Trump pondering Kelly’s status, 3-5 Cabinet changes
By JONATHAN LEMIRE
Sunday, November 18
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump isn’t committing to a previous pledge to keep chief of staff John Kelly for the remainder of his term, part of widespread speculation about staffing changes that could soon sweep through his administration.
Trump, in a wide-ranging interview that aired on “Fox News Sunday,” praised Kelly’s work ethic and much of what he brings to the position but added, “There are certain things that I don’t like that he does.”
“There are a couple of things where it’s just not his strength. It’s not his fault. It’s not his strength,” said Trump, who added that Kelly himself might want to depart.
Asked whether he would keep Kelly in his post through 2020, the president offered only that “it could happen.” Trump had earlier pledged publicly that Kelly would remain through his first term in office, though many in the West Wing were skeptical.
Trump said he was happy with his Cabinet but was thinking about changing “three or four or five positions.” One of them is Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen, whose departure is now considered inevitable. Trump said in the interview that he could keep her on, but he made clear that he wished she would be tougher in implementing his hard-line immigration policies and enforcing border security.
The list of potential replacements for Nielsen includes a career lawman, two military officers and former acting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement head. But her eventual replacement will find there’s no getting around the immigration laws and court challenges that have thwarted the president’s hard-line agenda at every turn — even if there’s better personal chemistry.
Trump also discussed the removal of Mira Ricardel, a deputy national security adviser who is being moved to another position in the administration after clashes with the East Wing culminated in an extraordinary statement from first lady Melania Trump that called for her removal. The president said Ricardel was “not too diplomatic, but she’s talented” and downplayed the idea that his wife was calling the shots in the White House.
“(The first lady’s team) wanted to go a little bit public because that’s the way they felt and I thought it was fine,” Trump said.
He also dismissed a series of reports that he had been fuming in the week after the Democrats captured the House, claiming instead that the mood of the West Wing was “very light.”
The president also addressed a series of other topics:
— He said he “would not get involved” if his choice for acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, decided to curtail special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into 2016 election interference and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Whitaker was previously a fierce critic of the probe, and Democrats have called for him to recuse himself from overseeing it. Trump said that “It’s going to be up to him” and that “I really believe he’s going to do what’s right.”
— He downplayed a federal judge’s decision to restore CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s White House press pass but derided an alleged lack of “decorum” among reporters who cover the administration. Trump also reiterated that the White House was going to write up rules of conduct for reporters at news conferences, adding, “If he misbehaves, we’ll throw him out or we’ll stop the news conference.”
— He also defended his incendiary attacks on the press, which include labeling reporters the “enemy of the people,” a phrase more closely associated with authoritarian regimes. Trump suggested that his interviewer, Chris Wallace, was no “angel,” and bristled when the host from Fox News, which generally gives him favorable coverage, said that the media was in “solidarity.” Trump declared, “I am calling fake news, fake reporting, is what’s tearing this country apart because people know, people like things that are happening and they’re not hearing about it.”
Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JonLemire
Macron, Merkel seek common approaches to Trump, euro
By DAVID McHUGH
Sunday, November 18
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel consulted Sunday on migration, fixing the euro currency, Europe’s defense, taxing digital companies and other issues as the two leaders looked to preserve their influence abroad while their authority flags at home.
Macron, who came to Berlin to take part in Germany’s national remembrance day for the victims of war and dictatorship, urged European government to seize more responsibility for their own fate, especially regarding defense.
Macron said that the French-German alliance “is invested with this obligation not to allow the world to slide into chaos, and to accompany it on the road of peace.”
He said that Europe can’t play its role “if it doesn’t take more responsibility for its defense and security and is content to play a secondary role on the international scene.” Macron looked ahead to the European Parliament elections in May, which will give populist and anti-EU parties another chance to test their appeal with voters.
“We must do a great deal by May next year to achieve a more united, more sovereign and more efficient Europe, which we so urgently need,” he said.
The two biggest countries in Europe can be a powerful force, but their leaders at the moment are hampered by falling domestic support. Macron has seen his poll ratings sag at home, where more than a quarter-million people protested Saturday over proposed gas tax hikes. Merkel has been a lame duck since saying she wouldn’t seek another term.
Merkel has offered support for Macron’s proposal for a European army someday. Both leaders have said Europe needs to depend less on others — such as the U.S. — for its defense.
U.S. President Donald Trump has unsettled NATO allies by demanding member countries either pay more for defense or “protect themselves,” as he put it in a recent tweet.
However, ceremonial appearances and warm words offered ahead of a December summit on the euro can’t hide the persistent friction between the French and German approaches to the European Union’s economic issues.
