Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) officially doesn’t believe in “climate change” but scientists who are banned from using that term helped him order evacuations that limited casualties as Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc in Florida. But even Republicans in South Florida realize that climate change is a fact that has warmed up the waters of the Caribbean so that they generate storms of greater force.

As of two days after landfall, seven deaths related to Hurricane Irma were reported in Florida, along with two in Georgia and one in South Carolina. It could have been much worse — and not just because several Florida cities “dodged a bullet” with Irma sliding past, Samantha Page noted at ThinkProgress (9/11).

In the days leading up to the storm’s landfall in Florida, Irma had already killed 35 people in the Caribbean and devastated the islands of Barbuda, St. Martin, the Virgin Islands and Cuba. The Florida Keys were evacuated, much of Miami was evacuated, and storm surge warnings were issued along the coast.

The combined efforts of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including its National Hurricane Center, along with the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and countless other agencies, were able to warn people early, and often. When the storm shifted west, the public knew.

Irma’s point of landfall was within the so-called “cone” of probability for a full five days in advance of the storm. In the Florida Keys, a local state of emergency was declared (9/5). Schools were closed starting 9/6, and buses ran evacuations through Friday (9/8). Irma landed Saturday, (9/9). One man was reported dead on the islands due to the storm, but as the Washington Post put it: “Hurricane Irma would have killed vastly more people in the past.”

Partly, that’s because scientists have gotten much better at predicting where and when storms will hit. “There is a vast improvement in the track prediction, five and seven days out, and especially as you get closer in,” Brenda Ekwurzel, director of climate science at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told ThinkProgress.org.

“It allows local leaders to make more precise evacuation decisions,” she said. NOAA’s forecasting ability now also includes lightning predictions and better tornado predictions, she said, potentially dangerous side-effects of major tropical storms. Rainfall predictions, too, are important — which is why the Army Corps of Engineers reassured people (9/8) that the “high risk” dike around Lake Okeechobee, Florida’s largest lake, would remain intact (it has). 

“When we have storms like this, we need the best science available,” Ekwurzel said. 

The current administration, though, has been stupefying in its efforts to deny science, defund scientific investigation and spread misinformation. Page noted. The EPA is culling hundreds of workers. Many of the employees are late-career agency staff who are eligible for buy-outs — and with them go the expertise they have spent years developing. Ekwurzel suggested that the federal government is also cutting back on internships and investment in new staff.

“If you have both going on at the same time, that is very corrosive,” she said. 

Beyond staff, agencies also face cuts to their scientific instruments and research capabilities. NOAA, which runs the nation’s weather satellites and was responsible for much of the information that kept Floridians relatively safe, is facing a budget cutback of 17% under the White House proposal. Under that plan, NOAA would lose more than a half billion dollars for satellite programs. Because satellites take a long time to develop and test, research now is about “saving lives a decade from now,” Ekwurzel said. 

In the meantime, the president has decided that future federal projects — including infrastructure — don’t need to plan for flood risks. In August, Trump rolled back a 2015 directive known as the Federal Flood Risk Mitigation Standard, which was intended to prevent wasting taxpayer dollars on projects that wouldn’t withstand flooding.

As Irma. downgraded to a tropical storm, brings flooding to Charleston, S.C., Atlanta gets its first-ever tropical storm warning and millions of Floridians are left without power, it’s important to note that the danger is not over. Authorities in the Florida Keys expect more people have died. Climate change help fuels extreme weather, but hurricanes have always been a fact of life for the Gulf Coast and the Southeast.

“Addressing climate change will not remove the need to address infrastructure, toxic waste sites, or substandard building,” Page noted. “But cutting the nation’s scientific eyes and ears will only make things worse.”

RIGHT-WING MEDIA PUSHED FALSE, RACIST NARRATIVE OF LOOTING DURING HURRICANE HARVEY. Fox News and other right-wing media outlets overhyped the threat of looting during their coverage of Hurricane Harvey, Lisa Hymas noted at MediaMatters.org (9/7). Some conservative blogs ran stories warning about looting that featured tweets from fake accounts, which have since been deleted. This coverage often had a racist element, either subtly or overtly accusing African-Americans of rampant criminal behavior.

In fact, looting was not a widespread problem, according to law enforcement officials. Experts say the threat of looting is often exaggerated during disasters, and that appears to be the case with Harvey. “The Houston Police Department says very little looting occurred during the first week of flooding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey,” Snopes reported (9/1). A spokesperson for HPD told Snopes, “Looting is almost non existent in Houston. People have been cooperative not just with each other, but also with Houston PD. The weather is at its worst but Houstonians are at their best.” Los Angeles Times correspondent Matt Pearce, who drove around Houston to report on Harvey, called claims of widespread looting “bulls**t.”

