The Democrat blocking progressive change is beholden to big oil. Surprised?

The Democrat blocking progressive change is beholden to big oil. Surprised?

<span>Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP</span>
United States Senator from West Virginia
Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

 

As “thousand-year” heat waves caused by the climate crisis rock the west coast and biblical floods engulf major cities, Senate Democrats are negotiating a $3.5tn budget package that could include an attempt to slow the use of fossil fuels over the next decade.

One prominent senator is very concerned about proposals to scale back oil, gas and coal usage. He recently argued that those who want to “get rid of” fossil fuels are wrong. Eliminating fossil fuels won’t help fight global heating, he claimed, against all evidence. “If anything, it would be worse.”

Which rightwing Republican uttered these false, climate crisis-denying words?

Wrong question. The speaker was a Democrat: Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

West Virginia is a major coal-producing state. But Manchin’s investment in dirty energy goes far beyond the economic interests of the voters who elect him every six years. In fact, coal has made Manchin and his family very wealthy. He founded the private coal brokerage Enersystems in 1988 and still owns a big stake in the company, which his son currently runs.

In 2020 alone, Manchin raked in nearly $500,000 of income from Enersystems, and he owns as much as $5m worth of stock in the company, according to his most recent financial disclosure.

Despite this conflict of interest, Manchin chairs the influential Senate energy and natural resources committee, which has jurisdiction over coal production and distribution, coal research and development, and coal conversion, as well as “global climate change”.

He even gave a pro-coal speech in May to the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) while personally profiting from Enersystems’ coal sales to utility companies that are EEI members, as Sludge recently reported.

Manchin is one of many members of Congress who are personally invested in the fossil fuel industry – dozens of Congress members hold Exxon stock – but he is among the biggest profiters. As of late 2019, he had more money invested in dirty energy than any other senator.

How can this be? Wouldn’t basic ethics prevent someone from being in charge of legislation that could materially benefit them? Unfortunately, conflict-of-interest rules in the Senate are remarkably weak. And guess who is seeking to strip conflict-of-interest rules from a 2021 democracy reform bill?

His proposal “leaves out language that S 1 would add to federal statute prohibiting lawmakers from working on bills primarily for furthering their financial interests”, Sludge reported.

Manchin, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, has used the evenly split chamber to block Joe Biden’s agenda. In the process he has become arguably the most powerful person in Washington. Hardly any Democratic legislation can pass without his vote.

That’s a problem – especially given that Manchin sometimes seems like he’s an honorary Republican. Earlier this month the Texas Tribune and other publications reported that Manchin was heading to Texas for a fundraiser hosted by several major Republican donors, including oil billionaires.

Manchin, along with Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, has vowed to protect the filibuster – a rule, frequently used to empower white supremacists, that requires 60 votes for most Senate bills to pass. That includes vital voting rights legislation, passed by the House, that is the only way to stop the Republican party from eviscerating what’s left of our democracy in the name of the “big lie” of voter fraud.

Because of his uniquely powerful position as a swing vote, Manchin can rewrite major legislation to his liking – effectively dictating the legislative agendas of Congress and the White House.

It appears that Manchin will have his way with the White House’s infrastructure package as well, and his changes will probably be more devastating, given the climate emergency we live in.

Manchin isn’t just sticking up for the coal industry and his family’s generational wealth; he’s doing the bidding of oil and gas executives, who also stand to lose money if the nation transitions away from toxic fuels.

Manchin’s political campaigns are fueled by the dirty energy industry. Over the past decade, his election campaigns have received nearly $65,000 from disastrously dishonest oil giant Exxon’s lobbyists, its corporate political action committee, and the lobbying firms that Exxon works with. A top Exxon lobbyist recently bragged about his access to Manchin.

In the 2018 election cycle, his most recent, Manchin’s campaign got more money from oil and gas Pacs and employees than any other Senate Democrat except then North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp. Manchin was also the mining industry’s top Democratic recipient in Congress that cycle.

If Biden wants to have any kind of legacy, he needs to stand up to Manchin, a member of his own party, and work with the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, to get him in line. I don’t fully know why Biden permits the West Virginian to dictate his own presidential policy agenda. But what is crystal clear is that the leader of the United States should be doing a whole lot more.

  • Alex Kotch is an investigative reporter and editor with the Center for Media and Democracy, a nationally recognized watchdog that leads award-winning investigations into the corruption that undermines our democracy, environment, and economic prosperity
  • This article was produced in partnership with the Center for Media and Democracy

Letters to the Editor: Do Americans see how backward they look to the world on guns?

Letters to the Editor: Do Americans see how backward they look to the world on guns?

Kem Regik, of Virginia, stands on the sidewalk before a pro gun rally, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Richmond, Va. There was a light crowd early morning Monday outside the Capitol ahead of the rally. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
A supporter of gun rights prepares for a rally in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 20, 2020. (Associated Press)

To the editor: I appreciated LZ Granderson’ op-ed column on this country’s gun worship.

I grew up in England, where gun violence was unheard of. I never once worried that someone might have a gun or that my life might be affected by gun violence.

