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Why Trump flip-flopped on California disaster relief

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President Donald Trump approved a disaster declaration for California on Friday, clearing the way for the state to receive federal aid as it continues to battle a series of historic wildfires.

Usually, that would be unremarkable — as of Saturday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) listed 98 major disaster declarations this year, including in California. But Friday’s declaration by Trump comes after his Thursday decision to deny federal aid to the state.

Though California has suffered five of the six largest wildfires in recorded state history in recent weeks — including a “gigafire,” the August Complex Fire, which has already burned more than 1 million acres — FEMA said in a statement Friday to CNN that California’s “early September fires were not of such severity and magnitude to exceed the combined capabilities of the state, affected local governments, voluntary agencies and other responding federal agencies.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom responded to this announcement by tweeting, “We are appealing this,” and followed that message with a call with Trump. Republican lawmakers also reportedly put pressure on the president, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who represents California’s 23rd District in Congress, and state Sen. Andreas Borgeas, whose district was affected by the Creek Fire, making appeals.

Following these conversations, Trump reversed course.

The disaster declaration means that California residents in the path of the fires are eligible for various types of federal aid, including “grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.”

The declaration also frees up federal funding for “emergency protective” and “hazard mitigation” measures in California. The costs of these initiatives will be shared with the state government, as well as tribal and local governments in California.

According to Cal Fire’s daily update, there are 21 active wildfires in the state — and a red flag warning remains in effect for northern California. To date, more than 4.1 million acres have burned in 2020, killing at least 31 people and destroying thousands of structures.

The politics of disaster relief often involve a balancing act

Despite his quick reversal, Trump’s initial refusal to approve the California disaster declaration is in line with his longtime posture toward the state.

As Vox’s Catherine Kim reported last year, Trump previously threatened to withhold “$$$ help” from the state, and just this week the president tweeted that “California is going to hell. Vote Trump!”

According to one former administration official — Miles Taylor, who served in the Department of Homeland Security — Trump has made his stance toward California even more clear in private.

“[Trump] told us to stop giving money to people whose houses had burned down from a wildfire because he was so rageful that people in the state of California didn’t support him, and that politically it wasn’t a base for him,” Taylor said in a video endorsing Trump’s opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Trump’s antipathy toward California has meant Newsom, a Democrat, has often had to maintain a delicate balancing act in his relationship with Trump to ensure California gets the help it needs, for wildfires and the Covid-19 pandemic alike.

As CalMatters’s Laurel Rosenhall wrote in September:

Newsom has repeatedly praised Trump’s disaster aid for California, saying he wants to put political differences aside when problems need to be solved. But it’s involved a bit of whiplash. He recently called their relationship “very effective” in responding to emergencies — just the day after he dissed Trump for saying California wildfires were due to insufficient forest raking. He talked last week about a productive phone call with Trump, even as he criticized the federal government for a lack of action on climate change.

Newsom isn’t alone in that balancing act. As the pandemic and natural disasters from fires to hurricanes leave states in desperate need of federal help, staying on Trump’s good side has essentially become an imperative for Democratic governors seeking federal aid.

In March, the president told Fox News that Democratic governors seeking federal help “have to treat us well.” Following that pronouncement — and others like it — Democratic leaders have worked to maintain the appearance of doing so.

In April, for example, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised Trump’s pandemic response, saying that “he has delivered for New York.”

But the relationship between the president and Democratic governors has not always been smooth; in April Trump called for people to “LIBERATE” Democratic-run states like Virginia and Minnesota. And Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has criticized Trump’s Covid-19 response, has become the target of unceasing vitriol from the president, unabated even after a far-right alleged kidnapping plot against her was revealed earlier this month.

Democratic governors like Newsom — and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has sought federal help for hurricane recovery — however, have found ways to craft measured approaches that neither alienate the president or their bases, largely escaping the president’s ire and ensuring federal aid flows to their states.

