President Trump says raking can prevent fires: Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö denies the conversation

While touring a town ravaged by the Northern California Camp Fire on Saturday, President Trump said Finland’s president claimed the country doesn’t have many problems with forest fires because it spends “a lot of time on raking.” Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö said the topic of raking never came up in their conversation.

Mr. Trump was visiting Paradise, California, this weekend with California Gov. Jerry Brown, California Governor-elect Gavin Newsom and Paradise Mayor Jody Jones when he was asked what could be done to prevent a similar disaster in the future. The wildfire has been called the deadliest and most destructive in the Golden State’s history.

“You gotta take care of the floors. You know? The floors of the forest. Very important,” said Mr. Trump. “I was with the President of Finland and he said, ‘We have a much different — we’re a forest nation.’ He called it a ‘forest nation.’ And they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don’t have any problem. And when it is, it’s a very small problem.”

Niinistö said he doesn’t remember mentioning raking leaves with Mr. Trump, but did say the two leaders spoke about the California wildfires when they met in Paris in early November.

“I mentioned [to] him that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network,” Niinistö told lta-Sanomat, Finland’s second-largest paper on Sunday. He also told the newspaper that he remembers uttering the phrase “we take care of our forests” during their conversation.

Twitter quickly learned of the raking comments, with many from Finland ridiculing Mr. Trump by tweeting images of themselves or others raking in the forest. Some used the hashtag #haravointi, which is translated to #Raking in english.

The Camp Fire in Butte County in Northern California, one of two major blazes in California, has scorched some 150,000 acres of land, killed 77 people and led to at least 1,000 missing people.

The Woolsey Fire in Southern California has burned 96,949 acres and killed three people.

[CBS News]

Media

Donald Trump heads to California, again blaming fires on forest management

President Donald Trump headed to California on Saturday to see firsthand the grief and devastation from the deadliest US wildfire in a century, as confusion continued over how many people remain unaccounted for.

Authorities confirmed a new death toll of 71 and said they were trying to locate 1,011 people even as they stressed that not all are believed missing.

But Trump has stirred resentment among survivors and many others over comments he made two days after the disaster on Twitter, then reiterated on the eve of his visit.

In an interview scheduled for broadcast on Fox News Sunday, Trump said he was surprised to see images of firefighters removing dried brush near a fire, adding, “This should have been all raked out.”

Asked if he thought climate change contributed to the fires, he said: “Maybe it contributes a little bit. The big problem we have is management.”

Before boarding Air Force One to California on Saturday morning, Trump was asked about forest management again and repeated his stance. “Everybody now knows that this is what we have to be doing … It should’ve been done many years ago,” he said.

Those comments, and those in his Fox interview, echoed his initial reaction to the fires on 10 November when he blamed the wildfires on poor forest management and threatened then to withhold federal payments. His words caused widespread outrage, though Trump subsequently approved a federal disaster declaration and he has since repeatedly praised the work of first responders, including just before leaving Washington DC.

“I want to be with the firefighters and the Fema first responders,” Trump said.

California’s outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats and vocal critics of Trump, planned to join the president on his trip to the fire-ravaged region in the north of the state. Governor Jerry Brown and governor-elect Gavin Newsom welcomed Trump’s visit, declaring it was time “to pull together for the people of California”.

The blaze that started 8 November all but razed the town of Paradise, population 27,000, and heavily damaged the outlying communities of Magalia and Concow. It destroyed more than 9,800 homes and at its height displaced 52,000 people.

This patch of California, a former Gold Rush region in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is to some extent Trump country, with Trump beating Hillary Clinton in Butte County by 4 percentage points in 2016.

But Trump has stirred resentment among survivors with his comments.

“If you insult people, then you go visit them, how do you think you’re going to be accepted? You’re not going to have a parade,” Maggie Crowder of Magalia said this week outside an informal shelter at a Walmart store in Chico.

But Stacy Lazzarino, who voted for Trump, said it would be good for the president to see the devastation up close: “I think by maybe seeing it he’s going to be like ‘Oh, my goodness,’ and it might start opening people’s eyes.”

Authorities attribute the death toll in part to the speed with which flames raced through the town of 27,000, driven by wind and fueled by desiccated scrub and trees.

Nearly 12,000 homes and buildings burned hours after the blaze erupted, the California department of forestry and fire protection said. Thousands of additional structures are still threatened as firefighters, many from distant states, work to contain and suppress the flames.