Here in the United States, it’s impossible to find someone whose life hasn’t been impacted by gun violence. If Americans could see just how violent our society is, and how guns contribute to that violence, we might start to consider that our “rights” are meaningless if the cost is human life.

Gun violence is going to continue to get worse until people wake up from their stupor and realize that having more than 300 million firearms in circulation doesn’t make us safer. Rather, it makes us an outlier, the most violent and deadly society among the world’s modern and affluent countries.

David Tempest, Mar Vista

..

To the editor: We shouldn’t let gun worship define American patriotism and, for the most part we don’t.

But we have just had a president who was the very definition of toxic masculinity, and gun worship is a part of toxic masculinity. So we’re stuck with these gun nuts who consider themselves patriots, even though most of us think they do not deserve to be called thus.

The scariest part of Granderson’s column is that his examples of what seem like thwarted mass shootings show our police and judges don’t take the dangers posed by people holed up in hotel rooms with small arsenals seriously.

Joan DaVanzo, Long Beach

..

To the editor: With the sad increase in homicides, I was reminded of my dad’s words when my sister and I would argue. His plaintive plea: “Can’t we all just get along?”

Such a simplistic answer to a complicated problem, right?

Now, I want to shout in the same exasperated tone my father had, “People, we gotta be nicer to each other!”

Nora Barsuk, Glendale

Red Tide, stench of dead fish hangs over Fort De Soto beaches

Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla

Red Tide, stench of dead fish hangs over Fort De Soto beaches

 

TIERRA VERDE — A handful of anglers cast their lines off Fort De Soto’s fishing pier on Friday into Red Tide-infested waters.

 

In the sand below them lay dead snook and tarpon, grouper and horseshoe crabs, eels and pufferfish. The stench of dead marine life filled the air at Fort De Soto Park on Friday, one of the crown jewels of Pinellas County beach tourism.

One family waded out and tried putting their baby in the water. The baby cried.

They all drove past an 8 foot by 11 foot sign at the toll both with this warning in bold, italicized capital letters: RED TIDE.

None of those anglers or beach-goers wished to speak to a Tampa Bay Times reporter about why they had braved fish kills and Red Tide to visit the beach. Not many chose to join them on a summer morning in July.

While huge fish kills are being cleaned from St. Petersburg’s shoreline, Red Tide remains a problem for the Pinellas beaches as well.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Red Tide map shows high concentrations of the Karenia brevis cells that cause Red Tide were found along the county’s Gulf shores at Fort De Soto Bay Pier, Bunces Pass near the Pinellas Bayway, the 7th Avenue Pier near Pass-A-Grille Channel and as far north as Indian Shores Beach.

There were also areas of medium concentrations in water samples taken near Madeira Beach and Clearwater Beach.

The fish kills within Fort De Soto Park appeared to be mostly limited to the southern edge of the beaches, but the smell was everywhere.

While there are high concentrations of Red Tide found near Pass-a-Grille Beach, hardly any fish had washed ashore there.

Inside Fort De Soto, signs for Saturday’s Top Gun Triathlon — the biking is set to take place along the park’s roads, while the water will be used for swimming — remained in place on Friday. The organizers did not return calls for comment, but its Facebook page indicated the event will still be held.

Just outside the park, Peter Clark, president of Tampa Bay Watch in Tierra Verde, said the area is seeing far more dead fish over the last few days.

“There is a pretty strong Red Tide blooming right now,” Clark said.

Clark said the Red Tide is now killing fish in the Tierra Verde waters itself, whereas before dead fish from Tampa Bay washed ashore. He said he’s seen poisoned fish struggling on the surface of the water.

This week, his walks outside have been met with the pungent odor of dead sea life. He urges residents to check the Red Tide levels of whatever beaches or waterfront spot they visit before they go out there.

Red Tide resources

There are several online resources that can help residents stay informed and share information about Red Tide:

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a website that tracks where Red Tide is detected and how strong it is.

Florida Poison Control Centers have a toll-free 24/7 hotline to report illnesses, including from exposure to Red Tide: 1-800-222-1222

To report fish kills and get them cleaned up in Tampa Bay, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-800-636-0511 or file a fish kill report online.

To report them in St. Petersburg, call the Mayor’s Action Center at 727-893-7111 or use St. Petersburg’s seeclickfix website.

Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the county’s tourism wing, runs an online beach dashboard at www.beachesupdate.com.

Pinellas County shares information with the Red Tide Respiratory Forecast tool that allows beachgoers to check for warnings.

How to stay safe near the water
  • Beachgoers should avoid swimming around dead fish.
  • Those with chronic respiratory problems should be particularly careful and “consider staying away” from places with a Red Tide bloom.
  • People should not harvest or eat mollusks or distressed and dead fish from the area. Fillets of healthy fish should be rinsed with clean water, and the guts thrown out.
  • Pet owners should keep their animals away from the water and from dead fish.
  • Residents living near the beach should close their windows and run air conditioners with proper filters.
  • Visitors to the beach can wear paper masks, especially if the wind is blowing in.

