President Donald Trump interrupted a Western campaign swing Monday by flying to California to review wildfire damage – and renew his argument with state and local officials about what he says is the main cause of the fires that claimed the lives of at least 35 people this month.
Though government officials and scientists identified climate change as the primary culprit behind the intense wildfires, Trump insisted during a briefing in Northern California that “forest management” is more to blame.
“When trees fall down after a short period of time, they become very dry – really like a matchstick … and they can explode,” Trump said as he and others breathed in the smoky, hazy air near Sacramento.
Officials working on the wildfires in California, Oregon and Washington state said the problem will get worse if Trump continues to ignore the impact of climate change.
During a briefing with Trump, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, told him forest management is an issue, but “climate change is real, and that is exacerbating this.”
“Please respect, and I know you do, the difference of opinion out here as it relates to this fundamental issue … of climate change,” Newsom said.
When Wade Crowfoot, California secretary for natural resources – identified climate change as the primary cause of the wildfires, Trump interrupted: “It’ll start getting cooler – you just watch.”
“I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot told the president.
Trump responded, “I don’t think science knows, actually.”
‘I could never have envisioned this’: At least 35 dead as nearly 100 wildfires rage across 12 Western states
More: Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak says Trump took ‘reckless and selfish actions’ by holding indoor rally
In a campaign speech Monday, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said Trump’s refusal to address climate change threatens to bring more wildfires, floods and other environmental calamities.
“If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze?” Biden said during a climate change speech. “If you give a climate denier four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is underwater?”
As smoke obscured the view of mountains in Northern California, Trump received his briefing on wildfire damage at McClellan Park, a former Air Force Base that’s home to the state’s Office of Emergency Services. Trump participated in a ceremony recognizing the work of the California National Guard.
Over the past three weeks, deadly wildfires have destroyed more than 5 million acres in California, Oregon and Washington and forced thousands from their homes.
Forest management, Trump’s preferred solution, can range from clearing out overgrown vegetation – which can serve as kindling – to cutting pathways and roads through the woods to give firefighters easier access.
Trump has threatened to withhold federal aid from California and other states if they do not change forest management policies.
At a rally in Pennsylvania last month, Trump said, “You gotta clean your floors, you gotta clean your forests – there are many, many years of leaves and broken trees and they’re like, like, so flammable, you touch them and it goes up.”
Trump took a more tactful tone at the start of his visit Monday, saying he gets along with Newsom.
“He does agree with me on forest management,” Trump said. “It’s a very important subject. You drop a cigarette on it, you come back an hour later and you have a forest fire.”
Asked why he waited so long to visit, Trump told a reporter, “That’s a nasty question. I got a call from your governor immediately. On that call, I declared it a national emergency. That’s a nasty question.”
Trump, who spent the weekend campaigning for reelection in Nevada, resumes his Western swing after the California stop. He is scheduled to fly to Phoenix for a roundtable discussion with Latino voters.
Trump is scheduled to return to the White House late Monday.
The wildfire review came a day after officials in Nevada criticized Trump for holding a mass political rally indoors, risking the spread of COVID-19.
“At a time when Nevada is focused on getting our economy back on track and protecting public health, the president’s actions this weekend are shameful, dangerous and irresponsible,” Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump: California, Oregon wildfires the result of ‘forest management’
A rising Black GOP star faces fury from African Americans over Taylor case
Cameron’s performance drew kudos from McConnell and Trump, who said after the Taylor news that the Kentucky attorney general was doing a “fantastic job.” While his handling of the high-profile case probably won’t hurt him with Republicans in future potential bids for public office — it might well help — Cameron has ensured a motivated, well-funded opposition.
“You know what they say? All skinfolk are not kinfolk,” said Phelix Crittenden, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Louisville. “This was absolutely a career-defining moment … [designed] to set him up for stuff in the future. He had a chance to do right by his people. And he chose to do right by himself.”
Some civil rights groups have begun holding strategy meetings to discuss ways to hold Cameron accountable for his actions in the case and plan to work against him if he runs for office again down the line.
“Unfortunately, he was recently elected,” said Arisha Hatch, vice president of Color of Change. She alluded to activists’ efforts to oust St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in 2014. “There will be repercussions for his refusal to act, and we believe that he should resign or be replaced.”
Elected a year ago, Cameron is the first African-American attorney general of Kentucky and one of six Black attorneys general in the country, two of them Republicans. Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, the only other Black Republican who currently holds that post, told POLITICO that Cameron insisted his role in the case “has nothing to do with any personal feelings that he might have or any emotional reactions that might tug at his own heartstrings.”
