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Week In Politics: Impeachment And State Of The Union – NPR

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We look at what’s next in the impeachment trial of President Trump and what to expect from his upcoming State of the Union speech on Tuesday.



DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

A two-week-long Senate trial yielded no witnesses. It also almost certainly will lead to the acquittal of President Trump by Wednesday afternoon. Starting Monday, the legal teams will present their final arguments in the president’s impeachment trial.

Here to help us figure out what that means is NPR’s national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

FOLKENFLIK: So if the president’s acquittal is this foregone conclusion, do all these other arguments and speeches matter? If so, why?

LIASSON: I think they do matter. There’s certainly no suspense that he’s going to be acquitted. We knew that once the witness vote on Friday failed. But what we didn’t know is whether the president was going to be acquitted on his own terms. His legal team and he himself has made it very clear he wants to be acquitted by – with the Republican senators saying he did nothing wrong. It was a perfect call. You heard their arguments that even if he did it, it was fine. Abuse of power is not impeachable.

So the question was, is that how Republican senators would explain their vote to acquit, or would they stand up and say what he did was wrong and inappropriate, but impeachment is a political death penalty and is the wrong answer so close to an election?

We got the first clue to that question on Friday, when Senator Lamar Alexander posted on Twitter why he was going to vote against witnesses. He said there was a mountain of evidence. The president did what he was accused of. And he also went on “Meet the Press,” and here’s what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, “MEET THE PRESS”)

LAMAR ALEXANDER: I think he shouldn’t have done it. I think it was wrong. Inappropriate was the way I’d say – improper, crossing the line. And then the only question left is, who decides what to do about that?

LIASSON: In Alexander’s mind, who decides? The voters should decide. We’re only about nine months away from an election, and they should make the decision whether President Trump should remain in office or not. We’ve heard similar arguments from Senators Rubio, Portman and Toomey. We just don’t know how many others will stand up and say that.

FOLKENFLIK: And Mitt Romney called it, I think, wrong and appalling.

LIASSON: Wrong and appalling.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. So what difference does it make if a couple of Republicans are highly critical and if a number of them say, look; this was wrong, and yet, here they are still acquitting him?

LIASSON: As a practical matter, it makes no difference at all. It certainly will show that the – President Trump has now demonstrated his total control over Republicans in Congress, whether they are staying in office or retiring. But it could matter because it could be used in television attack ads by Democrats. They’ll cherry-pick those criticisms by Republicans.

It also matters because the Senate is sending a message. Are they sending a message that what the president did was perfect and he can do whatever he wants? As the president says, Article II of the Constitution allows me to do whatever I want. Or are they sending a message that what the president did was wrong, but that impeachment and removal is the wrong remedy? Remember, when Bill Clinton was acquitted, Democratic senators didn’t stand up and say having sex with an intern was a great thing. They criticized him. But they said it wasn’t worth removing him over lying about sex.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, you mentioned Bill Clinton. He came out of that acquittal pretty chastened for the rest of his term.

LIASSON: Yes.

FOLKENFLIK: You know, here, Senator Murkowski, who voted not to allow witnesses – an Alaska Republican – says the Senate is broken. Congress is broken. You have all those senators you mentioned saying, you know, what he did was wrong. So if – for the rest of President Trump’s term, whether it’s till next year or for a second term, what check is there from the legislature on what this president – that’s executive branch – does?

LIASSON: I don’t think there is much of a check. Remember, the House managers and the House leadership worried about this. They said, if we impeach him – and he’s certainly going to be acquitted in the Senate – is that going to embolden the president to stand up and say, Russia, Saudi Arabia, China, if you’re listening, please send me some dirt on Joe Biden because the Senate said it was OK for me to do it? You know, that’s very possible.

We don’t know if the politics of this will change. Right now, the president probably has gotten a little boost from his base over impeachment. But it really hasn’t changed the overall politics. There hasn’t been a big groundswell for impeachment or a backlash against it. And there really isn’t a check right now.

