Florida beachfront paradise shattered by Hurricane Ian
Rod Nickel – October 5, 2022
FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – Nearly a week after Hurricane Ian hammered southwest Florida, once tony Fort Myers Beach is a nearly deserted disaster zone where destroyed beach houses now mar the postcard views that made this stretch of the Gulf Coast famous.
The town on Estero Island facing the Gulf of Mexico was one of the communities hit hardest by the Category 4 hurricane, which killed more than 100 people in the state when it struck last week.
Fort Myers Beach, a barrier island that stands between the Gulf and the city of Fort Myers, has a population of 5,600, living in bungalows and posh multistory beach houses. Many retirees living here have second homes elsewhere in the United States.
The island’s soft, white sands and teal waves now make for a stark backdrop to rows of pastel storefronts that are missing walls and windows, a landmark pier stripped to its piles, crushed beach houses, and foundations swept entirely clean of the houses that once rested on them.
At one address, a set of concrete steps leads to nowhere. Furniture, plumbing fixtures and drywall are scattered everywhere.
Rescue teams directed by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are conducting a second round of door-to-door checks for survivors, equipped with dogs and cameras on extending poles.
“It’s going to be a long recovery,” said Ignatius Carroll, a representative of Florida Task Force 2, a search-and-rescue unit that is part of FEMA’s efforts.
“See that debris from the house?” Carroll asks during a tour of Fort Meyers Beach, pointing to a home with its front yard piled high like a junkyard. “That came from another house over here.”
The first 48 hours after a disaster hits are critical to finding survivors, although many people in hurricane-prone areas stock 72 hours’ worth of food and water, Carroll said. Even so, it’s possible to find people days later than that, depending on their provisions, he said.
Steve Duello, 67, a retired grocery store executive from St. Louis, said he was devastated on Tuesday to see the damage to his Fort Myers Beach home for the first time since the hurricane hit.
His ruined house filled with 8 feet of water during the storm, and Duello said he’s unsure whether he’ll rebuild, even though he has been coming to the beach since he was 14.
“It’s way too early. Right now our guts have been torn out. I don’t want to ever go through that again.”
Fort Myers Beach “looks like Hiroshima or Nagasaki,” he said, referring to Japanese cities where U.S. forces dropped atomic bombs during World War Two.
Another island resident, who declined to give his name, stayed through the storm, and has no plans to leave.
“I love this place. I don’t want to live anywhere else but here,” said the elderly, deeply tanned man, wearing shorts and no shirt.
“My daughter wants to pick me up and go back to New York. I don’t want to go.”
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Fort Myers Beach; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Florida’s Leaders Opposed Climate Aid. Now They’re Depending on It.
Christopher Flavelle and Jonathan Weisman – October 4, 2022
Hurricane Ian’s wrath made clear that Florida faces some of the most severe consequences of climate change anywhere in the country. But the state’s top elected leaders have opposed federal spending to help fortify states against and recover from climate disasters, as well as efforts to confront their underlying cause: the burning of fossil fuels.
Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott opposed last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, which devotes some $50 billion to help states better prepare for events like Ian, because they said it was wasteful. And in August, they joined their fellow Republicans in the Senate to vote against a new climate law, which invests $369 billion in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the largest such effort in the country’s history.
At the same time, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has blocked the state’s pension fund from taking climate change into account when making investment decisions, saying that politics should be absent from financial calculations.
In the aftermath of Ian, those leaders want federal help to rebuild their state — but don’t want to discuss the underlying problem that is making hurricanes more powerful and destructive.
As Hurricane Ian approached Florida’s coast, the storm grew in intensity because it passed over ocean water that was 2 to 3 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year, NASA data show. Its destructive power was made worse by rising seas; the water off the southwest coast of Florida has risen more than 7 inches since 1965, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Finally, warmer air resulting from climate change increased the amount of rain that Ian dropped on Florida by at least 10%, or about 2 extra inches in some places, according to a study released last week.
Rubio has secured millions of dollars to restore the Everglades as a way to store floodwaters and repair coral reefs to buffer storm surges. One of his House colleagues, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a South Florida Republican, has secured billions for climate resiliency.
But none of the top Republicans in the state have supported legislation to curb the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.
With its sun and offshore wind, Florida could be a leader in renewable energy, said Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat who represents Tampa. Instead, it imports natural gas that it burns to produce electricity.
“To not admit that climate change is real and we need to address it bodes nothing but a harm for the future for Florida and the nation,” said Charlie Crist, a former Republican Florida governor who won a House seat as a Democrat and is now challenging DeSantis’ reelection.
Hurricane Ian is far from the first time Florida has felt the impacts of climate change. In Miami, the rising ocean means streets and sidewalks regularly flood during high tide, even on sunny days. In the Florida Keys, officials are looking at raising roadbeds that will otherwise become impassable.
Yet the state’s leaders have long resisted what scientists say is needed to stave off a catastrophic future: an aggressive pivot away from gas, oil and coal and toward solar, wind and other renewable energy sources.
“Attempting to reverse-engineer the U.S. economy to absolve our past climate sins — either through a carbon tax or some ‘Green New Deal’ scheme — will fail,” Rubio wrote in 2019. “None of those advocates can point to how even the most aggressive (and draconian) plan would improve the lives of Floridians.”
Scott, the former governor of Florida who is now the state’s junior senator, has argued the cost of attacking climate change is just too great.
“We clearly want to and need to address the impacts of climate change,” Scott told NPR last summer. “But we’ve got to do it in a fiscally responsible manner. We can’t put jobs at risk.”
