A John Wayne flop has been linked to high cancer rates. A new documentary aims to tell the community’s story.

The Hill

A John Wayne flop has been linked to high cancer rates. A new documentary aims to tell the community’s story.

Zack Budryk – June 30, 2024

A John Wayne flop has been linked to high cancer rates. A new documentary aims to tell the community’s story.

The 1956 movie “The Conqueror” is infamous among cinephiles, both for its casting of John Wayne as the Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan and for a suspicious number of deaths that followed its filming downwind of a nuclear test site. Nearly 70 years later, the makers of the documentary “The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout” hope to tell the story of the affected “downwinder” community in St. George, Utah, near where the film shot as their federal compensation for radiation exposure is on the line.

At the time “The Conqueror” filmed in the Utah desert just outside the town, St. George was 137 miles downwind from the Nevada Test Site, where the federal government conducted more than 900 nuclear tests.

The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) for years insisted to locals there was no danger, and when ranchers’ sheep began mysteriously dying, the federal government blamed it on the ranchers’ negligence.

But after the movie was shot, observers noted the high rate of cancer among people involved with the filming: 91 of 220 crew members developed the illness, and 46 died. Director Dick Powell and stars Wayne, Susan Hayward and Agnes Moorehead all eventually died of cancer as well, while Pedro Armendáriz Sr., an accomplished Mexican actor and the only nonwhite member of the film’s main cast, died by suicide when his cancer became terminal.

Local Paiute Native Americans were used as extras for crowd and battle scenes, but no records were kept of cancer rates among them.

“The Conqueror: Hollywood Fallout” director Will Nunez said at a panel discussion Wednesday that he had the idea for the documentary in 2020 during COVID-19 lockdowns, and that at the time, he was only aware of the movie’s infamy and the alleged cancer connection.

“What started as a lark about this terrible movie became something else as I was researching about atomic testing and all that, and my goal was to see how I can try and do this in the most entertaining way possible so that a general audience can understand what had happened,” he said.

He noted that many of the most absurd features of the 1956 movie — such as flowery, pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue written with Marlon Brando in mind that sounds extra ridiculous in the mouth of the Duke — added some levity to what could otherwise be a straightforwardly depressing story.

The movie notes that eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, who produced “The Conqueror,” may have exacerbated radiation exposure during filming by having 60 tons of the irradiated desert sands delivered to the RKO Pictures soundstage in Hollywood to film interior scenes.

Epidemiologists have warned of the difficulty of definitively identifying a single cause for one cancer. Wayne himself was skeptical of a connection between the filming and the disease striking the cast and crew, noting late in life that he, Powell and Armendáriz were heavy smokers.

But Hayward and Powell both died in their 50s — a notably young age to develop cancer — and, as the documentary makes clear, the residents of St. George who developed cancer during the same period included young children.

Hughes would later say he felt “guilty as hell” about the production of the movie, and as he became increasingly reclusive, he bought every print of it and watched it on a loop in his hotel suite.

Ultimately, questions surrounding Wayne’s death that first surfaced in People magazine led Utahns to begin investigating a potential connection to their medical histories. The declassification of internal AEC documents followed, and strenuous lobbying by downwinders won former Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) to their cause, culminating in the 1990 passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), which recently expired.

The documentary incorporates a variety of perspectives on the movie and its legacy, from Wayne’s and Hayward’s sons to conservative talk radio host Michael Medved, who began his career as a film critic specializing in “so bad they’re good” movies. Its most emotional voices, however, are those of downwinders themselves, many of whom remember the movie production coming to town and continue their lobbying over the radiation to which it helped draw attention to this day.

In the film, Mary Dickson, a downwinder activist and thyroid cancer survivor, notes that the effects of the nuclear testing fallout were not considered an emergency until the Defense Department began to worry that they may have, as an internal document put it, “killed John Wayne.”

RECA was reauthorized in 2022, but its authorization formally expired earlier this year after lawmakers failed to agree on a further extension. A bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), which would reauthorize the law and expand it beyond the 20 counties covered, as well as to children of downwinders, passed the Senate with 69 votes in March. However, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has declined to bring it to the House floor thus far, citing concerns about cost and whether it has the votes to pass in the GOP-controlled chamber.

Nunez’s documentary comes weeks after the authorization for RECA officially expired. Almost exactly a year ago, sponsors of the expansion bill hoped to take advantage of the buzz surrounding “Oppenheimer,” Christopher Nolan’s biopic of the physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb. Nunez told The Hill he hopes his movie, while much smaller, can similarly help drive conversation about downwinders’ plight.

“What I’m hoping is, now that RECA’s expired and the downwinders want to expand it to beyond the 20 counties, that this movie will help spread the word,” Nunez said.

