TBR News August 1, 2017

Aug 01 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., August 1 , 2017: “The Center of International Studies, paid for and controlled entirely by the CIA, was set up at MIT in 1951 and other such entities followed at major, and some minor, universities and colleges across the country. Most universities terminated their working arrangements with the CIA but not before an entire generation of willing academics sold their services to the CIA. An inspection of an existing list of academics who worked for the CIA reads like a Who’s Who of the academic world.

By 1971, both the CIA and FBI were heavily engaged in domestic surveillance programs in the United States. These programs grew to be so pervasive and oppressive that in 1971, FBI director Hoover, alarmed at the degree and extent of illegal surveillance, balked at extending the cooperation of his agency any further and was instrumental in causing these enormous internal spy operations to collapse, at least insofar as CIA participation was concerned. Without Hoover’s FBI to assist them, the CIA programs began to wither and die and even James Angleton’s program to open, read and copy first class mail, a serious felony, was exposed and Angleton fired in 1976.

The domestic surveillance programs now in place are conducted by more than one agency and, in theory at least, are all-inclusive.

Every citizen of the United States is supposed to possess a Social Security card and the number on this card is the key used to unlock all the areas where sensitive personal information on all citizens is stored. The computer has simplified not only record keeping but also surveillance activities. Everything pertaining to a citizen is kept in computer files and the government, and some private agencies who work with the government, have unlimited and unrestricted access to these computer files.

Birth and death records, highly personal and often potentially embarrassing medical files, bank accounts, criminal files, credit card records that indicate travel and purchases, tax records, ownership of cars, planes, boats and real estate, credit bureau reports, Social Security and other official agency material and dozens of other records that are the sum and total of the population of the United States are all quickly available to interested officialdom through the offices of the computer systems.

It is no longer possible to fly commercially domestically without producing photo identification and all of this data is made available to various agencies via the computer

Even the television set in the living room (or often more interestingly, the bedroom) can be used as a surveillance device. It is a well-known fact that the functions of the AM and FM units found in all television set can be reversed and the set can be used as a transmitter, even when it is turned off.

None of this is done in a secret location in Washington but is accomplished at the subject’s local cable head. It should be noted that this wonderfully Orwellian program only works if the victim is connected to a television cable system, one of the best reasons for using a satellite disk. Contrary to rumor, the set can only be used for audio transmission, not visual, so bedroom activities can only be heard, not seen.

Not even the fax machine is secure because the technology exists, and is used, to have copies of faxed documents sent directly into a federal office at the same time they are being printed out at the recipient’s home or office.

While it is quite true that the American public are constantly subject to observations like ants in a glass ant farm, they should comfort themselves with the knowledge that this is for their own welfare and certainly not a manifestation of a burgeoning police state.”

Table of Contents

  • Shall We Fight Them All?
  • Assumption of US dominance in the world has ended, inevitable imperial decline is looming
  • Lesson for Trump: Hardball Against Senators Is a Game He Can Lose
  • Who is John Kelly, Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff?
  • Thousands Died in Opioid Crisis While Trump Commission Stalled on Delivering Crucial Report
  • Streets of London hit by rise in homeless sleeping rough
  • Tampa Bay’s coming storm

 Shall We Fight Them All?

August 1, 2017

by Patrick J. Buchanan


Saturday, Kim Jong Un tested an ICBM of sufficient range to hit the U.S. mainland. He is now working on its accuracy, and a nuclear warhead small enough to fit atop that missile that can survive re-entry.

Unless we believe Kim is a suicidal madman, his goal seems clear. He wants what every nuclear power wants – the ability to strike his enemy’s homeland with horrific impact, in order to deter that enemy.

Kim wants his regime recognized and respected, and the U.S., which carpet-bombed the North from 1950-1953, out of Korea.

Where does this leave us? Says Cliff Kupchan of the Eurasia Group, “The U.S. is on the verge of a binary choice: either accept North Korea into the nuclear club or conduct a military strike that would entail enormous civilian casualties.”

A time for truth. U.S. sanctions on North Korea, like those voted for by Congress last week, are not going to stop Kim from acquiring ICBMs. He is too close to the goal line.