“What essentially is happening is that Newsom is having to be, in a way, a sacrificial lamb,” California Sierra Club director Kathryn Phillips told the AP in September after Newsom met with Trump. “He’s the one who has to be very gentle with the president, even though I have no doubt that he disagrees with him on just about everything.”


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Palm oil peril: Is your peanut butter putting primates at risk?

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It is tricky to know what we as individuals can do to best help in beleaguered environmental times. We might switch off the lights more often or consider our fashion sources, but it can feel like a meagre and perhaps pointless contribution, wrong though that may be.

Food brings it home. If you sit at the dining table and think of the direct link between that bit of toast slathered in peanut butter, and an endangered species pushed to the brink by deforestation, all becomes a little clearer. This is no anti-spread diatribe but a call to arms to carefully consider what we eat.

The connection is palm oil and it ain’t a pretty picture. Palm oil is in a whole load of products from Oreos to shampoo, lipstick to ice cream, cookies to – yes – peanut butter.

We cook in it, bathe in it, and even brush our teeth in it. Experts say it is found in 50 percent of products on our grocery shelves.

The lone ape

But palm oil production has destroyed huge swaths of virgin rainforest, especially in Indonesia. Meanwhile, species, like the orangutan, are pushed to the brink of extinction.

There was a sobering sequence in the latest film by the British naturalist David Attenborough where a lone orangutan is seen clinging to a single branchless trunk amid an endless battlefield of fallen trees. The trees were felled for palm oil production.

In this 2017 photo, an orangutan sits on the branch of a tree before being rescued and relocated from a swath of destructed forest near a palm oil plantation at Tripa peat swamp in Aceh province, Indonesia. As demand for palm oil soars, plantations expand and companies drain the swamp, clear the forest of its native trees, and often set illegal fires which in turn robs orangutans and other endangered species of their natural habitats [AP/Binsar Bakkara]

Acrobats of the jungle

Of course, it is not just flagship species like the orangutan under threat. Here is a shout out for the singing, swinging ape, the brilliant acrobat of the trees, the animal we think of when we picture primates swinging gracefully through the canopy – the good old gibbon.

When gibbons walk, either on branches or on the ground, they often do so on two feet. Being the most bipedal of all non-human primates, they are regularly studied for clues about the process of evolution that led to us walking.

And yes, they sing with extraordinary vocal tones apparently ranging, as one anthropologist put it, from haunting Japanese flute to blaring police siren.

But gibbons are in deep trouble. They are among the most threatened primates on Earth. And like the orangutan and myriad other rainforest species in Southeast Asia, this is primarily because of palm oil.

Next to humans, gibbons are the most bipedal of all primates [File: Reuters/Leonhard Foeger]

According to the Gibbon Conservation Alliance, the endangered Silvery gibbon, which is only found on the island of Java in Indonesia, has lost 98 percent of its habitat.

In Borneo, habitat loss has been dramatic too: Huge swaths of trees burned to the ground to make way for palm oil plantations.

“The fires which ravaged Borneo in 2015 resulted in significant loss of forest,” said Dr Susan Cheyne of the Borneo Nature Foundation (BNF). “We estimate around 15 percent was lost and bear in mind only 50 percent of the whole island of Borneo remains forested.”

BNF works to reforest degraded areas damaged by fire to help restore habitats for gibbons and other animals. It is also an advocate of deforestation-free palm oil – sustainable palm oil which is grown without causing more deforestation.

Dr Cheyne said the market for palm oil is vast. “Consumers need to be more aware about what they are buying but food companies need to work to provide clear information to consumers about what is in their products.”

A worker harvests palm fruit at a plantation in Indonesia, which is the world’s largest palm oil producer [File: Reuters]

‘There’s a Rang-Tan in my bedroom’

This video below, that went viral in 2018, puts it better than any words can. It is an emotive advertisement from a Greenpeace campaign featuring a homeless orangutan.

Watch and consider the peanut butter options.