Ultimately, however, he credited the dedication of affected locals for both the original law and for any breakthrough on reauthorization.

Nunez compared the downwinder community to the locals in Love Canal, N.Y., who pushed for a federal cleanup after the neighborhood became the site of an environmental disaster in the 1970s.

“If you notice, it’s all the women that raise hell,” he said.

Kagan, liberal Supreme Court justices issue scathing dissent in Chevron ruling

The Hill

Kagan, liberal Supreme Court justices issue scathing dissent in Chevron ruling

Rachel Frazin – June 28, 2024

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan offered a scathing dissent Friday as her conservative colleagues transferred the power of federal agencies to the courts in a major decision overturning the Chevron deference.

In overruling that doctrine, Kagan argued that “the majority turns itself into the country’s administrative czar.”

Joined by fellow liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson, she wrote that the majority replaced a rule of “judicial humility” with one of “judicial hubris.”

“In one fell swoop, the majority today gives itself exclusive power over every open issue—no matter how expertise-driven or policy-laden—involving the meaning of regulatory law,” Kagan wrote.

She added that the decision puts the courts at the center of a wide variety of policy issues, ranging from climate change to artificial intelligence.

“The Court has substituted its own judgment on workplace health for that of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration; its own judgment on climate change for that of the Environmental Protection Agency; and its own judgment on student loans for that of the Department of Education,” Kagan wrote.

The 6-3 decision by the court upended a 40-year administrative law precedent in which federal agencies were given leeway to interpret ambiguous laws through rulemaking.

Now, judges will substitute their own best interpretation of the law, instead of deferring to the agencies — effectively making it easier to overturn regulations that govern wide-ranging aspects of American life.

“Chevron is overruled,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his decision, which was joined by his five conservative colleagues.

Roberts argued that “courts must exercise their independent judgment in deciding whether an agency has acted within its statutory authority.”

Biden Cannot Go On Like This

By Frank Bruni – June 28, 2024

President Biden onstage at the debate on Thursday, June 27.
Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

Mr. Bruni is a contributing Opinion writer who was on the staff of The Times for more than 25 years.

I’m not sure I’d ever watched Donald Trump lie so incessantly, extravagantly and unabashedly, and that’s saying something. On Thursday night he lied about the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He lied about the violence in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. He lied about his relationship with the military, about his concern for the environment — about pretty much any and every subject that came up. He lied with a smile. He lied with a shrug. He lied with a sneer.

That should have been the main, maybe even the only, story of the debate, and it should have made him easy, pitiable prey for his opponent. But President Biden failed to take advantage of it. He seemed — there’s no getting around this — incapable of doing so. And that’s its own big story, one that will only grow over the hours and days ahead.

Biden, 81, came into his face-off with Trump knowing that many voters were concerned about his age and had doubts about his sharpness. His aides knew that, too. And he and they spent much of the past week devoted to preparation, preparation, preparation, pausing occasionally to assure nervous Democrats that Biden had this thing under control.

But from the moment the debate began, he seemed unsteady. Off. His expression was often frozen. His voice was often flat. He garbled words. He corrected himself midsentence, over and over again. He’d clearly memorized key talking points — key phrases — but he repeatedly used them without providing adequate context, swerved from one to another without any transition, halted sentences before they reached their destination, started sentences without giving them any bearings.

Ten minutes in, I had a knot in my stomach. Twenty minutes in, the knot was so tight, it hurt. “We finally beat Medicare,” he said early on, and I had no idea what he was talking about.

He got somewhat clearer as the night wore on. He found more animation. But the damage was done, and it may be significant. I shudder to type that, but there’s no sense in pretending. That’s perhaps what too many of his advisers have been doing up until now — ignoring or wishing away the obvious.

Then again, maybe Biden just had an uncharacteristically bad night. It’s possible. And even if this is now the diminished truth of him, it’s still preferable to the Big Lie of Trump, whose own sentences can be (and on Thursday frequently were) inscrutable, whose behavior is reliably unscrupulous and whose second administration would be stocked with corrupt, vengeful lackeys and would sully our democracy in ways from which we might never recover. As I’ve written before about the signs that Biden is past his peak, the presidency is more than the president: It’s the crew that the president assembles, the culture that the president creates. Biden at his least focused would establish a better crew and culture than Trump at his most.

But can Biden beat Trump? That question predated the debate and will be asked with even more urgency and panic in its aftermath. As will this one: Is it really too late for another Democrat to take Biden’s place? With stakes this high, mustn’t that be discussed one more time before the convention?

Again, I feel a bit sick saying that, because I believe that Biden is a decent man who, as president, has done a better than decent job. In both of those respects, he outpaces Trump by many miles, and if Republican politicians and voters had any decency of their own, they would have sidelined Trump long ago. (They had their chance. He was impeached twice, after all.)

