at stake. Government power completely divorced from politics is tyranny,” Barr said. “The notion that line prosecutors should make the final decisions within the Department of Justice is completely wrong and it is antithetical to the basic values underlying our system. … The Justice Department is not a Praetorian Guard that watches over society impervious to the ebbs and flows of politics. It is an agency within the executive branch of a democratic republic.” AD AD This was just the start of a breathtaking broadside by the nation’s chief law enforcement official against the professional attorneys who populate the agency he leads. His prepared remarks ran nearly 4,000 words. “Our system works best when leavened by judgment, discretion, proportionality, and consideration of alternative sanctions — all the things that supervisors provide,” Barr said. “In short, the attorney general, senior DOJ officials, and U.S. attorneys are indeed political. But they are political in a good and necessary sense.” To be sure, there is no love lost. Barr is widely detested by many rank-and-file federal prosecutors, according to several current and former Justice Department officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs and relationships. Barr’s speech will not improve his popularity with assistant U.S. attorneys or career attorneys at main Justice, especially the chunks where he accused them of being “headhunters” seeking to bring down powerful people to “amass glory” and fuel their careers. “Individual prosecutors can sometimes become headhunters, consumed with taking down their target,” the attorney general said. “We cannot let our desire to prosecute ‘bad’ people turn us into the functional equivalent of the mad Emperor Caligula, who inscribed criminal laws in tiny script atop a tall pillar where nobody could see them.” AD AD To bolster this point, Barr read aloud this passage from C.S. Lewis: “It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth.” It was unclear who are supposed to be the robber barons in this metaphor. “Even the most well-meaning people can do great damage if they lose perspective,” Barr continued. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as they say.” Decrying what he called “the criminalization of politics,” Barr specifically criticized the arguments offered in court by DOJ lawyers during the “Bridgegate” prosecutions of former top aides to then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). “We need to recognize that and must take to heart the Supreme Court’s recent, unanimous admonition that ‘not every corrupt act by state or local officials is a federal crime,’” Barr said. “If we do not, more lives will be unfairly ruined.” Barr has emerged as a de facto surrogate for Trump’s reelection campaign. In recent weeks, the attorney general has been traveling to battleground states, including Wisconsin, Arizona and Michigan. On these swings, he has parroted the president’s “law-and-order” talking points. AD AD Trump has consistently shown disdain for the rule of law during his nearly four years in power. This administration prides itself on demolishing institutional guardrails, testing the limits of unitary executive theory and blowing up norms. Barr has played a key role in this, as he breaks with longstanding traditions and expectations for how an attorney general is supposed to handle himself. “There’s now a clear fork in the road for our country,” Barr told a Chicago Tribune columnist last week. “I think we were getting into position where we were going to find ourselves irrevocably committed to the socialist path. I think if Trump loses this election that that will be the case.” In his speech on Wednesday, Barr complained that pundits on cable news speculate “ad nauseam” about whether “some action by the president, a senior official, or a member of Congress constitutes a federal felony under this or that vague federal criminal statute.” AD AD “The criminal law is supposed to be reserved for the most egregious misconduct — conduct so bad that our society has decided it requires serious punishment, up to and including being locked away in a cage,” Barr said. “These tools are not built to resolve political disputes, and it would be a decidedly bad development for us to go the way of third-world nations where new administrations routinely prosecute their predecessors for various ill-defined crimes against the state. The political winners ritually prosecuting the political losers is not the stuff of a mature democracy.” This is a deeply ironic complaint considering how many people Trump has said should be locked up since taking office. The president routinely accuses Democrats of “treason.” Trump has even said that former aides like ex-national security adviser John Bolton should go to prison for disclosing embarrassing things he said in private. The president’s reasoning was that anything he says behind closed doors is classified. At Trump’s rally in Nevada on Sunday night, the crowd chanted, “Lock him up!” when the president mentioned his predecessor, Barack Obama. “Lock her up” is what Trump crowds chanted about Hillary Clinton four years ago. Trump has also said that former FBI director Jim Comey, former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe and others at the FBI involved with investigating his campaign should be jailed. AD AD Moreover, the New York Times reports that Barr has asked prosecutors in the Justice Department’s civil rights division to explore whether they could bring criminal charges against Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (D) for allowing some residents to establish a police-free protest zone near the city’s downtown for a few weeks