Thursday, September 13, 2018

That Won’t Be The Worst Of It

There is nothing to stop Hurricane Florence — or any other storm, for that matter — so the best we can do is be fully prepared and safe.  What happens after, however, is completely in our hands and those of the people we’ve chosen to run things, and that’s where the real disaster can happen.

Given the current administration’s down-is-up view of how they handled things with Hurricane Maria and the fact that there’s a runway full of bottled water in Puerto Rico waiting to be distributed a year later, the people who will be impacted by Hurricane Florence had better know that they are in for a long and strenuous struggle when the winds and rains have ended.  It will be just the start.

Meanwhile, the money set aside for FEMA has been rerouted to ICE because brown people seeking asylum are a much larger danger to America than a Category 3 hurricane.

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration took nearly $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s budget this summer to help boost U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to budget documents shared with USA TODAY.

The revelation, just ahead of Hurricane Florence’s expected landfall in North and South Carolina, was found by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who first shared the documents live on MSNBC late Tuesday.

He told USA TODAY that after the devastation of last year’s storms, including hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma, FEMA should have the funds it needs to be prepared for another disastrous hurricane season.

“It’s almost guaranteed to happen again, so this is just incredibly irresponsible,” Merkley said.

The budgeting document, titled “Department of Homeland Security FY 2018 transfer and reprogramming notifications,” lists $9,755,303 taken from FEMA’s budget, about .9 percent of the agency’s listed overall budget, and given to support ICE.

Heckuva job, there.

Hurricane Florence Update

Here’s the latest from Weather Underground.

Hurricane Florence’s peak winds have fallen to Category 3 strength, but the storm remains a catastrophic rainfall threat and significant storm surge and wind threat to the Southeast U.S. Florence is expected to stall on Friday and move slowly west-southwestward along or just inland of the coast for several days, bringing a catastrophic rainfall well inland, and a destructive storm surge and wind event along a considerable swath of the North and South Carolina coasts.

The Hurricane Hunters and microwave satellite imagery this afternoon found that Florence was not able to recover from this morning’s eyewall replacement cycle (ERC). During this phenomenon, common in intense hurricanes, the eye shrinks to such a small diameter that the eyewall becomes unstable and collapses. The hurricane then creates a new larger-diameter eyewall out of a spiral band. During this process, the peak winds typically fall by 10 – 15 mph, and the central pressure can rise 10 – 15 mb. Florence was never able to rebuild its inner core after this morning’s ERC, though, and data from the Hurricane Hunters and satellites have shown large gaps in the eyewall this afternoon.

As a result, Florence has not been able to concentrate a major portion of its wind energy into an intense eyewall, and the hurricane’s wind energy has spread out over a larger area. This will reduce the potential wind damage from the storm at landfall, but will allow a larger storm surge to build. At 5 pm EDT Wednesday, Florence’s tropical storm-force winds had expanded, and extended out up to 195 miles from the center; hurricane-force winds extended out up to 70 miles. For comparison, at landfall, Hurricane Katrina’s tropical storm-force and hurricane-force winds extended out up to 230 miles and 125 miles from the center, respectively.

It’s big and slow-moving.  Those are two qualities you do not want in a hurricane.  To put it in perspective, if the eye of the storm was over Miami, they’d be feeling hurricane-force winds as far away as Palm Beach to the north and Marathon in the Keys to the south, and the storm effects would be knocking over things in Orlando.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Hurricane Florence

Hurricane Florence is getting closer and is expected to hit land later today.  If you are in the path or even within the cone of possibility, get prepared or get out now.  And if they tell you to go, go.

Some words of advice from someone who went through Hurricane Irma a year ago: take pictures of every room in the house from as many angles as possible, including the kitchen cabinets, the dining room breakfront where your grandmother’s wedding china is stored, the closets, the bathrooms; everywhere.