But I’m not weighing in on Biden’s record. I’m evaluating his prospects. And I’m acknowledging that performances as shaky as the one he delivered on Thursday may hurt him badly with the small group of uncommitted voters who will decide what is almost guaranteed to be a very close election. Anyone and everyone who correctly understands the stakes of a Trump victory must grapple with that — and fast.

The best measure of Biden’s ineffectiveness on Thursday night was the dormant Vesuvius of Trump. He never even came close to erupting. Just as many people tuned in to the debate to see how much command Biden could muster and how much confidence he could project, many were curious about Trump’s degree of control. Would he rant, rave and remind voters of how dangerously erratic and fundamentally unpresidential he is?

He didn’t, at least not to the extent that he might have. Sure, he was pouty, petty and promiscuous with superlatives: Everything about him was the very best ever, while everything about Biden was the very worst. It was wholly unnuanced and utterly absurd. But he didn’t interrupt Biden. Didn’t shout. Didn’t scale the pinnacles of nastiness and mockery that he did in past debates.

And the reason was obvious in his bemused, pleased expression as Biden staggered through more than a few of his remarks. Trump realized that Biden was sabotaging himself. Trump reveled in that, at one point expressing puzzlement over some assertion that Biden had just made. “I really don’t know what he said at the end of that sentence,” Trump scoffed. “I don’t think he knows what he said, either.”

The astounding part was that Trump didn’t revel even more. The heartbreaking part was how Biden bungled what were clearly intended to be devastating lines. He connected the death of his son Beau, who did duty in Iraq as a major in the Delaware National Guard, to derogatory comments that Trump reportedly made about Americans who’d served in the military.

“My son was not a loser, not a sucker,” Biden proclaimed, but words that should have been immeasurably poignant just sort of hung there. “You’re the sucker,” Biden added. “You’re the loser.” I cringed. That’s Trump talk, not Biden talk, and its delivery was disjointed, unsettling, odd.

For most of the mere 90 minutes of the debate, Biden seemed to be grasping for something he couldn’t reach. I fear that’s a metaphor. I’m sure it’s a warning.

Frank Bruni is a professor of journalism and public policy at Duke University, the author of the book “The Age of Grievance” and a contributing Opinion writer.

MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace shows a political video she says should be all over TV immediately

MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace shows a political video she says should be all over TV immediately

Sarah K. Burris – June 28, 2024

MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace shows a political video she says should be all over TV immediately

MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace

President Joe Biden took to a North Carolina stage with a fiery speech after a widely criticized debate.

It was the kind of vintage Biden that left MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace with demands of the campaign.

“That should be cut into an ad, and it should be the most money they’ve spent  on TV TV so far. That should be running on every swing state digital and broadcast  TV by tomorrow morning. That is a person who could win. And I think a lot of Democrats, to Cornell’s [Belcher] point, ran away from the president after coming to the conclusion that the person they saw last night.

Rev. Al Sharpton demanded the ad be put on immediately, not tomorrow.

Read Also: To win the debate, Biden just needs to be Biden

“Yes!” Wallace exclaimed.

Sharpton went on to say that Biden’s story is a story of someone who is constantly knocked down and had to come back up.

“I got calls all night,” he said. “And I kept saying to them, do you have a short memory? Just a few years ago, to be exact, 3 1/2 years ago, I happened to be in Charleston, South Carolina, after the Democratic debate, having breakfast, and all of the candidates came. Joe Biden had just entered the race, and he was beaten in New Hampshire, and Jim Clyburn and him hooked up, and he took off. “

Wallace confessed that as a member of the media, she and others have “spent almost a grotesque amount of time trying to understand the bond of [Donald] Trump and his base. And compared to that very small amount of time to understand Joe Biden’s tie to his.”

What Rev. Sharpton was getting at, she said, is “something that has been missed by the, sort of, elite media, is that people see themselves in Joe Biden’s resilience and having to overcome to stutter. They see him in the agony of losing a child, a wife, and a daughter and in parenting someone who struggles with the disease of addiction.”

Now, I don’t think anyone can see themselves in him having to watch his own government prosecute his own son and then saying that he loves this country so much and the rule of law that he won’t pardon him; that’s almost next level. But there is something we miss about the voters and the Biden base’s ties to Biden that I think is really underscored by that clip from today’s speech.”

Team Trump Has a Ukraine Plan—and It’s a Total Nightmare

The New Republic – Opinion

Team Trump Has a Ukraine Plan—and It’s a Total Nightmare

Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling – June 25, 2024

Donald Trump’s advisers have revealed their new plan for resolving the war between Russia and Ukraine—and it involves Ukraine’s immediate submission.

