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Woodward, Bernstein Still Atop the News, Long After Watergate

More than 40 years after they became the world’s most famous journalism duo, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are still making news.

Bernstein was among three CNN reporters who last week broke the story of former Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s allegation that Trump knew in advance of the June 2016 meeting between representatives of his presidential campaign and Russian officials. On Tuesday, Woodward’s upcoming book, Fear: Inside the Trump White House, was No. 1 on Amazon.com, within a day of its announcement. 

The former Washington Post colleagues known for their Watergate coverage speak regularly, they say, comparing notes on the Trump era.

‘He’s a news junkie, and I’m a news junkie,” Woodward, 75, explained Tuesday during a telephone interview, adding that he includes a tribute to Bernstein in his new book’s acknowledgements.

“We keep each other posted pretty well,” Bernstein, 74, said during a separate phone interview. “Obviously, we do different things. But we also have a lifetime of understanding each other and looking at news together.” 

Successful author

Woodward, an associate editor at the Post, is among the most successful nonfiction authors of his time, with a long series of best-selling accounts of sitting presidents from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama. A new Woodward book even became a political tradition — coming out in the fall of an election year.

But after the 2012 release of The Price of Politics, Woodward stepped away from the present, publishing no works on Obama’s second term, and instead focused on Watergate-era news. The Last of the President’s Men, his work on White House aide Alexander Butterfield, the man who revealed Nixon’s taping system, came out in 2015.

A Trump book was an easy choice for Woodward, who calls the current president’s rise a “pivot point” in American history. According to his publisher, Simon & Schuster, Woodward will show the “harrowing life” of the Trump White House and the president’s decision-making process as he draws upon “hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, contemporaneous meeting notes, files, documents and personal diaries.”

What is power?

The book’s title draws upon an interview Woodward and Post reporter Robert Costa had with Trump that was published in April 2016. Costa had noted that Obama defined power as “you can get what you want without having to exert violence.” Trump had a different interpretation.

His answer was, Woodward said, checking his notes, “Real power is — I don’t even want to use the word — ‘fear.’ ”

Bernstein is a political commentator for CNN whose books include A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton and the two Nixon-era classics he wrote with Woodward, All the President’s Men and The Final Days. He is currently working on a memoir about his early years of journalism, when he was starting out at the now-defunct Washington Star.

“My time at the Star was a great learning experience, and then there was the Post and Watergate. Those two experiences inform pretty much everything I do,” Bernstein said.

“Imagine,” he added, referring to himself and Woodward, “here we are, 74 and 75 years old, and we still get to do this.”

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Mexico Still Preparing for US Car Tariffs, Backs WTO Reform

Mexico is still preparing all options to respond to possible U.S. tariffs on car imports, Deputy Economy Minister Juan Carlos Baker said on Tuesday, despite U.S.-European talks last week that were supposed to have seen off the immediate threat.

Last week European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he had secured a “major concession” from President Donald Trump, having agreed that as long as the two sides were negotiating on trade, they would hold off on imposing further measures, including U.S. tariffs on cars and auto parts.

Baker was speaking after meeting senior trade officials from Canada, Japan, South Korea and the European Union in Geneva, which is also home to the World Trade Organization.

The countries — long term U.S. allies which are at odds with Trump over trade relations — were not coordinating their response, Baker told reporters. However, they were all determined to respond if tariffs on cars were imposed, he said, noting that the U.S. process to introduce them had not stopped.

“We take that very seriously. Until that process is fully concluded and no tariffs are imposed, we need to be serious and consider the possibility that those tariffs may be established.

We need to make clear that we are prepared to react,” he said.

Over several hours of talks at the EU mission, the five powers — all of them hit by Trump’s steel tariffs imposed in March, and concerned about his disruption of the WTO — also discussed reform of the 23-year-old trading club.

Trump is demanding a shake-up of the WTO, saying it treats the United States unfairly and gives China undue advantages.

To force the issue, he has brought the WTO’s system for settling international trade disputes to the brink of collapse by blocking the appointment of judges when the terms of others expire, a situation that diplomats and trade officials have described as hostage taking and the “asphyxiation” of the WTO.

Baker said there were several sets of reform ideas on the table for the WTO and he was encouraged. “We would not be doing this if we believed the process is doomed to fail,” he said. “We all feel the sense of urgency here. We do not necessarily have a due date … but the sooner we start the better.”