If you evacuate, let your friends and family outside the area know where you are, and stay away until the authorities say it’s safe to return.  They can arrest you if you violate their orders, and they’ll be doing you a favor if they keep you away.

If you hunker down and stay, have enough supplies for at least a week of living without power or water.  Canned goods, bottled water, medicines, pet supplies, emergency goods such as first aid, and toilet paper are on the top of the list, but so are spare batteries and reading material.

If you have hurricane shutters, make sure they’re securely fastened; they can come loose and become dangerous missiles in the wind.  Don’t waste battery time on your radio or phone by keeping it on when the power goes out.  Turn them on to catch regular bulletins — most radio or TV stations will update on the hour or half-hour, but unless there’s a bulletin, they’ll be just nattering to fill the time.  As for your cell phone, if you still have service, turn it to low-power if you have the setting to save the battery.  If you have a generator, use it to power essentials such as a refrigerator, battery charger, or medical devices; you can live without A/C.

Once the storm passes, check your house and your area, but wear shoes and long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.  The debris can be very dangerous, and above all, stay the hell away from any power lines, even phone lines.  Take pictures of the damage; you’ll need them to file insurance claims if you have coverage.  And for dog’s sake, don’t go out and “explore” just to see what’s happened; keep off the road so emergency and recovery crews can get around.

Finally, and this is most important: you’ve been through a natural disaster and it will take a toll on you mentally as well as physically.  If there’s a lot of damage and loss to your property or personal effects, it will cause anguish.  Don’t be afraid or act too butch to reach out for help from friends and even professionals to cope with the loss.  And if you’re lucky enough to get by with minimal damage, as I was with Irma, remember that you’ll still need time to recover.

Stay safe.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Since Then

Today marks seventeen years since the attacks in New York, Washington, and the foiled one that crashed in a Pennsylvania field.  Since then, what have we become?

I remember driving home from school that afternoon, listening to NPR as they covered the aftermath live, and the days afterward; going out before dawn to walk Sam and not hearing the usual air traffic overhead, thinking of the yet-unimaginable responses this country would have to such a brutal attack.  I don’t think I had the foresight to wonder how it would change our national psyche, but I remember thinking that whatever happened, I hoped it would be for the better.

It has not.  In the years since, we have become more narrow-minded, paranoid, defensive, and easily frightened, even when we have tried to respond to our better angels.  Seven years after the attack we elected our first African-American president, many of us with the hope that this was a sign of healing and growth, only to have it turned immediately to hatred, recrimination, and xenophobia against our own.  The fear of the Other, be they from different countries, of different ethnicities, or even of a non-conformist sexual orientation, became fodder for political ambition and divisiveness.  Instead of coming together, we pushed away.  As so many have noted, the goal of terrorism is to kill not one person but kill as many as possible not to achieve a body count but to weaken the body as a whole.  In that regard, the attacks that Tuesday morning were a success.

Look at what we have become.  We flinch; let one deranged individual try to bring down an airplane with a sneaker and we spend ten years shuffling barefoot through the airport.  We kneejerk; when African Americans rightly point out that America is still dealing with its original sin — slavery and Jim Crow and the social structure it created — and football games become a clash of symbolism over an icon.  When black men are killed by police and people object, it is no longer a cause for examination of a culture but a rallying cry for racists.  And when we elect a president who embodies the worst aspects of authoritarianism, narcissism, and cannot think beyond the end of the last election cycle, we have allowed ourselves to become the pawns of those who would like to bring us down, not just to their level but to where we can be conquered; not by an army but by our own lizard-brain reflexes.

We’ve been here before and we’ve recovered from worse.  There have been countless good deeds of healing and growth since that day, even though it takes reminding.  We have seen over and over we can do better, even if the bellicose and the tweeters drown them out.  The number of us who want to work together is greater than those that wish to keep us apart; we just have to be that much more assertive.  As I’ve said so many times, hope is our greatest weakness, but it is also like gravity: invisible, immeasurable, but constant and unconquerable.  Channeled with action and reinforced with a belief in ourselves and what we can do together, hope can win.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Featured Speaker

From the Washington Post:

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), a gubernatorial nominee who recently was accused of using racially tinged language, spoke four times at conferences organized by a conservative activist who has said that African Americans owe their freedom to white people and that the country’s “only serious race war” is against whites.