Hurricane Ian could be among the costliest storms to hit Florida, with losses estimated in the tens of billions.
The two senators also voted against last year’s infrastructure bill, which provided about $50 billion toward climate resilience — the country’s largest single investment in measures designed to better protect people against the effects of climate change.
That bill, which passed the Senate with support from 19 Republicans, included measures designed to help protect against hurricanes. It provided billions for sea walls, storm pumps, elevating homes, flood control and other projects.
Many of those measures were co-written by another coastal Republican, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who called it “a major victory for Louisiana and our nation.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also supported the bill. Both states face enormous threats from climate change.
But Rubio called it “wasteful,” while Scott said it was “reckless spending.” Both voted no.
Scott and DeSantis did not respond to requests for comment.
Dan Holler, a deputy chief of staff to Rubio, said the senator opposed the infrastructure bill because it included unnecessary measures, just as he opposed the final version of relief for Hurricane Sandy in 2013 because of what he called extraneous pork barrel spending.
But the larger issue, Holler said, is that those pushing broad measures to wean the nation from fossil fuels have yet to prove to Rubio that such efforts would actually slow sea level rise, calm storms or mitigate flooding.
Other Republicans offer similar explanations. Anna Paulina Luna, a Republican candidate expected to win the House district around Tampa Bay, spoke of the devastation she said she saw in Fort Myers, Pine Island and Sanibel Island.
“The damage is so catastrophic, we are going to need help,” she said Monday.
But Luna pushed back hard on the need to address climate change by cutting fossil fuel emissions. She called it “completely bonkers” that the United States would harm its own economy “while we send manufacturing to a country that is one of the top polluters of the world,” referring to China.
Crist sounded almost sympathetic as he discussed the bind that Florida Republicans find themselves in — accepting donations from the oil and gas industry, unwilling to raise the issue of climate change with their most loyal voters, while surveying the damage it is doing to their state.
The oil and gas industry is not a major source of campaign cash for politicians in Florida, where offshore drilling is prohibited. Rubio has received $223,239 from the oil and gas industry since 2017, which puts the industry at 15th on his donor list, federal records show. Scott has received $236,483 from oil and gas, his 14th most generous industry.
But the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which Scott leads, has received $3.2 million in oil and gas donations this campaign cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, eclipsed only by real estate, Wall Street and retirees. By contrast, the fossil fuel business isn’t among the top 20 industries that have given this cycle to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
“There’s an ‘ideological versus reality’ divide here that must be very excruciating to these Republican politicians,” Crist said.
Republicans in the state have taken steps to fund climate resilience and adaptation efforts but shy away from using the term “climate.” In 2017, Diaz-Balart, then the Republican chair of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds housing programs, secured $12 billion for “mitigation” measures in block grants to states and communities, $1.4 billion of that for Florida. The word “climate” did not appear in the definition of “mitigation.”
“If you’re from Florida, you should be leading on climate and environmental policy, and Republicans are still reticent to do that because they’re worried about primary politics,” Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican congressman from South Florida. “But on this, the consequences are so serious, it’s worth putting politics aside and addressing climate head on.”
While DeSantis announced a program last year to provide $1 billion over four years to local governments to address flooding, rising seas and other challenges, he has blocked his state’s pension plan from accounting for the environmental performance of companies in making investment decisions.
“We are prioritizing the financial security of the people of Florida over whimsical notions of a utopian tomorrow,” DeSantis said in a statement announcing the decision.
DeSantis’ record on other climate decisions may also come back to haunt him. As a congressman in 2013, he voted against a bill to provide extra disaster aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy — the same type of extra support that Florida is now seeking for Ian.
On Friday, Rubio and Scott wrote to their Senate colleagues asking them to support a package of disaster aid. Like DeSantis, Rubio opposed a similar measure after Sandy struck the Northeast in 2012. (Scott had not yet been elected to the Senate.)
Yoca Arditi-Rocha, executive director of the CLEO Institute, a nonprofit group in Florida that promotes climate change education, advocacy and resilience, said the state’s top elected officials need to do much more than react after disaster strikes.
“Florida will continue to be on the front lines of more destructive hurricanes fueled by a warming climate,” Arditi-Rocha said. “We need Republican leaders to step up.”
‘Game changer’: Alzheimer’s drug lecanemab slows progression of disease in global study
Jayla Whitfield – Anderson, Nat. Reporter and Producer October 4, 2022
After losing three generations of his family to dementia, George Vradenburg co-founded UsAgainstAlzheimer’s, an organization dedicated to Alzheimer’s research.
In the past 40 years he has lost his grandmother, his mother and a sibling to the crippling disease. “And if we don’t pick up the pace on getting at this disease, it’s my kids and my grandkids that are right in the bullseye,” Vradenburg told Yahoo News. “I’m fighting for my family.”
Over 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, an incurable disease that affects the brain and causes loss of cognitive function over time. However, experts say there is hope on the horizon, after lecanemab, an experimental drug, slowed the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s by 27% in a global clinical study.
The study was performed by two pharmaceutical research companies, Eisai and Biogen. They reported that their Clarity Ad Phase 3 clinical trial of lecanemab presented encouraging results in an 18-month trial. The clinical trial included 1,795 diverse patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s and showed “highly statistically significant reduction of clinical decline,” Eisai stated in a press release on Sept. 27.
For many, this proves that the investments into dementia research are paying off. Annually, the federal government invests $3.1 billion in dementia research.