earlier this summer. A Barr spokesman denies this happened, but the Times cites “two people briefed on those discussions.” Durkan called this “the latest abuse of power” by the Trump administration. “The Department of Justice cannot become a political weapon operated at the behest of the President to target those who have spoken out against this administration’s actions,” the mayor said in a statement issued overnight. “That is an act of tyranny, not of democracy. Ultimately, this is not a story about me. It is about the how this President and his Attorney General are willing to subvert the law and use the Department of Justice for political purposes. It is particularly egregious to try to use the civil rights laws to investigate, intimidate, or deter those that are fighting for civil rights in our country.” Barr’s speech also made many Democrats apoplectic. “Though dangerous, Barr is becoming increasingly absurd,” tweeted Eric Holder, who served as Barack Obama’s first attorney general. “When I was at DOJ, regardless of my ultimate authority, I saw the career staff as trusted colleagues, not pre-schoolers. To my friends at DOJ, know that this nation values and supports you. I do.” AD AD Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee who practiced law before running for Congress and was once editor in chief of Georgetown’s law review, noted that employees of the Justice Department take an oath to the Constitution, not to Barr. “Dear Bill Barr,” Lieu tweeted . “We are not a Banana Republic. Stop acting like a tinpot dictator.” During a question-and-answer session after his speech, Barr criticized coronavirus shutdown measures that have been taken by governors. “Asked about suicides amid the pandemic, Barr said a doctor was not a ‘grand seer’ who could set societal policy,” Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky report . “‘All this nonsense about how something is dictated by science is nonsense,’ he said.” Quote of the day
“You know, putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders, is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” Barr said . Barr also attacked the Black Lives Matter movement. “They’re not interested in Black lives,” he said during the Q&A after his speech. “They’re interested in props, a small number of Blacks who are killed by police during conflicts with police — usually less than a dozen a year — who they can use as props to achieve a much broader political agenda.” On June 1, Barr personally ordered law enforcement officials to clear the largely peaceful protesters from the streets around Lafayette Square before Trump walked through for a photo op holding a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church. According to sworn testimony from an Army National Guard major who was there, in the hours before Barr issued that order, federal officials began to stockpile ammunition and seek devices that could emit deafening sounds and make anyone within range feel like their skin is on fire. “D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam D. DeMarco told lawmakers that defense officials were searching for crowd control technology deemed too unpredictable to use in war zones and had authorized the transfer of about 7,000 rounds of ammunition to the D.C. Armory as protests against police use of force and racial injustice roiled Washington,” Marissa J. Lang reports . “DeMarco’s account contradicts the administration’s claims that protesters were violent, tear gas was never used and demonstrators were given ample warning to disperse — a legal requirement before police move to clear a crowd. … DeMarco, who provided his account as a whistleblower, was the senior-most D.C. National Guard officer on the ground that day and served as a liaison between the National Guard and U.S. Park Police.” In a conference call last week, Barr encouraged U.S. attorneys across the country to consider charging violent protesters with sedition. “Barr told the nation’s federal prosecutors to be aggressive when charging violent demonstrators with crimes, including potentially prosecuting them for plotting to overthrow the U.S. government,” the Wall Street Journal reports . “Barr urged prosecutors to seek federal charges whenever possible. … He listed a number of additional statutes they could potentially use. … Legal experts say the rarely used statute could be difficult to prove in court. … They added that there is a fine line between the expression of antigovernment sentiment, which could be protected speech under the First Amendment even if it included discussions of violence, and a plot that presented an imminent danger and could justify a charge of sedition.” More on all the president’s men Trump is waiting to get rid of his Pentagon chief until right after the election. “Trump’s continued denigration of Pentagon officials highlights the fraught nature of his relationship with Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper weeks ahead of the election, as the president’s remarks undermine his Pentagon chief and threaten to erode confidence in one of the nation’s most trusted institutions ,” Dan Lamothe, Missy Ryan and Paul Sonne report . “Trump has considered firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper since at least June, according to three officials, when the defense chief disagreed with the president’s plan to use active-duty troops to quell protests in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and other Black civilians. … Esper has not launched political attacks on behalf of the president, unlike many other senior officials in the administration, adhering to the conventional belief in the Defense Department that it should remain nonpartisan. Other