FOLKENFLIK: And lastly, Mara, you know, we should note the president is set to deliver the State of the Union address Tuesday evening just before the final vote is expected to happen at his trial. What should we expect to hear?

LIASSON: What we’ve been told from White House officials is that the president is going to use his State of the Union address kind of like the first big campaign speech. He’s going to talk a lot about the economy, the, quote, “great American comeback.” He’s going to talk about all the things he’s done – low unemployment, signing the USMCA, getting China to agree to buy more American products. He’s going to tout his accomplishments. The big question is, will he mention impeachment or not? Senators like Lindsey Graham are telling him he really shouldn’t mention it. But it’s hard to imagine that he’ll miss the opportunity to gloat about his impending victory.

FOLKENFLIK: That’s NPR’s national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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The Driving Force in Irish Politics? Finding a Decent Place to Live – The New York Times

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DUBLIN — After Ireland’s economy cratered in 2008, the friends and fellow activists watched a mass exodus of young people do what the Irish had always done in times of crisis: Leave the country for more prosperous shores.

But now that Ireland has rebounded to become the fastest-growing economy in Europe, they had a different problem: how to stay.

“There’s definitely periods of my life where I’ve had panic attacks in the shower and it’s because of money and housing,” said Catherine O’Keeffe, 29, sitting around a table in a north Dublin storefront the other week with a group of anti-eviction housing activists. “I knew our landlords were pushing, pushing, pushing to get us out, and it was never clear when they would win.”

Ireland is in the grip of a housing crisis so severe that it has rendered thousands of people homeless and hollowed out a social contract that for decades allowed many Irish people to purchase a home.

It has also unmoored Irish voters from the center-right consensus that has dominated the country’s politics since 1932. Sinn Fein, a left-wing party long considered a pariah for its ties to the Irish Republican Army and that group’s often-violent struggles with the British government, catapulted to a second-place finish in Ireland’s general election this month.

Breaking from the government’s landlord-friendly policies, the party proposed freezing rents and building 100,000 homes, plans that dovetailed with housing protests of recent years and that have turned the party into a kingmaker in Ireland’s splintered political scene.

In doing so, Sinn Fein became the latest example of how housing is shaping politics across Europe. Back in the 1980s, right-wing parties like Britain’s Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher encouraged homeownership in the belief it would make people sympathetic to low-tax, right-wing politics. Today, left-wing parties may now stand to benefit from a generation of young voters watching the dream of homeownership vanish.

“In an environment where the proportion of people renting is increasing rapidly, from a country that used to have massive levels of homeownership, I think that creates some instability in the system,” said Kevin Cunningham, a political consultant and polling director of AskEurope, a research firm. “That could be an interesting dynamic replicated in the left of Europe.”

So far, right-wing populist parties have largely benefited from new divisions in the electorate over housing, with people living in areas untouched by the boom in property prices supporting causes like Brexit in greater numbers. But the Irish election showed the potency of a rental crisis for younger and more left-wing voters, too.

“This is the first example in northern Europe of a left-populist party really managing to capture the discontent of younger renters,” said Ben Ansell, a professor at Oxford University who has studied links between the housing market and populism.

Ireland’s housing crisis has its roots in the financial crash of 2008, which devastated the country’s economy and stopped virtually all new building projects in their tracks. People’s wages eventually recovered, but home prices exploded, soaring by 90 percent in Dublin since 2012. That pushed more and more people into the private rental market.

Strict new rules on mortgage lending, widely embraced as needed protection from another financial crisis, are one factor limiting people’s housing options. Another is the government’s decision to rely on what critics deride as market-based responses to the housing shortage, rather than building new public housing.

Soaring rents — driven even higher, critics say, by a misguided subsidy system — are taking ever larger chunks out of young people’s wages, making it all but impossible for them to save for a down payment on a house. And because Ireland has long treated renting as little more than a stopgap before people inevitably buy homes, its weak tenant protections allow landlords to evict renters almost at will.