Proposals are likely to be polished in the next few months, including at meetings of the G20 major economies, an APEC forum of Pacific rim countries, and at a Canadian-hosted meeting in October. A trade ministers’ meeting in Davos in January would be an important moment to take stock of progress, he said.

“Today was only a very initial, incipient discussion but I believe it was good in terms of knowing how much running round we have ahead of us.”

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Trump Administration Considering Tax Break on Capital Gains

The Trump administration is studying the idea of implementing a big tax break for wealthy Americans by reducing the taxes levied on capital gains, but no decision has been made yet on whether to proceed.

Administration officials said Tuesday Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin prefers deferring to Congress. But he does have his department studying the economic impact of such a change and the legality of proceeding without congressional approval.

The change would involve taxing capital gains — profits on investments such as stocks or real estate — after taking into account inflation, which would lower the tax bite. Capital gains taxes are currently determined by subtracting the original price of an asset from the price at which it was sold and taxing the difference without adjusting for inflation.

For example, a stock purchased in 1990 for $100,000 and sold today for $300,000 would produce a $200,000 capital gain. That amount, taxed at the top capital gains rate of 23.8 percent, would result in a tax bill of $47,600. However, if the $200,000 gain was trimmed to just $103,000 by adjusting for inflation over the past 28 years, the tax bill would be $24,514.

“There has been a great deal of interest in this provision for a long time,” said a White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations. “Treasury is currently evaluating the economic impact and whether it can be achieved without legislation.”

Indexing capital gains for inflation would reduce federal revenue by about $102 billion over a decade, according to the Penn-Wharton Budget Model. The Congressional Research Service has estimated that about 90 percent of the benefits would go to the top 1 percent of households.

The New York Times and the Washington Post reported Tuesday that the proposal was under active consideration by the administration. It has long been supported by Larry Kudlow, head of the president’s National Economic Council. Mnuchin, however, has signaled caution in approaching the idea.

Republicans, led by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady is leading an effort to extend and expand the $1.5 trillion tax cut President Donald Trump pushed through Congress last December.

“If it can’t get done through a legislative process, we will look at what tools at Treasury we have to do it on our own and we’ll consider that,” Mnuchin said in an interview with the Times in which he emphasized that he has not yet concluded that Treasury has the authority to act alone.

“We are studying that internally, and we are also studying the economic costs and the impact on growth,” Mnuchin told the Times.

Democrats, however, vowed to oppose the change to how capital gains are taxed.

“Once again, Republicans have exposed the true priorities of their tax scam: billions in tax breaks for the wealthiest at the expense of everyone else,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “American families are drowning under the weight of stagnant wages, higher health costs and soaring prescription drug costs, but the GOP continues to pick their pockets to give more handouts to the wealthiest 1 percent.”

In an interview in June with The Wall Street Journal, Mnuchin declined to speculate on whether Treasury has the legal authority to make the capital gains change on its own.

Democrats in the Senate have urged Mnuchin not to take the step, saying Treasury does not have the authority. They pointed to legal opinions written by the Justice and Treasury departments in 1992 finding that Congress intended the word “cost” to mean the price paid in nominal dollars — without adjusting for inflation.

Treasury acting on its own “would almost exclusively benefit the wealthiest Americans, add $100 billion to the ballooning deficit, further complicate the tax code and ignore the need for congressional” approval, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, and other Democratic panel members said in a letter to Mnuchin in May.

“The $100 billion price tag is a conservative estimate because it does not consider the abundant tax-sheltering opportunities that would arise,” the Democrats wrote. “Further, the proposal would fail American workers, investment and the larger U.S. economy.”

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Once Oil-Wealthy, Venezuela’s Largest State Struggles to Keep Lights On

Across Maracaibo, the capital of Venezuela’s largest state, residents unplug refrigerators to guard against power surges. Many only buy food they will consume the same day. Others regularly sleep outside.

The rolling power blackouts in the state of Zulia pile more misery on Venezuelans living under a fifth year of an economic crisis that has sparked malnutrition, hyperinflation and mass emigration. OPEC member Venezuela’s once-thriving socialist economy has collapsed since the 2014 fall of oil prices.

“I never thought I would have to go through this,” said bakery worker Cindy Morales, 36, her eyes welling with tears. “I don’t have food, I don’t have power, I don’t have money.”