The plan effectively promises an increase in U.S. weapons aid to Ukraine so long as it shows up for peace talks with Russia, reported Reuters. And while that deal may not sound so bad, the writing between the lines isn’t so simple. Trump’s advisers envision that the peace talks—which Trump would facilitate should he win the November election—would also quietly include Ukraine ceding part of its territory that is currently occupied by Russian forces.

The concept was drawn up by retired Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg and Fred Fleitz, both former chiefs of staff on Trump’s National Security Council. Trump did not immediately sign on to “every word” of the plan, but Fleitz told Reuters that they were “pleased to get the feedback we did.”

The Kremlin told Reuters that Russian President Vladimir Putin is open to peace talks, but that any proposal by a possible future Trump administration would have to reflect the “reality on the ground.”

When pressed on the details of the plan, Fleitz explained that Ukraine would not formally need to relinquish its land to Russian forces. He did concede, however, that Ukraine was unlikely to regain control of all of its territory in the near future.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said that ending the war on the borders of its current front lines—where Russia has gained a foothold in the southeast portion of Ukraine—would be “strange,” pointing to the fact that Russia had violated international law by invading it in the first place.

“Ukraine has an absolutely clear understanding and it is spelled out in the peace formula proposed by President [Volodymyr] Zelenskiy, it is clearly stated there—peace can only be fair and peace can only be based on international law,” Podolyak told Reuters.

The plan’s promise to send more military aid to Ukraine only if it admits defeat and ends the war seems a bit counterintuitive—and disingenuous, considering that Trump and his advisers have done practically everything within their power to undermine sending more military aid to the embattled nation since the beginning of the year. And the plan’s obvious benefit to Russia also raises further concerns over Trump’s notoriously cushy—and sometimes subservient—relationship with Putin.

Panicking Trump Tries Yet Another Get-Out-of-Debate-Free Card

The New Republic – Opinion

Panicking Trump Tries Yet Another Get-Out-of-Debate-Free Card

Edith Olmsted – June 25, 2024

Donald Trump’s campaign is hard at work manufacturing a reason for him to skip Thursday’s presidential debate, and his latest tactic is the most ridiculous one yet.

Trump and his former White House doctor Representative Ronny Jackson, who reportedly kept the former president’s administration “awash in speed,” have repeatedly suggested that President Joe Biden will take performance-enhancing drugs before the debate, as part of their crusade to undermine the event and give Trump a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Now they’ve elevated their own bonkers conspiracy theory even further: Trump posted a letter to Truth Social on Monday that Jackson supposedly sent to the White House demanding Biden submit to a drug test before the debate.

“I demand that you submit to a clinically validated drug test in order to reassure the American people that you are mentally fit to serve as President and not relying on performance enhancing drugs to help you with your debate performance,” Jackson wrote. The pill-pushing Texas Republican demanded that the results of the president’s drug test be made public.

In his letter, Jackson echoed Trump’s and right-wing media’s insistence that Biden is suffering from cognitive decline, including a reference to a video of Biden that had been doctored to make him appear to wander away from a group at the G7 conference, and Robert Hur’s damning report casting public doubt on Biden’s memory. Hur’s characterization of their interview has been contested by the White House.

All of this concocted drama around drug use, as well as claims that CNN will host a biased debate, positively reek of desperation to get the former president out of Thursday night’s presidential showdown. It’s not surprising, as Trump is not suited to actual debate: His speech is often erratic and incoherent, and he’s prone to going off on tangents. Plus, Trump has historically taken a hit in the polls after debating with Democrats, in 2016, and again in 2020. While Trump loves to hype up a crowd, he’s just not that convincing when he’s sharing the stage.

It also appears that Jackson may soon want to focus on problems of his own. The House Ethics Committee announced Monday that it will review a report from a congressional watchdog that discovered “substantial reason” to believe that Jackson had converted thousands of dollars of campaign money for his own personal use.

Jackson was demoted by the U.S. Navy in 2022 after the Pentagon inspector general found that he regularly drank on the job, berated his subordinates, and acted inappropriately. Last year, Jackson was filmed unleashing a profanity-laced tirade on a Department of Public Safety officer.

Why Republicans Are Talking About Biden’s ‘Dictatorship’

Jamelle Bouie – June 25, 2024

The dome of the Capitol at night, shrouded in clouds.
Credit…Will Matsuda for The New York Times

The United States under President Biden is a “dictatorship,” according to Doug Burgum, governor of North Dakota.

“Under Joe Biden,“ Burgum told Fox News, “we’re actually living under a dictatorship today where he’s, you know, bypassing Congress on immigration policy; he’s bypassing Congress on protecting our border; he’s bypassing Congress on student loan forgiveness; he’s defying the Supreme Court.”

