Tag Archives: east

Grab your apocalypse bag — it’s fire season in California

It’s officially fire season in California. Dry winds rush in from the desert to the east, smoke turns midday to twilight, people hurry from place to place in facemasks, and the electricity goes out.

That’s been the story for the last three years. The risk of wildfires has always been high in the fall when the wind that usually carries cooling fog from the ocean into the interior reverses course. But it has never been so consistently bad. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but behind it all is a warming climate that’s killing trees, drying out brush, and turning bad behaviour into disasters.

Meteorologists predicted the dangerously dry weather a few days in advance, and Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility, let customers know that it would be turning off power to guard against windblown branches crashing into power lines. I was visiting my parents in Nevada City, a 3-hour drive east of my home in the Bay Area, when the lights went out on Saturday. The kids delighted at the novelty of it We set jugs of water by the sinks and made our way to bed by lamplight. In the morning, despite protests from the children, my father fired up the noisy generator he had hooked up to his propane tank, so we could do the dishes, cool the refrigerator, and check the news.

In Southern California, people grabbed their “apocalypse bags” of pre-packed necessities and made their way through jammed roads out of harm’s way. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and basketball star LeBron James were among the evacuees. James had to try four hotels before he found one with room for his family.

The search for housing was tougher in Northern California wine country, where evacuations from the Kincade fire have forced some 200,000 people out of their homes. People have been sleeping in churches and fairgrounds. Officials ordered mandatory evacuations from an area stretching from the active fire east of Highway 101 all the way to the Pacific Ocean as 70 mile-per-hour winds whipped the flames to the west. Some of the houses rebuilt since the 2017 fires may burn again. The smoke was dangerously thick in many parts of wine country, but farmworkers were still out picking grapes.

Many of the schools in the Bay Area closed, and those closest to the fire will be shut all week. More than 100,000 students stayed home Monday around Los Angeles. Firefighters worked to contain the Getty Fire in west Los Angeles, in anticipation of the most severe winds so far this year. PG&E expects to cut power to more than half a million customers on Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Sunday, when I surveyed routes for driving home, I found my options were limited. To the west, the Kinkade Fire was swallowing more of wine country. To the east, a handful of small fires were blazing. And in the middle, a wall of fire had engulfed the Carquinez Bridge, closing Interstate 80, our usual path home. We waited for hours. Fortunately, firefighters quickly put out most of the new fires, I-80 reopened, and we slipped home Sunday evening, gawping at smoking black patches on either side of the road.

The winds have calmed here in the Bay Area, but it’s only temporary. The weather is supposed to turn incendiary again by Wednesday. It’s just what Californians have come to expect. After all, it’s fire season.

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Grab your apocalypse bag — it’s fire season in California

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On Shaky Ground – John J. Nance


On Shaky Ground

America’s Earthquake Alert

John J. Nance

Genre: Earth Sciences

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: January 19, 2016

Publisher: Open Road Media

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC

A chilling look at the massive earthquakes that could strike America at any moment Far beneath the earth’s surface, great tectonic plates grind against one another with incredible pressure that must—inevitably—be released. Earthquakes manifest with little warning, upending buildings, shattering infrastructure, and unleashing devastating tsunamis. In this remarkable survey of the history of seismology and the extraordinary seismic events that have occurred in the United States, Mexico, China, and other locales, author John J. Nance traces the discoveries of the scientists who have dedicated their lives to understanding and predicting one of the deadliest threats known to mankind.   From the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest and the East Coast, most of the United States—not just California—is in danger of a massive quake, and few citizens are adequately prepared. Through riveting firsthand interviews with earthquake survivors, and with the same command of technical detail and gripping style that he brings to his New York Times –bestselling thrillers, Nance demonstrates the need for readiness—because the next big quake could happen tomorrow.


On Shaky Ground – John J. Nance

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Hurricane Florence is no Hugo. It looks worse.

With winds of 125 mph and a span of hundreds of miles, Hurricane Florence is already one of the largest and strongest hurricanes ever to threaten the East Coast. The National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina — near where Florence is expected to make landfall on Thursday — is already calling it “the storm of a lifetime.”

