Residents of the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California woke up Wednesday to dark orange skies as a blanket of smoke from the state’s massive climate change-fueled wildfires smothered the region. The thick smoke blotted out so much sunlight that temperatures dropped well below forecasters’ predictions, with meteorologists comparing the effect to a nuclear winter. Many residents described the scene as “apocalyptic.”
The fires have also devastated Oregon, where dozens of blazes have destroyed hundreds of homes and even entire towns. Governor Kate Brown said it could be the greatest disaster in Oregon’s history.
Gov. Kate Brown: “I want to be upfront in saying that we expect to see a great deal of loss, both in structures and in human lives. This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history.”
The fires left at least seven people dead across Washington, Oregon and California. More fires are raging in Montana, Colorado and Utah. Meanwhile, new satellite data show fires in Brazil’s Amazon region leaped to a 10-year high in August, with many of the blazes consuming virgin forest rather than already-deforested areas.
A new report finds populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish have plummeted worldwide by a staggering 68% since 1970. In its biennial Living Planet Report, the World Wildlife Fund warns, “Biodiversity is fundamental to human life on Earth, and the evidence is unequivocal — it is being destroyed by us at a rate unprecedented in history.”
President Donald Trump acknowledged Wednesday that he publicly downplayed the threat of COVID-19 for weeks as the coronavirus spread across the globe — even after he received briefings early this year about the severity of the looming pandemic. Trump was responding to a reporter who asked if he misled the public in order to reduce panic.
President Donald Trump: “Well, I think if you said in order to reduce panic, perhaps that’s so. The fact is, I’m a cheerleader for this country. I love our country. And I don’t want people to be frightened. I don’t want to create panic.”
Trump’s admission came hours after Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward published bombshell excerpts from his forthcoming book about Trump titled “Rage,” along with taped conversations with the president. In a February 7 phone call, Trump told Woodward about what he learned about the novel coronavirus from Chinese President Xi Jinping.
President Donald Trump: “It goes through air, Bob. That’s always tougher than the touch. You know, the touch, you don’t have to touch things, right? But the air, you just breathe the air, and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than your — you know, your — even your strenuous flus. … This is more deadly. This is 5 per — you know, this is 5% versus 1% and less than 1%. You know, so this is deadly stuff.”
President Trump made those comments on February 7. The White House wouldn’t declare a national emergency until March 13. During the intervening weeks, Trump repeatedly and forcefully denied that coronavirus posed a significant threat to the American people. For instance, on March 4, Trump dismissed a World Health Organization finding that the global death rate from COVID-19 was 3.4%. Trump was speaking on Fox News.
President Donald Trump: “Well, I think the 3.4% is really a false number. Now, this is just my hunch, and — but based on a lot of conversations with a lot of people that do this, because a lot of people will have this, and it’s very mild.”
Two weeks after those comments, on March 19, Trump privately admitted in another call with Bob Woodward that he had publicly downplayed the severity of the pandemic.
President Donald Trump: “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down” —
Bob Woodward: “Yes.”
President Donald Trump: — “because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Columbia University disease modelers report that if states had begun social distancing measures just one week earlier in March, 36,000 fewer people would have died.
On Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden seized on reports that Trump had deliberately misled the public about the coronavirus. Biden was speaking at an outdoor campaign event in Michigan.
Joe Biden: “He had the information. He knew how dangerous it was. And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people.”
Bob Woodward is under fire for holding back his reporting on Trump’s deception for months while the pandemic raged across the U.S. Esquire magazine politics blogger Charles Pierce tweeted, “Bob Woodward knew the truth behind the administration’s deadly bungling — and worse — and he saved it for his book, which will be released to wild acclaim and huge profits after nearly 200,000 Americans have died.”
In further revelations from his new book, Woodward writes that Trump boasted about a highly classified new type of nuclear weapon. And he quotes top infectious disease scientist Dr. Anthony Fauci saying of President Trump, “His attention span is like a minus number. … His sole purpose is to get reelected.”
