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Italian council is flooded immediately after rejecting measures on climate change

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The historic Italian city has been brought to its knees this week by the worst flooding there in more than 50 years.

And the council chamber in Ferro Fini Palace started to take in water around 10 p.m. local time, as councilors were debating the 2020 regional budget, Democratic Party councilor Andrea Zanoni said in a long Facebook post.

“Ironically, the chamber was flooded two minutes after the majority League, Brothers of Italy, and Forza Italia parties rejected our amendments to tackle climate change,” Zanoni, who is deputy chairman of the environment committee, said in the post, which also has photographs of the room under water.

Among the rejected amendments were measures to fund renewable sources, to replace diesel buses with “more efficient and less polluting ones,” to scrap polluting stoves and reduce the impact of plastics, he said.

Zanoni went on to accuse Veneto regional president Luca Zaia, who is a member of Matteo Salvini‘s far-right League Party, of presenting a budget “with no concrete actions to combat climate change.”

The regional council’s spokesman Alessandro Ovizach confirmed to CNN that the council was flooded after discussing amendments to the 2020 budget — without specifying which ones.

The council’s president, the League’s Roberto Ciambetti, rejected Zanoni’s accusations in a statement to CNN.

“Beyond propaganda and deceptive reading, we are voting (for) a regional budget that spent €965 million over the past three years in the fight against air pollution, smog, which is a determining factor in climate change,” said the statement.

A man crosses the flooded St. Mark's Square after an exceptional overnight high tide on November 13.

“To say that we do nothing is a lie,” Ciambetti said. “We are a region that after the 2010 flood launched a plan to safeguard hydrogeological safety for a total cost of €2.6 billion, an exorbitant amount for regional finances.”

Ciambetti also mentioned the €468 million spent in the aftermath of the Vaia storm last year which flattened hundreds of thousands of trees.

Earlier Ciambetti, who posted videos of the flooding at Ferro Fini Palace on his Facebook page, said in a statement to local paper Giornale di Vicenza:

“Never had such a situation occurred here (at the Council). The flood-proof bulkheads were not sufficient to contain the flood wave, nor was it possible to leave the building… It was preferred to guarantee safety and therefore to stay all inside the palace.”

The regional council meetings on Thursday and Friday were moved to Treviso because of the flooding, according to the council’s website.

On Tuesday, Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro blamed climate change for the unusually high tides in Venice, and said the flooding was “a wound that will leave a permanent mark.”

CNN has reached out to Zanoni for comment.





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Five Cellphones, Trump Straws, a Lot of Cash—What This Giuliani Crony Was Carrying When the FBI Arrested Him

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When Rudy Giuliani crony Lev Parnas was arrested last month, federal agents combed through his personal effects and found the business card of a Ukrainian prosecutor who, months earlier, met with Giuliani to discuss the conspiracy theories at the heart of the Trump impeachment inquiry.

Anti-corruption prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky’s card was among the 66 personal items that the FBI reported seizing from Parnas after his arrest at Washington’s Dulles International Airport last month, according to an itemized list of the effects obtained by PAY DIRT. It’s not clear when or how Parnas obtained that card, but his arrest came months after Giuliani met Kholodnytsky in Paris for a discussion that touched on Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and supposed Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Kholodnytsky was caught on tape earlier this year apparently suborning false testimony and tipping off prosecution targets to impending raids. He claims the recordings were taken out of context. But Marie Yovanovitch, until this year the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, called for Kholodnytsky’s removal. Instead, Yovanovitch was recalled after a sustained lobbying campaign by Giuliani, Parnas, and his political and business associate Igor Fruman.



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Lindsey Graham tears into Erdogan in tense White House meeting

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South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham ripped into Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a tense Oval Office meeting Wednesday over the country’s invasion of Syria and attacks on America’s Kurdish allies, according to aides and the senator himself.