administration officials have done so after angering the president.” “Trump is expected to keep Esper through the election out of concern that removing him sooner could damage his reelection chances. … But the president and Esper are expected to part ways shortly afterward, especially if Trump wins reelection. … White House officials have talked to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie about taking over the Pentagon. … When asked last month if he had confidence in Esper’s leadership, Trump replied with an insult. ‘Mark Yesper? Did you call him Yesper? Some people call him Yesper,’ Trump said, referring to the defense secretary by a derogatory nickname that some officers adopted for Esper to suggest he wasn’t doing enough to manage the president.” Louis DeJoy’s Postal Service policies delayed 7 percent of the nation’s first class mail. A new report by Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.), the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, found that “before the changes, the Postal Service routinely delivered more than 90 percent of the nation’s first-class mail on time,” Jacob Bogage reports . “Two weeks later, on-time delivery rates hovered near 83 percent, ensnaring prescription medications, benefits checks and ballots in midterm elections. On-time rates continued to deteriorate.” Mike Pompeo’s team offered murky analysis to defend terminating the State Department’s inspector general. Brian Bulatao, a top adviser and confidant of the secretary of state, testified before Congress that Trump fired Steve Linick over poor performance and declining employee satisfaction, and not in an act of political retaliation. But the data Bulatao used to support the claim shows that key federal measures of employee satisfaction at the Office of the Inspector General were higher than in most other divisions of the State Department, including Pompeo’s own office. “The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s hearing was part of a broader investigation into the circumstances surrounding Linick’s ouster in the spring. Panel Democrats have said Linick was fired because he was reviewing Pompeo’s 2019 emergency declaration to approve $8 billion in arms sales to Persian Gulf countries while sidestepping Congress, and allegations that Pompeo used government aides to perform personal tasks, ” Karoun Demirjian and Carol Morello report . “In 2019, Linick’s office posted a score of 67.6. … While that represented a drop of 2.6 from the previous year, its year-to-year performance was better than the Office of the Secretary, which scored … 41.6 on satisfaction-related questions in the 2019 survey breakdown — a drop of 8.9 from the previous year.” Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner canceled a scheduled interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell after she noted on air that the Abraham Accords, which he worked on, is “not Middle East peace.” ( Fox News ) Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) criticized the Senate GOP’s partisan investigation into Hunter Biden, saying it’s “not the legitimate role of government” to try and damage political opponents. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has been spearheading election-year efforts to investigate the Democratic nominee’s son. ( AP ) The Post’s Editorial Board warns : “Trump shattered his promise to ‘drain the swamp.’ The self-dealing would be epic in a second term.” The coronavirus The CDC director said a coronavirus vaccine won’t be widely available until mid-2021. “At a Senate hearing on the government’s response to the pandemic, CDC Director Robert Redfield adhered to Trump’s oft-stated contention that a safe and effective vaccine will become available in November or December — perhaps just before the presidential election,” Amy Goldstein and Sean Sullivan report . “But Redfield said the vaccine will be provided first to people most vulnerable to covid-19 and supplies will increase over time, with Americans who are considered at lower risk offered the shot more gradually. For it to be ‘fully available to the American public, so we begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life,’ he said, ‘I think we are probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021.’ Hours later, Trump sought to knock down Redfield’s predicted timeline from the White House press briefing room , saying at a news conference, ‘I think he made a mistake when he said that.’ … “Scott Atlas, a recent addition to the White House’s coronavirus advisers, noted that the administration on Wednesday circulated a vaccine distribution strategy to states and others. Atlas said the plan anticipates that ‘no later than January, all the top-priority people will be able to receive the vaccine,’ with other Americans receiving it starting soon after. … Redfield said that though any individual vaccinated should benefit from a vaccine, the progressive widening of its availability means there will be a time lag between when a vaccine is approved and when it could have a measurable effect in controlling the pandemic. That might be six to nine months after the day it is approved by federal drug regulators, Redfield predicted. … “Redfield said that lag between when a vaccine is approved and when the public can get it reinforces the importance of safety measures, such as keeping a proper distance, washing hands and wearing masks. ‘I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against covid than when I take a covid vaccine,’ Redfield said , because the vaccine is unlikely to produce the desired immune response in everyone who gets it. But Trump at his briefing continued to cast doubt on the value of