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Judge Blocks 9 Government Lawyers From Quitting Census Fight

The Justice Department can’t replace nine lawyers so late in the dispute over whether to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census without explaining why it’s doing so, a judge says.

U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman, who earlier this year ruled against adding the citizenship question, put the brakes on the government’s plan on Tuesday, a day after he was given a three-paragraph notification by the Justice Department along with a prediction that the replacement of lawyers wouldn’t “cause any disruption in this matter.”
 
“Defendants provide no reasons, let alone `satisfactory reasons,’ for the substitution of counsel,” Furman wrote, noting that the most immediate deadline for government lawyers to submit written arguments in the case is only three days away.
 
The judge said local rules for federal courts in New York City require that any attorney requesting to leave a case provide satisfactory reasons for withdrawing. The judge must then decide what impact a lawyer’s withdrawal will have on the timing of court proceedings.
 
He called the Justice Department’s request “patently deficient,” except for two lawyers who have left the department or the civil division which is handling the case.
 
President Donald Trump tweeted about the judge’s decision Tuesday night, questioning whether the attorney change denial was unprecedented.
 
“So now the Obama appointed judge on the Census case (Are you a Citizen of the United States?) won’t let the Justice Department use the lawyers that it wants to use. Could this be a first?” Trump tweeted.
 
The new team came about after a top Justice Department civil attorney who was leading the litigation effort told Attorney General William Barr that multiple people on the team preferred not to continue, Barr told The Associated Press on Monday.
 
The attorney who was leading the team, James Burnham, “indicated it was a logical breaking point since a new decision would be made and the issue going forward would hopefully be separate from the historical debates,” Barr said.
 
Furman’s refusal came in a case that has proceeded on an unusual legal path since numerous states and municipalities across the country challenged the government’s announcement early last year that it intended to add the citizenship question to the census for the first time since 1950.
 
Opponents of the question say it will depress participation by immigrants, lowering the population count in states that tend to vote Democratic and decreasing government funds to those areas because funding levels are based on population counts.
 
At one point, the Justice Department succeeded in getting the Supreme Court to block plans to depose Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Nearly two weeks ago, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the plans to add the census question, saying the administration’s justification for adding the question “seems to have been contrived.”
 
Afterward, the Commerce Department’s Census Bureau began printing census questionnaires without the question and the Department of Justice signaled it would not attempt to continue the legal fight.
 
It reversed itself after Trump promised to keep trying to add the question.
 
The Justice Department then notified judges in three similar legal challenges that it planned to find a new legal path to adding the question to the census.
 
Furman said the urgency to resolve legal claims and the need for efficient judicial proceedings was an important consideration in rejecting a replacement of lawyers.
 
He said the Justice Department had insisted that the speedy resolution of lawsuits against adding the question was “a matter of great private and public importance.”
 
“If anything, that urgency — and the need for efficient judicial proceedings — has only grown since that time,” Furman said.
 
Furman said the government could re-submit its request to replace attorneys only with a sworn statement by each lawyer explaining satisfactory reasons to withdraw so late. He said he’ll require new attorneys to promise personnel changes will not slow the case.
       

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Pelosi Feud With Ocasio-Cortez Tests Party Heading Into 2020

They don’t talk to each other much, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But they’re lately speaking at one another in a way that threatens party unity and underscores broader tensions reshaping the Democrats.

Their power struggle has spilled open in what could be a momentary blip or a foreshadowing of divisions to come.

It started with a rare public rebuke — Pelosi chiding AOC, as she’s called, in a newspaper interview; AOC responding pointedly on Twitter — that’s now challenging the House agenda and rippling into the 2020 presidential campaign. A new test will come this week on a must-pass defense bill that the White House on Tuesday threatened to veto.

At its core, the tension between the most powerful Democrat in the country and one of the party’s newest, most liberal members embodies a debate over how best, in style and substance, to defeat President Donald Trump. And both sides think they’re right.

For allies of the longtime California congresswoman, Pelosi’s off-handed dismissal of Ocasio-Cortez and the three other liberal freshmen House members who opposed a border security package last month was a necessary comeuppance for “the squad” of newcomers who are trying to push the party leftward.

“These people have their public whatever and their Twitter world,” Pelosi told The New York Times. “But they didn’t have any following.” In the speaker’s world, they lack what Pelosi often calls “the currency of the realm” — the power to turn their high-volume activism into a coalition of votes to pass legislation or, in their case, to stop it.

But for fans of Ocasio-Cortez, including some of the New York congresswoman’s millions of social media followers, Pelosi’s remarks were nothing short of a patronizing slap-back to four women of color who represent the future of the Democratic Party, a stark example of its generational and demographic transition. Their four lonely votes against the bill were a principled stand, with more to come.

