31 August 2017

Obama and Cooper school Trump

Rico says everybody's piling on now:

Arnold schools Trump

Rico says it's an unlikely guy to give it, but a good admonition nonetheless...

History for the day: 1876: Battle of Little Bighorn

 History.com has this for 31 August:

On 31 August 1876, Native American forces led by Chief Crazy Horse and Chief Sitting Bull defeated the Army troops of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer in a bloody battle near southern Montana’s Little Bighorn River.
Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, leaders of the Sioux tribe on the Great Plains, strongly resisted the mid-nineteenth-century efforts of the government to confine their people to reservations. In 1875, after gold was discovered in South Dakota’s Black Hills, the Army ignored previous treaty agreements and invaded the region. This betrayal led many Sioux and Cheyenne tribesmen to leave their reservations and join Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in Montana. By the late spring of 1876, more than ten thousand Native Americans had gathered in a camp along the Little Bighorn River, which they called the Greasy Grass, in defiance of a War Department order to return to their reservations or risk being attacked.
In mid-June, three columns of soldiers lined up against the camp and prepared to march. A force of twelve hundred Native Americans turned back the first column on 17 June. Five days later, General Alfred Terry ordered Custer’s Seventh Cavalry to scout ahead for enemy troops. On the morning of 25 June, Custer drew near the camp and decided to press on, rather than wait for reinforcements.
At mid-day, Custer’s six hundred men entered the Little Bighorn Valley. Among the Native Americans, word quickly spread of the impending attack. The older Sitting Bull rallied the warriors and saw to the safety of the women and children, while Crazy Horse set off with a large force to meet the attackers head on. Despite Custer’s desperate attempts to regroup his men, they were quickly overwhelmed. Custer and some two hundred men in his battalion were attacked by as many as three thousand Native Americans; within an hour, Custer and every one of his soldiers were dead.
The Battle of Little Bighorn, also called Custer’s Last Stand, marked the most decisive Native American victory and the worst Army defeat in the long Plains Indian War. The gruesome fate of Custer and his men outraged many white Americans and confirmed their image of the Indians as wild and bloodthirsty. Meanwhile, the government increased its efforts to subdue the tribes. Within five years, almost all of the Sioux and Cheyenne would be confined to reservations.
Rico says that Custer was an ambitious idiot, and cost a lot of lives, fortunately including his own...

Post-party politics

Yahoo has an article by WHO about changes in the political landscape:

You’d have to think that some part of President Trump was relieved to be in Texas this week, to finally be confronting crisis rather than creating it, to be demonstrating some unity rather than driving people further apart.
Of course, Trump being Trump, he somehow managed to speak at a briefing in the middle of a major disaster zone without once mentioning the victims of the hurricane, which he had already admitted to exploiting for its television ratings.
“What a crowd!” Trump exclaimed upon leaving his event at a firehouse, where a thousand Texans had gathered for what he seemed to think was an impromptu rally. “What a turnout!”
Back in Washington, though, there were no tributes, only a growing sense, now openly discussed in both parties, that Trump’s hold on the office is proving increasingly tenuous. Rebuked by congressional leaders for his tolerance of white nationalists and for a controversial pardon, abandoned publicly by some members of his own Cabinet, Trump is fast becoming the Tom Hanks of presidents, stranded on his own little political island, futilely throwing coconuts at the wall.
His approval rating, now stuck at around 35 percent in a series of polls, opens the door wide not just to a tumultuous midterm election season, but also to a long and unpredictable presidential campaign after that.
By this time next year, unless something major changes, every third Democrat in Washington will be lining up to form an exploratory committee. But the more interesting maneuvering may be in the Republican Party, where I’m betting we’ll see more than one serious primary challenger step forward. (I’m looking at you, Marco Rubio.)
And then there’s the unlikely, emerging partnership between two idiosyncratic and popular governors named John, Kasich, the Republican from Ohio, and Hickenlooper, his lesser-known Democratic colleague from Colorado, who have begun acting very much like a possible bipartisan ticket in recent weeks, holding a series of events around health care. They’re set to preview their reform plan in interviews today.
Whether or not John Squared holds any real promise as a presidential campaign tandem (and we’ll get to that in a moment), the whole thing raises a larger question that I find highly relevant in the post-Trump moment:
Is America ready for an independent presidency? And should our two fossilized parties be a lot more worried about it than they are?
Well, all right, that’s two questions. But they get to the same central idea.
In full disclosure, I’m probably not the guy you should turn to first if you want a disinterested answer to all this. I’ve been relentlessly harping on the potential for an independent president pretty much since I started following politicians around the country twenty years ago. When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything starts to look an awful lot like a nail.
I happened onto the political scene as a writer in the moment just after Ross Perot, a demonstrably disturbed person who announced that Republicans had tried to ruin his daughter’s wedding, managed to score eighteen percent of the vote as an independent candidate promising to balance the budget.
For several years afterward, I spent a lot of my time in the company of politicians like Jesse “the Body” Ventura, the independent governor of Minnesota who, for a time, seemed like a formidable presidential contender himself, and John McCain, who back then captivated the country by taking on both party establishments.
(Yes, millennials, that John McCain. Go look it up in Wikipedia, and stop expecting the rest of us to do all the work for you.)
I absolutely thought Colin Powell had a chance to win the presidency as an independent in 1996, before he removed himself from contention. I was less convinced by a potential candidate I met in 1999, some billionaire with the last name of Trump.
Here’s what I came to believe back then, and what I have written many times since: America has no use for a third party, since most of us aren’t all that enamored of the two we already have. But that’s a different thing from a truly independent bid, undertaken by someone (or a couple of someones) who dispenses with primaries and breaks the party paradigm altogether.
My sense, still, is that we’re a lot closer to seeing that kind of campaign succeed than anyone in Washington really imagines, just as we were a lot closer to the hostile takeover of a national party than anyone thought before 2016.
Over the last twenty years, during a time in which the emerging digital culture has weakened just about every institution in America, the grip of the two parties on our political system has loosened considerably. Our politics may feel more polarized between ideological camps, but that’s mostly because the parties are controlled by an ever-winnowing group of diehard activists who present the rest of us with stark, binary choices.
The country’s openness to more alternatives, as measured by the number of Americans who identify themselves as politically independent, has never been more palpable, or more consistent with the way we live our lives generally.
In a very real sense, Trump’s insurgent campaign represented a kind of independent movement inside the Republican Party, which he effectively occupied and then replaced with his family brand. He obliterated the outdated belief that party loyalty matters anything near as much as personality.
Meanwhile, the two principal and related barriers to entry for an independent candidate, the money needed to run a competitive race and the arcane ballot laws that vary wildly by state, have been made vastly less onerous by the spread of broadband.
Sure, it’s still not easy to organize a state-by-state ballot-access drive, or to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. But it’s way easier than it ever was before, and if anyone still buys the myth that money is the driving force in a national campaign, they should study this last election. It turns out free television time and social media followings are exponentially more valuable.
Which brings us back to Kasich and Hickenlooper, whose flirtation with a bipartisan ticket was reported last week by AxiosMike Allen. That really shouldn’t have surprised anyone, not least because Kasich’s closest political adviser is John Weaver, whom I met when he was openly exploring the same thing for McCain in 2000. Weaver has long been a fellow traveler when it comes to upending the system.
(In an interview last week on Meet the Press, Kasich, who came away from the last campaign with something of a national following, tried to brush aside questions about a joint ticket, and finally said it wasn’t happening. Which I’m sure is true, at the moment.)
Personally, I find Kasich and Hickenlooper to be among the more genuine and compelling characters in politics today. Neither man is going to be carried along in the prevailing currents of their parties, which are headed toward ideological stridency and confrontation. That makes running in primaries a dubious option.
The problem for the two Johns, should they get serious about a historic joint venture, is that neither of them commands the kind of celebrity coverage that would follow, say, Kanye West or Mark Cuban, and neither of them is a billionaire like Mike Bloomberg, who briefly considered his own independent bid in 2016 (and probably wakes up every day wishing he had a time machine).
They’d have to build a large, grassroots organization of moderates, which is never easy, and they’d have to hope that the two parties ultimately rally around Trump, on one side, and an ideologue like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, on the other.
It’s not a high-percentage bet, to be sure, but neither would I call it crazy. It might also be good for the country.
The larger point here, though, is that even by playing with the possibility, these guys are on the vanguard of something. Whether it’s a couple of governors like Kasich and Hickenlooper, or more likely some television celebrity we haven’t even thought of yet, the nonaligned presidency is probably inevitable, and it could happen as early as 2020.
Yeah, I’ve been saying that forever. It just happens still to be true.
Rico says he's still surprised, Texas being Texas, that no one took a shot at Trump...

