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- 08/30/17--15:45: _National Guard’s Ha...
- 08/30/17--15:50: _Sun returns to stor...
- 08/30/17--16:05: _Trump remains torn ...
- 08/31/17--14:09: _Trump administratio...
- 08/31/17--14:16: _Trump administratio...
- 08/31/17--14:43: _WATCH: Pence speaks...
- 08/31/17--15:03: _WATCH: Louisiana Re...
- 08/31/17--15:05: _Every child in the ...
- 08/31/17--15:15: _Are we on the brink...
- 08/31/17--15:20: _News Wrap: State De...
- 08/31/17--15:25: _Houston restaurant ...
- 08/31/17--15:28: _For three brothers,...
- 08/31/17--15:30: _New Orleans mayor o...
- 08/31/17--15:35: _What it’s like to g...
- 08/31/17--15:40: _Destruction in chem...
- 08/31/17--15:45: _‘I’ve never seen th...
- 08/31/17--15:50: _Hurricane Harvey le...
- 08/31/17--16:45: _The U.S. and allies...
- 09/01/17--03:55: _Trump’s hiring, bud...
- 09/01/17--04:06: _Russia promises ‘to...
- 08/30/17--15:45: National Guard’s Harvey rescues haven’t ‘slowed down’
- 08/30/17--15:50: Sun returns to storm-ravaged Houston, but ‘worst is not yet over’
- 08/31/17--14:43: WATCH: Pence speaks after tour of Harvey damage in Texas
- 08/31/17--15:05: Every child in the world can have a microscope. Here’s how.
- 08/31/17--15:15: Are we on the brink of a jobless future?
- 08/31/17--15:45: ‘I’ve never seen this much water,’ says Louisiana congressman
- 08/31/17--15:50: Hurricane Harvey leaves Houston with Texas-sized problems
- 09/01/17--03:55: Trump’s hiring, budget raises questions about U.S. Harvey help
MILES O’BRIEN: As we have heard, the scope of the recovery is staggering. There are some 24,000 National Guard troops deployed to assist local and state responders, and we’re still just in the rescue phase.
Colonial Steven Metze is a public affairs officer for Texas Military Department. We spoke a short time ago.
Colonel Metze, good to have you with us. I know you’re busy. We will get right to it.
Give us an idea of the scope of the deployment right now. Is this unprecedented for Texas?
COL. STEVEN METZE, Texas Military Dept. Hurricane Harvey Response: I looked it up today.
We haven’t deployed this many people since World War I. So, this is literally the most we have deployed in 100 years.
MILES O’BRIEN: Give us a sense of how many troops are in the field and the kinds of mission that they’re doing right now.
COL. STEVEN METZE: So, we’re getting a constant stream of troops and equipment every day. It’s constantly increasing, on our way to 14,000 organic to the state of Texas, plus the stuff that we’re getting from other National Guards, plus the stuff that we’re getting Title X federal troops in and equipment as well.
So, all those are coming in right now. There’s still a lot of people in imminent danger, so our focus right now is still search-and-rescue. We’re starting to do a little bit of critical life support, which is basically when you have organizations that have food and water that they need delivered. We help them get it to where it need to go. We set of points of distribution to help it gets to where it needs to go safely and orderly.
So, we’re starting to see a little bit of that. And there are several other roles we’re going to have to play before this whole thing is over. But we’re preparing for several contingencies as it stands right now.
MILES O’BRIEN: And I guess a lot of people wouldn’t be aware that the National Guard kind of has a mutual aid pact with other states. Tell us what kind of help you’re getting from out of state.
COL. STEVEN METZE: Absolutely.
Yes, we have — the governors between the states talk and put these agreements in place. I know right now we have helicopter search-and-rescue teams from North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, Nebraska, Arizona, Virginia.
I know we have search-and-rescue ground teams and boat teams from Utah, California. I think there are way more than that. Those are just the ones that I know off the top of my head. But we have got offers from every state, and we’re filtering what we need and taking what we can get one at a time as it comes in.
MILES O’BRIEN: Do you have a tally right now of the number of rescues you have accomplished collectively?
COL. STEVEN METZE: Just within the Texas Military forces, we have done about 4,500 ground rescues, another 450 air rescues, and that is — that doesn’t include all the stuff that’s happening with the Coast Guard and the Air Force and the Navy. There’s doing other stuff.
And all of our rescues, of course, are in coordination with local and state authorities. Right? So, we’re working with DPS. We’re working with the Texas Division of Emergency Management. We’re working with Texas Task Force 1 and 2.
They’re the ones who are actually pulling people out of the water while we take them there on helicopters and that sort of thing.
MILES O’BRIEN: I get the sense from talking to you that you’re still very much in the middle of this and could still be ramping up your response. Is that accurate?
COL. STEVEN METZE: Oh, we’re absolutely continuing to ramp up right now.
Like I said, people and equipment are pouring in every day to help us with this. And we’re looking at it in the long run. We have got a long way to go still. We’re doing 24/7 operations, and no one is slowing down until we’re confident we have done everything we can.
MILES O’BRIEN: And as the storm moves toward the east, obviously, you’re deploying along with it.
Is the nature of the mission there more critical?
COL. STEVEN METZE: Well, we certainly focus wherever the need is.
And we definitely flex people up toward the Beaumont and Port Arthur area for early this morning and we’re still continuing to flex people there now. So, we’re going wherever the mission need is greatest, but we’re not leaving any of the other areas right now. We’re just continuing to add.
MILES O’BRIEN: Seeing these scenes of people being rescued, they’re quite harrowing from afar. You have been much closer to it. What has been it like for you?
COL. STEVEN METZE: It’s pretty amazing.
We’re seeing things, like we’re having helicopter rescues that happen at night, which is something we have never done before. The other night, we were looking at footage of four teenagers hanging on to a stop sign, and the stop sign was — the water was up to the stop sign, rushing water, and they were all holding on to it.
And the helicopter lowered people down to pull them off of that stop sign. We’re seeing little kids wrapped in garbage bags to keep them dry with only their heads exposed being pulled out of houses, holding on to soldiers and airmen as they’re being pulled out of neck-deep water.
So, seeing some of this footage is really powerful stuff. Mothers with infants on helicopters. People with broken legs being pulled out of houses. So, there’s a lot of really powerful stuff happening. And it really makes us think — and our hearts and prayers continually go out to the people that are affected by this hurricane.
And we’re going to continue doing everything we can until we’re confident we have done everything we can.
MILES O’BRIEN: I guess all we can say at this point is, thank you for your service, and everybody else in the Texas National Guard.
Colonel Steve Metze is the public affairs officer for the Texas Military Department.
COL. STEVEN METZE: Thank you.
The post National Guard’s Harvey rescues haven’t ‘slowed down’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
MILES O’BRIEN: Harvey is back on land tonight, and finally moving on. In its wake, officials in Texas and Louisiana are beginning to calculate the toll, at least 21 confirmed deaths, 32,000 people in shelters and tens of thousands of homes damaged or destroyed.
William Brangham begins our coverage.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: After five days of record rain, nearly 52 inches, the skies stopped pouring, and the Houston area finally saw sunlight again.
Better still, officials announced nearly all waterways have now crested and should start going down.
Jeff Lindner is with the Harris County Flood Control District that includes the city.
JEFF LINDNER, Harris County Flood Control District: The water levels are going down. And that’s for the first time in several days.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But the danger here is obviously far from over. Police today confirmed that six family members drowned when their van was swept away in a bayou.
And officials are still monitoring levees that are straining under enormous the load. If those barriers were to fail, even more homes would go under.
Meanwhile, the rescues continue. The Coast Guard kept searching in Houston. Overnight, volunteers and others joined in to help people stranded in lakes that used to be neighborhoods.
MAN: Well, you have just been saying everything on the news, and it’s just close to home, and, you know, that’s just a thing Texans do. I mean, we just got to go out and lend a hand. I just can’t sit at home knowing that people need help.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Early estimates say more than 48,000 homes have been damaged. The city’s convention center is full to the rafters, and now two more so-called mega-shelters have opened their doors, including TV Pastor Joel Osteen’s church that can hold 16,000 people. He’d been criticized for not taking in storm victims earlier.
Many have harrowing stories to tell. At a mosque-turned-shelter in Stafford, Texas, today, one woman recounted her family’s escape.
HOUSNA KADRIE, Evacuee: We just felt like, oh, my God, if we don’t get out now, it might be like impossible. Like, the water is getting everywhere. And you could see people holding their bag, like, trying to get to the front of the street, just so someone could come pick them up, because it’s really hard to move in cars.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In response, the state has activated 14,000 National Guard troops. Another 10,000 are coming in from other states.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says his city urgently needs more federal help as well.
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER, Houston: Right now, there are many people who are angry. They are frustrated, OK? And they want help. And that’s why I’m saying to our federal partners and that’s why I’m saying to FEMA, people are angry and they’re frustrated, they’re wet, they’re out of their homes, OK? And they want assistance yesterday.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Meanwhile, the storm itself made landfall again this morning, early, near Cameron, Louisiana, and slowly pushed north.
But even as it weakened, it dropped more rain on the Texas-Louisiana border region. Parts of Southwest Louisiana are now coping with flooding. And Port Arthur, Texas, was all but cut off by surging water, after 20 inches of rain fell in a matter of hours.
Overnight, a civic center shelter was overrun with gushing water that sent people climbing up into the bleachers. Evacuee Beulah Johnson narrated the scene in a video posted on social media.
BEULAH JOHNSON, Flood Victim: We came here for a safe place to get away from high flooding in our house, to get away from being trapped in our house. And we end up being trapped here.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Elsewhere in Port Arthur, the nation’s largest oil refinery closed. Twenty miles away, in Beaumont, Texas, a toddler suffering from hypothermia was found clinging to her drowned mother after they were swept from their vehicle last night.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott warned today that the toll both in deaths and damage is likely to go much higher.
GOV. GREG ABBOTT, R-Texas: The worst is not yet over for Southeast Texas, as far as the rain is concerned. There will be ongoing challenges both during the time that rain continues to fall, as well as for approximately four days to a week to come.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m William Brangham in Houston, Texas.
MILES O’BRIEN: That sad story of a mother’s ultimate sacrifice is just part of what is unfolding now as Beaumont bears the brunt of the storm.
As Beaumont takes the brunt of the storm, it is taking a physical and emotional toll on first-responders, as Haley Morrow of the Beaumont Police Department told me when we spoke a little while ago.