When news outlets overhype the risks of looting and violence, it can have dire consequences, one expert told WNYC’s On the Media. “The media has a responsibility here to be very nuanced in the way it talks about crime in the midst of a disaster, which is that if people are overly concerned about that, they may not evacuate,” said Scott Gabriel Knowles of Drexel University, a historian and author of the book The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America.

On Aug. 30, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo announced that his officers had arrested 14 people for looting. But in a metropolitan area with 6.6 mln residents, that’s not a large number.

Nonetheless, President Donald Trump’s favorite program, Fox & Friends, played the arrests up (8/30) and scaremongered about looters, with correspondent Griff Jenkins describing them as “criminals that have unleashed the worst that humanity has to offer.”

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and his guest, former police officer and GOP congressional candidate Dan Bongino, also used over-the-top rhetoric (8/30) while discussing a tweet from ABC’s Tom Llamas that described looting at a supermarket in Houston. Bongino said, “What kind of like certifiable savage man-beast do you need to be to walk into a small business [and loot]?”

Other Fox News programs inflated the looting danger too, like America’s Newsroom, which featured the chyron “Growing Concerns of Looting in SE Texas” (9/1).

Conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones, a Trump friend and ally, blamed looting on black people on his show (8/29), citing tweets he claimed to have seen. “It’s got the racist black gangs are there saying, ‘Look at what we looted, look at what we got.’ They’re putting it on Twitter, ‘We’re robbing the white folks, they deserve it.’ And then of course there’s black folks helping white folks and white folks helping black folks. It’s a very small minority of scum that’s doing this. But can you imagine if there were white people robbing black neighborhoods right now? And you know, I’m sure I bet some of that actually goes on.”

Snopes investigated a “proliferation of dozens of tweets hashtagged #HarveyLootCrew threatening widespread looting and purporting to prove that a great deal of looting had already taken place,” and found that the tweets were entirely bogus:

“A series of tweets from the accounts (since deleted) of ‘Jamaal Williams’ (@RUthlessFCB) and ‘Jayrome Williams’ (@BrotherTooTurnt), for example, spoke of looting white neighborhoods and ‘racist Trump supporters’ …

“The tweets were taken at face value by some mainstream media outlets (including Click2Houston), as well as by several right-leaning blogs such as Pacific Pundit, DC Clothesline, and Think Americana, with the latter using them as the basis for a report stating that ‘far leftists promote looting of homes and businesses of only Trump supporters’.

“What we found when we looked at the tweets carefully, however, was that all of them were fake, originating from troll accounts set up under assumed identities. None of the photos depict anything that actually took place in Houston, much less in 2017.”

Snopes concluded, “It isn’t difficult to discern the motivation behind these fake tweets, which were obviously created to sow fear and racial hatred in a time of crisis.”

MEXICO WITHDRAWS TEXAS AID OFFER AFTER DOMESTIC DISASTERS, TRUMP SNUBS. Mexico has retracted its offer to send aid to Texas after two natural disasters pummeled the country. While government officials said the resources were needed in Mexico, media in both countries noted that the withdrawal came after US President Donald Trump failed to send his condolences for either Mexican disaster, E.A. Crunden noted at ThinkProgress.

Southern Mexico is suffering after-effects of a deadly earthquake, which struck on 9/7, killing at least 96 people. More than 2.5 mln are in need of aid, something that has been worsened by a second crisis also taxing state resources — Hurricane Katia, which hit the state’s eastern coast on 9/9, killing two people. Those dueling crises are taxing the government, seemingly leaving no room for international aid efforts.

“Given these circumstance, the Mexican government will channel all available logistical support to serve the families and communities affected in the national territory,” Mexico’s foreign ministry said in a statement (9/11).

Southeastern Texas was devastated after Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane two weeks ago. At least 70 deaths have been reported since the storm hit, with upwards of 30,000 people displaced and many more reeling from the hurricane’s staggering economic impact.

That loss resonated with Mexico, which sent aid to the US after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Louisiana in 2005. Shortly after Harvey made landfall in Texas, Mexico extended an offer of aid, with caveats. In a pointed nod to Trump’s repeated assertion that Mexico will pay for a border wall along the US southern border, the Mexican government again repeated that it would offer no such financial assistance.