In this region, the current storm of anyone’s lifetime is 1989’s Hurricane Hugo — with winds of 140 mph, it was the most powerful hurricane to hit land north of Florida since weather records began in 1851.

Even though its winds won’t be quite as strong, Florence could be much worse by many other measures. Take a look at how they compare side-by-side from space (that’s Hugo on the left):

Grist / NOAA

Larger hurricanes typically bring much higher storm surges, historically the deadliest threat from hurricanes, because a larger span of winds can push more water ashore. Hugo’s storm surge peaked at around 20 feet near Moores Landing, South Carolina. Owing to North Carolina’s unique coastal geography, and with the extra nudge from the past 30 years of sea-level rise, Florence’s surge could top 20 feet.

Large, slow-moving hurricanes can also produce more rain. The latest warnings from the National Hurricane Center predict totals of up to 40 inches in isolated areas, far above the 27.84” that fell in Georgia during Hurricane Alberto in 1994 (the current East Coast record), or the 10.28 inches that fell in South Carolina during Hugo. Florence’s deluge will extend inland for hundreds of miles, which would flood virtually every river and stream in the Carolinas.

Worst of all, Florence will likely slide southward after reaching the shore, following the coastline and inflicting damage down to Charleston, S.C. or as far south as Savannah, Georgia. In contrast, Hugo’s landfall was relatively quick, weakening to a tropical storm in less than a day. Florence’s long coastal tour could take as long as two and a half days.

Stronger, rainier, and more damaging hurricanes have long been predicted as a consequence of climate change. Florence is the latest example. There are more to come.

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Hurricane Florence is no Hugo. It looks worse.

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North Carolina-sized Hurricane Florence makes its way to North Carolina

Hurricane Florence is heading straight for the Carolinas, on course to slam into a region that hasn’t seen anything like it in a generation.

Florence is already one of the worst hurricanes ever to threaten the East Coast, and there’s nearly unanimous consensus among the most reliable weather models that the storm will grow larger and more fierce before it hits land. When it arrives in North Carolina on Thursday, it could be about the same size as North Carolina.

On Monday, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered the complete evacuation of the state’s coastline, home to more than a million people, to prepare for what’s shaping up to be a historic storm. Large-scale evacuations have also been ordered in eastern North Carolina and southeast Virginia, home to a combined 3 million people, where states of emergency are already in effect. President Donald Trump cancelled a campaign rally in Mississippi and tweeted several messages urging people to prepare.

As of Tuesday evening, Florence had sustained winds of 140 mph — a strong Category 4. But it could soon get more powerful. On its current path, Florence will traverse the bathwater-warm Gulf Stream — source of rocket fuel for hurricanes — and likely strengthen further, perhaps reaching Category 5. That could turn Florence into one of the most powerful hurricanes in U.S. history.

Florence poses three main threats: wind, heavy rain, and storm surge (the wall of water pushed ashore when a storm makes landfall). All three could come in record quantities simultaneously.

Since 1851, only three other hurricanes have targeted the Carolinas at Category-4 strength or stronger, with Hugo in 1989 the most recent. In the generation since Hugo hit, millions more people have moved to the southeast coast — greatly increasing the region’s vulnerability. Winds as strong as Florence’s will produce “catastrophic” damage, according to the National Hurricane Center’s explanation of the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale. “Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”

But the biggest risk to lives and infrastructure will come from the water. More than 80 percent of hurricane-related deaths are due to flooding, either by rising coastal waters or heavy rainfall. Florence will pack both.

At the coast, Florence could bring 15 to 20 feet of storm surge, enough to eclipse the East Coast record and overwhelm fragile and densely-populated barrier islands.

After making landfall, the most reliable weather models show Florence stalling over the Carolinas and Virginia for up to four days, similar to what happened in Texas with Hurricane Harvey last year. The deluge could extend for hundreds of miles inland.

Florence’s slow movement after landfall is expected to bring 20 to 40 inches of rain to inland parts of North Carolina and Virginia, with floodwaters enhanced by the rainfall-squeezing effect of the Appalachian Mountains. If that forecast holds, North Carolina’s state hurricane rainfall record of 27 inches set during Floyd in 1999 could be shattered.

