California residents survey damage as historic floods recede
By TERENCE CHEA and JANIE HAR
Friday, March 1
GUERNEVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Tom Orr began moving lyrics and scripts, clothes and photo albums from his apartment as authorities ordered evacuations along a rising Northern California river threatening to hit a historic crest.
But the actor and writer couldn’t move costumes, computers and performance videos. So he shifted those to his loft bed about 10 feet up and prayed they would survive. On Wednesday, television news footage showed muddy brown water nearly swallowing his ground-level unit and much of the tiny town of Guerneville, part of Sonoma County’s famed wine country and a popular tourist destination.
Residents awoke Thursday to sunshine and began assessing the damage while the water started receding. Orr, 48, was among those still unable to get into his house after the rain-swollen Russian River reached nearly 46 feet (14 meters) Wednesday night, its highest level in more than 20 years.
“I feel so helpless just sitting here and waiting before I can go back and start salvaging whatever I can,” Orr said in text messages to The Associated Press before preparing for a friend to take him by canoe to work at the Main Street Bistro, one of the few places in town that did not flood.
Sonoma County officials said they expected the communities of Guerneville and Monte Rio to be accessible by car Friday. The two-day storm rendered the towns reachable only by boat on Wednesday.
One National Weather Service station measured 20 inches of rain in 48 hours.
While no flood-related serious injuries or deaths were reported in Sonoma County, a man about 150 miles (330 kilometers) to the north in Ferndale died trying to reach three children.
The unidentified man was trying to walk from a barn to his home through up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water Wednesday evening when he was carried away by the fast-moving current, said Samantha Karges, a spokeswoman with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.
Two adults and a child tried to rescue the man, but their tractor stalled in the water. Deputies in a boat then rescued them and the three children from the home, Karges said.
The missing man’s body was found Thursday morning. He was the father of a 12-year-old trapped in the home with two children under 4, Karges said. She was not sure if all three children were related. The low-lying rural area about 215 miles (473 kilometers) north of San Francisco is home to many dairy farms and flooded when the Eel River went over its banks.
In Sonoma County, Guerneville and Monte Rio remained cut off by floodwaters that swamped the communities. Water was chest-high in some places, several feet in others.
In downtown Guerneville, some residents stood on the roofs of their flooded two-story houses, watching neighbors and others paddling kayaks, canoes and rowboats down watery streets. Oversized National Guard truck occasionally sloshed by.
Drone video showed a sign reading “Monte Rio awaits your return” hanging over muddy water that hid any trace of the road beneath.
In Sonoma County, Sheriff Mark Essick said Thursday that three women had to be rescued. Two were on a boat without paddles, and one was rescued from a tree after driving her car into floodwaters, he said.
About 2,000 homes, businesses and other structures were flooded by water up to 8 feet (2.4 meters) deep. About 3,500 people were under evacuation orders.
In addition, two wastewater treatment plants were not working, leading to concerns about sewage spills, said Briana Khan, a Sonoma County spokeswoman.
Guerneville, a town of 4,500, is a former logging community now popular with day-tripping tourists, including gays and lesbians who flock to the town’s resorts and fine restaurants. Throughout the storm, residents with canoes and kayaks gave rides to neighbors and documented the rising water with photos posted to social media.
Locals are accustomed to the Russian River flooding in rainy weather, but not like this.
In Monte Rio, 28-year-old Michael Super watched helplessly as water seeped in from five different entry points, including doors and walls. He grabbed the cat and dog and found higher ground.
He said the landlord has insurance, but the silt and dirty water are a mess to clean.
“A lot of the furniture will have to go into the dump,” he said. “We’ve seen oil and gas sheens and alcohol bottles so the water is unsafe.”
Orr moved to Guerneville about five years ago, driven out of San Francisco by rising costs. He helped create a dinner theater show at a local restaurant. It didn’t work out, but he stayed on, unable to move back to the city.
He started moving items out of his house Tuesday afternoon, humming a version of “My Funny Valentine” called “My Floody Valentine” to keep up his spirits. By 10 p.m., the water was too high for him to get inside.
He doesn’t have insurance, but the items he hopes survive are not easily replaceable: computers, floppy disks and videotapes containing decades of essays, performances, ideas for musicals and “sassy satirical parodies of Broadway show tunes.”
