Saturday, November 17, 2018

Last Call For Hell Fires

The wildfire situation in California has grown exponentially worse.  While the death toll confirmed from the Camp and Woolsey fires is now in the dozens, the number of people missing and unaccounted for now ranges over a thousand souls

The death toll from the Camp Fire in Northern California has increased to 71 while 1,011 people are unaccounted for, the Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Friday. He cautioned the list is "dynamic" and will fluctuate.

The blaze is now 50 percent contained after consuming more than 145,000 acres.

In Southern California, just outside of Los Angeles, the Woolsey Fire is 78 percent contained after burning 98,000 acres.

Now, dense smoke from the fires is smothering parts of the state with what has been described as "the dirtiest air in the world."

Firefighters have been racing against time, with a red flag warning issued for Saturday night into Sunday, including winds up to 50 mph and low humidity. Rain was forecast for mid-week, which could help firefighters but also complicate the challenging search for remains.

"It's a disheartening situation," Honea said. "As much as I wish we could get through this before the rains come, I don't know if that's possible."

The other issue is the dry air has turned the smoke and ash from the fires into a massive and dangerous air quality problem for millions in the Bay Area.

The wildfires that have laid waste to vast parts of California are presenting residents with a new danger: air so thick with smoke it ranks among the dirtiest in the world.

On Friday, residents of smog-choked Northern California woke to learn that their pollution levels now exceed those in cities in China and India that regularly rank among the worst.

In the communities closest to the Paradise fire, an apocalyptic fog cloaked the roads, evacuees wandered in white masks and officials said respiratory hospitalizations had surged. Nearly 200 miles to the south, in San Francisco, the smoke was so thick that health warnings prompted widespread school closings. Even the city’s cable cars were yanked from the streets.

And researchers warned that as large wildfires become more common — spurred by dryness linked to climate change — health risks will almost surely rise. “If this kind of air quality from wildfires doesn’t get people concerned,” said Dr. John Balmes, a pulmonologist at the University of California at San Francisco, “I don’t know what will.”

At fault, researchers say, is a confluence of two modern events: More people are moving to communities in and around wooded enclaves, pushed out by factors like the rising costs of housing and the desire to be closer to nature — just as warming temperatures are contributing to longer and more destructive wildfires.

Wood smoke contains some of the same toxic chemicals that city pollution does. While humans have long been around fire, they generally inhale it in small doses over cooking or heat fires. Humans have not, however, evolved to handle prolonged inhalation of caustic air from something like the Paradise blaze, Dr. Balmes said.

In other words as deadly wildfires become more frequent in the US, so will killer clouds of smoke, smog, and ash from fires burning hundreds of thousands of acres and causing billions of dollars in damage to both property and people's health. 

The larger problem right now is that there's a very good chance that the final death toll from these fires will be over a thousand, we're talking about people who have been missing for over a week now.  Unless they've been gathering someplace that firefighters and rescue personnel haven't been able to reach, odds are both slim and grim.

The coverage of this has been minimal to say the least, the assumed death toll would put this just behind Katrina in the list of deadliest US natural disasters, and Trump is puttering around saying this is California's fault.

This is terrible and it will only get worse.

If You Come For The Queen, You Best Not Miss

Once again we have the conservative white male flank of the House Dem Blue Dogs causing problems before the Dems can even take over in January, and once again the race is on to "defeat" incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with...well nobody seems to actually have applied for the job. Never fear however, Reps. Tim Ryan and Seth Moulton are convinced that if Pelosi loses a floor Speaker vote (because she must be punished after...the largest Democratic midterm gains since Watergate) that magic will happen and a new champion will emerge, or that's the plan anyway if they actually had a plan.

What’s remarkable about the block-Pelosi play is that there is no Candidate B — no other Democrat has yet stepped forward to publicly challenge Pelosi for the post. According to a Democratic representative close to the effort, the idea behind the letter announcing an anti-Pelosi bloc is to demonstrate that she cannot win, and force Pelosi to withdraw rather than suffer an “embarrassing” defeat on the House floor. With Pelosi clearing the field, the theory goes, new candidates would emerge and the Democratic caucus would shake up its staid leadership ranks.