Source: Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County

Former Trump official says the GOP is the ‘number 1 national security threat’ to the US, bigger than ISIS or Russia

Former Trump official says the GOP is the ‘number 1 national security threat’ to the US, bigger than ISIS or Russia

  • An ex-Trump official said the GOP is the top national security threat to the US.
  • “Unless my Party reforms, its extremist elements represent the leading threat to our democracy,” he said.
  • Democracy scholars have issued similar warnings about the GOP, particularly since January 6.

A former Trump administration official on Thursday said the Republican party is the top national security threat to the US, as the party’s rank-and-file lawmakers continue to support former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud that incited the Jan. 6 insurrection and use it as a rationale to impose voting restrictions.

“I’ve spent my whole career not as a political operative. I’ve never worked on a campaign in my life other than campaigning against Trump. I’m a national security guy. I’ve worked in national security against ISIS, al Qaeda and Russia,” Miles Taylor, a former Homeland Security official, said in an appearance on MSNBC’s “The Reid Out.”

“And the number one national security threat I’ve ever seen in my life to this country’s democracy is the party that I’m in – the Republican Party. It is the number one security national security threat to the United States of America,” Taylor added.

The former Homeland Security official has been an outspoken critic of Trump and his influence in the GOP. Taylor launched an anti-Trump GOP group and endorsed President Joe Biden during the 2020 campaign season, and in October was revealed as the anonymous author of a 2018 New York Times op-ed article that said there was a “resistance” in the Trump administration.

Read more: Where is Trump’s White House staff now? We created a searchable database of more than 328 top staffers to show where they all landed

Though Trump is no longer in the White House, he continues to wield unparalleled authority in the Republican party. Taylor on Thursday warned Americans that they should be concerned for the future of the country if this trend continues.

“If [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy continues to pay homage to a twice-impeached presidential loser, I think should give all Americans pause and make them worry about the future of this country and national security,” Taylor said.

-The ReidOut (@thereidout) July 15, 2021

 

Taylor doubled-down on his remarks in a tweet on Friday.

“I stand by my statement. Unless my Party reforms, its extremist elements represent the leading threat to our democracy,” he said.

Scholars on democracy have issued stark warnings following the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, as the GOP vies to whitewash the fatal attack and Republican-led legislatures nationwide take extraordinary steps to restrict voting.

“With Trump gone, I hoped the Republican party might recalibrate, moving away from his illiberal, anti-democratic and irrational behavior and embracing a conservative, but firmly reality-based and small ‘d’ democratic politics,” Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Barnard College and author of “Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancient Régime to the Present Day,” told Insider last month.

“That the Republican party has proven to be a greater threat than Trump – a single individual – bodes poorly for the health of American democracy,” Berman added.

How the wealthy use debt ‘as a tool to screw the government and everybody else’

MarketWatch – Extra Credit

How the wealthy use debt ‘as a tool to screw the government and everybody else’

An interview with the professor who coined the term ‘Buy, Borrow, Die,’ and a look at how debt destabilized Haiti.

Elon Musk and other billionaires frequently use debt to their advantage, according to recent reporting by ProPublica. But for other Americans, debt can lead to jail time. Brendan Smialowski/Agent France – Press/Getty Images.

Hello and welcome back to MarketWatch’s Extra Credit column, a weekly look at the news through the lens of debt.

This week we’re tackling the economic forces luring borrowers into debt and how a centuries’-old debt imposed on Haiti is still affecting the country today. But first up, how the rich use borrowing to their advantage.

Debt can mean a tax advantage for some and jail for others

ProPublica’s investigation into billionaires’ tax returns has more people paying attention to the strategies wealthy Americans use to avoid paying taxes. As it turns out, one of those tactics involves the advantageous use of debt. There’s even a catchphrase for it — Buy, Borrow, Die — that was the subject of a recent Wall Street Journal article.

In both the ProPublica and Wall Street Journal articles, I was struck by the way the wealthy opted to use debt as a strategy, when many borrowers I encounter in my reporting are relying on loans because they have to. I called Edward McCaffery, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, who says he coined the phrase Buy, Borrow, Die decades ago, to learn more about it.

McCaffery said he first started thinking about the idea a few years into his tax law teaching career, when he noticed how certain tax law doctrines could benefit the wealthy. For example, the realization requirement, which means you don’t pay taxes on an asset until it produces cash.

That allows for the wealthy to build up their assets tax free. To most of us, it would seem that the problem with that method is that “sooner or later you’re going to have to sell,” he said. But that’s actually not the case. As long as someone is wealthy enough to live on a percentage of their assets, they never have to sell.

Instead, they can borrow against those assets at an interest rate that’s much lower than the rate at which the assets will appreciate over time, McCaffery said, and use those funds as spending money. But unlike the wages and salary most people use to pay for living expenses, the borrowing isn’t taxed, so they face a relatively low tax bill. Once they die, the assets pass to their descendents tax-free or with minimal tax treatment.

‘Need debt, you get screwed, don’t need debt you can use it as a tool to screw the government and everybody else.’

— Edward McCaffery, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, who says he coined the phrase Buy, Borrow, Die

When McCaffery first started talking about Buy, Borrow, Die, 25 years ago, he said many were skeptical. For one, there wasn’t evidence that wealthy people were engaging in this behavior. In addition, the approach runs so counter to the way the 99% think about borrowing that it was hard to believe.