He’s a cabaret performer accustomed to cracking jokes to keep the grief at bay.
“This is the most serious thing that’s ever happened to me, but I don’t know the punchline,” he said. “For now, I’m trying to do my best to keep everybody laughing.”
Har reported from San Francisco. Associated Press Writer Olga R. Rodriguez and Paul Elias in San Francisco also contributed to this report.
Report says Trump demanded top-secret clearance for Kushner
Friday, March 1
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump last year ordered officials to grant top-secret security clearance to his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, according to a report published Thursday by The New York Times.
Kushner was granted the high-level clearance last May after a lengthy background check.
The Times, citing anonymous sources, said Trump demanded Kushner’s clearance despite the concerns of intelligence officials, then-Chief of Staff John Kelly and then-White House counsel Don McGahn.
The newspaper said Kelly wrote in an internal memo that he had been “ordered” to give top-secret clearance to Kushner. McGahn wrote a memo in which he advised against such clearance.
Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Kushner lawyer Abbe Lowell, responded Thursday to the Times story with a statement, saying: “In 2018, White House and security clearance officials affirmed that Mr. Kushner’s security clearance was handled in the regular process with no pressure from anyone. That was conveyed to the media at the time, and new stories, if accurate, do not change what was affirmed at the time.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders declined to comment on the Times story.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said Thursday that the Times report “indicates that President Trump may have granted access to our country’s most sensitive classified information to his son-in-law against the advice of career staff_directly contradicting the President’s public denials that he played any role.”
Trump told Times reporters in January that he “was never involved” with Kushner’s security clearance.
Cummings, D-Md., noted that his committee has launched an investigation into the security clearance process and requested documents and interviews relating to Kushner’s clearance.
“To date, the White House has not produced a single document or scheduled a single interview,” Cummings said in a statement. “The Committee expects full compliance with its requests as soon as possible, or it may become necessary to consider alternative means to compel compliance.”
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and Kushner’s wife, said in February that the president did not play a role in granting security clearances to her or Kushner.
Is it more dangerous to let Islamic State foreign fighters from the West return or prevent them from coming back?
March 1, 2019
Author: David Malet, Assistant Professor, American University School of Public Affairs
Disclosure statement: David Malet has received funding from the United States Department of Defense.
Partners: American University School of Public Affairs provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
The United states and other countries around the world are dealing with the same question: Should their citizens who join foreign terrorist organizations and fight for them be allowed to return to their home country?
Many of the men and women who left their homes in the West to join the Islamic State group or similar terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq as fighters or supporters now want to come home. Their desire to return has coincided with the defeats suffered by IS in the diminishing territory under its control.
The U.S. government argues that countries should take back their foreign fighters and prosecute them rather than allow them to be free to act on the world stage.
But other countries are more concerned with the threat of returnees committing domestic terrorism. And, despite its arguments, the U.S. has recently moved to keep at least one American-born ISIS member from returning.
Determining which approach makes Western countries safest requires examining the facts about foreign fighters.
Inconsistent US stance
Only about 250 to 300 Americans are said to have left the country to join the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The numbers who left Europe are much greater, 5,000 to 6,000, according to a 2018 report from the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.
The United States and its allies recently split over the Trump administration’s insistence that other governments bring home their citizens who joined the Islamic State.
Syrian rebel groups have detained hundreds of ISIS-affiliated Westerners, but have threatened to release over 3,000 them if the United States withdraws its forces from the region. The Free Syrian Army has already released at least one British foreign fighter, and his whereabouts are now unknown.
But American officials have undercut their position by declaring that Hoda Muthana, a young mother who left the United States to join IS, should not be permitted to return either, illustrating the inconsistency of the American approach to this issue.
Range of national policies
The U.S. was actually the first country in the world to outlaw foreign fighting. Congress passed the initial legislation while George Washington was still president, despite the role of foreign volunteers in the American Revolution.
Under U.S. law, individuals can lose their citizenship for joining a foreign army or armed group as an officer, or for joining forces hostile to the United States.
However, prosecutions have been rare. American foreign fighters through history have been charged instead with violations that are easier to demonstrate in court than fighting on foreign soil (which would require witnesses and testimony from abroad), such as handling weapons of mass destruction and providing material support for terrorist organizations. Unlike some allies, the U.S. has not attempted to prevent foreign fighters from returning by removing their citizenship.