The big rise in the number of missing is because of a detailed review of emergency calls and missing people reports, and the extension of the search for victims.

More than 5,500 fire personnel are still battling the blaze that covered 228 square miles (590 sq km) and was 50% contained, officials said.

Firefighters were racing against time with a red flag warning issued for Saturday night into Sunday, including winds up to 50mph (80km/h) and low humidity. Rain was forecast for midweek, which could help firefighters but also complicate the challenging search for remains.

Officials acknowledge that the huge number of missing could easily contain duplicate names and unreliable spellings of names. The roster also probably includes many people who fled the blaze and do not realize they have been reported missing.

[The Guardian]

Trump threatens to pull federal funds for Calif. wildfires over forest ‘mismanagement’

With major wildfires still roaring out of control in California, President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to blame “gross mismanagement of the forest” for the catastrophe and threatened to withhold federal funds if the issue is not remedied.

It was his first tweet on the wildfires, now among the deadliest and most destructive in California history, although he earlier issued an emergency declaration providing federal funds for Butte, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

At least nine people have been killed and the entire town of Paradise, in northern California has been destroyed.

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump tweeted. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

His latest remarks were reminiscent of his tweets during another major outbreak of fires in California in August, when he blamed the wildfires on “bad environmental laws” and his claim that water from the north was “foolishly being diverted into the Pacific Ocean.”

In that tweet burst, Trump also said California wildfires “are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized.”

At the time, The New York times noted a debate over the allocation of water for irrigation or fish habitat but none regarding water purportedly being diverted into the ocean.

The Times quoted Cal Fire officials as saying there is no shortage of water for fighting fires. Helicopters collect water from lakes and ponds to douse wildfires and have plenty at hand, they said.

Asked about that the president’s tweeted claim of water diversion, a spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, Evan Westrup, told the Times in an email, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

The presidents of two professional firefighters associations have denounced President Donald Trump’s assertion that “gross mismanagement of the forests” is to blame.

California Professional Firefighters president Brian Rice called the President’s words “ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning” in a written statement.

Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the comments were “reckless and insulting.”

“Moreover, nearly 60 percent of California forests are under federal management, and another two-thirds under private control. It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California.”

The Trump tweet also prompted some harsh criticism from singer Katy Perry, a native Californian, who called his remarks “heartless.”

“This is an absolutely heartless response,” she tweeted. “There aren’t even politics involved. Just good American families losing their homes as you tweet, evacuating into shelters.”

Singer-songwriter John Legend, who lives in Los Angeles, also weighed in, tweeting, “Our National Embarrassment can’t bring himself to show some empathy to Californians dealing with a horrific disaster.”

Trump administration moves to open 1.6 million acres to fracking, drilling in California

Ending a five-year moratorium, the Trump administration Wednesday took a first step toward opening 1.6 million acres of California public land to fracking and conventional oil drilling, triggering alarm bells among environmentalists.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management said it’s considering new oil and natural gas leases on BLM-managed lands in Fresno, San Luis Obispo and six other San Joaquin Valley and Central Coast counties. Meanwhile, activists in San Luis Obispo are pushing a ballot measure this fall to ban fracking and new oil exploration in the county.

If BLM goes ahead with the plan, it would mark the first time since 2013 that the agency has issued a new lease for oil or gas exploration in California, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which immediately vowed to fight the move. California is the nation’s fourth largest oil-producing state, after Texas, North Dakota and Alaska, with much of the production concentrated in the southern San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

The Trump administration is trying to “sell off our public lands again,” said Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco. The federal government oversees about 15 million acres of public lands in California, and leases some of them for private use by contractors.

Lakewood said environmentalists are particularly concerned about the possibility of a big increase in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the controversial process of extracting oil or gas by injecting chemicals or other liquids into subterranean rocks. The notice released Wednesday by the BLM, which allows for 30 days of public comment, specifically seeks “public input on issues and planning criteria related to hydraulic fracturing.”

Environmentalists say fracking can contaminate groundwater and increase earthquake risks, and they’ve called on Gov. Jerry Brown to ban the practice. The energy industry says there’s no evidence of environmental harm from fracking. The U.S. Geological Survey says that, when “conducted properly,” poses little risk to groundwater.

Kara Siepmann of the Western States Petroleum Association, the leading oil lobby in California, said the association is “supportive of BLM beginning the comprehensive evaluation and scoping process of federal lands in California.” Rock Zierman of the California Independent Petroleum Association, whose members include smaller oil companies, said expanded production could reduce the state’s growing dependence on imported oil.

