Donald Trump heads to California, again blaming fires on forest management

President Donald Trump headed to California on Saturday to see firsthand the grief and devastation from the deadliest US wildfire in a century, as confusion continued over how many people remain unaccounted for.

Authorities confirmed a new death toll of 71 and said they were trying to locate 1,011 people even as they stressed that not all are believed missing.

But Trump has stirred resentment among survivors and many others over comments he made two days after the disaster on Twitter, then reiterated on the eve of his visit.

In an interview scheduled for broadcast on Fox News Sunday, Trump said he was surprised to see images of firefighters removing dried brush near a fire, adding, “This should have been all raked out.”

Asked if he thought climate change contributed to the fires, he said: “Maybe it contributes a little bit. The big problem we have is management.”

Before boarding Air Force One to California on Saturday morning, Trump was asked about forest management again and repeated his stance. “Everybody now knows that this is what we have to be doing … It should’ve been done many years ago,” he said.

Those comments, and those in his Fox interview, echoed his initial reaction to the fires on 10 November when he blamed the wildfires on poor forest management and threatened then to withhold federal payments. His words caused widespread outrage, though Trump subsequently approved a federal disaster declaration and he has since repeatedly praised the work of first responders, including just before leaving Washington DC.

“I want to be with the firefighters and the Fema first responders,” Trump said.

California’s outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats and vocal critics of Trump, planned to join the president on his trip to the fire-ravaged region in the north of the state. Governor Jerry Brown and governor-elect Gavin Newsom welcomed Trump’s visit, declaring it was time “to pull together for the people of California”.

The blaze that started 8 November all but razed the town of Paradise, population 27,000, and heavily damaged the outlying communities of Magalia and Concow. It destroyed more than 9,800 homes and at its height displaced 52,000 people.

This patch of California, a former Gold Rush region in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is to some extent Trump country, with Trump beating Hillary Clinton in Butte County by 4 percentage points in 2016.

But Trump has stirred resentment among survivors with his comments.

“If you insult people, then you go visit them, how do you think you’re going to be accepted? You’re not going to have a parade,” Maggie Crowder of Magalia said this week outside an informal shelter at a Walmart store in Chico.

But Stacy Lazzarino, who voted for Trump, said it would be good for the president to see the devastation up close: “I think by maybe seeing it he’s going to be like ‘Oh, my goodness,’ and it might start opening people’s eyes.”

Authorities attribute the death toll in part to the speed with which flames raced through the town of 27,000, driven by wind and fueled by desiccated scrub and trees.

Nearly 12,000 homes and buildings burned hours after the blaze erupted, the California department of forestry and fire protection said. Thousands of additional structures are still threatened as firefighters, many from distant states, work to contain and suppress the flames.

The big rise in the number of missing is because of a detailed review of emergency calls and missing people reports, and the extension of the search for victims.

More than 5,500 fire personnel are still battling the blaze that covered 228 square miles (590 sq km) and was 50% contained, officials said.

Firefighters were racing against time with a red flag warning issued for Saturday night into Sunday, including winds up to 50mph (80km/h) and low humidity. Rain was forecast for midweek, which could help firefighters but also complicate the challenging search for remains.

Officials acknowledge that the huge number of missing could easily contain duplicate names and unreliable spellings of names. The roster also probably includes many people who fled the blaze and do not realize they have been reported missing.

[The Guardian]

Trump disputes federal climate report’s findings, says he hasn’t seen it

President Trump disputed a recent federal government report’s conclusion that human activity is the dominant cause of climate change, but also said he has not seen the report.

In an interview released Sunday, Jim VandeHei and Jonathan Swan of Axios asked Trump to respond to the Climate Science Special Report, a multi-agency report released last year that concluded there is “no convincing alternative explanation” for global warming of recent decades other than that the “dominant” cause is human activity, mainly via greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump said humans contribute to warming, but not to the degree described in the report, whose authors come from agencies like NASA and the Energy Department.

“I want everybody to report whatever they want. But ultimately, I’m the one that makes that final decision,” he told VandeHei and Swan. “I can also give you reports where people very much dispute that. You know, you do have scientists that very much dispute it.”

Trump also repeated his prediction, first outlined last month, that the climate will “change back” and that the current warming will reverse. He did not provide evidence for the claim.

