Rising homelessness is tearing California cities apart

Politico

Rising homelessness is tearing California cities apart

Lara Korte and Jeremy B. White – September 21, 2022

Jae C. Hong/AP Photo

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A crew of state workers arrived early one hot summer day to clear dozens of people camped under a dusty overpass near California’s Capitol. The camp’s residents gathered their tents, coolers and furniture and shifted less than 100 feet across the street to city-owned land, where they’ve been ever since.

But maybe not for much longer.

The city of Sacramento is taking a harder line on homeless encampments, and is expected to start enforcing a new ban on public camping by the end of the month — if the courts allow.

As the pandemic recedes, elected officials across deep-blue California are reacting to intense public pressure to erase the most visible signs of homelessness. Democratic leaders who once would have been loath to forcibly remove people from sidewalks, parks and alongside highways are increasingly imposing camping bans, often while framing the policies as compassionate.

“Enforcement has its place,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat who has spent much of the past year trying to soothe public anger in a city that has seen its unsheltered homeless population surpass that of San Francisco — 5,000 in the most recent count compared with San Francisco’s 4,400. “I think it’s right for cities to say, ‘You know, there are certain places where it’s just not appropriate to camp.'”

Steinberg is one of many California Democrats who have long focused their efforts to curb homelessness on services and shelter, but now find themselves backing more punitive measures as the problem encroaches on public feelings of peace and safety. It’s a striking shift for a state where 113,000 people sleep outdoors on any given night, per the latest statewide analysis released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2020. California’s relatively mild climate makes it possible to live outdoors year-round, and more than half of the nation’s unsheltered homeless people live here.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced the state had cleared 1,200 encampments in the past year, attempting to soften the message with a series of visits to social service programs. But without enough beds to shelter unhoused people, advocates say efforts to clear encampments are nothing more than cosmetic political stunts that essentially shuffle the problem from street corner to another.

Steinberg, a liberal Democrat who resisted forcibly removing people until more shelters can come online, has for more than 20 years championed mental health and substance abuse programs as ways to get people off the street. But such programs have been largely unable to keep up with the rising number of homeless people in cities like Sacramento, where local leaders are now besieged by angry citizens demanding a change.

He and many of his fellow Democratic mayors around the state are not unsympathetic to their cause. San Diego has penalized people refusing shelter. Oakland upped its rate of camp closures as the pandemic receded. San Jose is scrambling to clear scores of people from an area near the airport or risk losing federal funding.

“No one’s happy to have to do this,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said earlier this summer as he discussed ticketing people who refuse shelter. “We’re doing everything we can to provide people with better choices than the street.”

Other Democratic leaders around the country, facing similar pressure, have also moved to clear out encampments and push homeless people out of public spaces. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain who won his office on a pledge to fight crime, came under fire this year for his removal of homeless people from subways and transit hubs. The city’s shelter system is now bursting at the seams.

In California, where the percentage of people living day-to-day on the streets is far higher than New York, the shortage of shelter beds has caused friction and embroiled local and state officials in court challenges.

A recent court decision requires local governments to provide enough beds before clearing encampments — a mandate that does not apply to state property. But that’s easier said than done in a state where there are three to four times as many homeless people as shelter beds.

California’s homelessness problem has deep, gnarled roots dating back decades, but has become increasingly pronounced in recent years. Tents and tarps on sidewalks, in parks and under freeways have become a near-ubiquitous symbol of the state’s enduring crisis. A pandemic-spurred project to move people from encampments to motels has lapsed, and eviction moratoriums have dissolved. Homelessness is a top concern for voters in the liberal state, and as Democrats prepare for the midterm elections, Newsom and other leaders have been eager to show voters they’re taking action.

But the practice of clearing out camps can be a futile exercise, particularly when the people being forced to pack up their tents have nowhere else to go or simply end up doing the same thing just a few blocks away.


Weeks after state transportation workers cleared the space under the Sacramento highway, people are still camped out along a city sidewalk across the street, with blankets, chairs, tires and shelves spilling out onto the street and, at times, blocking driveways.

Syeda Inamdar, who owns a small office building on the block, said her tenant is afraid to come to work because of the camp. A nearby Starbucks abruptly closed earlier this year, citing safety concerns.

“This is not safe for anybody,” said Inamdar, who is sympathetic to the people in the camp but says she’s nevertheless thinking of just giving up and selling the property.

Jay Edwards, a homeless man in his 60s, said he and many of his fellow residents felt safer under the overpass, where their tents didn’t block footpaths and people didn’t bother them. Newsom and others have described living situations like his — in a blue tent, with a dirty mattress, surrounded by piles of random belongings and trash — as inhumane. Edwards disagreed.

“It’s not inhumane,” he said. “It’s the people’s attitudes that make it inhumane.”

The state has given more than $12 billion in recent years to help local governments build housing and shelter. But it could be years before those units are built.

In Sacramento, city and county leaders just made it easier for authorities to clear tents from sidewalks and along a popular river trail. But some want even tougher laws. Earlier this year, a coalition of Sacramento business owners approached city councilors hoping to put a measure on the November ballot that would compel the city to move camps blocking sidewalks and create more shelter for those they moved. The Council, whose members run without party affiliation, voted to put the measure on the ballot, with some caveats that enlist the help of the county. Councilmember Katie Valenzuela was one of two members who voted against it.

She said moving the camps won’t help the root of the problem, and the city can’t afford the amount of space that would be necessary to house people cleared from encampments.

“People are saying ‘oh you’ve got the space to do this, just put them all on 100 acres.’ That’s not how this works,” she said.

Newsom appears to be feeling the pressure as well, channeling voter frustration by calling proliferating encampments “unacceptable” and pointing to the litter-filled highway underpasses he cleans during press events as evidence the state has become “too damn dirty.”