masks, saying, ‘The mask is a mixed bag.’” Redfield also said states critically need $6 billion to distribute a vaccine. Those state efforts include maintaining vaccines at temperatures of minus-70 Celsius, which will require special freezers and dry ice, systems to ensure people get the correct doses at the right times — most vaccines will require two shots — and multiple scenarios for giving shots at hospitals, pharmacies, mobile clinics and doctors’ offices. ( Lena Sun ) The Department of Health and Human Services’ top communications official is going on “medical leave” until after the election. Michael Caputo, assistant secretary for public affairs, has been urging Trump supporters to prepare for an armed insurrection and accused government scientists of “sedition.” He has also boasted Trump put him in charge of a $250 million, taxpayer-funded ad campaign to make Americans feel confident about taking a vaccine. “The agency also said that Paul Alexander, a top aide to Caputo, would be leaving the agency permanently. Alexander came under scrutiny in recent weeks for his efforts to exert control over the messages coming from scientists and top health officials,” Yasmeen Abutaleb, Josh Dawsey and Sun report. “I trust vaccines. I trust scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump,” Joe Biden said. ( Sullivan ) Multiple White House staffers tested positive for the virus within days of Trump’s visits to Sacramento and Philadelphia . The Post reviewed the 10-day period between the moment national security adviser Robert O’Brien warned Trump the coronavirus “will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency” (on Jan. 28) and the moment when Trump called Bob Woodward and privately acknowledged the virus’s danger. The detailed review reveals a distracted president who took few serious measures to prepare the nation. ( Ashley Parker, Dawsey, Abutaleb ) The Republican nominee for governor in North Carolina has made overturning a statewide mask mandate the centerpiece of his campaign. “All science is based on skepticism, and you need to have skeptics,” said Dan Forest, the current lieutenant governor. Gov. Roy Cooper (D) responded by tweeting a picture of himself wearing a mask, saying they are “our best weapon.” ( Antonia Farzan ) A county judge in Ohio dismissed a GOP plan to allow only one ballot dropbox in each county. “The office of Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) said he would soon appeal the decision,” NBC News reports . Poll workers in one Missouri county were told they could remove their masks during the November election but should “act surprised” if confronted and put it back on until the voter who complains leaves. ( St. Louis Post-Dispatch ) Pandemic isolation has killed thousands of Alzheimer’s patients while their families watch from afar. “If only Dan Goerke could hold his wife’s hand. Maybe she would talk again. Maybe she would look at him and smile as she used to. Maybe she would eat and stop wasting away. Since the pandemic began, Goerke’s wife, Denise — 63 years old and afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease — had declined dramatically. Left alone in her nursing home, she had lost 16 pounds, could not form the simplest words, no longer responded to the voices of her children. In recent weeks, she had stopped recognizing even the man she loved,” William Wan reports . “Goerke, 61, could tell the isolation was killing his wife, and there was nothing he could do but watch. ‘Every day it gets a little worse,’ he said. ‘We’ve lost months, maybe years of her already.’ Beyond the staggering U.S. deaths caused directly by the novel coronavirus, more than 134,200 people have died from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia since March. That is 13,200 more U.S. deaths caused by dementia than expected, compared with previous years. … People with dementia are dying not just from the virus but from the very strategy of isolation that’s supposed to protect them.” A new lost generation: Low-income and minority students are dropping out of college at alarming rates. “In August, Paige McConnell became the first in her family to go to college — and the first to drop out. McConnell, 18, could not make online classes work. She doesn’t have WiFi at her rural home in Crossville, Tenn. The local library turned her away, not wanting anyone sitting around during the pandemic. She spent hours in a McDonald’s parking lot using the fast-food chain’s Internet, but she kept getting kicked off her college’s virtual classes because the network wasn’t ‘safe.’ Two weeks after starting at Roane State Community College, she gave up ,” Heather Long and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel report . “Some 100,000 fewer high school seniors completed financial aid applications to attend college this year. … Students from families with incomes under $75,000 are nearly twice as likely to say they ‘canceled all plans’ to take classes this fall as students from families with incomes over $100,000. … The drop-off in college enrollment is unusual and particular to this pandemic, as college enrollment during the Great Recession grew. … When low-income students stop attending school, they rarely return, diminishing their job and wage prospects for the rest of their lives. Only 13 percent of college dropouts ever return.” The Pac-12 joined the Big Ten Conference in announcing plans to move toward playing football this fall. ( Rick Maese, Emily Giambalvo and Ben Strauss ) The NCAA will delay the start of its Division I basketball seasons for two weeks but plans on making no changes to its post-season tournament, a.k.a. March Madness. ( Gene Wang ) Golf, the official