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By Jonathan Allen
WASHINGTON — Congress wanted to honor the ailing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. President Donald Trump did not.
In extended remarks during a visit to Fort Drum in upstate New York to sign the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 — this year’s version of an annual bill that sets defense policy — Trump chose not to mention the former prisoner of war and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who is battling brain cancer. He even omitted McCain’s name when citing the title of the bill.
The two men have long been fierce critics of each other, with McCain calling Trump’s supporters “crazies” in 2015 and Trump retaliating by questioning whether McCain, who was subjected to torture in a Vietnamese prison camp, is really a “war hero” because “he was captured.”
The snub at Fort Drum, home to the combat aviation brigade of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, did not escape the notice of McCain’s allies.
“For those asking did I expect Trump to be an a—— today. No more than I expected it to be Monday,” Mark Salter, McCain’s longtime aide, wrote on Twitter.
McCain’s condition — dire enough that a recent HBO documentary on him was titled “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls” — has not stopped Trump from deriding the Arizona senator at political rallies. Though Trump does not use his name, he tells crowds that he would have been able to repeal Obamacare if not for a thumbs-down sign from one senator — McCain.
The senator’s own statement included Trump’s name in the headline and in a preamble written by staff. But the words attributed to McCain did not.
“I’m very proud that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 has been signed into law,” he said.
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Emails reveal Trump official consulted climate change deniers
WASHINGTON — A Trump administration national security official has sought help from advisers to a think tank that disavows climate change to challenge widely accepted scientific findings on global warming, according to his emails.
The request from William Happer, a member of the National Security Council, is included in emails from 2018 and 2019 that were obtained by the Environmental Defense Fund under the federal Freedom of Information Act and provided to The Associated Press. That request was made this past March to policy advisers with the Heartland Institute, one of the most vocal challengers of mainstream scientific findings that emissions from burning coal, oil and gas are damaging the Earth’s atmosphere.
In a March 3 email exchange Happer and Heartland adviser Hal Doiron discuss Happer’s scientific arguments in a paper attempting to knock down climate change as well as ideas to make the work “more useful to a wider readership.” Happer writes he had already discussed the work with another Heartland adviser, Thomas Wysmuller.
Academic experts denounced the administration official’s continued involvement with groups and scientists who reject what numerous federal agencies say is the fact of climate change.
“These people are endangering all of us by promoting anti-science in service of fossil fuel interests over the American interests,” said Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann.
“It’s the equivalent to formulating anti-terrorism policy by consulting with groups that deny terrorism exists,” said Northeastern University’s Matthew Nisbet, a professor of environmental communication and public policy.
The National Security Council declined to make Happer available to discuss the emails.
The AP and others reported earlier this year that Happer was coordinating a proposed White House panel to challenge the findings from scientists in and out of government that carbon emissions are altering the Earth’s atmosphere and climate.
President Donald Trump in November rejected the warnings of a national climate change assessment by more than a dozen government agencies.
“I don’t believe it,” he said.
Happer, a physicist who previously taught at Princeton University, has claimed that carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas from the burning of coal, oil and gas, is good for humans and that carbon emissions have been demonized like “the poor Jews under Hitler.” Trump appointed him in late 2018 to the National Security Council, which advises the president on security and foreign policy issues.
The emails show Happer expressing surprise that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, a former Oklahoma congressman who once questioned mainstream climate science, has come round to accepting that science.
A May 2018 email exchange between Heartland’s Wysmuller and Happer calls the NASA chief’s change of heart on climate science “a puzzle.” The exchange calls scientifically established rises in sea levels and temperatures under climate change “part of the nonsense” and urges the NASA head — copied in — to “systematically sidestep it.”
Happer at the time was not yet a security adviser, although he had advised the Trump Environmental Protection Agency on climate change.
A NASA spokesman on Thursday upheld the space agency’s public statements on climate change.
“We provide the data that informs policy makers around the world,” spokesman Bob Jacobs said. “Our science information continues to be published publicly as it always has.”
But spokesman Jim Lakeley at the Heartland Institute defended the effort, saying in an email that NASA’s public characterization of climate change as manmade and a global threat “is a disservice to taxpayers and science that it is still pushed by NASA.”
After joining the agency, Happer sent a February 2019 email to NASA deputy administrator James Morhard relaying a complaint from an unidentified rejecter of man-made climate change about NASA’s website.
“I’m concerned that many children are being indoctrinated by this bad science,” said the email that Happer relayed.
Happer’s own message was redacted from the records obtained by the environmental group.
Two major U.S. science organizations took issue with Happer’s emails.
“We have concerns that there appear to be attempts by a member of the National Security Council to influence and interfere with the ability of NASA, a federal science agency, to communicate accurately about research findings on climate science,” said Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advance of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society.
There have been hundreds of scientific assessments by leading researchers and institutions the last few decades that look at all the evidence and have been “extremely credible and routinely withstand intense scrutiny,” said Keith Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society. “Efforts to dismiss or discredit these rigorous scientific assessments in public venues does an incredible disservice to the public.”
Maine becomes 8th state to legalize assisted suicide
Maine legalized medically assisted suicide on Wednesday, becoming the eighth state to allow terminally ill people to end their lives with prescribed medication.
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who had previously said she was unsure about the bill, signed it in her office.
Oregon was the first state to legalize such assistance, in 1997, and it took over a decade for the next state, Washington, to follow suit. While still controversial, assisted suicide legislation is winning increasing acceptance in the United States, and this year at least 18 states considered such measures.
Maine’s bill would allow doctors to prescribe terminally ill people a fatal dose of medication. The bill declares that obtaining or administering life-ending medication is not suicide under state law, thereby legalizing the practice often called medically assisted suicide.
The proposal had failed once in a statewide vote and at least seven previous times in the Legislature. The current bill passed by just one vote in the House, and a slim margin in the Senate.
The signing Wednesday was a relief to Mainers such as Staci Fowler, 47, who’s taken on the fight for such laws in honor of her late friend Rebecca VanWormer.
VanWormer, whose breast cancer spread to her bones, had pushed for such a bill in 2015 — two years before she died in 2017.
“This is what she wanted,” said Fowler, an educational consultant in Gardiner. “And now everybody has the option that she didn’t have.”
Maine joins seven other states and Washington, D.C., that have similar laws, according to the Death With Dignity National Center and the Death With Dignity Political Fund. The states are California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and New Jersey, whose governor signed the legislation earlier this year.
Montana doesn’t have a specific law on the books, but the state Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that doctors could use a patient’s request for life-ending medication as a defense against criminal charges.
Maine’s population has the oldest median age, and, as in other states, the proposal has exposed divisions that defied party lines.
Supporters, including Democrats and a small group of Republicans, say the terminally ill should have the right to choose a peaceful end.
Opponents, meanwhile, have said the legislation puts the terminally ill in “grave danger.”
“Assisted suicide is a dangerous public policy that puts the most vulnerable people in society at risk for abuse, coercion and mistakes,” said Matt Valliere, executive director of Patients Rights Action Fund, an advocacy group. “It also provides profit-driven insurance companies perverse incentives to offer a quick death, rather than costly continuing quality care.”
The bill’s Democratic sponsor said the latest language addresses criticism of past efforts that have failed in Maine.
The legislation defines “terminal disease” as one that is incurable and will likely end in death within six months.
The bill requires a second opinion by a consulting physician, along with one written and two verbal requests. Physicians would screen patients for conditions that could impair judgment, such as depression.
The law criminalizes coercing someone into requesting life-ending medication, as well as forging a request for life-ending medication.
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