DeSantis, elected to represent north-central Florida in 2012, appeared at the David Horowitz Freedom Center conferences in Palm Beach, Fla., and Charleston, S.C., in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, said Michael Finch, president of the organization. At the group’s annual Restoration Weekend conferences, hundreds of people gather to hear right-wing provocateurs such as Stephen K. Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos and Sebastian Gorka sound off on multiculturalism, radical Islam, free speech on college campuses and other issues.

“I just want to say what an honor it’s been to be here to speak,” DeSantis said in a ­27-minute speech at the 2015 event in Charleston, a video shows. “David has done such great work and I’ve been an admirer. I’ve been to these conferences in the past but I’ve been a big admirer of an organization that shoots straight, tells the American people the truth and is standing up for the right thing.”

[…]

The Freedom Center covered DeSantis’s expenses for the 2017 conference at a luxury resort in Palm Beach, according to disclosure forms he filed as a member of Congress.

Fellow speakers included a former Google engineer who was fired after arguing that “biological causes” in part explain why there are relatively few women working in tech and leadership; a critic of multiculturalism who has written that “Europe is committing suicide” by welcoming large numbers of refugees and immigrants; and a British media personality who urged the audience to keep the United States from becoming like the United Kingdom, where “discrimination against whites is institutionalized and systemic.”

Requests to the campaign and the congressional office to interview DeSantis were declined. A spokeswoman for the congressman, Elizabeth Fusick, provided a statement that described DeSantis as “a leader in standing up for truth and American strength.”

There are a large number of places in Florida — and not exclusively upstate in what’s known as Lower Alabama — where these kinds of views are held as mainstream.  And knowing that he attended these meetings and spoke at them is probably what got him Trump’s endorsement in the first place.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sunday Reading

Back In The Game — Charles P. Pierce on Barack Obama’s return to the arena.

“But over the past few decades, the politics of division and resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican party.”

That, right there. That is, I believe, the most purely partisan thing Barack Obama ever has said. It’s damned sure one of the harshest, and it’s plainly one of the most accurate. On Friday, Obama was at the University of Illinois to receive an ethics award named for Paul H. Douglas, a remarkable man who was once the senator from Illinois and whom Dr. King once called “the greatest of all senators” because of his unflinching support of civil rights.

How remarkable was Douglas? He went through Parris Island at the age of 50 and fought as a private soldier on Peleliu and on Okinawa, winning a Bronze Star along the way.

How unflinching was his support for the civil rights movement? In 1957, Douglas voted against his own party by voting against making racist Mississippi Democrat James O. Eastland the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, breaking all Senate customs and confounding (briefly) Lyndon Johnson.

Those were the footsteps in which Barack Obama walked on Friday, and he did not disappoint. He reckoned with the Democratic Party’s misbegotten racist past, even giving ol’ Everett Dirksen of Illinois a shout-out as a Republican who was down with civil rights. But then, he came to the heart of what he’d come to say.

But when there’s a vacuum in our democracy, when we don’t vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, when we turn away and stop paying attention and stop engaging and stop believing and look for the newest diversion, the electronic versions of bread and circuses, then other voices fill the void. A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment takes hold and demagogues promise simple fixes to complex problems. No, promise to fight for the little guy, even as they cater to the wealthiest and most powerful. No, promise to clean up corruption and then plunder away. They start undermining norms that ensure accountability and try to change the rules to entrench their power further. They appeal to racial nationalism that’s barely veiled, if veiled at all. Sound familiar?

Why, yes. Please continue, govern…er…Mr. President.

