Sunday, August 27, 2017

Pardon The Catastrophe, Con't

It looks like Donald Trump has long wanted the case against his Birther ally Joe Arpaio dropped, to the point of asking AG Sessions to close the case altogether and Trump then deciding on the next best thing: a full presidential pardon.

As Joseph Arpaio’s federal case headed toward trial this past spring, President Trump wanted to act to help the former Arizona county sheriff who had become a campaign-trail companion and a partner in their crusade against illegal immigration.

The president asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions whether it would be possible for the government to drop the criminal case against Arpaio, but was advised that would be inappropriate, according to three people with knowledge of the conversation.

After talking with Sessions, Trump decided to let the case go to trial, and if Arpaio was convicted, he could grant clemency.

So the president waited, all the while planning to issue a pardon if Arpaio was found in contempt of court for defying a federal judge’s order to stop detaining people merely because he suspected them of being undocumented immigrants. Trump was, in the words of one associate, “gung-ho about it.”

“We knew the president wanted to do this for some time now and had worked to prepare for whenever the moment may come,” said one White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the action.

Responding to questions about Trump’s conversation with Sessions, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “It’s only natural the president would have a discussion with administration lawyers about legal matters. This case would be no different.”

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Trump’s Friday-evening decision to issue his first pardon for Arpaio was the culmination of a five-year political friendship with roots in the “birther” movement to undermine President Barack Obama. In an extraordinary exercise of presidential power, Trump bypassed the traditional review process to ensure that Arpaio, who was convicted of contempt of court, would face no time in prison.
Trump’s pardon, issued without consulting the Justice Department, raised a storm of protest over the weekend, including from some fellow Republicans, and threatens to become a stain on the president’s legacy. His effort to see if the case could be dropped showed a troubling disregard for the traditional wall between the White House and the Justice Department, and taken together with similar actions could undermine respect for the rule of law, experts said

Distasteful cronyism at best case, a patently illegal abuse of presidential power at worst, and while both Arizona GOP Senators McCain and Flake are "concerned" over Trump's actions, again nobody will lift a finger to stop him.

But this is the America we live in now, where Trump and Trump alone now determines what federal rule of law means.

Be frightened.

Houston, We Have A Problem

The remains of Hurricane Harvey have stalled out over Texas's Gold Coast and Houston, Galveston, and Bay City have already been inundated with two feet of rain...with several more feet of rain on the way today and tomorrow.

Catastrophic flooding in the Houston area is expected to worsen and could "become historic," the National Weather Service has warned.

Flash flooding is expected to continue in other areas of southeast Texas as well. Hourly rain totals in the region have reached 3 inches with local amounts of up to 7 inches expected. About 35 inches of rain is expected to fall in the area on Sunday.

Over the past 24 hours, Houston/Galveston has received 24.10 inches of measured rain. The rainfall has made August the wettest month on record for Houston.

I don't know how many folks we have out there in the Houston area, but dear God I hope you're not anywhere near there and that you're safe.  "Catastrophic flooding" doesn't begin to describe this and Harvey is expected to stick around Houston until at least Tuesday.

This is one of the worst disasters in US history unfolding right now, and it may be months before we know the full extent of damage.  The real problem is that the heaviest rains aren't just falling on the coat, but inland towards Austin and College Station, meaning even more flooding as the waters race downstream towards Houston.

By the way, author, historian, and Notre Dame professor Roy Scranton warned that Houston was going to be America's next major flooding disaster back last October:

Isaiah whirls through the sky, gathering strength from the Gulf of Mexico’s warm waters. Beach towns are evacuated. Citizens and companies in Texas’ petro-industrial enclaves from Bayou Vista to Morgan’s Point are warned: Prepare for the worst.

The huge cyclone gathers strength as it nears the barrier islands off the coast, intensifying to Category 4. Hours before landfall, 150 mile-per-hour winds begin pushing water over the Galveston Seawall, and by the time the eye finally hits, Galveston has been flattened by a 20-foot wave.

Isaiah’s monstrous arm reaches across the bay toward Houston, some 50 miles inland, adding water to water, and when it smashes into the Exxon Mobil Baytown refinery, the storm surge is over 25 feet high. It crashes through refineries, chemical storage facilities, wharves and production plants all along the Houston Ship Channel, cleaving pipelines from their moorings, lifting and breaking storage tanks.

As Isaiah passes inland, the iridescent, gray-brown flood rises, carrying jet fuel, sour crude and natural gas liquids into strip malls, parks, schools and offices. More than 200 petrochemical storage tanks have been wrecked, more than 100 million gallons of petroleum and chemicals spilled. Damages for the region are estimated at more than $100 billion. More than 3,500 are dead. It is one of the worst disasters in United States history: worse than the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, worse than Hurricane Katrina, worse than the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

The good news is that Isaiah hasn’t happened. It’s an imaginary calamity based on research and models. The bad news is that it’s only a matter of time before it does.

Any 50-mile stretch of the Texas coast can expect a hurricane once every six years on average, according to the National Weather Service. Only a few American cities are more vulnerable to hurricanes than Houston and Galveston, and not one of those is as crucial to the economy.