While in Washington, Erdogan met with President Trump and several Republican senators at the White House. Fox News is told there were “a lot of people with a lot of gripes” during the meeting. At one point, according to aides, Graham “called Erdogan out on his B.S. that Turkey has been fighting ISIS.” While all the senators expressed their issues with Erdogan, Graham was said to be “on the more aggressive side.”

According to sources, Graham told Erdogan, “You have done something no one thought was possible. You have united the US … against [Turkey].”

Having senators in an Oval Office meeting between the president and a foreign leader is highly unusual.

Congressional aides said that the White House wanted Erdogan to hear directly from the senators about their concerns. It was described as a “good cop, bad cop” scenario, where Trump played the part of the “neutral” cop, while senators got into it with Erdogan. One aide said that “Graham was the worst cop of all.”

The details of the Oval Office meeting were first reported by Axios. Fox News has confirmed Erdogan pulled out his iPad to show the senators a propaganda video depicting the Kurds as terrorists.

TRUMP VOWS NEW UKRAINE TRANSCRIPT RELEASE IN POST-IMPEACHMENT HEARING PRESS CONFERENCE

On Thursday, Graham confirmed the video incident and said he asked Erdogan, “Do you want me to get the Kurds to play a video about what your forces have done?”

He said he was especially infuriated by Erdogan’s claim to have done the heavy lifting in the battle against ISIS, considering all the casualties sustained by Kurdish forces.

Turkey has come under fire on Capitol Hill for its incursion into Syria last month to attack the Kurdish forces that fought with the U.S. against the Islamic State.

Turkey, meanwhile, is angered at the U.S. for supporting the Kurdish forces it views as a threat and for refusing to extradite a Muslim cleric it accuses of fomenting a 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan.

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Erdogan used the meeting as a chance to defend his military offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria, some of whom have links to the separatists who have waged a violent campaign in Turkey for decades.

His words failed to placate members of Congress and others who accuse Turkish-backed forces of killing Kurdish civilians and causing a humanitarian crisis in the incursion, which prompted the U.S. last month to hurriedly evacuate a small number of American troops from near the Syria-Turkey border.

“While our alliance with Turkey is important to maintaining U.S. national security interests, Turkey’s assault against our Kurdish allies, who have a long history of standing with America against our enemies, is absolutely unacceptable,” said Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, another senator in attendance, in a statement after the meeting.

Erdogan later joined Trump for a press conference at the White House.

Trump and Erdogan concluded the visit without achieving an agreement on Turkey’s decision earlier this year to accept delivery of a Russian air defense system that poses such a threat to NATO security that the U.S. suspended Turkish participation in the multinational F-35 fighter jet program.

The Turkish president told reporters he might be persuaded to use the U.S.-made Patriot system “as well” as the Russian S-400. Trump said they would agree to keep working on the issue.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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Kellyanne Conway Clashes With Wolf Blitzer As CNN Shows Clip Of Her Husband’s Anti-Trump Commentary On Impeachment Hearing

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White House counselor Kellyanne Conway objected to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer as he concluded an interview by showing an MSNBC clip of her husband, George Conway, offering a scathing critique of President Donald Trump. Watch their exchange above.

Kellyanne Conway is one of the president’s most visible defenders; her husband is one of his most prolific conservative critics, particularly on social media.

But they have declined to talk about their personal lives, and she has objected strenuously when it has been raised in interviews, and she did so again with Blitzer.

Near the end of an interview on Thursday, Blitzer said that he wanted to bring up a “sensitive” topic but added: “I don’t want to talk about your marriage. I know there are issues there.”

Conway replied, “What did you just say? Why did you say that?”

“I don’t want to talk about your marriage. I want to talk about a substantive point that your husband made. He was on the air all day during the first day of the impeachment hearings.”

George Conway offered commentary on MSNBC during the network’s coverage of the first day of public testimony in the impeachment hearings, which featured diplomats Bill Taylor and George Kent. Conway is not a frequent presence on TV, but he is very vocal on Twitter.