This comes as Politico has revealed a Trump appointee within the Department of Health and Human Services has attempted to prevent Dr. Fauci from discussing the risks coronavirus poses to children during recent media interviews. In newly disclosed emails, the official falsely claims there is zero evidence that children spread the virus to others.
On Wednesday, National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins testified on Capitol Hill and responded to concerns that the Trump administration would rush approval of a vaccine prior to the election before it is fully tested.
Dr. Francis Collins: “And certainly, to try to predict whether it happens on a particular week, before or after a particular date in early November, is well beyond anything that any scientist right now could tell you and be confident that they know what they’re saying. So, yes, science, and science alone, will be the way in which this decision is made; otherwise, I’ll have no part of it.”
A Department of Homeland Security whistleblower has accused the agency’s leadership of instructing analysts to downplay the violent threat posed by white supremacists and Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2020 election. The explosive allegation comes in a whistleblower complaint filed by Brian Murphy, the former head of the Homeland Security Department’s intelligence branch. Murphy says acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf personally instructed him to stop providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference and instead to focus on actions by China and Iran. Murphy claims the request originated from Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien. In July, Murphy said one of his intelligence reports on Russia was held because it “made the president look bad.”
Murphy also said he had been ordered to alter the text of assessments to make the threat of white supremacy “appear less severe.” Earlier this year, DHS drafted a document stating that “white supremacist extremists will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland through 2021.” But in newer versions of the document, the reference to white supremacists was removed. Murphy also claims leaders at DHS pressured analysts to change assessments to match up to comments made by President Trump attacking anti-fascist groups.
A software engineer at Facebook has resigned to protest the company’s activities, saying Facebook is “on the wrong side of history.” In an open letter to co-workers, Ashok Chandwaney wrote, “I’m quitting because I can no longer stomach contributing to an organization that is profiting off hate in the US and globally.” Chandwaney cited Facebook’s role in fueling genocide in Burma and for allowing a far-right militia to use the platform to recruit armed vigilantes recently to come to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to confront Black Lives Matter protesters. One of the militia’s supporters then shot dead two protesters.
Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has rejected claims the platform has become a platform for the far right. He appeared on “Axios on HBO.”
Mark Zuckerberg: “I don’t think that the service is — is a right-wing echo chamber, to use your words. I think that, you know, everyone can use their voice and can find media that they trust, that reflects the opinions and the life experiences that they’re having.”
Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to head to Montana next week for a fundraiser hosted by two supporters of the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory. The hosts, Michael Borland and his wife, have repeatedly promoted QAnon on social media. Borland has also described Black Lives Matter protesters as terrorists and once threatened to shoot protesters.
In Lebanon, a massive fire has broken out at the Port of Beirut — just one month after a catastrophic explosion at the port killed over 200 people, injured 7,000 and left more than a quarter-million residents homeless. Officials say Thursday’s fire began at a warehouse storing oil and tires in the port’s duty-free zone.
In Mexico, journalist Julio Valdivia was found murdered and beheaded Wednesday in a remote part of the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz. The 44-year-old specialized in covering Mexico’s notorious criminal gangs and narcotraffickers. He’s at least the fifth journalist assassinated in Mexico this year, according to Reporters Without Borders.
Thousands of farmers stormed a dam in Mexico’s northern border state of Chihuahua Tuesday, using firebombs, sticks and rocks to drive back National Guard soldiers, who opened fire with tear gas and live ammunition, killing two protesters. The farmers are demanding Mexico stop diverting water to the United States from the La Boquilla Dam, which they say has left them unable to irrigate their crops amid a searing drought. This is Abel Alvarado, one of the protesters.
Abel Alvarado: “It is a reaction from citizens who are defending their homeland. Water is everyone’s heritage. Water doesn’t belong to anyone. Water is for everyone in Chihuahua, for all Mexicans.”
Under terms of a 1944 treaty, Mexico owes the United States nearly a half-billion cubic meters of water, to be paid by October 24.