All that rain would fall on already wet soil, worsening the potential deluge. Over the past 60 days, parts of the region have received nearly double the amount of rain seen in a typical summer.

In short, Florence is a recipe for an abject flooding disaster. Much of North Carolina and Virginia could be dealing with its worst floods in history. It will take a week or more for rainwater to drain from the hills and mountains, channeling all that rainfall into rivers and streams — scouring away homes and highways in floodplains along the way.

There’s good reason to believe that a storm like Florence is made more likely by the warming atmosphere. Warmer air can hold more water vapor, making rainfall in hurricanes more intense. At peak hurricane season, ocean temperatures in Florence’s path would probably be strong enough to support its current intensity even without global warming, but the extra degree or two has made the storm’s rapid intensification that much more likely. And the foot or so of sea level rise that’s already occurred — no matter what the North Carolina legislature says — will obviously worsen coastal flooding. The latest research also suggests that intense hurricanes will migrate further north as the climate warms this century.

As Miami-based meteorologist John Morales recently wrote on Twitter, “There’s more strong hurricanes, and they ain’t where they used to be.”

For a region unaccustomed to a storm like Florence, its impact will arrive as a harbinger of a warmer — and more dangerous — future.

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North Carolina-sized Hurricane Florence makes its way to North Carolina

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Baltimore voters will decide on the future of their water

Water bills in Baltimore are out of control. Between 2010 and 2017, the typical household’s annual water and sewer bill jumped from $347 to $720. Residents have even turned to buying bottled water and purchasing gym memberships just to use the showers, because its more affordable than using their tap.

Like many cities on the East Coast, Baltimore’s aging water infrastructure is in need of major investments. To repair and update its systems, the city has raised water prices. Companies have been pushing privatization while many residents, particularly in neighborhoods that are working class communities of color, have had their water shut off.

But just this week, two water-related bills were approved to make it to the ballot this fall. One bill would make it illegal for the city to turn over its public water utility to a private company. The other would create a racial equity fund to ensure that city services treat all residents fairly.

Several companies have approached Baltimore asking to lease or manage the city’s water service. Privatization is often an appealing move to cash-strapped cities, but Baltimore has turned down efforts so far. A Food & Water Watch study of the 500 largest community water systems in the U.S. found that private utilities typically charge close to 60 percent more for water than their public counterparts.

If voters pass the bill this fall, Baltimore will become the first major U.S. city to ban the privatization of its water. “Hopefully other cities across the country will follow our lead,” says City Councilman Brandon Scott, who introduced another measure that he hopes will help improve water service in the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.

Scott’s bill would help fund an equity assessment program that would mandate city agencies and services to evaluate and address any disparities based on race, gender, or income.

Under the program, the city would take a look at how water cutoffs and high water bills impact different communities. If they see that those water bill issues are impacting poor people, people of color, or women more frequently, then they’ll have to make changes, Scott says.

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Baltimore voters will decide on the future of their water

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Houston communities deal with ‘unbearable’ petrochemical smells

This story was originally published by New Republic and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

As historic rainfall and flooding continue to pound America’s fourth-most populated city, residents of Houston’s industrial fence-line communities are reporting strong gas and chemical-like smells coming from the many refineries and chemical plants nearby. “I’ve been smelling them all night and off and on this morning,” said Bryan Parras, an activist at the grassroots environmental justice group TEJAS. Parras, who lives and works in Houston’s East End, on Sunday said some residents are experiencing “headaches, sore throat, scratchy throat and itchy eyes.”

Parras said there are chemical smells in the air all over the East End, but particularly in communities adjacent to Houston’s sweeping petrochemical industry. And residents can’t escape the smell, because flood waters have overtaken the city, and could reach over four feet in some spots. “Fenceline communities can’t leave or evacuate so they are literally getting gassed by these chemicals,” Parras said.

Some Twitter users in Houston also reported concerns about air quality.