Impeachment TV Hearing Descends Into Partisan Brawl As GOP Comes Out Swinging For Trump On Day 1

Before Blitzer went to the clip, she asked him, “Why are you doing that?”

Blitzer replied, “Because he is a legal scholar, a lawyer and he is really going after the president of the United States.”

“And the relevance is? He’s married to me?”

Blitzer replied, “He happens to be married to you. He’s also a legal scholar.”

Conway asked why CNN wasn’t showing other commentators, such as CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin, who had some notes of skepticism over the impact of the testimony. And she continued to ask Blitzer why he said that there were “issues” in the context of her marriage.

In the clip, George Conway said, “The problem with Donald Trump is, he always sees himself first. Trump is all about Trump.”

Kellyanne Conway said that her husband’s words were “his opinion,” and “I don’t think MSNBC was lacking for anti-Trump voices. And we have seen things like that said on CNN for three years.”

“Where is the shame?” she said.

Donald Trump Impeachment Inquiry Is Comedy Gold For Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers

She also accused CNN of “sticking it to Kellyanne Conway,” but added, “I think you embarrassed yourself. I am embarrassed for you because this is CNN now?”

Blitzer brought up past interviews with another married couple, James Carville and Mary Matalin. Carville is a Democratic strategist and Matalin is a Republican one. They were on opposite sides during the 1992 presidential campaign.

Blitzer said “You know how many times I would ask them on television about the differences they had? They didn’t get in to a sensitive discussion.”

“I’m not in a sensitive discussion. You are,” she replied.

The interview went on and ended with Blitzer saying, “We gave you plenty of time to make your points and we appreciated them. You are always welcome to come back and join me here on CNN.”

“You will stay in my prayers. Thank you,” Conway finished.

Last month, Conway lashed out at a reporter for the Washington Examiner over a reference in a story that she “had been in the middle” of Trump’s “barbs with her husband, George, a conservative lawyer who frequently makes headlines for his criticism of the president.” The Examiner later published the audio of the call to the reporter, Caitlin Yilek.

Donald Trump Denies Watching Impeachment Hearing, But Slags “TV Lawyers” & Rep. Adam Schiff

In a statement, Conway denied that she threatened the reporter, but also said that “my goal is to answer substantive personal questions about the business of the White House yet have been subjected to personal questions which seem gossipy, inappropriate and irrelevant.”

In her statement, Conway said, “I’ve previously noted that it is unusual — especially in Washington and especially in Republican politics — for a man to gain newfound fame and power through his wife, following his own storied, decades long career as a respected and outstanding litigator in New York, which I have long admired. Like every couple I know, George and I disagree on many big things and agree on many big things. Exactly none of it affects my position as Counselor to the President. Exactly none of it is anyone’s business.”





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Trump has a Mike Pence insurance policy: The sanctimonious veep is implicated too

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Why don’t Republicans just give up and cut Donald Trump loose? That question has been on the minds of most political observers since the beginning of Trump’s presidency, and it’s only grown more intense in the wake of scandal after scandal after scandal, in which the lying, cheating, grifting, thieving sleazebag who bigoted his way into the White House continues to make fools of everyone who supports and defends him.

The mystery only deepened after the first day of public impeachment hearings on Wednesday, when the only answer Republicans had in the face of truly overwhelming evidence of Trump’s criminality was to issue a torrent of nihilistic nonsense that didn’t even try to make sense. While Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, seemed to be getting a Christian Bale-in-“American Psycho” sense of joy from all the lying, many other Republicans seemed confused, tired or flailing. Trump can wear out even the notoriously sturdy ability to lie that defines the modern Republican politician. It can’t feel great, constantly debasing themselves for a man who never shows gratitude but only keeps upping the ante, seeing how many more crimes he can commit that they’ll cover up.