“They’ve been trained since birth, they’ve been trained in the womb, never a borrower nor a lender be, debt is bad, debt will cripple you,” he said.

And indeed, middle-class borrowers face higher interest rates than what billionaires are offered and they have bills coming due now; that means they have to tap their assets or earn money from work, which is taxed. For the poor, debt can often come in the form of loans that prey on their need for funds quickly. “Need debt, you get screwed, don’t need debt you can use it as a tool to screw the government and everybody else,” McCaffery said.

What the News Means for You and Your Money

For some, the consequences can be even more pernicious than high interest rates. Just ask Charles Anderson, who spent 28 days in jail over $2,500 in fines and unpaid court fees, AL.com reported this week. He was only freed after his mother took $1,000 from her Social Security check and put it toward his debt.

“In my opinion, it’s debtors’ prison because I owe money and you’re gonna lock me up for it,” he told AL.com. “How is this the United States, where we’re supposed to have more freedoms than anywhere else in the world, and we’re incarcerating people for not having money?”

Society’s focus on credentials is fueling student debt

The Wall Street Journal published an excellent article last week highlighting the debt students take on for graduate degrees offered by elite universities and the money those degrees make for the schools.

Though the focus was largely on film, acting and other arts programs — which typically don’t require licenses — the story also had me thinking about President Joe Biden’s recent executive order that would clamp down on occupational licensure requirements. Stay with me here.

As many on Twitter pointed out, the prestigious schools that were the focus of the WSJ piece are using some of the same tactics and benefiting from the same economic forces as for-profit colleges offering the certifications, education for licensure and degrees that students need — or at least think they need — to get a job or boost earnings.

A big driver of this trend is credentialization, or the idea that jobs require higher levels of education than they used to even though workers are performing the same tasks as in the past. In some cases, that can mean a license that didn’t used to be necessary to perform a job, in others, it means a graduate degree is a ticket to standing out because bachelor’s degrees are increasingly common.

Over the past several years, this phenomenon has pushed students towards more schooling, research indicates. And the higher education industry is capitalizing on it. Douglas Webber, an associate professor of economics at Temple University, said it’s not uncommon to see schools using buzzwords like “jumpstart your career” in marketing materials.

Those messages are “trying to get at people who, they have some job, but it’s maybe not the job that they envisioned,” he said. “You definitely see that, and not just from for-profit, or typically predatory institutions, you see that type of marketing from virtually everywhere, even publics.”

Students see accruing another degree as a way to improve their prospects in part because employers are demanding extra credentials at all levels of the labor market, Webber said.

“There’s just been this trend over time of firms and industries that have been trying to shift the cost of training to higher education and that is occupational licensing and that is also graduate education,” he said.

Biden announced last week that he would ban burdensome occupational licenses, as a way to improve workers’ ability to switch jobs, even when it requires moving across state lines. That could make it easier for workers without the funds to pay for school to get into those fields, said Kim Weeden, a sociology professor at Cornell University.

“If it takes you $400 to get a license and you have to sign up for very expensive continuing education courses every year, that’s a barrier to entry into either acquiring the skills, or keeping the skills up to date, or applying the skills that you already have,” she said.

There are some questions as to how getting rid of occupational licenses, or at least tamping down on them, could impact inequality. Occupations with licenses typically have a wage premium, even at the lower paying end of the labor market. Other research indicates that women and racial minorities who have occupational licenses experience smaller wage gaps than those without the licenses.

The debt forced onto Haiti centuries ago

Debt is not only a force in individuals’ lives, it can also destabilize an entire country. The recent turmoil in Haiti in the wake of the assassination of the country’s president, Jovenel Moïse, highlights the role financial exploitation by the international community has played in Haiti’s political and economic challenges.

Haiti declared its independence from France in 1804, after a slave-led rebellion wrested power from colonial occupiers. But in 1825, France, backed by the threat of war, ordered Haiti to pay 150 million francs in exchange for recognizing the country’s independence. To make the payments, Haiti had to borrow money from French banks — a debt it didn’t pay off until 1947.

That weight prevented Haiti’s economy from taking off. The economist Thomas Piketty has said France should repay Haiti a minimum of $28 billion to cover the debt and its consequences.

“We are talking about 122 years that a young nation had to pay money for the only crime it committed: To fight and to get its independence in order to lead a free life, a dignified life,” said Jean Eddy Saint Paul, the founding director of the Haitian Studies Institute at the City University of New York.

The debt owed to France was followed by decades of economic and political meddling into Haiti by the international community that laid the groundwork for today’s turmoil, Saint Paul, a professor at Brooklyn College, said. For example, The United States began a nearly 20-year occupation of Haiti in 1915, following the assassination of Haiti’s president, in part out of fear that the money owed to France would tie Haiti too closely to the country. The U.S. also moved Haiti’s financial reserves to the United States.