Asked on Sunday to defend his claim, Burgum, who is apparently on the short list of potential running mates for Donald Trump, stood his ground, telling CNN that Biden is “bypassing the other two branches of government to push an ideological view of — whether it’s on economics or whether it’s on climate extremism — he’s doing that without using the other branches.”

It is an odd sort of dictatorship in which the head of state is bound by the rule of law as well as by the authority of other constitutional actors, one in which the dictator’s critics can organize to defeat him in an election without intimidation, penalty or threat of legal sanction — and in which he will leave office if he loses. If nothing else, it is hard to imagine a world in which Biden is both a dictator and someone who would allow Burgum, a regime opponent, to speak freely on national television as he works to defeat Biden at the ballot box.

In fairness to the North Dakota governor, he was trying to make a point about a perceived double standard, in which Trump and not Biden is blasted as an authoritarian for his use of executive orders. But even this is misleading, because the issue with Trump is not the use of executive orders per se. Instead, it is his demonstrated contempt for democratic accountability — he does not accept the right of an electorate to remove him from office — his desire to use the instruments of state to inflict punishment and suffering on his political enemies and his efforts to transform the office of the presidency and the broader executive branch into instruments of his personalist rule.

(That said, there is a conversation for another day about the overreliance on executive orders by presidents of both parties as a symptom of congressional weakness and a product of long-running structural transformations in the nature of the presidency, tied specifically to the growth and pre-eminence of the national security state.)

Governor Burgum is obviously wrong about the idea that Biden is a dictator. But he is not the only Trump ally to speak in such dire terms about the United States. As Politico’s Ian Ward noted, Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio — another Republican hoping to stand with Trump as his second — believes that “the United States is on the verge of going up in smoke” and that “electing Trump represents the only hope that Americans have for getting off the path to literal civilization collapse.”

And Russ Vought, former budget chief in the Trump administration and one of the architects of the former president’s second-term agenda, believes that Americans are living in a “post-constitutional” moment that justifies the radical use of executive power to quash protesters with the military, the gutting of the federal civil service in favor of a spoils system for Trump loyalists and the seizing of the power of the purse from Congress. He urges his comrades in arms to “cast ourselves as dissidents of the current regime and to put on our shoulders the full weight of envisioning, articulating, and defending what a Radical Constitutionalism requires in the late hour that our country finds itself in, and then to do it.”

Just as Americans are not living under a Biden dictatorship — in which the watchful eye of Dark Brandon prowls the nation in search of malarkey — the United States is also not on the verge of collapse. Our economy is the envy of the world, we remain the pre-eminent military power, and for all of its serious problems of representation and inclusion, our political system is still capable of handling at least a few of the major issues that face the nation. It does not downplay the challenges we confront to say that we have the capacity and the resources to meet them head on. That, if anything, makes it all the more frustrating that we have not yet secured decent housing, health care, child care and education for everyone in this country. None of these things are beyond our material ability to accomplish — far from it.

Of course, even mentioning the reality of conditions in the United States is a bit beside the point, because the breathless catastrophizing by Trump and his allies is not an expression of ignorance as much as it is a statement of intent. Rhetorically, the MAGA political project of personalist rule in support of social hierarchy, unrestrained capital and the destruction of public goods depends on the conceit that the nation exists in a state of exception that demands extraordinary — and extreme — measures to resolve.

The cultivation of this notion of a state of exception, of a sense of emergency, is the overriding aim of MAGA political messaging. The targets change — in 2020 it was leftists and protesters, this year it is migrants and refugees again, as it was in 2016 — but the goal is always the same: to designate an enemy, to label that enemy an urgent threat to society and to try to win power on a promise to destroy that enemy by any means necessary.

Embedded in this maneuver is a radical claim of sovereignty. The so-called enemy is whoever Trump says it is, and once designated, the entire political system must bend to his will on the notion that he, alone, can fix it.

Sovereign power of the sort that Trump and his allies gesture toward does not exist in the American system as traditionally understood, and there is no provision in our Constitution by which the executive can set aside the rule of law to deal with threats and emergencies. But the point of this rhetoric of exception is to set the conditions for doing just that — for creating an actual state of exception in American politics.

Put another way, if we are on the verge of civilizational collapse, if we are in a post-constitutional moment, if we are already in a dictatorship, then anything is permitted in defense of the old order. And if democracy should stand in the way of recovery and restoration, then democracy should, perhaps, be set aside.

