Tag: Syndicated

Hurricane Harvey Strengthens to Category 2; Evacuations Underway

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As heavy rain and gusty winds move in over Texas, coastal residents were deciding Friday morning whether to flee or to stay put and brace for a potentially life-threatening storm.

Hurricane Harvey was “dangerously approaching the Texas Coast” and expected to bring as much as 35 inches of rain and storm-surge flooding that could reach a depth of 6 to 12 feet along the coast, the National Hurricane Center said.

Conditions are “expected to deteriorate through the day,” the center said. “Preparations along the middle Texas coast should be rushed to completion this morning.”

Forecasters say Harvey is on track to become a Category 3 hurricane with winds of at least 111 mph by the time it makes landfall around Corpus Christi late Friday or early Saturday.

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It’s then expected to stall over the state, broadening the flood threat, forecasters said.

“All indications from the hurricane center are that this is going to be the first major hurricane the nation has dealt with since 2005,” FEMA Director Brock Long said.

Latest developments

— Harvey strengthened early Friday, becoming a Category 2 hurricane with winds up to 110 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

— Isolated tornadoes are possible Friday across portions of the middle and upper Texas coast, the service said.

— Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has requested the activation of 700 National Guard members.

— The Ports of Corpus Christi and Galveston are closed.

— Three Galveston-based cruise ships in the Gulf of Mexico diverted to safer water.

FEMA prepared for ‘significant disaster’

“Texas is about to have a very significant disaster,” Long, the FEMA chief, said, stressing that people need to heed evacuation warnings.

Those who stay should “elevate and get into a structure that can withstand potentially Category 3 winds from a hurricane,” he said.

“The bottom line message is, right now, if people have not heeded the warning, again, their window to do so is closing,” Long said. “If they refuse to heed the warning, that’s on them.”

Long said he is “very worried” about storm surge, or “wind-driven water,” slamming coastal areas, saying it has the “highest potential to kill the most amount of people and cause the most amount of damage.”

A “significant inland flood event over many counties” is expected, he warned.

“Over the next five days, we’re going to see copious amounts of rainfall, up to 25 inches, possibly, in some areas, with isolated higher amounts,” he said. “This is going to be a slow-developing major disaster event for the state of Texas.”

FEMA has pre-positioned incident management teams, as well as life-saving and life-sustaining commodities, and search-and-rescue teams in Texas, Long said.

Long said FEMA is “fully engaged” with the White House, as Harvey is poised to deliver a critical test of President Donald Trump’s abilities as commander-in-chief.

“I think we’ll be looking at the potential request for presidential disaster declarations coming up from Gov. Abbott,” Long said. “The President has the ability, has the authority to sign off on those to mobilize our support to the state governments.”

Harvey is also causing concern in New Orleans, where heavy rain could usher in as much as 20 inches of rain through early next week and overwhelm the city’s already-compromised drainage system.

‘I’m trying to be strong’

The threat of Harvey became evident Thursday when several counties on the Texas coast issued evacuation orders — and an exodus of residents began.

Drivers sat bumper-to-bumper, with highways backed up for miles.

Rose Yepez told CNN it took her twice as long as usual to drive 140 miles from Corpus Christi to San Antonio, en route to Texas Hill Country.

Private vehicles — along with city buses packed with adults and children carrying backpacks — jammed roads for hours.

“I’m shaking inside, but for them, I’m trying to be strong,” a Corpus Christi woman who was waiting with her two daughters to board a bus out of town told CNN affiliate KRIS.

Ambulances stayed busy overnight, and 10 critically ill babies were evacuated to North Texas on medical flights from a Corpus Christi hospital, the Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth said in a statement.

Workers at 39 offshore petroleum production platforms and an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico also evacuated Thursday, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said.

Staying put

Meantime, first responders, like Brittany Fowler, stayed behind and waited for the storm.

“Hopefully it doesn’t do any damage, but if it does, we’ve prepared,” Fowler, a firefighter in Corpus Christi, wrote on Instagram.

Fowler’s family helped by boarding up windows and doors at her home, and she bought plenty of water, food and a small power generator.

Corey Davis, by contrast, was free to go — but opted to stay put, even as Harvey’s winds started blowing Thursday night. Instead of packing, she and her relatives took turns climbing a tall ladder to secure plywood over windows at their Port O’Connor home.

“I’m scared, so I’m doing everything that I can to protect (this) little place down here,” Davis told CNN affiliate KTRK, “and hope and pray for the best.”

Current and Former Iowa Lawmakers Announce Support for Hubbell for Governor

DES MOINES, Iowa–Nineteen current and former Iowa lawmakers are going public with their support for Fred Hubbell’s Democratic campaign for governor. They include six sitting lawmakers, a former nominee for governor, a former nominee for Congress, a former senate majority leader and a former house majority leader.

Hubbell, a businessman and philanthropist, is one of seven in his party running to compete in next June’s primary. His campaign previously announced the support of former Lt. Governor Sally Pederson.