Officer Morrow, thank you very much for being with us. I know you’re very busy.
First off, that horrible story of a mother who perished saving her child, tell us what details you have on that.
HALEY MORROW, Public Information Officer, Beaumont Police Department: Well, we were dispatched out in reference to a water rescue. And when officers and first-responders arrived, they found the woman and her child floating about half-a-mile away from where they were swept into a canal and their vehicle flooded out.
The first-responders are on Zodiac boats right now going out and do these high-water rescues. And so they were able to follow the water and they saw this sweet little baby, pink backpack, sticking up out of the water, and she was clinging to the back of her mother, who was floating along.
And she was hypothermic. But she’s OK and she’s expected to make a full recovery. But, unfortunately, CPR was attempted, but we weren’t able to save the mom.
MILES O’BRIEN: I know you wear a uniform and a badge, but you’re a mom, too. What’s it like to have to deal with something like that?
HALEY MORROW: I am — to be honest with you, receiving that news even just as a first-responder, as a mother, it’s devastating.
And, you know, it’s a true testament to the will and the sacrifices that parents, not just parents and mothers go through in what they will sacrifice which, in this case, Colette sacrificed her life to save her child.
And so we’re so sad about the circumstance. The silver lining is that the sweet baby is alive and will make a full recovery. She’s with family. We have been in inundated with questions about the baby. She’s 3 years old — about her status and who she’s with and if she need to be adopted.
But she’s with family. Of course, they’re dealing with a very, very grief-stricken time and we’re trying to support them as much as possible.
MILES O’BRIEN: Yes. Please let us know if there’s any way we can help.
Give us the big picture, if you could, the extent of the flooding in Beaumont right now.
HALEY MORROW: Well, right now, we are having major flooding, unprecedented flooding in this area.
All of the major interstate and state highways are flooded getting to our city. Our service roads and many of our major thoroughfares inside the city are flooded. We have nonstop high-water rescues going on right now.
They’re trying to get me accurate numbers, but, of course, they’re just so swamped. We know we have done at least, but probably much more, 700 high-water rescues. And we do have two confirmed fatalities, one being the story that we just talked about, and then we had another fatality this morning.
So, it’s devastating. And our first-responders have all experienced some type of devastation. Some are just — are facing their own damage to their home, and they’re on extremely exhausting shifts. And they just keep persevering and going out and saving people.
MILES O’BRIEN: First-responders are citizens, too, and many of them go out and do this work when their own homes are damaged.
And you are married to another police officer. You said you’re a mom. What is that like trying to put your personal life aside, your own concerns for others?
HALEY MORROW: Well, I’m not only a police wife, a police officer.
My father is a Beaumont police officer, as is my brother, and my sister is a 911 operations dispatcher. So, in situations like this, my mother is the one who keeps the children, and we get her evacuated when we need to. And so it’s hard.
It’s really hard for our first-responders who have had to leave their families and their homes that are taking water to come in and do their job. And, you know, that’s on their mind. But when they get here, they’re so strong and they just continue to go out and do the work.
And that’s what we’re here for. We are the first-responders. And we want to always remind the citizens that we’re coming, we’re going to come and save them, and we just pray that our families are OK, too. And I know those first-responders would love any prayers and good thoughts that anyone wants to send their way.
MILES O’BRIEN: Officer Haley Morrow, the public information officer for Beaumont Police Department, we wish you well.
HALEY MORROW: Thank you.
MILES O’BRIEN: Online, you can hear my full conversation with Haley Morrow, where she warns about the spread of misleading and false information on social media, and how that hampers their efforts.
The post Sun returns to storm-ravaged Houston, but ‘worst is not yet over’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
WASHINGTON — With a deadline looming, President Donald Trump remains torn over the fate of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children — a decision that will draw fury no matter what he decides.
Trump railed against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program during his campaign, slamming it as illegal “amnesty.” But he changed his tune after the election, calling DACA one of the most difficult issues he’s grappled with. The program has given nearly 800,000 people a reprieve from deportations. It has also provided the ability to work legally in the U.S. in the form of two-year, renewable work permits — permits the Trump administration has continued to grant as the president has mulled the issue.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said DACA was still the subject of “a very lengthy review” process. “It’s something that’s still being discussed and a final decision hasn’t been made,” she said.
Activists on both sides of the issue — as well as some people close to the White House — strongly expect the president to announce as soon as this week that he will move to dismantle the program, perhaps by halting new applications and renewals.
But others caution that Trump remains torn as he faces a September 5 deadline set by a group of Republican state lawmakers, who are threatening to challenge DACA in court if the administration does not start to dismantle it by then.
To buy more time, administration officials have considered asking the lawmakers to push back their deadline by several months, according to two people familiar with the discussions. The people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter, said such a delay was seen as a chance to avoid forcing a contentious immigration showdown in Congress at the same time lawmakers are trying to pass a budget deal, raise the debt ceiling and provide relief for states devastated by Harvey.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, leading the group threatening to sue, is likely to be consumed by storm recovery efforts in coming months, providing possible cover for the delay.
Trump could also simply ignore the deadline, leaving the matter up to Congress and the courts.
Trump’s administration has been split, as usual, between immigration hard-liners such as senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who argues DACA is unconstitutional, and more moderate individuals such as the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka, who want to protect the so-called “dreamers,” according to people close to the administration.
Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, also urged him to make good on his campaign promise to eliminate the program.
“To me, it would be utterly irrational to pick a fight over the dreamers,” Gingrich said, adding that ending the program would further hamper the president and isolate his administration.
Gingrich said senior Trump aides who believe DACA is unconstitutional were using the lawsuit threat as an “excuse” to push Trump to act. Instead, he said, the president would be wise to let the deadline pass, and call on Congress to approve legislation protecting those covered by the program.
Meanwhile, activists supporting DACA have been mounting a furious lobbying effort, operating phone banks, meeting with lawmakers, sending letters and staging protests to draw attention to the fate of what are undoubtedly the most sympathetic immigrants living in the country illegally. Many came to the U.S. as young children and have no memories of or connection to the countries they were born in.
Trump had been unusually candid about his struggles with the issue.
During a February press conference, Trump said the topic was “a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you. To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have.”
“You have some absolutely incredible kids — I would say mostly,” he said, adding, “We’re going to show great heart.”
The decision comes at a fraught time for the president, who finds himself increasingly under fire, with his poll numbers hanging at near-record lows. In the wake of his much-criticized response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and continued questions about his campaign’s ties to Russia, Trump is increasingly isolated and concerned about maintaining the loyalty of his core supporters.
“His campaign promise was solid. It was that he was going to end DACA. He didn’t say he was going to phase it out. He said he would end it,” said Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a vocal opponent of the program.
King said he expected Trump to make good on his promise, and he rejected another possible solution: using DACA as a bargaining chip to win funding for Trump’s southern border wall or other immigration legislation.
“It would be immoral to trade away our Constitution,” he said.
But Mario H. Lopez, president of the conservative Hispanic Leadership Fund, which disagreed with the way the Obama administration implemented the policy, said there were no upsides to punishing people who were brought to the country through no fault of their own.
“Punishing kids for what their parents did is just a bad idea,” he said. “It’s bad politics, it’s bad policy. It’s just bad all around.”
If permit renewals are put on hold, more than 1,400 recipients will lose their ability to work each day, according to a report by the Center for American Progress and FWD.us, two advocacy groups.
The Obama administration created the DACA program in 2012 as a stopgap way to protect some young immigrants from deportation as it continued to push for a broader immigration overhaul in Congress.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner and Sadie Gurman contributed to this report.
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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is announcing sharp cuts in programs promoting health care enrollment under the Affordable Care Act for next year.
In a call with reporters, Health and Human Services officials say advertising will be cut to $10 million for the 2018 open enrollment season. That’s down from $100 million for the 2017 sign-up season.
Funding for consumer helpers called “navigators” will also be cut, from $62.5 million for 2017, to about $36 million for next year.
Administration officials say the government hasn’t gotten much bang for its buck as far as ACA advertising and the navigator program, with some enrollment centers signing up very few customers.
Democrats are likely to accuse the administration of trying to undermine the program, which President Donald Trump says is going to “implode.”
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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has taken another step toward building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, even as funding for the project remains in question.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Thursday it will award contracts to four companies to build four prototypes for the wall.
CBP is providing few details of the concrete prototypes and says funding for four other prototypes for a see-through structure will be awarded next week. The prototypes will cost a total of $3.6 million.
Trump made the construction of the wall his signature issue in the presidential campaign. He promised that Mexico would pay for it, but Mexico has refused.
Trump is now demanding that Congress fund the wall and has threatened to shut the government if it doesn’t do so.
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ROCKPORT, Texas — Donning blue work gloves and dispensing hugs, Vice President Mike Pence cleared storm debris and comforted Texans grappling with the aftermath of Harvey’s destruction on Thursday, bringing a more personal touch to the hurricane zone than President Donald Trump did during his visit two days earlier.
Sleeves rolled up, Pence briefly walked door-to-door in Rockport, a small tourist town where Harvey first slammed ashore as a Category 4 hurricane. The extent of the ruin could be measured in the mounds of black garbage bags heaped outside nearly every home, and Pence — wearing jeans and cowboy boots — worked up a sweat in the 90-degree heat as he helped clear tree limbs at one boarded-up residence.
“We’re going to stay with you every step until we bring southeast Texas back bigger and better than ever before,” Pence promised the crowd that gathered at a church blown wide open by Harvey’s force. The vice president’s wife, Karen Pence, offered a prayer seeking blessings for those affected by the storm, and people later broke into singing “God Bless America.”
Brittany Naro, a new mother from Corpus Christi, was on hand at one of the homes that Pence visited and said his presence meant a lot, “because this is devastating.”
Speaking of both Pence and Trump, she added: “They didn’t have to come. What more can you ask for?”
While Pence’s visit, which also included a tour of the area aboard a V-22 Osprey military aircraft, was all about making personal connections with storm victims and volunteers helping on the recovery effort, Trump focused on meeting with state and local emergency management officials during his visit to Corpus Christi and Austin two days earlier.
The president also gave a short, impromptu speech to cheering supporters who had gathered outside the fire station where he received a briefing in Corpus Christi.
“What a crowd, what a turnout,” Trump declared, attesting to the fortitude of Texans. The president capped his speech by waving a Texas flag.