Germany and France have apparently struck a deal on a common budget for the EU countries that use the shared euro currency, something Macron pushed for. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told the dpa news agency the proposal was to be presented to European finance ministers Monday.
The size of the budget — mentioned by French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire as 20 to 25 billion euros — is far short of Macron’s idea. The amount is only 0.2 percent of the eurozone economy, less than the several percentage points of gross domestic product originally mentioned by Macron.
The compromise underscores German reluctance to sign off on anything seen as transferring taxpayer money from richer countries like Germany to more fiscally shaky ones such as Italy or Greece.
The European summit in December is to take up limited proposals to strengthen the euro currency, such as upgrading the eurozone’s bailout fund and a long-term road map for introducing EU-level deposit insurance.
The two sides can’t agree on a tax on digital companies such as Amazon and Google. The French and the European Commission have proposed imposing such a tax, but Scholz said the issue should be left with the 36-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
UK leader fights back against critics, defends Brexit deal
By SYLVIA HUI
Saturday, November 17
LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May fought back Saturday against critics of her Brexit deal, telling her Conservative opponents that their alternative plans for Britain’s departure from the European Union wouldn’t work.
May is battling to win over rebels in her own ranks and save her leadership after a grueling week, with two Cabinet ministers quitting and other Conservative critics plotting to oust her immediately after Britain struck a divorce deal with the EU.
In a public relations offensive, May tried to win support in a Daily Mail interview that revealed how her husband supported her during what she admitted to be “a pretty heavy couple of days.” She also laid into political opponents, saying the alternatives they favor to tackle a key stumbling block — the issue of how to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit — wouldn’t resolve the problem.
“People say ‘If you could only just do something slightly different, have a Norway model or a Canada model, this backstop issue would go away.’ It would not. That issue is still going to be there,” she said in the interview , published Saturday.
“Some politicians get so embroiled in the intricacies of their argument they forget it is not about this theory or that theory, or does it make me look good,” she added.
Calling her husband Philip her “rock,” May said that when the Conservative revolt erupted on Wednesday, the first thing he did was pour her a whisky.
While May appeared to have survived the week’s political storm intact, her headache is far from over — disaffected “Brexiteers” believe they have the numbers required to trigger a challenge to her leadership within days. They are aiming for 48 letters of no confidence, the number needed for a vote under party rules. So far, more than 20 lawmakers have publicly said they submitted such letters.
One of them, Mark Francois, complained that May’s draft deal would leave Britain with the worst outcome — “half in and half out” of the EU — and added that the deal would never successfully pass Parliament. Like Francois, many pro-Brexit Conservatives are pushing for a clean break with the EU, arguing that the close trade ties between the U.K. and the EU called for in the deal would leave Britain a vassal state.
British media also reported that several pro-Brexit senior Conservatives, including House of Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, are working to persuade May to change her Brexit plans and renegotiate the divorce deal to make it more acceptable to them.
EU leaders have called a Nov. 25 summit in Brussels to sign off on the draft withdrawal agreement. Britain is due to exit the EU on March 29.
This version has corrected the spelling of the House of Commons leader’s last name to Leadsom, not Leasom.
The Red-Blue divide: Why beating ‘em is better than joining ‘em
By Matthew Johnson
Unless I am in a particularly peaceful mood, I tend to scoff at the idea of building bridges between Democrats and Republicans in the United States. This is not an attitude I picked up post-election day 2016; I have felt this way since the Bush era — as I watched liberals capitulate to mindless “War on Terror” politics post 9/11. My inspiration for this seemingly bellicose attitude, ironically, comes from a Nobel Peace Prize laureate whose name is synonymous with nonviolence and social justice.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that a “genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” I believe he meant that a leader should not simply follow the trends of public opinion and shape his or her views accordingly — a leader should instead seek to change public opinion. Thus, Democratic candidates such as Andrew Gillum, Stacey Abrams, and Beto O’Rourke are true leaders whether they win or lose elections. To call them idealistic or divisive would be offering thinly veiled support for the status quo, yet too often such critiques pass as impartial analysis. If these same candidates had led more moderate campaigns, they would have been mere followers of public opinion — or at least of what public opinion was assumed to be in 2018 based on (imperfect) polling data. Therefore, they would not represent social change but a changing of the guard.
