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California’s drought and wildfire dangers rising at stunning pace



A home destroyed in the 2020 North Complex fire sits above Lake Oroville in Oroville, Calif. At the time of this photo, the reservoir was at 39% of capacity and 46% of its historical average. (Noah Berger / Associated Press)

California’s drought and wildfire conditions are accelerating at unprecedented rates, according to state officials, and residents should brace for a summer of widespread burning and mandatory water conservation measures in some regions.

As reservoir levels across the state continue to drop, and as parched vegetation poses an increasing threat of wildfire, officials in Sacramento and Southern California offered a bleak assessment of the state’s drying climate, saying it has already begun to affect people, plants and animals.

The current drought, which blankets the entire state and a broad swath of the western United States, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, is already outpacing the state’s devastating 2012-16 drought, said Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources.

“It really wasn’t until year three or four when we saw these intense conditions … we’re now experiencing in the second year of the drought,” Nemeth said Friday. “That acceleration is really what’s new about this drought and what we’re working to respond to.”

California typically relies on the gradual melting of Sierra snowpack to fill its reservoirs, Nemeth said. But this year, the state saw record evaporation and record low runoff into streams and reservoirs.

It is “unprecedented in the breadth and severity of this regional drought,” said Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the state’s Natural Resources Agency.

At the same time, fire officials in Southern California warned that wildfire conditions are already like those typically seen in August and September.

“We’re seeing fires move fast,” said Chief Brian Fennessy of the Orange County Fire Authority. “Fires that normally would be an acre, 2 acres, 5 acres, so far this year are getting to 30, 50 and beyond.”

They’re also spreading more quickly, he said.

“We are seeing fire spread that is even stunning many of us that have been doing this for a very long time — fire spread that could quite easily surprise many of the citizens within this region,” he said. He urged people to evacuate as soon as they’re told to do so.

These dry conditions do not bode well for the Fourth of July weekend, when first responders will probably face their first big test as a predicted heat wave collides with amateur fireworks displays.

Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded a drought emergency to 41 California counties, covering 30% of the state’s population. On Friday, Santa Clara County declared its own local emergency, saying drought conditions were so extreme that water levels were not adequate to meet demand.

“The reality is we live in an arid region that will continue to experience droughts,” Jasneet Sharma, director of Santa Clara County’s Office of Sustainability, said in a statement. “There are many steps that we should all take, from large-scale conservation projects and household-level water conservation retrofits to simple household changes like turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth. Each one is an important part of sustainability.”

Water conservation is likely to ramp up, possibly becoming mandatory in some communities, said Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board.

“It’s not about conservation just because it’s drought. … We really need to see conservation and efficiency here as just [a] simple course of action that we must do, no matter if it’s dry or it’s wet,” Esquivel said.

This year’s parched conditions are already causing concern, especially after a heat wave swept across Southern California this month, breaking several records and heating Palm Springs to 123 degrees.

Usually the natural world can adapt to gradual changes in the climate, but California’s conditions are changing so frequently that plants and animals are not able to keep up, said Chuck Bonham, director of California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“They don’t have the luxury of adapting over millennia anymore; they’re being forced to adapt over a period of years,” he said.

The decrease in water levels has caused some rivers to heat up, becoming uninhabitable for some fish. Department of Fish and Wildlife teams recently removed almost 17 million Chinook salmon from four hatcheries in the Central Valley and released them into the ocean at places such as San Francisco Bay. The number of fish rescues has increased since the previous drought, Bonham said.

“We also know we’re going to end up serving as a Noah’s Ark,” he added, referring to a menagerie of animals kept at UC Davis until their environments become cool enough to live in again. “Every drop of water we can save as Californians is going to matter for people, but it’s going to matter for nature too.”

The drying also carries severe consequences for wildfire.

On Friday, fire officials gathered outside a Los Angeles County fire station in La Cañada Flintridge and said the heightened fire conditions were due to drought and unseasonably warm temperatures. Scientists say that climate change has driven the shifts by creating hotter, drier weather interspersed with more extreme, erratic precipitation events.

Live fuel moisture levels, which measure the dryness of vegetation, are on par with those typically seen in the late summer or fall, said Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby, who serves as mutual aid coordinator for the region comprising Los Angeles, Orange, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

“You saw the fire in L.A. city, the Palisades fire that burned in the fog,” he said, referring to the blaze that forced evacuations in Topanga Canyon in mid-May. “That’s kind of unprecedented, you would think in years past, but it’s the norm now.”