Historically, California governors have been reluctant to funnel significant resources to combat the homeless problem. But Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco, has made it a centerpiece of his administration. The governor has secured hundreds of millions of dollars to help local governments address encampments by offering residents services and helping them find shelter, on top of the billions of dollars California has poured into homelessness more broadly and a state program to convert hotels and motels into low-income housing.

But those efforts aren’t happening fast enough for many in California, including merchants who are languishing in downtowns that are inundated with tents, tarps and other refuse from the people who have taken up residence on sidewalks and street corners. Business owners in San Francisco’s historic Castro District threatened to stop paying taxes last month if city officials didn’t do something about the vandalism, littering and frequent display of psychotic episodes that are a result of the neighborhood’s homeless population.

The governor has also personally weighed in when those efforts collided with resistance from courts and local governments. Earlier this year, he decried a federal judge for “moving the goal posts” in an order that blocked CalTrans from removing a camp in San Rafael. The Newsom administration and Oakland also clashed over a sprawling encampment where a July fire menaced a nearby utility facility that stored explosive oxygen tanks.

A judge blasted both the state and the city for trading blame while failing to find shelter for camp residents, accusing the parties of wanting “to wash their hands of this particular problem” and blocking the state’s plan to clear the site. Newsom excoriated the judge’s order and subsequently threatened to pull funding from Oakland, arguing the city was shirking its obligations. The judge ultimately allowed the clearing to proceed despite camp residents outnumbering available city beds.

Those tensions illustrate a larger test for the housing first philosophy that Newsom and other Democrats espouse. The basic premise is that long-term housing is the starting point for getting people off the streets. But it would take years to address California’s chasmic housing shortage while people are clamoring for solutions to street homelessness now.

The governor’s top homelessness adviser, Jason Elliott, said it was “impossible to say” if the state had sufficient short-term shelter for everyone living outside and conceded that “we don’t have enough money to afford a home for every person who experiences homelessness.” But he argued the state could and should move swiftly on “the most unsafe” sites, calling it a first step to help people.

“The criticism that we should not do anything about dangerous, unsafe encampments until we achieve millions of more units, I think, ignores the seriousness of the problem,” Elliott said. “Street homelessness is deeply dangerous and unsafe for people in the community and for people living in those tents.”

Addiction and mental illness can drive people into homelessness and keep them there, which has fueled Newsom’s push for a civil court system that would create treatment plans for those with the most critical needs and allow involuntary commitment for people who do not participate. The CARE Courts program, which Newsom is expected to sign into law soon, is estimated to help between 7,000 and 12,000 people — a small portion of the more than 160,000 Californians without stable housing.

Outside of interventions in critical mental health cases, policymakers broadly agree that poverty and a dearth of affordable housing are still driving more Californians to live on the street and that, on any given day, more people may become homeless than find housing.

Wary advocates are responding with legal challenges.

Oakland amended an ordinance barring camping near locations including homes, schools and businesses after advocates for the homeless sued, calling the policy inhumane. Advocacy groups in Sacramento unsuccessfully sued to block a ballot measure they called cruel and unusual.

In Los Angeles, a sprawling lawsuit over encampments endangering public welfare has produced a vow to build more shelters — and created the legal authority to clear people from public spaces. Last year, the LA City Council prohibited people from sleeping in sensitive public spaces selected by council members in a move the city of Riverside emulated. Then, Los Angeles bolstered its prohibition in early August by banning camping near schools and daycares, acting at the behest of school district officials who warned children were being traumatized and threatened by people in a growing number of encampments.

A backlash erupted as protesters filled the City Council chambers, chanting and shouting over speakers as they accused council members of inflicting death and violence on homeless people. Authorities ultimately cleared the chambers before lawmakers could return and vote. The proposal passed overwhelmingly with the blessing of Rep. Karen Bass, a Democrat running for LA mayor. But dissenters accused the Council of displacing the problem.

“When you don’t house people, when you don’t offer real housing resources to people at a particular location, the best outcome that you can hope for from a law like this is that people move 500 feet down the street,” Councilmember Nithya Raman said in an interview. “I’m up against a wall. I don’t have any available shelter, and I would imagine other council members are feeling the same way.”

Seventy percent of California’s homeless population is unsheltered, according to a recent Stanford University study, compared to New York, where the figure is 5 percent. The same study found that a large portion of the California homeless population have either a severe mental illness or long-term substance abuse problem, or both.

State and local officials have feuded for decades over who bears responsibility for housing and caring for people with severe mental health illnesses — those who might have been institutionalized a half-century ago, before the national closure of state-funded psychiatric hospitals.

Steinberg, the Sacramento mayor, has been trying to solve this problem for decades. In 2004, as a state legislator, he authored a landmark ballot measure, the Mental Health Services Act, which charged a 1 percent income tax on earnings more than $1 million to provide funding for mental health programs. Steinberg and others have praised the measure as a success, and some reports show that those who participate in the programs funded by the law see a reduction in homelessness.

But nearly two decades later, Steinberg is now dealing with a sprawling homeless population. Sacramento’s bans on camping along sidewalks and along the scenic river trail are set to go into effect at the end of the month. The city ban would classify a violation as a misdemeanor, but homeless people are not supposed to be automatically jailed or fined unless there are extraordinary circumstances, per a companion resolution Steinberg introduced.

With the upcoming ballot measure, championed by business leaders, the city is prepared to put tougher enforcement laws to voters in November, despite fierce criticism and legal challenges from advocates for homeless people. Steinberg said it’s still worth a shot.

“It is not perfect and it is not the way I would write it,” he said of the ballot measure. “But it is progress toward what I believe is essential: that people have a right to housing, shelter and treatment and in a very imperfect way.”