The president drew some criticism for not directly mentioning the loss of life and suffering of hurricane victims during his visit. He tweeted Wednesday that after seeing “first hand the horror & devastation” wrought by Harvey “my heart goes out even more so to the great people of Texas!”
Trump, however, saw little damage during his visit to Corpus Christi — mostly boarded-up windows, a few downed tree limbs and fences askew. He also visited the state emergency management operations center in Austin.
Julian Castro, a former Obama administration official and former San Antonio mayor, told CNN it was good that Pence was visiting “because he’s doing a little better job” than Trump at putting the focus on victims.
“People need to feel like he understands the depth of the tragedy and the pain,” Castro said of Trump.
The president plans to return to the storm region on Saturday, and is sure to see far greater evidence of Harvey’s wrath: He has tentative stops planned in inundated Houston and Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry, a former Texas governor who joined Pence on Thursday’s trip, told reporters the president had been eager to make an early visit to those directly affected by the storm, but was advised to instead travel to Corpus Christi or Austin, “where no search-and-rescue resources would be pulled away.”
“The president went to the right place. He literally and figuratively waved the flag,” Perry said. “The American citizens and Texans know he cares, he’s paying attention.”
Pence also was joined by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, several other Cabinet members and the Rev. Franklin Graham, who brought volunteers from his aid agency, Samaritan’s Purse, to help with the clean-up.
The vice president made a stop at a food distribution center in Victoria, where items such as cans of tuna, Keebler cookies and Annie’s cheddar squares were passed out. He said later at a news conference in Corpus Christi that he and his wife were moved by the work of volunteers.
“To see the outpouring of compassion and concern was deeply inspiring to us,” Pence said. “Every American should know that even in this difficult time, this disastrous storm, the very best of the people of Texas and the very best of the people of America are shining forth.”
Unlike Trump, who was a prominent business mogul and reality television star before his election, Pence had plenty of hands-on experience with disaster relief in his time as Indiana governor. He briefly left the campaign trail about a month after becoming Trump’s running mate last year to survey tornado damage in Kokomo, Indiana.
During the presidential campaign last summer, the two men traveled together to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to tour flood damage.
Rockport was virtually impassable after Harvey struck, with trees and downed power lines blocking every street and roadway. Even Thursday, parts of the town of 10,000 were accessible only by foot as electrical poles and wires pushed over by Harvey remained draped close to the ground. The extent of the destruction, and Rockport’s isolation, contribute to the slow recovery.
Some residents have said they’ve been told it will be two or three weeks before electrical service resumes. Local schools are closed until mid-September.
Tourists who once visited kitschy shops, boutiques and watering holes in a quaint downtown area would be disappointed to see many of them now: Several have their roofs peeled away, leaving their wares exposed to Harvey’s heavy rains. Several aren’t standing at all.
Thomas reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Kelly P. Kissel in Rockport, Texas, contributed to this report.
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Louisiana Rep. Clay Higgins, whose gulf coast district has had to deal with the effects of sea level rise and flooding, spoke with Miles O’Brien about his belief that the science behind human-caused climate change is flawed.
The post WATCH: Louisiana Rep. Clay Higgins on his skepticism about human-caused climate change appeared first on PBS NewsHour.
MANU PRAKASH, Stanford University: I grew up in India. I love science, and it was very clear but you know, we couldn’t afford the traditional scientific tools. And so from that moment itself, the idea that you can invent your tools as you go along became very important to me.
I was in Uganda in 2013 and I noticed this centrifuge being used as a doorstop. And I realized the fact that there was no electricity. And so of course, what good is a scientific instrument if it only runs on electricity that you don’t have?
We make affordable scientific tools that are accessible to everyone, to bring the joy and discovery of science, not just for the traditional scientist, but every single kid in the world. We have shipped 50,000 of what we call foldscopes. These are origami microscopes that anybody can make. They cost just $1.00 to make. This year we have set a goal to release a million foldscopes to kids around the world, and we will not stop until every single kid carries a tool like that in their pocket.
I call it frugal science; over the last five years, we have been working in many countries, many of them in Africa and India, to really be able to try to understand how do you empower community health workers who are on the front lines of infectious diseases trying to protect all of us? And the area that we focus on is infectious diseases and diagnostics.
Now, diagnostics has a really hard problem, which is, it’s like searching for a needle in a haystack. And one problem that we have been tackling in this is, how do you really bring that needle out? And we just discovered a new tool, that we describe, we call it paperfuge. It’s an idea to build a centrifuge, a really legit complex tool that’s used for sample preparation, out of a very simple children’s toy.
I actually am carrying it in my pocket, so if you haven’t ever seen one. Depending on how much force I apply and how much air drag there is on this disc, and how much torque is there in these strings, I can back-calculate how fast this will spin. One million rotations per minute. That’s very, very fast.
What I can do is take a drop of blood with a Lancet, fill it in. And now what I’m doing is as I spin the blood that I have taken in there is also spinning. And between 30 seconds to a minute, we can separate the content of that blood into plasma and red blood cells. And now, the ratio of how much red blood cells I have to plasma actually gives me an indicator of whether I have anemia. If I was to spin this for a couple more minutes, I might be able to separate out the cells that are infected with malaria.
Intellectually, it becomes quite an exciting endeavor, to really be able to do the same kind of performance that you would do in a traditional lab, but to be able to do it with almost nothing. My name is Manu Prakash, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on frugal science.
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MILES O’BRIEN: We’re going to get a better picture tomorrow of how strong job creation is when the monthly employment report comes out. But whatever that snapshot looks like, there are concerns about the rise of robotics and automation, and what that means for the future of the work force.
Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, has been exploring that subject.
Here’s his latest report for our weekly series Making Sense.
PAUL SOLMAN: In Silicon Valley, author Vivek Wadhwa says he already lives in the future. There’s his mostly driverless electric car.
OK, so, your car can open the garage door and greet you in the driveway?
VIVEK WADHWA, Author, “The Driver in the Driverless Car”: Yes. And then, when I get on the road, I can put it on autopilot and say, OK, car, take over.
Look at that. I mean, I’m just sitting here with the car doing its magic.
PAUL SOLMAN: There’s his magical solar home, which has cut his energy bills from $1,000 a month to $500 a year.
VIVEK WADHWA: This is how all of us are going to live in about 10 or 15 years from now. Solar is going to keep dropping in price, to the point that it’s almost free.
PAUL SOLMAN: And having survived a heart attack, his magical health cube, 32 instant tests that give new meaning to the phrase doc in a box.
VIVEK WADHWA: And each test costs about 10 or 15 cents.
PAUL SOLMAN: Here’s an EKG.
VIVEK WADHWA: A 12-lead EKG, the same stuff that they do at hospitals. And everything goes into your electronic medical records on the cloud.
PAUL SOLMAN: In a heartbeat.
His daughter-in-law taught me to use it.
VIVEK WADHWA: So, we’re going to take blood, my friend.
PAUL SOLMAN: What I won’t do for television.
VIVEK WADHWA: Oh, there’s your reading.
PAUL SOLMAN: So, my blood glucose reading has already been done?
VIVEK WADHWA: Yes.
PAUL SOLMAN: Projecting ahead, says Wadhwa:
VIVEK WADHWA: We live in the most amazing period in human history. We can have unlimited energy, unlimited food, provide education for everyone, clean water, all the things that have held mankind back.
PAUL SOLMAN: But when it comes to what we will all do for a living?
VIVEK WADHWA: I see millions of jobs in every industry being wiped out.
PAUL SOLMAN: Just ask the voice of Amazon.
VIVEK WADHWA: Alexa, how many people does Amazon help employ?
COMPUTER VOICE: Amazon.com is an employer of 222,400 people.
PAUL SOLMAN: That’s a quarter-of-a-million people that Amazon is employing.
VIVEK WADHWA: Well, how many people does Wal-Mart employ? — 1.3 million people. And Amazon is just getting started with automation. They’re working on drone-based delivery. They’re going to have self-driving trucks.
The workers put stuff in boxes, but there’s no reason why robots couldn’t do that as well.
PAUL SOLMAN: Now, a human-free future isn’t here just yet. But nearly half-a-world away, at Oxford University, researcher Michael Osborne also thinks jobs are toast.
MICHAEL OSBORNE, University of Oxford: Back in 2013, we came up with an estimate that as much as 47 percent of current U.S. employment might be at high risk of automatability.
Waiters and waitresses is one example. Truck drivers is another, forklift drivers, accountants and auditors, cashiers, people working in retail, even umpires, interestingly, referees.
PAUL SOLMAN: To be sure, futurologists have been predicting automation Armageddon for decades.
But, says economist Carl Frey, the future is now.
CARL FREY, University of Oxford: The potential scope of automation has expanded quite rapidly, and a new set of occupations and industries are affected as a result of that.
PAUL SOLMAN: And it’s going to happen faster than we think, says Vivek Wadhwa.
VIVEK WADHWA: Almost every profession I look at where you require human labor or you require intelligence, I see computers being able to do better than us within the next 10 years. I’m talking about a mass replacement of humans with artificial intelligence and robots.
PAUL SOLMAN: But health cube or no, certainly not the doctors who saved his life, who keep him healthy now?
VIVEK WADHWA: But why not? I mean, I — 10 years from now, I would trust an A.I. doctor over a human doctor any day, because the A.I. doctor will be looking at all of my data.
PAUL SOLMAN: And it isn’t just happening at Wadhwa’s house, but also nearby, where Facebook was built.
JOSH BROWDER, Founder, Do Not Pay: Mark Zuckerberg stayed here his first summer in Palo Alto.
PAUL SOLMAN: Stanford University computer science undergrad Josh Browder working to fulfill a Shakespearian ambition: Kill all the lawyers.
JOSH BROWDER: I’m trying to replace the $200 billion legal industry with artificial intelligence.
PAUL SOLMAN: Browder’s created Do Not Pay, an app he built to fight parking tickets in the U.K., where he’d amassed dozens, and couldn’t afford the tab.
JOSH BROWDER: And so I had to figure out other ways to get the tickets dismissed, if the signage is not up to code, or if the parking bay is illegally too small. There are these letters where if you cite the code, cite how your case applies to it, you can get out of the ticket. There’s nothing the government can do.
PAUL SOLMAN: Browder claims a 60 percent success rate, and has expanded Do Not Pay to the U.S. and to other legal imbroglios.