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln did not present himself as a bulwark of liberty who could resolve the crisis alone. He tried, as much as possible, to embody and act on his deep belief in the rule of law. For example, after taking unilateral steps to confront the rebellion and defend the Union at the outset of the conflict, he went to Congress to ask for its blessing and support. In his message, issued on July 4, 1861, Lincoln did not make demands or assert extraordinary powers.

Instead, the political scientist Nomi Claire Lazar wrote, Lincoln invited “Congress to share the burden of both reflection and action, to consider and judge the reasons he has given.” What guided his deliberations, she continued, is “precisely a commitment to the rule of law as a collective and collaborative project. What is the best we can do, given the constraints and imperatives, he asks, and how can we do our best together?”

If there is anything to know about either Trump or his closest allies, it is that they do not share this commitment to collaboration or deliberation or public reason. They know only force and dominance. And they want everything to be a crisis, not for an opportunity to affirm democracy, but for a chance to undermine it.

More on the rise of “post-constitutionalism”

David French: MAGA Turns Against the Constitution – June 6, 2024

Peter Wehner: Christian Doomsayers Have Lost It – Dec. 6, 2019

Jamelle Bouie became a New York Times Opinion columnist in 2019. Before that he was the chief political correspondent for Slate magazine. He is based in Charlottesville, Va., and Washington.

Things to know about dangerous rip currents and how swimmers caught in one can escape

Associated Press

Things to know about dangerous rip currents and how swimmers caught in one can escape

Curt Anderson – June 24, 2024

This image provided by NOAA, pictures a harmless green dye used to show a rip current. Rip currents are powerful, narrow channels of fast-moving water that are prevalent along the East, Gulf, and West coasts of the U.S., as well as along the shores of the Great Lakes. About 100 people drown from rip currents along U.S. beaches each year, according to the U.S. Lifesaving Association. (NOAA via AP)
A no swimming flag is visible as waves crash against the rocks at Haulover Beach Park, November 18, 2020, in Miami Beach, Florida. About 100 people drown from rip currents along U.S. beaches each year, according to the U.S. Lifesaving Association, and more than 80 percent of beach rescues annually involve rip currents. (David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP, File)
Beachgoers walk past warning flags and signs, Jan. 13, 2020, in Pompano Beach, Fla. About 100 people drown from rip currents along U.S. beaches each year, according to the U.S. Lifesaving Association, and more than 80 percent of beach rescues annually involve rip currents. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, File)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Stinging jellyfish, rays with their whip-like tails and sharks on the hunt are some ocean hazards that might typically worry beachgoers. But rip currents are the greatest danger and account for the most beach rescues every year.

Six people drowned in rip currents over a recent two-day period in Florida, including a couple vacationing on Hutchinson Island from Pennsylvania with their six children and three young men on a Panhandle holiday from Alabama, officials say.

About 100 people drown from rip currents along U.S. beaches each year, according to the United States Lifesaving Association. And more than 80 percent of beach rescues annually involve rip currents.

The National Weather Service lists 16 known deaths so far in 2024 from rip currents in U.S. waters, including the Florida fatalities as well as eight deaths in Puerto Rico and two in Texas.

Here are some things to know about rip currents:

What is a rip current?

Rip currents are narrow columns of water flowing rapidly away from the beach, like a swift stream within the ocean. They don’t pull swimmers under water, but can carry them out a fair distance from shore.

Low spots along the beach, or areas near jetties or piers, are often where rip currents form. They can be connected to stormy weather but also sometimes occur during sunny days. They can be hard to detect because the surface water often appears calm.

The current can flow as swiftly as eight feet per second (3.2 meters per second), faster than even a strong swimmer can overcome, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“If you’re caught in one and you try to swim straight in, you’re not going to be able to,” said Daniel Barnickel of Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue.

How can someone escape a rip current?

The most frequent advice from beach rescue teams and weather forecasters is to not panic and look for a chance to swim parallel to the shore until the swimmer is out of the rip current’s grip. It will eventually dissipate but might leave the swimmer out in deeper water.

It’s nearly impossible to fight the current directly. Many swimmers who get in trouble tire themselves out trying to get back to the beach, lifeguards say. If possible, it’s best to swim near a lifeguard station.

“Most of our rip current rescues happen outside the guarded areas because we’re not there to prevent it from happening,” Barnickel said.

What warning systems exist for rip currents?

Flags with different colors are used to warn beachgoers of various hazards.

Three flags warn of surf and rip current conditions. Red means a high hazard, yellow means a moderate threat and green means low danger. There’s also purple for dangerous sea life, like jellyfish, and double red when a beach is closed for any reason.

The National Weather Service posts rip current risks on its websites around the coasts and has developed a computer model that can predict when conditions are favorable for their formation up to six days in advance for the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Guam.