Although Brown has allowed fracking to continue, the Legislature has passed a law that requires energy producers to get additional permitting if they practice fracking. And earlier this year, when the Trump administration began the process of repealing all federal regulations of fracking, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued the administration.

Fracking has become a hot-button issue in particular in San Luis Obispo County, where county supervisors placed a measure on the November ballot that would ban new oil wells and new fracking operations in unincorporated regions of the county.

The measure’s leading proponent, Charles Varni of the Coalition to Protect San Luis Obispo County, said he was angered to hear of the Bureau of Land Management’s decision, which would affect pockets of land throughout the county but primarily in the eastern and northwestern areas.

“We don’t want to see any expansion of oil and gas extraction in San Luis Obispo County,” he said. “We want to protect our groundwater resources for higher uses.”

A relatively small amount of oil is produced on private land in the Price Canyon area of San Luis Obispo County.

Varni acknowledged that his ballot measure, if passed by voters, would have no impact on energy production on federally-managed lands.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the federal government hasn’t opened any new energy leases in California since 2013, when a federal judge ruled the Bureau of Land Management violated federal environmental laws by issuing oil leases in Monterey County without studying the impact of fracking.

Trump wrongly blames California’s worsening wildfires on water diversions

As wildfires continued to scorch California, President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a tweet that befuddled experts, wrongly blaming the state’s water diversions for making the blazes worse.

California’s environmental laws, he claimed, “aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!”

While decades-old state and federal forest management strategies have been cited as exacerbating California’s wildfires in recent years, experts Sunday were quick to refute Trump’s claim that water policy was to blame.

While California’s river water is tightly managed to account for drinking, agriculture and environmental needs, it is not being diverted into the ocean. And the problem is not that the state lacks the water to fight fires, but that years of drought have made forests and brush more flammable.

“On the water side, it boggles the mind,” UC Merced professor and wildfire specialist LeRoy Westerling told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We do manage all of our rivers in California, and all the water is allocated many times over. So I’m not sure what he was recommending. . . . Even if we eliminated all habitat for riparian species and fish, and allowed saltwater intrusion into the delta and set up a sprinkler system over the state, that wouldn’t compensate for greater moisture loss from climate change.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration on Sunday approved a federal disaster declaration for the state. Nine people have been killed by the 18 wildfires currently burning across the state. The Mendocino Complex fire north of San Francisco has grown to the fifth-largest in state history, burning almost 400 square miles by Sunday. and threatening 15,000 homes. Meanwhile, the Ferguson fire entered Yosemite National Park, which remained largely closed to visitors, and the Carr fire near Redding claimed its seventh life, when a PG&E lineman crashed his vehicle while working with crews to fight the blaze. Overall, more than 470,000 acres have burned in the state, with more than 14,000 firefighters on the front lines.

Trump to Seek Repeal of California’s Smog-Fighting Power

The Trump administration will seek to revoke California’s authority to regulate automobile greenhouse gas emissions — including its mandate for electric car sales — in a proposed revision of Obama-era standards, according to three people familiar with the plan.

The proposal, expected to be released this week, amounts to a frontal assault on one of former President Barack Obama’s signature regulatory programs to curb greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. It also sets up a high-stakes battle over California’s unique ability to combat air pollution and, if finalized, is sure to set off a protracted courtroom battle.

The proposed revamp would also put the brakes on federal rules to boost fuel efficiency into the next decade, said the people, who asked to not be identified discussing the proposals before they are public. Instead it will cap federal fuel economy requirements at the 2020 level, which under federal law must be at least a 35-mile-per-gallon fleet average, rather than letting them rise to roughly 50 mpg by 2025 as envisioned in the plan left behind by Obama, according to the people.

As part of the effort, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will propose revoking the Clean Air Act waiver granted to California that has allowed the state to regulate carbon emissions from vehicle tailpipes and force carmakers to sell electric vehicles in the state in higher numbers, according to three people familiar with the plan.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will likewise assert that California is barred from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from autos under the 1975 law that established the first federal fuel-efficiency requirements, the people said.

The proposal is still in the final stages of a broad interagency review led by President Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget, but these major elements of the plan were not expected to change, the people said.