Argentina, maybe?

Rico says, no, it's not The Blue Meanie, but the real thing, according to an article by Matt Novak from Gizmodo:
Federal police in Argentina recently discovered a time capsule of evil, hidden inside a house near Buenos Aires. Roughly 75 Nazi artifacts, including everything from a large knife to Nazi medical devices to a photo negative of Adolf Hitler, were uncovered in a secret room. Police are investigating when and how the items entered the country.
As Haaretz reports, agents from Interpol raided the home of the unnamed owner of the Nazi artifacts on 8 June 2017. Some artworks of “illicit origin” were discovered on the north side of Buenos Aires, leading police to the man’s home. When investigators arrived they found a large bookcase hiding a secret room. The man remains free, but it’s unclear if he will face any charges.
The investigators have reached out to Holocaust experts to learn more about where the Nazi pieces may have come from, but members of the Jewish community in Argentina believe that they must have been brought to the country by Nazi officials following World War Two.
There was initially some speculation about whether the items could be reproductions, but investigators believe they’re originals. But there are obviously still a number of questions surrounding how they arrived in the country. “Our first investigations indicate that these are original pieces,” Argentine Security Minister Patricia Bullrich told The Associated Press late yesterday.
The discovery is the largest of its kind in Argentina, a country that has what might best be described as having an unfortunate relationship with the Holocaust. After World War Two, a number of top Nazi officials fled to Argentina, including Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele.
Eichmann was discovered in Bueno Aires by Nazi hunters in 1960. He was brought to Israel and tried and hanged in 1962. Mengele escaped Argentina and fled to Paraguay and later died in Brazil. It’s not yet known if any of the items discovered this month personally belonged to Eichmann, Mengele, or any other Nazis who escaped Germany.
One reason that authorities in Buenos Aires has some degree of certainty that they are originals is that some items from the collection are pictured in photographs with Nazi leaders. For example, one item in the collection is a magnifying glass. The same magnifying glass is seen in a photo negative from the collection showing Hitler himself. Investigators showed the photo to The Associated Press on the condition that the photo not be published.
“This is a way to commercialize them, showing that they were used by the horror, by the Führer. There are photos of him with the objects,” said Bullrich.
Some of the most disturbing items in the collection are medical devices, including items used to measure the size of human heads. Nazi scientists traveled the world in the 1930s measuring heads of different peoples, believing in a pseudo-science that superior races could be determined through facial features. The collection also includes Nazi toys and other things that would have been targeted to Nazi youth, such as a collection of harmonicas featuring illustrations of youngsters holding Nazi flags:
“There are no precedents for a find like this,” Nestor Roncaglia, head of Argentina’s Federal police, told The Associated Press. “Pieces are stolen or are imitations. But this is original and we have to get to the bottom of it.”
Correction: This post originally said that Mengele fled to Brazil and died in Paraguay. Mengele died in Brazil.
Rico says we can't seem to make these assholes go away...

Killing cancer with nano-machines

Rico's friend Kelley forwards a Yahoo article by Sarah Knapton from The Telegraph:

Nanomachines which can drill into cancer cells, killing them in just sixty seconds, have been developed by scientists.
The tiny spinning molecules are driven by light, and spin so quickly that they can burrow their way through cell linings when activated.
In one test, conducted at Durham University, the nanomachines took between one and three minutes to break through the outer membrane of a prostate cancer cell, killing it instantly.
The 'motor' is a rotor-like chain of atoms that can be prompted to move in one direction, causing the molecule to rotate at high speed.
Dr. Robert Pal of Durham University said that "we are moving towards realizing our ambition to be able to use light-activated nanomachines to target cancer cells such as those in breast tumors and skin melanomas, including those that are resistant to existing chemotherapy. Once developed, this approach could provide a potential step change in non-invasive cancer treatment and greatly improve survival rates and patient welfare globally." The scientists, whose work is reported in the journal Nature, created several different light-activated motorized molecules, designed to home in on specific cells.
They found that the nanomachines needed to spin at two to three million times per second to overcome nearby obstacles and outpace natural Brownian motion, the erratic movement of microscopic particles suspended in fluid. The molecules could be used either to tunnel into cells carrying therapeutic agents, or to act as killer weapons that blast open tumor membranes. Videos showed the cancer cell membranes bubbling under the assault. Without an ultraviolet trigger, the motor molecules located target cells but then remained harmlessly on their surfaces.
The prostate cancer cells start to 'bleb' or disintegrate after just sixty seconds. When triggered, the molecules rapidly drilled through the cell membranes.
Dr. James Tour, a member of the international team from Rice University in Houston, Texas, said: "These nanomachines are so small that we could park fifty thousand of them across the diameter of a human hair, yet they have the targeting and actuating components combined in that diminutive package to make molecular machines a reality for treating disease. In this study, we have shown that we can drill into cells, animal cells, human cells, using these nanomachines, they will attach to the surface and then a light will be shone upon them and they will drill right into the cell.
"I never had envisioned the nano-machines being used medically, I thought they were way too small, because they are much much smaller than a cell, but now this work has really changed my thoughts on this and I think, therapeutically, this will be a whole new way to treat patients, it's going to be an excellent application for cancer treatment, not just for killing of cells but for the treatment of cells, interacting with the human body using molecular machines."
The researchers are already proceeding with experiments in microorganisms and small fish and hope to move to rodents soon, ahead of clinical trials in humans if animal testing is successful.
Rico says anything to rid the world of cancer...

Disaster profiteering

Matt Novak has a Gizmodo article about Not-Best-Buy behavior:

Did you see those packs of water being sold at a Best Buy store in Houston, Texas for as much as $42 per pack? The photos (above) went viral as an example of predatory price-gouging in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. But the company is now apologizing and saying it was all a big misunderstanding. Meanwhile, CNBC doesn’t think that disaster capitalism is such a big deal.
There have been over five hundred complaints so far about price gouging on everything from food to gasoline. According to the Texas Attorney General, the price gouging has included hotel prices quadrupling, fuel for as much as ten dollars per gallon, and cases of water being sold for $99.
But Best Buy was recently singled out on social media when a tweet showed that some packs were being sold at a Houston location for $29, while other cases of water were $42. People were disgusted, to say the least.
“This was a big mistake on the part of a few employees at one store on Friday,” a Best Buy spokesperson told CNBC. “As a company we are focused on helping, not hurting affected people. We’re sorry and it won’t happen again,” the statement continued. “Not as an excuse, but as an explanation, we don’t typically sell cases of water. The mistake was made when employees priced a case of water using the single-bottle price for each bottle in the case,” the spokesperson from Best Buy concluded.
The penalty for price gouging in Texas is a fine of up to twenty thousand dollars per infraction. If the victim is over the age of 65, the fine is up to a quarter-million dollars. While Best Buy contends that it was all an honest mistake, they have a legal responsibility not to price gouge during a disaster. That’s the law in Texas.
But amazingly, a host from CNBC acknowledged that, while it might be immoral to overcharge during a crisis, he still wondered if the law should be enforced. CNBC had the Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, on their network this week and asked why businesses shouldn’t be allowed to charge whatever they want, even after a natural disaster.
Mister Paxton, clearly all of us would be agreed that it’s a moral issue to try and oversell necessities at a time of crisis. Is it, and should it be, a legal issue as well?” the CNBC host asked. “Surely it’s up to the seller to sell their product at the price they wish, even if morally clearly at this time they shouldn’t be overcharging for necessities.”
The Attorney General shot back that the law is in place for a reason and that he was going to enforce it. “Well, clearly the Texas legislature thought differently, because they were the ones who put the penalties in place. It’s up to twenty thousand dollars per occurrence and, if you do this to somebody 65 and older, it’s a quarter-million dollars per occurrence,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said. “So, of course, our legislature, signed by a governor many years ago, clearly did not want during natural disasters the necessities to be jacked up in price,” Paxton continued. “So that was a decision that they made and we’re enforcing it.”
It’s incredible that anyone could ask whether selling hundred-dollar cases of water is actually good in the middle of this disaster like this, but here we are. Nothing, not even the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, should apparently get in the way of making a buck.
Rico says that Best Buy can afford the fine, but the stupid employee is probably screwed... (And, being over 65 himself, Rico says there's a Texas tradition of solving issues like this with gunfire...)