JOSH BROWDER: So, it currently works for over 1,000 areas, 1,000 legal robots, I like to call them. All sorts of consumer rights issues. But, soon, I’m going to do much more complicated stuff, like lowering your property tax bill or filing for divorce.
PAUL SOLMAN: Free legal software for all. Browder sees it as a sort of realization of a family dream.
JOSH BROWDER: Yes, so, my great grandfather was the head of the American Communist Party.
PAUL SOLMAN: In the 1930s and ’40s, Earl Browder ran for president twice, as a communist.
JOSH BROWDER: He’s a big believer in everything being free, and so I like to think, although I’m doing it in a different way, using technology and Silicon Valley, he would be proud.
PAUL SOLMAN: But to Wadhwa, it’s not the thought, but the technology that counts.
VIVEK WADHWA: A young kid who has no qualifications in artificial intelligence, who has no qualifications in law, he’s talking about wiping out a $100 billion industry. So this is the amazing and scary thing about the future we’re headed into.
PAUL SOLMAN: Scary, because, while automation is the very definition of productivity — more output per unit of labor — as Oxford’s Carl Frey points out:
CARL FREY: Sadly, since the 1980s, quite a few workers have had a bad experience from automation, and I think that is what is determining much of the resurgence in populism that we see now.
PAUL SOLMAN: Indeed, Frey has just published a paper showing that automation anxiety was strongly linked to votes for Donald Trump.
So, are Vivek Wadhwa and the Trump electorate seeing the same dark future? And if so, are they right?
Not at all, says Silicon Valley computer scientist Jerry Kaplan.
JERRY KAPLAN, Author, “Artificial Intelligence: What Everyone Needs to Know”: There’s more people employed today than there ever have been. And how do we explain that, except through a process by which increased productivity increases economic opportunities and actually employs more people than the robots displace.
PAUL SOLMAN: For example, if we’re wealthier, we will take more vacations.
JERRY KAPLAN: You have got jobs like flight attendant, hospitality workers, masseuses, yoga teachers, advisers of every kind. And that’s a result of the increase in the discretionary income we will have as the result of the growth of the economy.
PAUL SOLMAN: So, think of all the jobs we could do that we haven’t even thought of yet. And that’s true, admits Oxford’s Osborne.
MICHAEL OSBORNE, University of Oxford: In the 2000s, we have seen occupations such as Zumba instructors emerge.
PAUL SOLMAN: But, he says, as more and more workers compete for the same non-tech jobs, what will the jobs pay?
MICHAEL OSBORNE: I think we have seen some of that in the last couple of decades, right, with median wages remaining relatively stagnant.
PAUL SOLMAN: Right.
MICHAEL OSBORNE: Technology is, many people believe, the key driver behind that.
PAUL SOLMAN: And tech researchers like Osborne are driving the technology. And so I asked:
If you say to a fellow researcher, hey, we’re displacing jobs, or putting downward pressure on low-skill wages, what do they say to you?
MICHAEL OSBORNE: I think — this is — I’m not sure I want to answer this question, to be honest.
PAUL SOLMAN: But I pressed for an answer.
MICHAEL OSBORNE: So, we’re in this really exciting, but, in a way, terrifying period of history where it could go either way.
PAUL SOLMAN: And that happens to be the message of Vivek Wadhwa’s new book, “Driver in the Driverless Car.”
Humanity, he says, is at a tipping point.
VIVEK WADHWA: We are the drivers in the driverless cars. We’re basically now sitting there watching it all happen.
PAUL SOLMAN: No hands.
VIVEK WADHWA: No hands. Look, ma, no hands.
The car is taking us where we told it to go, but the car is in control.
PAUL SOLMAN: At least we hope it is.
There’s all these cars coming up. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Stop it. Stop it.
VIVEK WADHWA: You’re right. Why didn’t it do — it wasn’t stopping, was it?
PAUL SOLMAN: No, it wasn’t stopping.
VIVEK WADHWA: It would have stopped. I would have bet it would have stopped.
PAUL SOLMAN: Happily, we will never know, any more than we do at the moment about the future of robots and jobs.
For the PBS NewsHour, economics correspondent Paul Solman reporting — don’t do that again — somewhat anxiously from El Camino Real in Palo Alto.
MILES O’BRIEN: In the day’s other news: Another storm has formed far out in the Atlantic, and it’s growing into a major hurricane. By late today, Irma already had sustained winds of 115 miles an hour. It could reach the Eastern Caribbean by early next week. No word yet on where the storm might go from there.
There’s new retaliation in a diplomatic duel between the U.S. and Russia. The State Department today ordered the Russian Consulate in San Francisco to close, along with two sites in Washington and New York. Moscow had already forced cuts in American diplomats, in retaliation for U.S. sanctions.
But White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says now the two sides are even.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, White House Press Secretary: We have taken a firm and measured action in response to Russia’s unfortunate decision earlier this year. We want to halt the downward spiral, and we want to move towards better relations. We will look for opportunities to do that.
MILES O’BRIEN: The announcement came as the new Russian ambassador to the U.S. arrived in Washington. He urged calm, and quoted Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, saying, “We don’t need hysterical impulses.”
The U.S. military put on a new show of force over the Korean Peninsula after the North fired a missile over Japan two days ago. U.S. B-1B bombers were joined by F-35B stealth fighter jets for the first time, along with South Korean planes. South Korean military footage showed the bombers and fighters carrying out drills at a military field in the south. North Korea condemned the drill as a rash act.
Defense Secretary James Mattis has officially confirmed that more U.S. troops are on their way to Afghanistan. He wouldn’t give exact numbers today. Other officials have said about 3,900 troops will deploy, however. Just yesterday, the Pentagon confirmed about 11,000 U.S. troops are already in Afghanistan. That’s several thousand more than previous figures.
In Iraq, the prime minister of Iraq announced that Tal Afar has been fully liberated from Islamic State fighters. The capture follows the fall of Mosul, the country’s second largest city, in July. ISIS still controls small pockets in Northern Iraq and along the Syrian border.
Days of monsoon rains in India have triggered a new disaster. An aging five-story building collapsed today in Mumbai, the country’s financial capital, killing at least 22 people. Rescue workers managed to pull 35 survivors from the ruins, but others could be trapped. Witnesses said they heard a bang as the building went down.
AMINA SHEIKH, Mumbai Resident (through interpreter): The sound was so loud, we all got scared. When I first saw, there was only smoke. And when the smoke cleared, we saw the building, but, by that time, a lot of people were crushed by the building as it collapsed.
MILES O’BRIEN: The deadly rains are the heaviest in 15 years in Mumbai. Overall, the monsoon has claimed more than 1,200 lives across India, Nepal and Bangladesh since June.
The crisis engulfing Rohingya Muslims in mostly Buddhist Myanmar grew even worse today. Reuters reported 27,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh since Friday. Another 20,000 are stuck at the border. Meanwhile, three boats carrying refugees capsized today before reaching Bangladesh.
At least 26 women and children were killed. The Rohingya are fleeing reprisals by government troops and vigilantes, after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts last week.
Back in this country, civil liberties groups hailed a federal judge’s decision to block a Texas law restricting sanctuary cities. It would have taken effect tomorrow. Among other things, the law would let police ask people about their immigration status during routine stops. Texas’ Republican governor has promised to appeal the ruling.
It turns out a Wells Fargo scandal over fake bank accounts was far larger than first reported. The company said today 3.5 million accounts may have been opened without customers’ knowledge, in a bid to meet sales targets. That’s up from 2.1 million. Wells Fargo has since settled with federal regulators and paid $140 million — $142 million in a class-action suit.
On Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 55 points to close at 21948. The Nasdaq rose 60 points, and the S&P 500 added 14.
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MILES O’BRIEN: The outpouring of people helping those in need has been enormous in Houston over the past few days.
One example is a group of restauranteurs and chefs who got together to supply food to both victims and first-responders.
Houston Public Media’s Tomeka Weatherspoon paid a visit. She joins me now from the Convention Center.
Tomeka, what are the restaurants doing?
TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON, Houston Public Media: They’re gathering together to help each other and to help the community.
So, we visited Reef Restaurants today, and they’re making so much food. Yesterday, they told me they made 10,000 meals to give away to hospitals, evacuees, and first-responders.
I talked with co-owner of the restaurant Jennifer Caswell. And she said the restaurant community is just really tight-knit and they just wanted to do something to help.
JENNIFER CASWELL, Co-owner, REEF Restaurant: As we sat there and watched what was going on and we knew that we wouldn’t be able to come back in here and serve our customers, we knew that we had product that had to be gone through.
we also knew that we had customers and vendors that wanted to help. And we wanted to turn the kitchen into a hub to be able to do that. And we know that our chef community and our restaurant community is such a strong and well-knit community that we could get everybody on the same page and working together towards that goal.
MILES O’BRIEN: So, Tomeka, how do the restaurants figure out how and where to send the food?
TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: Well, initially, it seemed like they just put the word out that they were available to help in any way that anyone needed.
And, you know, I was talking to some chef this morning, and they were saying now they’re just getting requests. They’re getting text messages. Can you please help us with this? And they are more than happy to help.
And they’re getting a lot of volunteers too.
So, I talked with a volunteer who is helping in another way. His name was Gavin Torabi. And he was going around to precincts, and he went to a station in Southwest Houston to see what they needed.
GAVIN TORABI, Volunteer: They were down to basically tortilla chips and water. And I said, instead of helping aimlessly wander, let’s direct our focus. And it started out. We asked, how many mouths do they have?
They said, we can’t tell you. So, we guesstimated, bought 50. And 50 turned into 100, and 100 turned into 200. And, like I said, we’re up into the 2,000s now.
TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: And, Miles, like I said, people are volunteering in a lot of different ways.
One really crucial way is physically driving the food to these locations, to these hospitals, to these shelters. I talked with and rode with a volunteer driver. His name was Mark Austin. And he pointed out he is delivering food from some of the best places to eat in Houston.
MARK AUSTIN, Volunteer Driver: In the last 24 hours, I have delivered food from Reef, Riel Restaurant, Hugo’s, Brennan’s.
So it’s not — we’re not just delivering ham sandwiches to people. We’re delivering hot, fresh, best product food, you know, from James Beard Award-winning chefs.
MILES O’BRIEN: Tomeka, I imagine there are a lot of other people and a lot of other places that could use this kind of service. I think of assisted-living facilities, even private homes. Are there plans to expand?
TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: Well, right now, they’re really trying to get organized, because demand is so high. And they’re really just getting off the ground.
So many restaurants had flooding issues and travel issues. And they have just so many demands they need to meet. I was talking to one chef, and he was saying you know, they ran out of protein really quickly. But because of all the volunteers, they were able to get it within the hour.
Another restaurant owner said you know, what we really need is refrigerated trucks. But the need changes minute by minute as the situation here keeps changing.
MILES O’BRIEN: It’s great to see that kind of response.
Tomeka Weatherspoon with Houston Public Media, thank you.
TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: Thank you.
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When Hurricane Harvey began to hammer Houston, three brothers from San Antonio decided they couldn’t just sit at home.
“We were trying to figure out what to do. How to help,” said Brad Morris, when his cousin, a Houston police officer, gave them a tip: ‘We’ve got boats,” he said, “but what we need is high water trucks.”
So Brad and his brother Adam Morris got on Craigslist and found a truck. It cost $13,000, was airbrushed with skulls, and called “The Punisher.” But with a 5-ton axle, and weighing in at 21,550 pounds, it would be able to drive through waist-high water. By Tuesday night, the brothers were in Houston, along with David Couch, their brother-in-law, to help with citizen rescues. By that time, at least five had died in the flooding, the National Weather Service was forecasting days of torrential rain, and while many had been evacuated, countless more were stranded in their homes. (On Thursday, the death toll climbed to 31.)
The brothers’ first stop was Bear Creek, a neighborhood that remained flooded because it was so close to Houston’s Addicks Reservoir, which had overflowed its banks several days before. They worked in tandem with local law enforcement, driving through 5-foot-high water to rescue people and pets, including pit bulls, cats, parakeets and hedgehogs. People brought along suitcases and other valuables; one woman brought a steak. Many had stayed through the storm but days later the waters had not subsided, and they were now running out of food. Others had evacuated but went back to their apartments to get belongings or check on something, including a boy who was electrocuted in Bear Creek on Tuesday while trying to go back to feed his sister’s cat.
On Thursday, the brothers moved southwest for a second day of rescues, driving through a flooded neighborhood of subdivisions sandwiched between the Atticks and Barker Reservoirs, which had also overflowed its banks. There, police had set up a launching point for boats. Houston Police Sergeant Rodney Adams estimated that 2,500 people had been rescued at that spot alone — most of them by ordinary people. “We depend on them,” he said of the citizen rescuers, crediting them with 90 percent of the rescues and home visits.
Among the pickups was Jennifer McArver, a female bodybuilder 11 days out from her first show. McArver had waded three miles to Walmart to get the right food for her diet, only to find it closed, and have to wade to another store. “Thank you so much, god bless,” she said as she climbed in the truck, grocery bags held high over her head. “Y’all are my blessing right now, on a hope and a prayer.” She was returning to her apartment, despite flooding on the lower floors, so she could complete her training on an elliptical and treadmill inside.
When the brothers dropped off McArver at her apartment complex, they found a family of six waiting outside, the father and mother begging for someone to bring them diapers, milk and bread. Johnny Gonzalez, a neighbor, who wore an American Eagle hat and a “Texas made” tattoo, told them he’d get on the brothers’ truck and bring back the goods.
“A lot of people were not prepared,” he said. He sized up “The Punisher” as he got on board. “And I tell you what, I’m gonna buy me a big truck after this.”
Over the next several hours, the brothers rescued nearly a dozen people, often wading into waist-high water in their cowboy and camo boots, while other citizen rescuers paddled by in speedboats, kayaks and canoes. Justin Davis, who had evacuated his family Monday, waded back to his apartment to get birth certificates, social security cards and proof of insurance to file to FEMA, after learning that his flood insurance didn’t cover rentals.
Davis’ family of four was holed up inside a nearby hotel, his two teenagers getting a little “stir crazy,” he said. “But I told my family, when we come out on the other end, we’re gonna have a hell of a story to tell.”
As would Tamila Davis, who the brothers picked up from her apartment; she and her husband had waded back for “baby stuff.” Earlier that week, Davis had swum to a rescue boat with her baby in her arms. Thursday, she wore a T-shirt that said “the struggle is real.”
The brothers’ last stop: to answer a 911 call the police had gotten about a woman in a nearby apartment complex screaming for help. By the time the brothers arrived at the apartment, a citizen rescue boat had already been there to help.
“[People] couldn’t sit around and just watch people suffer,” Brad Morris said, restarting the truck, in his soaked cowboy boots and jeans. “It’s that Texas pride, I guess.”
MILES O’BRIEN: While Louisiana gets battered by Harvey, New Orleans is not in the crosshairs this time.
Twelve years ago this week, it was a different story, as Katrina made landfall. And there are lessons to be learned about the long, difficult road of recovery ahead for Houston.
Mitch Landrieu is the mayor of New Orleans, and he joins us now.
Mr. Mayor, good to have you with us.
MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU, New Orleans: Thanks for having me.
MILES O’BRIEN: I’m curious what your best advice is to your counterparts in other cities that are more hard-hit this time.
MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU: Well, it’s not really a time to give advice.
I can tell you, I had an opportunity to watch your previous two segments, and it’s just heartbreaking. It brings back so many incredibly difficult memories. And exactly what was said in both of those segments is unbelievably prescient and correct. Those individuals that lost everything are going to go through a very, very difficult time.
This is one of the worst disasters that the country has ever seen. It’s hard to compare the two, but it’s clearly as big, if not bigger, than Katrina. And, of course, people lost everything. And so they’re upended. A lot of people are in shelters. You can see what is happening down in the southwestern part of Louisiana and in the eastern part of Texas in Beaumont, with them still suffering the effects of the storm, and rescues not being complete yet.
So, the rest of the nation is going to rally to the cause. They’re going to be there to support the people of Texas and the people of Southwest Louisiana. I want Congress to learn the lesson of Sandy and Katrina and not quibble over how much. It’s going to be an extensive amount of money.
And I know that they’re going to step up to the plate and make sure that the financial resources are available to help this community stand back up. This is a national crisis. It requires an immense and a total and complete national response. And I know that our nation is up to it.
MILES O’BRIEN: You get the sense that we’re learning the same or not learning the same lesson over and over again, or are we getting better at this?
MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU: Well, to a certain extent.
I can say this, that the emergency response teams across America are far better prepared. And you can see the response happening right now on the federal, state and local level. This doesn’t happen by one level of government. And our first-responders are out there, and doing a really, really good job under very difficult circumstances.
There are very few — actually, there are no cities in America that can prepare adequately for a Category 4 storm that drops 50 inches of water on you in a short period of time. It’s just not possible.
And, you know, people are trying to get out of harm’s away. We just have to make sure they have what they need. Now, there is the rescue. There is the recovery. And then this is the long-term thing that you were talking about a minute ago, the rebuild.
It’s not something that happens overnight. People get disassociated from their homes. They feel a sense of lack of security. They don’t have the financial resources to stand back up. The one thing that they shouldn’t have to suffer is what happened after Katrina and then after Sandy for a minimal period of time, about wondering whether or not the resources are going to be there.
This is clearly going to be in excess of a $100 billion event. I don’t think that there is any question about that. But it’s really important that the nation step up to the plate and do this, as a federal government, in partnership with the state and local authorities.
Now, the other thing that you are going to see — and you are seeing it already — is miraculous, which is people helping each other. I just talked to a guy a couple of minutes ago who was here rescuing people 12 years ago. And would you know it that he was in the Houston area today rescuing people.
John Besh and our chefs are over there feeding people. Our firefighters are there. Of course, this is happening all from all over the country. And it is miraculous to watch the people of America come together in difficult times, where it’s clear that we’re all in the same boat.
And I think the lesson to be learned is, we ought to be that way all the time. And we would all be the better for it.
MILES O’BRIEN: It is quite literally a two-way street. I remember Houston’s help of New Orleans 12 years ago.
You know, we’re in the acute phase, as it were, of this crisis. A lot of attention, a lot of focus. As the media turns its attention elsewhere, as we all get on with our lives, that can be the hardest time for the victims, right?
MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU: Yes.
Well, there’s no question about it. I mean, and hopefully in a reasonably short period of time, everyone who can be rescued will be rescued. Unfortunately, there will be more deaths because there are people that have not yet been found. There are people that are in shelters. Eventually, they will move back into some sense of normalcy, to the extent that that is possible.
And then the media is going to go on to North Korea and a whole bunch of other stuff. In the meantime, all of these individuals are going to be left behind. And we have to make sure as a nation that we don’t leave them behind, that we get them the resources that they need.
On top of that, the economic picture is that Houston and Beaumont and Lake Charles, Louisiana, are the hub of the nation’s national security because of our energy policies. So, just economically, we have to do it.
So, I’m hoping that Congress has learned the lesson — and I think they have — that we don’t really have to quibble about this. This shouldn’t have any impact on the debt ceiling. We should just kind of get through this. This is going to cost the nation a lot of money. It is an investment that is well worth it.
All of these communities are important to the United States of America, and we ought to all lift up all the individuals that are going to be hurt and would make it easier for them to come back. But this is not a handout. It is just a hand up. And it is a part of who we are as Americans.
MILES O’BRIEN: You know, one of the lessons of Katrina, I think, was that, you know, people have a hard time moving forward after these situations. And part of that is being prepared in advance. Do you think that that lesson has been well-learned?
MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU: Well, I think we’re better at it.
Unfortunately, a lot of times, folks, you know, just don’t listen. Sometimes, folks do. And even when they do listen, you get overwhelmed by a storm like this. But it really is important to understand that you can’t guarantee that people are not going to get hurt.
What we have to do is be prepared and try to engage in what they call risk-reduction strategies and how we build back, where we build and things of that nature.
Then, of course, you get into the emergency response, which is far superior. I think everybody can watch it on TV. This is something that has taken a long time to develop amongst the emergency responders across the country. There is better command-and-control, better communication, better coordination.
And this is a good effort. However, you can see how easy it is for a city to be overwhelmed by Mother Nature. When you get a Category 4 storm or a 5 storm coming at you with 150-mile-an-hour winds and 50 inches of rain, you get an interior rain event like this, and you just — you know, Mother Nature will have her way with you.
So, as we go forward, we have to think about how to build back stronger. Now, one of the real challenging things is that every time somebody has trauma in their life, the first thing they want to do is go back to exactly like it was.
