Millions Without Power, Florida Keys Remain Blocked Off
It’s still a little hard to get a handle on the full extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Irma, because emergency services, which were suspended in many cities for the duration of the storm, are just starting to get back out.
At the time of publication of this newsletter, Hurricane Irma was moving over the Northernmost parts of Florida, including the panhandle. In the last few minutes, it was downgraded to a Tropical Storm. Winds are slowing, but rain remains heavy, and the possibility of flooding due to storm surges remains high. Just this morning, a flash flood warning was issued for downtown Jacksonville.
And according to the National Weather Service the possibility of flooding remains very high today for parts of Florida, and also Georgia and South Carolina.
About 1/2 the state of Florida is reported to be without power. That’s well more than 4 million homes. Florida Power and Light built a bunker to deal with just such situations.
The fate of coastal areas in particular, which were mostly evacuated, will become clearer as choppers get back in the air this morning and have a look. And later, whenever people are able to start returning home. The Florida Director of Emergency Management saying late last night “We don’t have a comprehensive insight into what the damage is,” and “We will work on [assessing both human and physical damage] at first light.” This is especially true of the Florida Keys which are completely blockaded from anyone entering, and under an indefinite dusk to dawn curfew.
Miami Airport, the 12th biggest in the country, is closed due to “significant water damage.”
Construction cranes in Miami snapped.
This was a very different storm than Hurricane Harvey in Houston, which sat over the city for days and soaked it in seemingly never-ending rain. Irma was a much faster-moving storm, and although it dumped a lot of rain, much the flooding was due to storm surges. (Why has “storm surge” become the preferred terminology vs. “tidal wave” which is much more descriptive of what it actually is?)
In some instances, the storm actually sucked water out of rivers and away from beaches, only to come flooding back later, or redeposited somewhere else. Two manatees were stranded when water disappeared from what was normally a boat channel. Some people who caught the photos rushed out and moved them to deeper waters. However, Florida Wildlife officials say it’s not uncommon for manatees to be stranded by tides and can do fine for some period of time out of water.
Josh Benson of WFLA in Tampa posted some dramatic video on his Twitter feed. We will share some of it here, though we do not yet know if it is indicative of what was going on all over the place, or if these are extreme incidents (you can watch by clicking on the photos):
Lots Of Action Planned This Week On Health Care. But Will Any Of It Pan Out?
In the “Let’s Hope Not” Category:
Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy promise to introduce their bill today to repeal and replace Obamacare. The biggest advantage: it’s the only bill still out there. And time is on their side. If Republicans don’t pass a health care bill by the end of the month, because of Senate rules, 60 votes will then be needed instead of 51. Their bill keeps Obamacare’s taxes on the rich, and hands over almost all administrative control to states. Even so, Governors don’t like it much because they’d get money from the federal government in the form of block grants, which almost certainly will not keep up with cost increases as the years go by, leaving them with gaping deficits that can only be fixed by raising state taxes, or slashing coverage.
The biggest drawback: it’s been floated before, and Senate Majority Leader McConnell was not a fan. In fact he completely ignored in favor of all the other proposals he put forward, which all failed. But he says if the two headstrong Senators can prove to him he got it all wrong, and they’ve got the votes, he’ll bring it to the floor.
One thing to keep in mind whenever Republican Senators (or the President) boast about a health care plan they’re touting is so great because it “gives more power to the states”: Obamacare already does. States can already apply for waivers if they come up with innovative ways of providing healthcare that’s different than federal law, as long as it doesn’t cost the federal government more. Only right now, states still have to offer the basic protections of Obamacare: preventive care, maternity care, coverage of pre-existing conditions, etc. The Republican plan offers more “flexibility” on those items.
In the “Let’s Hope So” Category:
The Senate HELP Committee (the “H” stands for Health) holds a second round of hearings tomorrow, and Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander says he wants to have a proposal for shoring up Obamacare by the end of the week, and a vote by the end of the month. The need for speed comes from an effort to put cost-sharing payments to health insurers into law, so the White House stops playing “chicken” with those payments, which are designed to lower out-of-pocket costs for lower income policy holders.
That’ll be tricky too: Alexander also wants states to establish and administer Reinsurance pools to help bring premiums lower. States are pushing back, saying the federal government should be responsible for at least launching that program. Reinsurance pools are a great idea and are already working in some states: about 5% of insured people use about 50% of all health care. Even now, private health insurers mitigate their risk by reinsuring it: that is, buying insurance covering those high-risk patients from other insurance companies.
Editorial: We Think The Media Is Getting The Story Of Two Moderate GOP Representatives Quitting All Wrong
Nearly all of the coverage has focused on the threat the surprise retirements pose to the Republican party, when we think it actually puts a lot more pressure on the Democrats. Why? Because given the growing rift between the parties, the Republican nominees to replace Charlie Dent in Pennsylvania, and Dave Reichert in Washington will almost certainly be far more Right wing, if not outright radical.
Currently, if Democrats couldn’t pull off a win (even, in Reichert’s case, with Hillary winning the district handily), they could at least sit back and say “well, it could be worse.” Now, not pulling off a win in those districts would be an unmitigated disaster.
Tiny Nuclear Warheads For Tiny Nuclear Wars?
The Trump Administration is apparently pursuing the idea of building tiny nuclear warheads that we might actually consider using. That’s in opposition to the Obama Administration which (because they were sane?) wanted to eliminate those same weapons, some of which could theoretically be carried in a backpack.
One of the first things President Trump commissioned upon taking office was a comprehensive study of nuclear weapons capabilities. The study is expected to take a year. But Politico reports building or refurbishing smaller nukes is, according someone close to the talks, “very warranted”.
Another pertinent question is if the President is really trying to protect U.S. citizens from terrorists, does it really serve that purpose to have a lot more small nuclear weapons floating around? The answer to that seems to be Russia’s doing it, so all bets are off.
Sometimes What Doesn’t Happen Is As Important As What Happens
Everybody expected North Korea to fire another missile over the week-end to commemorate the country’s founding, as it often does. But instead, it threw a party.
The party, attended by Kim Jong-un and his wife, was in honor of scientists who made last week’s massive nuclear bomb test possible. (You see, there are countries that still value their scientists!)
The U.S. is calling for a vote today at the U.N. that would bring harsher sanctions against North Korea, as the result of that test. The primary areas of interest for the U.S. are banking and oil. In what looks like a preemptive move, China appears to already be restricting, but not freezing, North Korean assets in several banks.
With the big science party over, North Korea’s propaganda machine was hard at work against this morning, saying of the proposed tighter sanctions: “the U.S. is revealing its nature as a blood-thirsty beast.” Let’s see if Trump can top that one…