But over the past few decades, the politics of division and resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican party. This Congress has championed the unwinding of campaign finance laws to give billionaires outside influence over our politics. Systematically attacked voting rights to make it harder for young people and minorities and the poor to vote. Handed out tax cuts without regard to deficits. Slashed the safety net wherever it could, cast dozens of votes to take away health insurance from ordinary Americans, embraced wild conspiracy theories like those surrounding Benghazi or my birth certificate, rejected science, rejected facts on things like climate change, embraced a rising absolutism from a willingness to default on America’s debt by not paying our bills to a refusal to even meet much less consider a qualified nominee for the Supreme Court because he happened to be nominated by a Democratic president.

None of this is conservative. I don’t mean to pretend I’m channelling Abraham Lincoln now, but that’s not what he had in mind, I think, when he helped form the Republican Party. It’s not conservative. It sure isn’t normal. It’s radical. It’s a vision that says the protection of our power and those who back us is all that matters, even when it hurts the country. It’s a vision that says the few who can afford high-price lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions set the agenda, and over the past two years, this vision is now nearing its logical conclusion.

He has gone out of his way to diagnose the prion disease—when it started, its various manifestations, and how it now rages out of control, devouring the higher functions of the collective Republican conservative brain. He took hard, clean shots at alleged Never Trumpers both in and out of office, both well-known and anominush. (Hi, Ben Sasse!) He ridiculed the notion that unelected staffers are somehow saving the Republic by disobeying the orders of a crazy man.

And, finally:

We are Americans. We’re supposed to stand up to bullies. Not follow them. We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad?

Frankly, I never thought I’d see him address this as directly as he did on Friday. Yes, toward the end he got back into how there are people of good will on both sides who are drowned out by the noise of our politics. Low, high, you know the spiel.

I know there are conservatives who think there’s nothing compassionate about separating immigrant children from their mothers. I know there are Republicans who believe government should only perform a few minimal functions but that one of those functions should be making sure nearly 3,000 Americans don’t die in a hurricane and its aftermath. Common ground is out there. I see it every day. It’s just how people interact, how people treat each other. You see it on the ball field. You see it at work. You see it in places of worship.

He could say nothing else because that hope is his entire political raison d’être. This is the way it is with Barack Obama. He will throw red meat, but it will be good lean red meat that’s more healthy for you. It beats all hell out of waffles.

Doonesbury — Planning ahead.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Friday, September 7, 2018

Status Quo Ante

CLW thinks the motive behind Anonymous and their op-ed isn’t to save the country so much as it is to save the GOP and get them back to where they were and maybe even pick up some yardage.

The “call from inside the house” is not some bold resistance fighter, not some valiant defender of the constitution. Not even someone pressing for a book deal.

No, it’s a member of the GOP old guard frustrated with the squandering of their ownership of the two — about to be three — branches of government. They love the tax cuts for the wealthy, the bolstering of our already ridiculously fat military-industrial complex, and the outright grift masquerading as “deregulation.” They have no problem with the fetid swamp.

They just fear the whirling dervish in the oval office will derail their roughshod ride through the Constitution and their historical opportunity to pillage the treasury. This clarion call was to say “hang in there, red base, we’ve got this, don’t abandon ship yet.”

This was a cry to salvage the mid-terms and to allow the old guard GOP (McConnell, Ryan, et al) to regain control. Be careful with your hopes and dreams based on this one, specious report from inside the house.

I think his point is well-taken; the old guard would have been perfectly happy to have Trump in the White House if he were disciplined and mature enough to, like Gov. William J. Le Petomane, just hold a pen and sign the bills that McConnell and Ryan whooped through Congress, then go back to his pussy-grabbing.  They knew they had a racist and xenophobic base, but they were held in check by promises of tax cuts and gay bashing, which seemed to be working.