And it is a little bit harder to think about, well, what should it have been? And each community has to go through that on their own. And I’m sure that Houston and Beaumont and all of the areas that have been hard-hit will think through that, and build back better than it was before.
MILES O’BRIEN: All good words.
Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans, thank you for your time.
MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU: Great. Thank you so much.
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MILES O’BRIEN: According to the latest estimates, about 100,000 homes were damaged by Harvey. But today in Houston, the skies are clear and the water is receding.
It was the first time many were able to see the destruction firsthand.
Our William Brangham joined some on their journey back home, and he is back with this story.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This is your place?
This is Jonny Silva’s first day back home since the flood. The waters have receded, and now he and his wife are here to see the damage.
How high was up the water?
JONNY SILVA, Home destroyed in flood: It’s about here.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Jonny’s a pipe fitter for the oil and gas industry. His family evacuated in the middle of the night when the water kept coming in their apartment.
JONNY SILVA: I have got two kids, one boy and one girl.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This was their room?
JONNY SILVA: Yes.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Jonny says he doesn’t want his son and daughter to come and see this. He thinks it’ll be too tough for them to see how bad things are.
So, what are you going to do?
JONNY SILVA: I don’t know. We called numbers for help. So, you know, we got to wait. I don’t know, for real.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The Silvas live in an apartment complex in a lower-income minority neighborhood, and everyone here is going through the same process: coming home, assessing the damage, and just wondering how to rebuild.
PHYCLICIA JOSEPH, Home damaged by storm: Now I see how the people in New Orleans really felt.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Phyclicia Joseph, like most people here, was evacuated by boat. A few residents rode out the storm up on the second floor of the complex. Phyclicia spent the last two days crowded in a relative’s apartment.
PHYCLICIA JOSEPH: She has a one-bedroom, 20 of us in a one-bedroom.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Twenty people in a one-bedroom?
PHYCLICIA JOSEPH: Mm-hmm. We made it to her house, and we went from there. We just made it home today. Today. We didn’t have clothes, nothing. But we did the best that we could. But it’s really sad.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Phyclicia has an apartment here. So does her sister. So does her aunt. They have all lost nearly everything they own.
PHYCLICIA JOSEPH: It’s all gone. It’s damaged. But I’m glad that we are alive. I’m not really worried about material things, because we can always get this back. We can’t get our lives back.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: One of her neighbors wasn’t so lucky. The woman who lived in this apartment here had come back to check on her two dogs, but when the local bayou overflowed, its surge of water, strong enough to knock over these fences, swept her off her feet, and she drowned.
Neighbors are now looking after the dogs.
It’s estimated that 80 percent of the people in the hardest-hit parts of the Houston area don’t have any flood insurance. Everyone we spoke to here were renters, and none of them had coverage.
Victor’s a chef at a local hospital. He saw the body of his neighbor who was swept away. He initially evacuated with his wife and mother and two daughters.
VICTOR, Home destroyed by storm: I jacked up all — everything that I could on to some cinder blocks here.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: His apartment is now a soggy, stinking mess. He has no flood insurance either. He lost replaceable things, like beds, a fridge and furniture, but irreplaceable things too.
And how long do you think — how long before you think you can…
VICTOR: Get back to normal?
Man, I don’t know. To be honest, I really don’t know, because, man…
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I’m sorry.
VICTOR: Kind of sucks.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: He’s also upset because, while he was evacuated, he says someone stole his tools.
You think it’s just people taking advantage of a disaster?
VICTOR: Quick buck.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The people here are doing what tens of thousands are doing across Houston and Southeast Texas today. It’s the same all-too-familiar ritual after almost every natural disaster: assess, grieve, and start the long road back to normal.
For the PBS NewsHour, I’m William Brangham in Houston, Texas.
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MILES O’BRIEN: Today’s explosions at the Arkema chemical plant northeast of Houston are underscoring concerns about the hazards of dangerous chemicals in the area.
Houston is a major hub for refineries and has some of the largest petrochemical operations in the country.
Our science producer, Nsikan Akpan, has been looking into those concerns. He published a piece this week documenting some of the other leaks and ruptures in the region.
It is on our Web page.
Nsikan, tell us a little bit about what we know about Arkema, first of all, what is happening there.
NSIKAN AKPAN: So, Arkema produces organic peroxides, so these compounds that are used to make plastics.
And the thing is that they are inherently unstable. So, they tend to react with other elements in the environment. They are also very sensitive to the heat. So, Arkema was storing these compounds in refrigerated boxes. And when the power went out, the heat rose, it led to pressure to build, and you had this explosion.
MILES O’BRIEN: And, unfortunately, the backup systems didn’t keep the materials cool, and hence you had this difficulty.
Let’s listen basically to Richard Rennard, who is an executive with Arkema.
RICH RENNARD, Arkema: What we have is a fire. And when you have a fire where hydrocarbons, these chemicals, are burning, sometimes, you have incomplete combustion and you have smoke.
And any smoke will be an irritant to your eyes or your lungs or potentially your skin. So, if you are exposed to that, we certainly are encouraging anyone that may be exposed to the smoke coming from this fire to call their doctor or to seek medical advice.
MILES O’BRIEN: So, point well-taken. It’s not as bad as an outright leak, I suppose, but, with the smoke, there is some concern, isn’t there?
NSIKAN AKPAN: Exactly.
I mean, these compounds are corrosive, which means, like I said, they tend to react with things. So, they want to react to the water in your eyes. They want to react with the compounds in your skin.
And that might explain why 15 deputies from the sheriff’s office were sent to the hospital, because, you know, potentially, they were exposed to this incomplete burn that he brought up.
MILES O’BRIEN: Good reason they have that mile-and-a-half zone around it where people shouldn’t go in for now, until this gets sorted out.
Let’s look at the bigger picture here. Houston, in general, huge petrochemical facilities, a number of them. You have had a chance to kind of look at the big picture. Tell us what people are looking at, what concerns there are.
NSIKAN AKPAN: So, the Sierra Club looked into EPA data, and they found that 170 chemical, petrochemical and also oil and gas hazardous waste facilities exist in Harris County, which is home to Houston.
Many of these facilities exist in floodplains. And we know that at least a dozen of them were damaged by the hurricane.
MILES O’BRIEN: Obviously, a lot of petrochemicals in Houston. Give us an idea of the types of concerns, the specific problems that can crop up.
NSIKAN AKPAN: So, it is known that petrochemical companies, that they have these emissions whenever they start up and shut down.
And so, before the hurricane even arrived, there were reports, regulatory filings by these companies showing that they were releasing hundreds of pounds of these chemicals into the air. But most of them were done in a controlled way, which isn’t so much of a hazard to the environment.
If you leak these very slowly, they spread out in the air and they are not going to be toxic to somebody. What happened was, after the hurricane hit, there was so much rain, there was so much wind that there was damage to what are called floating roof tanks.
And so the floating roof tank is exactly what the name suggests, right? So you have a roof that moves up and down depending on how you fill the tank. And what that allows is, it allows for a certain amount of venting. It allows for a certain amount of the chemical to turn to vapor.
What happened was, at some of these facilities, these tanks took on so much water, that their roofs actually collapsed into the liquid that they were holding, which allowed the vapors to escape into the air.
MILES O’BRIEN: So, let’s talk about other potential hazards. A lot of Superfund sites in Houston. What about those?
NSIKAN AKPAN: So, there about a dozen Superfund sites in Harris County.
Many are in the floodplains. And so far, Harris County has issued about 45 boil water advisories, and I think about — and there are about 160 issued for the state.
MILES O’BRIEN: OK. So you could ask the question, we knew a hurricane could hit Houston, of course. Are these facilities, when you look at the big picture, are they hardened enough against that threat?
NSIKAN AKPAN: Well, so, other studies have looked at these floating roof tanks and shown that, when hurricanes hit, that they do tend to take on destruction.
So, due to the fact that they are built with very thin walls, that they have very unsturdy foundations, these things do tend to move around when there is a lot of rain and a lot of wind.
MILES O’BRIEN: Nsikan Akpan is our science producer. Thank you.
NSIKAN AKPAN: Thank you, Miles.
MILES O’BRIEN: There are lots of questions about the health risks associated with this explosion, and what people need to know about the air and water in Houston.
Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health is here to guide us on some of the public health questions about these toxic chemicals.
First of all, give us an idea. When we hear about chemicals like organic peroxides or benzene, those kind of things either in the air or the water, that naturally raises people’s concern. Help us calibrate how concerned we should be.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: Well, it depends on the concentration of these things.
You were just talking about the smoke because of the fire and the burning. The authorities in that area cordoned off the area, so that you have a circle around, so that you don’t get direct exposure to that.
Exposures, if they are mild, in the sense of barely just a small concentration, it’s mostly an irritant, particularly the peroxides, that in that smoke would irritate the skin or even irritate the lungs. So, for the most time, it could be either just a little bit of a nuisance irritant, or if you get a really big whiff of it, particularly people who have, for example, reversible airways disease, like asthma or different types of hypersensitivity diseases, you could get a serious problem.
For the most part, what I’m seeing and I’m hearing that is being done there about cordoning off an area to keep people far enough away that at worst it would be just an irritant, hopefully, it stays that way, and we don’t see any more of it going to where people are.
MILES O’BRIEN: What about when we hear about chemicals that end up for one reason or another in the water itself? How big a concern should that be?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: It really depends on what the chemical is.
You had mentioned hydrocarbons, things like benzene and toluene. Those are a little bit more than irritants, because they can be absorbed from the gastrointestinal track and from the lungs.
And when it does, that what you can do is that you can then have toxicities systemically or to different organs. That is really with a whopping dose, so I don’t want people to get concerned that if it is a really diluted in water, that there is going to be a problem.
But at its worst, it does have the potential to cause organ system dysfunction, like liver, or kidneys, or even central nervous system, and even some cardiac arrhythmias.
But, again, that’s in the extreme. You don’t want people to be concentrating that that is going to happen to them if they are in the water and you have a very low concentration of these.
But, ultimately, the capability of that is, it really depends on what the dose is and the concentration.
MILES O’BRIEN: Tell us about some of the other immediate health concerns people in your position have as they look at Houston.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Yes.
Well, it really is a broad spectrum. It goes from anything from the immediate, acute thing, and we have already seen it on TV multiple times. You have people, for example, who could drown, that tragic situation of a family drowning in a van.
You have people who could get electrocuted. You could have injuries. That is the first thing. Then, when you have the water which is contaminated with sewage, you can have multiple problems with that.