Brian McLoughlin, the head of communications for Inner City Helping Homeless in Dublin, said the group had seen an explosion of families seeking help in recent years after being evicted by landlords. Often, the government houses them in hotel rooms, where the conditions can be severely cramped.

Large technology companies, attracted by government tax breaks, have created thousands of high-paying jobs in Dublin. That has helped push property developers into the higher end of the market, while creating the perception of a two-tiered recovery, with longtime Dubliners on the short end.

Brian Breathnach, 61, an artist who grew up there, said he remembered when it was “part of the tradition that most people went from their parents’ home into buying their own home.” But no longer. With his wife, who works in a shopping center, and two children, Mr. Breathnach spent 18 years on a waiting list for public housing.

In rental homes, he said, they faced regular negotiations with landlords over rent hikes and an expectation that they not complain about damp or broken appliances, lest they “waken the sleeping giant or such.”

A few years ago, they were evicted by a landlord who said a relative was moving in, a story often used as legal cover to drive out renters and break a house into smaller units to make more money.

This summer, Mr. Breathnach moved into an apartment in an affordable housing complex run by the Iveagh Trust, a charity, a reprieve after decades of instability. He lamented that housing had become a vehicle for building wealth.

“It’s a bit like an art auction, where things become rare and they go out of the reach of ordinary people,” Mr. Breathnach said. “And it seems to me housing should not be treated like diamonds or Rembrandts.”

Sinn Fein made those feelings the centerpiece of its campaign. The party, seeking to raise the pressure on its rivals to include them in talks about forming the next government, held a series of public rallies this past week that have drawn a thunderous reception.

The two big center-right parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, led by Ireland’s caretaker prime minister, Leo Varadkar, have hesitated so far to form their own coalition government, wary of being seen as blocking voters’ desire for change. But Sinn Fein’s left-wing policies and its old ties to the Irish Republican Army, a paramilitary group that fought for an end to British rule in Northern Ireland, have also made it an unpopular partner.

Una Mullally, a writer in Dublin, said voters were reacting to an economic recovery that still seemed to collect in the pockets of the rich.

“This election is kind of an echo or delayed reaction to the crash and the austerity policies that were implemented,” she said. “People are saying, ‘Well, if the economy is doing really well, why is the cost of living so high?’”

A few days after the election, in the Dublin constituency of Sinn Fein’s leader, Mary Lou McDonald, Ms. O’Keeffe gathered with other young people affected by the housing crisis for an open-door support group, a place for people to bring their complaints about landlords and organize.

Their group, Dublin Central Housing Action, has taken part in high-profile occupations of disused offices or hotels that activists have turned into homeless shelters, and in confrontations with landlords at the homes of people facing evictions.

“We’re trying to push back against landlord impunity as much as we can,” said Tómas Lynch, 29. “Rents are going up; it’s very hard to find a new place to live in Dublin if you’re evicted, so people are very afraid to challenge almost anything.”

Mr. Lynch said many people he knew moved to Australia or Britain after the crash. The economic recovery has lured some back with better-paying jobs, while making it nearly impossible for many young Irish people to find a place to live there.

Another organizer, Brennan Lawrence, 28, said he had spent weeks living on friend’s couches during two stretches of being without a home recently, despite sometimes sending 100 requests a day to view properties. He said co-workers had become so discouraged by homeownership prospects that they were moving to London, hardly an affordable city.

Even after finding a place in Dublin, Mr. Lawrence endured a year and a half without heating in his bedroom, with little or no legal recourse.

“People are too afraid, or simply unable to move house, so it doesn’t matter what the letter of the rental law is,” he said.

Ms. O’Keeffe, who has been evicted twice in recent years, said a sense of transience hung over most young people’s lives in Dublin now, with the dream of homeownership replaced by the reality of aggressive landlords riding roughshod over renters.