New York Attorney General Files Fraud Lawsuit Against Donald Trump, His Children And Trump Organization

Deadline

New York Attorney General Files Fraud Lawsuit Against Donald Trump, His Children And Trump Organization

Ted Johnson – September 21, 2022

New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a fraud lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, three of his children and his businesses, claiming that he falsely inflated the value of his net worth to secure more favorable loan and insurance terms.

The lawsuit follows an investigation that stretched more than three years into the Trump Organization finances, as his former attorney Michael Cohen alleged that he routinely inflated the value of his assets.

“These acts of fraud and misrepresentation grossly inflated Mr. Trump’s personal net worth as reported in the Statements by billions of dollars and conveyed false and misleading impressions to financial counterparties about how the Statements were prepared,” the suit stated. “Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization used these false and misleading Statements repeatedly and persistently to induce banks to lend money to the Trump Organization on more favorable terms than would otherwise have been available to the company, to satisfy continuing loan covenants, and to induce insurers to provide insurance coverage for higher limits and at lower premiums.”

The lawsuit — read it here — was filed shortly before James announced the civil fraud allegations at a press conference, carried on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. The latter network cut away as James went into greater detail about the litigation.

James also referred potential criminal charges to federal prosecutors in Manhattan and to the Internal Revenue Service.

At the press conference, she alleged a scheme over 10 years to engage in fraudulent practices that benefited the Trumps and the company to the tune of $250 million.

The lawsuit centers on statements of financial condition for Trump from 2011 to 2021 that asserted his net worth. They were personally certified as accurate by Trump or one of his trustees.

“Mr. Trump made known through Mr. Weisselberg that he wanted his net worth on his statements to increase every year, and the statements were the vehicle by which his net worth was fraudulently inflated by billions of dollars year after year,” James said.

She said that “each statement represented that the values were prepared by Mr. Trump and others at the Trump Organization in consultation with ‘professionals,’ however, no outside professionals were retained to prepare any of the asset valuations for the statements.”

Among the examples cited was Mar-a-Lago. James claimed that the property was valued as high as $739 million, based on the premise that the property could be developed and sold for residential use. In fact, she said, “Trump himself signed deeds donating his residential development rights, sharply restricting changes to the property, and limiting the permissible use of the property to a social club.” She said that the club generated annual revenues of less than $25 million and should be valued closer $75 million.

In addition to Trump’s business and trusts, the lawsuit names Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump.

Also named in the lawsuit was Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s longtime chief financial officer. He pleaded guilty last month to 15 criminal charges related to tax fraud and evasion.

James also alleged fraud surrounding Trump’s development of the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C. The lawsuit claims that a $170 million loan was obtained from Deutsche Bank using inflated valuations. A recent sale of the lease netted Trump’s business a $100 million profit, James said.

She said that all told, her office’s investigation showed more than 200 instances of false and misleading valuations on his statements.

Alina Habba, an attorney representing Trump, said in a statement that the lawsuit “is neither focused on the facts nor the law — rather it is solely focused on advancing the Attorney General’s political agenda.” She accused James’ office of exceeding its authority “by prying into transactions where absolutely no wrongdoing has taken place.”

James is seeking to permanently bar Trump, Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump from serving as an officer or director in any New York corporation or similar business, and to prevent the former president and the Trump organization from entering into any real estate acquisitions in the state for five years. She also is seeking payment of the benefits the Trump family accrued from the alleged scheme.

California’s water usage was built on a historic lie. The cost is now apparent

Los Angeles Times

Column: California’s water usage was built on a historic lie. The cost is now apparent

Michael Hiltzik – September 21, 2022

LAKE MEAD, NEV. - JUNE 11, 2021. A motorhome travels across the Hoover Dam near Boulder City, Nev. A white "bathtub ring" above the dam hows how far below capacity Lake Mead - the nation's largest reservoir - currently is. Water levels at Lake Mead have hit their lowest points in history amid an ongoing megadrought, creating uncertainty about the water supply for millions of people in the western United States. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
The water intakes of Hoover Dam on Lake Mead, and the “bathtub ring” behind them, show how far below its historical level the vast reservoir has fallen. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

It’s human nature to mark big-number anniversaries, but there’s a centennial looming just ahead that Californians — and other Westerners — might not want to celebrate.

It’s the 100th anniversary of the Colorado River Compact, a seven-state agreement that was signed Nov. 24, 1922.

That evening, in the Ben Hur Room of Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors, using the lapboard on which Gen. Lew Wallace had written his biblical epic 40 years earlier while serving as New Mexico’s territorial governor, representatives of six of the seven states of the Colorado River Basin applied their signatures to the compact with a gold pen.

If we had cut water use in the Colorado River over the last two decades to what we now understand to be the actual levels of water availability … the crisis wouldn’t be nearly as bad.

Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute co-founder

The compact — essentially an interstate treaty — set the rules for apportioning the waters of the river. It was a crucial step in construction of Hoover Dam, which could not have been built without the states’ assent.

The compact stands as a landmark in the development of Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Phoenix and other Western metropolises. But it is also a symbol of the folly of unwarranted expectations.

That’s because the compact was built on a lie about the capacity of the Colorado River to serve the interests of the Western states — a lie that Westerners will be grappling with for decades to come.

The crisis of water supply from the Colorado is vividly represented by the so-called bathtub ring around Lake Mead, the vast reservoir behind Hoover Dam, showing how far below normal the water level has fallen.

As my colleague Ian James has reported, federal projections show that the risk is growing that both Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the reservoir behind Glen Canyon Dam, are approaching “dead pool” levels, below which water would no longer pass downstream through the dams.

The prospect has led to pressure from the federal government on water agencies in California and the six other basin states to drastically cut back on water use. So far, however, no agreements on cutbacks have emerged.

The ultimate danger is that Lake Mead reaches the “dead pool” stage. At the end of last month, Lake Mead was at 1,044.28 feet of surface elevation above sea level. That’s about 100 feet below its level in August 2003 and about 180 feet below its record elevation of 1,225 feet, reached in July 1983. When the level falls to 950 feet, the lake can no longer generate hydroelectricity. At 895 feet, the dam can’t release water downstream.