Moulton is not trying to become Speaker himself: “I’ve been very clear I’m not running,” he told Rolling Stone in June. The anti-Pelosi bloc is trying to recruit another woman to compete for the post. “There’s plenty of really competent females that we can replace her with,” Ryan told the New York Times. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), a former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, is reportedly mulling a run against Pelosi. “Congress needs a new leader. Period,” Moulton tweeted, backing 66-year-old Fudge: “I have full faith in her ability to lead our new Congress to its fullest potential.”

The insurgency has been brewing, quietly, for months. When Rolling Stoneasked Pelosi about Moulton and Ryan in May, she dismissed them as “inconsequential,” adding: “I have great support in my caucus. I’m not worried about that. And I’m certainly not worried about them.” In recent days Pelosi, has expressed “total confidence” she will regain the Speaker’s gavel.

Rolling Stone has been talking with both Moulton and Ryan on and off for the past year-and-a-half, seeking to understand their motives. What do these men want?

Ryan, who hails from post-industrial Youngstown, was blunt in his assessment of the Democratic Party this week: “We need a brand change.” He tells Rolling Stone that he wants a less coastal Democratic Party, pointing out the lack of House leaders from the middle of the country. “It’s a pretty large swath of the country to completely ignore,” he says. “How in God’s name do we expect to win the House, have a significant majority, hold it, have a party brand that’s connecting to people, and have nobody in the Midwest at all?”

In past interviews, Ryan has lamented his party’s turn toward political correctness. “We can’t have these purity tests,” he said, before listing a few key characteristics all Democrats should have. “You can’t be racist. You can’t be sexist. You can’t be homophobic — you’ve got to check those boxes — and then be economically progressive,” he said. “Other than that, we’ve got to be a big-tent party.” Ryan said he wants Democrats to come up with an umbrella economic agenda that can unify the party’s diverse coalition: “A robust economic message that all of those different groups could hear and go, ‘Yeah, you know, That’s me. I’m in on that.’”

Mouton has also voiced a centrist view of Democratic ideals. “It means someone who cares about the middle class, who truly believes that we are a nation of equal opportunity. That does not mean it’s a nation of equal results,” he told Rolling Stone. “We have a free-market system that we love and embrace.” Moulton seemed most concerned about America’s global leadership: “We need to talk about how to have a strong and smart national security strategy while Trump is being reckless across the globe. And not just complain about Trump, but talk about what Democrats will do.”

Moulton, in particular, railed against Pelosi’s leadership. “It’s not about ideology, it’s much bigger than that,” Moulton said. “It’s about having a vision for the future. We’ve become a party that’s just anti-Trump and doesn’t have any vision itself.”

Moulton was unsparing in his assessment of how Pelosi has managed the caucus — and in particular about what he sees as a lack of opportunity for younger members to advance in a Democratic House dominated by 70- and 80- somethings. “We need to have leadership that has the confidence to build our party’s bench, not discourage newer or younger or members from running or contributing… that’s what our party does right now.” If a private company, Moulton said, blocked the rise of young talent and “didn’t have any vision for how to take that company forward, you would never keep the same leadership.”

I don't get it.  First, the Republicans have "younger, newer leadership" and they're basically a bunch of incompetent dipsticks.  Paul Ryan will go down as the most embarrassingly inept House Speaker in modern history.  Pelosi on the other hand is really, really good at running the Dem caucus as a united front, which is the Speaker's job for the majority party.  It's one thing to say "Pelosi needs to go because we lost a bunch of House seats" and that vote failed.  It's another thing entirely to say "We need to get rid of Pelosi because we won a bunch of House seats."