“It’s weird not to have ownership of the place you live,” she said. “I love Dublin, I love Ireland, but it’s that thing of constantly being told over and over again that it’s not yours.”

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The decade that shattered trust in politics – BBC News

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Who do you trust?

That’s no small question. But it’s a fundamental one when it comes to politics.

For democracy to work well, voters have to have at least a modicum of faith that when politicians are taking decisions they are doing it in our best interests, or at least they are doing what they perceive to be the right thing even if you believe they are wildly wrong.

There’s little doubt that the agonies of the Brexit process saw trust being stretched to breaking point.

While in such an era of political controversy there has been huge concern, thousands of column inches and hours of discussion on the airwaves about the damage that’s been done, the British public didn’t just wake up one morning and decide that their politicians were a bunch of charlatans.

And there were plenty of reasons why voters had concerns about whether they could trust them long before a certain campaign group put a certain number on the side of a red bus.

It seems a different age, but there were dramatic events in the previous decade that certainly undermined the relationship between the public and those in power.

And in a new documentary, The Decade of Distrust, to be aired on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday evening, we delve into the archive of 2000 to 2010.

We revisit the political controversies of the Iraq war, the jaw-dropping revelations of the MPs’ expenses scandal, the estimate-busting increase in immigration, the horror of Harold Shipman’s murders and, more than anything else, the financial crash, the moment when the foundations of the economy and the basis of our political assumptions simply fell away.

The programme takes us from Gordon Brown’s living room in Fife and George Osborne’s editor’s office at the Evening Standard in London back in time.

It was almost eerie to talk to those two about how the crash unfolded and the impact it had on our faith in the political system.

The former prime minister now believes the people lost trust not because his government made mistakes in handling the crisis, but because they didn’t explain to the public what was happening.

He told me: ‘We didn’t communicate properly, and trust was lost because of that.

“I look back to Roosevelt who did Saturday night radio broadcasts, I kept thinking what is the medium to get our message across?

“People wanted gameshows. Social media was becoming big but we didn’t really realise the power of it.

“So we didn’t get our message across properly, we didn’t explain it’s a banking crisis, it was worldwide, we had an answer.”

George Osborne reflects that the combination of events in those years, the “rabbit punches of the expenses scandal, and of the bailing out of the banks” created a climate where people found it harder to trust the government, with consequences we are still living with today, although he jokes that the cartoons he publishes in the paper he edits now are far less rude than those in previous centuries.

British voters have always been a healthily sceptical bunch.

Politicians have never exactly been held up as paragons of virtue.

But it is hard for any political generation to restore the public’s faith and trust once it has gone, and the first 10 years of this century set the scene for the turmoil in the UK we have just all lived through.

You can listen to our documentary tonight on BBC Radio 4 at 2000 GMT and on BBC Sounds afterwards.

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Coronavirus: how the outbreak is changing global politics – Financial Times

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There is a plaque in the English seaside town of Weymouth which records, matter-of-factly: “The Black Death entered England in 1348 through this port. It killed 30-50 per cent of the country’s total
population”.

International epidemics are a centuries-old phenomena that have often changed the course of history. The Black Death, which some believe originated in China and others trace to the Crimea, caused devastation across Europe — bringing social, economic and political turmoil in its wake. Centuries later, it was European explorers who carried new diseases across the Atlantic — creating epidemics that decimated indigenous populations in the Americas.

Since the coronavirus appears to have a mortality rate of around 2 per cent it will not have the impact of history’s worst pandemics. But, for a modern society, the worst-case scenarios are still shocking. This week a leaked British government estimate outlined an extreme case in which 80 per cent of the UK public is infected, leading to 500,000 deaths. Professor Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health has predicted that between 40 and 70 per cent of people worldwide are likely to be infected in the coming year — although many will have only mild symptoms or none at all.

A public health emergency, combined with a global recession, has the potential to change politics around the world. At this stage, the most obvious risks concern China, the US presidential election, a rise in international tensions, and the threat to the world’s poorest countries and to refugees.