Part of the disagreement between the U.S. and its allies over foreign fighters stems from the fact that every country has different policies concerning such returnees.
Warren Christopher Clark, 34, and Zaid Abed al-Hamed, 35, were among about 300 Americans who left or tried to leave the U.S. to fight with IS.
France and Russia are among the countries in the process of taking some or all of their citizens back to face charges at home. Canada, which has been divided by internal partisan debates, has switched approaches, from stripping citizenship to allowing foreign fighters to return and potentially face criminal charges. But the Canadian public safety minister dismissed the American call to reclaim its citizens as a mere “suggestion.”
The U.K. has passed laws stripping citizenship from individuals who travel to join terror groups. In its own case of a young mother being held by rebels, it has argued that because her father was an immigrant from Bangladesh, she is eligible for citizenship from that country and her U.K. citizenship can be removed.
The U.S. has taken this approach in the Muthana case as well. Its argument is that her father’s employment as a foreign diplomat means that she is not a citizen, despite having been born in America.
Fears vs. facts
One American response to the rise of IS was to push for passage of two United Nations Security Council resolutions that require every country in the world to try to stop their citizens from becoming “foreign terrorist fighters” and to track and prosecute them.
These resolutions are why some countries like Australia are eager to remove their foreign fighters’ citizenship status: If a foreign fighter can be stripped of citizenship retroactively, it is no longer an obligation for that country to return or prosecute them.
National responses have varied and are driven by domestic homeland security politics. Denmark has a successful reintegration program that provides social services to help some returnees deradicalize and disengage. But opponents of this policy mounted challenges and won court rulings ensuring that Denmark can strip citizenship as well.
Since relatively few Americans have gone to Syria and only a handful have returned, there has not been a national debate about returnees until the recent Muthana case.
Many national responses have been prompted by fear of domestic terrorism.
The U.K. relied upon one 2013 study indicating that, in theory, as many as 10 percent of returnees could become terrorists. However, the same researcher found in 2015 that the rate was actually .002 percent, and hundreds of returnees have already been back for years with no sign of terror activity.
The local IS network behind the Paris and Brussels attacks included some returnees.
But otherwise foreign fighters have not produced a wave of domestic terrorism in the West.
My own research indicates that most domestic terror plots by returnees, including successful attacks, occur only within the first few months and that there is no evidence of any long-term threats by returnee sleeper cells.
Foreign fighters who have been barred from their home countries have fanned the flames of terrorism and insurgency when left unchecked. Osama bin Laden was the most prominent of hundreds of such militants who created far more havoc than any returnees. And in the social media era, they do not even need to return home to reach domestic audiences.
The American government should weigh this evidence carefully as it moves to address the risks of ISIS returnees.
Max Fisher: Should their citizens who join foreign terrorist organizations and fight for them be allowed to return to their home country? Many countries have legislation that strips citisenship of those who joined the military of enemy states. The problem here is that Britain. US, Australia, Canada etc have not declared war on a recognised state If war against a principle (ie. particular Islamist Qaranic interpretations) could be declared then these returnees would be enemy combatants subject to existent law.
Alan Grieve, In reply to Max Fisher: That is incorrect. Australian law already has the offence of treachery which does not require a declaration of war against a recognised state. The article discusses this and makes the point
What makes natural gas bottlenecks happen during extreme cold snaps
March 1, 2019
Chicago’s Lake Michigan waterfront froze during the 2019 polar vortex.
Author: Sarah Ryan, Professor of Industrial Engineering, Iowa State University
Disclosure statement: Sarah Ryan has received funding from the Power Systems Engineering Research Center and the Department of Energy in the ARPA-E Green Electricity Network Integration (GENI) program.
Partners: Iowa State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
When temperatures in Minneapolis fell to 27 below zero during the January 2019 polar vortex, the Xcel Energy utility urged all Minnesota customers to lower their thermostats to conserve natural gas needed for power generation. In Michigan, where it was also colder than the North Pole, General Motors even shut several factories as a precaution against outages.
This might seem like a paradox. U.S. gas production is at an all-time high, and electricity generation from renewable sources is growing at a record pace.
