- Unprecedented fires have been raging across the West Coast, with California, Oregon, and Washington particularly affected.
- Currently, more than 100 large fires are blazing in the West, and more than half are in the three coastal states alone.
- In California, more than three million acres have been burned, a record for a single year.
- The governor of Oregon said Thursday that the state had never seen so many uncontained fires. As of Friday, 500,000 people — more than 10% of the state’s population — had been forced to evacuate their homes.
- Washington, too, is dealing with record-breaking blazes, as well as massive plumes of smoke that have migrated north from California and Oregon, creating dangerous air conditions.
Dozens of fires continue to tear up and down the West Coast as California, Oregon, and Washington endure a historic wildfire season.
As of Friday morning, there were at least 100 large fires burning across 12 western states, and more than half of the fires were just in the three coastal states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).
At least 15 people have died, though officials expect the toll to rise. Entire towns have been destroyed, hundreds of thousands have had to evacuate, and thousands of homes have been lost.
Pictures of apocalyptic orange skies and hazy cityscapes continued to circulate as smoke from the persistent blazes created dangerous air conditions for millions of people.
On Friday, four of the five cities with the worst air quality indexes in the world were Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and San Francisco, the air quality monitoring website IQAir.com reported.
California currently has the most active large fires, with at least 24 current blazes, per the NIFC.
More than three million acres have been burned in California, a record for a single year. Reportedly, an estimated 64,000 people are under evacuation orders.
One of the worst blazes, the August Complex in Northern California, is now considered the biggest fire in the state’s recorded history, according to the state’s fire agency, Cal Fire. The complex of multiple fires has been burning in the Mendocino National Forest since Aug. 17 when it was started by lightning.
The fires, which doubled in size this week, have burnt 471,185 acres and are only 24% contained.
Several other large fires have also been raging across the northern parts of the state with little containment. Dozens are missing and thousands of homes and structures are believed to have been damaged or destroyed.
The Bear Fire, which turned the skies of San Francisco orange earlier this week, has forced thousands to evacuate and reportedly damaged around 2,000 structures. Meanwhile, in Southern California, fires also blazed in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties.
In Los Angeles, some residents are warily watching the Bobcat Fire, which has burnt around 24,000 acres in the Angeles National Forest just 25 miles northeast of Los Angeles, prompting evacuation warnings for a number of populous areas, including the city of Pasadena.
In a statement on Twitter, California Gov. Gavin Newsom emphasized the historic magnitude of this year’s fire season and pleaded with residents to obey evacuation orders.
“6 of the 20 largest wildfires in California history have occurred in 2020,” he wrote. “If you are asked to evacuate please do so immediately. Listen to your local authorities and stay safe.”
Just north of California, blazes are spreading rapidly in Oregon, which has never seen so many uncontained fires, according to the state’s governor, Kate Brown.
More than 900,000 acres have burned in the recent fires, nearly double the average of 500,000 a year the state has seen for the last decade.
“I want to be up front in saying that we expect to see a great deal of loss, both in structures and human lives,” Brown said during a press conference Thursday. “This could be the greatest loss of human lives and property due to wildfire in our state’s history.”
So far, more than 500,000 people in Oregon — over 10% of the state’s population — have been forced to evacuate.
As the fires spread further North, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler declared a state of emergency in the city Thursday night. Pictures showed packed, smoke-filled highways as residents fled the approaching infernos.
In addition to the fires, officials in the state are also dealing with widespread misinformation. Several law enforcement agencies have to contradict false rumors that either far-left or far-right groups had purposely started some of the blazes.
Many of the rumors appear to center around false claims that the far-left group Antifa was responsible for intentionally causing several fires.
Numerous law enforcement officials in multiple jurisdictions have fervently disputed those claims, including the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, which asked that community members stop spreading the misinformation in a post on Facebook.