sport of social distance, had its best summer in decades. Golfers played 10 million more rounds in July than they did a year ago, a 20 percent increase. ( Rick Maese ) Trump upended the congressional GOP’s approach to pandemic relief. The president “called on congressional Republicans to support a massive economic relief bill with ‘much higher numbers’ and stimulus payments for Americans, abruptly proposing an entirely different plan from what the Senate GOP sought to advance in recent days,” Erica Werner and Rachael Bade report . “His [comments] come at a moment when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is facing a backlash from some House Democrats, including lawmakers in tough reelection races, over congressional inaction on new economic relief. … Trump expressed support — but not an explicit endorsement — for a $1.5 trillion plan unveiled Tuesday by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House. The proposal includes a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks to individual Americans, a provision omitted from an approximately $300 billion plan Senate Republicans tried unsuccessfully to pass last week. … “It wasn’t immediately clear how Trump’s comments would affect the state of play on Capitol Hill, where bipartisan talks stalled in August. But it seemed possible that his renewed interest in a generous aid deal could open the door to a new round of talks. … Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had their first phone conversation in more than two weeks about coronavirus relief legislation, although it was not extensive. … Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) seized on Trump’s new position and suggested it validated their approach. … However, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters of the plan’s $1.5 trillion price tag: ‘I think it’s difficult.’ And on Tuesday, eight Democratic House committee chairs released a joint statement saying the proposal ‘falls short of what is needed to save lives and boost the economy.’” The Federal Reserve projected unemployment will fall to 5.5 percent next year. “The projections suggest Fed leaders are growing more optimistic about the recovery than they were earlier this summer. By 2023, policymakers’ projections put the unemployment rate at 4 percent,” Rachel Siegel reports . “At the same time, the majority of Fed officials expected the benchmark interest rate would stay at or near zero through 2023. The Fed also said it would increase holdings of Treasury securities and agency mortgage-backed securities at the current pace, which officials say is helping stave off an even deeper financial crisis.” Yelp data shows 60 percent of business closures caused by the pandemic are now permanent. ( CNBC ) Unemployed Marylanders are still experiencing major problems receiving benefits and endured weeks without payments they are supposed to receive. Their main frustration is they cannot get anyone to answer their calls to the state’s Labor Department. ( Ovetta Wiggins ) Carnival – the parent company of nine cruise brands – plans to sell 18 cruise ships in 2020, 17 percent of its fleet. ( Shannon McMahon ) Earth in the balance Hurricane Sally has unleashed massive flooding across the Southeast. “The National Weather Service said ‘historic and catastrophic flooding’ unfolded from west of Tallahassee to Mobile Bay in Alabama as seawater charged ashore and rivers jumped their banks. The storm had cut a tricky path through the Gulf of Mexico, at first sluggish and meandering and then unexpectedly intensifying just before landfall at 5:45 a.m. The storm accelerated from an 80 mph Category 1 storm to a 105 mph Category 2 storm between 8 p.m. Tuesday and 2 a.m. Wednesday,” T.S. Strickland, Ashley Cusick and Maria Sacchetti report . “‘It was an unbelievably freaky right turn of a storm that none of us ever expected,’ said Tony Kennon, the mayor of Orange Beach, Ala., a city of 6,200, adding that the impact could be worse than Hurricane Ivan, which struck on the same day in 2004. … At least one person was killed in the city and one was missing. … “While in the Gulf, Sally loaded up with moisture from the warm water and unleashed it over Alabama and Florida in the form of pounding rain while the ocean pushed storm surges inland. More than 500,000 customers in Alabama and Florida lost power. … In Pensacola, a seaside city of 53,000 on the Florida Panhandle, more than two feet of rain and nearly six feet of storm surge — the third-highest on record — turned streets into murky rivers and trapped people in their homes. … By 2 p.m. Wednesday, the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm with 70 mph winds. Flooding was expected to expand into Georgia and the Carolinas late Wednesday into Thursday as the storm marched northeast.” As wildfire smoke becomes a part of life on the West Coast, so do its health risks. “As record-setting wildfires continue to burn up and down the West Coast, the numbers are still hard to comprehend. More than 5 million acres burned. At least 33 people dead,” Heather Kelly and Samantha Schmidt report . “Massive plumes of smoke have converged and covered almost the entire western edge of the United States. It has drifted into the neighboring states of Nevada and Arizona, lowering air quality in some parts. And smoke has even blotted out the sun thousands of miles away in D.C. … The Bay Area has had a record run of bad air days, with residents being advised to avoid generating additional pollution for nearly a month. Air filters and purifiers have largely been sold out. … Going outdoors is dangerous for even healthy lungs, and exercising has largely been out of the question. … The particles from