The long-term decline in Lake Mead’s capacity has been blamed mostly on global warming. But as I’ve reported before, the river’s enemies are both natural and man-made. It’s true that nature has placed the basin in a long-term drought. But human demands for water from the Colorado have far outstripped what it can provide — indeed, what it ever could provide.

That brings us back to the compact negotiations. The impulse for a high dam on the lower Colorado came largely from California — principally from growers in the Imperial Valley. They depended on the river for irrigation and desired a more reliable supply as well as flood control that could only be provided by a major dam.

Congress resisted approving the project unless the seven basin states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming could agree on how to apportion the river among themselves.

basin
The Colorado River basin encompasses seven states. The All-American Canal, at lower left, serves California’s Imperial Valley. Lees Ferry, Ariz., at center, marks the division between the upper basin states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, and the lower basin of California, Nevada and Arizona. (U.S. Geological Survey)

The task of supervising the negotiations fell to Herbert Hoover, who was President Harding’s Commerce secretary. The process was contentious. The upstream states were painfully aware that California was the most voracious user of the river’s water even though it had the smallest acreage within the basin.

All were convinced that California, the most-developed state of the seven, was plotting to appropriate more than its share of the water to stoke its continued development at their expense. They were suspicious of Hoover, who though born in Iowa had made his home in California since becoming a member of the first graduating class at Stanford University in 1895.

Working with his deputy, Arthur Powell Davis — director of the U.S. Reclamation Bureau and a nephew of John Wesley Powell, the pioneering explorer of the Colorado and the Grand Canyon — Hoover overcame the states’ disagreements by promising that they all would receive enough water to provide for all their future economic growth.

They did this through connivance. Davis provided an estimate that the river’s annual volume averaged 16.4 million acre-feet. (One acre-foot, the equivalent of 325,851 gallons, is enough water to serve one or two average households today.)

That allowed the compact to be concluded with a guarantee that the upper basin states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico could pass 7.5 million acre feet a year — measured as 10-year averages of 75 million acre-feet — to the lower states of California, Nevada and Arizona without sacrificing their own needs. All the states agreed on this formula except Arizona, which didn’t sign the compact until 1944.

(By then the state had all but gone to war with California over water rights on the river, dispatching a squad of National Guard troops to the river on a ferryboat to block construction of Parker Dam in 1934. The ferry was derisively dubbed the “Arizona navy” by a Times correspondent assigned to cover the skirmish. After the federal government imposed a truce, the guardsmen were reported to have returned home from the “war zone” as “conquering heroes.”)

The real flaw in the compact was no joke, however: Davis’ figure was a flagrant overestimate — as he certainly knew, having studied the Colorado for decades.

The 1899-1921 time span on which his figure was based was one of the wettest periods in the basin’s known history. Indeed, only four times since construction of Hoover Dam began in 1931 has the 10-year average reached 16.4 million acre-feet.

Current estimates place the average annual volume of the Colorado since 1906 at 14.7 million acre-feet; since 1991, the annual average is closer to 13.5 million.

Yet the portions of California and the West dependent on the river for their sustenance have grown as if its bounty is effectively limitless.

In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the dam from a podium overlooking the project, declaring that it had turned the willful river into “a great national possession.” Since that time, the population of the seven basin states has grown by more than 52 million, much of the growth fueled by the water and electricity the dam has provided.

For several decades, however, climate and hydrological experts have warned that there can be no soft landing from the restrictions that global warming are forcing upon the Colorado River’s historical beneficiaries.

Hard choices are becoming imperative. The federal government is effectively ordering that the basin states cut their water usage by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet a year.

Talk of draining Lake Powell to keep water in Lake Mead at a serviceable level is getting louder, notwithstanding the political and engineering obstacles standing in the way. Within basin states, especially California, water scarcity is exacerbating conflicts among growers, residential users and environmentalists.

The draconian cutbacks signaled by the federal government have been made necessary by inadequate action in the recent past.

As water and climate expert Peter Gleick told James recently, “If we had cut water use in the Colorado River over the last two decades to what we now understand to be the actual levels of water availability, there would be more water in the reservoirs today,” Gleick said. “The crisis wouldn’t be nearly as bad.”

The reckoning may have been long in coming, but it was inevitable. As long ago as 1893, John Wesley Powell — the uncle of Arthur Powell Davis, who perpetrated the foundational lie allowing the construction of Hoover Dam — foresaw the basin’s destiny.

Attending an irrigation congress in Los Angeles at which the coming paradise of water-driven growth was being proclaimed, Powell stood to deliver a hard truth. “I tell you, gentlemen,” he said, “you are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply the land.”

He was driven from the hall by a chorus of catcalls and boos, but time has proved him right.

‘Election denier playbook’: Trump supporters seeking state office raise fears of 2nd insurrection

Yahoo! News

‘Election denier playbook’: Trump supporters seeking state office raise fears of 2nd insurrection

Tom LoBianco, Reporter – September 21, 2022

Supporters of former President Donald Trump seeking to control elections across the country have raised the specter of a second insurrection, akin to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, and fears that they will help try to rig the election results for Trump if he seeks the presidency again.

But experts tracking an array of races for positions with control over elections — from governor to county election clerk — say it’s unclear what form a second insurrection could take.

The threat is clouded in part by uncertainty over how much lawmakers will clarify about the previously obscure Electoral Count Act (ECA) and what the Supreme Court will do regarding the “independent legislature” theory, which could block courts from intervening in how elections are run.