Zulia, the historic heart of Venezuela’s energy industry that was for decades known for opulent oil wealth, has been plunged into darkness for several hours a day since March, sometimes leaving its 3.7 million residents with no electricity for up to 24 hours.

In the past, Zulians considered themselves living in a “Venezuelan Texas,” rich from oil and with an identity proudly distinct from the rest of the country. Oil workers could often be seen driving new cars and flew by private jet to the Dutch Caribbean territory of Curacao to gamble their earnings in casinos.

Once famous for its all-night parties, now Maracaibo is often a sea of darkness at night due to blackouts.

The six state-owned power stations throughout Zulia have plenty of oil to generate electricity but a lack of maintenance and spare parts causes frequent breakdowns, leaving the plants running at 20 percent capacity, said Angel Navas, the president of the national Federation of Electrical Workers.

Energy Minister Luis Motta said this month that power cuts of up to eight hours a day would be the norm in Zulia while authorities developed a “stabilization” plan. He did not provide additional details and the Information Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

The Zulia state government did not respond to a request to comment.

Although Caracas has fared far better than Maracaibo, a major outage hit the capital city on Tuesday morning for around two hours due to a fault at a substation. The energy minister said “heavy rains” had been reported near the substation.

Venezuelans were forced to walk or cram into buses as much of the subway was shut. Long lines formed in front of banks and stores in the hopes power would flick back on. The fault also affected some phone lines and the main Maiquetia airport just outside the capital.

“This is terrible. I feel helpless because I want to go to work but I am in this queue instead,” said domestic worker Nassari Parra, 50, as she waited in a line of 20 people in front of a closed bank.

Maracaibo “Ghost Town”

Retiree Judith Palmar, 56, took advantage of having power to cook one afternoon last week in Maracaibo.

When the lights do go out, Palmar wheels her paralyzed mother outside because the house becomes intolerably hot. One power cut damaged an air conditioning unit, which Palmar cannot afford to replace on her pension of about $1.50 a month due to inflation, estimated by the opposition-run Congress in June at 46,000 percent a year.

Outages are taking a toll on businesses in Zulia.

Zulia used to produce 70 percent of Venezuela’s milk and meat but without power to milk cows and keep meat from spoiling, the state’s production has fallen nearly in half, according to Venezuela’s National Federation of Ranchers.

Zulia’s proportion of Venezuela’s total oil production has also slipped over the past 10 years from 38 percent to 25 percent, figures from state oil company PDVSA show.

Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city, seems like a “ghost town,” said Fergus Walshe, head of a local business organization. He said businesses had shortened their operating hours due to the lack of power.

“Before, business activity here was booming,” he said.

Small businesses are also affected. In an industrial park in Maracaibo’s outskirts, 80 percent of the 1,000 companies based there are affected by the power cuts, according to another business association in Zulia.

Sales at Americo Fernandez’ spare parts store are down 50 percent because card readers, which are crucial because even the cheapest goods require unwieldy piles of banknotes, cannot be used during power cuts.

“I have had to improvise to stay afloat. I connect the car battery to the store so that the card readers can work,” Fernandez said during a power outage at his home, surrounded by candles.

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LeBron James Joins Other Celebrities Who Launched Schools

With the launch of a public school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, LeBron James has joined a long list of celebrities who have sought to leave their mark on education centers.

The NBA star, who recently left the Cleveland Cavaliers and signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, was on hand Monday to welcome children to the I Promise School, built in a partnership with the LeBron James Family Foundation and Akron City Schools. The school launches with a group of third- and fourth-graders and plans to expand to serve first through eighth grades by 2022.

James has said the school, with a non-traditional schedule and year-round programming, can have a lasting impact for children facing the kinds of challenges he faced during a rough childhood. James grew up without a father, and he missed a lot of school because he and his mother lacked transportation.

Here is a look at some of the other celebrities who have been involved in creating schools, sometimes with mixed results:

Deion Sanders

The NFL Hall of Famer co-founded a multi-campus charter school called Prime Prep Academy in Texas in 2012. He coached there and served in other capacities but had a rocky relationship with administrators and was twice fired and rehired. The school’s enrollment slid amid financial and administrative problems, and it closed in early 2015.