History for the day: 1980: Polish government signs accord with Gdansk shipyard workers

History.com has this for 31 August 2017:

31 August 1980, representatives of the communist government of Poland agree to the demands of striking shipyard workers in the city of Gdansk. Former electrician Lech Walesa led the striking workers, who went on to form Solidarity, the first independent labor union to develop in a Soviet bloc nation.
In July of 1980, facing economic crisis, Poland’s government raised the price of food and other goods, while curbing the growth of wages. The price hikes made it difficult for many Poles to afford basic necessities, and a wave of strikes swept the country. Amid mounting tensions, a popular forklift operator named Anna Walentynowicz was fired from the Lenin Shipyard in the northern Polish city of Gdansk. In mid-August, some seventeen thousand of the shipyard’s workers began a sit-down strike to campaign for her reinstatement, as well as for a modest increase in wages. They were led by the former shipyard electrician Lech Walesa, who had himself been fired for union activism four years earlier.
Despite governmental censorship and attempts to keep news of the strike from getting out, similar protests broke out in industrial cities throughout Poland. On 17 August, an Interfactory Strike Committee presented the Polish government with twenty-one ambitious demands, including the right to organize independent trade unions, the right to strike, the release of political prisoners, and increased freedom of expression. Fearing the general strike would lead to a national revolt, the government sent a commission to Gdansk to negotiate with the rebellious workers. On 31 August, Walesa and Deputy Premier Mieczyslaw Jagielski signed an agreement giving in to many of the workers’ demands. Walesa signed the document with a giant ballpoint pen decorated with a picture of newly-elected Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla, formerly the archbishop of Krakow).
In the wake of the Gdansk strike, leaders of the Interfactory Strike Committee voted to create a single national trade union known as Solidarnosc (Solidarity), which soon evolved into a mass social movement, with a membership of more than ten million people. Solidarity attracted sympathy from Western leaders and hostility from Moscow, where the Kremlin considered a military invasion of Poland. In late 1981, under Soviet pressure, the government of General Wojciech Jaruzelski annulled the recognition of Solidarity and declared martial law. Some six thousand Solidarity activists were arrested, including Walesa, who was detained for almost a year. The Solidarity movement moved underground, where it continued to enjoy support from international leaders such as American President Ronald Reagan, who imposed sanctions on Poland. Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983, and, after the fall of communism in 1989, he became the first president of Poland ever elected by popular vote.

Rico says the whole Soviet empire crashed soon after...

30 August 2017

Harvey's back

The Washington Post has an Yahoo article by Nomaan Merchant and Juan Lozano about the return of Harvey (not the invisible ghost):

The Texas community of Port Arthur found itself increasingly isolated on Wednesday as Harvey's rains flooded most major roads out of the city and swamped a shelter for victims fleeing the storm that had ravaged the Houston area. The crisis deepened in the coastal city after Harvey rolled ashore overnight for the second time in six days, this time hitting southwestern Louisiana, about 45 miles from Port Arthur.
Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy Marcus McLellan said he wasn't sure where the hundred or so evacuees at the civic center in Port Arthur would be sent. Most were perched on bleacher seats to stay dry, their belongings left mostly on the floor under about a foot of water, he said. "People started coming to the shelter on Monday," McLellan said. "And now it's just all the rainfall that's coming in, and there's a canal by there also that's overflowing."
In the Houston area, meanwhile, some sunshine was finally in the forecast after five straight days of rain that totaled close to fifty inches, the heaviest tropical downpour ever recorded in the continental United States. But the crisis was far from over. At least eighteen deaths have been recorded, and authorities fear many more bodies may be found when the floodwaters start receding.
The dead include a former football and track coach in suburban Houston and a woman who died after she and her young daughter were swept into a rain-swollen drainage canal in Beaumont. The child was rescued clinging to her dead mother, authorities said.
Some thirteen thousand people have been rescued in the Houston area, and more than seventeen thousand have sought refuge in Texas shelters. With the water still rising in places and many hard-hit areas still inaccessible, those numbers seemed certain to increase, too.
Harvey initially came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane in Texas on Friday, then executed a U-turn and lingered off the coast as a tropical storm for days, inundating flood-prone Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city. Early Wednesday, Harvey paid a return visit, coming ashore near Cameron, Louisiana, and bringing with it 45 mph winds and a heavy dose of rain.
Houston's largest shelter housed ten thousand of the displaced, twice its initial intended capacity, and two additional mega-shelters opened Tuesday for the overflow.
Louisiana's governor offered to take in Harvey victims from Texas, returning a favor done by Houston after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Televangelist Joel Osteen opened his sixteen-thousand-seat Houston megachurch, but only after he was blasted on social media for not acting to help families displaced by the storm.
In an apparent response to scattered reports of looting, Houston imposed a midnight-to-5 am curfew, with police saying violators would be arrested.
Houston has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for more supplies, including cots and food, for an additional ten thousand people, according to Mayor Sylvester Turner.
In Port Arthur, Sheriff Zena Stephens told KFDM-TV that authorities were struggling to rescue residents from the flooding.
Mayor Derrick Freeman posted on his Facebook page that "the city is underwater right now, but we are coming!" He also urged residents to get to higher ground and to avoid becoming trapped in attics.
Harvey is expected to weaken as it slogs through Louisiana and makes it way northward, with Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri on alert for flooding in the next couple of days.
"Once we get this thing inland during the day, it's the end of the beginning," said National Hurricane Center meteorologist Dennis Feltgen. "Texas is going to get a chance to finally dry out as this system pulls out." But, Feltgen cautioned: "We're not done with this. There's still an awful lot of real estate and a lot of people who are going to feel the impacts of the storm."
Still, the reprieve from the rain in Houston was welcome.
Eugene Rideaux, a 42-year-old mechanic who showed up at Osteen's Lakewood Church to sort donations for evacuees, said he had not been able to work or do much since the storm hit, so he was eager to get out of his dark house and help. "It's been so dark for days now, I'm just ready to see some light. Some sunshine. I'm tired of the darkness," Rideaux said. "But it's a tough city, and we're going to make this into a positive and come together."
Rico says that hurricanes suck...