A rally attendee holds a banner reading: Trump Won, Save America.
An attendee at a rally with former President Donald Trump in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Sept. 3. (Michelle Gustafson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Changes to the ECA being debated in the Senate and House would clarify that a vice president cannot replace authentic electors with fake ones; would set a quicker timeline for judicial review of election challenges and a higher bar for objections from Congress; and would establish the governor of each state as the lone person who can submit certified electors to Congress.

But bipartisan groups tracking the threat of another insurrection have consistently warned that Trump supporters running to control state elections — from Arizona secretary of state candidate Mark Finchem to Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano — could take the reins and attempt to certify whatever results they want.

“The problem is, the coup did not actually end on Jan. 6. It simply went into a brief hibernation and almost immediately began gathering energy to succeed next time,” said Norm Eisen, founder of the bipartisan group States United Democracy Center and a former top official in the Obama administration.

“They saw that the election refs applied the existing rules to produce the right result,” Eisen said of the 2020 election. “So now they’re going to replace the refs, and they’re going to replace the rules so they can change the results. It’s the election denier playbook, and you see this in state after state.”

Attorney Norm Eisen.
Attorney Norm Eisen speaking before the House Judiciary Committee in 2019. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The man at the center of the continued threat, Trump, has said repeatedly that he plans to run for president a third time. He has also taken a darker turn in his campaign rallies recently, eschewing the scripted approach of his return to Washington two months ago for wild conspiracy theories, some of which helped fuel his supporters to attack the Capitol. He has also been hinting at more violence from his supporters if he’s indicted for taking highly sensitive classified intelligence from the White House after his term.

Election director races used to be staid affairs, the rare white noise behind the unchecked turmoil of campaign politics. But like so many other things in politics, that flipped on its head after Trump descended the golden-colored escalator in Trump Tower seven years ago. The 2020 election and Trump’s subsequent efforts to deny his loss elevated these races to top-tier battles for the control of elections themselves.

Terrified election workers testified before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack about the rampant death threats they received after being targeted by Trump. And many local election workers have resigned or refused to run again in the face of ongoing threats from Trump supporters.

In Arizona and Pennsylvania, two epicenters of efforts by Trump-backed candidates to wrest control of the election process, Republican nominees have proposed a mix of power grabs and more standard conservative election proposals.

Mark Finchem, Republican nominee for Arizona secretary of state.
Mark Finchem, Republican nominee for Arizona secretary of state, at a conference on Sept. 10 promoting conspiracy theories about voting machines and discredited claims about the 2020 election. (Jim Rassol/AP Photo)

Finchem, the Arizona secretary of state nominee — who recently had a performer sing the QAnon theme song at one of his fundraisers — has proposed ending electronic vote counting and mandating paper ballots (a proposal that Democrats pushed almost two decades ago). But Finchem has also proposed giving the Republican-controlled Arizona state Legislature the power to overturn election results.

Asked by Time magazine if he would certify a hypothetical Biden win, he said he would if the law is followed, but then implied he would never certify a Biden win in 2024 because such a thing would be a “fantasy.”

Across the country, Mastriano, the Republican nominee for Pennsylvania governor, has pushed for voter ID requirements and purging voter rolls, both long-standing Republican election policies.

But Mastriano, a Pennsylvania state senator who marched to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, has also said he would have his handpicked secretary of state invalidate all Pennsylvania voters and force them to re-register. Mastriano submitted a measure that would expand the number of partisans who can challenge votes and vote counting potentially intimidating poll workers further.

Finchem and Mastriano, like dozens of other Trump supporters looking to take control of their states’ elections, have repeated the baseless claim that voter fraud was rampant through the 2020 election and that Trump never lost. But the stances of Trump-backed Republicans vary widely.

Couy Griffin speaks to reporters as he arrives at federal court in Washington.
Otero County, N.M., Commissioner Couy Griffin arrives at federal court in Washington on June 17. (Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP Photo)

At one extreme sit Trump supporters like Couy Griffin, the New Mexico local official who invalidated an election result he didn’t like and later was removed from office for participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection. At the other end are those like New Hampshire Senate candidate Don Bolduc, who campaigned in the primary repeating Trump’s election lie but promptly disavowed that lie after winning the Republican nomination last week.

In between are a slew of Trump supporters who have dressed up long-standing conservative election priorities, like requiring identification to vote, in Trumpian rhetoric, but have not repeated some of the wackier claims of voter fraud that fueled the Jan. 6 insurrection, like allegations of Italian satellites or Chinese thermostats.

Still, it’s not clear exactly what Trump supporters in election offices could do to rig an election for the former president. The Electoral Count Act fix being debated in the Senate would close most of the loopholes that Trump and his allies, led by Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, tried to exploit in their fake elector scheme.

“The worrisome thing about these election deniers is that they would have, in those positions of power, they would have some real power. Maybe not to singlehandedly overturn the results, but they could try, and it could create a real chaos crisis and undermine confidence in our election systems and possibly lead to more violence like the Jan. 6 attack,” said Ben Berwick, general counsel for Protect Democracy, a group staffed with top former Democratic officials that tracks election director races across the country.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that Trump’s former White House aides at the America First Policy Institute, dubbed the “White House in waiting” for the large number of former Cabinet secretaries and top advisers who took refuge there after Jan. 6, are calling for strict limits on who can vote and how, but are stopping well short of Trump’s most ardent loyalists who are pushing to flat-out change election results they don’t like, according to a report from the group published in August.

Former Trump White House aides Stephen Miller and Hogan Gidley speak to each other with smiles on their faces.
Former Trump White House aides Stephen Miller and Hogan Gidley at an America First Policy Institute summit in July. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

The co-chairs of AFPI’s election integrity center, former Trump White House spokesman Hogan Gidley and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, cast their proposals in terms of the Civil Rights Act of 1960, saying that accurate voting data is needed to instill faith in election results.