“Rumors spread just like wildfire and now our 9-1-1 dispatchers and professional staff are being overrun with requests for information and inquiries on an UNTRUE rumor that 6 Antifa members have been arrested for setting fires in DOUGLAS COUNTY, OREGON,” the post said. “THIS IS NOT TRUE! Unfortunately, people are spreading this rumor and it is causing problems. Do your part, STOP. SPREADING. RUMORS!”
Washington state is also experiencing unprecedented fires. As of Friday, 16 major fires had scorched around 625,000 acres, the NIFC reported.
“The enormity of these fires, the geographical scope, the intensity and the destruction are unequal in Washington state history,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday,
In addition to the fallout from their own fires, huge masses of smoke from the wildfires in
Oregon and California have also been migrating north. On Thursday evening, the National Weather Service warned that a huge cloud of smoke would descend on Washington Friday, creating dangerous air conditions across the state.
That same day, the Bureau of Land Management of Oregon and Washington shared satellite images on Twitter of massive smoke plumes along the coast.
Officials in all three states continue to worry as they try to contain the historic fires all along the coastal states. Right now, at least seven weeks remain in the prime fire season, and experts say that conditions may be made worse by the La Niña climate pattern, which often brings dry weather and winds across parts of California and the Southwest.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal) (USA Today)
Celebrities, Journalists, and Politicians Respond to the First Presidential Debate
- After the first 2020 Presidential Debate aired on Tuesday, many took to social media to respond to the broadcast, which was full of interruptions, chaos and shouting.
- CNN‘s Jake Tapper called it a “hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.” He added that it was not even a debate but a disgrace to the country.
- Celebrities like Cardi B also issued live commentary. Cardi B posted several videos yelling at President Donald Trump to stop speaking over former Vice President Joe Biden. Many joined in on her frustrations.
- Because this debate lacked decorum and decency, debate organizers said there will be format changes to future debates.
Celebrities Respond to Debate Chaos
After Americans finished watching the first 2020 Presidential Debate on Tuesday, many across the country agreed that one thing was clear: the debate was essentially a 90 minute car crash on live television.
“That was a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck,” CNN anchor Jake Tapper said on air after it ended. “That was the worst debate I have ever seen, in fact it wasn’t even a debate. It was a disgrace.”
Moderator Chris Wallace was largely unable to control the constant crosstalk and interrupting between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden throughout the night. At one point, when Biden could not get more than three words in without Trump interjecting, Biden told Trump to “shut up.” While Biden did interrupt the president as well, Wallace said most of the cutting in was done by Trump.
“I think that the country would be better served, if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I’m appealing to you, sir, to do that,” Wallace said in a plea to Trump.
Some of the most colorful commentaries of the night came from singer Cardi B, who posted several videos on Instagram of her doing what many Americans found themselves doing on Tuesday: screaming at their televisions.
“Tell Joe to get aggressive,” she shouted, addressing Biden’s campaign team. “When this n**** try to talk over Joe, he better start like ‘EXCUSE ME I’m talking! I’m talking! Excuse me, I’m talking!’ Don’t let this man pick on you! He just wanna do a show so give him a show.”
She repeatedly attacked Trump for interrupting Biden, and for the recent New York Times report alleging that Trump only paid $750 in taxes in 2016. She also joined the many critics who did not believe Wallace was handling the chaos on stage well.
“I can tell he’s on Trump’s side, this moderator needs to be replaced right now,” she said.
She was not alone in sharing her live reactions. Actors like Kumail Nanjiani and Mark Ruffalo live-tweeted in horror as all decorum was thrown out the window minutes into the debate. Less than 30 minutes into the broadcast, actress Brie Larson reminded people that it was okay for them to turn the debate off if they were reaching a breaking point.
Many celebrities also used the debate to remind their followers to vote. Ariana Grande put voting resources in her Instagram story. Others tweeted out registration links.
Politicians and Journalists Condemn Aspects of Debate
Politicians also responded to the fiery debate. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said that Trump’s words should serve as a reminder that democracy is on the line in this election.
