Hurricane Rips Into Texas, Inundates Houston With Unbelievable Amount Of Rain; Huge New Challenges For Trump

“This Event Is Unprecedented & All Impacts Are Unknown & Beyond Anything Experienced”

That’s the National Weather Service speaking, as Hurricane Harvey still hovers over Houston, America’s 4th largest city. It’s expected to dump more than 4 feet of rain in some places (the first time we’ve ever heard of rainfall referred to in feet) with up to 10 inches more rain expected just overnight. Flash flood warnings continue into the morning.

The hurricane has resulted in at least 5 deaths that we know about so far. Texas Governor Greg Abbott is calling in 1,000 more National Guard troops today, he’d called in 3,000 Sunday.

Before and after (@zerohedge via Slate)
Before and after (Texas Tribune)

FEMA this morning said it will need to provide shelter for 30,000 people. Houston’s George Brown Convention Center is open as a shelter. It was used as a shelter before, when 7,000 people from New Orleans were relocated to Houston following Hurricane Katrina. About 4 hours up the road, Dallas is turning its main convention center into a shelter for 5,000 people, expected to be ready by tomorrow.

For live, continually updated coverage we point you to CNN and The Guardian, both of whom are doing terrific work. A surprisingly large amount of local coverage in the Houston Chronicle is dedicated to debunking rumors and unmasking scams that are already cropping up, even while the storm is still in full swing.

One story that moved us was this video from CNN, where reporter Ed Lavandera assisted a local resident in the rescue of an elderly couple (and their pets) from a flooded home.

Hurricane Creates A Whole New Set Of Political Challenges For President Trump

Trump’s Tweeted a lot about the hurricane. Example: “Spirit of the people is incredible. Thanks!” As Politico points out: “[Trump] knows what a president is supposed to look like during something like this.” He said he intends to visit the hurricane area tomorrow. (And then go to Missouri the day after to bash its Democratic Senator over tax cuts.)

If only being President was that easy

The storm is likely to force a huge shift in the agenda when congress returns after Labor Day. And as the Washington Post points out, a budget shutdown right now — which the President has threatened if he doesn’t get his “wall” — could prove disastrous because it would cut off many of the agencies and services that are needed by the hardest hit areas the most. (Perhaps Trump will try to persuade congress to put wall funding into a hurricane recovery bill?)

What we already know: FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund is going to come up way short. That’d be especially true if Trump’s proposed 11% cut to the agency goes through, (but congress was never likely to go along with that anyway). It has about $2.2-billion free to spend right now. Compare that to the total cost of Hurricane Sandy, at about $70-billion, or Hurricane Katrina, about $160-billion. Also at issue: Government Flood Insurance needs to be reauthorized by the end of September, and the program is still deeply in debt due to Hurricane Katrina. Few are yet discussing how the severity of the rainfall might be related to climate change for fear of being accused of politicizing the disaster. But that’ll come by-and-by, and flood insurance is one example of a very real cost that’ll need to be reckoned with.

As many have mentioned since the beginning of the storm, many Texas Republicans voted against Hurricane Sandy relief. (But we think it’s fair to assume New York and New Jersey’s delegations will not take a similarly un-neighborly stance.) The Post points out something we didn’t know: now Vice-President Mike Pence led the (ultimately unsuccessful) fight to balance Katrina relief with dollar-to-dollar budget cuts that would’ve completely offset it, and current Budget Director Mick Mulvaney made a similar attempt when the relief bill for Sandy came around.

The Houston area contributes upwards of $500-billion dollars to America’s total Gross Domestic Product, or about 3% overall.

Two Key Cabinet Members Separately Suggest America Will Prevail In Spite Of Trump, Not Because Of Him

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson telling Chris Wallace on Fox News “I don’t believe anyone doubts the American people’s values.” After a follow-up, he then continues, calmly: “The President speaks for himself.” You can’t really tell how strong and shocking this is without watching it:

Axios suggests the already strained relationship between the President and the Secretary of State could be pushed to the brink by these comments.

Almost equally remarkable, though making less direct reference to the President, Defense Secretary James Mattis tells a group of soldiers during a casual talk: “You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other.” (This video credited only to a Facebook page called “US Army WTF Moments”):

Trump Plays With His New Toy: The Pardon

As the Texas hurricane loomed, Trump took the opportunity to pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a man he’s spoken glowingly of on many occasions, most recently at his rally last week in Arizona. The former Sheriff was voted out of office when Trump was voted in, mainly because constituents were frustrated at continued abuse of prisoners that cost taxpayers millions of dollars in settlement money. Arpaio was found guilty of violating a court order telling him to stop detaining people just because they looked Latino and so might be illegally in the country.

While we are always very careful about extrapolations made off of decisions and actions, in this case we agree with this story from Bill Moyers’ website, suggesting this may be the start of a full-blown constitutional crisis. Because in pardoning Arpaio, Trump has absolutely made it more difficult for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to do his job. One of the most effective tools any type of federal investigator has in getting witnesses to flip is threatening them with jail time, especially if they are the types of people who do not think they would do well in jail. If they now think the President will pardon them no problem, why would they talk?

Does this all mean Trump is some kind of dastardly genius, or is it just a fortuitous side effect of pardoning Sheriff Joe? Who knows? Anyway, it doesn’t matter. And why are Presidents allowed to pardon people anyway? It’s always been puzzling to us that the Founding Fathers, who were virulent anti-Monarchists, would give the President one “royal” power. Why is nobody talking about changing this?

In a somewhat related story, Trump will also soon allow police and sheriffs’ departments to once again purchase surplus military equipment, including tanks and large caliber weapons. Obama had banned this. Arpaio famously had a Howitzer that was eventually confiscated.

Trump Apparently Angry Nobody’s Giving Him A Trade War To Play With

According to Axios, during a recent Oval Office meeting, the President told his Chief Of Staff, John Kelly “I want tariffs. And I want someone to bring me some tariffs.” Adding, “China is laughing at us. Laughing.”

We have long suggested that a trade war with China would be the trigger for a major stock market selloff. That’s started to happen already even without it. But should the President get his way, it’s likely to accelerate.

And in between hurricane Tweets, Trump took the time to once again suggest he’s may “terminate” the North America Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, saying Mexico and Canada are “being very difficult.” A second round of NAFTA talks kicks off in Mexico later this week.

North Korea Ramps Up Rhetoric, And Fires New Missiles, But Not In The Direction Of Guam

Possibly referring to the floods in Houston, North Korea’s official newspaper said today if America launches an attack it will retaliate by “sinking the entirety of the U.S. under water.”

Earlier, North Korea resumed launching missiles. The latest appear to be short range and were fired into the Sea of Japan.