[embedded content]

Your environment round-up

1. Delayed Arctic freezing: Scientists are concerned that for the first time in recorded history, the Laptev Sea has yet to start freezing by this stage in late October. The delay – partly caused by unusually warm temperatures this year – could have knock-on effects for the region.

2. Cooling paint: A new kind of white paint that reflects 95.5 percent of sunlight could help cool buildings, decreasing the reliance on air conditioning which adds to global CO2 emissions.

3. Watch: Climate concerned?: From extreme winds to floods, drought and fire, the US has witnessed extreme weather events this year. Now, public opinion towards the climate crisis may finally be changing.

4. Listen: Acoustic ecology: Scientists have found signs of climate change in nature’s symphonies, and they are racing to record the soundscapes before they disappear.

The final word

A nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.

Franklin D Roosevelt, 32nd US president

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PrettyLittleThing features its first model to wear a hijab

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Written by Alaa Elassar, CNN

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A Black, Muslim plus-size model is breaking barriers in the fashion industry after being chosen by PrettyLittleThing to model its new line of modest clothing.

Billy Marsal, 21, is a London-based influencer who regularly posts photos of herself wearing trendy and modest outfits on Instagram. The online retail giant scouted her on social media shortly after entering the Middle East market.

Marsal’s work with PrettyLittleThing marks the first time the brand has featured a model wearing a hijab or headscarf, the UK-based company confirmed.

“I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was until I started getting replies and messages from people who were so excited about it, then I realized, wow, this is amazing,” Marsal told CNN.

“It’s an insane feeling, Yes, I am Black, I am Muslim, I am plus size, but I never thought it would be me to make people feel like this.”

Marsal is new to the world of professional modeling, but is excited to represent young Muslim women and help them find fashionable clothes that uphold their religious values.

“As girls who wear the hijab, we grew up buying clothes and having to alter things to make them modest so for them now to tell Muslim girls, ‘Guys, we’re catering to you, too’ is a very big deal,” she said.

Marsal announced her work with PrettyLittleThing in a tweet on Monday that has since garnered more than 500,000 likes and 60,000 retweets. “Soooo… that’s me. THE FIRST HIJABI ON PLT!!! Still so wild to me,” she said.

PrettyLittleThing, which has collaborated with celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Hailey Baldwin, sells fashion “inspired from the catwalk and the coolest muses of the moment” at affordable prices.

The retailer aims to “inspire confidence” in customers with a message of equality and body positivity, according to its website.

“Following our successful launch into the Middle East we are delighted to be launching our ‘Modest clothing’ collection on site,” PrettyLittleThing said in a news release. “Our ethos of ‘EveryBODYinPLT is extremely important to us, so it’s been amazing seeing such positive customer feedback and working with models who represent all of our customer base.”

In recent years, models wearing a hijab have been featured in New York Fashion Week and Sports Illustrated magazine. But it’s still not common.

Marsal said she’s happy to see the industry change to include more Muslim women, and looks forward to the day when it’s no longer surprising to see a model wearing a hijab.

“I think what’s going to happen is this will one day be so normal it’s not surprising anymore, because competitors are noticing what brands like PrettyLittleThing are doing and it’s going to become the norm,” she said.

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At least 22 killed in Ghana church collapse

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Officials say 11 women, 10 men and a baby died after an under-construction three-storey building collapsed.

At least 22 people, including a baby, were killed when an unfinished three-storey building collapsed in eastern Ghana, emergency officials said on Friday.

The accident happened on Tuesday while a church community held a service in the building, which was still under construction, in the town of Akyem Batabi in the Eastern Region, National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) official Richard Amo-Yartey said.

Among the dead are 11 women, a baby and 10 men, Amo-Yartey said.

A rescue team comprising emergency workers, police, soldiers and firefighters were searching for survivors trapped inside the building.

The number of those missing remained unclear on Friday, while eight injured people had been taken to hospital, according to Amo-Yartey.

Local media reported that more than 60 people were present at the site when the accident took place.

Work on the building had started in 1994.

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