Other Senators, like Ed Markey and Cory Booker, condemned President Trump for refusing to denounce white supremacy, and instead telling the Proud Boys, a white nationalist-tied group, to “stand back and stand by.”
Journalists were also shocked by the debate. After calling the debate a “hot mess inside a dumpster fire,” Tapper continued to rebuke the behavior on stage.
“One thing for sure, the American people lost,” he said. He was not along in thinking this.
“I found it at times painful to watch and very difficult to watch,” Gale King said during debate analysis on CBS News. “We have the president of the United States engaging in some of the language, and it wasn’t that it was swearing or cursing it was just, I’m looking for the decorum and decency that you expect at this particular level.”
NBC’s Katy Tur live-tweeted the debate. She criticized Wallace for telling Trump he would be pleased with upcoming questions and topics on multiple occasions.
On the other side, some did come to the defense of Trump. Fox News’ Tomi Lahren said that Biden only interrupts less “because he thinks slower.” She also called white privilege a “myth.”
Laura Ingraham claimed that Biden was able to interrupt, but did so with impunity.
This debate was the first of three between Trump and Biden. Following the chaos that unfolded, debate organizers said there will be format changes so that future debates have more structure.
See what others are saying: (The Hill) (The Independant) (New York Times)
Juror Accuses Kentucky AG of Misrepresenting Deliberations in Breonna Taylor Case
- On Monday, an anonymous grand juror on the Breonna Taylor case filed a complaint alleging that Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron misrepresented the jury’s deliberations and failed to offer them the option to bring homicide charges against the officers.
- Last week, Cameron announced to the public that the grand jury had not filed any charges against the officers for Taylor’s death. Instead, the jury only brought charges against one officer for firing his weapon recklessly, sending shots into a neighboring apartment.
- In his announcement, Cameron repeatedly said that while he knew people would be upset with the decision, it was simply his job to present all the facts to the grand jury and let them decide.
- However, the complaint accused Cameron of using the jury “as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility.” It requested that the jury recordings be released and that the jurors be permitted to discuss the case publicly.
- Also on Monday, a judge ordered the recordings to be released, and Cameron said he would honor the request.
Grand Juror Files Complaint
A grand juror in the Breonna Taylor case filed a complaint in court Monday claiming that Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron misrepresented the jury’s discussions and never offered them the option to bring homicide charges against the officers who shot Taylor in her apartment.
The complaint, which was filed anonymously, also requests that all recordings and transcripts from the jury deliberations be released and that the jurors on the case be permitted to speak about it publicly.
The filing comes just a week after Cameron announced that none of the three Louisville Metro Police officers involved in Taylor’s death were charged for the actual killing of the 26-year-old EMT in what has largely been described as a botched drug raid.
Louisville police were serving a warrant because they believed an ex-boyfriend of Taylor’s was using her apartment to receive packages. Both Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, did not have any prior drug arrests or convictions, and no drugs were found in the apartment.
Police say they knocked and identified themselves before entering, but Walker claimed they did not. As a result, he said he thought they were an intruder, and when they entered by force, he fired a weapon, hitting one of the officers in the leg and prompting them to unload more than two dozen rounds into the apartment.
One of the officers, Detective Brett Hankison, blindly fired shots into the apartment which also traveled into neighboring apartments. Last week, the grand jury charged him with three counts of wanton endangerment, though not in connection with the death Taylor, but because of the shots he fired into the neighboring apartment.
The two other officers present, Jonathan Mattingly and Myles Cosgrove, do not face any charges.
Following Cameron’s announcement of the grand jury’s findings, Taylor’s family, their lawyers, and many others said they did not believe the attorney general advocated on behalf of the young woman. Many have also called for more information regarding how Cameron presented the case to the jury.
However, Cameron refused to release any grand jury transcripts or recordings, arguing that it could interfere with other ongoing investigations.
Complaint Allegations vs. Cameron’s Public Statements
The grand juror complaint filed Monday also echoed those calls for transparency concerning the information presented to the jury, and accused Cameron of using the jury “as a shield to deflect accountability and responsibility.”