The fire broke out in an area that hadn’t burned in 50 years and that was choked with drought-killed vegetation, he said. Because of the topography and dryness, it grew to more than 1,000 acres before firefighters were able to bring it under control, despite relatively calm winds.

“Our expectations are that during this summer, we’re going to have those types of fires and larger with just the winds off the ocean,” Osby said. “And then we’re really concerned moving into the fall months when we start getting our significant wind-driven fires.”

Officials have taken steps to prepare. When the forecast looks dire — for instance, if the National Weather Service issues a red-flag warning — the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services works with local jurisdictions to pre-position extra firefighters, engines and aircraft and reimburses the governments for the added cost, said Cal OES Fire and Rescue Chief Brian Marshall.

“That gives us a fighting chance to catch the fires when they’re small,” he said.

Key to that is the prompt use of aircraft, which enables ground crews to then go in and extinguish the fires, Fennessy said. Southern California fire personnel have more aircraft available this year than in years past, including large helitankers that can fly at night, he said.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection moved to peak staffing earlier this year, sooner than normal, and will maintain that level for the rest of the year, said Chief Glenn Barley, assistant region chief for Cal Fire’s Southern Region.

“Last year was the worst fire season we’ve seen in California,” Barley said. “At this point this year, we are ahead of those numbers for last year, both in terms of number of fires and number of acres burned.”

Yet fire officials said that while they’re well resourced, they still don’t have enough, particularly in light of the potentially historic fire season bearing down on the region.

“I will say that from my municipality to the state to the federal government, that we’re stretched. We’re busy,” Osby said, adding that local municipalities still have to go on medical calls — more than 1,000 a day in the case of his department — in addition to fighting fires. “None of us have all the resources that we need.”

He said L.A. County would normally have 24 inmate firefighting crews but is down to eight, as many were sent home from prison after the state granted them early release because of the pandemic. That has forced the department to dip into its budget to train more paid crew members, he said.

Meanwhile, the National Interagency Fire Center this week raised its preparedness level to 4, the second-highest, said Angeles National Forest Fire Chief Robert Garcia.

“The significance of that is that the last time we were in this preparedness Level 4 at this time of year was in 2002,” he said. “And prior to that, the last time was 1991.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.


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Jimmy Kimmel Hits Donald Trump Jr. With The 2024 Campaign Ad Of His Nightmares




Porn star Stormy Daniels testifies ex-lawyer Michael Avenatti ‘lied to me’

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Adult film actress Stormy Daniels told jurors at her former lawyer Michael Avenatti’s criminal fraud trial on Thursday that he “stole from me and lied to me” by diverting proceeds from a book she wrote. Testifying as a prosecution witness, Daniels said in Manhattan federal court that Avenatti – whom she had retained to help her escape a non-disclosure agreement with then-U.S. President Donald Trump – told her he would “never take a penny” from the 2018 memoir, titled “Full Disclosure.” But Avenatti embezzled nearly $300,000 of proceeds intended for Daniels, prosecutors have said, in part by forging her signature on instructions to the publisher about where to send the funds.


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Fox News’ Tomi Lahren told officers at a policing conference that prominent police killings could have been avoided if people ‘would just comply’



Tomi Lahren in Pasadena, California.Colin Young-Wolff/Invision/AP

  • Tomi Lahren was among several who spoke at a police training conference in Atlantic City in October.

  • Lahren described Black Lives Matter as “thugs, felons, and criminals” and as a “terrorist organization.”

  • She went on to say police shootings could be avoided if people “would just comply with police.”

Fox News personality Tomi Lahren told police officers that significant numbers of police brutality cases could have been avoided “if people would just comply with police, would follow orders, and not resist arrest.”

The Washington Post reported that Lahren, a political commentator for the Fox Nation shows “Final Thoughts” and “No Interruption,” made the comments in October at the Street Cop Training Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

More than 1,000 police officers from departments across New Jersey and other states attended the conference, The Post reported. During her speech, Lahren described Black Lives Matter as “thugs, felons, and criminals” and a “terrorist organization.”

“If I’m wrong, please point it out,” Lahren said, according to a sound clip of her remarks shared by The Post. “But all these major headline incidents that we’ve had in this country involving law enforcement in the last, at least, five years could have all been prevented if people would just comply with police, would follow orders, and not resist arrest.”

The audience can be heard applauding and cheering in the clip.

Her comments were consistent with previous statements she has made on her shows and social media.