In more recent years, Haiti’s economy has been victim to, among other things, a neoliberal economic program “on steroids” that pushed the country to open its economy to the world, allowing goods to flood in and devastate the agricultural sector, said Robert Fatton Jr., a professor of politics at the University of Virginia.

“We have a long history of foreign involvement in Haiti,” said Fatton, who has written multiple books about the country. “You can’t understand Haitian politics without understanding foreign entanglements in Haiti’s affairs — not only in terms of the politics of the place, but also in terms of the economy.”

We’ve plummeted from dumb to dumber — to proud and unapologetically ignorant | Opinion

We’ve plummeted from dumb to dumber — to proud and unapologetically ignorant | Opinion

We live in ignorant times.

By now, surely this is obvious beyond argument to anyone who’s been paying attention. From the Capitol insurrectionist who thought he was storming the White House to Sen. Tim Scott’s claim that “woke supremacy is as bad as white supremacy” to whatever thing Tucker Carlson last said, ignorance is ascendant.

Yet, even by that dubious standard, what happened recently in Tennessee bears note. According to a story by Brett Kelman of the Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, the state, under pressure from Republican lawmakers, fired its top immunization official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, and shut down all vaccine outreach to young people. Fiscus’ sin? Doing her job, working to increase access to the COVID-19 shot among kids.

Specifically, she sent a letter to healthcare providers reminding them that under the state’s “Mature Minor Doctrine,” they are legally allowed to vaccinate children 14 years or older without parental consent. According to Fiscus, the letter, written in response to requests for guidance made by those administering the shots, utilized language drafted by an attorney for the department of health and was vetted by the governor’s office.

All that notwithstanding, it infuriated some state lawmakers. They used words like “extreme disappointment” and “reprehensible” and talked of closing the health department. Some anonymous person even sent Fiscus a dog muzzle. Then she was fired, and the state shut down all vaccine publicity efforts targeting young people.

This means no postcards sent out to remind kids to get their shots, no nudges on social media, no flyers or advertisements, no events at schools, no outreach whatsoever. And not just for COVID, mind you, but for everything — measles, mumps, tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis, polio.

In a pandemic.

In a state with a less-than-stellar COVID vaccination rate.

At a time when experts are tracking the rise of a deadlier new COVID variant.

It is hard to imagine behavior dumber, more dangerous, more short-sighted and more downright bass-ackward than that exhibited by Tennessee and its lawmakers.

Which is, unfortunately, right on brand for this country in this era. It was in the 2000s that Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” to describe the right wing’s secession from objective fact, and some of us began to speak of them as living in an “alternate reality.” How, we wondered in newspaper columns and speeches, can we have meaningful discourse if we cannot agree on basic facts?

Years later, that concern feels too abstract. The threat turns out to be more visceral and urgent than any of us could have imagined. Yes, some people live in alternate realities. What’s worse, though, is when they have power to impose those realities on the rest of us. That’s what we’re seeing in Tennessee and elsewhere, and the results will be as tragic as they are predictable and preventable.

Ignorance is bliss, they say. But it isn’t.

Ignorance is fever.

Ignorance is chills.

Ignorance is trouble breathing.

Ignorance is an empty seat at the table, a bedroom come suddenly available.

Because ignorance is death.

And while the aphorism isn’t true, can you imagine if it were, if ignorance really were bliss? Disney theme parks would have to find a new slogan.

Right now, Tennessee would be the happiest place on Earth.

Heffernan: Donald Trump just won’t go away

Heffernan: Donald Trump just won’t go away

President Trump arrives at the White House on Thursday after returning from Bedminster, N.J.
In his new book “Landslide,” journalist Michael Wolff argues that former President Trump is a madman in want of a straitjacket. (Associated Press)

 

Maybe the word “Trump,” a century from now, will no longer designate a man — or even a presidential administration.

Perhaps it will be the name of an epoch. A decisive period in human history when the United States suffered a near-death experience and did or didn’t regain its cognitive faculties.

As one of history’s speediest first-drafters, the journalist Michael Wolff has been narrating the Trump epoch from the start. Now he has a new book that clinches his case: Donald Trump hit the nation like a wrecking ball, and it will be a long, long time before we recover.

“Landslide” is the third in a remarkable trilogy of Wolff White House potboilers. The first, “Fire and Fury,” was published in 2018. “Siege” came out in 2019. This new one, subtitled “The Final Days of the Trump Presidency,” is out this month.

I’m calling it a trilogy, optimistically, because who knows where this thing ends? Maybe we will someday see an omnibus from Wolff, with new titles like “Phoenix: Trump from the Ashes,” “King: Trump Enthroned” and “Afterlife: Trump Reigns from the Grave.”

But even if the future is not that bleak, epochs don’t have “hard outs,” as the executives say, and if the former president has shown us anything, it’s that he can’t ever, ever, ever manage the disappearing act implied by a hard out.

Or even a soft one.

“Landslide,” in fact, is a chronicle of Trump’s hysterical inability to leave. It takes its title from Trump’s groundless insistence that he triumphed in an election that he in fact lost.

But it also implies an avalanche of another sort: one that started when Trump’s psychological convulsions triggered a rolling collapse of the linchpins of the U.S. government.

