Early Morning Explosions At Chemical Plant Show Crisis In Texas Is Far From Over

Two Explosions Very Early This Morning At Plant Northeast Of Houston, One Deputy Sheriff Hospitalized Due To Fumes

The operators of the plant owned by French chemical company Arkema say there could be more. They’ve been warning since yesterday about explosions and fires which they say they have “no way to prevent”. The company said it had contingency plans for a “worst case scenario”, but that didn’t include 6 feet of water and no power. All personnel were previously evacuated from the plant Northeast of Houston, along with local residents within 1 1/2 miles of the plant. Here’s more from The Houston Chronicle.

Arkema plant exterior (prior to explosions)

Port Arthur, Texas, is home to some of the nation’s largest oil refineries, all of which have now been shut down, including the biggest, Saudi Arabian-owned Motiva. With about 20% of U.S. capacity now offline, gasoline futures prices rose 10-cents a gallon in one day. However, Valero says it is in the process of reopening its refinery in Corpus Christi, and one other, after storm impact in those areas was less than expected.

And although the storm is finally gone from Houston, flooding persists as these recent photos from the Houston Chronicle show:

According to the Guardian, 31 people are now confirmed dead. And that number should rise significantly in the next day or two as more areas become more accessible. The Washington Post has a story of 2 volunteer rescue workers who were killed when their boat got caught in a strong current and drifted into power lines.

We were moved by this clip from the BBC of people forming a human chain to rescue an elderly man from his flooded vehicle.

Quartz focuses on one very under-reported issue that will have huge impact moving forward: very few people in Houston have flood insurance. In fact, 85% don’t. And while people without coverage should still receive emergency payouts from the government, people with insurance, on average, end up with about 10X more.

Some things have started getting back to normal. Houston’s airports have reopened. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just issued its “final storm summary“, with rainfall totals pretty much exactly in line with pre-storm predictions. The highest recorded rainfall amount: 51.88 inches (that’s 4 1/3 feet) at “CEDAR BAYOU AT FM 1942”. We plotted that approximate location on this Google map:

We’ve already been talking a lot about the probable impact of climate change on the severity of the storm, and now others are too. PBS has a pretty good look at what’s behind rising rainfall totals worldwide. Watch by clicking on the photo:

Trump Returns To A Classic Gambit For Tax Reform Push: Touts His Plan As “Simple, Fair, And Easy To Understand”, Without Giving Any Details

In a speech in Missouri designed to kick-off his fall push for tax reform, Trump largely read off prompter, and delivered a lot of familiar promises, but no new details (at least that we noticed), on how or probably more importantly to most: how much?

Trump did strike a populist chord: promising elimination of loopholes that “primarily benefit the wealthiest Americans”, and “tax relief for middle class families”. But again, getting no more specific than that.

These are lofty and worthy goals, if the President actually follows through and doesn’t pull a repeat of health care, where he said many laudable things but then was willing to sign any horrible bill Republicans put in front of him.

The President also returned to an old refrain on corporate tax: citing the need to roll back “horrible, outdated bureaucratic rules” that encourage U.S. corporations to keep profits overseas.

About the only time Trump deviated from prompter is when Trump pointedly said “I don’t want to be disappointed by Congress, you understand me?” Here is that, and a little bit more from his speech:

Trump’s first meeting upon Congress’ return next week from a long recess will be with the so-called “Big 6” group that’s working on tax reform, which is made up of House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.

And there’s a new Fox News poll indicating Americans’ patience with the President may be wearing thin. (We normally don’t report on polls, but there’s a good chance the President may actually see this one.) It finds 56% of voters feel Trump is “tearing the country apart”, which is kind of a loaded question. (But again, Trump will probably see this.) While his Republican base is still strong, with nearly 70% saying Trump’s actually “drawing the country together”, the biggest declines in support came from Republican men and white people without a college degree.

Also from Fox News this morning, scathing commentary from legal commentator and former judge Andrew Napolitano, who’s often been a good friend to the President. He says a Constitutional crisis is looming due to “reckless influence upon local law enforcement coming from the Trump administration.”

Trump Neuters More Government Regulations, Including One Meant To Ensure Equal Pay

A lot of the “record number” of accomplishments in Trump’s first 7+ months in office has involved Executive Orders that roll back, neuter, or outright kill all different types of government regulations. And as we’ve often pointed out, a lot of regulations exist expressly as the result of people and corporations behaving badly. So now they can again. While each Presidential “rollback” may not be that significant in and of itself, (and thus may not even get that much attention), the cumulative effect will very likely be devastating for years to come. A few more examples on our radar screen:

• The Trump Administration is suspending a new requirement that companies report salary data to the  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in addition to the gender, race and ethnicity data that’s already reported. The aim of the now-dead Obama era rule was to help close gender and race wage gaps. In a very unusual move, Ivanka Trump issued a statement in support of her dad’s action.

Quartz reports the Trump Administration is cutting back on money meant to update maps of coastal areas to reflect rising water levels. It argues a lot of homeowners in Houston who should’ve been required to buy flood insurance weren’t, and holding back on new maps is likely to make the situation even worse.

• And of course by now we all know about Trump’s pre-Hurricane decision to roll back Obama’s flood management standards for builders and developers.

Sanctuary Cities Law Blocked In Texas

This is one the Trump Administration is watching very closely, so we should too. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia blocked a new state law that was supposed to go into effect Friday.

Interestingly, the argument on both sides is about public safety. Those in favor of the law say it would make communities safer. Those against it (including Houston’s Mayor) say police are needed to fight local crime, not be “immigration enforcers.” The judge sided with the latter, saying in his decision the law would “erode public trust and make many communities and neighborhoods less safe.”

The Washington Post also points out Texas actually has very few “sanctuary cities.”

Whether Or Not You Think His Approach May Be Valid, We Think It’s Odd The New York Times Allowed Erik Prince To Publish An Op-Ed That’s Basically A Brochure For His Business

The content of Prince’s “Op-Ed” is the kind of thing you’d normally find in a very expensive full-page ad. In it, Prince argues in favor of a mercenary force in Afghanistan, instead of U.S. troops, comparing his proposal to the Flying Tigers in World War II, and comparing himself to Tesla founder Elon Musk. Such an approach was already advocated within the White House by Prince and Steve Bannon, et. al., (and is a part of the reason Bannon is gone.) To us, while the idea of less personnel and less cost is on its face appealing, at this point in time having (as Prince puts it) “serving or recently retired Pentagon generals monopoliz[ing] the conversation” inside the White House, may be the only reason the Trump Administration hasn’t totally run amok. Also, Prince did not exactly have a princely reputation when he ran the Blackwater security firm inside the war zone in Iraq. He did make billions however, and would this time too.

Prince is Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ brother.

Oh, and he says we can’t call his paid fighters “mercenaries”. That denigrating. We need to call them “contractors”. (So PC is OK?)