The typical answer most pundits look to is this idea that Trump’s wild popularity with the almighty base protects him. Other elected Republicans are afraid that loyalty to Trump exceeds loyalty to the party, and they would lose any conflict between the two.

There’s reason to be skeptical of this view. As the blogger Atrios pointed out, Sarah Palin was once “treated as the most important voice in politics and now she is a trivia question,” and therefore “the GOP could drop their latest messiah and 5 minutes later no one would remember.” Truthfully, the same would happen if the Republicans decided, en masse, to kick Trump to the curb — their base would go along and many of them would probably also be quietly relieved to quit pretending that Trump is a voice worthy of respect.

But there’s a strong alternative explanation: Republicans have good reason to fear that if Trump goes down, he’s taking Vice President Mike Pence with him. If that happens, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who is third in line under the Constitution, would become president. Republicans may be genuinely worried that they can’t toss Trump to the curb without losing the White House entirely.

That might initially sound odd, since Pence’s name has come up only rarely in the discussion of the Ukraine scandal. He was barely mentioned during the many hours of testimony from Ambassador Bill Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent on Wednesday. But even though that mention of Pence was brief, if one reads between the lines a bit, it was also illuminating.

In his opening statement, Taylor said that on Sept. 1, Trump suddenly canceled a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, claiming Hurrican Dorian as an excuse. (In reality, Trump played golf.) In his stead, Trump sent Pence. Taylor, who received a readout of the meeting, says that Zelensky asked right away about the military aid that Trump was withholding — aid that Trump was clearly using as leverage to extort Zelensky to back up Trump’s conspiracy theory about his presumed Democratic 2020 opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Pence “did not respond substantively,” Taylor recounted, but did say that Trump “wanted the Ukrainians to do more to fight corruption.”

To the average observer, that language sounds bland and unimportant. But those who have been following this scandal closely know that “fighting corruption” was Trump’s code phrase for opening up phony investigations to damage his political enemies and bolster right-wing conspiracy theories.” We know Trump doesn’t actually want to fight corruption,  because his actual behavior and associations in Ukraine indicates a general pro-corruption point of view — and also because of common sense. We also know that while Pence might not be the sharpest pencil in the drawer, he is probably smart enough to know that “fighting corruption” was Trumpian code for “do this corrupt thing for me, or else.”

Trump’s last-minute delegation of this task to Pence has been understood as part of his larger campaign to intimidate Zelensky into doing his bidding. But it might also have served another function: To implicate Pence in the extortion scheme against Ukraine. This was right when Trump and his co-conspirators, mainly his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, were starting to sweat about getting caught. A whistleblower complaint had been filed just a couple weeks before, and career diplomats and security officials were starting to make internal complaints about the situation. No doubt Trump’s mind was very fixated on CYA at that point.

While the average viewer might not pick up these implications, Republicans in Congress watching the proceedings certainly would. Knowing that Pence toed the Trumpian line by responding to requests for aid with coded language about “fighting corruption” — language we know Zelensky understood, at this point, to mean “spread conspiracy theories about Biden” — means that Pence is implicated.

So far, Pence has avoided much scrutiny, but as Republicans are no doubt aware, Trump has no morals, no loyalty and no limits. If he senses he’s going down, there is no reason to believe he will hesitate to expose Pence’s role in this, in hopes of taking his sanctimonious veep down the slippery slide with him. Republicans have to know there’s a not-small chance that if they admit that Trump committed an impeachable offense and remove him from office, they then might face an impeachment trial for Pence too, and the prospect of a President Pelosi. (Along with a mad scramble to find someone to nominate for the 2020 presidential election.)

So they’re stuck with the guy they’ve got, who is a cunning enough criminal to know how to protect himself with his posse of lackeys, even if he’s bad at hiding incriminating evidence. Also, standing by Trump makes clear how much Republicans are sacrificing the long-term viability of their party to protect their power in the short term.