When the next big storm hits there, the effects will ripple across the globe. The Gulf Coast is home to roughly 30 percent of the United States’s proven oil reserves; The Gulf Coast and Texas hold 35 percent of its natural gas reserves. The refineries and plants encircling Galveston Bay are responsible for roughly 25 percent of the United States’s petroleum refining, more than 44 percent of its ethylene production, 40 percent of its specialty chemical feed stock and more than half of its jet fuel.

Houston is the second busiest port in the United States in terms of pure tonnage and one of the most important shipping points in the country for natural gas liquids. A hurricane like Isaiah would shut all that down.

There’s more: Future hurricanes will actually be worse than Isaiah. The models Isaiah is based on, developed by Rice University’s Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation From Disaster (Sspeed) Center, don’t account for climate change. According to Jim Blackburn, Sspeed’s co-director, other models have shown much more alarming surges. “The City of Houston and FEMA did a climate change future,” he told me, “and the surge in that scenario was 34 feet. Hurricanes are going to get bigger. No question. They are fueled by the heat of the ocean, and the ocean’s warming. Our models are nowhere close.”

Isaiah just happened, folks.  This is going to take years to fix.  People are still dealing with the aftereffects of Katrina twelve years later and this storm will be far worse for flooding and damage.  The $100 billion price tag from that storm will pale in comparison I think.  That's how awful this storm is.

I can't stress how bad this is, guys.  Stay safe, Texas.

Sunday Long Read: The Pot Patent Plot

GQ's Amanda Chicago Lewis tracks down a reclusive billionaire whose biotech firm may just have cornered the market on crop and seed patents for legalized marijuana, and if the gambit is successful, they may have just bought the entire multi-billion dollar pot industry for a song.

The search for the hidden forces that might soon control the marijuana industry began, as many wild journeys do, in Las Vegas. It was last November, and I was party-hopping at the biggest weed-business gathering of the year, a week of overlapping conferences and decadent soirees. I was a few blocks off the Strip, celebrating a new line of bongs and pipes in a penthouse with chandeliers and dark-wood furniture, when I happened to meet a faunlike 40-something man named after a character from The Jungle Book: Mowgli Holmes.

Holmes had something he needed to get off his chest—a quagmire that had been keeping him up at night for the better part of a year. He was soft-spoken but had an earnest intensity that made me lean in to hear him. Little did I know that he was about to set me off on a months-long quest that would involve an obscure company potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the most prominent cannabis scientists in the world, and the former talk-show host Montel Williams—all to uncover an audacious plot with profound implications for one of the country’s biggest agricultural products.

All around us, former drug dealers chatted with finance types, passing vape pens as they pressed one another for information, boasting all the while about how much smarter and better positioned they were than everyone else there. The people in this room were vying to become major players in a marijuana industry that was getting larger every day. A sense of inevitability around legalization had left everyone giddy, but few understood that the greatest obstacles were yet to come. Holmes pulled out his phone and showed me what he saw when he looked at this surge of people working in weed: a 3-D visualization he’d created to illustrate the thousands of kinds of pot now on the market.

Turns out he had a Ph.D. from Columbia and ran a lab in Portland, Oregon, where he’d been mapping the genetics of every marijuana strain he could get his hands on. He pointed to the cluster of strains that taste like tangerine, and then the ones that provide a calming high with none of the mind-racing anxiety so many casual users despise. There were the famous strains, like Sour Diesel and Blue Dream, as well as little-known varieties bred as folk medicine by underground botanists. But this database—a cornucopia of cannabis DNA—had captured a very specific moment in time, a moment Holmes believed would be over soon. The age of artisanal marijuana might have already peaked, and the era of corporate pot was just beginning.
Intrigued, I met up with him the next day to hear more. The first thing he said was: “Be nervous.”

According to Holmes, a secretive company called BioTech Institute LLC had begun registering patents on the cannabis plant. Three have already been granted, and several more are in the pipeline, both in the U.S. and internationally. And these are not narrow patents on individual strains like Sour Diesel. These are utility patents, the strongest intellectual-property protection available for crops. Utility patents are so strict that almost everyone who comes in contact with the plant could be hit with a licensing fee: growers and shops, of course, but also anyone looking to breed new varieties or conduct research. Even after someone pays a royalty, they can’t use the seeds produced by the plants they grow. They can only buy more patented seeds.

“Utility patents are big. Scary,” Holmes said. “All of cannabis could be locked up. They could sue people for growing in their own backyards.”

Pot is an industry worth over $40 billion, which makes it the second-most-valuable crop in the U.S. after corn.
And even though weed is still federally forbidden, it sounded like whoever was behind BioTech Institute had spent the past several years surreptitiously maneuvering to grab every marijuana farmer, vendor, and scientist in the country by the balls, so that once the drug became legal, all they’d have to do to collect payment is squeeze.

And if BioTech Institute wins this battle, they would own the entire legalized pot process from top to bottom, seed to leaf.  Imagine Monsanto's control over corn or wheat replicated in the weed industry.  And the people behind BioTech?  Nobody seems to know for sure.

It's a hell of a mystery, one whose solution could be worth billions.
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