It’s still unclear exactly where the smells are coming from, but Parras suspects the source is the many oil refineries, chemical plants, and gas facilities nearby. Several of these plants have shut down or are in the process of shutting down due to Harvey’s historic flooding, and shutdowns are a major cause of “abnormal” emission events, according to a 2012 report from the Environmental Integrity Project. Short-term impacts of these events can be “substantial,” because “upsets or sudden shutdowns can release large plumes of sulfur dioxide or toxic chemicals in just a few hours, exposing downwind communities to peak levels of pollution that are much more likely to trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory systems.” The communities closest to these sites in Houston are disproportionately low-income and minority.

There are huge public health risks from pollution releases during any hurricane, but the risk is particularly high with Harvey. The plants in the area hit directly by the storm “are responsible for roughly 25 percent of the United States’s petroleum refining, more than 44 percent of its ethylene production, 40 percent of its specialty chemical feed stock and more than half of its jet fuel,” according to the New York Times.

On Sunday, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke — fresh off a bizarrely off-topic mid-hurricane Twitter endorsement from President Donald Trump — hit out at liberals for “politicizing” Hurricane Harvey. But disaster preparedness is always political, and so is environmental justice. As noxious fumes creep over the fence-line communities of the East End, residents there are underwater, and some of them can’t breathe.

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Houston communities deal with ‘unbearable’ petrochemical smells

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Have what it takes to be a Grist fellow? Don’t miss the application deadline!

Listen up, procrastinators: You have a few days left to apply for Grist’s fall 2017 fellowship. The application deadline is Monday, July 31, 2017.

If you’re just now hearing about the fellowship, here’s the gist: We’re looking for early-career journalists to come work with us for six months and get paid. This time around, we’re looking for all-stars in two areas: environmental justice and video. You’ll find a full program description and application requirements here.

Our dynamic duo of current fellows just keeps raising the bar for excellence. Senior fellow Emma Foehringer Merchant reports on a shuttered army base in West Oakland that’s the source of a controversial redevelopment project. (Emma’s story is the second installment of our ongoing Extreme Community Makeover series.) And video fellow Vishakha Darbha tells the story of East Chicago, Indiana, which has been called “the next Flint” due to widespread lead contamination. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: We ❤️ our fellows.

So what are you waiting for? Oh, right, the last possible minute. As long as we receive your application by 11:59 p.m. PT on July 31, no judgment here.


Have what it takes to be a Grist fellow? Don’t miss the application deadline!

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Ethics Office Congratulates Trump for Something He’s Not Planning to Do

Mother Jones

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This is weird as hell. Between 12:55 and 12:57 pm on the East Coast this afternoon, the Office of Government Ethics sent out a tweetstorm addressed to Donald Trump:

We can’t repeat enough how good this total divestiture will be….Brilliant! Divestiture is good for you, very good for America!….OGE applauds the “total” divestiture decision. Bravo!….As we discussed with your counsel, divestiture is the way to resolve these conflicts….OGE is delighted that you’ve decided to divest your businesses. Right decision!….Bravo! Only way to resolve these conflicts of interest is to divest . Good call!….this aligns with OGE opinion that POTUS should act as if 18 USC 208 applies. http://bit.ly/2fRpIG0….this divestiture does what handing over control could never have done….we told your counsel we’d sing your praises if you divested, we meant it.

Needless to say, Trump has made no decision to divest his holdings. He has said only that he plans to hand over control of “business operations” to his kids.

So what happened? Here’s a few theories:

  1. Trump really does plan to divest, and his lawyers have told OGE this. Then OGE screwed up and scheduled a tweetstorm about it before Trump’s announcement.
  2. OGE did this “accidentally” in order to put pressure on Trump to divest.
  3. OGE did this deliberately in order to put pressure on Trump to divest.
  4. Something else.

As near as I can tell, #4 is the winner. Here’s what the New York Times reports:

In a statement, Seth Jaffe, an agency spokesman, said that officials there were “excited” by Mr. Trump’s announcements on conflicts of interest and that the messages were not based on any information about the president-elect’s plans beyond what was shared on his Twitter feed.