The Post’s investigation found Lahren’s sentiments were typical of those made in commercial police training settings, even as calls for reform grow. The outlet spoke with 18 trainers and experts in addition to watching or attending conferences in New Jersey and Idaho, many of whom balked at police reform.

Several blamed the media for overplaying the public’s desire for reform and dismissed reformers as a small cohort, The Post found. The outlet also said many portrayed violence as an inherent part of policing.

“The curriculum is that you are a good person and reveling in violence and being an expert in violence is not morally wrong,” Michael Sierra-Arévalo, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin who attended the Street Cop Conference, told The Post. “In fact, it’s your moral duty because you’re a paladin. You are this kind of warrior.”

Calls for police reform grew during the racial justice protests in the summer of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Congress engaged in bipartisan talks about a potential police reform bill last summer, but they fell apart without reaching a deal.

Sources told NBC News that President Joe Biden plans to sign executive orders on police reform as early as this month.

Read the original article on Business Insider


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Family who died in freezing cold by US-Canada border identified



Police used snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles to navigate the deep snow

Canadian authorities believe the deaths of four Indian nationals found steps away from the Canada-US border are connected to a human smuggling scheme.

Jagdish Patel, 39, Vaishailben Patel, 37, and their children Vihangi, 11, and Dharkmik, 3, died from exposure due to the frigid cold near Manitoba, Canada.

Temperatures dropped to -35C (-31F) on the night the Patel family attempted to cross into the US on foot.

The family was found in a field north of the border on 19 January.

Their identities were announced by Canada’s High Commission of India and later confirmed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, RCMP superintendent Rob Hill said the Patel family first arrived in Canada on 12 January, on a flight from Toronto. From there, they made their way west to Manitoba, before travelling to Emerson – a border town – on or around 18 January. Their bodies were found the next night.

No vehicle was found near the Canada-US border in Emerson, suggesting that someone drove the Patel family to a drop-off point before they began their journey on foot.

“This is an extended period of time for a family who is unfamiliar with Canada to be travelling across the country”, Mr Hill said. It is believed that someone may have facilitated the family’s travel.

The RCMP would not comment on whether the Patels’ case was connected to a group of seven other Indian nationals also found by border agents on the evening of 19 January. Steve Shand, a 47-year-old Florida resident, has been charged with human smuggling after authorities found him driving a 15-person van along the border, on the same night the Patels were found. Mr Shand had two Indian nationals as passengers in his car, and cases of food and water in his boot.

The deaths of the Patel family have rocked the Indian community in Manitoba.

“There’s a common sense of feeling guilty, like something has gone wrong,” Ramandeep Grewal, president of the India Association of Manitoba, told the BBC.

Questions remain as to why the Patel family set out on foot in the dark, in Canada’s punishing winter weather.

Mr Grewal said he heard rumours the family walked for 11 hours. “You don’t expose yourself to that degree of cold for minutes, let alone hours,” he said.

Such questions have consumed Indian communities in Winnipeg, said Hemant Shah, an Indian ex-pat, who organised a virtual prayer for the Patel family this week.

“There are lots of Patel families here, lots of Indo-Canadians,” he said. “Everybody’s talking, making their own theories.”

While perilous border crossings have become typical to the United States’ southern border, this type of journey is less common from the north.

“I’ve never seen this in Canada,” Mr Shah said. “This is unheard of.”

The RCMP has launched an “extensive” investigation into how the Patels made their way to Canada, co-ordinating with the US and India. It is so far unknown if the Patels had family in Canada or the US.

A special team led by a senior Indian consular officer was dispatched to Manitoba to help Canadian authorities with the investigation. The Consulate General of India in Toronto has been in touch with relatives to provide support.

Last week, a US Homeland Security official said they were also investigating the Patel case, alongside a “larger human smuggling operation of which [Steve] Shand is suspected of playing a part”.

There had been three other recent incidents of human smuggling in December and January in the same location where Mr Shand was apprehended, according to court documents.

The India Association’s Mr Grewal said he hopes other families contemplating a similar journey may now reconsider.

“If there’s anybody else who’s in the same boat, who’s trying to cross… Don’t go, don’t listen to people who are telling you they can help.”