29 August 2017

Climate change? Trump doesn't think so

Lisa Friedman has an article in The New York Times about climate change, like it or not:

The average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past fifteen hundred years, according to a sweeping Federal climate change report awaiting approval by the Trump administration. The draft report, by scientists from thirteen Federal agencies, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. It directly contradicts claims by President Trump and members of his cabinet, who say that the human contribution to climate change is uncertain, and that the ability to predict the effects is limited. “Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” a draft of the report states. It was uploaded to a nonprofit internet digital library in January of 2017, but received little attention until it was published by The New York Times.
The authors note that thousands of studies, conducted by tens of thousands of scientists, have documented climate changes on land and in the air. “Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change,” they wrote. The report was completed this year and is a special science section of the National Climate Assessment, which is congressionally mandated every four years. The National Academy of Sciences has signed off on the draft report, and the authors are awaiting permission from the Trump administration to release it. The draft report, by scientists from thirteen Federal agencies, directly contradicts statements by Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, that human contribution to climate change is uncertain. One scientist who worked on the report, Katharine Hayhoe, a professor of political science at Texas Tech University, called the conclusions among “the most comprehensive climate science reports” to be published. Another scientist involved in the process, who spoke to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity, said he and others were concerned that it would be suppressed. The White House and the Environmental Protection Agency did not immediately return calls or respond to emails requesting comment on Monday night.
The report concludes that, even if humans immediately stopped emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the world would still feel at least an additional half degree Fahrenheit of warming over this century, compared with today. The projected actual rise, scientists say, will be as much as two degrees Celsius.
A small difference in global temperatures can make a big difference in the climate: the difference between a rise in global temperatures of 1.5 degrees Celsius and one of 2 degrees Celsius, for example, could mean longer heat waves, more intense rainstorms, and the faster disintegration of coral reefs.
Among the more significant of the study’s findings is that it is possible to attribute some extreme weather to climate change. The field known as “attribution science” has advanced rapidly in response to increasing risks from climate change.
The EPA is one of thirteen agencies that must approve the report by 18 August 2017. The agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, has said he does not believe that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.
“It’s a fraught situation,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geoscience and international affairs at Princeton University who was not involved in the study. “This is the first case in which an analysis of climate change of this scope has come up in the Trump administration, and scientists will be watching very carefully to see how they handle it.” Scientists say they fear that the Trump administration could change or suppress the report. But those who challenge scientific data on human-caused climate change say they are equally worried that the draft report, as well as the larger National Climate Assessment, will be publicly released.
The National Climate Assessment “seems to be on autopilot” because of a lack of political direction, said Myron Ebell, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The report says significant advances have been made linking human influence to individual extreme weather events since the last National Climate Assessment was produced in 2014. Still, it notes, crucial uncertainties remain.
It cites the European heat wave of 2003 and the record heat in Australia in 2013 as specific episodes where “relatively strong evidence” showed that a man-made factor contributed to the extreme weather.
In the United States, the authors write, the heat wave that broiled Texas in 2011 was more complicated. That year was Texas’ driest on record, and one study cited in the report said local weather variability and La Niña were the primary causes, with a “relatively small” warming contribution. Another study had concluded that climate change made extreme events twenty times more likely in Texas.
Based on those and other conflicting studies, the Federal draft concludes that there was a medium likelihood that climate change played a role in the Texas heat wave. But it avoids assessing other individual weather events for their link to climate change. Generally, the report described linking recent major droughts in the United States to human activity as “complicated”, saying that, while many droughts have been long and severe, they have not been unprecedented in the earth’s hydrologic natural variation.
Worldwide, the draft report finds it “extremely likely” that more than half of the global mean temperature increase since 1951 can be linked to human influence.
In the United States, the report concludes with “very high” confidence that the number and severity of cool nights have decreased since the 1960s, while the frequency and severity of warm days have increased. Extreme cold waves, it says, are less common since the 1980s, while extreme heat waves are more common.
The study examines every corner of the United States and finds that all of it was touched by climate change. The average annual temperature in the United States will continue to rise, the authors write, making recent record-setting years “relatively common” in the near future. It projects increases of five to eight degrees Fahrenheit by the late century, depending on the level of future emissions. It says the average annual rainfall across the country has increased by about four percent since the beginning of the twentieth century. Parts of the West, Southwest, and Southeast are drying up, while the Southern Plains and the Midwest are getting wetter.
With a medium degree of confidence, the authors linked the contribution of human-caused warming to rising temperatures over the Western and Northern United States. It found no direct link in the Southeast. Additionally, the government scientists wrote that surface, air and ground temperatures in Alaska and the Arctic are rising at a frighteningly fast rate, twice as fast as the global average. “It is very likely that the accelerated rate of Arctic warming will have a significant consequence for the United States due to accelerating land and sea ice melting that is driving changes in the ocean, including sea level rise threatening our coastal communities,” the report says. Human activity, the report goes on to say, is a primary culprit.
The study does not make policy recommendations, but it notes that stabilizing the global mean temperature increase to two degrees Celsius, what scientists have referred to as the guardrail beyond which changes become catastrophic, will require significant reductions in global levels of carbon dioxide.
Nearly two hundred nations agreed as part of the Paris accords to limit or cut fossil fuel emissions. If countries make good on those promises, the Federal report says, that will be a key step toward keeping global warming at manageable levels.
President Trump announced this year that the United States would withdraw from the Paris agreement, saying the deal was bad for America.
Rico says no, the deal was bad for Trump and his buddies...

Food in Austin, Texas

True West has an article by Sherry Monahan about yet another place in Austin, Texas with good food:

Texas’s oldest continuously operating tavern (photo) can be found in Austin. August Scholz opened his establishment just after the Civil War in 1866, and it remains a popular gathering spot to this day.
Scholz found even more patrons to sip on his suds once the Houston and Texas Central Railway reached the settlement, on 25 December 1871, which turned Austin into a popular trading center.
By 1876 the town reported among its businesses many retail merchants, two breweries, six bakeries, six restaurants, two dozen butcher shops, eleven boarding houses, five hotels, two ice factories, two dozen bar rooms and seven beer saloons, including Scholz’, which opened ten years earlier.
“This official record is evidently imperfect,” Austin’s Weekly Democratic Statesman joked, “for to our certain knowledge there are at least eleven hundred boarding houses and one hundred saloons.”
Fish and seafood were popular fare in this railroad town about two hundred miles from the Gulf of Mexico. In 1879, I.S. Simon advertised he had the choicest of oysters, fish, and game in season. Clay Jones competed with Simon for Austin patrons by advertising fresh shrimp, crab, fish, and Matagorda Bay oysters daily.
While oysters continued to be a popular nineteenth-century food, trends evolved. In 1882, cooks devised recipes to see how many fish could be served at one dinner. The sheepshead, pompano, sea bass, red snapper, and salmon were becoming the popular fishes Americans ate. They prepared their palates with a soup order, either crawfish bisque or a puree of crab.
One of the grandest hotels and dining rooms in Austin opened four years later. Tennessee native Jesse Driskill had it built, although he was so busy with his cattle ranch, he didn’t run the hotel, but leased it to S.E. McIlhenny, for twenty thousand dollars per year (equivalent to more than half a million dollars today).
The Romanesque-style hotel was, and still is, four stories tall and made of pressed brick with cut-stone adornments. Equipped with an elevator and a grand staircase, the pioneer hotel housed a billiard room, barbershop, bathroom, reading room, gentlemen’s toilets, and five stores. The second floor housed a bridal suite, ladies and gentlemen’s parlors, and an elaborate dining room that featured stained glass windows and ceiling.
The restaurants in Austin were as varied as the people who called the town home. One place, the Mexican Restaurant owned by Evaristo Liceaga & Co., served an interesting combination of oysters and chocolate. By 1889, Austin’s locals could find fare at two dozen restaurants and lunch stands, and at eateries in twenty hotels.
Special occasions called for a special menu, as was the case in 1893, when the owner of the New Orleans bakery, Charles Lundberg, and his wife celebrated their 25th anniversary at the Hotel Salge. After the couple renewed their vows at 7 pm, they and fifty of their closest friends enjoyed an extensive three-hour banquet.
Guests dined on oysters, consommé royal, trout with tartar sauce, potato soufflé, chicken croquettes with French peas, boned turkey, buffalo tongue, shrimp with lettuce and lobster and chicken salads. For dessert, they could choose macaroon pyramids, angel food, coconut cake, meringues, cheese and crackers, and fruit and coffee noir.
While the Lundbergs chose lobster over crab for their party menu, Deviled Crab was enjoyed by many in Austin; try the Texas pioneer recipe today:

Deviled Crab
1 ½ cups cooked crab meat
4 tbsp. butter, melted
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Cream for moistening
3 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp. breadcrumbs

Combine crab meat, butter, oil, parsley and salt and pepper. If mixture seems dry, add cream to moisten. Stuff the mixture into ramekins, and brush with the beaten eggs. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake at 400°F. for 15 to 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Adapted from The Dallas Morning News, 13 May 1897.