After all, while the almighty base that supports Republicans and Trump is immovable for now — drunk on Fox News propaganda, and unwilling to engage any evidence that shakes them from their GOP faith — they are also, like all human beings, mortal. (And, on average, a lot older than other voters.) There’s little reason to believe that that this nihilistic circus act being put on by Republicans will attract the newer, younger voters the party needs for its long-term health.

Republicans themselves see this, which is why they’ve focused so heavily on winding down the idea of democracy, by packing the courts and gerrymandering the voting map so that no matter how many more votes Democrats get, they never win full power. It may very well work. But the fact that they have completely abandoned any pretense of trying to argue their point and persuade voters, as the first day of impeachment hearings showed, is remarkable in itself. And if Republicans had any lingering hope that they could stanch the bleeding by replacing Trump with Pence, that seems to have gone up in smoke.



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See the viral exchange when a Republican tried calling out Trump’s whistleblower during the blockbuster impeachment hearings, and a Democrat had the perfect response

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  • Democratic Rep. Peter Welch had the perfect response ready to go when GOP Rep. Jim Jordan suggested at a Wednesday hearing that the anonymous whistleblower should testify before Congress.
  • “This anonymous so-called whistleblower with no firsthand knowledge who’s biased against the president … who is the reason we’re all sitting here today, we’ll never get a chance to question this individual,” Jordan complained.
  • “I’d be glad to have the person who started it all come and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there,” Welch shot back.
  • Two State Department officials corroborated the claims in the initial whistleblower complaint that Trump used “the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

When GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio suggested at a public impeachment hearing on Wednesday that the author of an anonymous whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump should testify before the committee, Democratic Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont had the perfect response ready to go. 

At the hearing, Jordan, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, called for the whistleblower — whose identity is unknown — to come before the committee and further questioned their credibility. 

“This anonymous so-called whistleblower with no firsthand knowledge who’s biased against the president…who is the reason we’re all sitting here today, we’ll never get a chance to question this individual,” Jordan complained. “We’ll not get to check out his credibility, his bias, his motivations … this is a sad day for our country.” 

“I say to my colleague, I’d be glad to have the person who started it all come and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there,” Welch shot back at Jordan, prompting a resounding chorus of laughter throughout the committee room. 

In early September, an anonymous whistleblower complaint lodged by a member of the intelligence community said that in a series of events culminating in a July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump used “the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”

The complaint detailed concerns that Trump, days after withholding a nearly $400 million military-aid package, used the call with Zelensky to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian oil-and-gas company, from 2014 to 2019. Trump and his allies have, without evidence, accused Biden of using his power as vice president to urge Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who was investigating Burisma in order to protect Hunter.

The whistleblower’s complaint has been corroborated by the White House’s summary notes of the July 25 call, White House officials themselves, and the sworn testimony of several career diplomatic and national-security officials.

Multiple diplomats have now testified under oath both in closed-door and public sessions that the Trump administration explicitly conditioned lifting the hold of military aid to Ukraine on Zelensky publicly announcing investigations into Burisma, and a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election to benefit Hillary Clinton.

At Wednesday’s hearing, acting US ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor and State Department official George Kent added more damning details to the allegations.

Taylor testified that the White House did, in fact, withhold the aid in exchange for investigations and said it was  “alarming” because placing a hold on military aid puts “lives at stake.”

Read more:

Bill Taylor and George Kent gave devastating testimony in the first Trump impeachment hearing. Here are the biggest takeaways.

Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan led the Republican attack against Democrats and impeachment witnesses on the first day of public hearings

A whistleblower, a cover-up, and a quid pro quo: Here’s everything we’ve learned from the impeachment inquiry





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Why a ‘Republican Economist’ Plans to Vote in the Democratic Primary

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A few weeks ago, I drove to my local city hall and changed my voter registration from Republican to independent. That was a momentous change for me, a lifelong Republican.