The ability to channel the influence of the newcomers into the currency of Congress may determine whether the speaker, six months into her new majority, continues her steady leadership or loses her firm grip — especially with former special counsel Robert Mueller’s expected testimony next week in a high-stakes hearing amid rising calls for Trump’s impeachment.

“There’s an opportunity right now for House Democrats to lead the charge,” said Ezra Levin, the co-executive director of the liberal group Indivisible. In his living room, he said, is a framed 2010 newspaper clipping of Pelosi from her previous tenure as speaker, passing the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. “What we’re looking for is that decade-ago fighter Pelosi was.”

This week the differences could tumble into full view again as the House considers defense legislation that’s often rejected by liberals because of military funding. It’s a must-pass bill that Congress has approved essentially every year since World War II. But with the opportunity to divide Democrats, the White House issued a veto threat saying the funding levels are inadequate. That means Pelosi will be forced to muscle it through without much, if any, Republican support.

Fresh from the border funding fight, Ocasio-Cortez signaled a first salvo Tuesday, telling reporters that progressive lawmakers want to ensure the defense bill prevents Trump from sending any troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Asked about Pelosi’s comments, Ocasio-Cortez said: “It was just kind of puzzling more than anything. It’s just, why? The idea that millions of people we represent matter less or don’t matter is a notion I disagree with.”

Lawmakers visiting border detention facilities over the past week have delivered grave reports of migrant children and families being held in dire conditions. Liberals say the border-funding battle was exactly the kind of fight the House should be waging against the Trump administration, especially after disclosures of border patrol officers joking about the migrants and deriding lawmakers on a private Facebook group.

When White House adviser Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday mocked the “Major Meow Mashup” and “catfight” between Pelosi and the foursome, several of them fired back.

“Remember that time your boss tore babies from their mothers’ arms and threw them in cages?” Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., tweeted at Conway. “Yeah take a seat and keep my name out of your lying mouth.”

Behind the scenes, though, some on Capitol Hill were quietly appreciative of Pelosi’s tough-love approach to Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, and Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

Lawmakers and freshmen from more centrist-leaning districts than those of the four, including regions Trump won in 2018, don’t want the House majority to be defined by the liberal flank as they face voters for reelection next year. They prefer the party hew to Pelosi’s center-left approach. In describing the sentiment among those from more centrist districts, a senior congressional aide said Pelosi emerged as a “super-hero.” The aide requested anonymity to describe the private discussions.

While those more moderate views may have helped Democrats win the majority, liberal activists fear they won’t necessarily motivate or energize the party ahead of the 2020 election.

Brian Fallon, a former top aide to Hillary Clinton and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Pelosi’s comments have riled the party’s left flank and activists question why she’s fighting with the newcomers when she should be confronting, if not impeaching, Trump.

“It’s not a good look,” Fallon said. Pelosi’s background runs strong in the liberal community, he said, so “it’s not enough to undo the relationship because she has deep ties, she knows how to count votes and is a bad ass.”

“But there is frustration,” he said.

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Iran Warns Britain of ‘Repercussions’ over Ship Seizure

Iran’s president said Wednesday that Britain will face repercussions'' over the seizure of an Iranian supertanker last week that authorities in Gibraltar suspect was breaching European sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.<br />
 <br />
Hassan Rouhani was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as calling the seizure
mean and wrong” during a Cabinet meeting. You are an initiator of insecurity and you will understand its repercussions,'' he warned the British government, calling for thefull security” of international shipping lanes.
 
The tanker’s detention comes at a particularly sensitive time as tensions between the U.S. and Iran grow over the unraveling of the 2015 nuclear deal, from which President Donald Trump withdrew last year. In recent weeks, Iran has begun to openly breach limits on uranium enrichment set by the deal in order to pressure European signatories to salvage it.
 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meanwhile denied the supertanker belonged to Iran, saying whoever owned the oil shipment and the vessel could pursue the case through legal avenues. Iran had earlier summoned the British ambassador over what it called the “illegal interception” of the ship.
 
The latest U.S.-Iranian tensions date back to last year, when Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord and restored heavy sanctions on Iran, including its oil industry, exacerbating an economic crisis that has sent the currency plummeting.
 
In the nuclear deal with world powers negotiated by the Obama administration, Iran had agreed to curb its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief. It has offered to return to the agreement, but Trump has long rejected the deal, saying it was too generous to Tehran and did not address its involvement in regional conflicts.
 