Here is a list of new supporters:

Representative Cindy Winckler, Davenport

Representative Mary Mascher, Iowa City

Representative Helen Miller, Fort Dodge

Representative Ruth Ann Gaines, Des Moines

Representative Vicki Lensing, Iowa City

Representative Mary Wolfe, Clinton

Former Senate Majority Leader George Kinley, Des Moines

Former Senator Jack Hatch, Des Moines

Former Senator Staci Appel, Ackworth

Former Senator Frank Wood, Eldridge

Former Senator Dennis Black, Newton

Former House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Des Moines

Former Representative Wayne Ford, Des Moines

Former Representative Mike Reasoner, Creston

Former Representative Doris Kelley, Cedar Falls

Former Representative Sally Stutsman, Riverside

Former Representative Joe Riding, Altoona

Former Representative Deb Berry, Waterloo

Former Representative Jane Teaford, Cedar Falls

These endorsements come a day after Des Moines State Senator Nate Boulton, another Democratic candidate for governor, announced the support of the Iowa Professional Firefighters union, which represents 1,600 members. Boulton also previously announced endorsements from 17 current Democratic lawmakers.

Other Democrats running for governor include: former Iowa Democratic Party Chair Andy McGuire, nurse and union activist Cathy Glasson, former Des Moines school board member Jon Neiderbach, former candidate for governor John Norris and former Iowa City mayor Ross Wilburn.

National Guard at the Ready After Trump’s Afghanistan Announcement

JOHNSTON, Iowa  --  After a Monday night address from President Trump outlining a new policy for the war in Afghanistan, those in the armed forces are talking about what it means for them.

The president provided few details, leaving out any numbers about additional U.S. troops needed in Afghanistan and not revealing specifics of his war plans. That leaves branches of the military, like the Iowa National Guard, doing what they have done for years: preparing as if they’ll be called on tomorrow.

“Those who have served in the military for a while understand that whatever words are said takes a while to translate into action,” said Colonel Greg Hapgood. “If that changes for us, our units will be ready when they're called up. That's the very least we can do and that's the number one thing we do, is to make sure our readiness is at the top level.”

The policy shift from President Trump has no effect on the National Guard's planned deployment at the end of August.

“We'll have one unit that will have a sendoff up in Waterloo and then we have a second unit that looks imminent that they'll deploy later this year,” said Hapgood.

Meanwhile new recruits are paying attention, knowing that a U.S. presence in the Middle East will be the policy for the foreseeable future.

“I honestly think we need to get out of it. I just think we've lost too many lives over there and I don't think we should lose any more,” said Navy Recruit Preston Lee.

However, Lee says personal feelings get pushed to the wayside for service of the country.

“I think the biggest thing is I'm going to miss my family, but I know that I'm doing what's right,” he said.

Hapgood expects the National Guard will announce another deployment sometime in September.

Insurance Stopgap Could Keep Iowans Insured

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Congress is unable to agree on how to repair or replace the Affordable Care Act, and Iowa leaders are asking the federal government to approve a fix to keep Iowans insured.

“The stopgap measure does not change all problems within the Affordable Health Care Act, it’s not designed to do that, but it is a better way to stabilize our market in this time of real uncertainty," Iowa Insurance Division Chairman Doug Ommen said in a press conference.

It's uncertainty that has led to providers already ditching the Iowa market.

"The rates no longer reflect anything that becomes affordable for an individual without a subsidy," Ommen said.

That's where the Iowa Insurance Division's stopgap comes into play.

“Our best way to keep a market in place to allows insurance to be affordable for those that rely on the individual insurance market," Ommen said.

Without it, chairman Ommen predicts nearly 20,000 Iowans will go uninsured in 2018. This is a concern for the American Cancer Society, which says it puts some of its patients at risk.

“We kind of furrow our brow. Obviously we want to see as many Iowans as possible have the access they need. Going through a cancer journey you need to have health coverage, it's absolutely critical. And we worry that parts of this plan will have a negative impact on some lower income Iowans," said Noah Tabor, Relations Director of the American Cancer Society.

The American Cancer Society's concern could be a reality.

“In the event of a crisis event, they would still have that higher deductible of $7,000," Ommen said.

Cancer patients will see lower premiums, but will still pay higher deductibles.

There is no timeline on when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Treasury will approved this measure, but Ommen hopes it's before open enrollment November 1st.

Governor Touts Students’ Improving Reading Skills, Critic Questions Whether It Can Last

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  On Tuesday morning, young students sat in a row on the floor showing their reading mastery of the book "First Day Jitters." Their principal at Des Moines' Edmunds Elementary School, the district superintendent, and the governor praised their improvement. But later in the day, a state senator who wants to become the next governor questioned whether improvement can continue if a return to guaranteed funding increases does not.

