A NATIONWIDE USA Today/Suffolk University poll conducted in late August found a sharply divided country that views next year’s presidential campaign as a sobering test of the fundamental values of the United States.

The poll queried an even number of Democrats and Republicans. Potential 2020 voters are most concerned about foreign interference and voter fraud, with votes being cast by those who aren’t eligible. Imagine that. We suspect shenanigans.

How can anyone be surprised, shocked or dismayed by the possibility of foreign or domestic interference? Politics is a dirty, high-stakes business with trillions of dollars of influence the prize for the victors. Everything seems to be fair game when it comes to winning elections.

Many devious practices are done as standard operating procedure while other tactics are considered as malicious acts. If your tribe does it, it’s good and fair. If the opponent does it, well, it’s illegal and un-American.

There are a myriad of new pathways to cause harm to elections, candidates and our democracies. If we can’t voluntarily stop problematic behavior, we will see more of it. So far, we haven’t shown a resolve to do it.

We have people in the shadows attacking voter registration, voting machines and the vote-counting infrastructure. Social media is ripe for abuse. A new tactic called deepfake is where technology allows videos to be altered to make it appear as if someone is saying or doing things they did not do.

As a result, of those surveyed by the USA Today poll, nearly 4 in 10 Americans said they would have little or no confidence that the 2020 election will have been conducted fair and square if the candidate they supported loses. Apparently, they would not be concerned about fairness if their candidate wins.

A sign of the times: a whopping 45% of Democrats and 30% of Republicans said they would express doubts about the legitimacy of the next president. Apparently, we will not be seeing an end to discourse or rancor in state and national legislative bodies.

More than 80% of those polled are nervous about our ability to hold clean elections. More than half (53%) said they would be very or somewhat confident that the 2020 elections will be conducted fairly.

Governments may have difficulty fighting against disinformation, whether it comes from local bad actors or sanctioned foreign networks. Then, there are those advocates who would claim restrictions on social media networks would be an attack on free speech rights.

Partisan cable and bias mainstream news networks are fraught with misinformation. Bots can disseminate billions of false and misleading messages to your landline phones with the intent to influence your vote.

Who doesn’t get a mailbox full of political propaganda? Candidates run TV ads morning, noon and night. There are yard signs, billboards and bumper stickers designed to sway your vote. How are these messages any different than carefully crafted social media campaigns initiated by foreign sources?

Few news and talk shows or other platforms are meant to be bipartisan. Candidates are not held accountable for misinformation. Candidates spend big bucks collecting opposition research that is used to sow seeds of doubt and distrust for candidates and the legitimacy of elections.



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IT SHOULD BE noted that fire activity in the Amazon is not rare. In fact, fires are common each year, but the August fires stand out because it brought a noticeable increase in large, intense and persistent fires along major roads in the central Brazilian Amazon, according to Doug Morton of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Brazil’s forest code allows farmers and others to set some legal fires deemed healthy for plant life if set by indigenous people who engage in subsistence farming. They do so after getting licenses from environmental authorities.

The Amazon is the largest tract of continuous rainforest on the planet and it plays a critical role in the Earth’s climate system, said Laura Schneider, a geographer at Rutgers University.

The Amazon has been described in reports as being the lungs of the Earth or the Earth’s air conditioner. But Schneider said those metaphors are not accurate. Forest ecology is too complex to be captured in just one or two metaphors.

It would be catastrophic to the biodiversity and indigenous people if the trees of the Amazon were to disappear, but it’s very unlikely that they would, she reported.

Rainforests are resilient ecosystems so their disappearance is almost impossible. The World Wildlife Fund estimated that about 20% of the Brazilian Amazon is already deforested. The rainforest has the ability to grow back and respond to disturbances.

While the fires this year have hit Brazil hard, the vast forest also spans parts of Bolivia, Columbia, Venezuela, Ecuador, French Guyana, Peru and Suriname.

The Amazon is home to more than 30,000 species of plants, 2.5 million species of insects, 2,500 species of fish, 1,500 species of birds, 550 species of reptiles and 500 species of mammals, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.