Asked later about the disclosure of the advice that the Office of Government Ethics had given to Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Mr. Jaffe said he could not provide additional comment. But the agency has left the posts on its official government account.

So…they just misinterpreted Trump’s tweets and got so excited that they couldn’t contain themselves. I can’t say that this seems especially likely, but I guess anything is possible.

UPDATE: NPR has more here. Their account seems to imply that maybe #3 is the right answer. If it is, then bravo. After all, if Donald Trump can make waves via Twitter, then so can everyone else.

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Ethics Office Congratulates Trump for Something He’s Not Planning to Do

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When Bruce Springsteen Helped Destroy the Berlin Wall

Mother Jones

The fall of the Berlin Wall has been attributed to lots of things, from Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms and Ronald Reagan’s famous plea to the ineptitude of the Politiburo and the collective courage of the East German protesters. But there’s little doubt that David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen did their own small part.

When Bowie died this past January, the German Foreign Office noted as much in a memorial tweet: “Good-bye, David Bowie. You are now among #Heroes. Thank you for helping to bring down the #wall.” For Springsteen’s role, you can read the 2013 book Rocking the Wall: Bruce Springsteen—The Berlin Concert That Changed the World. But Springsteen’s recent memoir, Born to Run, offers his full account of that epic concert for the first time.

Many Americans are surprised to learn that our rock stars were even allowed to play in East Germany while the wall, constructed in 1961, remained in place. But Communist Party leaders, noting the tremendous buildup of anger and tension among their young people during the Gorbachev “glasnost” era, decided to provide a safety valve of sorts by allowing major rock concerts starting in 1987. Tens of thousands of East German kids were already flocking to the wall to listen as Bowie and others played just on the other side—and there had been clashes between the music-starved youth and East German police.

Bowie’s June 1987 performance was remarkable on several levels. The stage was set up in West Berlin, very close to the wall, with the old Reichstag building as a backdrop. Unlike most Western performers, he had a fitting song for the occasion: “Heroes,” written a few years earlier and purportedly inspired by Bowie’s time living in Berlin. The line about standing by the wall while “the guns shot above our heads” may refer to dramatic attempts by East Germans to escape the East—which happens to be the subject of my new book, The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill. (You can watch Bowie’s performance that day on YouTube.) And here, from a 2003 interview, is how he described it:

It was one of the most emotional performances I’ve ever done. I was in tears…And there were thousands on the other side that had come close to the wall. So it was like a double concert where the wall was the division. And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. When we did “Heroes” it really felt anthemic, almost like a prayer. However well we do it these days, it’s almost like walking through it compared to that night, because it meant so much more. That’s the town where it was written, and that’s the particular situation that it was written about.

By then, Bob Dylan had been invited by a youth arm of the Communist Party to play in Treptower Park in the East on September 17, 1987, along with touring mates Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Roger McGuinn. Protests were building against the regime and the wall, and East German officials hoped to defuse tensions with a few signs of openness.

Naturally, the Stasi (East Germany’s notorious secret police) were on top of it. Their six-page preview was filed at their headquarters under “Robert Zimmerman, No. HA XX 17578.” It mainly covered logistics and security—no secret bugging of Dylan, apparently—and the dispersal of 81,000 tickets, with at least one-third going to party officials and their pals. The Stasi didn’t seem too worried that Dylan, then in a down period in his career, would prove to be a rabble-rouser, as he was merely “an old master of rock” with no particular “resonance” with the youth of the day. The crowd, they predicted, would be mostly middle-aged and older. Dylan would act in a “disciplined” way and not cause undo “emotions.”

In the end, the gig played out pretty much as the Stasi had anticipated. By most accounts, Dylan—whose lyrical work just earned him the 2016 Nobel Prize for literature—gave a rather lackluster performance (his norm for the time), consisting of a couple of Christian tunes mixed in with hits like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Rainy Day Women” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” He reportedly did not speak a single word from the stage.