While acting as a “molder of consensus” does not imply competing to win at all costs, it implies a lot less compromise than what the Democrats, particularly post-Lyndon B. Johnson, are known for. Obama, whose memory often serves to unite the left, was branded the “compromiser-in-chief” for his willingness to cave to uncompromising Republicans on issues near-and-dear to progressives. Hillary Clinton, for her part, leans more conservative than Obama and is such a hawk on foreign policy that she drew comparisons to Dick Cheney— from Republicans. Despite the deep rightward descent of the Republican party, which began far before anyone took Trump seriously as a political actor, the best foil the Democrats have put forward is Bernie Sanders, who has still not embraced the party label. The Democratic Party establishment, for its part, has not only failed to anoint Sanders but also remains uncomfortable with labels, such as “socialism” and “welfare,” which are treated as advantageous straw men for conservative pundits and policymakers while their true meanings are not only representative of popular ideals but also existing, mainstream policies and programs.
In short, the Democrats have too-often allowed conservatives to shape the terms of the political debate and neglect furthering their own agenda when it runs contrary to what conservatives and perceived moderates deem acceptable. They have searched for consensus when they needed to mold it.
Matt Johnson, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is co-author of Trumpism.
Fire death toll hits 63; sheriff says hundreds still missing
By KATHLEEN RONAYNE and BRIAN MELLEY
Friday, November 16
CHICO, Calif. (AP) — At least 63 people are now dead from a Northern California wildfire, and officials say they have a missing persons list with 631 names on it in an ever-evolving accounting of the victims of the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century.
The high number of missing people probably includes some who fled the blaze and don’t realize they’ve been reported missing, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said. He said he’s making the list public so people can see if they are on it and let authorities know they survived.
“The chaos that we were dealing with was extraordinary,” Honea said of the early crisis hours last week. “Now we’re trying to go back out and make sure that we’re accounting for everyone.”
Some 52,000 people have been displaced to shelters, the homes of friends and relatives, to motels — and to a Walmart parking lot and an adjacent field in Chico, a dozen miles away from the ashes.
At the vast shelter parking lot, evacuees from California’s deadliest fire wonder if they still have homes, if their neighbors are still alive — and where they will go when their place of refuge shuts down in a matter of days.
“It’s cold and scary,” said Lilly Batres, 13, one of the few children there, who fled with her family from the forested town of Magalia and didn’t know whether her home survived. “I feel like people are going to come into our tent.”
The Northern California fire that began a week earlier obliterated the town of Paradise . Searchers have pulled bodies from incinerated homes and cremated cars, but in many cases, the victims may have been reduced to bits of bones and ash. The latest toll: 63 dead and 9,800 homes destroyed.
At the other end of the state, more residents were being allowed back into the zone of a wildfire that torched an area the size of Denver west of Los Angeles. The fire was 62 percent contained after destroying nearly 550 homes and other buildings. At least three deaths were reported.
Air quality across large swaths of California remains so poor due to huge plumes of smoke that schools from Sacramento to the Pacific Coast were closed on Friday, and San Francisco’s iconic open-air cable cars were pulled off the streets.
Northern California’s Camp Fire was 40 percent contained Thursday, but there was no timeline for allowing evacuees to return because of the danger. Power lines are still down, roads closed, and firefighters are still dousing embers, authorities said.
Anna Goodnight of Paradise tried to make the best of it, sitting on an overturned shopping cart in the parking lot and eating scrambled eggs and tater tots while her husband drank a Budweiser.
But then William Goodnight began to cry.
“We’re grateful. We’re better off than some. I’ve been holding it together for her,” he said, gesturing toward his wife. “I’m just breaking down, finally.”
More than 75 tents had popped up in the space since Matthew Flanagan arrived last Friday.
“We call it Wally World,” Flanagan said, a riff off the store name. “When I first got here, there was nobody here. And now it’s just getting worse and worse and worse. There are more evacuees, more people running out of money for hotels.”
Word began to spread Thursday that efforts were being made to phase out the camp by Sunday, by gradually removing donated clothing, food and toilets.
“The ultimate goal is to get these people out of tents, out of their cars and into warm shelter, into homes,” said Jessica Busick, who was among the first volunteers when she and her husband started serving free food from their Truckaroni food truck last week. “We’ve always known this isn’t a long-term solution.”
A Sunday closure “gives us enough time to maybe figure something out,” said Mike Robertson, an evacuee who arrived there on Monday with his wife and two daughters.
It’s unclear what will be done if people don’t leave Sunday, but city officials don’t plan to kick them out, said Betsy Totten, a Chico spokeswoman. Totten said volunteers — not the city — had decided to shut down the camp.
Walmart has added security to the location and is concerned about safety there, but it is not asking people to leave, spokeswoman LeMia Jenkins said.
Some, like Batres’ family, arrived after running out of money for a hotel. Others couldn’t find a room or weren’t allowed to stay at shelters with their dogs, or in the case of Suzanne Kaksonen, her two cockatoos.
Kaksonen said it already feels like forever since she’s been there.