The group hinted at the election lies that led to Jan. 6, writing, “After the last presidential election, there were concerns that ballots may have been counted multiple times (so that there could be more ballots cast than voters who voted) or that ballots were destroyed (so that there could be more voters who voted than ballots cast).”

Meanwhile, increasing numbers of Republican candidates are either saying they do not accept their own primary losses or refusing to say whether they’ll acknowledge reality if they lose in November.

“We’re in a situation where one of the two major parties in this country has been captured in whole or in part by antidemocratic forces, and that’s a real challenge in a system where the whole thing is built on the idea that the losers of an election, while they may not like it, they respect the outcome,” Berwick said. “If we lose that, then we’re headed down a path we can’t come back from.”

Yahoo News Chief National Correspondent Jon Ward contributed to this report.

Trump’s bruised ego goes full nuclear……Trump responds to Putin’s warning that nuclear threat ‘not a bluff’

The Hill

Trump responds to Putin’s warning that nuclear threat ‘not a bluff’

Jared Gans – September 21, 2022

Former President Trump responded Wednesday to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hinting at being willing to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, saying that the conflict should never have happened and that it could lead to a world war.

Trump said on his social media platform Truth Social that the conflict would not have come to pass if he were still in the Oval Office.

“But as I have made very clear for quite some time, this could now end up being World War III,” he said.

Putin announced earlier on Wednesday in an address to the Russian people that he was calling up about 300,000 reservists to provide reinforcements in Ukraine, where his military has recently been struggling. He accused Western countries of “nuclear blackmail” and threatened to use Russia’s nuclear weapons.

“This is not a bluff. And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them,” Putin said.

The Russian president has repeatedly made threats about using nuclear weapons since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in response to Putin’s comments that the United States was taking Putin’s threat seriously.

Ukraine has retaken control of thousands of square kilometers of its territory as part of a counteroffensive this month.

Flights out of Russia sell out after Putin orders partial call-up

Reuters

Flights out of Russia sell out after Putin orders partial call-up

Caleb Davis – September 21, 2022

A man looks at a flight information board at the departure zone of Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow

GDANSK (Reuters) -One-way flights out of Russia were rocketing in price and selling out fast on Wednesday after President Vladimir Putin ordered the immediate call-up of 300,000 reservists.

Putin’s announcement, made in an early-morning television address, raised fears that some men of fighting age would not be allowed to leave the country.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the call-up would be limited to those with experience as professional soldiers, and that students and conscripts would not be called up.

The Kremlin declined to comment on whether the borders would be closed to those subject to the mobilisation order, and asked people to be patient as the law is clarified.

Meanwhile, Google Trends data showed a spike in searches for Aviasales, Russia’s most popular flight-booking site.

Direct flights from Moscow to Istanbul in Turkey and Yerevan in Armenia, both destinations that allow Russians to enter without a visa, were sold out on Wednesday, according to Aviasales data.

Flights from Moscow to Istanbul via Turkish Airlines were either all booked or unavailable until Sunday, as of 1415 Moscow time (1115 GMT).

Some routes with stopovers, including those from Moscow to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, were also unavailable, while the cheapest flights to Dubai cost more than 300,000 roubles ($5,000) – about five times the average monthly wage.

Typical one-way fares to Turkey shot up to almost 70,000 roubles ($1,150), compared with a little over 22,000 roubles a week ago, Google Flights data shows.

The head of Russia’s tourism agency said no restrictions have been imposed on travelling abroad so far.

A tourism industry source also told Reuters that demand for plane tickets from Russia for the visa-free countries has jumped.

“It was possible to buy a one-way ticket in the morning for 200,000 roubles to 300,000 roubles, but not anymore,” the source said.

“That’s a panic demand from people, who are afraid that they won’t be able to leave the country afterwards.”

Aeroflot, the country’s flag-carrying airline, said it was not limiting ticket sales.

($1 = 60.9500 roubles)

(Reporting by Caleb Davis; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Frank Jack Daniel, Elaine Hardcastle and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Russia calls up 300,000 reservists, says 6,000 soldiers killed in Ukraine

Reuters

Russia calls up 300,000 reservists, says 6,000 soldiers killed in Ukraine

September 21, 2022

FILE PHOTO: Russian service members march during a military parade on Victory Day, which marks the 76th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia May 9, 2021

LONDON (Reuters) – Russia will draft 300,000 reservists to support its military campaign in Ukraine, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday in televised remarks.

In Moscow’s first update on casualty numbers in almost six months, Shoigu said 5,937 Russian soldiers had been killed since the start of the conflict.

President Vladimir Putin had ordered Russia’s first mobilisation since World War Two in an early-morning television address, saying the additional manpower was needed to win a war against not only Ukraine but also its Western backers.

Shoigu dismissed assertions by Kyiv and the West that Russia has suffered heavy losses in its seven-month campaign, and said 90% of wounded Russian soldiers had returned to the frontline.

It was the first time Russia had given an official death toll since March 25, when it said 1,351 servicemen had died.

The U.S. Pentagon said in August that it believed between 70,000 and 80,000 Russian personnel had been killed or wounded, and in July estimated Russia’s death toll at around 15,000.

Shoigu said Russia had 25 million potential fighters at its disposal.

The decree published on the Kremlin’s website said the call-up would apply only to reservists with previous military experience.

Shoigu said this meant around 300,000 men. He said they would be given additional training before being deployed to Ukraine, and that they would not include students or those who were currently serving as conscripts.

“These are really those who have served, have a military speciality, that is, a speciality that is needed today in the Armed Forces, who have combat experience …

“… Those who are serving under conscription – it doesn’t apply to them either,” he said. “They are not subject to any mobilisation and direction for the ‘special military operation’. Our conscripts also continue to serve, as they did, on the territory of the Russian Federation.”

Shoigu said the mobilisation would help Russia “consolidate” territories it holds behind a 1,000-km (600-mile) frontline in Ukraine.