“Is there climate change? Yeah. Will it go back like this, I mean, will it change back? Probably, that’s what I think,” he said, making a wave motion with his hand.

“We do have an impact, but I don’t believe the impact is nearly what some say, and other scientists that dispute those findings very strongly.”

Asked if Trump would order federal agencies to include the views of those who dispute the report’s findings, the president said of the report, “I haven’t seen that.”

The 2017 government report said about 92 percent of global warming is due to human activity.

The report aligns closely with the scientific consensus of recent years that humans are the overwhelming cause of climate change.

[The Hill]

Trump threatens to pull federal funds for Calif. wildfires over forest ‘mismanagement’

With major wildfires still roaring out of control in California, President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to blame “gross mismanagement of the forest” for the catastrophe and threatened to withhold federal funds if the issue is not remedied.

It was his first tweet on the wildfires, now among the deadliest and most destructive in California history, although he earlier issued an emergency declaration providing federal funds for Butte, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

At least nine people have been killed and the entire town of Paradise, in northern California has been destroyed.

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump tweeted. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

His latest remarks were reminiscent of his tweets during another major outbreak of fires in California in August, when he blamed the wildfires on “bad environmental laws” and his claim that water from the north was “foolishly being diverted into the Pacific Ocean.”

In that tweet burst, Trump also said California wildfires “are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized.”

At the time, The New York times noted a debate over the allocation of water for irrigation or fish habitat but none regarding water purportedly being diverted into the ocean.

The Times quoted Cal Fire officials as saying there is no shortage of water for fighting fires. Helicopters collect water from lakes and ponds to douse wildfires and have plenty at hand, they said.

Asked about that the president’s tweeted claim of water diversion, a spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, Evan Westrup, told the Times in an email, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

The presidents of two professional firefighters associations have denounced President Donald Trump’s assertion that “gross mismanagement of the forests” is to blame.

California Professional Firefighters president Brian Rice called the President’s words “ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning” in a written statement.

Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the comments were “reckless and insulting.”

“Moreover, nearly 60 percent of California forests are under federal management, and another two-thirds under private control. It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California.”

The Trump tweet also prompted some harsh criticism from singer Katy Perry, a native Californian, who called his remarks “heartless.”

“This is an absolutely heartless response,” she tweeted. “There aren’t even politics involved. Just good American families losing their homes as you tweet, evacuating into shelters.”

Singer-songwriter John Legend, who lives in Los Angeles, also weighed in, tweeting, “Our National Embarrassment can’t bring himself to show some empathy to Californians dealing with a horrific disaster.”

Trump on Synagogue Shooting: If They Had an Armed Guard, ‘Results Would Have Been Far Better’

President Donald Trump briefly spoke to reporters this afternoon about the horrific shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and he was asked at one point about taking action regarding gun laws.

“This has little to do with it,” the President said. “If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better… If they had some kind of a protection inside the temple, maybe it could have been a very much different situation.”

Trump specifically said an “armed guard” would have been able to stop the shooter, and he talked about stiffening up death penalty laws.

Officials have so far confirmed that three officers were shot.

[Mediaite]

Trump on synagogue shooting: “We should stiffen up” death penalty laws

President Trump responded Saturday to a fatal shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left at least eight dead. He said the outcome might have been different if the synagogue, which is located in a neighborhood known for its Jewish population, had “protection.”

“If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him, maybe there would have been nobody killed, except for him, frankly,” Mr. Trump said.

“If they have some kind of protection inside the temple maybe it could have been a very much different situation. They didn’t,” he said.

He also said “we should stiffen up our laws in terms of the death penalty.”

“When people do this they should get the death penalty,” he said. “And they shouldn’t have to wait years and years. … And, I think they should very much bring the death penalty into vogue.”

Mr. Trump, speaking to reporters at Andrews Air Force Base, said the violence “has to stop.”

It’s a “terrible thing what’s going on with hate in our country,” he said.

City officials said the shooting was being investigated as a federal hate crime. It comes amid a rash of high-profile attacks in an increasingly divided country, including the series of package bombs mailed over the past week to prominent Democrats and former officials.

In addition to those who were killed Saturday, six were wounded, including the four police officers, said Wendell Hissrich, the Pittsburgh public safety director.

“This is likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement.