US election:
Trump vulnerability

President Donald Trump seems anxious that a potential pandemic could upend the US election in November © Carlos Barria/Reuters

Donald Trump, US president, said this week that “coronavirus is very much under control in the USA” and suggested that now might be a good time to buy stocks. Mr Trump has always believed a soaring stock market would be a huge asset in his bid for re-election in November. Now he seems anxious that a potential pandemic could upend the election. But if the president’s predictions that the epidemic will be contained prove over-optimistic, he may have increased his own political vulnerability.

The Trump administration’s record on preparing for epidemics is also vulnerable to attack. After the Ebola virus outbreak of 2014, the Obama administration hosted an international summit to set up global arrangements to deal with future epidemics — and it created a unit in the National Security Council to focus on the issue. But that unit was disbanded by the Trump administration in 2018 and America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also suffered drastic cuts to its epidemic prevention activities.

A pandemic — if one is eventually declared — could increase calls for more government direction of the US health system, which might bolster the arguments made for nationalised healthcare by Senator Bernie Sanders, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.

Given the strong libertarian tradition on the American far-right — and the popularity of conspiracy theories about the federal government’s plan to remove the liberties of ordinary Americans — the US government would struggle to quarantine towns in the manner seen in China and on a smaller scale, in Italy.

Any effort to do so could potentially spark violence between the federal authorities and gun-toting militias.

China:
A threat to legitimacy

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, wearing a protective face mask receives a temperature check as he inspects the novel coronavirus pneumonia prevention and control work at a neighbourhoods in Beijing, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. China reported a rise in new virus cases on Monday, possibly denting optimism that its disease control measures like isolating major cities might be working, while Japan reported dozens of new cases aboard a quarantined cruise ship. (Pang Xinglei/Xinhua via AP)
Chinese President Xi Jinping receives a temperature check as he visits neighbourhoods in Beijing © Pang Xinglei/AP

Unlike Mr Trump, Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, does not have to worry about re-election. Yet, the coronavirus still poses a threat to his popularity and legitimacy — and even, conceivably, to his leadership.

With travel outside the country sharply curtailed and major Chinese cities effectively shut down, it is clear that Xi’s China is simultaneously facing a health emergency, an economic crisis and international embarrassment.

The government in Beijing has sought to portray the virus as a natural disaster — with no fault attached to Mr Xi or his administration. The official line stresses Beijing’s ability to take rapid and effective action, and the social solidarity displayed by ordinary Chinese people as they battle to contain the epidemic. With more than half the country of 1.4bn facing some restrictions on their freedom of movement and 150m facing controls on leaving their homes, China has arguably initiated the largest cordon sanitaire in history.

Nonetheless, the official story is clearly open to challenge — as was demonstrated by the outcry sparked by the death of Li Wenliang, a young doctor working in Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic. In the early days of the crisis, Li had raised the alarm in an online chat group. This earned him a visit from the police, who forced him to promise to stop spreading rumours and to sign a confession. On his deathbed, Li made a statement that later went viral — “I think a healthy society should not only have one kind of voice”. Without mentioning China’s president, Li’s dying testament was an elegant and poignant condemnation of the style of strongman politics that Mr Xi has pursued.

International tensions:
Virus feeds enmity

2B0666W Sydney, Australia. 19th February 2020. Students at the university of Sydney protested against the decision by the Morrison government to deny all entry to Australia for people travelling from China (apart from Australian citizens and permanent residents) in response to the coronavirus. Credit: Richard Milnes/Alamy Live News
Students at Sydney university protesting against the government decision to deny entry to people travelling from China © Richard Milnes/Alamy

The global blame game has already begun to intensify tensions between nations as conspiracy theories proliferate and borders close.