wildfires are dangerously small, less than a micron wide. … The smoke is a complex mixture of volatile organic chemicals, ozone, nitrogen oxides and trace minerals, but it is the particulates less than 2.5 microns in size that worry experts the most.” “Trump has repeatedly said ‘forest management’ — harvesting trees to reduce fuel for fires — is the key to preventing wildfires. But scientists agree no amount of ‘forest management’ can stop disasters in an ever-more-flammable world,” Sarah Kaplan and Juliet Eilperin report . A decade ago, the world agreed to 20 biodiversity targets. It met zero. “The Aichi Biodiversity Targets were set by the more than 190 countries that participated in a Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Japan,” Rick Noack reports . “The targets’s architects hoped to see a world, by 2020, in which ‘pressures on biodiversity are reduced, ecosystems are restored’ and ‘biological resources are sustainably used,’ among other goals. But as the deadline passes, only six of the 20 goals have been achieved even in part, the U.N. said in its Global Biodiversity Outlook report released Tuesday. The loss of biodiversity, the variety of living species on earth, continues. There has been some progress, according to the U.N., in expanding protected areas and eradicating some invasive species. Many countries have also taken new steps to reduce deforestation, and awareness of the importance of biodiversity is on the rise. … But species ‘continue to move, on average, closer to extinction.’” The new world order A rising China aims to challenge U.S. naval dominance. “Shipbuilders in Shanghai have laid out the hull of China’s first modern aircraft carrier, which could be launched into the water in the coming months as it enters the latter phases of construction,” Gerry Shih reports from Taipei, Taiwan. “ The vessel, which will be China’s third carrier but the first to be equipped with modern technology, is likely to be larger than the previous two, which were based on outdated Soviet designs. At the waterline, the new ship will be about 1,000 feet long and 130 feet wide. … Geopolitical tensions in the region would suggest that any naval conflict involving China, such as over Taiwan, or disputed outposts in the East and South China Seas, is likely to occur relatively close to Chinese shores. But Chinese military thinkers also increasingly argue that China needs to reach farther into the Pacific with carriers and contest the waters around the more remote ‘second island chain’ — which include U.S. bases on Guam and Hawaii. … Aside from carriers, the Chinese navy has invested heavily in amphibious landing ships and early-warning aircraft to accompany the carriers.” Starting this week, The Post will no longer have a correspondent inside China for the first time in 40 years. Like many Western news organizations, The Post was caught in the middle of tensions between the United States and China, which is limiting the flow of independent news and information at a critical time. Chinese officials have, for months, declined to accredit a new Post correspondent to replace our Beijing bureau chief, Anna Fifield, who voluntarily left the country this week to return to her native New Zealand for a new job. ( Paul Farhi ) U.N. investigators accused the government of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro of “crimes against humanity,” claiming he and his circle have ordered and supplied resources for arbitrary detentions, torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings. ( Anthony Faiola ) Germany suspended 29 police officers for participating in extremist chat groups that shared images such as swastikas and a depiction of a refugee in a gas chamber. Pictures of Hitler, Reich flags and an image portraying a Black person being shot were also shared. ( Loveday Morris and Luisa Beck ) An American woman’s bar crawl spread the virus across southern Germany. The latest cases took the total number of new infections in the Alpine resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen to 59, including 25 staff at a hotel resort where the woman worked, which caters to U.S. military personnel. ( AP ) The Red Cross warned the pandemic is exacerbating discrimination in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Pakistan. ( Rick Noack ) A fire last week gutted Europe’s largest migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, and few countries have offered to take in any of the 12,500 people now homeless. And while the Greek government erected a makeshift tent camp, migrants and aid workers fear it will fall into squalid conditions. ( Chico Harlan and Elinda Labropoulou ) Barbados is ready to dismiss Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and become a republic. The Caribbean island, which achieved its independence in 1966, is today a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, with the queen as its mostly symbolic head of state. But in a speech before the Barbadian Parliament, the island nation’s governor-general said “the time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind.” The Queen took the snub in stride. ( William Booth ) Social media speed read Barack Obama’s memoirs will be published as two volumes, and the first book will be 768 pages: Jim Carrey will play Biden in the new season of “Saturday Night Live,” which will be filmed in studio before a small audience: Videos of the day Stephen Colbert said Trump’s attempt to mock Biden by sharing manipulated footage of him just ended up making him look cooler: Seth Meyers laid out the “lies” in Trump’s ABC News town hall: Trevor Noah compared campaign mishaps:

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