Second, nobody else wants the job at all, really.  Marcia Fudge's name has been thrown around the most, and as a result Pelosi has done the smart thing and met with her on Friday.  Fudge came away admitting that Pelosi asked her what Fudge's concerns were and how she could address what Fudge thought were problems with Pelosi's leadership, including Pelosi agreeing to only serve two more years while Democrats can decide on a new leader.  That's the kind of thing leaders do.

Third, Moulton really needs to stop because at this point, he's coming across as a hater if not a Republican plant.  Even Republicans were smart enough to have a replacement already to go, even if they were the incompetent torch-passing goobers that went from Boehner to Ryan to now Kevin McCarthy.

This whole fight is stupid, plus the media loves DEMS IN DISARRAY stories no matter how much of a dumpster fire the GOP is.  Why play into it?

Oh wait, Moulton is pals with GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz, who happily helped spew Trump's lies on the "caravan" of refugees before the election.

All starting to make sense now, huh.

It's About Suppression, Con't

Stacey Abrams has relented in the Georgia governor's race and Brian Kemp will win, having overseen his own election to the office.  There's every reason to believe that Kemp won by disenfranchising tens, if not hundreds of thousands of black voters in the state as Ari Berman at Mother Jones reports.

Georgia was the epicenter of Republican voter suppression tactics in 2018. As secretary of state, Kemp instituted a series of suppressive policies that Abrams said allowed him to “tilt the playing field in his favor.” These efforts uniquely hurt voters of color, who formed the backbone of the Abrams base, while having a much smaller effect on white voters, who strongly supported Kemp.

Kemp began by shrinking the electorate. Under his leadership, Georgia purged 1.5 million voters from 2012 to 2016, twice as many as in the previous four years, and removed an additional 735,000 voters from the rolls over the past two years. On one evening in July 2017, Georgia purged 500,000 voters, in an act the Atlanta Journal Constitution said “may represent the largest mass disenfranchisement in US history.” Some voters were removed legitimately, because they had died or moved, while others were purged for more controversial reasons, such as not having voted in the previous six years. More than 130,000 of those purged had registered to vote in 2008, when Barack Obama first ran for president, and nearly half were voters of color.

Registration problems were widespread in Georgia. Weeks before the election, the Associated Press reported that Kemp’s office had put 53,000 people on a pending registration list because information on their voter registration forms did not match state databases. Seventy percent were African American and 80 percent voters of color, in a state that’s 60 percent white. Though these people remained eligible to vote, the list led to widespread confusion, and there were reports on Election Day of hundreds of people on the pending registration list being forced to cast provisional ballots or leaving the polls without voting, even though they should have been given regular ballots. Three thousand naturalized US citizens—who were disproportionately Latino and Asian American—were put on the list because their citizenship status didn’t automatically update in state databases when they become citizens.

The 22,000 provisional ballots cast in 2018 far exceeded the number of provisional ballots in 2014 (12,000) and 2016 (17,000). Based on data from past elections, rough half of these ballots will be rejected, according to election officials. A federal court found that the increase in provisional ballots was “likely to have been the result of persistent problems and/or errors in the State’s voter registration system and ineffective administration of the provisional balloting scheme.”

Days before the election, Kemp falsely accused Georgia Democrats of “cyber-crimes” for uncovering vulnerabilities in the secretary of state’s website. Georgia was one of only five states that used electronic voting machines with no paper backups, and Kemp repeatedly resisted efforts to secure the state’s voting system, accusing the federal government of trying to “subvert the Constitution” when it offered to help safeguard against Russian hacking in 2016.

“The number of people who cast provisional ballots,” says Sara Henderson, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, “doesn’t even come close to the number of people who were disenfranchised.” The Abrams campaign heard from 25,000 people who had problems voting. Henderson helped oversee election protection efforts for nonpartisan voting rights groups and said “our phones in the command center were ringing off the hook.”