In internet chat rooms in China, speculation that the virus was manufactured in America to damage China is common. Officials in Beijing have not voiced conspiracy theories of this sort, but some of their counterparts in the US have not been so restrained. Senator Tom Cotton, a hawkish Republican with presidential ambitions, has suggested that the coronavirus was spawned by a bio-weapons programme in a government laboratory in Wuhan. In Iran, where senior members of the government have become infected with the virus, President Hassan Rouhani has called the fears spread by coronavirus “a conspiracy by the enemies of Iran”.

Directly blaming other countries for the manufacture or spread of the virus remains comparatively rare. But the adoption of quarantines and travel bans across the world is causing friction between nations.

Chinese officials have criticised the Trump administration’s decision to deny entry to foreign nationals who had been in China in the previous 14 days — as well as a travel advisory warning Americans not to visit the country — saying the measures had “triggered unnecessary panic”. Meanwhile, Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, has criticised China and Iran for withholding information. Yet Beijing wants praise from the international community for its efforts to contain the virus. Wang Yi, Chinese foreign minister, insisted: “China is not only protecting its own people but also the rest of the world.”

For coverage on the novel coronavirus and up-to-date graphics please visit ft.com/coronavirus-latest

But as the situation rapidly deteriorated in South Korea there was a proliferation of anti-Chinese sentiment, in part directed at Beijing but also at President Moon Jae-in for his government’s reluctance to ban Chinese visitors. Despite their difficult relationship, Japan has studiously avoided any criticism of Beijing over the outbreak. But Japan’s public reaction has been more hostile, with some restaurants putting up signs refusing Chinese customers.

With a major outbreak of the virus confirmed in Italy, the EU is now concerned about a threat to the Schengen border-free travel zone, which covers 26 European countries. The continent’s refugee crisis has already put Schengen under strain — with countries such as France and Austria re-establishing border checks. Under EU law, countries are allowed to close their frontiers in the case of a public health emergency. But such actions are meant to follow clear guidelines issued by Brussels. The danger is that, as the political pressure mounts, EU countries may take haphazard and uncoordinated actions.

International trade could suffer as much as international travel. Globalisation has not been a fashionable cause for some years — as protectionists blame trade for job losses, and Green politicians highlight the environmental costs. The epidemic gives the anti-globalisers another argument, allowing them to highlight the dangers of relying on supply chains vulnerable to the kinds of disruption caused by the virus.

Refugees and poor countries:
Can health systems cope?

TOPSHOT - A womancarries her child as she crosses a wooden bridge in the refugee camp of Moria, on the island of Lesbos on November 26, 2019. - Conditions remain difficult in the overcrowded Moria camp in Greece with winter fast approaching. The government announced on November 20it will shut down the three largest of its overcrowded migrant camps on islands facing Turkey, and replace them with new closed facilities with much larger capacity. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP) (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Overcrowded refugee camps such as the one in Moria, Greece, are vulnerable to the spread of contagion © Aris Messinis/AFP

Up to now, the biggest confirmed outbreaks of the virus have mostly taken place in rich or middle-income countries with strong central governments — such as China, Japan, Italy and South Korea. But the virus will be much harder to contain, if and when it spreads to poorer nations, with less-developed health systems. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has reported its first case. And there are fears that there may already be significant numbers of cases in nations such as Indonesia and India — which have not yet been reported. Indonesia, with a population of 270m and close economic and transport ties to China, is a particular concern.

In Europe and the Middle East, refugees are often living in crowded camps in unhealthy conditions, with 12m scattered across Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Syria — and a further 1m (mainly Afghans) in Iran. The situation of the Syrians fleeing the current military assault on Idlib — many of whom are living in tents along the Turkish border — is already desperate, and looks vulnerable to the spread of contagion. In that context, the Turkish government’s announcement this week that it will no longer restrict the flow of refugees to Europe will alarm the EU.

The past week has seen the coronavirus mutate into a truly global crisis. The worst-case health scenarios will probably be avoided. But the political effects of the outbreak are only just beginning.

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