Moscow says it is waging a “special operation” to demilitarise its neighbour and rid it of dangerous nationalists.

Kyiv and the West say Russia is mounting an imperialist campaign to reconquer a pro-Western neighbour that broke free of Moscow’s rule when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. (This corrects death toll in paragraph 2 to 5,937 (from 5,397). Makes clear in paragraph 9 that Shoigu excluded those currently serving as conscripts, not those who had previously only served as conscripts; adds supporting quotes in paragraphs 10-11)

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Alison Williams)

‘The Time Has Come’: Top Putin Official Admits Ugly Truth About War

Daily Beast

‘The Time Has Come’: Top Putin Official Admits Ugly Truth About War

Shannon Vavra – September 21, 2022

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images
KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images

Vladimir Putin’s defense minister sent a clear message to the people of Russia on Wednesday: Their country is at war not just with Ukraine, but with the entirety of the West.

“I cannot but emphasize the fact that today, we are at war not so much with Ukraine and the Ukrainian army as with the collective West,” Sergei Shoigu said in a televised speech, according to TASS.

“At this point, we are really at war with the collective West, with NATO,” Shoigu added.

Shoigu’s warning comes as Putin announces that Russia will be running a “partial mobilization” to better tackle the war in Ukraine, days after a series of resounding defeats on the battlefield in Ukraine as Ukrainian forces have run successful counteroffensives in the south and northeast. In a speech announcing the move Wednesday morning, Putin suggested that the West had been considering using nuclear weapons against Russia and threatened nuclear weapons use in return—without providing any evidence of the West’s supposed threats.

“To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction,” Putin said. “It’s not a bluff.”

Russia Implodes After Putin Summons 300,000 to Die for Him

“When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” Putin added.

Shoigu’s rhetoric melds well with the Kremlin line about the war in Ukraine; Russia has consistently sought to blame the West for provoking Russia.

President Joe Biden lambasted Putin in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday in an attempt to remind global leaders that although Moscow’s narrative is that the United States and NATO pushed Russia into invading Ukraine, Putin chose to invade Ukraine unprovoked.

“Putin claims he had to act because Russia was threatened,” Biden said. “But no one threatened Russia. No one other than Russia sought conflict.”

Shoigu on Wednesday boasted about just how well the war is going for Russia. He sought to couch the idea that 300,000 Russian reservists are participating in the “partial mobilization” due to that success—regardless of the fact that since the early days of the war Russian troops have failed to achieve key objectives, including failing to capture Kyiv and needing to downsize their goals several times.

“We’re killing, killing, and killing, and that time has come: We’re at war with the collective West,” Shoigu said.

The move may not be all Putin and Shoigu are cracking it up to be. The flurry of action in Russia—from Russia’s Duma announcing increased penalties for desertion or evading conscription alongside the announcement of a partial mobilization and nuclear threats—is a dead giveaway that Putin’s plans in Ukraine are not going well, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday.

In a curious effort to convince Russians that the war is going well, Shoigu suggested that only approximately 6,000 Russian troops have perished in the war, but insisted that more troops would be necessary to come out victorious.

The reality is far worse. The Pentagon has estimated, as recently as August, that somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 Russian troops have been wounded or killed.

Climate change could wipe $108 billion from U.S. property market, study finds

NBC News

Climate change could wipe $108 billion from U.S. property market, study finds

Alex Lubben – September 20, 2022

Sea level rise will flood huge swaths of the country and submerge billions of dollars’ worth of land, according to a new report.

An analysis from Climate Central, a nonprofit research group, put a price tag on just how much all that land is worth — and how much local governments stand to lose when it goes underwater. The report found that nearly 650,000 privately owned parcels of land over more than 4 million acres will fall below tide lines within the next 30 years. The analysis indicates that sea level rise could reduce the value of that private land by more than $108 billion by the end of the century.

Because all land below the tide line is, by law, state-owned, the encroachment of the tides could essentially vaporize huge amounts of private, taxable wealth. That, in turn, will decrease property tax revenue substantially in coastal areas, which experts caution could ultimately bankrupt local governments.

For millennia, tide lines haven’t really budged. Nor has the notion that any land under water is public, which is an “idea that goes way back to Roman times,” said Peter Byrne, the director of the Georgetown Environmental Law and Policy Program. “The tidelands, the sea, they’re open to the public because they’re navigable. They’re inherently public.”

But as the planet heats, the old tide lines are climbing uphill. The study found that an area the size of the state of New Jersey that is now above water will be submerged at high tide in 2050.

“Sea level rise is ultimately going to take land away from people,” said Don Bain, a senior adviser with Climate Central, who wrote the report. “That’s something we haven’t come to grips with.”

Losing such a huge amount of private land over a few years could have far-reaching consequences. Insurance companies have already started to pull out of coastal markets or are raising their premiums substantially. Banks and other financial institutions are starting to look at whether it makes sense to lend to homeowners and businesses along the coastline.

All told, places that are currently livable will become increasingly hard to live in. Here’s what this might mean for local governments.

Risk isn’t evenly distributed

Climate Central found that, unsurprisingly, the effects of sea level rise aren’t evenly distributed across the U.S. The Atlantic and Gulf Coasts will feel its effects more than other parts of the country. In many areas along the coast, sea levels will rise significantly faster because land is sinking as sea levels rise.

By 2050, Climate Central estimates that about 75% of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, will be underwater. In Hudson County, New Jersey, $2.4 billion worth of taxable property will be submerged. In Galveston County, Texas, more than 4,200 buildings that are currently above sea level will be at least partially underwater.

Kyle Harner kayaks along a flooded street in Friendswood, Texas, on Sept. 22, 2020.  (Stuart Villanueva / The Galveston County Daily News via AP file)
Kyle Harner kayaks along a flooded street in Friendswood, Texas, on Sept. 22, 2020. (Stuart Villanueva / The Galveston County Daily News via AP file)

“Climate impacts are not going to happen far off into the future, but within the life of the mortgage on your house,” said Anna Weber, a policy analyst with the National Resources Defense Council.