Rico says he longs to eat there will his friend Bill...

Making Trump shut up

Maya Kosoff has a Vanity Fair article about an expensive purchase in a good cause:

Nearly fifteen years after former CIA operative Valerie Plame (photo) had her covert status leaked to the press by members of the George W. Bush administration, the outed spy has a new national security mission: saving the world from Donald Trump. She has been keeping busy in the years since she retired from the CIA and moved, with her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, from Washington to Santa Fe, New Mexico, writing spy thrillers and raising teenage twins. She turned one of her books, a memoir about the 2003 scandal that bears her name, into a movie starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts. But it is her obsession with nuclear weapons that has inspired her most recent, and most quixotic, bout of activism.
This week, Plame, who works closely with counter-proliferation group Global Zero, announced a new crowd-funding campaign to buy a controlling stake in Twitter and force the company to ban Trump from the platform. “Time and again, his use of this huge global platform has major consequences in the real world,” Plame writes on her GoFundMe page. “Trump has already brought us closer to nuclear war than any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis. We can not take Trump’s nukes away, but we can take away his biggest megaphone and stop him from tweeting Armageddon.”
The plan is ambitious, to say the least. Plame is seeking to raise a billion dollars, in what would be the largest crowd-funding campaign of all time. Similar plans went nowhere when a group of shareholders petitioned Twitter to sell itself to its users earlier this year, nor when Mexican currency traders floated a bid to buy the company and immediately shut it down. Still, Plame is deadly serious about the idea, and thinks her activist investor strategy, as unrealistic as it is, is the best possible way to push Trump off the platform. (If she can’t buy a significant stake in the company, Plame says she’ll donate a hundred percent of the money she raises to Global Zero.) Here, the ex-spy talks to the Hive about the limits of free speech, how she would use the billion dollars, and why threatening nuclear war should violate Twitter’s terms of service.
The Hive: How did you come up with this idea?
Plame: Well, John Oliver joked last week about how we never imagined that the invention of Twitter would lead us to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. A good chuckle, but the people who understand how crises escalate, I worked on counter-proliferation at the CIA, and we’re not laughing very hard. It is deadly serious. The threats he has posted with regard, most recently, to North Korea, ”fire and fury,” this sort of casual use of this platform, is appalling. And I’m seriously afraid that we will stumble into a nuclear war with North Korea.
Plame: I’ve been working with Global Zero. They are a great organization leading the resistance against nuclear war and the elimination of nuclear weapons. And we came up with the idea of, “Wait, we can do a GoFundMe site and try to buy a controlling interest in Twitter.” Because their rules do say that they do not allow violence. Nuclear war, I think, falls into the rubric of violence.
The Hive: Raising a billion dollars would give you an eight percent stake in Twitter, at its current valuation. That’s a bigger position than many activist investors take before seeking changes at a company. What’s the end goal?
Plame: It’s a very ambitious goal. I recognize that. One billion dollars is a whole bunch of money. But the real hope in launching the campaign is to shine a spotlight on how dangerous Trump’s use of Twitter really is. We don’t have to sit by while Trump uses his enormous global platform to undermine our national security. We would love to be able to actually force Twitter’s hand to live up to its rules, explicitly forbidding hate speech and encouraging violence.
The Hive: It seems like if this were successful, it would inevitably incite a political fight with the president.
Plame: He has lots of other platforms! And he can use Twitter. I am just objecting to the fact that we could potentially stumble into a nuclear war. Whatever you think of Trump, I think most people would agree he is impulsive, and we certainly have an impulsive leader in North Korea in Kim Jong-Un. That’s an unholy combination.
The Hive: But the ultimate goal is to kick Trump off?
Plame: I think we would try to convince Twitter to live up to their rules. Perhaps he would tone it down a little bit. Look, again, the goal is really ambitious, but no matter what happens, I’m not keeping this money for myself, I’m not going to financially benefit in any way, I’m donating every last penny to Global Zero.
The Hive: A group of Twitter shareholders tried something similar last year, when they petitioned to turn the company into a user-run co-op. The board ignored them. What would you do differently to ensure a more successful outcome?
Plame: If we get a controlling share, we can extend our influence in the company and put a proposal forward at the annual shareholder meeting.
The Hive: It sounds like a long shot.
I couldn’t put odds to it, but I’m going to give it my best shot. A lot of people are paying attention to this. We find that his use of Twitter, not just on nuclear issues, but across the board, is embarrassing, is humiliating to have our President speak like this. I don’t care if you are for having Mexico pay for the border wall, or you want to repeal and replace Obamacare, or if you want women to have complete access to reproductive rights, I don’t care. The fact is, if you don’t get the nuclear issue right, none of the other ones matter.
The Hive: Have you talked to anyone at Twitter about this?
Plame: No, I have not.The Hive: Have people been generally supportive or critical of the campaign?
It falls in two camps: those who are really supportive and have contributed and, on the other side, the two things I’ve seen, though I try not to spend too much time on the comments, would be they believe this somehow infringes upon free speech. That isn’t how free speech works, actually; first of all, the First Amendment is to protect the people, and their free speech, from the government, and not the other way around. Second, there are limits to free speech. You cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theater or incite violence. I would put unintended or intended nuclear war into the “violent” camp.
The Hive: You’ve been pretty active on Twitter in recent months. Lots of tweets about Trump and the resistance and things like that. Who do you follow?
Plame: There’s so much incoming. You have to be careful because sometimes snark is so easy, it’s a fallback position. I didn’t know her, but there’s a former CIA ops officer, Alex Finley. She’s very clever. I like John Oliver. You like smart, funny people who are pointing out the absurdities of the world we’re living in. This word has been way overused, but we’re really in an unprecedented time. I started a few years ago, picking and screening because I had a couple of spy thrillers coming out. My publisher was like: “No! You really have to be on social media!” I’ve taken to it. It is fun. There’s a lot of hate out there, and I’ve gotten a lot of hate about this, as you would imagine. But people say things online that they would never say to your face. It is certainly an of-the-moment way of communicating, and I want to be sure Trump doesn’t use this so we stumble into a nuclear war.
Rico says he says things on-line he'd be happy to say to Trump's face, but the Secret Service would likely object...