In May, the United States dispatched a carrier group, bombers and fighter jets to the Persian Gulf region in response to alleged Iranian threats. The U.S. has accused Iran of involvement in the bombing of oil tankers in the Gulf and says it shot down an American drone in international airspace. Iran denies any involvement in the attacks on the tankers and says the drone had veered into its airspace.
 
Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, which is under Western sanctions linked to attacks on civilians during the country’s civil war.

 

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UN: Global Warming Threatens to Defeat Effort to Fix World Ills

Relentless global warming threatens the potential success of a sweeping set of goals established by the United Nations to tackle inequality, conflict and other ills, officials said on Tuesday.

Climate change imperils food supplies, water and places where people live, endangering the U.N. plan to address these world problems by 2030, according to a report by U.N. officials.

Member nations of the U.N. unanimously adopted 17 global development goals in 2015, setting out a wide-ranging “to-do” list tackling such vexing issues as conflict, hunger, land degradation, gender inequality and climate change.

The latest report, which called climate change “the greatest challenge to sustainable development,” came as diplomatic, business and other officials gathered for a high-level U.N. forum to take stock of the goals’ progress.

“The most urgent area for action is climate change,” said Liu Zhenmin, U.N. Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, in the report.

“The compounded effects will be catastrophic and irreversible,” he said, listing increased extreme weather events, more severe natural disasters and land degradation. “These effects, which will render many parts of the globe uninhabitable, will affect the poor the most.”

Progress has been made on lowering child mortality, boosting immunization rates and global access to electricity, the report said.

Yet extreme poverty, hunger and inequality remain hugely problematic, and more than half of school-age children showed “shockingly low proficiency rates” in reading and math, it said.

Two-thirds of those children were in school.

Human trafficking rates nearly doubled from an average 150 detected victims per country in 2010 to 254 in 2016.

But it was unclear how much of the increase reflected improved reporting systems versus an increase in trafficking, said Francesca Perucci of the U.N.’s statistics division, who worked on the report.

“It’s hard to exactly distinguish the two,” she said at a launch of the report.

But climate change remained paramount.

Greenhouse gases have continued to climb, and “climate change is occurring much faster than anticipated,” the report said.

At this week’s goals summit, 47 countries were expected to present voluntary progress reviews. Almost 100 other countries and four cities including New York have done so.

Earlier U.N. reports said the goals were threatened by the persistence of violence, conflict and lack of private investment. Outside assessments have also cited nationalism, protectionism and insufficient funding.

The cost of implementing the global goals has been estimated at $3 trillion a year.

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Despite Funding Loss, Cities Vow to Continue Resilience Push

In the Dutch port city of Rotterdam, nine “water plazas” have been created that soak up excess rainfall while offering people a green space to meet and children to play.

The city is also planting gardens and putting solar panels on a growing area of its nearly 20 square kilometers (8 square miles) of flat roofs.

Paris, meanwhile, is redesigning and opening green schoolyards as cooler places for locals to escape extreme heat, while in New Zealand, Wellington is rolling out neighborhood water supplies to keep the taps on when an earthquake hits.

More than 70 cities that are part of the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) network, set up in 2013, have crafted “resilience strategies” that include about 3,500 activities designed to combat shocks and stresses – everything from floods to an influx of refugees.

The United Nations estimates that by 2050 nearly 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, which are increasingly impacted by extreme weather and sea level rise, while producing about 75% of planet-warming emissions.

Michael Berkowitz, president of 100 Resilient Cities, told a gathering of the network’s cities in Rotterdam on Tuesday that efforts to build resilience had now become established as an approach to improving quality of life in cities.

Those efforts to keep people safe and well in the face of rising climate, economic and social pressures will continue, despite the closure this month of the organization that helped them craft those plans, officials said.

At the end of July, 100RC will shut its offices after the New York-based Rockefeller Foundation said in April it would no longer fund the body, having given about $176 million for its work.

That funding helped pay initial salaries for chief resilience officers in member cities, for example, though about 80% of the cities now have made the role a part of their staff, 100RC officials said.

The Rockefeller Foundation said on Monday it would provide an additional $8 million over 18 months to help 100RC cities and their chief resilience officers transition to a network they will lead themselves.

“Ultimately, we aim to ensure continued collaboration and sharing among cities to address some of their most pressing challenges,” Rockefeller Foundation President Rajiv Shah said in a statement.

Expansion Ahead?

Krishna Mohan Ramachandran, chief resilience officer for the Indian city of Chennai, which has just launched its resilience strategy, said he was relieved it would be able to carry on with planned projects.

Those include conserving scarce water, putting vegetable gardens in schools, and finding less risky but nearby locations for flood-threatened communities, among others.