“Before this, forecasters were manually predicting rip currents on a large section of the ocean twice a day and only a day or two into the future. The earlier prediction has potential to substantially increase awareness and reduce drownings,” said Gregory Dusek, a NOAA scientist who developed the model, in a post on the agency’s website.

High risk warnings were posted for most Florida beaches last week, when the drownings occurred.

Should someone attempt a rip current rescue?

It can be dangerous to try to rescue someone caught in a rip current, officials say. Often the people trying to perform the rescue can get into trouble themselves.

It’s best to find a lifeguard, if there is one, or call 911 if a struggling swimmer is spotted. People on shore can also try to tell the person to swim parallel to shore.

“Never swim alone. And always make sure that there’s an adult. And make sure that you don’t overestimate your abilities. Know your limits,” Barnickel said.

Associated Press video journalist Cody Jackson in Palm Beach contributed to this story.

Grim Irony: Curbing Air Pollution Is Warming the Earth Faster


Grim Irony: Curbing Air Pollution Is Warming the Earth Faster

Frank Landymore – June 25, 2024

Cool Factor

Have industrial emissions been counteracting the worst effects of global warming? Scientists are starting to think so.

Burning coal, oil, and gas warms our planet by dispersing greenhouse gases, like CO2, into the atmosphere. And before the introduction of more stringent environmental regulations, these fuel sources would often contain deadly pollutants like sulfur oxide that contribute to the deaths of millions of people globally.

World governments have rightly fought to curb pollutants. But as a growing body evidence is beginning to show, these airborne particles, or aerosols, have likely mitigated rising temperatures by reflecting sunlight and boosting the reflectivity of clouds — and as a result, concealed just how bad global warming actually is.

The extent of the cooling they’ve caused is more contentious. Nonetheless, it’s a grim irony that exemplifies the complexities of understanding — nevermind protecting — our climate.

“We’re starting from an area of deep, deep uncertainty,” Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist from the University of California, Berkeley, told The Washington Post. “It could be a full degree of cooling being masked.”

Abandon Ship

One of the biggest drop-offs in pollutants may come from the shipping industry, whose regulatory body in 2020 started limiting the use of the dirty, sulfur-spewing fuels its massive vessels once relied on, in favor of cleaner alternatives.

But with the resulting decrease in aerosols, recent research has shown that these cuts in shipping pollution has directly led to more solar radiation being trapped in our atmosphere, which could explain why 2023 was the hottest year on record by a margin that alarmed even scientists.

That doesn’t augur well for the future: the authors of the research suggested that as we curb these deadly pollutants, we could experience double the rate of global warming compared to the average since 1880.

As WaPo notes, however, many experts think the warming will be less pronounced, contributing somewhere between 0.05 degrees and 0.1  degrees Celsius of an uptick — which, of course, is still significantly worrying.

Clear the Air

There is, perhaps, a silver lining. The same cooling principle of these pollutants could be wielded in an experimental technique called marine cloud brightening, which would involve deliberately injecting safe aerosols into the atmosphere to cause clouds to reflect more sunlight and to increase cloud cover.

This is unproven and controversial, though, and the researchers behind the shipping study have suggested that their findings are an example of the downsides of pursuing that technique: the minute we stop pumping aerosols into the atmosphere, global temperatures will soar again, perhaps even more drastically than before.

At any rate, clarifying these gray areas will be paramount for climate scientists. The picture is more complicated than we once thought, and determining how much aerosols figure into it will be essential if humanity is to keep global warming short of even more disastrous levels.

“It’s not just a story of greenhouse gas emissions,” Robert Wood, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, told WaPo. “Whether you clean up rapidly, or whether you just fumble along with the same aerosol emissions, could be the difference of whether you cross the 2-degree Celsius threshold or not.”

We’ve been accidentally cooling the planet — and it’s about to stop

The Washington Post

We’ve been accidentally cooling the planet — and it’s about to stop

Shannon Osaka – June 25, 2024

Smoke ash spews from the chimney of the coal power plant owned by Indonesian Power in Cilegon, Sept. 2023 (Photo by Aditya Irawan/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

It is widely accepted that humans have been heating up the planet for over a century by burning coal, oil and gas. Earth has already warmed by almost 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times, and the planet is poised to race past the hoped-for limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.

But fewer people know that burning fossil fuels doesn’t just cause global warming – it also causes global cooling. It is one of the great ironies of climate change that air pollution, which has killed tens of millions, has also curbed some of the worst effects of a warming planet.

Tiny particles from the combustion of coal, oil and gas can reflect sunlight and spur the formation of clouds, shading the planet from the sun’s rays. Since the 1980s, those particles have offset between 40 and 80 percent of the warming caused by greenhouse gases.