It could be, you could have gastrointestinal problems by inadvertently swallowing some of the contaminated water that is contaminated with sewage, and you can get a variety of bacterial or viral types of gastroenteritis.
Also, you can irritate or even get infections in the skin. You could have either obvious lesions, scrapes and cuts, for example, in your lower body. We have seen people who are in the water up to their waists. Those are the kind of things that people need to be aware of. That is one of the reasons why Secretary Price of HHS declared a public health emergency and why our own CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are working with the local and state authorities to make people aware of this broad spectrum of health hazards that you need to pay attention to.
MILES O’BRIEN: As you look toward the long-term, what are the real concerns — and we’re talking years down the road — for people who have been through something like this?
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Well, for the long-term down the road, clearly, whenever you have traumas like this with natural disasters, there always is the situation of mental issues, namely, depressions, either de novo depressions in people who have not been depressed or exacerbations of people who have a propensity to depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
Also, as I think people don’t fully appreciate sometimes, when you have a situation like this that we’re seeing on the ground, people get dissociated from their medical care. They don’t have access to their standard medicines that they take, or they need medical care that they get interrupted can have long-term effects on their health later on, as well as immediate effects on their health.
So, those are the kind of things that you don’t immediately think of when you think of a hurricane or a flood, but that are important health issues.
MILES O’BRIEN: Dr. Anthony Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
Thank you for your time.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Good to be with you.
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MILES O’BRIEN: Louisiana is the next target for Harvey’s wrath. Like Texas, the terrain is prone to flooding, and for residents there, the worst is yet to come.
Congressman Clay Higgins represents Louisiana’s 3rd District, which covers much of the state’s southwest coast. He’s a former law enforcement officer and now serves on the House Science Committee.
I spoke with him by phone a short time ago.
Congressman Higgins, thanks for being with us.
I know you were very worried about your district in advance of Harvey, and the concern was that there be a direct blow on that second approach to landfall. It appears you dodged that bullet. Give us a sense, though, of what the consequences of Harvey were in your district.
REP. CLAY HIGGINS, R-La.: Well, the storm sort of hit exactly at the state border, which my district, of course, includes the parishes in Louisiana that border Texas in the southern portion of the state.
So, so many of our citizens from Louisiana and from the district that I represent were part of that rescue, civilian rescue effort that is commonly referred to as the Cajun navy, which essentially is just thousands and thousands of civilians with boats and four-wheel drive trucks that load up their vehicles with water and food and temporary shelter, and they just roll out to areas, neighborhoods that have been flooded.
And they begin rescuing people from second-floor, you know, apartments or from rooftops or out of attics. A very common mistake is for someone, as their house begins to flood, they go up to the second story, or they crawl into the attic. And then they have no way out.
So we have to use chain saws to cut through the roof in order to get sometimes whole families out of an attic on to a boat and then to high ground. And then from there, they have to be picked up by buses and brought to a shelter, a temporary shelter, until they can get put somewhere more permanent, until they can return to their homes and begin the recovery process.
I have been through many storms, brother, and I have never seen this much water, never, not in Katrina and not in any of the storms that have hit Louisiana. I’m 56 years old. I have never seen this much water dumped at one time.
MILES O’BRIEN: Tell us a little bit about how many shelters you have in your district, how many people have come from the hard-hit areas and are being sheltered there.
REP. CLAY HIGGINS: We have two major shelters set up in Calcasieu Parish in the Lake Charles area, with hundreds and hundreds of displaced Americans out of Texas that have been brought into those shelters.
So it’s quite an endeavor. There are so many entities working with this response and recovery and rescue efforts, that it can be quite difficult to coordinate all those entities, especially when you include civilians working in massive quantities just out of the goodness of their heart, out of their own pocket.
They don’t get a dime back, you understand. And you have large government responses. It can be quite complicated.
MILES O’BRIEN: Congressman Clay Higgins, Republican of Louisiana, thank you for your time.
REP. CLAY HIGGINS: And thank you, sir. And God bless you for shedding light on this and for your kindness during this interview. I thank you for your journalistic integrity, sir.
MILES O’BRIEN: The record-breaking nature of Harvey has renewed the conversation about the link between climate change and extreme weather events.
Congressman Higgins is a vocal climate change skeptic. I asked him if the events of the last week have at all changed his mind. You can listen to that exchange on our website, PBS.org/NewsHour.
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MILES O’BRIEN: Harvey is gone, but Houston still faces Texas-sized problems tonight.
It runs the gamut, from catastrophic housing loss to the dangers of damaged chemical plants. And as the region struggles to recover, officials are searching for the living and the dead.
William Brangham begins our coverage.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Above, it’s more sunshine and mostly clear skies. Down below, flooding from Harvey still as far as the eye can see.
But as the water begins to recede, fire and rescue crews in Houston are going door-to-door in flooded neighborhoods, hoping they won’t discover more bodies.
JAMES PENNINGTON, District Chief, Houston Fire Department: We’re finding out, just to see how much damage there is, if there is any civilians that have been left behind. We don’t think we’re going to find any humans, but we’re prepared if we do.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: At the same time, many of the people who evacuated during the flood are now starting to come home and assess what’s left of their homes.
I’m in the Northeastern Houston right now, which is one of the areas that was hardest hit by the storm. And, as you see, people are coming home, taking out of all the muddy, soaked belongings and dumping them here on the curb.
Just outside Houston, there were small explosions at a chemical plant, which sent 30-foot flames and plumes of smoke into the air. A power outage had left containers of volatile chemicals unrefrigerated, and as they heated up, they ignited.
It happened at the Arkema site in Crosby, Texas. Dozens of workers were removed before the hurricane. And officials had already ordered people living within a mile-and-a-half to leave.
BOB ROYALL, Assistant Fire Chief, Harris County: We’re trying to make sure that our citizens are comfortable in what’s going on, and that they know the truth. And so with that, these are small container ruptures, that may have a sound — excuse me — may have a sound of a pop or something of that nature. This is not a massive explosion.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the smoke posed no immediate threat to public health. Fifteen sheriff’s deputies went to hospitals, but most were quickly released.
To the east, Orange County, Texas, ordered a mandatory evacuation this afternoon as the Neches River surged higher. The river also knocked out the water supply in the city of Beaumont, Texas. That forced the evacuation of nearly 200 hospital patients by air, and the closure of local shelters.
CAROL RILEY, Beaumont Police Department: We are not sheltering anybody anymore. With the situation that we are in with the water, we are having people — people that are displaced, we are finding other locations for them. That’s what we’re working on.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Vice President Mike Pence, with his wife, Karen, and other members of President Trump’s Cabinet today visited areas of Texas hit by Harvey.
The vice president, visiting the severely damaged city of Rockport, where Harvey first came ashore, again promised full federal support.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Just know we are with you, and we will stay with you until Rockport and all of Southeast Texas come back.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Meanwhile, Harvey’s hit on the country’s energy supply also continued.
Colonial Pipeline said it’s shutting down part of a key line that moves nearly 40 percent of the South’s gasoline. It could start carrying fuel again by Sunday. But the interruption, coupled with the closure of several big Texas refineries, sent gas prices soaring. In turn, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who is a former Texas governor, and part of the Pence entourage, announced he’s releasing 500,000 barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
RICK PERRY, Secretary of Energy: Gas prices are going to go up because of the cut in supply. Every state’s attorney general will be watching to make sure that there’s not price gouging going on, and anybody that is considering raising prices above what would be considered to be appropriate need to watch out.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: To the north, remnants of Harvey moved further inland. It’s been downgraded to a tropical depression, but it’s still soaking Western Louisiana and Southern Arkansas. And as much as 10 inches of rain could fall in Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky in the hours ahead.
MILES O’BRIEN: That report from our William Brangham, who joins us from Houston with more.
William, Houston is no stranger to flooding. Do you get the sense that people there see this as a — if you will excuse the term, a watershed?
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Yes, in many ways, Houstonians are familiar with flooding. It has been going on for decades here.
The thing that is not talked about as often is that the way Houston was built and the way it’s continued to grow has very substantially exacerbated what those floods do to this area.
The nickname for Houston is the city with no limits and in many ways that is true. The growth that occurred over here the last few decades has been explosive. And what’s happened is, is that they have been digging up farmland outside the skirts of the city, and they put up parking lots and highways and developments.
And you don’t have to be a hydrologist to know that if you replace spongy, absorbent farmlands with hard, concrete surfaces, when a lot of comes down, that water is going to flood these neighborhoods. So Harvey was going to be a problem no matter what. But there are many people who argue that there could have been things done in the decades past that could have made Harvey a little bit less damaging.
MILES O’BRIEN: It sounds like there is a big civic conversation that needs to occur in Houston that might be a little bit overdue.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Certainly, that conversation has gone on in the past. But every time reforms have been suggested, they have been put aside for one reason or another. After I believe it was Ike in 2008, there were numerous flood control projects that were proposed. They were shelved.
After Allison came through and devastated a lot of this area, more reforms were proposed. They were put aside. Voters here have several times said that they don’t want to change the zoning laws, which are incredibly lax and don’t really require cities and townships to put in good flood control measures.
So, every time this has come up as a conversation, people recognize that it’s an issue, but the incentives of economic growth and economic development and inexpensive housing are very powerful. And so the conversation maybe will occur again, but right now the focus is really on rescue and recovery.
MILES O’BRIEN: William Brangham in Houston, thank you.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM: You’re welcome, Miles.
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American B-1B bombers and F-35s, along with Korean and Japanese military aircraft, overflew the Korean Peninsula early Thursday morning in what military leaders characterized as a direct response to North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile over Japan earlier this week.
“North Korea’s actions are a threat to our allies, partners and homeland, and their destabilizing actions will be met accordingly,” said Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces. The mission, which was not part of the U.S.-South Korea exercises that ended today, also included South Korea Air Force F-15K fighters and F-15Js from Japan.
Why this demonstration? Thursday’s mission, which sent 12 aircraft from Kyushu, Japan, over the Korean Peninsula to release live weapons over a military training range, was “intended as a signal to North Korea of allied determination to deter, defend, and defeat [North Korean] attacks,” said Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation. For U.S. allies, the exercises also underscored America’s commitment to defending them, Klingner said.
They were also as much “a signal to North Korea of the allies’ capabilities” as it was a reassurance of the allies’ defense, and their “resolve to respond to NK’s aggressions swiftly, and with strength,” said Balbina Hwang, who served as a special State Department advisor on East Asia and Pacific issues before becoming a lecturer at Georgetown and American universities.
