Headlines: September 17, 2018
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In today’s news headlines, flood waters continue to rise across North Carolina and surrounding states as Hurricane Florence dumps rain day after day on the beleaguered area. Rising water levels have pushed even those who decided to ride out the storm to change their minds and flee. Many have needed rescuing from government and volunteer groups. So far the death toll has reached 17 – including a 3-month old infant. The road to Wilmington, North Carolina – a popular tourist destination – has been cut off. Since Friday there have been an additional 30 inches of rain in the region with aerial photographs and videos showing submerged homes, cars, street lights, and trees.
Among the fears ahead of Hurricane Florence making landfall was that serious water pollution could result from hog waste pits and coal ash pits becoming flooded. Those fears are now being realized after a coal ash landfill run by Duke Energy collapsed from the heavy rains of the hurricane, raising the risk of contaminated storm waters running into nearby lakes and rivers. An attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center said, “Disposing of coal ash close to waterways is hazardous, and Duke Energy compounds the problem by leaving most of its ash in primitive unlined pits filled with water.” Associated Press also reported of, “several flooded hog farms along the Trent River.” Meteorologists are saying that, “the worst is yet to come,” and that people should expect more flooding. There is also a fear of dams bursting from the flooding. North Carolina has thousands of dams and about 1,400 of them are considered “high hazard.”
The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Brock Long spoke with Fox News this weekend about Hurricane Florence. FEMA Head Brock Long, during the same interview, was asked about President Donald Trump’s insistence that the death toll in Puerto Rico from last year’s Hurricane Maria was not as high as 3,000.
Meanwhile FEMA is testing a system that allows President Trump to directly message the cell phones of people across the country as “Presidential Alerts,” to issue warnings about disasters. The first test of the Presidential alert system will take place on September 20th.
In other climate-change related news, Typhoon Mangkhut slammed into the Philippines and the southern coast of China killing 66 people, 64 of them in the Philippines. Nearly 2.5 million people have been evacuated from the area in China where the typhoon hit. The storm started out as a Super Typhoon but was then downgraded to the equivalent of a Category 5 Hurricane – the strongest such category. With winds reaching 167 mph, witnesses captured scenes of buildings swaying and scaffolding being torn off.
In other news, the woman who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her while in high school has come forward. Christine Blasey Ford, now a clinical psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California, had written a letter early this summer about her experience of sexual assault by Kavanaugh and another person to lawmakers when it became clear that he was to be on the short list of Supreme Court nominees. Senator Dianne Feinstein sent the letter to the FBI but only after Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings had already begun. Kavanaugh issued a denial saying, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.” The Washington Post, which broke the story said that, “Ford took a polygraph test administered by a former FBI agent in early August. The results, which [her lawyer] provided to The Post, concluded that Ford was being truthful when she said a statement summarizing her allegations was accurate.” Republican Senator Chuck Grassley responded by sharing a letter written by 65 women who claimed to know Kavanaugh saying that, “he has behaved honorably and treated women with respect.”
But two Republican Senators, Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, have both said that Kavanaugh’s accuser ought to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee ahead of a confirmation vote. White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway also said on Fox, “This woman should not be insulted, and she should not be ignored.” She added, “She should be heard,” and “should not unduly delay the vote on Judge Kavanaugh.” Indeed Ms. Ford’s lawyer has said her client is willing to testify to Congress about her experience. Republican Senator Susan Collins, who remains undecided on Kavanaugh’s nomination, was questioned by a CNN reporter over the weekend.
In news from the Special Counsel’s investigation into election wrong-doing, Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort has finally agreed to plead guilty to two out of seven charges that involve lobbying on behalf of the Ukrainian government and other related accusations. In exchange for the guilty plea the government has agreed to drop the 5 other charges and to not retry earlier charges. Most importantly Manafort has agreed to completely cooperate with the Special Counsel, which means he may reveal any and all knowledge of wrongdoing including regarding the President. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani issued a statement saying, “the president did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.” Minutes later, the statement was reissued without the second part of the statement, perhaps because Trump’s legal team knows it may need to call Manafort’s honesty into question at a later date.
A Republican pollster briefed senior White House staff recently about the GOP’s election prognosis, as per Associated Press. The predictions were grim. The pollster, Neil Newhouse, apparently offered that, “the determining factor in the election wouldn’t be the improving economy or the steady increase in job creation. It would be how voters feel about Trump. And the majority of the electorate, including a sizable percentage of Republican-leaning voters, doesn’t feel good about the president.”
A border patrol agent was arrested on Saturday in connection to the killings of four women. Agent Juan David Ortiz was arrested in South Texas. Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar said, “We consider this man to be a serial killer who was preying on one victim after another.” It is suspected that the four victims were sex workers in the Laredo, Texas area. Ortiz was caught after one of his victims escaped and contacted authorities.
Also in Texas, protesters supporting the victim of a recent fatal incident of police brutality in Dallas marched to the Cowboys game on Saturday night. Nine people were arrested after blocking a traffic intersection as they protested the killing of a 26-year old African American man Bothem Shem Jean by a white police officer named Amber Guyger. On Friday Jean’s family was outraged when a local Fox affiliated tweeted, “Marijuana found in Botham Jean’s apartment after deadly shooting.” Family attorney Lee Merritt told reporters, “It’s telling that in a homicide investigation they went looking for drug paraphernalia. There could only be one purpose for that. The only purpose is to look for information to smear the dead. That is exactly their specific intent.”