As an engineering economist who studies electricity markets and fuel supply chains, I look for ways to maintain energy delivery despite increasingly uncertain and extreme weather. I also edit an academic journal devoted to analyzing the costs, benefits and risks of capital investment. Based on what I’ve seen, making electrical generation more flexible while increasing access to stored gas would be the best way to help keep the lights on without sacrificing warmth when cold snaps strike.
More power from gas
The 2019 gas shortfall was only the most recent in a string of similar situations. Earlier polar vortexes in 2013 and 2014 hit New England especially hard. The “bomb cyclone” that struck the East Coast in the winter of 2018 strained supplies, making gas prices soar.
It’s not just that bouts of extreme weather are becoming worse and more common, even though they are. The electricity grid is increasingly relying on natural gas.
Many of the older coal-fired generators being retired are being replaced by gas-fired ones and renewable sources like wind and solar energy. The share of electricity powered by natural gas rose to 32 percent in 2017 from 18 percent in 1990, as the share from coal fell to 30 percent from 76 percent in the same time period.
Natural gas costs much less than it used to, and gas-fired generators are more flexible. It is far easier to turn gas-fired power plants on and off, for example, than nuclear reactors. What’s more, natural gas plants can ramp production up or down quickly to smooth out the inevitable variability in electricity generation from wind turbines and solar panels – when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.
As renewable energy accounts for bigger shares of electricity generation, power production from gas is projected to keep growing, too.
No easy substitute
Most gas heats homes and commercial properties and fuels the manufacturing of everything from newsprint to aluminum and canned tuna. Following years of growth, electricity generation still consumes only about a third of all gas usage in the United States.
And, while utilities have different choices they can make, there is no easy or immediate way to find a substitute for its other uses – especially if they want a relatively clean source. Heating systems take a long time and a lot of money to convert for homeowners, and it’s even harder for manufacturers.
To avoid service disruptions, most large industrial and commercial users, as well as local gas companies, establish firm contracts that guarantee delivery of the gas they anticipate needing.
The contracts for gas used to generate electricity are different. Many power companies, especially in the Northeast and Midwest, have “interruptible contracts” with gas suppliers. These arrangements let them pay lower prices that allow them to compete in wholesale electricity markets, but have a downside. They make those companies a lower priority than other customers for gas delivery.
The electric power industry and its regulators can see that customers don’t want to have to set their thermostats to 65 degrees or less during bitter cold weather. And indeed, they have taken steps to reduce the grid’s vulnerability to gas bottlenecks, such as by adjusting the timing of the wholesale electricity markets to help power plants buy additional gas when they need it. And better communication is improving forecasts regarding demand and making it easier for power plants learn about supply disruptions earlier on.
Cold snaps increase the need for both electricity and natural gas to heat homes and businesses at the same time, making wholesale electricity prices spike as electricity market operators scramble to keep the grid operating smoothly.
Demand for electricity fluctuates by the hour, day and season, magnified only occasionally by severe weather events, and the variability in renewable generation compounds swings in demands on gas-fired power plants. Rather than building pipelines that will only rarely be used at full capacity, it makes sense to invest in flexibility for the generation system to adjust more easily to changes in electricity demand and fuel supply.
While they won’t raise retail electricity prices immediately, these short-term price spikes signal the need, and provide the justification, for longer-term investments to avoid rate hikes or even outages.
One such strategy is to retrofit gas generators for dual-fuel capability. Practically, this means constructing a storage tank for another fuel, like oil, along with the pipes and other equipment to inject it into the chamber where the fuel is burned. It’s a significant investment but, that way, when extreme weather causes the demand for gas to outstrip the capacity of the pipelines available, power plants can switch to an alternative fuel temporarily.
Just as any kind of inventory, whether it’s paper cups or hubcaps, will help avert supply chain disruptions, stored gas can also keep the power flowing. Research I conducted with George Gross showed that investments to expand the capacity of gas storage facilities lowered the risk of high electricity prices more effectively than dual-fuel retrofits.
Storing large amounts of natural gas is not without risk, as residents of Southern California learned in 2015. Leaks from the Aliso Canyon storage facility in Los Angeles made nearby residents sick and gushed greenhouse gas emissions.
But I still believe that a snowy-day reserve of gas may be the best way to keep the lights on when temperatures sink to extreme lows.