While sea level rise is one of the major impacts of the climate crisis, it’s not the only one. Supercharged hurricanes and wildfires will also cause displacement and will contribute to the erosion of local tax bases as people move to safer areas. More frequent intense rainstorms are expected to cause more inland flooding in many parts of the U.S. Coastal counties won’t be the only places affected.

“These numbers are relatively conservative,” said Jesse Keenan, a professor of sustainable architecture at Tulane University, who was not involved with the Climate Central study. “That’s what should scare people.”

Doing more with less

In many places, coastal property is the most valuable real estate — and a major source of property taxes for local governments. Without it, municipalities could see a huge loss of revenue at a time when the costs of adapting to climate change are expected to skyrocket. The costly measures that municipalities will need to undertake to adapt to rising sea levels, like building seawalls or elevating roads, could become more difficult to fund.

“When that property tax revenue base shrinks, it’s a compounding problem for adaptation,” said A.R. Siders, a climate adaptation researcher at the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center. That could create a vicious cycle: “Not being able to protect those homes reduces their value and so you have fewer resources to protect those homes.”

That won’t just affect the owners of beachfront property. Municipalities rely on property taxes to fund roads, schools, trash pickup — all the basic services that residents rely on.

“It seems probable to me that over time we’re going to have to figure out a different funding model for really flood-prone communities, or communities along the coastline,” Siders added. “They’ve been relying on the perpetual growth of the housing market and that just doesn’t deem realistic in places that are going to experience the effects of climate change.”

One tool that municipalities use to raise money to fund projects that make them more resilient to climate change is municipal bonds — to do things like build a new bridge, fund the construction of a school, or, maybe, to pay for flood control so a city doesn’t get submerged by the next big storm.

Huge Snow Storm Slams Into Mid Atlantic States (Andrew Renneisen / Getty Images file)
Huge Snow Storm Slams Into Mid Atlantic States (Andrew Renneisen / Getty Images file)

Flooding poses threats to crops, commuting routes, utilities, wastewater treatment plants and buildings, the report noted. How local governments react to these economic hits will have implications for their ability to repay debt and keep their credit ratings afloat.

“Before they even reach bankruptcy, stress is going to reverberate through the muni bond market,” Keenan said. “What we’ll begin to see is a more explicit [climate] premium and a higher cost of borrowing for these counties.”

‘Choices to be made’

There are parts of the country that are exacerbating their exposure to the climate risks by continuing to build in coastal areas that will soon be underwater. Climate Central’s report calls for stricter restrictions on new developments and for building new housing outside of risk zones.

Buyouts, in which the government offers to purchase flood-prone buildings, could help create a natural “buffer zone” along the coasts, other experts suggest.

“This issue of losing tax base is something that comes up a lot when we talk about home buyouts because in that case, you are deliberately converting a property from private ownership to public ownership,” Weber said. “What this report shows is that, in some cases, that process is going to happen whether you do it deliberately or not.”

Besides building codes and moving people out of harm’s way, there’s still time to change course on greenhouse gas emissions, Bain emphasized. If the world continues to produce emissions at the current rate, the tides will rise faster; reducing emissions now will allow crucial time to adapt to the rising tides.

“We may not be able to change much between now and 2050, but we can make a large difference going forward from that,” Bain said. “There are still choices to be made — between better outcomes and far worse outcomes.”

8 million ordered to evacuate as Typhoon Nanmadol slams across Japan: ‘Raining like never before’

USA Today

8 million ordered to evacuate as Typhoon Nanmadol slams across Japan: ‘Raining like never before’

John Bacon, USA TODAY – September 19, 2022

More than 8 million people in southern and western Japan have been ordered to evacuate as Typhoon Nanmadol roars across the island nation with historic wind and waves.

Local government officials across Japan told national broadcaster NHK that a level 5 alert, the highest on Japan’s disaster warning scale, was issued to more than 330,000 people in about 160,000 households in Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Oita prefectures.

Nearly 8 million people in about 3.7 million households affected by a level 4 alert were ordered to evacuate in parts of the Kyushu, Shikoku and Chugoku regions, NHK said.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said it was “raining like never before” in Miyazaki, where some areas saw more than 15 inches of rain in the 24 hours through Sunday afternoon. Power lines tumbled and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses were dark as the storm slowly rolled northward over Kyushu.

“To protect your life and the lives of your loved ones, please follow the evacuation information already issued by your local municipality immediately,” the agency said. “Ensure your own safety without waiting for the announcement of a special warning.”

First special typhoon warning

In Kagoshima, thousands took shelter at evacuation centers. Wind speeds of almost 115 mph were reported in parts of the region.

It was the first time the agency has issued a special typhoon warning for an area outside from Okinawa Prefecture. Flights were canceled and train service, the lifeblood of Japanese travel, was suspended in the region.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he had mobilized police, firefighters, the Self-Defense Forces and other agencies.

‘ANGRY SEA’: Huge storm floods roads, homes in Alaska as governor declares disaster

“I urge (the public) to avoid going near places posing potential dangers such as rivers and other waterways or places at risk of landslides, and to evacuate without hesitation if they feel in danger in any way,” Kishida said.

Earthquake strikes Taiwan

Less than 900 miles southwest of Japan’s natural disaster, a strong earthquake struck southeastern Taiwan on Saturday evening, collapsing a house and interrupting rail service on the island. Taiwan’s Central News Agency said the 6.4 magnitude shallow quake was centered north of Taitung County on the island’s eastern shore.

STRONG EARTHQUAKE HITS TAIWAN: Rail service disrupted, house topples

Contributing: The Associated Press