This was not the case with Springsteen, who arrived in East Berlin 10 months later to play his biggest concert ever. More than 200,000 showed up, twice what Dylan had attracted. Springsteen opened, pointedly, with “Badlands,” but the indisputable highlight was his cover of “Chimes of Freedom,” a Dylan tune that Dylan himself had overlooked. The show, which in typical Springsteen style lasted nearly four hours, was beamed to millions of East Germans via state television. Many middle-aged Germans I interviewed for my book fondly recalled attending the performance or watching it on TV. “It was a nail in the coffin for East Germany,” one fan told the Guardian years later.

In Born to Run, Springsteen recounts a previous visit to East Berlin with bandmate Steve Van Zandt. “You could feel the boot,” he recalls. The wall, in Springsteen’s view, seemed almost “pornographic.” The experience helped shock the then-apolitical Van Zandt into decades of activism. “The power of the wall that split the world in two, its blunt, ugly, mesmerizing realness, couldn’t be underestimated,” Springsteen writes. “It was an offense to humanity.”

When Springsteen returned to East Berlin for his epic 1988 show, as I note in my own book, he unhappily discovered that the state was billing it as a “concert for the Sandinistas,” the pro-Communist Nicaraguans. So he delivered an impassioned speech. His German was grade-school level, but he got the point across: “I’m not here for any government. I’ve come to play rock and roll for you in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down.” East German officials backstage had somehow learned about Bruce’s original statement, which included the explosive word “walls,” and Springsteen’s manager, Jon Landau, had convinced him at the last minute to change it to “barriers.” But after finishing his statement, Springsteen quickly launched into “Chimes of Freedom,” which includes the key reference: “while the walls were tightening.”

The next day, he and the band “partied” at the East Berlin consulate, Springsteen writes, before heading back to the West to play a show for a mere 17,000 people—which “felt a lot less dramatic than what we’d just experienced.” Referring to the “stakes” of rock and roll, he writes, “The higher they’re pushed, the deeper and more thrilling the moment becomes. In East Germany in 1988, the center of the table was loaded down with a winner-take-all bounty that would explode into the liberating destruction of the Berlin Wall by the people.”

German historian Gerd Dietrich would later tell Rocking the Wall author Erik Kirschbaum, “Springsteen’s concert and speech certainly contributed in a large sense to the events leading up to the fall of the wall. It made people more eager for more and more change,” he said. “Springsteen aroused a greater interest in the West. It showed people how locked up they really were.”

As Springsteen himself would later put it, “Once in a while you play a place, you play a show that ends up staying inside of you, living with you for the rest of your life. East Berlin in 1988 was certainly one of them.”

Greg Mitchell is the author of The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill.

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When Bruce Springsteen Helped Destroy the Berlin Wall

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What Andrew Breitbart Taught Donald Trump’s Campaign Manager About Dodging Scandals

Mother Jones

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In 2011, several years before Corey Lewandowski became the controversial campaign manager of Donald Trump’s presidential bid, he moderated a panel featuring Andrew Breitbart, the late conservative provocateur and media bigwig, and he posed an earnest question: Why do politicos, faced with their own wrongdoing, so often shamelessly deny the allegations and get away with it?

That exchange now seems particularly relevant, with the Trump campaign and Lewandowski juggling controversies and crises and often responding by challenging reality. Recently, Lewandowski came under fire for manhandling Michelle Fields, a reporter working for the eponymous news organization that Breitbart founded. Lewandowski’s aggressive behavior again became a campaign issue a week later when footage circulated that appeared to show him at a Trump rally roughly grabbing a protestor by the shirt collar. In both episodes, the Trump campaign’s response was to deny that Lewandowski had committed the acts in question and to counterattack—a move that is in sync with Breitbart’s answer to Lewandowski’s question five years ago.

That question came during an Americans for Prosperity-sponsored panel in New Hampshire on September 17, 2011, held about six months prior to Breitbart’s sudden death at the age of 43. Lewandowski, who was the East Coast regional director for the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, asked Breitbart, “Why do you think politicians involved in scandals insist on repeating the same old pattern of denying any wrongdoing—promising to clear their names—when the entire time they know what they’ve been accused of, and why don’t they just stop, and stop the further embarrassment?”

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What Andrew Breitbart Taught Donald Trump’s Campaign Manager About Dodging Scandals

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