“As the government of Mexico has always maintained, our country will not pay, under any circumstances, [for] a wall or physical barrier built on US territory along the Mexican border,” the foreign ministry said at the time. “This determination is not part of a Mexican negotiating strategy, but a principle of national sovereignty and dignity.”

Still, the government made it clear that aid would be offered nonetheless. “[W]e have offered the US government all the help and cooperation that can be provided by the different Mexican governmental agencies to deal with the impacts of this natural disaster, as good neighbors should always do in times of difficulty,” officials said.

That changed (9/11), when the Mexican government was forced to prioritize domestic aid over international assistance. Both Mexican and US press seized upon the timing of the rescission, which followed Trump’s delayed response to Mexico’s initial offer from US officials, and after Trump himself failed to offer Mexico condolences over the country’s twin tragedies. English-language media CNBC and the Guardian both noted the timing, while a number of Mexican and US journalists pointed to the same thing on Twitter.

HAS CLIMATE CHANGE INTENSIFIED WESTERN WILDFIRES? This was not supposed to be a bad year for Western wildfires, Robinson Meyer noted at TheAtlantic.com. Last winter there was plenty of rain in the west, ending the drought in California and penetrating deep in the soil of Western forests.

“Yet fires are now raging across the West. More than two dozen named fires currently burn across Washington and Oregon. More than one million acres have burned in Montana, an area larger than Rhode Island, in the Treasure State’s third-worst fire season on record. And the largest brushfire in the history of Los Angeles currently threatens hundreds of homes in Burbank.

“Canada may be experiencing an even worse year for wildfires: 2.86 million acres have burned in British Columbia, the largest area ever recorded in the province.”

So how did a wet Western winter lead to a sky-choking summer? The answer lies in the summer’s record-breaking heat, say wildfire experts. Days of near-100-degree-Fahrenheit temperatures cooked the Mountain West in early July, and a scorching heat wave lingered over the Pacific Northwest in early August.

“This will become an important year for [anecdotes about] the importance of temperature. Despite the fact that these forests were really soaked down this winter and spring, these heat waves have dried things out enough to promote really large fires,” says Park Williams, a research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.

SANDERS’ SINGLE-PAYER BILL GAINS DEMOCRATIC SUPPORT. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has collected at least half a dozen co-sponsors for his Medicare for All bill as single-payer is swiftly becoming the party line, rather than a deviation from it, Addy Baird noted at ThinkProgress.

Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) were the first colleagues to come out in support of the bill, joined by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) (9/8) and Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) (9/11)

Former Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who was among the lead drafters of the Affordable Care Act in 2009 as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said he also now supports a single-payer system. Back then, Baucus said, he felt adamantly that Congress wouldn’t pass a government-run system like Canada’s, so he refused to put it on the table for consideration, Gail Schontzler reported in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle (9/8).

But you can see the difference when you visit hospitals on either side of the border, he said. In Montana, half a rural hospital will be dedicated to processing medical insurance claims. In Canada, he said, just one small room is needed to verify that patients are residents. And Americans pay much higher drug prices, he said, because the government can’t negotiate better prices with the drug industry, so US patients end up subsidizing drug prices for the rest of the world.

Now President Donald Trump’s administration and Republicans in Congress are trying to undermine Obamacare so it will collapse, he said. “I think it’s tragic.”

“My personal view is we’ve got to start looking at single-payer,” Baucus said at Montana State University. “I think we should have hearings … We’re getting there. It’s going to happen.”

EVANGELICAL PREACHERS HAVE ONE WEAK EXCUSE AFTER ANOTHER FOR STICKING WITH TRUMP. After Donald Trump sided with the neo-Nazis and KKK members at the Charlottesville, Va., protests, many business leaders took the off ramp, leaving Trump’s advisory boards. But almost all of the evangelical pastors on Trump’s religious advisory board—and the board is all evangelical, with no Catholics or even mainline Protestants aboard, let alone Jews or Muslims—stayed on Team Trump post-Charlottesville. Now they’re expressing support for Dreamers, Laura Clawson noted at DailyKos, but they’re laying the groundwork for their decision to stick with Trump when the deportations start:

“[Pastor Jentezen] Franklin said he doesn’t think Trump is racist — but he feels that had he resigned in protest over Charlottesville, he would not have been there to make the case for young immigrants,” Frances Stead Sellers reported at the Washington Post (9/4).

“If I resign every time [the president] does something I don’t agree with, then I lose the ability to have influence and speak up for the ‘dreamer’ children [and] the minorities that feel offended and hurt by the Charlottesville incident,” Franklin said.