Rotterdam chief resilience officer Arnoud Molenaar, who led colleagues in lobbying for extra funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, said resilience work had garnered more support and created more value in cities than was often appreciated.

The Rockefeller bridge grant meant the network would now have time to raise more money from donors and others to stand on its own, and expand partnerships with politicians, communities and businesses, Molenaar said.

Elizabeth Yee, who moved from 100RC to The Rockefeller Foundation to manage its climate and resilience work, said there was a “huge” amount of money looking for resilient urban infrastructure projects, but cities often struggled to meet investor requirements.

She said a key to finding funding was to design a bus rapid transit system or a clean power plant, for example, to also create local jobs and make communities more economically secure.

“I am hopeful that we can keep helping cities develop those projects and getting them ready for bigger, broader investment,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the conference in Rotterdam.

Cities in the 100RC network have so far raised $25 billion from their own budgets, businesses and other sources to put their resilience plans into practice, 100RC’s Berkowitz said.

In a decade’s time, he said, he hoped urban resilience – with its holistic approach to multiple, modern-day stresses – would have become “an absolutely essential part of city government.”

For now, as cities rapidly expand and climate threats grow, much more such work will be needed, he said.

“Even 100 cities is a ridiculously small number of cities, compared to the world’s 10,000 cities,” he said. “We need more effort if we’re going to really win the battle of the 21st century, which is going to be fought in cities.”

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Woodstock 50 Organizers Still Hopeful Despite Second Venue Setback

The organizers of the beleaguered Woodstock 50 festival said on Tuesday they still hoped to get a permit for the event due to take place next month despite being turned down at a second site.

Authorities in the town of Vernon in upstate New York turned down the organizers’ application to stage the three-day event, marking the 50th anniversary of the famed 1969 “peace and music” festival.

Oneida County Administrator Anthony Picente Jr. told Hollywood trade publication Variety that efforts to stage the festival at Vernon Downs for some 65,000 people at short notice had been “chaotic.” Picente said he thought the chances of it taking place were “highly unlikely.”

However, Woodstock 50 producers said they would appeal.

“With a venue chosen, financing assembled and many of the artists supporting Woodstock’s 50th Anniversary event, the organizers are hopeful that their appeal and reapplication” will prevail, the producers said in a statement.

Tickets have yet to go on sale.

The Aug. 16-19 festival was originally due to take place at the Watkins Glen motor racing venue in upstate New York with a line-up including Jay-Z and Miley Cyrus.

Watkins Glen in June pulled out, throwing the festival into further uncertainty after the original investors withdrew their support, citing problems with permits and arranging security and sanitation.

Woodstock 50 announced in March that more than 80 musical acts, including 1969 festival veterans John Fogerty, Canned Heat and Santana, would take part. Some 100,000 fans, including campers, were originally expected to attend, but that number was later reduced to 60,000.

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US Wants North Korea Freeze as Beginning, Not End, of Denuclearization

The United States would hope to see a freeze in the North Korean nuclear program as the start of a process of denuclearization, the State Department said on Tuesday, ahead of fresh talks with Pyongyang supposed to take place this month.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had a surprise meeting at the end of June in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas and agreed to resume a working-level dialogue, stalled since a failed summit in Vietnam in February.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the talks would likely happen “sometime in July … probably in the next two or three weeks.”

The Trump administration has dismissed a New York Times report that said an idea was taking shape among U.S. officials to seek to negotiate a nuclear freeze by North Korea, rather than its complete denuclearization, thereby tacitly accepting it as a nuclear state.

“(A) freeze, you know, that would never be the resolution of a process. That would never be the end of a process,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told a regular news briefing.

“That would (be) something that we would certainly hope to see at the beginning. But I don’t think that the administration has ever characterized a freeze as being the end goal. That would be at the beginning of the process.”

North Korea has frozen nuclear bomb and missile testing since 2017, but U.S. officials believe it has expanded its arsenal by continuing to produce bomb fuel and missiles. They are keen to see a freeze in this production too.

Ortagus said Washington’s goal remained the complete elimination of all of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction.

She said the U.S. special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, would meet his South Korean counterpart during a visit to Europe this week to discuss ways to achieve this.

The DMZ encounter, initiated by a spur-of-the-moment tweet by Trump that Kim said took him by surprise, showed a rapport between the two men but policy analysts said they appear no closer to narrowing the gap between U.S. demands for denuclearization and North Korea’s demand for sanctions relief.

The two sides have yet to even agree a common definition of denuclearization, which North Korea has taken to include the U.S. nuclear umbrella protecting Japan and South Korea.

Washington has demanded that Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons unilaterally.

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