Long lines at the polls were another big problem. The average wait time on Election Day was three hours in metro Atlanta. One largely African American precinct outside Atlanta saw four-and-a-half-hour lines. There were no similar reports of long lines in Republican-leaning areas. It’s impossible to know how many people left without voting because of the lines. Georgia had the second-longest voting wait times of any state in 2016, and the problem only got worse in 2018.

Long lines were compounded by the fact that Georgia had closed 214 polling places since 2012. “One-third of Georgia’s counties,” reported the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “have fewer precincts today than they did in 2012.” More than half of the counties with closed voting locations had African American populations of 25 percent or higher. Though the decisions were made by individual counties, Kemp’s office advised them on how to close polling locations.

A series of court decisions before the election rebuked Kemp’s actions, finding that he violated laws such as the Voting Rights Act, National Voter Registration Act, and Help America Vote Act. (More voting rights lawsuits have been filed against Georgia than any state except for Texas since 2011.) In five court decisions, judges instructed Georgia to count absentee ballots rejected because of mismatched signatures or missing birth dates; ordered counties to give voters more time to have their provisional ballots counted; and said that naturalized citizens should be given the opportunity to vote if they brought proof of citizenship to the polls. But it’s unclear how many of the orders filtered down to poll workers or everyday voters, who remained confused by the dizzying number of voting restrictions and last-minute court rulings.

When he was running for reelection as secretary of state in 2014, Kemp warned: “Democrats are working hard registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines. If they can do that, they can win these elections in November.” Kemp did everything in his power to make sure that didn’t happen in 2018—and that’s a big reason why he, and not Abrams, will be Georgia’s next governor.

Kemp has shown the GOP the path to victory in any state close to being purple: relentless and repeated purging of black voters and then making it as difficult as possible to vote in majority black precincts.   When it takes nearly five hours to cast a vote, that is suppression on a massive scale. It is criminal and Brian Kemp should be impeached if not in jail, but this will only get worse as the GOP grip on power in states like Georgia loosens.

You will never convince me that Brian Kemp didn't outright steal this election, and Democrats need to be ready to fight this all the way, because it will absolutely happen again.

The Little Domestic Terrorism Problem Of Ours, Con't

A major law enforcement drug sting operation on a group of white supremacist terrorists in Florida (natch) yielded scores of guns, a couple of pipe bombs, and an actual rocket launcher.

Thirty-nine members of the United Aryan Brotherhood and Unforgiven neo-Nazi groups were arrested in a Florida drug trafficking sting — and one had functional pipe bombs in his home.

Tampa’s WFTS-TV reported that the multi-agency sting codenamed “Operation Blackjack,” a three-year-long investigation, led to the seizure of more than 110 illegal firearms, a rocket launcher and two pipe bombs from the individuals mostly based in Pasco County, Florida.

Authorities also seized “several pounds” of meth and fentanyl.

Prosecutors accused one man, 31-year-old Richard Mormon, of having “at least two fully functional pipe bombs” though authorities were unsure what he planned on doing with them.

The United Aryan Brotherhood is, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the nation’s oldest prison-based white supremacist group. The Anti-Defamation League reported that Unforgiven is a Florida-based neo-Nazi prison group whose insignia “consists of an interlocking Iron Cross and swastika, with SS lightning bolts in the center.”

We're not that far away from the point where one of these groups pulls off a massive casualty event on the scope of 9/11 that kills thousands.  I'm of the mind that so far law enforcement has gotten lucky because crime is brutally Darwinian if you don't have the money or power make up the spread.

But I swear Trump is tipping that balance and one of these days, a convention center or office building or outdoor event is just going to turn into a bloodbath because of these creeps. I think it's coming soon, and I hate being this afraid.

You press on anyway, but this is one of those times where the bad guys have to lucky once, and law enforcement has to be perfect, or people are going to die.

Meanwhile, America chooses to deal with this as the new normal:

Welcome to life as a Gen Z teenager, where we teach that you can be comfortable in your own unique expression of sexual identity and accepting of and supporting that expression in others, and also helpful tips in battlefield medic triage.
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