”This is a game changer. This is a drug that demonstrates in this large, diverse, phase 3 trial that by reducing amyloid and by reducing tau, there was a clinical benefit to modify the course of this disease,” Vradenburg said.
Amyloid and tau are two proteins in the brain that control thinking and memory. “This is the first time that a clinical trial has demonstrated [that] the reduction of amyloid and tau actually produces a clinical benefit,” he added. “This is historic.”
The trial also reported that 25% of the participants enrolled were from underrepresented populations. Maria Carrillo, the Alzheimer’s Association chief science officer, says diversity is a crucial factor to consider in any research. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, over 20% of Black Americans 70 and older are living with the disease, and they are twice as likely to get dementia.
“We’re very hopeful that as we get better at enrolling the right populations, as we get better at the science, we are able to actually see treatments come to the clinic and be accessible to people who may be able to benefit from them,” Carrillo said.
While the impact of lecanemab seems positive, experts say Food and Drug Administration approval is crucial for the drug to become readily available to those who need it most.
“The company has announced that it will be filing not only with the FDA, but [also] with other countries and regulatory agencies. And we hope that soon, the FDA might have an expedited review of this drug,” Carillo explained.
In a press release, Eisai said it “aims to file for traditional approval in the U.S., and to submit marketing authorization applications in Japan and Europe by the end of Eisai FY2022, which ends on March 31, 2023.”
Biogen and Eisai have an application pending for accelerated FDA approval, and a decision is expected by early January.
Experts believe lecanemab will get FDA approval and Medicare coverage, unlike aducanumab, which is sold as Aduhelm, a prior Alzheimer’s drug from Biogen that was approved by the FDA but received limited Medicare coverage. “This drug [lecanemab] has a much larger trial, much more diverse trial, and much clearer evidence of clinical benefit,” Vradenburg explained.
But the side effects are concerning. “Lecanemab also has a similar profile of dangerous side effects related to brain swelling and brain bleeding that we see with Aduhelm, though lecanemab is probably a bit friendlier than Aduhelm on this front, in that ‘only’ 10% of patients in the high-dose groups showed these side effects [in the phase 2 trial],” Dr. Michael Greicius, a professor of neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University in California, told Healthline.
If the drug is approved by the FDA, organizations like UsAgainstAlzheimer’s say they will push for Medicare coverage. “Medicare must cover it. Otherwise, we’re going to be waiting for another five or 10 years before a disease-modifying drug gets to work,” Vradenburg said. “This is an opportunity to change the course of our lives.”
But other experts raised concerns about the potential cost of the drug. Dr. Constantine Lyketsos, a psychiatrist who teaches at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, told CNN he would be reluctant to prescribe lecanemab to a patient. “If it was a simple pill, if it wasn’t very expensive, I might,” he said.
CNN noted that aducanumab costs about $28,000 for a year of treatment. Eisai told the news outlet that lecanemab hasn’t been priced yet.
This year, more positive results are expected from additional clinical trials. In November, at a conference in San Francisco on the 15th annual clinical trials on Alzheimer’s disease, other companies working to combat the disease will share their findings. “We also expect that gantenerumab, from a company called Roche, will report next month their top level,” Carrillo said.
Several companies are researching how to stop the progression of the disease, as the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is projected to double, to 13 million, by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Even though this apparent breakthrough is not a cure, it could give those suffering with the life-threatening disease more time. “Slowing is really critical, especially earlier in the disease, when you can be more independent for a longer period of time,” Carrillo said.
Most importantly, “time with families, time to see a grandchild get married, have a bar mitzvah or confirmation — that time with family for an extra two to three years is priceless,” Vradenburg said.
Nicolle Wallace Slams Wall Street Journal’s Condemnation Of Trump
Lee Moran – October 4, 2022
The conservative Wall Street Journal’s condemnation of Donald Trump over his latest violent rhetoric rang somewhat hollow for MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace.
On Monday’s broadcast of “Deadline: White House,” Wallace welcomed the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper’s denunciation of Trump’s suggestion on his Truth Social platform that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has a “DEATH WISH” for supporting “Democrat sponsored Bills.”
The Journal did “more laundering and legitimizing of Donald Trump’s presidency than perhaps any other outlet,” said Wallace, who was the White House communications director for former President George W. Bush.
“They’re as culpable as any news organization in this country for his presidency and his ongoing viability as a political figure,” she added.
In its editorial, the publication’s board warned of real-life consequences to Trump’s words.
Mr. Trump’s apologists claim he merely meant Mr. McConnell has a political death wish, but that isn’t what he wrote. It’s all too easy to imagine some fanatic taking Mr. Trump seriously and literally, and attempting to kill Mr. McConnell. Many supporters took Mr. Trump’s rhetoric about former Vice President Mike Pence all too seriously on Jan. 6.
Details: Yusov said there had been a surge of requests after the successful counteroffensive by the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Kharkiv Oblast and the announcement of partial mobilisation in the Russian Federation.
Quote: “Then we started getting phone calls not just from soldiers who were on the territory of Ukraine as part of the occupation army, but also those who had just been mobilised and were still on the territory of the Russian Federation, or their relatives, or even people who suspected that they might be mobilised and were checking just in case.
In a few weeks, we have already [received] more than 2,000 such requests.”
Background: The state project called I Want to Live is designed to help military personnel of the Russian army safely surrender to the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
To receive information on how to surrender, Russian military personnel or their relatives and friends should call the 24-hour numbers:
+38 066 580 34 98;
+38 093 119 29 84.