Students show their reading abilities at Edmunds Elementary (WHO-HD)

Governor Kim Reynolds shared figures that show 70% of kindergarten through third grade students in the public school system met or surpassed statewide reading goals. That is a three percent improvement during the 2016-17 school year. The governor said, "When you look at the amount of resources, the new money that went into education...I think it demonstrates it is and will continue to be a priority for this administration."

This comes at a time when Republicans, who hold majorities in both chambers of the legislature, have pushed for changes in funding for public schools.

This year's yearly per-pupil increase of slightly more than one percent won't keep up with inflation. But they have added more than $150 million to fund a new program that pays some teachers extra to serve as mentors to other teachers.

Reynolds maintains the new strategy, at a time of tight budgets, is paying off, as evidenced by the increased reading scores.

Democrats, like Des Moines State Senator Nate Boulton, a candidate for governor, have alleged Republicans have been under-funding schools. Boulton praised the creativity of districts, but doubts that creativity can make up for smaller guaranteed funding increases in the future. "When you start doing that, you have larger classroom sizes, you have teachers having a harder time identifying the students that are struggling with reading, identifying the student that is struggling with math and other specific areas of education," Boulton said.

Secret Service Can’t Pay Agents Who Hit Overtime Caps Protecting Trump and Family, Report Says

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WASHINGTON – The Secret Service cannot pay hundreds of agents to protect President Donald Trump and his large family, according to a report published Monday morning.

Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles told USA Today more than 1,000 agents have already hit the federally mandated caps for salary and overtime allowances — which were meant to last the entire year.

“The president has a large family, and our responsibility is required in law,” Alles told USA Today. “I can’t change that. I have no flexibility.”

Trump has taken trips almost every weekend of his presidency so far, to his properties in New Jersey, Virginia and Florida, as well as internationally — and his adult children also require protection during their business trips and vacations.

In Trump’s administration, 42 people have protection, which includes 18 members of his family — an increase from the 31 people who had Secret Service protection in Obama’s administration.

In June, CNN reported that the Secret Service was relaxing its drug policy for potential hires, as Alles laid out a plan to swell the agency’s ranks by more than 3,000 employees in the coming years.

“I think between that and the fact that he has a larger family, that’s just more stress on the organization. We recognize that,” Alles said at the time, and added that he had been allocating resources in accordance.

Alles has met with congressional lawmakers to discuss planned legislation to increase the combined salary and overtime cap for agents — from $160,000 per year to $187,000. He told USA Today this would be at least for Trump’s first term.

But he added that even if this were approved, about 130 agents still wouldn’t be able to be paid for hundreds of hours already worked.

In April, CNN reported that Trump’s travel to his private club in Florida has cost more than an estimated $20 million in his first 80 days in office, putting the President on pace to surpass former President Barack Obama’s eight years of spending on travel — in only his first year in office.

Before and during the campaign season, Trump regularly criticized Obama for costing the American taxpayer money every time he took a trip, and Trump the candidate repeatedly called for belt-tightening across government agencies.

In 2014, Trump tweeted: “We pay for Obama’s travel so he can fundraise millions so Democrats can run on lies. Then we pay for his golf.”

Golf, by the way, is also one of Trump’s regular presidential pastimes.

New Iowa License Plate Design Revealed

DES MOINES, Iowa — After a vote at the Iowa State Fair, and online, the new design for Iowa’s license plates has been selected.

The Iowa Department of Transportation revealed the winner was the “City and Country” design with 113,299 votes out of 291,095 total votes cast.

“Iowans made their voices heard in the selection process for our state’s next license plate design,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said. “I’m glad so many were able to help select a meaningful design that should serve as a point of pride for our state and showcase our unique culture to the rest of the country.”

The new design will be available in 2018.

NAFTA Trade Negotiation Kick Off

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiation started up on August 16th. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer explained the deal has helped many Americans but also failed others.

Lighthizer says that Canada and Mexico are the largest export markets for U.S. farmers and ranchers, but claims at least 700,000 American have lost their jobs because of changing trade flows under the agreement. He says that they cannot ignore trade deficits and lost manufacturing jobs.

There was a joint statement the same week from the largest farm groups from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

The American Farm Bureau, Canadian Federation of Agriculture, and Mexico National Agriculture Council sent a letter to all three nations, to try and put a face behind the idea that ag trade has done well under NAFTA and they don’t want renegotiation to hurt it.

But while negotiators publicly say they want to preserve the pact’s gains for farmers, they also want some good-sized changes including better trade flows, labor and environmental standards, and a dispute settlement system.

Trade Adviser with the American Farm Bureau Dave Salmonsen says, “Can we, without changing what we’re already doing, making improvements that will be better for everybody. Not easy, these are the outstanding issues.”

Salmonsen says there is a time crunch, Mexico will have it’s presidential elections next year, which could put the renegotiation on hold.

He says, “We all know trade negotiations usually take longer than you think they will. But maybe with good faith and depending on the amount of issues they agree to tackle they could put something together.”