“I recognize there have been problems in our country with race from Day One, and we’re still dealing with that. So it’s very near and dear to our thought process on a regular basis,” Hill said.
Cameron alluded to his personal feelings at his news conference announcing the grand jury decision, at one point choking up as he invoked his own family.
“I understand that as a Black man, how painful this is … which is why it was so incredibly important to make sure that we did everything we possibly could to uncover every fact,” Cameron said.
“My heart breaks for the loss of Miss Taylor,” Cameron added. “And I’ve said that repeatedly. My mother, if something was to happen to me,” he said, pausing as his voice faltered and he held back tears, “would find it very hard. … I’ve seen that pain on Miss [Tamika] Palmer’s face,” he said, referring to Taylor’s mother. “I’ve seen that pain in the community.”
Critics dismissed his remarks as performative, saying the mention of his race did nothing to alleviate the damage done in the case. Palmer said Friday she “never had faith in Daniel Cameron to begin with.”
“I knew he had already chosen to be on the wrong side of the law the moment he wanted the grand jury to make the decision,” Palmer said in a statement read by Taylor’s aunt, Bianca Austin. “He knew he had the power to do the right thing, that he had the power to start the healing of this city, that he had the power to help mend over 400 years of oppression. What he helped me realize is that it will always be ‘us against them.’”
Cameron’s lack of transparency on what led to the grand jury’s decision — he has not released transcripts of its deliberations — has compounded frustrations. His Wednesday remarks roughly outlined the circumstances leading to Taylor’s death: that only one of the six bullets fired at her killed her and that none could be traced back to Brett Hankison, the only police officer charged. He faces three counts of wanton endangerment because his bullets pierced the apartment of the family next door.
Cameron also cited testimony from a neighbor who relayed hearing police announce themselves before entering Taylor’s home. An analysis by the New York Times, however, found that of 12 neighbors, 11 did not hear the police announce themselves.
Pointing to that reporting, critics say the attorney general’s suggestion that Taylor’s death was an unavoidable tragedy is misleading. It has amplified calls for the attorney general to provide more information on the details of the case, something Cameron has said he cannot do to ensure the integrity of the investigation.
“The facts as we know them generally [don’t] really support the charges that were brought,” said Cedric Powell, a professor at the University of Louisville School of Law. “Daniel Cameron in his press conference was really selective about the evidence that he presented and the public doesn’t have confidence in this charge. The charge is just really like a compromise. A really bad compromise.”
Ben Crump, a lawyer representing the Taylor family, called on Cameron to release the grand jury transcripts, saying he believes that not all evidence was presented to the jurors before they made their decision.
“Did [Cameron] allow the one neighbor who they keep proclaiming heard the police knock and announce [themselves] testify before the grand jury? Even though I understand on two previous occasions he declared that he did not hear the police,” Crump said at a news conference. “Is this the only person out of her apartment complex that [Cameron] allowed to testify before the grand jury? That doesn’t seem fair. That doesn’t seem like you’re fighting for Breonna. That doesn’t seem like you’re putting forth evidence for justice for Breonna.”
Cameron’s allies describe him as a hard worker whose team followed the facts of the Taylor case without bias or caving to public pressure.
“To be crystal clear, Attorney General Cameron is not anybody’s enemy. He’s working hard on behalf of all Kentuckians of all backgrounds to uphold the law,” said Mike Lonergan, a spokesperson for the Kentucky Republican Party. “Kentucky has a lot of strong Republican leaders, and certainly Daniel Cameron is one of them.”
Those words of support amplify how polarizing a figure Cameron — who, according to one poll during his attorney general campaign, had the support of roughly a third of African-American voters — has become the past week. Leaders of the racial justice movement in Louisville say that until now Cameron wasn’t especially disliked, but was viewed as part of a flawed criminal justice system.
But now it’s personal.
Shauntrice Martin, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Louisville who attended the University of Louisville with Cameron, said it was “disappointing” to see her former classmate on the opposite side of this case.
“I was hopeful that because we finally had someone who was Black in a position … that possibly, things will be different, at least a little,” she said. “Instead of being better [for] Black people, he’s actually been worse.”
Kremlin’s World War III Propaganda Meltdown Shows Putin Is Cornered
MOSCOW—Russia these days may look frightening to Americans, who hear often of election meddling and poisoning among other ill deeds. But consider for a moment the view from the other side of the divide, or at least the view presented to Russians by their television sets.