The attack took place during a baby naming ceremony, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. It was unknown whether the baby was harmed.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder called the shooting “an attack not just on the Jewish community, but on America as a whole.”

The synagogue where the shooting took place is located in a tree-lined residential neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, the hub of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. In 2010, Tree of Life Congregation — founded more than 150 years ago — merged with Or L’Simcha to form Tree of Life (asterisk) Or L’Simcha.

The synagogue is a fortress-like concrete building, its facade punctuated by rows of swirling, modernistic stained-glass windows illustrating the story of creation, the acceptance of God’s law, the “life cycle” and “how human-beings should care for the earth and one another,” according to its website. Among its treasures is a “Holocaust Torah,” rescued from Czechoslovakia. Its sanctuary can hold up to 1,250 guests.

Michael Eisenberg, the immediate past president of the Tree of Life Synagogue, lives about a block from the building.

[CBS News]

Trump: My ‘Natural Instinct for Science’ Tells Me Climate Science Is Wrong

Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which encompasses the consensus finding of climate scientists worldwide, issued a report warning that the effects of climate change may become irreversible by 2040. But since this conclusion implies the need for government action of some kind, and thus threatens a core tenet of conservative movement theology, Republicans ignore or dismiss the findings. Asked by Lesley Stahl about the report, Trump accordingly dismissed it, “You’d have to show me the scientists because they have a very big political agenda.”

But you know who doesn’t have a big political agenda, according to Donald Trump? Donald Trump. The president of the United States styles himself as a man of science, willing to follow the facts wherever they go. In yet another of his current spate of lunatic ramblings he has decided to share with various media, this time the Associated Press, Trump was asked about the report again, and gave an even crazier response.

Trump asserted that, contrary to the scientific conclusion that pumping heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere has caused an upward ratcheting of temperatures, he sees it as random unexplainable variation: “I agree the climate changes, but it goes back and forth, back and forth.” When the interviewer noted that scientists have concluded otherwise, Trump asserted his own scientific credentials.

“My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years. Dr. John Trump,” he said. “And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.”

So Trump’s claim to scientific competence rests on his belief that science is a matter of instinct, and this instinct is passed on genetically, as evidenced by his uncle. Those lucky few possessed of this gift can look at two competing hypotheses and know which one is correct, without needing to study the evidence, or even having a clear understanding of what “evidence” means. Trump has luckily inherited this instinct, along with some $400 million in untaxed gifts from his father.

Now, a scientist might reply that science is not a matter of instinct at all but a body of knowledge amassed through experimentation and study. They could even design studies testing the hypothesis that individuals possess a scientific “instinct” that renders actual knowledge of scientific conclusions unnecessary. But Trump would surely just respond that those scientists have a political agenda, and his instinct, acquired via his uncle, concludes those studies are fake.

[New York Magazine]

Trump No Longer Thinks Climate Change is a Hoax, Still Not Sure It’s Manmade

During an interview with CBS’s Lesley Stahl on Sunday that aired on 60 Minutes, President Donald Trump backed off his claim that climate change is a hoax but made it clear he was not ready to say it was indeed manmade.

“I think something’s happening. Something’s changing and it’ll change back again,” Trump said. “I don’t think it’s a hoax. I think there’s probably a difference. But I don’t know that it’s manmade. I will say this: I don’t want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t want to lose millions and millions of jobs.”

At one point Stahl noted it would be remarkable if all the recent weather emergencies may change his mind.

“You know, I– I was thinking what if he said, ‘No, I’ve seen the hurricane situations, I’ve changed my mind. There really is climate change.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, what an impact,’” Stahl said.

Trump replied: I’m not denying climate change. But it could very well go back. You know, we’re talkin’ about over millions of years. They say that we had hurricanes that were far worse than what we just had with Michael.”

Stahl, who suggested Trump really was denying it, then asked him to pin down when he says, “they say.”

“People say,” Trump replied, before casting doubt on scientists’ agendas.

“You’d have to show me the scientists because they have a very big political agenda, Lesley,” the president said.

[Mediaite]

Trump suggests Chicago implement ‘stop and frisk’ to curb violence

President Trump said Monday that he’s directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to provide federal assistance to the city of Chicago to limit gun violence and suggested the city implement the controversial practice of “stop and frisk.”