In his remarks to the public, Cameron said that he knew many people would be unhappy with the decision but repeatedly emphasized that his role was to pursue the truth, present all the facts to the grand jury, and let them decide.
Regarding those facts, he said there were six possible homicide charges that could have been filed, but added that those charges “are not applicable to the facts before us because our investigation showed — and the grand jury agreed — that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in the return of deadly fire after having been fired upon.”
Cameron also said that the officers’ claim that they knocked and announced themselves was backed by an independent witness.
When a reporter asked why the testimony from just one witness was so credible — especially because out of a dozen witnesses they had spoken to only one said they heard police knock — he said that the jury “got to hear and listened to all the testimony and made the determination that Detective Hankinson was the one that needed to be indicted knowing all of the relative points that you made.”
Perhaps most significant, when asked if he ever presented manslaughter or homicide charges to be considered by the jury, Cameron refused to answer, citing the secrecy of the proceedings, but placed the decision firmly on the jury.
“What I will say is that our team walked them through every homicide offense, and also presented all of the information that was available to the grand jury,” he said. “And then the grand jury was ultimately the one that made the decision about indicting Detective Hankinson for wanton endangerment.”
In the complaint, however, the juror claims that Cameron’s public remarks about the decisions the jury made “further laid those decisions at the feet of the grand jury while failing to answer specific questions regarding the charges presented.”
The complaint alleges that Cameron “attempted to make it very clear that the grand jury alone made the decision on who and what to charge,” and thus imply it was the jury that decided not to bring homicide charges, when in reality, he was the one who never gave them that option in the first place.
“The only exception to the responsibility he foisted upon the grand jurors was in his statement that they ‘agreed’ with his team’s investigation that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in their actions,” it continued.
The complaint then goes on to argue that it is in the public interest to release the records, specifically because so many citizens have shown a lack of faith in the legal proceedings and the justice system itself.
“The public interest spreads across the entire commonwealth when the highest law enforcement official fails to answer questions and instead refers to the grand jury making the decisions,” it said. “It is patently unjust for the jurors to be subjected to the level of accountability the Attorney General campaigned for simply because they received a summons to serve their community.”
Cameron Response and Judge Ruling
Notably, the juror’s request that the records be made public was not the only such petition made Monday. During an arraignment hearing for Hankison — where he pleaded not guilty to all charges — the judge overseeing the case ordered recordings of the grand jury proceedings to be added to the court file by noon Wednesday.
On Monday night, Cameron said that he would follow the judge’s order and release the recordings, and confirmed for the first time that he never asked the jury to consider homicide or manslaughter charges.
In a statement announcing the decision, the attorney general reiterated that he believed the grand jury was meant to be secretive, and that releasing the records “could compromise the ongoing federal investigation and could have unintended consequences such as poisoning the jury pool.”
“Despite these concerns, we will comply with the Judge’s order to release the recording on Wednesday,” he continued, noting that the release “will also address the legal complaint filed by an anonymous grand juror.”
Cameron also said that he did not have concerns about jurors speaking to the public, arguing that once the public hears the recording, “they will see that over the course of two-and-a-half days, our team presented a thorough and complete case to the Grand Jury,”
See what others are saying: (The Courier-Journal) (The Washington Post) (CNN)
NYT Report Details Growing Threat of Ransomware Attacks Ahead of the Election
- Tyler Technologies, a software vendor that election officials use to collect and share election results, was recently the victim of a ransomware attack, though details about the attack remain largely unknown.
- A New York Times report claims Tyler Technologies is one of nearly 1,000 voting systems or groups across the country that have been subject to a hack over the past year. Many of those hacks were conducted by Russian criminal groups.
- The Times‘ report details that the United States is very vulnerable to the growing threats of hacking in the election right now as the spread of misinformation and distrust within the country’s political climate already runs rampant.