Wolff is a hustler with a high tolerance for general venality, vulgar locker-room talk, and the company of armpit sources like dark-arts master Steve Bannon and lawyer Rudy Giuliani, now unlicensed in New York and Washington. But his patience with carnies allows him astonishing access. He’s great at picking up insider images, too, as when Bannon describes Giuliani, in his aphasic periods, as in the “mumble tank.”

Wolff also has a hard-won thesis. Donald Trump, he argues, is not crazy like a fox. He’s just crazy, a madman in want of a straitjacket. He’s not playing chess or even checkers; he’s covering pages with Sharpie Xs and calling it tic-tac-toe.

Worse yet, Trump insists the law should turn his scrawls into winning legal briefs and triumph over all. A motif of the book is how much Trump despises all his lawyers. It’s only their incompetence, in his view, that is keeping him from his rightful role as America’s forever president.

If you want to relive it, the book covers the throes of the 2020 presidential election and the Trump campaign falling into splinters.

Trump refused to come up with a platform, admit the scope of the pandemic or wear a mask. He got COVID-19.

An overhyped rally in Tulsa, Okla., was met with banks of empty seats. The Republican Party put on a Spinal Tap-caliber convention starring Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend screaming.

Brad Parscale, the president’s campaign manager, had what Wolff calls a “psychotic break.” He was carted away by police.

Trump seethed and glowered in debates. He encouraged the neofascist Proud Boys.

But somehow, according to Wolff’s sources, Trump remained convinced Joe Biden couldn’t beat him. Trump declared defeat unimaginable, which allowed his brain to seize on an imaginary victory.

The scrum of Trump’s bootlickers features prominently in “Landslide” — concentric circles that include the plausibly OK (then chief of staff Mark Meadows, campaign spokesman Jason Miller) to the floridly not OK (MyPillow magnate Mike Lindell, Kraken lawyer Sidney Powell). The scrum’s election-night competition to see who could “yes Trump” the loudest set the stage for the Big Lie and the attempted coup/insurrection of Jan. 6.

But this down-is-up position was ultimately unsustainable for at least some Trump’s stalwarts. In Wolff’s telling, Rupert Murdoch deliberately gave Trump the middle finger by having Fox News call Arizona early for Biden.

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner vanished; Mitch McConnell, then the Senate majority leader, and Atty. Gen William Barr acknowledged Biden’s clean victory.

Wolff represents those who stuck it out with Trump as groveling desperados, their wits dulled by the Trump treatment — oily flattery and savage cruelty. At the vanguard: Powell, Giuliani and another lawyer of questionable ethics, Jenna Ellis. Also, these “Star Wars” barflies: Republican Reps. Jim Jordan, Louie Gohmert, Matt Gaetz and Paul Gosar.

The whole story plays out like a Greek tragedy because we know where it’s going — the desecration of the Capitol and U.S. democracy. Here and there, in passing moments of half-clarity, it seems Trump might be deterred from inciting violence, but it doesn’t happen.

The book wraps with a spontaneous interview Trump gives Wolff. In a lightning round, Trump slags McConnell, Mike Pence, Karl Rove, Chris Christie, Kevin McCarthy and Brett M. Kavanaugh.

But Wolff can’t leave it there. And neither can Trump. The former president hints at a comeback, and Wolff ends on a nauseating cliffhanger. Clearly, as long as this low, dishonest epoch persists, Wolff will be there to chronicle it.

Red Tide costs swell while St. Petersburg mayor, Gov. DeSantis bicker

Red Tide costs swell while St. Petersburg mayor, Gov. DeSantis bicker

 

 

“Our city teams can only keep at this for so long,” he said during a Wednesday news conference held in waterfront Crisp Park, next to a crew scooping dead fish with pool skimmers. He recalled how former Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in 2018 to free up resources when toxic Red Tide afflicted the west coast of Florida.

“We are asking the governor, please … we need your help,” Kriseman said.

Hours later, he got a rebuke from Tallahassee.

“Mayor Kriseman is either unaware of what is actually going on in his own backyard or is deliberately lying and using Red Tide as an attempt to score cheap political points,” read a statement from governor’s spokesman Jared Williams.

The 2018 emergency declaration was necessary because “a dedicated funding source did not exist,” Williams said. “That is not the case now.” The Florida Department of Environmental Protection funds grants to help counties, he said, and it is unnecessary for the governor to declare an emergency.

Pinellas Public Works Director Kelli Hammer Levy said she has been in contact with the interim environmental secretary and his chief of staff to secure state aid. The governor’s office said the state will provide $902,500 to cover clean-up costs for the county and city and will continue helping with future expenses. The state is working on a similar agreement with Hillsborough and has promised about $75,000 to Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties to cover water sampling.

After the governor’s office responded, Kriseman’s spokesman, Ben Kirby, accused DeSantis of injecting politics into the environmental crisis. He said the city wants help securing more shrimp boats to collect dead fish offshore with wide nets before the rotting remains lap against the coastline.

“Mayor Kriseman is not concerned with the mechanism by which our city receives assistance, as long as it comes,” Kirby said. A council member and a city lobbyist have reached out to the governor’s office, with the first request July 9, according to the mayor and his spokesman. The mayor’s office said it had not heard back by Wednesday.