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Gallup's Mohamed Younis- Foreign Policy Interventionism A 'Low Desire' For Americans



Gallup's Mohamed Younis- Foreign Policy Interventionism A 'Low Desire' For Americans


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Palestinian children play in the snow-covered West Bank city of Ramallah



Palestinian children play in the snow-covered West Bank city of Ramallah


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U.S. Capitol Riot Made 1 Chilling Thing ‘Impossible To Deny’



University of California professor Barbara Walter, an expert on civil conflicts, said the U.S. Capitol riot had “made it impossible to deny and ignore that there really was this cancer growing” of anti-democratic sentiment in America.

Walter, after CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan showed her footage of Donald Trump supporters repeating the former president’s 2020 election lies and claiming democracy in the United States was dead, said her response to such rhetoric only 10 years ago “would have been shock and disbelief.”

“I would have thought, ‘Well she’s an outlier and she’s not representative of anything larger than a fringe movement maybe,’” Walter said. “But of course, that’s not the case anymore.”

Experts on civil wars had been talking about the warning signs in the U.S. “but nobody wanted to believe it,” she said.

“Citizens do believe what they are hearing and if they hear it long enough and consistently enough and if that’s all they hear, they absolutely don’t think it’s a lie, they think it’s the truth,” she continued, referencing falsehoods spouted by Trump, right-wing politicians and conservative media, before slamming cynical leaders for “feeding them lies consistently.”

“They’re priming their supporters to believe that democracy isn’t worth defending because they don’t want democracy anymore,” she added.

Watch the video here:

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.



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A witness has corroborated the claim that Rep. Matt Gaetz was told he had sex with a minor in 2017, report says



Rep. Matt Gaetz.Getty

  • A witness told federal prosecutors he was there when Matt Gaetz was told he had sex with a minor, The Daily Beast reported.

  • Joe Ellicott was in the room when Joel Greenberg conveyed the information to Gaetz in a phone call in 2017.

  • Ellicott struck a plea deal and is among several people cooperating in the sex crimes probe into Gaetz.

A witness has confirmed to federal prosecutors that Rep. Matt Gaetz was informed in 2017 that he had sex with a minor, sources told The Daily Beast.

In a letter obtained by The Daily Beast in April of last year, Gaetz’s associate Joel Greenberg said he discovered a girl he and the congressman had engaged in “sexual activities” with was 17 at the time.

“Immediately I called the congressman and warned him to stay clear of this person and informed him she was underage,” Greenberg wrote, according to the outlet. He added Gaetz was “equally shocked and disturbed by this revelation” and that “there was no further contact with this individual until after her 18th birthday.”

According to The Daily Beast, someone else was in the room when Greenberg called Gaetz to convey that information: Joe Ellicott, Greenberg’s close friend and a former employee at the Seminole County tax office. Both men are now cooperating with federal investigators in the sex crimes probe into Gaetz.

Ellicott’s decision to cooperate is likely bad news for the embattled Florida congressman, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in connection to the sex-trafficking probe.

“After nearly a year of false rumors, not a shred of evidence has implicated Congressman Gaetz in wrongdoing,” his chief of staff told ABC News on Wednesday. “We remain focused on our work representing Floridians.”

Among other things, Ellicott and Greenberg reportedly exchanged text messages via the encrypted messaging app Signal, in which Ellicott disclosed that a woman they both were associated with “knew [the minor] was underage the whole time, had sex with her, and they both went to see other guys.”

Greenberg pleaded guilty to sex trafficking in May and agreed to cooperate with fully with the government on other investigations. Ellicott agreed to cooperate this week and will plead guilty to two federal crimes, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and distribution of a controlled substance, in a separate case from the Gaetz investigation, ABC News reported.

No charges have been brought against Gaetz. But several recent developments indicate the investigation is heating up. Among other things, Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend testified before a federal grand jury earlier this month. NBC News reported that the ex, whose name Insider is withholding to protect her privacy, has been talking to prosecutors for months and was granted immunity in exchange for her testimony.

NBC also said prosecutors are investigating Gaetz for three separate crimes: if he sex-trafficked the 17-year-old; if he violated the Mann Act, which prohibits the transportation of “any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose” across state lines; and if he obstructed justice.

With respect to the obstruction probe, investigators are said to be scrutinizing a three-way call after the investigation started between Gaetz, his ex, and another woman who was cooperating with federal authorities and who was reportedly recording the phone call. NBC reported that authorities suspect Gaetz of obstructing justice during that conversation; he’s denied the allegation.

An attorney for Ellicott declined to comment on reporting about his client’s cooperation deal. A spokesperson for Gaetz and a lawyer representing Greenberg did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Read the original article on Business Insider


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