My allegiance to the G.O.P. was initially familial. My father had grown up in the 1920s and 1930s in Bayonne, N.J., a city that he said was run by a corrupt Democratic machine. He became a Republican to support the rule of law rather than party bosses. When I was a child, he had me deliver Republican campaign fliers door to door, long before I had any idea what politics was all about.

My real political views started forming when I studied economics in college during the 1970s and read the works of Milton Friedman, the defender of free markets and limited government. His book “Capitalism and Freedom” remains one of my favorites. Friedman associated himself with the Republican Party, making me comfortable there as well.

Early in my career, my own work was academic and far from politics. Most people assumed I was an independent or a Democrat, like most Harvard professors. In 1992, shortly after Bill Clinton became president and started tapping some of my colleagues for jobs, a college dean said: “Greg, I asked someone whether you might be joining the new administration. But he told me that you are a Republican. Could that possibly be true?” He was incredulous.

My involvement in politics began in earnest in 2003, in a Republican administration, when President George W. Bush asked me to chair his Council of Economic Advisers. I did so for two years. Later, in 2008 and 2012, I advised Mitt Romney, now a senator from Utah, during his presidential campaigns. In some eyes I became a “Republican economist.” But I always believed that good economics transcends party labels.

Now, I’m no longer a Republican economist. I’m officially an independent, for two reasons.

First, the Republican Party has increasingly become the party of Donald Trump. Though I didn’t support Mr. Trump in the 2016 election, after he won, I hoped he would rise to the challenge. He has not.

Instead, his performance as president has confirmed my worst fears: trade wars, denial of climate change, huge budget deficits, attacks on the Federal Reserve, a chaotic White House, and betrayal of our allies abroad. Worse yet, Congressional Republicans have done little to check President Trump’s egregious behavior.

Second, as an unenrolled voter — as independents are formally called in Massachusetts — I can now vote in the Democratic primary.

Though many of the Democratic candidates seem better to me than Mr. Trump, the party is at a crossroads. I worry that populists like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are proposing to move the country too far in the direction of state control of the economy. Moreover, in doing so, they tempt those in the center and center right to hold their noses and vote for Mr. Trump’s re-election.

So whom to support? As an economist and a concerned citizen, here are four things I’m looking for in a candidate’s platform:

Economic isolationism has been a hallmark of the Trump administration. Presidents used to defend free trade. Recall that George H.W. Bush negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, and Bill Clinton signed NAFTA into law. I look for a candidate who will restore that tradition.

Yes, the United States has valid complaints about China’s economic policy, especially regarding its treatment of intellectual property. But these problems are best solved working with our allies through the World Trade Organization. Like most economists, I believe that the current trade war is hurting most Americans, especially those with lower incomes.

The consensus of scientists is that climate change is a serious threat. We need to respond but in a way that avoids rigid government regulation. The solution is a carbon tax, with all revenue rebated as carbon dividends. Putting a price on carbon would give everyone an incentive to reduce their carbon footprint.

As we consider ways to improve the health care system, we should remember that the system, while imperfect, works well for many people. “Medicare for all” is a radical step. There is no reason to throw millions of Americans off private insurance plans that they like. The risk of unintended consequences is too large. A public option has some potential pitfalls as well, but it has the virtue of being far less disruptive.

President Trump is polarizing, often intentionally, as when he calls his opponents “human scum.” We need a respite from such divisiveness.

But I fear that we may not find it from some of the Democrats, who have been demonizing the wealthy, as if success in a capitalist economy is shameful. Many of the wealthy are, instead, the innovators and entrepreneurs who drive productivity higher, raising living standards across the economy.

At their best, presidents bring people together rather than pushing them apart. They recognize that our problems are shared and that the best solutions are shared as well.

Free lunches, or lunches put on other people’s tab, are suspect. When politicians promise voters vastly increased government services paid by increased taxes on only a small sliver of the population, I see dissembling.