“I just want to go home,” she said. “I don’t even care if there’s no home. I just want to go back to my dirt, you know, and put a trailer up and clean it up and get going. Sooner the better. I don’t want to wait six months. That petrifies me.”
Some evacuees helped sort immense piles of donations that have poured in. Racks of used clothes from sweaters to plaid flannel shirts and tables covered with neatly organized pairs of boots, sneakers and shoes competed for space with shopping carts full of clothes, garbage bags stuffed with other donations and boxes of books. Stuffed animals — yellow, purple and green teddy bears and a menagerie of other fuzzy critters — sat on the pavement.
Food trucks offered free meals and a cook flipped burgers on a grill. There were portable toilets, and some people used the Walmart restrooms.
Someone walking through the camp Thursday offered free medical marijuana.
Information for contacting the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance was posted on a board that allowed people to write the names of those they believed were missing. Several names had the word “Here” written next to them.
Melissa Contant, who drove from the San Francisco area to help out, advised people to register with FEMA as soon as possible, and to not reveal too much information about whether they own or rent homes or have sufficient food and water, because that could delay aid.
“You’re living in a Walmart parking lot — you’re not OK,” she told Maggie and Michael Crowder.
Melley reported from Los Angeles. AP journalist Terence Chea in Chico contributed to this story.
How fierce fall and winter winds help fuel California fires
November 16, 2018
Academic Coordinator, California Institute for Water Resources, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Cooperative Extension Wildfire Specialist at the University of California Forest Research and Outreach; Adjunct Professor Bren School of Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
Faith Kearns receives funding from USDA NIFA related to disasters in California.
Max Moritz receives funding from the University of California and CAL FIRE related to fire and climate change effects.
University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
It doesn’t take long in California to develop a feel for “fire weather.” When it’s hot and dry and the winds blow a certain way, there can be no doubt that, as in the past, landscapes will continue to be forged in fire.
And so, we residents of the state find ourselves again facing late fall wildfires that have scorched drought-parched vegetation while the rainy season evades its highly anticipated start. As the death toll and structure loss from fires burning in the northern and southern parts of the state continue to surpass records set not even a year ago, it is crucial to understand the role winds play in California fires.
Predictable but future unclear
Across California, late fall winds – called by various names including Santa Anas, Diablos and sundowners – blow hot, dry air from the interior of the state out toward the coasts. The winds often intensify as they are channeled through mountain passes and then blasted across dry vegetation and steep surfaces to create the perfect conditions for fire. Given an ignition, those same winds then help to spread fire very quickly.
While these winds are in many ways predictable, they are also altering fire hazard in ways that researchers don’t fully understand. As the climate changes, bringing warmer temperatures and increasingly erratic precipitation patterns, more of these extreme wind events may occur during times that are highly conducive to fire.
It is also conceivable that climate change will cause shifts in the pressure patterns that spawn extreme wind events to begin with. Therefore, it is possible that in the future we may see extreme winds in new regions or during unexpected times of year. A deeper understanding of the controls on these events is emerging, but relatively little is known about what the future will hold.
Wind and fire risk
Fire hazard is determined by a variety of factors that include vegetation, topography and weather. Add people and homes, and you get fire risk. While wind is one of the biggest factors in fire spread, it also generates flying embers far ahead of the fire itself.
It is this storm of burning embers that often shower neighborhoods and ignite homes after finding vulnerable parts of landscaping and structures. Under the worst circumstances, wind driven home-to-home fire spread then occurs, causing risky, fast-moving “urban conflagrations” that can be almost impossible to stop and extremely dangerous to evacuate.
Managing the type and amount of vegetation, or “fuel,” in an area provides a set of tools for altering fire behavior in wildland fires. But during wind-driven urban conflagrations, homes are usually a major – if not the main – source of fuel.
Although defensible space immediately around homes is certainly important, vegetation management cannot be the sole solution. Fire-prone communities must also intensify urban and evacuation planning efforts that make the built environment and those living there less vulnerable to fires and the extreme winds that drive them.
The most recent fires in California are sounding alarm bells that simply cannot be ignored, lest we fall into the trap of normalizing the incredible loss of lives and devastated communities year after year. Indeed, fire has become a critical public health and safety issue in this state.
As residents and researchers who have worked extensively on fire in California, we believe the state and its newly elected leadership face a formidable challenge and an opportunity to reinvest in a robust, interdisciplinary approach to wildfire risk reduction that combines the best of both research and practice. It must integrate both new (and potentially controversial) urban planning reforms as well as novel thinking about evacuation alternatives.
As it stands, California is failing to keep up with what we know about fire hazard and risk, and losing time as we struggle against rapidly changing climate conditions. Simply put: There is no time to waste.