The governor’s office disputed some of those statements, saying it has been in touch with two unnamed council members since the weekend and that a lobbyist reached out Wednesday on behalf of the city. But DeSantis’ office said it has no record of Kriseman himself reaching out.

Meanwhile the calamity and clean-up bore on: At least 676 tons of dead marine life was gathered throughout Pinellas County by noon Wednesday, Levy said. More than 470 tons has come from around St. Petersburg.

Carcasses plucked from the water are burned at a waste to energy facility to make electricity, Levy said. Dead fish coated in sand and dirt from the ground are dumped at a landfill. Pinellas County spent more than $1 million on its response from June 11 through early this week.

“Our burn rate is somewhere around 100 grand a day,” Levy said.

This clean-up is more challenging than the 2018 bloom, when Red Tide drifted in from the Gulf of Mexico and left dead fish piled on the beaches. More fish are floating through Tampa Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway, moving into narrow canals where they get trapped under docks and mixed up with riprap. Dead catfish may get entangled in small nets and skimmers, Kriseman said, while workers deploy grabber tools to reach carcasses trapped under mangroves.

Roughly 200 St. Petersburg employees are helping, according to the city, which has pulled attention away from regular duties like mowing parks, repairing sidewalks and cleaning gutters.

Eleven boats were combing the water for dead sea animals across Pinellas, Levy said. Four were shrimp boats: two in St. Petersburg, one near Treasure Island and another around Fort De Soto. She expects the county will have to double its effort to keep up with all the decaying fish.

Removing the rotting sea life is a priority because it releases nutrients back into the water, giving the toxic bloom even more fuel.

“You can’t get a handle on Red Tide. You can’t control it,” Levy said. “When will it stop? We don’t know. … It’s going to be a really long summer and a really long fall if this doesn’t stop before then.”

Water samples have shown high levels of Red Tide not just at the surface of the bay but also deeper, she said, which means many plant and animal species are being harmed. Seagrasses, a cornerstone of the bay’s ecology that offer food and habitat, are dying as dark water shades the sun and dissolved oxygen levels plummet, Levy said.

The bloom has frustrated residents of waterfront neighborhoods. At a meeting Tuesday led by the environmental organizations Captains for Clean Water and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, some complained of brown water and putrid air.

Vahan Takoushian, 43, said he bought a million-dollar home in Redington Shores and a boat three years ago to move from New York City. When a Red Tide bloom passed then, he thought he had seen the worst.

“Maybe I should have gone to Panama or went to Costa Rica somewhere,” he said. “The water’s disgusting. I feel like I’m back on the East River.”

Walking through Vinoy Park on Wednesday, Harvey Moore, 73, watched an excavator drag heaps of dead fish from the bay.

“I’ve lived here my whole life, and this is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “This is just a disaster.”

Florida’s top environmental officials visited the region this week to see the toxic bloom up close. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Eric Sutton said he has heard angst from local leaders.

“This community has worked hard over the years to get Tampa Bay back to good conditions, so a lot of folks will see this as a setback,” Sutton told the Tampa Bay Times. “But I’m optimistic this will be only for the short-term.”

While Kriseman wrapped his news conference Wednesday, workers in Crisp Park gathered around a carcass, approximately a few feet long, floating along the seawall. Bloated and gray, it was a goliath grouper — likely a juvenile. Mature adults of the species can grow up to 8 feet and weigh as much as 800 pounds.

The fish were once targeted by anglers. People off Florida have been blocked from keeping them since 1990, according to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The workers stared. They said it was not the first dead goliath they had come across this summer.

Times staff writer Arielle Bader contributed to this report.

Red Tide resources

There are several online resources that can help residents stay informed and share information about Red Tide:

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a website that tracks where Red Tide is detected and how strong the concentrations.

Florida Poison Control Centers have a toll-free 24/7 hotline to report illnesses, including from exposure to Red Tide: 1-800-222-1222

To report fish kills in St. Petersburg, call the Mayor’s Action Center at 727-893-7111 or use St. Petersburg’s seeclickfix website.

Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the county’s tourism wing, runs an online beach dashboard at www.beachesupdate.com.

Pinellas County shares information with the Red Tide Respiratory Forecast tool that allows beachgoers to check for warnings.

How to stay safe near the water

  • Beachgoers should avoid swimming around dead fish.
  • Those with chronic respiratory problems should be particularly careful and “consider staying away” from places with a Red Tide bloom.
  • People should not harvest or eat mollusks or distressed and dead fish from the area. Fillets of healthy fish should be rinsed with clean water, and the guts thrown out.
  • Pet owners should keep their animals away from the water and from dead fish.
  • Residents living near the beach should close their windows and run air conditioners with proper filters.
  • Visitors to the beach can wear paper masks, especially if the wind is blowing in.