- The report indicates that the U.S. is particularly vulnerable to a perception hack, which would involve a hacker spreading misinformation to create distrust about the election results. The FBI has issued warnings about the potential spread of election misinformation in the days after November 3.
Attack at Tyler Technologies
As Election Day looms closer and closer, threats of ransomware attacks are growing larger, according to a recent report from The New York Times.
The report indicates that there have been nearly 1,000 attacks against voting systems across the United States over the past year, many of which were conducted by Russian criminal groups. Right now, it is unclear if all of these were traditional ransomware attacks where hackers were simply seeking fast cash, or if they posed a serious threat to the 2020 election.
One recent attack was lodged against Tyler Technologies, a Texas-based software vendor that election officials use to collect and share election results. Tyler has not released details about the hack, so it is unclear who was behind it or what the purpose of the attack was. Reuters obtained an email the company sent to its customers, which simply explained that there had been a “security incident involving unauthorized access to our internal phone and information technology systems by an unknown third party.”
The Times said it initially looked like an ordinary ransomware attack, but clients later saw outsiders trying to gain access to their systems, raising concern that there could be something larger at play.
“That has been the fear haunting federal officials for a year now,” the report’s authors, Nicole Perlroth and David E. Sangerthat, wrote. “That in the days leading up to the election, or in its aftermath, ransomware groups will try to freeze voter registration data, election poll books or the computer systems of the secretaries of the state who certify election results.”
Threat of Perception Hacks
Among the potential threats ransomware attacks and hacking pose, the Times noted the specific harm “perception hacks” could have on the United States. The outlet describes these hacks as ransomware attacks that could particularly happen in battleground states and could “create the impression that voters everywhere would not be able to cast their ballots or that the ballots could not be accurately counted.”
“On election night there would be no faster way to create turmoil than altering the reporting of the vote — even if the vote itself was free of fraud,” Perlroth and Sangerthat wrote.
“That would be a classic perception hack: If Mr. Trump was erroneously declared a winner, for example, and then the vote totals appeared to change, it would be easy to claim someone was fiddling with the numbers.”
These kinds of hacks might only be aided by the fact that President Donald Trump himself has been spreading misinformation about mail-in voting and casting doubt on the election results should he not win. According to the Times, officials fear his unfounded comments about Democrats cheating in the election could even be a signal to hackers, telling them to create just enough incidents to support his false claims of fraud.
The country’s current political climate creates the perfect storm for Americans being vulnerable to perception hacks. Results of the election will likely take days to be counted, and if Americans are unprepared for the wait, they may be unwilling to accept the final toll.
James Shires, a researcher at the Atlantic Center’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative, spoke to MIT’s Technology Review about the vulnerable position the country is in right now when it comes to any type of hack on the election. Shires compared a potential hack in the U.S. 2020 election to a hack that previously happened in France’s presidential election, noting that America’s response would be very different from France’s.
“The effect of a hacking operation really comes from the underlying political context and in that case the US is far worse now than it was in 2016,” Shires explained.
“If you look at the Macron leaks, which happened shortly before the French president was elected, a lot of things from the party were put online. French media got together, the candidate communicated, and they agreed not to publish stories based on these leaks before the election. There is a lot of trust and community spirit in the French media and political environment. That is clearly not the case in the US at the moment.”
What is Being Done About These Threats?
Because the impact of any potential hack could be severe and sow discord throughout the already divided country, the FBI has warned that in the days after the election, the public could see “disinformation that includes reports of voter suppression, cyberattacks targeting election infrastructure, voter or ballot fraud, and other problems intended to convince the public of the elections’ illegitimacy.”
As for efforts to prevent these attacks from happening, some officials have said that progress is being made. However, the Times reported that in the first two weeks of September alone, seven American government entities had been hit with ransomware and had their data stolen.
“The chance of a local government not being hit while attempting to manage the upcoming and already ridiculously messy election would seem to be very slim,” Brett Callow, a threat analyst at a security firm called Emsisoft told the Times.