The other significance: The exercises “included Japanese air defense forces, and the inclusion of Japan as part of an allied active defense of the ROK cannot be underestimated.”
Is this unusual? The U.S. has flown B-1Bs over the Korean Peninsula often, including early this month, but it’s the first time that F-35s, America’s newest stealth planes, have accompanied the B-1Bs.
The mission also ended with a drop of live weapons, which is rare for these kinds of demonstrations, officials say.
President Barack Obama rarely ordered immediate responses to North Korean missile tests, “partly because he believed it gave DPRK the attention they were seeking,” said Frank Jannuzi, president and CEO of the Mansfield Foundation and a longtime federal analyst who was part of the team that negotiated the Agreed Framework with North Korea during the Clinton administration.
But there have been far more missile tests since Kim Jong Un took office in May 2016 — more than 80 — than there were under his father or grandfather’s rule, Jannuzi said.
This is unlikely to affect North Korea, says Joel S. Wit, a senior fellow at the U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS and senior research fellow at the Columbia University Weatherhead Institute for East Asian Studies. “It’s like groundhog day. They do a test, we fly bombers … and sometimes others join us,” he said.
But it is “an important signal of growing regional and allied cooperation to find a coordinated response,” Hwang said. Cooperation between South Korea and Japan on security issues “has been politically challenging, if not impossible at times, and certainly many expected that it would become even more difficult under South Korean President Moon,” Hwang said. These exercises indicated a willingness to work together in the face of a North Korean threat.
The thing to watch: whether Kim Jong Un will order a nuclear test, Jannuzi says. North Korea appears to be poised to conduct a test, based on what Jannuzi has seen from unclassified satellite data. The only reasons for North Korea to hold off: threat of more severe sanctions, or, a sign that dialogue could lead to sanctions relief, Januzzi says.
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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s hiring and budget plans are raising questions about whether he can deliver the “better-than-ever” recovery he’s promised after Hurricane Harvey devastated a swath of the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Trump has proposed vast budget cuts and leaving some leadership positions unfilled at agencies involved in disaster management. His Republican allies on Capitol Hill proposed spending some of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster money to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
But in the week since Harvey dumped a record rain blamed for deadly flooding, experts see some bright spots. Among them: Trump’s support for FEMA’s coordination efforts and its administrator, Brock Long, a veteran of emergency management. The administration is preparing an emergency request for Congress for an initial $5.9 billion to replenish government reserves for relief aid. And that’s likely to be followed by supplemental requests for as much federal cash as needed for a rebuilding and recovery expected to last years.
But much of FEMA’s widely-praised response is the product of laws and procedures that grew under Trump’s predecessors after the government’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Taking a turn as comforter-in-chief this week in flooded Texas, Trump signaled concern for the victims — and an understanding of the potential for a smooth recovery to help steady his turbulent administration. He showered praise on the responders, and Long in particular, even as he warned that “the world is watching.”
“We want to do it better than ever before. We want to be looked at five years, 10 years from now, as this is the way to do it,” Trump said of the effort.
Trump’s signals have been mixed. On one hand, he’s promised quick federal aid to those hit by Harvey. White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert on Thursday said he’s “not worried at all” about having enough money to help the region recover. The president himself has pledged $1 million of his own money toward the effort.
As FEMA spent down its existing disaster aid reserves — just $2.1 billion, with only about $600 million of that officially available for Harvey relief — the administration was expected to ask top lawmakers for permission to move additional money from other programs to ease the cash crunch. Trump was expected to request additional cash infusions later — but it will take weeks or months to assess the cost.
On the other, Trump isn’t backing off his budget proposal to cut billions of dollars from those agency budgets, a plan Bossert Thursday said repeatedly is a “responsible” effort to make government more efficient. At FEMA, Trump has proposed cutting the disaster relief budget by $667 million, targeting grants that help state and local governments prepare for national disasters.
That’s leading to questions about recovery staffing, oversight and just how much taxpayer money will be available. The recovery from Katrina cost $110 billion and was riddled with corruption.
“FEMA should continue to receive the budgetary support it needs to respond to disaster such as Harvey. It’s important to note that cutting FEMA’s budget would also cause significant harm to state and local first responders who receive preparedness grants” through the agency, said Samantha C. Phillips, director of National Center for Security & Preparedness and a professor at the State University of New York at Albany. She added in an email that Trump’s support for his FEMA administrator puts Long “in a good position to lobby for the personnel he needs, not only to aid in the recovery from Harvey, but simultaneously be ready for future disasters.”
Criticized by conservatives for leaving open hundreds of senior federal jobs, Trump tweeted this week that some of those posts will go unfilled because they are not needed. He did not specify which ones, and the White House did not respond to a request for more information.
All told, Trump has not nominated anyone to 366 of 591 positions requiring Senate confirmation, according to a count maintained by the Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post. The open posts include the secretary of homeland security, assorted deputies at the housing department and the independent inspector general of the Department of Energy, led by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
“What I worry about over the long term is who’s in charge of those upper levels — the political appointees — and if they’re even committed to the agency missions?” said Bev Cigler, a Penn State University public policy professor who was co-chair of a task force after Katrina. Career civil servants tend to serve in posts requiring Senate confirmation, she said. But “they don’t think they have the authority to make big policy decisions. Certainly it’s not their job to be the long-term visionary on a problem like this that’s going to take years.”
At FEMA, Long’s two deputies have been nominated but not confirmed. The agency, though, says the government has an effective footprint in storm-ravaged Texas and Louisiana, with 12,400 state and federal employees from 17 departments involved in the response. That includes about 3,200 FEMA employees, the agency said.
Much of the initial efficiency was dictated by a 2006 law that required the FEMA director to have certain credentials and set up national systems for communications across levels of government.
Almost as soon as the storm hit, Long was asked on CNN whether the lack of staffing at FEMA and DHS would affect the government’s response. He said he doesn’t have time to worry about that now.
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WASHINGTON — Russia on Friday promised a “tough response” to a U.S. order to shut the Russian consulate in San Francisco and offices in Washington and New York, the latest round in a diplomatic tit-for-tat.
The U.S. issued its order Thursday and gave Russia 48 hours to comply, intensifying tensions between the two countries.
President Donald Trump’s administration described its action as retaliation for the Kremlin’s “unwarranted and detrimental” demand earlier this month that the U.S. cut its diplomatic staff in Russia.
“The United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. Still, she said the U.S. hoped both countries could now move toward “improved relations” and “increased cooperation.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow will reply with firmness but still must decide on the precise response.
“We will have a tough response to the things that come totally out of the blue to hurt us and are driven solely by the desire to spoil our relations with the United States,” he said in a televised meeting with students at Russia’s top diplomacy school.
American officials argued that Russia should refrain from retaliation, noting that Moscow’s ordering of U.S. diplomatic cuts was premised on bringing the two countries’ diplomatic presences into “parity.”
“The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation’s desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides,” the State Department’s Nauert said.
Both countries now maintain three consulates on each other’s territory and ostensibly similar numbers of diplomats. Exact numbers are difficult to independently verify.
Lavrov on Friday also defended Trump, saying that the new package of sanctions against Russia that Congress adopted last month not only hits Russia but also is designed to “tie Trump’s hands, not let him use his constitutional powers to the full to make foreign policy.”
Several hours after the U.S. announcement, new Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov arrived in Washington to start his new posting.
At the airport, Antonov cited a maxim of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin as he urged caution and professionalism.
“We don’t need hysterical impulses,” Russian news agencies quoted Antonov as saying.
The closures on both U.S. coasts marked perhaps the most drastic diplomatic measure by the United States against Russia since 1986, near the end of the Cold War, when the nuclear-armed powers expelled dozens of each other’s diplomats.
And it comes amid some of the broadest strains in their relationship ever since. The two countries have clashed over the wars in Ukraine and Syria, but most significantly over American allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to boost Trump’s chances of victory. Investigations continue into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow.
By Saturday, the Russians must close their consulate in San Francisco and an official residence there. Though Russia can keep its New York consulate and Washington embassy, trade missions housed in satellite offices in both of those cities must shut down, a senior Trump administration official said. The official briefed reporters on a conference call on condition of anonymity.
Outside the consulate building high atop a hill overlooking the San Francisco Bay, there were no visible signs of an exodus Thursday. Consular officials walked in and out of the stately building, and Russian citizens who had scheduled appointments said they were able to pick up or renew their passports.
American counterintelligence officials have long kept a watchful eye on Russia’s outpost in San Francisco, concerned that people posted to the consulate as diplomats were engaged in espionage. The U.S. late last year kicked out several Russians posted there, calling it a response to election interference.
The U.S. isn’t expelling any Russian officials this time. Those who work at the shuttered offices can be reassigned elsewhere in the United States, the senior official said.
One of the buildings is believed to be leased, but Russia will maintain ownership over the others, said the official, adding that Moscow can determine if it wants to sell them or otherwise dispose of the properties.
The forced closures are the latest in an intensifying exchange of diplomatic broadsides.
In December, President Barack Obama kicked out dozens of Russian officials, closed Russian recreational compounds in New York and Maryland, and imposed sanctions on Russian people and businesses. Russian President Vladimir Putin withheld from retaliating. The next month, Trump took office after campaigning on promises to improve U.S.-Russia ties.
But earlier this month, Trump begrudgingly signed into law stepped-up sanctions on Russia that Congress pushed to prevent him from easing up on Moscow. The Kremlin retaliated by telling the U.S. to cut embassy and consulate staff down to 455 personnel, from a level hundreds higher.
Russia said 755 personnel in all would have to go to reach the new limit. The U.S. never confirmed how many diplomatic staff it had in the country at the time. As of Thursday, the U.S. has complied with the order to reduce staff to 455, officials said.
The reductions are having consequences for Russia. The U.S. has temporarily suspended non-immigrant visa processing for Russians seeking to visit the United States and was scheduled to resume it on Friday at a “much-reduced rate.” The U.S. will process visas only at the embassy in Moscow, meaning Russians can no longer apply at U.S. consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.
Despite the exchange of penalties, there have been narrow signs of U.S.-Russian cooperation that have transcended the worsening ties. In July, Trump and Putin signed off on a deal with Jordan for a cease-fire in southwest Syria. The U.S. says the truce has largely held.
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