And now, as society cleans up pollution, that cooling effect is waning. New regulations have cut the amount of sulfur aerosols from global shipping traffic across the oceans; China, fighting its own air pollution problem, has slashed sulfur pollution dramatically in the last decade.

The result is even warmer temperatures – but exactly how much warmer is still under debate. The answer will have lasting impacts on humanity’s ability to meet its climate goals.

“We’re starting from an area of deep, deep uncertainty,” said Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist and research lead for the payments company Stripe. “It could be a full degree of cooling being masked.”

Most of the cooling from air pollution comes through sulfur aerosols, in two ways. The particles themselves are reflective, bouncing the sun’s rays away and shading the Earth. They also make existing clouds brighter and more mirror-like, thus cooling the Earth.

Coal and oil are around 1 to 2 percent sulfur – and when humans burn fossil fuels, that sulfur spills into the atmosphere. It is deadly: Sulfur dioxide has been linked to respiratory problems and other chronic diseases, and air pollution contributes to about 1 in 10 deaths worldwide.

Over the past few decades, countries have worked to phase out these pollutants, starting with the United States and the European Union, followed by China and India. China has cut its sulfur dioxide emissions by over 70 percent since 2005 by installing new technologies and scrubbers on fossil fuel plants. More recently, the International Maritime Organization instituted restrictions in 2020 on the amount of sulfur allowed in shipping fuels – one of the dirtiest fuels used in transportation. Shipping emissions of sulfur dioxide immediately dropped by about 80 percent. Mediterranean countries are planning a similar shipping regulation for 2025.

“There has been a pretty steep decline over the last 10 years,” said Duncan Watson-Parris, an assistant professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego.

These moves have saved lives – according to estimates, around 200,000 premature deaths have already been avoided in China, and the new shipping regulations could save around 50,000 lives per year. But they have also boosted global temperatures. Scientists estimate that the changes in aerosols from the new shipping rule alone could contribute between 0.05 and 0.2 degrees Celsius of warming over the next few decades.

Some researchers have suggested that the changes to ocean shipping regulations may have been a big contributor to last year’s record heat – and that aerosols may have been masking much more heat than previously thought. Satellite images have shown that cloud changes declined after sulfur emissions went down.

“The data from NASA satellites shows that in regions where this should be expected, there’s a very strong increase in absorbed solar radiation,” said Leon Simons, an independent researcher and a member of the Club of Rome of the Netherlands, pointing to shipping areas affected by the new rules. “And also in this period you see sea surface temperatures increasing in the same region.”

In one new paper, scientists at the University of Maryland argued that the decrease in aerosols could double the rate of warming in the 2020s, compared to the rate since 1980. But other researchers have critiqued their results.

Many experts believe the effect is likely to be modest – between 0.05 and 0.1 degrees Celsius. “I don’t think it’s possible to get better than a factor of two, in terms of how uncertain we are,” said Michael Diamond, a professor of meteorology and environmental science at Florida State University.

Some scientists see the shipping regulation as an analog to a way that researchers are exploring to halt global warming: purposefully brightening clouds using less polluting methods. In Alameda, Calif., researchers recently released sea salt aerosols into the atmosphere as a first step to study how the particles could brighten clouds and reflect sunlight. City officials later halted the project, despite reports showing that the experiment was safe.

But the real issue is still ahead. Currently, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that aerosols are masking about 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming. But that value could be as high as 1 degree or as low as 0.2 degrees – and the difference could be the difference between meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris agreement or not.

If aerosols have been masking cooling much more than expected, for example, the world could be poised to blow past its climate targets without realizing it.

Almost 200 of the world’s nations pledged in the Paris agreement to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), compared to preindustrial levels. Scientists believe that many dangerous impacts, from the collapse of coral reefs to the melting of major ice sheets, will occur somewhere between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius.

“It’s not just a story of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Robert Wood, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington. “Whether you clean up rapidly, or whether you just fumble along with the same aerosol emissions, could be the difference of whether you cross the 2-degree Celsius threshold or not.”

No scientists are advocating a halt to aerosol clean up efforts – the death tolls from air pollution are simply too high. “There are really good reasons to want to be cleaning up air pollution,” Diamond said. “The public health benefits are really important.”

But researchers worry that cleaning up air pollution without halting fossil fuel use – as, for example, in China – could be a recipe for even greater and faster warming. “We need to make sure that we’re doing it at the same time as cleaning up methane and cleaning up CO2,” Diamond said. Cutting methane emissions, he noted, could help offset the effects of declining aerosols. Methane has a warming effect, but like aerosols, doesn’t remain in the atmosphere for very long.

Still, a lot of scientific questions remain – and until they are answered, the world won’t know exactly how much warming falling aerosols will unmask.

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Harry Stevens contributed to this report.