Russians are guaranteed civilized treatment, in line with the norms of the Geneva Conventions.
Russia’s Small Nuclear Arms: A Risky Option for Putin and Ukraine Alike
David E. Sanger and William J. Broad – October 4, 2022
WASHINGTON — For all his threats to fire tactical nuclear arms at Ukrainian targets, President Vladimir Putin of Russia is now discovering what the United States itself concluded years ago, U.S. officials suspect: Small nuclear weapons are hard to use, harder to control and a far better weapon of terror and intimidation than a weapon of war.
Analysts inside and outside the government who have tried to game out Putin’s threats have come to doubt how useful such arms — delivered in an artillery shell or thrown in the back of a truck — would be in advancing his objectives.
The primary utility, many U.S. officials say, would be as part of a last-ditch effort by Putin to halt the Ukrainian counteroffensive, by threatening to make parts of Ukraine uninhabitable. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe some of the most sensitive discussions inside the administration.
The scenarios of how the Russians might do it vary widely. They could fire a shell 6 inches wide from an artillery gun on Ukrainian soil, or a half-ton warhead from a missile located over the border in Russia. The targets could be a Ukrainian military base or a small city. How much destruction — and lingering radiation — would result depends on factors including the size of the weapon and the winds. But even a small nuclear explosion could cause thousands of deaths and render a base or a downtown area uninhabitable for years.
Still, the risks for Putin could easily outweigh any gains. His country could become an international pariah, and the West would try to capitalize on the detonation to try to bring China and India, and others who are still buying Russian oil and gas, into sanctions they have resisted. Then there is the problem of prevailing winds: The radiation released by Russian weapons could easily blow back into Russian territory.
For months now, computer simulations from the Pentagon, U.S. nuclear labs and intelligence agencies have been trying to model what might happen and how the United States could respond. It is no easy task because tactical weapons come in many sizes and varieties, most with a small fraction of the destructive power of the bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
In a fiery speech last week full of bluster and menace, Putin said those bombings “created a precedent.”
The modeling results, one official familiar with the effort said, vary dramatically — depending on whether Putin’s target is a remote Ukrainian military base, a small city or a “demonstration” blast over the Black Sea.
Great secrecy surrounds Russia’s arsenal of tactical arms, but they vary in size and power. The weapon Europeans worry the most about is the heavy warhead that fits atop an Iskander-M missile and could reach cities in Western Europe. Russian figures put the smallest nuclear blast from the Iskander payload at roughly one-third of the Hiroshima bomb’s explosive power.
Much more is known about the tactical weapons designed for the U.S. arsenal back in the Cold War. One made in the late 1950s, called the Davy Crockett after the frontiersman who died at the Alamo, weighed about 70 pounds; it looked like a large watermelon with four fins. It was designed to be shot from the back of a jeep and had about one-thousandth of the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
But as the Cold War progressed, both the United States and the Soviets developed hundreds of variants. There were nuclear depth charges to take out submarines and rumors of “suitcase nukes.” At one point in the 1970s, NATO had upward of 7,400 tactical nuclear weapons, nearly four times the current estimated Russian stockpile.
By that time, they were also part of popular culture. In 1964, James Bond defused a small nuclear weapon in “Goldfinger,” seconds before it was supposed to go off. In 2002, in “The Sum of All Fears,” based on a Tom Clancy novel, a terrorist wipes out Baltimore with a tactical weapon that arrives on a cargo ship.
The reality, though, was that while the blast might be smaller than a conventional weapon would produce, the radioactivity would be long-lasting.
On land, the radiation effects “would be very persistent,” said Michael G. Vickers, the Pentagon’s former top civilian official for counterinsurgency strategy. In the 1970s, Vickers was trained to infiltrate Soviet lines with a backpack-sized nuclear bomb.
Russia’s tactical arms “would most likely be used against enemy force concentrations to stave off a conventional defeat,” Vickers added. But he said his experience suggests “their strategic utility would be highly questionable, given the consequences Russia would almost assuredly face after their use.”
For deadly radiation, there is only one dramatic, real-life comparison on Ukrainian soil: what happened in 1986 when one of the four Chernobyl reactors suffered a meltdown and explosions that destroyed the reactor building.
At the time, the prevailing winds blew from the south and southeast, sending clouds of radioactive debris mostly into Belarus and Russia, although lesser amounts were detected in other parts of Europe, especially Sweden and Denmark.
The radiation dangers from small nuclear arms would likely be less than those involving large reactors, like those at Chernobyl. Its radioactive fallout poisoned the flatlands for miles around and turned villages into ghost towns. Eventually the radiation caused thousands of cases of cancer, although exactly how many is a matter of debate.
The ground around the deactivated plant is still somewhat contaminated, which made it all the more remarkable that the Russians provided little protection to troops that moved through the area in the early days of Moscow’s failed bid to seize Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, in February and March.
Chernobyl, of course, was an accident. The detonation of a tactical weapon would be a choice — and likely an act of desperation. While Putin’s repeated atomic threats may come as a shock to Americans who have barely thought about nuclear arms in recent decades, they have a long history.
In some respects, Putin is following a playbook written by the United States nearly 70 years ago, as it planned how to defend Germany and the rest of Europe in case of a large-scale Soviet invasion.
The idea was to use the tactical weapons to slow an invasion force. Colin Powell, the former secretary of state and chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recalled being sent to Germany in 1958 as a young platoon leader, where his primary responsibility was tending to what he described in his memoir as “a 280-millimeter atomic cannon carried on twin truck-tractors, looking like a World War I Big Bertha.”