The looming potential for World War III has become a regular topic on Russian state propaganda shows. Night after night, Vladimir Soloviev, who is often described as the Kremlin’s top propagandist, and his guests condemn the West’s “economically suffocating” strategy of imposing sanctions and suggest war is the logical outcome.
The conclusion reached by Soloviev and his guests is that the country’s politicians and titans of business should break all ties with the West, including communicating with their relatives. A long history of grievances spills out; Soloviev says the conflict between Russia and the West started in the 13th century: “They believe we are barbarians and they are civilized, so they have a right to point out to us how we should live and behave.”
Trump Followed Russian Media’s Lead on SCOTUS Prediction
The show, which is broadcast nightly on state channel 1, heats up quickly. This week, Sergei Kurginyan, a pro-Kremlin political expert close to the secret services, accused the West of tearing Russia apart by creating a fifth column in the Far East, where thousands of Russians have been marching in anti-Putin rallies for two months. Putin’s nemesis Alexei Navalny was out East bolstering the opposition rallies when he was poisoned with a deadly nerve agent.
Kurginyan has been consistently criticizing the Russian elite for pursuing naïve dreams about becoming part of European society: “Our elites have grown together with Europe through family connections, children, grandchildren. But in the current situation they will have to tear these connections apart. That will be terribly painful but you will have to do that,” he said.
A popular newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda announced in plain language on Friday that: “The world is under a threat of the Third World War over the Russian COVID-19 vaccine.”
The paper claimed the European Union and the U.S. were furious about Russia selling millions of doses of its vaccines to Brazil and Africa.
The Russian nationalist publication Tsargrad claimed an invented military victory on Friday. “NATO Exercises Failed: Russian Ships Scared Americans and Ukrainians Away.”
What caused this latest storm of anti-Western state propaganda?
This week, the U.S. imposed new commercial restrictions on Yevgeniy Prigozhin, known as “Putin chef,” and his companies some of which are linked to the Wagner mercenary army and U.S. election interference. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also suggested this week that the order to poison Navalny came from senior Russian officials, the pressure grows on Putin to explain Navalny’s poisoning on face yet more sanctions. Both the European Union and Britain are also preparing sanctions against Putin’s partner in Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, after a violent crackdown on the opposition and a fraudulent election.
The age-old theme of a “conflict of civilizations” between East and West has been resurfacing on state media outlets. It is this undercurrent that is the at core of the West’s issues with Russia, the propaganda outlets insist.
If the West continues to punish Vladimir Putin’s allies with economic sanctions and block Russian movement around the world, they say, Moscow will come up with a new strategy that does not involve the West. “We have not sent forces to Ukraine, to Kyiv only for the sake of our relations with Europe; by the new strategy we would deploy the forces and surely our allies in Turkey and China would respect us for such a strong decision,” prominent Kremlin-aligned political analyst Sergey Markov tells The Daily Beast.
Russian Media Is Rooting for Civil War in America: ‘The Worse, the Better’
The propaganda outlets portray Putin and his allies withdrawing from the worl, as if in a besieged castle, to isolate and defend themselves.
Russia’s ability to respond in kind with sanctions is limited. A few weeks ago, the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov imposed sanctions against Pompeo after the U.S. state department sanctioned members of his family. But this was widely seen as little more than a joke since Pompeo has no property or bank accounts in Chechnya. Still, the story made the Russian-speaking news. Olga Skobeyeva, a host of one of the more popular political talk shows 60 Minutes, praised Kadyrov’s “cool” sanctions.
Germany and France are demanding from the Kremlin an investigation of last month’s poisoning of Navalny with a Soviet-era chemical weapon, Novichok. But two decades of Russia’s modern history show how strongly Putin resists any demand imposed by the West. Instead, they are ramping up the propaganda. “They say, ‘Oh, you once again want to tear us apart, here is our answer to you—and Putin comes out with a speech about the most powerful hypersonic weapon,” a commentator on independent Rain TV, Pavel Lobkov, told The Daily Beast.
Last weekend, on Russia’s Day of the Gunsmith—an obscure holiday which is usually ignored—Putin went on television to discuss Russia’s latest nuclear weapons. They can reach anywhere in the world, he said. The Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles can wipe out a territory the size of Texas or France, viewers were told. Putin blamed the U.S. for the withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic-Missile treaty back in 2002. “We had to create these weapons in response to the U.S. deploying a strategic missile defense system, which in the future would be able to actually neutralize, nullify our entire nuclear potential,” Putin said.