Source: Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County

Florida needs to get its act together to fight Red Tide | Editorial

Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla

Florida needs to get its act together to fight Red Tide | Editorial

 

The awful smell of dead fish across Tampa Bay cries out for a better response. Red Tide is overwhelming St. Petersburg, and the damage to the fisheries, tourism and public health is increasing with no end in sight. State and local officials need to collaborate on the cleanup. Residents, visitors and businesses need to be kept informed. And Florida needs a better strategy for managing these toxic algal blooms. Red Tide may be in Florida to stay, but there are ways to soften the blow.

Governments must work together. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman used a news conference Wednesday to call attention to the worsening situation and appeal for the governor’s help. That prompted a sharp rebuke from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office and a snarky exchange over who called whom. What is this, sixth grade? Nobody cares about the mayor or governor scoring political points. St. Petersburg has worked tirelessly; crews have picked up nearly 500 tons of dead marine life from the coastline in recent weeks, accounting for the vast majority of the 600 tons of dead fish collected across Pinellas County. And the state has brought critical resources to bear. But none of it’s enough. There are high levels of Red Tide throughout the bay, deep in the water column, and models show the bloom will stick around. And not only Pinellas is affected; over the past week, high concentrations of Red Tide were found across Florida’s west coast, including in Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties. Both state and local agencies have an obligation to get the cleanup effort in higher gear.

Keep the public informed. Nothing is more important to tamping down concerns and maintaining public faith in the state’s response than keeping the community informed. State and local officials need to be visible, meet publicly to answer questions and offer straight information so that people can protect their health, businesses or property. Red Tide has reached not only Pinellas’ gulf beaches, but inland estuaries and waterways, where the fish-killing toxins are entangling dead marine life on public and private property alike, and causing people even blocks from the water to suffer from inflamed eyes, scratchy throats and difficulty breathing. And the circulation of the bay is not likely to flush out the Red Tide soon, meaning the region could be impacted for weeks or months. The public needs help dealing with all that uncertainty. Tourists will need to know what’s safe and open. Residents and property owners need to know the state of the cleanup effort. And businesses, especially in the fishing and hospitality industries, need to see the government acting proactively to protect their livelihoods.

Limit manmade damage. We know that Red Tide occurs naturally. We also know that humans compound the problem. Runoff from sewage breaks and fertilizer-laden lawns and farms gives these blooms the nutrient-rich diet to explode. Other contributors to the spread of Red Tide include a warming planet, the loss of water-filtering wetlands to development, and coastal construction. So given these predictable factors, and the inevitability of Florida growing, what is the state’s long-term strategy to mitigate these outbreaks? Voluntary measures are not enough; industries must be required to reduce their pollutant footprint, state regulators must stand more squarely with science and lawmakers must provide the funding to address the environmental neglect. Hotels, restaurants, charter boat operators and others in the tourist industry still digging out from the pandemic now face a new threat to their futures. These businesses are essential to the Florida economy, and like public health and property, they are worth protecting. But it takes a conscious commitment.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. 

St. Petersburg mayor to DeSantis: ‘We need your help’ with Red Tide

St. Petersburg mayor to DeSantis: ‘We need your help’ with Red Tide

 

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman said Wednesday that the city is straining its resources to pick up dead sealife from the current Red Tide crisis and called for more help from the state and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“Our city teams can only keep at this for so long,” he said during a news conference held in waterfront Crisp Park, backed by a crew scooping dead fish with pool skimmers and a fishing net off a sea wall. “We are asking the governor, please … we need your help.”

As of Tuesday morning, Kriseman said, the city had collected 477 tons of dead marine life. A day later, that total has surely risen, and the mayor estimated it is likely over 500 tons.

City council members and the city’s lobbyist have reached out to the governor’s office, Kriseman said, but the mayor’s office has not yet heard back. The Tampa Bay Times is seeking comment from DeSantis’ office. A spokeswoman did not immediately answer the phone Wednesday morning or reply to an email.

Ben Kirby, a spokesman for the mayor, said the city specifically wants help securing more shrimp boats to cast their wide nets and collect dead fish in the water before the carcasses lap against St. Petersburg’s shore.

A few such boats are already out in the water and Kriseman said they are the most effective tool for removing the rotting marine life. He described a difficult process on land, with catfish becoming tangled frequently in small nets and city workers having to use grabber tools to remove dead fish stuck in mangroves.

More than 200 St. Petersburg employees are involved in the response, officials said. That has diverted attention from other routine tasks, like mowing parks, repairing sidewalks and cleaning gutters. Kriseman said he did not know the cost to date but believes it is in the six figures.

“We’re going to have to juggle resources to cover it,” he said. “This is obviously not something we budgeted for.”

Workers have picked up a variety of dead animals, from small fish to turtles and dolphins, according to the mayor. No one knows when the Red Tide bloom will end.

“They can spend hours out here picking stuff up and then another tide comes and brings stuff in,” Kriseman said.

As the mayor wrapped up, the workers pulling fish behind him gathered around a new carcass at the seawall. It was bloated, gray and enormous.

It was a juvenile goliath grouper, a behemoth of its kind formerly targeted by anglers. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission says people have been banned from keeping such fish since 1990. The Times confirmed the fish’s species with a researcher.

The St. Petersburg crew said they have seen several dead goliath groupers this month.