“What a great logic!” Clawson noted. “Surely by the time the Dreamers start being deported, there will be another group that really needs Franklin in the room with Trump failing to convince him to do the right thing.”

Bishop Harry Jackson, an African American pastor from Beltsville, Md., who has spoken out against abortion and same-sex marriage, said he sees his role on the board partly to influence others on issues such as criminal justice that are important to the black community.

“That is why I am supposed to be there,” said Jackson, who was among the pastors who saw Trump in the Oval Office (9/1). “I believe I am affecting other people on that board.”

So … it’s not that he thinks he can influence Trump, but maybe he can influence someone else on Trump’s board? Yeah, sure. 

“Once these so-called Christian leaders let Trump know that support for neo-Nazis was not their breaking point, they lost all moral credibility,” Clawson concluded. “Trying to pretend they’re still with Trump for anything but the Oval Office access and fun photo ops is just pathetic.”

FORMER RAIL EXEC IN LINE TO HEAD PIPELINE SAFETY AGENCY. President Donald Trump intends to nominate a long-time executive with the freight rail industry to serve as administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a regulatory agency that oversees the nation’s extensive pipeline network, Mark Hand reported at ThinkProgress.

For the past decade, Howard “Skip” Elliott was group vice president of public safety, health, environment and security for CSX Transportation, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based subsidiary of CSX Corp. Elliott has a 40-year history in the freight rail industry, but he does not have any government service experience. Elliott’s nomination to head PHMSA is subject to Senate confirmation.

One industry observer noted Elliott will have a big learning curve, coming from the railroad industry, since pipeline safety regulation and oversight is complicated with many diverse stakeholders and controversial issues, including the definition gathering lines and pipeline integrity management requirements.

Pipeline industry officials, though, praised Trump’s nomination of Elliott, citing his extensive experience and leadership in freight rail safety. “We urge the president to nominate, and the Senate to hold a hearing and quickly confirm this qualified nominee,” Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) President and CEO Don Santa said in a statement Monday. INGAA is the primary industry trade group for US natural gas pipeline companies.

CSX trains have been in numerous accidents in recent years. In early 2014, a tanker of crude oil and a boxcar of sand nearly toppled over a bridge in Philadelphia after a freight train owned by CSX derailed. Later that year, an oil train operated by CSX derailed and caught fire in Lynchburg, Virginia. Less than 24 hours later, about 10 cars of a CSX coal train went off the tracks, though all of the cars remained upright.

CONTROVERSIAL PICK FOR CIVIL RIGHTS CHIEF APPEARS HEADED FOR CONFIRMATION. Civil rights advocates have condemned Donald Trump’s choice of a Washington lawyer who has defended companies accused of discrimination to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division, but he appears headed toward confirmation, Ryan Reilly reported at HuffPost (9/6).

Eric Dreiband, an attorney at Jones Day, used his testimony to issue a strong condemnation of neo-Nazis, white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan, which he said should be “eradicated” from the country, putting some distance between himself and the president.

But senators had limited time to question Dreiband amid a busy slate of hearings for several other judicial candidates, meaning they had less opportunity to drill into his record. As a result, there were no indications during the hearing that Dreiband will face much Republican opposition, let alone enough to prevent his confirmation.

A number of groups criticized the Senate Judiciary Committee ― chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) ― for scheduling so many nominees on a single day.

Holding the hearings with so many nominees “deeply undermines the vetting process,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president for the progressive advocacy group People For the American Way.

The Congressional Black Caucus wrote that choosing Dreiband “follows President Trump’s agenda of tapping the fox to guard the henhouse.”

Dreiband had “no known experience in the Division’s core issue areas, such as voting rights and hate crimes” the group stated in a press release, adding that he “devoted the vast majority of his career to defending corporations accused of employment discrimination.”

Vanita Gupta, who headed up the Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration, said Dreiband’s record “shows he is the wrong person” to lead the Civil Rights Division.

“The leader of that division must have an allegiance to civil rights, and not to the president or a political party,” Gupta said. “This is particularly true given the Trump-Pence administration’s open hostility to, and demonstrated record of undermining, our core civil rights.”

Dreiband’s nomination should be shot down unless he’d change the Trump Justice Department’s positions, said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“Unless Eric Dreiband is willing to reverse destructive actions taken by the Attorney General and can commit to restoring civil rights enforcement across the Division, his nomination must be rejected,” Clarke said.

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2017


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