Shakira

The singer has funded at least a half-dozen schools for children in her native Colombia over the past two decades with her foundation, Pies Descalzos, which means Barefoot in Spanish. Those institutions included a $6 million school she dedicated in 2009 in her hometown, Barranquilla, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. She said then that her foundation’s work is about “breaking the myth that quality education is the privilege of the few.”

Magic Johnson

The Lakers legend announced in 2011 that he was partnering with for-profit EdisonLearning Inc. to lend his name and business skills to promote dropout recovery centers. The effort expanded to at least 17 Bridgescape schools in six states within a couple years with the goal of reducing school dropout rates in urban areas. The company and Johnson parted ways after five years, but EdisonLearning says four Bridgescape Learning Academies still operate with the Chicago Public Schools.

Tony Bennett

The singer and his wife, teacher Susan Benedetto, founded the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in 2001 in New York, naming it after the legendary singer, who was Bennett’s best friend. The public performing arts high school in Queens, which gets support from Bennett’s nonprofit group, admits students based on auditions. It boasts a high graduation rate, with alumni who have gone on to study at a variety of top arts colleges. 

Will Smith

The actor-rapper and his actress wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, founded the private New Village Academy in the Los Angeles area in 2008. Pinkett Smith said she was moved to start the school after developing home-schooling programs for their own children, but it was embroiled in controversy over rumors the curriculum used instructional methods developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. The couple and school leaders denied any connection to the church. The school reportedly closed in 2013. Representatives for the couple couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Andre Agassi

The tennis great ran the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy for at-risk youth in his hometown, Las Vegas. In 2016, the academy was turned over to an out-of-state operator, and it has been rebranded Democracy Prep at Agassi Campus. The school change was compelled by a Nevada state initiative that targeted low-performing schools. The Andre Agassi Foundation for Education also is tied to an investment fund that helps charter school operators get access to buildings and facilities around the country.

Sean “Diddy” Combs

The performer and entrepreneur added another role in 2016 as founder of the Capital Preparatory Harlem Charter School in the New York neighborhood where he was born. He said it was a dream come true to create the school, which is part of a group of schools aimed at supporting historically disadvantaged students.

Pitbull

The rapper, whose real name is Armando Christian Perez, has been a celebrity ambassador for the Sports and Leadership Academy, which has locations in Miami and Henderson, Nevada. He’s appeared at ceremonies for the schools, which focus on sports medicine, marketing, business and management. The academy is overseen by the Sports and Leadership Academy Foundation, and he is not a financial donor.

Madonna

The pop star founded the charity Raising Malawi in 2006 to help vulnerable children in that impoverished southern African nation. Its work has included helping to build schools there. It also funded a children’s wing at a hospital that opened last year.

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Study: Heat Deaths to Jump in Absence of Changes

The number of people dying from heat waves is likely to rise sharply in some regions by 2080 if policymakers fail to take mitigating steps in climate and health policies, according to the results of a study released Tuesday.

Deaths caused by heat waves could increase dramatically in tropical and subtropical regions, the study found, followed closely by Australia, Europe and the United States.

Published in the journal PLOS Medicine, the study’s results suggest stricter mitigation policies should be applied to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because lower greenhouse gas emissions are linked with fewer deaths due to heat waves.

Antonio Gasparrini, an expert from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who co-led the research, noted that several countries around the world are currently being hit by deadly heat waves and said it was “highly likely” that heat wave frequency and severity would increase under a changing climate.

“The good news is that if we mitigate greenhouse gas emissions … then the projected impact will be much reduced,” he said.

The researchers said they hoped their research, which used mathematical modeling, would help decision-makers in planning strategies for climate change.

Different scenarios

The model used different scenarios characterized by levels of greenhouse gas emissions, preparedness and adaption strategies, as well as population density to estimate the number of deaths related to heat waves in 412 communities across 20 countries from 2031 to 2080.

The results found that compared with the period 1971 to 2020 and under the extreme scenario, the Philippines would suffer 12 times more excess deaths caused by heat waves in 2031 to 2080.

Under the same scenario, Australia and the United States could face five times more excess deaths, with Britain potentially seeing four times more excess deaths from heat waves in the same period.

These predictions improved, however, when scenarios were modeled with policies implemented to fulfill the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Under the least extreme scenario, and compared with the period 1971 to 2020, the study predicted that Britain would see only around double the number of excess deaths caused by heat waves in 2031 to 2080.