“We want to straighten it out and straighten it out fast. There’s no reason for what’s going on there,” Trump told law enforcement officials at a convention for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Trump said he’s urging Chicago officials to “strongly consider stop and frisk.”

“It works, and it was meant for problems like Chicago,” Trump said, garnering applause from the audience.

Trump previously suggested during his 2016 presidential campaign that stop and frisk could be used to help prevent violence in black communities. He has cited its effectiveness in New York City under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), who is now his personal lawyer.

The city’s use of the practice, in which police stop, question and frisk a person on the grounds of reasonable suspicion that either the person is dangerous or a crime has been committed, was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2013.

In addition to proposing Chicago implement the policy, Trump said Monday that he’d like city officials to change a 2016 deal between the police department and the American Civil Liberties Union that required city police to document every street stop they made in an effort to curb racial profiling.

The president suggested that law enforcement had their hands tied by the agreement.

“The crime spree is a terrible blight on that city, and we’ll do everything possible to get it done,” Trump said. “I know the law enforcement people in Chicago, and I know how good they are. They could solve the problem if they were simply allowed to do their job and do their job properly.”

Trump’s directive to get the federal government involved in Chicago comes days after a city police officer was convicted of second-degree murder in the 2014 shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald.

The shooting prompted numerous protests across the city, and the conviction renewed tensions between the community and city law enforcement.

While activists and residents praised the decision as a measure of justice, the Chicago Police union blasted the jury’s decision, calling it a “sham trial and shameful verdict.”

Chicago has long struggled with a reputation as a city beset with gun violence, though The Chicago Tribune reported that there have been fewer shooting victims so far in 2018 than at the same point in the previous two years.

[The Hill]

Reality

Donald Trump isn’t the “law and order candidate,” but the “every failed police tactic that targeted minorities candidate.”

Trump failed to mention that in every city where stop-and-frisk was implemented, they have become case studies in the perils of such an approach.

Four of the five biggest American cities — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia — have all used stop-and-frisk tactics in an attempt to lower crime. Despite what Trump says, the results are mixed, and in each city the methods have been found unconstitutional for disproportionately targeting minorities.

For example, in Donald Trump’s hometown the NYPD’s practices were found to violate New Yorkers’ Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and also found that the practices were racially discriminatory in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Trump wants to take this nationally.

The most proven form of policing is when officers work with communities thereby gaining trust of a population. So when there is an issue in their neighborhood, residents are more likely to open up and offer evidence.

Media

Interior Dept. Implements New Science Policy That Makes Oil Drilling Easier

The Interior Department has implemented a new policy that it says is meant to boost transparency and integrity of the science that its agencies use to make decisions.

The policy, outlined in an order issued last week by Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, mandates that officials only use scientific studies or findings whose underlying data are publicly available and reproducible, with few exceptions.

Like a similar policy that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed, critics say the new “Promoting Open Science” policy is meant to restrict Interior’s ability to write regulations or make other decisions, by putting unnecessary restrictions on officials’ ability to use sound science.

Interior’s policy has potential reverberations across the department’s diverse agencies that oversee areas like endangered species, offshore drilling, American Indian relations and geology.

Bernhardt wrote in his order that the policy fits with President Trump’s executive orders on promoting energy production and reducing regulations, as well as past Interior policies on science.

He said the order is intended to ensure Interior “bases its decisions on the best available science and provide the American people with enough information to thoughtfully and substantively evaluate the data, methodology, and analysis used by the Department to inform its decisions.”

“This order came about in response to perennial concerns that the department has not been providing sufficient information to the public to explain how and why it reaches certain conclusions, or that it is cherry picking science to support pre-determined outcomes,” Interior spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said in a statement.

“The goal is for the department to play with its cards face-up, so that the American people can see how the department is analyzing important public policy issues and be confident that it is using the best information available to inform its decisions.”

Charise Johnson, a researcher at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said she doesn’t buy the administration’s argument that it cares about transparency.

“They want everything publicly accessible, including the raw data, and that just doesn’t happen with peer-reviewed science, because that just doesn’t tell you anything,” she said.

“It also makes it look like they don’t trust their own scientists’ work. These are people who do their jobs, they do it well, they’re qualified to be there and they know how science works. A lot of these other people are political appointees without science backgrounds who just want to carry out a certain agenda.”