But instead of a useful and easily-manipulated mannequin, they got the whirling dervish because they’d never paid attention to his antics on TV or looked into his background as a businessman and his history of corruption and bankruptcy.  It certainly never occurred to them that they couldn’t mold him into something “presidential” the way they had with their last outlier presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.  And they forget that they were unable to mold them to their will; they actually became like them.  Funny how that works.

The danger Trump poses to the GOP isn’t just that he’s poisoning the well and putting their majority at risk in the House and the Senate. It’s that he’s revealing the true core of the GOP establishment as a bunch of white heterosexual genially-racist Jesus-shouting rich guys who will say anything and sucker in anyone who will buy their load of capitalist jingoism as long as they don’t talk about it outside the gated community. But Trump went out on the nicely-manicured front lawn, dropped his pants, and drew in all the tacky trash that comes with an annual subscription to Infowars and the National Enquirer. And while the Republicans were always willing to take their votes and their money, they would never invite them into the house. That’s the real threat to the GOP, and they can’t live with that.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

From The Resistance

You’ve heard about it, maybe even read parts of it.  Without further ado, the New York Times anonymous op-ed from someone within the Trump White House.

President Trump is facing a test to his presidency unlike any faced by a modern American leader.

It’s not just that the special counsel looms large. Or that the country is bitterly divided over Mr. Trump’s leadership. Or even that his party might well lose the House to an opposition hellbent on his downfall.

The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.

I would know. I am one of them.

To be clear, ours is not the popular “resistance” of the left. We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous.

But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.

That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.

The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people. At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.

In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.

Don’t get me wrong. There are bright spots that the near-ceaseless negative coverage of the administration fails to capture: effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.

But these successes have come despite — not because of — the president’s leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.

From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.

Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.

“There is literally no telling whether he might change his mind from one minute to the next,” a top official complained to me recently, exasperated by an Oval Office meeting at which the president flip-flopped on a major policy decision he’d made only a week earlier.

The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren’t for unsung heroes in and around the White House. Some of his aides have been cast as villains by the media. But in private, they have gone to great lengths to keep bad decisions contained to the West Wing, though they are clearly not always successful.

It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.

The result is a two-track presidency.

Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.

On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.

Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.

The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.

Senator John McCain put it best in his farewell letter. All Americans should heed his words and break free of the tribalism trap, with the high aim of uniting through our shared values and love of this great nation.

We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.

There is a quiet resistance within the administration of people choosing to put country first. But the real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in favor of a single one: Americans.

The writer is a senior official in the Trump administration.

As mind-blowing as this is, I’d be even more amazed if this resulted in anything more than the current stream of breathless breaking news from the cable channels.

Because it’s anonymous and from within the administration, this is only going to prove to the Trumpistas and the base that there is indeed a conspiracy within the White House — call it Deep State, call it Qanon, call it your Aunt Mathilda’s dentures picking up signals from Mars — to thwart their Dear Leader from accomplishing the mission sent down from Jesus H. Christ and the guardian angels.

As they say, whoever wrote this believes they can accomplish more by staying in their job and doing what they can to save the country from Trump.  There is some logic in that; as LBJ so pithily put it, it’s better to have someone inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in.  And perhaps by providing a check, some of the other minions of Trump will be more guarded in how they support him in his flights of bizarre fancy and tangents.  It may provide some protection for the rest of us and the world when it becomes so apparent that even someone who signed on to work for Trump, knowing full well what he was like before going in, becomes so concerned that they would take this stand.  Perhaps more people in the West Wing and on Capitol Hill will realize that it’s better to take steps to keep him away from sharp objects and nuclear footballs than it is to stand outside the fence and holler.

They may be right.  If they were to quit, they’d be replaced by some sycophant who will have no qualms about fulfilling the fevered dreams of someone wanting world domination and unlimited pussy-grabbing.  But as much as I’d like to see this be the push that becomes the shove to invoking the 25th Amendment or even articles of impeachment, I have my doubts.  Until the Resistance can gain the support and the power of those who can actually do something other than write for the New York Times, as Seven of Nine would put it, resistance is futile.