Messages seeking comment from OMB, NHTSA and the EPA were not immediately returned. California Air Resources Board head Mary Nichols declined to comment. Once the agencies formally unveil the proposal, the public will have a chance to weigh in, with those comments used to develop a final rule that could be implemented as soon as the end of the year.

Although the proposal will outline other options, the administration will put its weight behind the dramatic overhaul, including the revocation of California’s cherished authority, the people said.

The state’s 2009 waiver under the Clean Air Act has allowed California to set emissions rules for cars and trucks that are more stringent than the federal government’s. But the state has aligned its rules with those set by the EPA and NHTSA in a so-called national program of clean-car rules. Negotiations toward another set of harmonized rules has not yet yielded agreement.

If Trump’s plan sticks, it could be his biggest regulatory rollback yet. Agencies are expected to claim it will reduce traffic fatalities by making it cheaper for drivers to replace older, less-safe cars, while paring sticker prices for new vehicles even if motorists have to spend more for gasoline.

California, for its part, rejects the idea that its 48-year ability to write its own tailpipe emission rules should end. “We have the law on our side, as well as the people of the country and the people of the world,” said Dan Sperling, a member of the state’s Air Resources Board.

The most-populous U.S. state and 16 others plus the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit on May 2 seeking to block the Trump administration’s effort to unravel the Obama-era emissions targets. Sperling said that number will grow as more and more people come to realize how fundamentally Trump is attacking the idea of states’ rights.

Caught somewhere in the middle are automakers, which in recent months have stressed they would not support freezing the federal targets and want Washington and Sacramento to continue linking their vehicle efficiency goals. While they spent the first year of the Trump administration attacking Obama’s rules as too costly, they fear the regulatory uncertainty that a years-long court battle over a rollback would create. In addition, other major auto markets such as China and Europe are pressing forward with tougher mandates of their own for cleaner cars.

“This is nothing less than an outrageous attack on public health and states’ rights,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. “It’s a dumb move for an administration that claims it wants peace, because this will lead to an emissions war: progressive states versus a reactionary federal government. The big question: who will the car companies back?”

Some conservatives have long chafed at the rare authority granted California and welcome the effort to revoke.

“Congress didn’t intend for California to set national fuel economy standards,” said Steve Milloy, a policy adviser for the Heartland Institute, a group critical of climate science. “It’s nutty it’s been allowed to develop. National fuel economy standards are set by the federal government so that’s what we are going to do.”

[Bloomberg]

Trump’s ‘great night for Republicans’ in the California primaries wasn’t so great after all

On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump congratulated himself — and, oh yeah, his party — for its showing in Tuesday’s California primaries.

“Great night for Republicans!” tweeted Trump. “Congratulations to John Cox on a really big number in California. He can win. Even Fake News CNN said the Trump impact was really big, much bigger than they ever thought possible. So much for the big Blue Wave, it may be a big Red Wave. Working hard!”

Trump gets one thing right in this tweet: John Cox, until relatively recently a resident of Illinois, did qualify for one of the top two spots in the California governor’s race — alongside Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. (The problem for Republicans, of course, is that a one-on-one matchup between Newsom and Cox is likely to heavily favor the Democrat, given the lean of the Golden State.)

Even if you give Trump that Cox victory, however, his claims about Tuesday’s results in California suggesting a “big Red Wave” are badly misguided.

Going into Tuesday’s vote, there were major concerns among Democratic strategists that the state’s odd “jungle primary” system could spell doom for their side. Under the primary system, which was approved by voters in a ballot initiative in 2010, all candidates run on the same ballot. The top two vote-getters, regardless of their party affiliations, advance to the November election.

Because of the massive outpouring of Democratic candidates in the wake of Trump’s election in 2016, the party was faced with the very real possibility in a number of swing congressional districts of splintering the vote between so many candidates that the more limited number of Republicans running secured both of the top two spots.

This, from the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, set those stakes clearly:

“The intricacies of the top-two format explain why the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and its allies have had to dump several million dollars (so far) into three Republican-held Southern California seats, CA-39, CA-48, and CA-49, before the primary because the Democrats are worried about not advancing candidates to the general election in one or more of those districts. This is why the California primary is by far the most important House primary this year, and not just because California has the largest share of U.S. House seats (about one-eighth of the 435 total, 53). Rather, it’s mostly because the California primary could decide races in June.”