Johnson said the order looks like it’s meant to further the Trump administration’s agenda at Interior, like removing barriers to oil and natural gas drilling and reducing protections for endangered species.

“This is an attempt to cherry-pick the kind of science that they want to put forward,” said Yogin Kothari, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ senior Washington representative.

Unlike the EPA’s policy, Interior’s new science order is not a proposed rule, so it took effect immediately last week.

[The Hill]

Trump Booted Foreign Startup Founders. Other Countries Embraced Them

A master’s degree from Yale and angel investments in his startup weren’t enough to protect Mezyad AlMasoud from Donald Trump. A little more than a year ago, Trump moved to kill a nascent visa program meant specifically for company founders with capital in hand, such as AlMasoud. The Kuwaiti’s immigration lawyer called his Wall Street office to tell him that without the startup visa, which could have been granted under a plan known as the International Entrepreneur Rule, he had two weeks to leave the U.S. That afternoon, AlMasoud spent hours sitting by the East River, looking out at the Brooklyn Bridge. The thought running through his mind: “How do I tell my 5-year-old daughter I failed?”

As it turned out, he didn’t have to. Flair Inc., his financial technology startup, incorporated in June and is starting to hire engineers who can develop its money-management web services for pro athletes. It’s just not in the U.S. Flair is hiring in Vancouver, where AlMasoud was one of the first people accepted to a startup visa program that looks a lot like the fast-track Obama plan Trump blew up. In the past 18 months, similar programs with a range of perks have sprung up in at least a dozen countries, including the U.K., China, Japan, Israel, Germany, Estonia, Australia, and New Zealand. As with many of his peers, the first choice was always America, says AlMasoud, whose startup is among 130 created by people admitted to Canada’s new visa program since February.

Immigrant founders and co-founders have a strong track record in Silicon Valley (see Google, Tesla, EBay, Stripe), as do the children of immigrants (Apple, Oracle, Amazon.com). But the Valley’s fabled Sand Hill Road is no longer the center of the venture capital world, and as the Trump administration continues to increase restrictions on most forms of immigration, other locales are even more eager than usual to frame themselves as the next great innovation hub. Startups are doing a lot more venue-shopping than they used to, says Merilin Lukk, who runs Estonia’s recruiting program and has brought at least 160 founders to the country since last year, creating about 440 jobs.

Countries have offered all kinds of perks to differentiate themselves. A new program in Israel throws in $20,000 relocation bonuses, a local accountant, Hebrew classes, yearly flights home, and paid cellphones. Other offers include low-interest loans, six-day visa processing, and, most important, the equivalent of a green card. “The fight over tech talent is not something that is coming in the future. It’s happening right now,” says Kate Mitchell, the founder of Scale Venture Partners in Foster City, Calif. “And we are losing.”

That’s a bit of an overstatement for the time being, but the U.S. certainly isn’t trying to match those offers. The Trump administration derailed the legacy Obama program a week before its planned rollout last year, and although a lawsuit by the National Venture Capital Association managed to force the feds to eyeball an initial handful of applications, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says the program “does not adequately protect U.S. investors and U.S. workers” and that the agency intends to officially scrap the program as soon as it has finished reviewing public comments on the matter.

The move is part of a broader set of moves to restrict visa immigration, including the H-1B visas that have historically gone overwhelmingly to tech workers. Critics of the program, including labor advocates as well as Trump-style nationalists, say the visas have too often been abused by outsourcers and companies that simply want to pay workers less. There may be some truth to that: More than 50 percent of the country’s working science and engineering Ph.D.s are foreign-born. But another way to look at those numbers is that America needs immigrants.

Canada is one of many countries that seem less conflicted, says AlMasoud, who’s enjoying his weekend hikes in the Vancouver area without looking over his shoulder. The Canadian immigration agency says it has approved 200 applicants for permanent residency since February, and AlMasoud is hoping he’ll be on that list soon, too. For now, he’s trying to get Flair to a point where he can apply for approval from American financial regulators and start showing it off publicly. Only occasionally, as when he reminisces about NBA games or his bygone ’67 Pontiac GTO, does he grow wistful about the opportunities he left behind. “It had always been my dream to start a business in the U.S.,” he says. “Because of what Trump has done, now I have to hire Canadians.”

[Bloomberg]

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