Yet more Harvey

Maddie Stone has a Gizmodo article about Harvey:

Right now, Houston is in the midst of a catastrophic flood disaster as tropical storm Harvey, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on the central Texas coastline on Friday night, continues to unleash torrents over the Houston & Galveston metropolitan area. Harvey is expected to drop an additional fifteen to twenty-five inches of rainfall over the next few days, which, combined with one to two feet of rain that fell over the weekend, has created a “worse than worse case scenario for Houston,” and could lead to some of the highest rainfall totals the nation has ever seen.
Tropical storms get their fuel from warm, wet air evaporating off the ocean. After making landfall, they tend to dissipate quickly, losing energy and organization as they blow across cooler, drier, inland air masses. What makes Harvey both incredibly dangerous and highly unusual is that it has barely budged over the last few days, channelling nonstop belts of rainfall from sea to land. “There is virtually no precedent for such a slow-moving system maintaining at least tropical storm strength along the Texas coast for five days,” meteorologists Jeff Masters and Bob Henson wrote yesterday on their weather and climate science blog, Category 6.
So, why won’t Harvey leave Texas alone? “The problem with Harvey is that it is trapped,” Phil Klotzbach, atmospheric scientist and tropical storm expert at Colorado State University, told Gizmodo in an email.
Harvey’s unusual trajectory (or lack thereof) stems from the fact that it’s stuck between two areas of strong upper-level high pressure, one in the western US, and another centered around the southeast. “Hurricanes effectively move as pebbles in a stream; that is, they are steered by large-scale weather patterns,” Klotzbach said. “The combination of these high pressure areas means that the storm is currently stationary.”
A tropical storm stalling out due to weak steering currents isn’t so unusual in itself, but the additional circumstances surrounding Harvey have created a nightmare scenario for coastal residents. “What makes this exceptional is that (a) it’s a former Category 4 hurricane, (b) it’s located very near a US coastline, and (c) the upper-level pattern is going to be very persistent, which means the stall could last for days,” Henson explained via email.
Harvey is trapped close enough to the Gulf that it’s able to siphon an endless supply of energy and moisture from exceptionally warm waters, which are also likely to have contributed to the storm’s rapid intensification last week. Unfortunately, some weather models are now showing that Harvey could drift back out to sea over the next few days, re-intensifying a bit before hammering the coastline again.
According to Klotzbach, the closest analog may be tropical storm Allison in 2001, which tracked slowly across Texas and Louisiana for several days, dropping over forty inches of rainfall on some parts of Houston. That storm, which flooded more than seventy thousand homes, was much weaker than Harvey.
Events like this always cause folks to ask about the connection between hurricanes and climate change. The science is still evolving, and the answer is not simple; while theory suggests that higher sea surface temperatures will yield more intense storms, whether we’re actually seeing an uptick in cyclone intensity worldwide is unclear. “The trend signal has not yet had time to rise above the background variability of natural processes,” according to a recent draft of the National Climate Assessment.
Still, climate scientists generally agree that elevated sea surface and air temperatures play a role in intensifying storms, so it wouldn’t be a shock if future attribution studies linked features of Harvey to rising temperatures. And storm surges, one of the most dangerous aspects of tropical cyclones in terms of life and property, are being made worse by sea level rise.
Rico says that Texas would rather have an invisible rabbit Harvey...

Ousting Trump

The New York Times has an article by Peter D. Kramer, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Brown University, and Sally L. Satelaug Satel, a psychiatrist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, about removing Trump:

The mental health of Donald Trump has been under scrutiny since he began running for president. Now 28 Democratic Congress members have signed onto a bill, introduced in April of 2017, that could lead to a formal evaluation of his fitness.
The bill seeks to set in motion a part of the 25th Amendment that empowers Congress to establish a body to assess the president’s ability to govern. The commission created by the bill would have eleven members, at least eight of whom would be doctors, including four psychiatrists. If the commission doctors found Trump unfit to govern, and the vice president agreed, the vice president, Pence, would become acting president. Since the 25th Amendment was written to address temporary disability, it allows the president to announce that he has recovered (presumably Trump would do so immediately), and force a congressional vote on the finding of unfitness.
The role of psychiatry in this process would be problematic. One of the authors is a lifelong Democrat, the other a Republican (if an increasingly ambivalent one). But, as psychiatrists and citizens, we agree on this point: the medical profession and democracy would be ill served if a political determination at this level were ever disguised as clinical judgment.
Much has been written lately about the Goldwater Rule, the American Psychiatric Association’s prohibition against members’ evaluating anyone they have not personally examined. The rule dates to 1973, when analysis of patients’ unconscious processes drove diagnosis. Today, diagnosis is often linked to observable traits, making evaluation at a distance plausible. Even if Trump refused to cooperate, diagnosis might be the easy part; perhaps too easy. Whether or not they can say so, many experts believe that Trump has a narcissistic personality disorder. He is grandiose, entitled, desperate for admiration and so on.
But any number of presidents have remained in office despite some level of mental impairment. Historians believe that Abraham Lincoln, for example, had clinical depression. A president can have a mental disorder and, overall, function admirably. In the absence of disability, a president may be inexperienced, indecisive or inept. Psychiatrists would be alarmed if mental illness were considered an absolute bar to public service.
The 25th Amendment is imprecise, but clearly the intent is to cover impairment arising from illness. Once an impairment is diagnosed, doctors on the panel would need to determine whether the president is incapacitated and whether the incapacity results from the disorder. For grave conditions like psychotic episodes, severe dementia or massive strokes, the connection is easy. But what of less automatically disqualifying ailments?
The traits that might earn Trump a diagnosis of personality disorder were on display during the election campaign. His supporters judged that egotism was compatible with leadership. He is governing as he campaigned; he is impulsive, erratic, belligerent, and vengeful.
But is Trump unfit to govern in the meaning of the 25th Amendment? If so, its provisions might have been invoked the day he took office. If not, when did the incapacity arise? Would the commission monitor a president’s behaviors, judging which is the last straw?
In practical if perhaps not in moral terms, these decisions might be less troubling if Trump were found, say, to have Alzheimer’s disease, with a resultant coarsening of longstanding personality traits. To the extent that the president’s supporters accepted expert opinion, they might be less resistant to the removal of a demented commander in chief than a narcissistic one.
But considering personality disorder only: How does it relate to fitness? Can erratic behavior be strategic? Decisions at this level of refinement become ever less scientific, less medical.
However flawed, the Goldwater Rule saves psychiatrists from the temptation to misuse diagnosis for partisan purposes. The establishment of a standing oversight commission reintroduces this concern, in spades. Assuming that doctors confirmed that Trump was egotistic, would they then declare him unfit based on established patterns of conduct: on Trump being Trump?
That result would strike those who elected him as elitist and anti-democratic. Don’t the people have the right to choose an exceedingly narcissistic leader?
If the time comes that Congress finds Trump unable to discharge his duties, its members should appoint a bipartisan commission dominated by respected statesmen to set the removal process in motion. Obviously, if a president’s health deteriorates drastically, medical consultants should be called in. But, when the problem is longstanding personality traits, a doctor-dominated commission simply provides cover for Congress, allowing legislators, presumably including those in the majority, to arrange for the replacement of the President while minimizing their responsibility for doing so.
Rico says that Trump may not be certifiable, but he is crazy...

History for the day: 2017: Cassini leaves the solar system

Gizmodo has a video of Saturn that'll (according to them, anyway) make you cry:

On 15 September 2017, Cassini’s twenty-year-long exploration of the Saturnian system will finally, regrettably, come to an end. But, even in its final act, the spacecraft has been sending back some of the most detailed images it’s ever taken. In one of its recent dives into the gap between Saturn and its rings, the spacecraft took a sequence of photos that offer an striking and unusual view of Saturn’s main rings, and now it’s a mini-movie.
According to NASA, Cassini took twenty-one photos within a span of just four minutes on 20 August 2017. Due to the vantage point of the wide-angle camera, it’s a bit tough to make out each of the big rings, but the most dedicated among us can see the ghostly C ring and brilliant B ring. An especially astute viewer will also notice the Cassini Division, or the three thousand mile gap between Saturn’s A and B rings. (Here is a detailed walk-through that explores the location of each ring and their individual properties.) And no, you may not name your band Cassini Division, because that’s what I’m calling my space-goth Joy Division cover band.
It’s hard to look at the movie, or any of Cassini’s hauntingly beautiful images, and not think of something appropriately morose for its Grand Finale. I personally recommend syncing this video with the Tears in the Rain monologue from Blade Runner:
Hopefully, these last few weeks of Cassini’s life will be its most memorable, but we’ll be sad to see it go.
Rico says he, of course, did not weep, (not even at Roy Batty's death) but it sure is pretty...