That nightmare didn’t come to pass on Tuesday. Far from it. As Cook Political Report House editor David Wasserman tweeted early Wednesday morning:

That means that in all seven — yes, seven — Republican-held California House seats that Hillary Clinton won in the the 2016 election, Democrats will have a candidate. That’s a very big deal — particularly when you consider that if Democrats can win five or six of these seats that amounts to one-quarter (or close) of the total of 23 seats they need to net to win back the majority in November.

Also, not for nothing: It appears as though Republicans will be shut out of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s re-election race — as the incumbent led the field with almost 44% of the vote and state senator Kevin de Leon appears to have secured the second slot.

Now, California is among the most Democratic states in the country. That Democrats did well in the state on Tuesday isn’t a massive surprise. But there were real — and valid — concerns heading into Tuesday’s primaries that the party might well cut off its nose to spite its face in the Golden State.

That simply didn’t happen. Democrats preserved virtually all of their opportunities on Tuesday night in California. And that means their solid chances of retaking the House majority in the fall remain very much intact.

Sorry, President Trump.

[CNN]

Trump again tweets support of Cox, who hopes to capitalize on the president’s endorsement with new TV ad

President Trump reiterated his support for gubernatorial candidate John Cox on Monday as the GOP hopeful plans to launch a television ad touting the endorsement in a bid to consolidate the Republican vote.

“California has a rare opportunity to turn things around and solve its high crime, high tax, problems – along with so many others. On June 5th., vote for GOP Gubernatorial Candidate JOHN COX, a really good and highly competent man. He’ll Make California Great Again!” Trump tweeted.

Trump first tweeted his endorsement on May 18, and his campaign last week put out a video about the nod that was widely shared on social media.

The moves come as Republican leaders have grown increasingly concerned that if a GOP candidate does not make one of the top two spots in the June 5 primary, it could damp

[Los Angeles Times]

Reality

Let’s take a look at each claim by Trump.

High Crime

Crime in California is at an all-time low.

High Tax

California does have some high taxes:

  • Per capita, Californians pay $1,991 annually in state income taxes, which ranks fourth highest in the country.
  • Taxes its wealthy higher than anywhere else, at 13.3 percent.
  • California has the highest-in-the-nation sales tax rate of 7.25 percent.
  • California’s average effective property tax rate is among the lowest in the nation, at 0.72 percent, or 36th among states.
  • California’s State-Local Tax Burden is ranked sixth highest in the country, at 11 percent.

But nobody moves to California for the taxes, which people are still doing.

Problems
  • Traffic
  • Kardashians

Trump revives debunked accusation of massive vote fraud in California

President Trump on Thursday revived a long-debunked claim about massive voter fraud in California, telling an audience in West Virginia that “millions and millions of people” had voted illegally in the state.

“In many places, like California, the same person votes many times,” Trump said. “You probably heard about that. They always like to say ‘oh that’s a conspiracy theory.’ Not a conspiracy theory, folks. Millions and millions of people.”

Trump first made that accusation shortly after his election, saying that he only lost the popular vote because of illegal voting in California. After his inauguration, the administration set up a commission to look into voter fraud. It was eventually disbanded and did not come up with any evidence to back Trump’s theories.

The president stopped talking about voter fraud in public after taking criticism from Republican elected officials for making unsubstantiated charges about misconduct, not only in California but in other states that he lost, such as New Hampshire. But he never completely stopped raising the issue in private, according to people who have spoken with him.

In recent weeks, he’s been more assertive about publicly discussing some of his grievances — voter fraud being one.

Allegations of voter fraud have been investigated in California. Although some limited cases have been found, no evidence of large-scale fraud has ever surfaced.

[Los Angeles Times]

Trump tweets condolences to wrong town after mass shooting

Late Tuesday evening, President Trump tweeted condolences for a mass shooting to the incorrect town.

Tuesday, a gunman with a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns opened fire on four victims at multiple locations in the small Northern California town of Rancho Tehama. The suspect wounded more victims at an elementary school before law enforcement shot and killed him.

Mr. Trump’s Twitter response, which has since been deleted from his account but is timestamped at 11:34 p.m. on November 14, mentioned another mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, which occurred on November 5, killing 26 people and injuring 20 more.

“May God be with the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI and Law Enforcement has arrived,” Mr. Trump wrote in the tweet, offering thoughts and prayers to the wrong town.

It appears the response Mr. Trump intended for the victims of the violent incident in California was informed by his initial tweet regarding the Sutherland Springs shooting.

“May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas,” the November 5 tweet reads. “The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene. I am monitoring the situation from Japan.”

[CBS News]

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