On Friday, Putin asked the White House for a truce on the “information war,” which is laughable since Western intelligence agencies say the Kremlin has already been targeting the 2020 presidential election. Nonetheless, Markov explains that Moscow is expecting incoming rhetorical fire during the height of the American election season: “Russian intelligence has informed Vladimir Putin earlier this year of rough attacks on him personally coming up,” he said. “That might happen during the U.S. elections, the conflict might enter a hot phase, so it is time to buy canned food.”
Read more at The Daily Beast.
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AI Weekly: Amazon went wide with Alexa; now it’s going deep
Amazon’s naked ambition to become part of everyone’s daily lives was on full display this week at its annual hardware event. It announced a slew of new Alexa-powered devices, including a home surveillance drone, a suite of Ring-branded car alarm systems, and miscellany like an adorable little kids’ Echo device. But it’s clear that Amazon’s strategy has shifted, even if only for a product cycle, from going wide to going deep.
Last year, Amazon baked its virtual assistant into any household device that could accommodate a chip. Its list of new widgets with Alexa seemed a mile long, and this included a menagerie of home goods like lamps and microwaves. The company also announced device partnerships that ensure Alexa would live on some devices alongside other virtual assistants, tools to make it easier for developers to create Alexa skills, networking devices and capabilities, and wearables. It was a volume play and an aggressive bid to further build out its ecosystem in even more markets.
This year, Amazon had fewer devices to announce, but it played up how it made Alexa itself better than ever. That’s the second prong of the strategy here: Get Alexa everywhere, then improve the marquee feature such that the experience for users eclipses anything the competition offers.
As is always the case at these sorts of events, Amazon talked big and dreamy about all the new Alexa features. Users will find out for themselves whether this is the real deal or just hype when Amazon rolls out updates over the course of the next year (they’re landing on smart home devices first). But on paper and in the staged demos, Alexa’s new capabilities certainly would seem to be a step closer to the holy grail of feeling like speaking to a virtual assistant is just like talking to a person.
That’s the crux of what Amazon says it’s done to improve Alexa, imbuing it with AI to make it more human-like. This includes picking up nuances in speech and adjusting its own cadence, asking its human conversation partner for clarifications to fill in knowledge, and using feedback like “Alexa, that’s wrong” to learn and correct itself.
Amazon is particularly proud of the new natural turn-taking capabilities, which helps Alexa to understand the foibles of human conversation. For example, in a staged demo, two friends talked about ordering a pizza through an Alexa device. Like normal humans, they didn’t use each other’s names in the conversation, they paused to think, they changed their minds and adjusted the order, and so on. Alexa “knew” when to chime in, as well as when they were talking to each other and not the Alexa device.
At the event, Rohit Prasad, VP and head scientist for Alexa, said that this required “real invention” and that the team went beyond just natural language processing (NLP) and embraced multisensory AI — acoustic, linguistic, and visual cues. And, he said, those all happen locally, on the device itself.
This is thanks to Amazon’s new AZ1 Neural Edge processor, which is designed to accelerate machine learning applications on-device instead of in the cloud. In the event liveblog, Amazon said: “With AZ1, powerful inference engines can run quickly on the edge—starting with an all-neural speech recognition model that will process speech faster, making Alexa even more responsive.” There are scant few details available about the chip, but it likely portends a near future where Alexa devices are able to do more meaningful virtual assisting without an internet connection.
Given the utter lack of information about the AZ1, it’s impossible to say what it can or can’t do. But it would a potential game-changer if it was able to handle all of Alexa’s new tricks on devices as simple as an Echo smart speaker. There could be positive privacy implications, too, if users could enjoy a newly powerful Alexa on-device, thereby keeping their voice recordings away from Amazon’s cloud.
But going deep for Amazon isn’t just about a more humanlike Alexa; it involves pulling people further into its ecosystem, which Amazon hopes is the sum of adding device and service ubiquity to more engaging user experiences.
Part of that effort centers on Ring devices, which now include not just front-door home security products but also car security products and a small autonomous drone for the inside of your home. They’re essentially surveillance devices — and taken together, they’re an ecosystem of surveillance devices and services that Amazon owns, and that connects to law enforcement. You can buy into it as deeply as you want, creating a surveillance bubble inside your home, around your home, and on board your vehicles regardless where you’ve parked them. The tension over Ring devices — what and who they record, where those recordings go, and who uses them for what purpose — will only be amplified by this in-home drone and the car alarm and camera.
Whether going deep or going wide, what hasn’t changed is that Amazon wants to be omnipresent in our lives. With every event’s worth of new devices and capabilities, the company takes a step closer to that goal.
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