28 August 2017

History for the day: 1996: Charles and Diana divorce

History.com has this for 28 August:

After four years of separation, Charles, Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne, and his wife, Princess Diana, formally divorced.
On 29 July 1981, nearly one billion television viewers in 74 countries tuned in to witness the marriage of Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, to Lady Diana Spencer, a young English schoolteacher. Married in a grand ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the presence of nearly three thousand guests, the couple’s romance was, for the moment, the envy of the world. Their first child, Prince William, was born in 1982, and their second, Prince Harry, in 1984.
Before long, however, the fairy tale couple grew apart, an experience that was particularly painful under the ubiquitous eyes of the world’s tabloid media. Diana and Charles announced their separation in 1992, though they continued to carry out their royal duties. In August of 1996, two months after Queen Elizabeth II urged the couple to divorce, the prince and princess reached a final agreement. In exchange for a generous settlement, and the right to retain her apartments at Kensington Palace and her title of Princess of WalesDiana agreed to relinquish the title of Her Royal Highness and any future claims to the British throne.
In the year following the divorce, the popular princess seemed well on her way to achieving her dream of becoming “a queen in people’s hearts,” but, on 31 August, 1997, she was killed with her companion Dodi Fayed in a car accident in Paris. An investigation conducted by the French police concluded that the driver, who also died in the crash, was heavily intoxicated and caused the accident while trying to escape the paparazzi photographers who consistently tailed Diana during any public outing:
Prince Charles married his longtime (and much less pretty) mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, on 9 April 2005.
Rico says it was a big mistake on Diana's part...

North Korea, at it again

Yahoo has a Reuters article about yet another North Korean missile launch:

North Korea fired a missile that passed over northern Japan early on Tuesday, the Japanese government said.
The government's J-Alert warning system advised people in the area to take precautions, but public broadcaster NHK said there was no sign of damage.
The Japanese military did not attempt to shoot down the missile, which passed over Japanese territory around 0600 local time.
Rico says this is gonna get uglier...

Trump & the Russians again

Yahoo has an article by Brian Ross and Matthew Mosk about a deal in, if not with, Moscow:

Four months into his campaign for president of the United States, Donald Trump signed a “letter of intent” to pursue a Trump Tower-style building development in Moscow, Russia, according to a statement from the then-Trump Organization Chief Counsel Michael Cohen (photo).
The involvement of then-candidate Trump in a proposed Russian development deal contradicts repeated statements Trump made during the campaign, including telling ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in July of 2016 that his business had “no relationship to Russia whatsoever.”
The disclosure from Cohen, who has described himself as Trump’s personal lawyer, came as Cohen’s attorney gave congressional investigators scores of documents and emails from the campaign, including several pertaining to the Moscow development idea.
“Certain documents in the production reference a proposal for Trump Tower Moscow, which contemplated a private real estate development in Russia,” Cohen’s statement says. “The decision to pursue the proposal initially, and later to abandon it, was unrelated to the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign.”
In a separate statement texted to ABC News, Cohen added that “the Trump Moscow proposal was simply one of many development opportunities that the Trump Organization considered and ultimately rejected.”
Cohen specifically says in his statement that Trump was told three times about the Moscow proposal. “To the best of my knowledge, Trump was never in contact with anyone about this proposal other than me on three occasions, including signing a non-binding letter of intent in 2015,” his statement says.
Cohen also makes clear that he himself engaged in communication directly with the Kremlin about the proposal during the ongoing 2016 presidential campaign. His statement says he wrote to the press secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin at the request of Felix Sater, a frequent Trump Organization associate who had proposed the Trump Moscow development.
“In mid-January of 2016, Sater suggested that I send an email to Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary for the President of Russia, since the proposal would require approvals within the Russian government that had not been issued,” Cohen’s statement says. “Those permissions were never provided. I decided to abandon the proposal less than two weeks later for business reasons, and do not recall any response to my email, nor any other contacts by me with Peskov or other Russian government officials about the proposal.”
The Trump Moscow development proposal, which was first reported on Monday by The Washington Post, provides a new look at the relationship between the president’s real estate firm and Sater, a convicted felon who served a year in New York state prison for stabbing a man during a bar fight.
Sater is a controversial figure who served for many years as a Federal government cooperating witness on a host of matters involving organized crime and national security. Sater had also traveled in Moscow with Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., in the mid-2000s and handed out business cards identifying himself as a “senior adviser” to Donald Trump Sr.
Trump had taken pains to distance himself from Sater. In one sworn deposition, regarding a Trump development in Florida on which Sater had worked, Trump said that “I don't know him very well … if he were sitting in the room right now I really wouldn't know what he looked like.”
The emails show Sater and Cohen, friends since their teenage years growing up in Brooklyn, New York sharing their dreams of a Trump presidency.
In one, made public Monday by The Washington Post and The New York Times, Sater wrote that: “I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy, our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it.”
Sater adds, pointedly: “I will get all of Putin's team to buy in on this.”
On 30 September 2015, Trump Organization officials told ABC News that Sater had inflated his connections to the company. Alan Garten, a senior Trump Organization attorney, told ABC News that “there's really no direct relationship” between Sater and the real estate firm. “To be honest, I don't know that he ever brought any deals,” Garten said.
Rico says it's easy to lie, but hard to remember them...

26 August 2017

More Harvey

Yahoo has a Reuters article by Brian Thevenot about the hurricane:

The most powerful storm to hit Texas in more than fifty years has killed at least one person and is now threatening catastrophic flooding, as search and rescue teams deploy to the hardest-hit zones, authorities said on Saturday.
Harvey hit Texas, the heart of the American oil and gas industry, late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 130 miles per hour, making it the strongest storm to strike the state since 1961.
The storm has ripped off roofs, snapped powerlines, and triggered tornadoes and flash floods, while also curtailing a large portion of America's oil and fuel production and prompting price hikes at the pumps.
It has since weakened to a tropical storm, but is expected to lash Texas for days as it lumbers inland, bringing as much as forty inches of rain, affecting heavily populated areas like Houston. Texas utility companies, meanwhile, said nearly a quarter of a million customers were without power.
One person died in a house fire in the town of Rockport, thirty miles north of the city of Corpus Christi, as Harvey roared ashore overnight, Mayor Charles Wax said in a news conference on Saturday, marking the first confirmed fatality from the storm.
Across Rockport, which took a direct hit from the storm, the streets were flooded and strewn with power lines and debris. At a recreational vehicle sales lot, a dozen vehicles were flipped over and one had been blown into the middle of the street.
"It was terrible," resident Joel Valdez, 57, told Reuters. The storm ripped part of the roof from his trailer home at around 4 a.m., he said. "I could feel the whole house move."
Valdez said he stayed through the storm to look after his animals. "I have these miniature donkeys and I don't know where they are," he said, as he sat in a Jeep with windows smashed by the storm.
Resident Frank Cook, 56, also stayed through the storm. "If you have something left of your house, you're lucky," he said, surveying the damage from his vehicle.
Before the storm hit, Rockport's mayor told anyone staying behind to write their names on their arms for identification in case of death or injury. A high school, a hotel, a senior housing complex, and other buildings suffered structural damage, according to emergency officials and local media. Some were being used as shelters.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Saturday that he would activate eighteen hundred members of the military to help with the statewide cleanup, while a thousand people would conduct search-and-rescue operations.
The streets of Corpus Christi, which has around three hundred thousand residents, were deserted on Saturday, with billboards twisted and strong winds still blowing. Authorities asked residents to reduce use of toilets and faucets because power outages left waste water plants unable to treat sewage.
A drill ship broke free of its mooring overnight and rammed into some tugs in the port of Corpus Christi, port executive Sean Strawbridge said. The crews on the tugs were safe, he added. The city was under voluntary evacuation ahead of the storm.
Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale when it hit the coast, the second-highest category, and the most powerful storm in over a decade to come ashore anywhere in the mainland United States.
Harvey weakened to a tropical storm from hurricane strength on Saturday, the National Hurricane Center said. The center of the storm was about sixty miles east-southeast of San Antonio with sustained winds of 65 mph and barely moving, the center said.
Houston, the fourth most populous city in the United States and home to a third of the six million people that could be impacted by Harvey, has gotten about sixteen inches of rain so far, and will receive two to three more feet in the coming days, Mayor Sylvester Turner said on Saturday afternoon. "This is serious," Turner said in a televised interview as Harvey turned into a tropical storm expected to linger over the mid-Texas coast. "It is important that people stay off the roads." Turner said the city, which has faced flooding in recent years during smaller storms, is prepared for what he described as a "major water event." Other authorities warned of the potentially life-threatening impact of heavy rains between Houston and Corpus Christi over the next several days. The latest forecast storm track has Harvey looping back toward the Gulf of Mexico coast before turning north again on Tuesday. "This rain will lead to a prolonged, dangerous, and potentially catastrophic flooding event well into next week," the National Weather Service said. Harvey has triggered flash floods, it said.
The size and strength of Harvey dredged up memories of Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that made a direct hit on New Orleans, Louisiana as a Category 3 storm, causing levees and flood walls to fail in dozens of places. About eighteen hundred people died in the disaster, made worse by a slow government emergency response.
President Donald Trump, facing the first big natural disaster of his term, signed a disaster proclamation on Friday. He met with his cabinet and staff on Saturday to discuss the Federal reaction to the storm, according to a White House statement. "President Trump emphasized his expectations that all departments and agencies stay fully engaged and positioned to support his number one priority of saving lives," according to the statement.
Utilities American Electric Power Company Inc. and CenterPoint Energy Inc. reported a combined total of around a quarter-million customers without power. Several refiners shut down plants ahead of the storm, disrupting supplies and pushing prices higher. Many fuel stations ran out of gasoline before the storm hit, and the Environmental Protection Agency loosened gasoline specifications late on Friday to reduce shortages.
The American Automobile Association said pump prices rose four cents in four days in Texas to $2.17 a gallon on Friday. Disruptions to fuel supply drove benchmark gasoline futures to their highest price in four months.
More than forty-five percent of the country's refining capacity is along the Gulf Coast, and nearly a fifth of the nation's crude is produced offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
Just under a quarter of Gulf output, a half-million barrels per day, had been shut in by the storm, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said on Saturday.
Water gushed Monday from Houston-area reservoirs overwhelmed by Harvey, as authorities sought to release pressure on two dams that were at risk of failing from the immense floodwaters that have filled the city.
The move aimed at protecting the downtown business district risked flooding thousands more homes, and the nation's fourth-largest city expected to get still more rain after a chaotic weekend of rain, rising water, and rescues.
Meanwhile, authorities continued plucking people from the floodwaters; at least two thousand so far, according to Police Chief Art Acevedo. At least 185 critical rescue requests were still pending on Monday morning. The goal is to rescue those people by the end of the day, Acevedo said. With rain falling unabated, he said there was nowhere left for the water to drain. "I'm not sure where the water is going because it's just so much that we can't really absorb more in the ground at this point," he told MSNBC's Morning Joe.
Harvey, which made landfall Friday as a Category 4 hurricane and then lingered just off the coast as a drenching tropical storm, sent devastating floods pouring into Houston on Sunday. The rising water forced a mass evacuation of parts of the city and overwhelmed rescuers who could not keep up with constant calls for help.
As many as fifty counties are affected by the flooding, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long said Monday. The rain and floods have been blamed for at least two deaths.
Emergency vehicles made up most of the traffic Monday in downtown Houston. The normally bustling business district was virtually deserted. Many traffic signals did not work and most businesses were closed.
Residents living near the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, created to prevent flooding in downtown Houston, were warned Sunday that a controlled release would cause additional street flooding that could spill into homes. The rising water and continuing rain put pressure on the dams, which could fail if the pressure is not relieved.
Harris and Fort Bend county officials advised residents to pack their cars Sunday night and leave in the morning. "When the sun comes up, get out," said Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist for the Harris County Flood Control District. "You don't have to go far, you just need to get out of this area."
The Red Cross quickly set up Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center and other venues as shelters. The convention center was also used as a shelter for Katrina refugees in 2005. By Monday morning, it had already reached half its capacity.
More than 2,600 people had taken shelter there, said Ken Sandy, a shelter manager for the American Red Cross, who estimated that the convention center can accommodate roughly five thousand people, although Sandy cautioned that the shelter had run out of cots and was waiting for more to arrive.
The Army Corps of Engineers started the reservoir releases before 0200 on Monday, ahead of schedule, because water levels were increasing at a rate of more than six inches per hour, Corps spokesman Jay Townsend said.
Officials in suburban Fort Bend County issued mandatory evacuation orders late Sunday along the Brazos River levee districts, as the river rose to major flood stage. The National Weather Service predicted that the water could rise to sixty feet, three feet above 2016 records and what County Judge Robert Herbert called an "eight-hundred-year flood level." That much water would top the levees and carries a threat of levee failure, Herbert said.
On Sunday, incessant rain covered much of Houston in turbid, gray-green water and turned streets into rivers navigable only by boat. In a rescue effort that recalled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, helicopters landed near flooded freeways, airboats buzzed across submerged neighborhoods, and high-water vehicles plowed through water-logged intersections. Some people managed with kayaks or canoes or swam.
Volunteers joined emergency teams in pulling people from their homes or from the water. Authorities urged people to get on top of their houses to avoid becoming trapped in attics and to wave sheets or towels to draw attention to their location.
Long predicted that the aftermath of the storm would require FEMA's involvement for years. "This disaster's going to be a landmark event," he said Sunday.
The weather service warned that the flooding will get worse in the days ahead and that the floodwaters will be slow to recede once Harvey finally moves on.
Up to twenty inches of rain could fall in the coming days, on top of the more than thirtty inches some places have already seen, weather service Director Louis Uccellini said.
Rescuers were giving priority to life-and-death situations, leaving many affected families to fend for themselves. Several hospitals in the Houston area were evacuated due to the rising waters.
Some people used inflatable beach toys, rubber rafts, and even air mattresses to get through the water to safety. Others waded while carrying trash bags stuffed with their belongings and small animals in picnic coolers. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner urged drivers to stay off the roads.
The deteriorating situation was bound to provoke questions about the conflicting advice given by the governor and Houston leaders before the hurricane. Governor Greg Abbott urged people to flee from Harvey's path, but the Houston mayor issued no evacuation orders and told everyone to stay home. The governor refused to point fingers on Sunday.
"Now is not the time to second-guess decisions that were made," Abbott, a Republican, said at a news conference in Austin. "What's important is that everybody work together to ensure that we are going to, first, save lives and, second, help people across the state rebuild."
The mayor, a Democrat, defended his decision, citing the risk of sending the city's 2.3 million inhabitants onto the highways at the same time. "If you think the situation right now is bad, and you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare," Turner said.
The Coast Guard deployed five helicopters and asked for additional aircraft from New Orleans, Louisiana.
The White House said President Donald Trump would visit Texas on Tuesday, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump.
Harvey was the fiercest hurricane to hit the U.S. in thirteen years and the strongest to strike Texas since 1961's Hurricane Carla, the most powerful Texas hurricane on record.
For a graphic on Harvey, click here.

Rico says it's gonna suck to be in Texas for awhile... (And his father, who visited while on a Naval Academy cruise, always used to say 'Christ, I'm glad I'm not in Corpus...)

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