Decades later, he told a reporter “it was crazy” to think that the strategy to keep Western Europe free was for the United States and its NATO allies to risk using dozens or hundreds of nuclear weapons, on European soil, against advancing forces.
The very name “tactical weapons” is meant to differentiate these small arms from the giant “city busters” that the United States, the Soviets and other nuclear-armed states mounted on intercontinental missiles and pointed at one another from silos, submarines and bomber fleets. It was the huge weapons — far more powerful than what destroyed Hiroshima — that prompted fear of Armageddon, and of a single strike that could take out New York or Los Angeles. Tactical weapons, in contrast, might collapse a few city blocks or stop an oncoming column of troops. But they would not destroy the world.
Ultimately, the large “strategic weapons” became the subject of arms control treaties, and currently the United States and Russia are limited to 1,550 deployed weapons each. But the smaller tactical weapons have never been regulated.
And the logic of deterrence that surrounded the intercontinental missiles — that a strike on New York would result in a strike on Moscow — never fully applied to the smaller weapons. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration feared that a terrorist group like al-Qaida might get a nuclear weapon and use it to destroy the New York subways or irradiate downtown Washington.
The CIA went to great lengths to determine whether al-Qaida or the Taliban had obtained the technology for small nuclear bombs, and the Obama administration held a series of “nuclear summits” with world leaders to reduce the amount of loose nuclear material that could be turned into a small weapon or dirty bomb, essentially radioactive waste that could be dispersed around a few city blocks.
As the Cold War ended, NATO admitted publicly to what insiders had long concluded, that the rationale for any nuclear use was exceedingly remote and that the West could dramatically reduce its nuclear forces. Slowly it removed most of its tactical nuclear weapons, determining they were of little military value.
Roughly 100 are still kept in Europe, mostly to appease NATO nations that worry about Russia’s arsenal, estimated at 2,000 or so weapons.
Now the question is whether Putin would actually use them.
The possibility that he would has sent strategists back to examine a war doctrine known as “escalate to de-escalate” — meaning routed Russian troops would fire a nuclear weapon to stun an aggressor into retreat or submission. That is the “escalate” part; if the enemy retreated, Russia could then “de-escalate.”
Of late, Moscow has used its tactical arsenal as a backdrop for threats, bullying and bluster. Nina Tannenwald, a political scientist at Brown University who studies nuclear arms, recently noted that Putin first raised the threat of turning to his nuclear weapons in 2014 during Russia’s invasion of Crimea. She added that, in 2015, Russia threatened Danish warships with nuclear destruction if Denmark were to join NATO’s system for fending off missile strikes. In late February, Putin called for his nuclear forces to go on alert; there is no evidence they ever did.
Last week, the Institute for the Study of War concluded that “Russian nuclear use would therefore be a massive gamble for limited gains that would not achieve Putin’s stated war aims. At best, Russian nuclear use would freeze the front lines in their current position and enable the Kremlin to preserve its currently occupied territory in Ukraine.” Even that, it concluded, would take “multiple tactical nuclear weapons.”
But it would not, the institute concluded, “enable Russian offensives to capture the entirety of Ukraine.” Which was, of course, Putin’s original goal.
How the US might respond to a Russian nuclear attack in Ukraine
Ellen Mitchell – October 4, 2022
As concerns grow over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling amid continued losses in Ukraine, what a U.S. response would look like has become an increasingly urgent question.
U.S. officials since the start of Russia’s attack on Ukraine have stressed there are plans being developed to counter a range of moves by Moscow but have kept specifics under wraps.
While the administration says there are no signs that the Kremlin has made moves toward a nuclear strike — and that Washington has not changed its own nuclear position — experts say the potential U.S. options could turn into a very real scenario given Russia’s floundering military campaign and an increasingly frustrated Putin.
Mark Cancian, a former Pentagon official-turned-defense expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said a U.S. response to a major Russian attack would be twofold — one military and one diplomatic.
“If the Ukrainians kept fighting, we would continue our flow of aid and we’d probably take the gloves off” in terms of weapons provided to Kyiv, he told The Hill.
At the top of Ukraine’s wish list is the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), a surface-to-surface missile that can travel four times farther than anything Kyiv has now in its fight against Russia. The embattled country has pressed the U.S. for the system for months, but Washington has been hesitant to provide it over fears it could escalate the conflict.
However, should Moscow use a tactical nuclear weapon on Ukrainian troops or civilians, or even detonate such a device away from populated areas, Cancian predicted the administration would finally allow Kyiv to have ATACMS or “anything else they wanted” to go after Russian targets.
On the diplomatic side of things, meanwhile, Russian use of nuclear weapons could very well prompt countries such as India, China and Turkey — the latter a NATO ally — to put pressure on Putin economically, according to Cancian.
“A nuclear strike would really, I think, put them under a lot of pressure to go along with the sanctions and take a tougher line towards Russia, so Russia would lose these lifelines that they’ve been clinging to and nurturing,” he said.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan last week said there would be “catastrophic consequences” should Moscow deploy nuclear weapons and said a more specific ultimatum had been delivered to Moscow privately.
President Biden has said since the start of the war that U.S. troops will not be sent to Ukraine, and experts warn that a nuclear response to a nuclear attack could quickly escalate into a nuclear world war.
Retired Gen. David Petraeus offered a prediction of how the U.S. would respond to a Russian nuclear attack on Sunday, though he noted that he had deliberately avoided speaking with Sullivan about it.