The researchers note that their work had some limitations, since it could model only relatively simple assumptions of how countries may or may not adapt climate policies.

The findings “should therefore be interpreted as potential impacts under hypothetical scenarios, and not as projections of [the] future,” they said in a statement.

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German Farmers Step Up $1B Aid Call After Drought Damage

German farmers intensified calls for around 1 billion euros ($1.17 billion) in special aid on Tuesday after crop damage from a drought and heatwave, but Berlin said it would wait for an August harvest report before making a decision.

The president of German farming association DBV, Joachim Rukwied, said drought had caused 1.4 million euros ($1.6 million) of damage to grains crops alone this year.

Poor growing weather, including a heatwave and lack of rain, has damaged crops in France, Germany and the Baltic Sea countries, while a shortage of animal feed is also looming after damage to maize (corn) crops and grass.

“Expensive animal feed will have to be purchased,” Rukwied told German TV channel ZDF.

However, German agriculture minister Julia Kloeckner said on German television that a clearer view of the national picture was needed and the government would await her ministry’s own harvest report in late August.

“Then we will have a real overview of the situation in Germany,” she said, adding that regional state governments could provide local aid if needed.

Indications were that German federal and state governments were in disagreement about whether aid should be paid.

German state and federal agricultural agencies meet on Tuesday to discuss the drought and Kloeckner is due to report to the cabinet on Wednesday.

Kloeckner said later on German radio NDR that harvests were varied among states.

“Farmers themselves do not know how their harvest will turn out,” she said.

Till Backhaus, the farm minister in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, called on the government to declare a state of emergency for farmers, saying a decision in late August would not be fast enough.

French consultancy Strategie Grains expects the German soft wheat crop to fall to 20.7 million tons, from 22.8 million estimated in early July, Reuters reported on July 25. Last year some 24 million tons were harvested in Germany. German grain traders, however, increasingly expect a wheat harvest of under 20 million tons.

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World Bank Warns Some Lebanon Projects Might Be Cancelled

A senior World Bank official said Tuesday that the Lebanese economy is “not doing great” and urged the country’s leaders to approve some $1.1 billion worth of projects put forward by the international lender, saying otherwise they could be cancelled. 

Ferid Belhaj, the bank’s vice president for the Middle East and North Africa, told reporters in Beirut that the economy is “in a state of fragility.”

Lebanon’s economy has suffered from the seven-year civil war in neighboring Syria, which has caused occasional spillovers of violence and has sent more than 1 million refugees across the border. Syrian refugees now make up about a quarter of Lebanon’s population.

The refugees’ presence has been a burden on Lebanon’s already crumbling infrastructure. Power outages are common, and many residents must have water brought to their homes by tanker truck.

Belhaj said Lebanon should take steps to reform the electricity sector, where the state-owned provider operates on a $1.5 billion annual deficit.

Corruption-plagued Lebanon has one of the highest debt ratios in the world, worth $80 billion, or 152 percent of the gross domestic product, and growth has been slow since 2011.

$2 billion worth of projects

Belhaj said the World Bank has a portfolio of more than $2 billion of projects in Lebanon, including about $1.1 billion which is still “not converted into actual investment, meaning they are sitting with parliament and the council of ministers.”

He said the World Bank wants to make sure that projects move forward, not only because Lebanon needs them, but because the government is paying commitment fees on them. He said that if the projects are not approved by the government and parliament they will have to be canceled.

“This is not our preference, obviously. We would really want to have these projects move ahead as soon as possible,” he said.

Saroj Kumar Jha, the World Bank’s regional director for the Mashreq, or Middle East, said the projects include improving roads in rural areas, building rapid bus transit across Beirut and improving the electricity sector.

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has been trying to form a Cabinet since after the May 6 parliamentary elections, with no success due to political bickering.

Banks reportedly blackmailed

Also Tuesday, Lebanese media reported that Iraqi intelligence in collaboration with the Lebanese General Security have revealed a scam network spreading false information to blackmail a number of Lebanese banks, including one of the country’s largest. 

Investigations were continuing, and the head of Lebanon’s General Security, Abbas Ibrahim, told reporters in Beirut the plot was to undermine Lebanon’s banking sectors, one of the country’s economic pillars.

Iraqi intelligence has reportedly arrested some members of the network, who had falsely claimed they had accounts in Lebanese banks worth millions of dollars.

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