For example, as I have written here before, Senator Warren’s proposed tax on wealth, which aims at the richest 0.1 percent of the population, is unlikely to raise as much revenue as she claims. Basing a wildly ambitious social agenda on fundamentally unrealistic financing plans strikes me as the left’s version of building a wall and having Mexico pay for it.

So which candidate best meets my criteria? I don’t know yet, but I look forward to finding out.

N. Gregory Mankiw is the Robert M. Beren Professor of Economics at Harvard University.





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Second U.S. embassy official reportedly heard Trump call with Sondland

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Trump on Wednesday said he did not recall the July 26 call.

“No, not at all, not even a little bit,” Trump said.

The staffer Taylor testified about is David Holmes, the political counselor at the embassy in Kyiv, according to an official familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Holmes is scheduled to testify Friday before House investigators in a closed session.

Taylor was one of the first witnesses called Wednesday during the impeachment inquiry’s initial open hearing. He testified that his staffer could hear Trump on the phone asking Sondland about “the investigations.”

The accounts of Holmes and Jayanti could tie Trump closer to efforts to hold up military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations into his political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s business dealings.



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Trump asks U.S. Supreme Court to prevent release of his tax returns

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Thursday asked the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to reverse a lower court ruling that directed his longtime accounting firm to hand over eight years of his tax returns to New York prosecutors.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a joint news conference with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

Trump appealed a Nov. 4 ruling by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that prosecutors can enforce a subpoena demanding his personal and corporate tax returns from 2011 to 2018 from accounting firm Mazars LLP.

“In our petition, we assert that the subpoena violates the U.S. Constitution and therefore is unenforceable. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will grant review in this significant constitutional case and reverse the dangerous and damaging decision of the appeals court,” said Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s lawyers.

The legal questions include whether the subpoena violates the part of the U.S. Constitution that lays out the power of the president.

The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat, is seeking the returns as part of a criminal investigation into Trump and the Trump Organization, the president’s family real estate business.

Trump’s lawyers have said he cannot be subjected to any criminal process while he remains president, a broad interpretation of presidential immunity. Even if he is not immune, the subpoena is not valid because Vance has not shown any specific need for the information, Trump’s lawyers argued.

“There has been broad bipartisan agreement, for decades if not for centuries, that a sitting president cannot be subjected to criminal proceedings,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.

Vance’s investigation involves alleged hush money payments to two women prior to the 2016 election who said they had sexual relationships with Trump, which he denies. Those payments were made to Stormy Daniels, a porn star whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, with the help of Trump’s now-imprisoned former lawyer Michael Cohen.

If the justices decline to hear Trump’s appeal, the lower court ruling would stand, clearing the way for Vance to obtain the documents.

If they opt to take up the appeal, the justices then must decide whether to hear the case in their current term, which ends in June, or in their next term that begins in October 2020, likely pushing any decision until after the November 2020 presidential election.

Vance agreed not to seek enforcement of the subpoena while Trump appealed the matter on an expedited schedule.

Trump, who built a real estate empire with his New York-based business before becoming president, also faces an impeachment inquiry in the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives.

In a separate case in which the president has unsuccessfully fought efforts by House Democrats to obtain his financial records from Mazars, Trump’s lawyers are due to file an emergency application at the Supreme Court on Friday, Sekulow said.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Oct. 11 ruled in favor of the House.

The same court on Wednesday declined to rehear that case, prompting Trump to turn to the high court.

The court’s 5-4 conservative majority includes two justices Trump appointed: Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and Neil Gorsuch in 2017. Trump has prevailed at the Supreme Court on major issues such as his travel ban on people entering the United States from several Muslim-majority countries, but some legal experts have predicted that he may not fare as well on cases focusing on his personal conduct.

The House impeachment inquiry focuses on Trump’s request in a July phone call for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate a domestic political rival, Joe Biden, the former vice president and a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination to face Trump.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Karen Freifeld and Brendan Pierson; Editing by Will Dunham



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