“I mean, just to give you a hypothetical, we would respond by leading a NATO, a collective effort, that would take out every Russian conventional force that we can see and identify on the battlefield in Ukraine and also in Crimea and every ship in the Black Sea,” he said.
Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, said Tuesday that U.S. officials “have continually consulted with allies about the Russia threat, and the nuclear threat that Russia poses is just one aspect of that, and certainly the NATO forum is our premier forum for consultation on these issues.”
One Austrian official told The Hill that it’s offered the country as a neutral ground for difficult negotiations and is ready to host de-escalation talks and maintain channels with Russia.
Though Putin’s national televised speech last month was not his first time raising the specter of nuclear war, current and former U.S. officials have raised new alarms over the Kremlin’s increasingly bellicose nuclear rhetoric as it moves to annex four regions of Ukraine.
Putin threatened on Aug. 21 that Moscow would deploy its massive nuclear arsenal to protect Russian territory or its people — which could now include the four Russian-occupied Ukrainian regions. However, both Kyiv and Washington have said they will not be deterred from continued fighting to take back those regions.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in an interview with CNN aired Sunday, said that while he hasn’t seen intelligence to suggest the Russian leader has chosen to use nuclear weapons, “there are no checks on Mr. Putin.”
“To be clear, the guy who makes that decision, I mean, it’s one man,” Austin said.
John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, said Monday that the U.S. is “closely” watching Russian activity at the Zaporizhzhia power plant — another location Putin could choose to attack to escalate the war.
And former national security adviser H.R. McMaster on Sunday said Putin is “under extreme pressure” due to battlefield failures and domestic outcry over a mobilization order that could send hundreds of thousands of reservists into the war.
“I think the message to [Putin] is If you use a nuclear weapon, it’s a suicide weapon. And the response from NATO and the United States doesn’t have to be nuclear,” McMaster told “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan on CBS.
Fears were further stoked this week when an online video emerged of a train in Russia appearing to carry equipment from a Kremlin military unit that handles nuclear weapons. The video, which Pentagon officials could not confirm, shows military vehicles allegedly from the secretive 12th Main Directorate of the Russian ministry of defense being transported on the train, according to Konrad Muzyka, an aerospace and defense analyst focused on Russia and Belarus.
The Kremlin unit is responsible for nuclear munitions, their storage, maintenance, transport and issuance, Muzyka tweeted Sunday.
“I have seen these reports. I have nothing to corroborate,” Cooper told reporters Tuesday when asked about the video.
Pressed on whether the Pentagon has seen anything to indicate that Russia is contemplating the use of nuclear weapons, she said officials “have certainly heard the saber rattling from Putin” but “see no signs that would cause us to alter our posture.”
Cooper also declined to answer questions on whether the U.S. has seen any movement of Russia’s nuclear forces, citing the protection of U.S. intelligence.
Some, including Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, have urged the administration to increase its nuclear readiness in Europe and move additional missile defense assets into the region.
“This administration needs to step up its game on missile defense,” Turner said on Fox News over the weekend. “We have assets in Europe, and we need to engage them so that we can provide protection to our allies.”
Much speculation has also been given as to the exact kind of weapon Putin might potentially use, with fears he could resort to using tactical nuclear weapons — meant to be used in a battle or on a specific population center to try to bring an end to the conflict.
“We always have to try to take the threat of nuclear use seriously and so we do, and that’s why we are watching very closely, and that’s why we do consult closely with allies,” Cooper said.
“But at the same time, at this point, [Russia’s] rhetoric is only rhetoric, and it’s irresponsible saber-rattling that we see at this point,” Cooper said.
For now, the U.S. will respond to Russian aggression by continuing to pour weapons and other aid into Ukraine, including four more of the advanced rocket systems Kyiv has credited with greatly helping its offensive begun at the start of this month.
The soon-to-be delivered High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems — used by the Ukrainians to target bridges, roads and munition storage areas Russia uses to supply its forces — are part of a new $625 million lethal aid package announced Tuesday.
Asked later on Tuesday whether the United States will provide anything to help the Ukrainians protect themselves against a possible nuclear strike, Cooper said Washington has already provided “a considerable amount of protective equipment against chemical, biological and radiological threats.”
She pointed to a military aid package from earlier this year that included “a number of personal protective equipment items” as well as “significant quantities” of such equipment given as part of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.
“If Republicans return to Washington’s business as usual, if we have no bigger plan than to be a speed bump on the road to America’s collapse, we don’t deserve to govern,” Scott wrote in the plan’s introduction. “We must resolve to aim higher than the Republican Congresses that came before us. Americans deserve to know what we will do.”
Scott’s decision to put his name to a series of specific proposals for what Republicans could and should do if they retake the Senate and House this fall stands in direct contrast to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has pointedly refused to offer an alternative policy agenda.
When asked last month what the GOP’s agenda would be if they took control of Congress, McConnell told reporters: “That is a very good question and I’ll let you know when we take it back.”
Scott seems to acknowledge the fact that he is rebelling against his party leadership, writing: “Like the ‘Contract with America’ before it, the Washington insiders will hate this plan.” (The Contract with America was the Republican agenda unveiled during the 1994 midterms, when the GOP won control of the House.)
Why did Scott do it then? Well, at least in part (a large part) because of politics. Scott, the former governor of Florida who was elected to the Senate in 2018, has his eye on bigger prizes. He’s currently serving as the chairman of the Senate Republican campaign arm and has done very little to knock down talk that he would be interested in a presidential bid down the line.
This plan feels like the sort of thing that could become the basis of a Scott presidential run, whether in 2024 or 2028.
So what’s actually in the plan? A fair amount of it is just red-meat rhetoric sure to make the base of the party happy. But amid the spin – and the attacks on Democrats, “wokeness” and the media – there are some actual policy proposals. Let’s go through them.
1. Kids in public schools would say the Pledge of Allegiance and be required to stand for the National Anthem. They also would have to “honor” the American flag.
2. The Department of Education would close. “Education is a state function,” wrote Scott.
3. The government would never be able to ask you to disclose your race, ethnicity or skin color “on any government form.” (On a related note, the US Census Bureau is on line one, Sen. Scott.)
4. The US military would engage in “ZERO diversity training” or “any woke ideological indoctrination that divides our troops.”
5. If a college or university uses affirmative action in admissions, it would be “ineligible for federal funding and will lose their tax-exempt status.”
6. “Strict” mandatory minimum sentences would be required in every case in which a police officer is seriously injured.
7. Any “attempt to deny our 2nd Amendment freedoms” would be strongly opposed.
8. The wall along the US southern border would be completed and named after former President Donald Trump.
9. Immigrants to the US would not be able to collect unemployment benefits or welfare until they have lived in the country for seven years.
10. So-called sanctuary cities would be stripped of all federal funding.
11. The federal budget would be balanced and, if not, members of Congress would not be paid.
12. All Americans would pay some income tax “to have skin in the game.” (At present, roughly half of Americans do not pay taxes because their taxable income doesn’t meet a minimum threshold.)
13. Federal debt ceiling increases would be prohibited unless accompanied by a declaration of war.
14. All federally elected officials, as well as all federal workers, would be subject to a 12-year term limit.
15 All federal legislation would have a sunset provision five years after it passes. (People currently on Social Security or Medicare might be particularly interested in that one.)
16. Funding for the IRS, as well as its workforce, would be cut by 50%.
17. Politicians would be banned from becoming lobbyists when they leave office.
18. Voter ID would become the law of the land. “All arguments against voter ID are in favor of fraud,” according to Scott.
19. Same-day voter registration would be banned.
20. “No federal program or tax laws will reward people for being unmarried or discriminate against marriage.”
21. No government form would offer options related to “gender identity” or “sexual preference”
22. Biological males would be banned from competing in women’s sports.
23. “All social media platforms that censor speech and cancel people will be treated like publishers and subject to legal action.”
24. No tax dollars could be used for “diversity training or other woke indoctrination that is hostile to faith.”
25. No dues would be paid to the United Nations or “any international organization that undermines the national interests of the USA.”
26. “The weather is always changing. We take climate change seriously, but not hysterically. We will not adopt nutty policies that harm our economy or our jobs.”
There’s more in there, but those are the main points.
It’s an attempt – both rhetorically and from a policy perspective – to make permanent many of the changes that Trump ushered in during his four years in office. It’s a promise of all the things you liked about Trump without some of the bombast and unpredictability. It’s a blueprint for Trumpism without Trump.
Expert: If Putin uses nukes, U.S. could wipe out Russian forces in Ukraine
Michael Isikoff, Chief Investigative Correspondent – October 3, 2022
WASHINGTON — If Russian President Vladimir Putin makes good on his threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the United States would likely respond with a sweeping economic embargo combined with a massive conventional attack on Russian military positions that could quickly wipe out the Russian president’s invading military forces, said Joseph Cirincione, a national security analyst and leading expert on nuclear warfare.
But Cirincione also acknowledged that such a direct U.S. or NATO military strike against the Russian military — even in response to the Russian use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield — could also spiral out of control. “There are no good responses once you start down the nuclear path,” he said. “It’s extremely difficult to terminate it for the same reason that a poker player losing a hand is hesitant to fold. They keep thinking there’s one more move they could make, one more bet they could raise to try to cause the other side to fold. So there’s no good responses.”
Cirincione said that if Putin were to actually make good on his threat to go nuclear, it would not be a large-scale thermonuclear bomb attack, but a more limited deployment of tactical weapons — far more limited in scope but still a major and unprecedented escalation. And Cirincione said that the U.S. military response would not be limited to the battlefield. There would also likely be a sharp escalation in psychological warfare such as was used to unnerve Iraqi generals on the eve of the U.S. invasion of that country. “The U.S. was calling Iraqi generals in their home and telling them to stand down. And they did that for two reasons. One, to let them know we know where you live, right? Two, we can reach out and touch you,” said Cirincione, predicting that the U.S. might well adopt such a tactic in the Ukraine crisis.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that U.S. officials have warned that the Russians there would suffer “catastrophic consequences” if they used nuclear weapons, though he did not without specify what those were.
But even as Sullivan has gone public on the issue, Cirincione acknowledged that the threats have not deterred Putin from talking up a nuclear scenario. Last Friday, Putin gave a speech at the Kremlin in which he announced the annexation of four regions of Ukraine mostly occupied by Russia but where it is getting pushed back by Kyiv’s forces. Putin said that Russia would use “all means available” to defend its territory. In a chilling passage, he noted that the United States was the only country to use nuclear weapons in wartime — dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki towards the end of World War II — and then added: “By the way, they created a precedent.”
When asked about the fact that U.S. warnings have not in any way curbed Putin’s talk of nuclear weapons, Cirincione replied: “It tells me that he’s desperate and he’s convinced of his own power and that the pressure on him is not enough yet. So you’re absolutely right. He hasn’t stopped. Would he really do this? I think the answer to that is we don’t know.”
But one reason to be alarmed, said Cirincione, is that Russian military doctrine now explicitly contemplates the use of nuclear weapons, not just to respond to a nuclear attack on the country, but also in the event of a large-scale conventional military attack that endangers Russia’s national security. “They call this strategy ‘escalate to deescalate,’” said Cirincione. “We will use a nuclear weapon in a variety of ways.” As the Russians see it, if they used tactical nuclear weapons in such a scenario, they would argue: “‘We won’t be starting a nuclear war. We’ll be ending a conventional war,’” said Cirincione. “That’s how their thinking goes. And that’s why you have to worry about this more and more as Putin continues to lose the war in Ukraine. It’s exactly in these kinds of circumstances that the use of nuclear weapons comes into play in doctrine and in Putin’s thinking.”
“I consider Putin a fascist,” he added. “I think he has built a fascist regime in Russia. We have never seen a fascist regime with nuclear weapons before. We’ve had authoritarians. We’ve had some brutal dictators, but nothing on this scale before. So this is very dangerous territory.”
‘DEATH WISH’? What Trump and his wannabes did in one weekend should scare us all.
Rex Huppke, USA TODAY – October 3, 2022
In the Republican Party of Donald Trump and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, only those faithful to Trump’s cult-like MAGA movement are safe.
Democrats are called the enemy, labeled killers. And even Republicans who don’t embrace MAGA dogma – any lost election was stolen, Trump is always right . – have a death wish.
Trump, the current front-runner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination should he decide to run, took to Truth Social on Friday night and attacked Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell because he voted for legislation sponsored by Democrats: “He has a DEATH WISH.”
Trump threatens McConnell, hurls racist nickname at Elaine Chao
Trump then launched a racist attack on McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, who served in Trump’s Cabinet when he was president: “Must immediately seek help and advise from his China loving wife, Coco Chow!”
We know from Jan. 6, 2021, that Trump has potentially violent followers who take cues from him, so there’s no way to see the “DEATH WISH” comment as anything more than a veiled threat.
With racist garbage about the wife of a high-ranking member of the party Trump claims to represent, the former president shows the world his true nature for the 10 millionth time. And by misspelling “advice” as “advise,” Trump shows the world, also for the 10 millionth time, that he can’t be bothered with little things like attention to detail.
Michigan Republicans line up to kiss Trump’s ring
This is dangerous rhetoric, but rather than stand up to it, many Republicans remained silent over the weekend. In fact, several Republicans joined Trump at a Saturday rally in Michigan, including GOP candidates for the state’s three highest offices: Tudor Dixon, running for governor; Matthew DePerno, running for attorney general; and Kristina Karamo, running for secretary of state.
Greene, of Georgia, was also there and, as if to impress Trump with violent rhetoric of her own, told the crowd: “I’m not going to mince words with you all. Democrats want Republicans dead, and they have already started the killings.”
That is absolute insanity. And like Trump’s comments directed at McConnell, it’s sickeningly dangerous. Not to mention false.
Trump and Greene make it clear that no one disloyal is safe
Saying a Republican has a “DEATH WISH” because he did his job and voted for legislation puts a target on the back of that Republican. Saying Democrats “have already started the killings” provides a justification for violence against anyone who happens to be a Democrat. Openly spouting a racist nickname against a woman of Asian heritage tells people, during a time of rising anti-Asian hate crimes, that it’s OK to be hateful.
And this all happened over the course of TWO DAYS!
Republicans keep their mouths shut in face of Trump’s hatefulness
How courageous. Republican leaders won’t say a thing, even to defend themselves, even when it’s clear Trump and his MAGA minions have loyalty only to themselves.
For the sizable swath of voters and politicians who remain loyal to Trump despite his falling approval numbers, this is not the behavior of a political party. This is the behavior of a cult: fealty to one individual; zero tolerance for any who stray from the core beliefs; threats of violence toward any who step out of line; characterizing those who disagree as existential threats.
MAGA followers think you are not a Democrat; you are a member of a party now actively killing Republicans. You are not a mainstream conservative; you are a person with a death wish.
How can Americans of good conscious not come together to shut this down?
How is it possible those of us who see how wildly messed up this all is can’t come together as one in condemnation? How is it possible for Republicans to continue supporting a malignant figure who would unleash his hateful hounds on them in a heartbeat?
As Trump and pathetic wannabes like Greene have committed outrage after outrage after outrage, each time sinking to new depths, there’s a common refrain: Ignore them. Don’t give them the attention they crave.
Like it or not, Trump and Greene have power and stand to gain more
That’s fine if you’re fending off a meaningless internet troll, but as I’ve said already, Trump is likely to be the next Republican candidate for president. And he is, of course, a former president. He’s not nobody.
Greene is a big-time fundraiser for Republicans and someone routinely praised by Trump and revered by his loyal followers. As much as we’d like her to be nobody, she’s not.
These cartoonish MAGA knuckleheads have power, and if we don’t denounce them, if we don’t vote them into oblivion, they stand to gain more. Real danger could follow because as they made clear over just one weekend, they will come for you if you’re an apostate Republican. They will come for you if you’re a Democrat because they’ll be told you’re coming for them.
Let’s stop dancing around it and call the MAGA movement what it is
They will come for any who question them. Because they’re not a political movement..
They’re a dangerous and swiftly worsening cult.
And they need to be denounced by everyone, including Republicans who still value basic human decency. Then they need to be rejected by voters, en masse and with thunderous force.