And any pre-emptive strike on the North could trigger a counterattack on Seoul by massed artillery on the DMZ, leaving tens of thousands of South Koreans dead, alongside U.S. soldiers and their dependents.

We could be in an all-out war to the finish with the North, a war the American people do not want to fight.

Saturday, President Trump tweeted out his frustration over China’s failure to pull our chestnuts out of the fire: “They do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem.”

Sunday, U.S. B-1B bombers flew over Korea and the Pacific air commander Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy warned his units were ready to hit North Korea with “rapid, lethal, and overwhelming force.”

Yet, also Sunday, Xi Jinping reviewed a huge parade of tanks, planes, troops and missiles as Chinese officials mocked Trump as a “greenhorn President” and “spoiled child” who is running a bluff against North Korea. Is he? We shall soon see.

According to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump vowed Monday he would take “all necessary measures” to protect U.S. allies. And U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley bristled, “The time for talk is over.”

Are we headed for a military showdown and war with the North? The markets, hitting records again Monday, don’t seem to think so.

But North Korea is not the only potential adversary with whom our relations are rapidly deteriorating.

After Congress voted overwhelmingly for new sanctions on Russia last week and Trump agreed to sign the bill that strips him of authority to lift the sanctions without Hill approval, Russia abandoned its hopes for a rapprochement with Trump’s America. Sunday, Putin ordered U.S. embassy and consulate staff cut by 755 positions.

The Second Cold War, begun when we moved NATO to Russia’s borders and helped dump over a pro-Russian regime in Kiev, is getting colder. Expect Moscow to reciprocate Congress’ hostility when we ask for her assistance in Syria and with North Korea.

Last week’s sanctions bill also hit Iran after it tested a rocket to put a satellite in orbit, though the nuclear deal forbids only the testing of ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. Defiant, Iranians say their missile tests will continue.

Recent days have also seen U.S. warships and Iranian patrol boats in close proximity, with the U.S. ships firing flares and warning shots. Our planes and ships have also, with increasingly frequency, come to close quarters with Russian and Chinese ships and planes in the Baltic and South China seas.

While wary of a war with North Korea, Washington seems to be salivating for a war with Iran. Indeed, Trump’s threat to declare Iran in violation of the nuclear arms deal suggests a confrontation is coming.

One wonders: If Congress is hell-bent on confronting the evil that is Iran, why does it not cancel Iran’s purchases and options to buy the 140 planes the mullahs have ordered from Boeing?

Why are we selling U.S. airliners to the “world’s greatest state sponsor of terror”? Let Airbus take the blood money.

Apparently, U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia are insufficient to satiate our War Party. Now it wants us to lead the Sunnis of the Middle East in taking down the Shiites, who are dominant in Iran, Iraq, Syria and South Lebanon, and are a majority in Bahrain and the oil-producing regions of Saudi Arabia.

The U.S. military has its work cut out for it. President Trump may need those transgender troops.

Among the reasons Trump routed his Republican rivals in 2016 is that he seemed to share an American desire to look homeward.

Yet, today, our relations with China and Russia are as bad as they have been in decades, while there is open talk of war with Iran and North Korea.

Was this what America voted for, or is this what America voted against?


Assumption of US dominance in the world has ended, inevitable imperial decline is looming

August 1, 2017

by Danielle Ryan


Iran, China, and Russia are challenging the US in the seas and skies. It’s a symptom of America’s declining global influence.

In his new book about the decline of US global power, historian Alfred McCoy writes, that faced with a fading superpower, incapable of paying its bills, other powers will begin to “provocatively challenge US dominion” in the seas and skies.

This is happening already with what appears to be increasing regularity, although perhaps “provocative” is not the right adjective to describe it.

The American military has been the chief provocateur in the seas and skies for decades, entering foreign airspace and territorial waters with impunity, expecting no retaliation. Now, powers like China, Iran and Russia are more actively challenging the US’s unchecked behavior.

In January, Iran detained ten American sailors overnight after two US Navy boats entered Iranian territorial waters. American exceptionalists were dismayed at Iran’s apparent show of disregard for US power, many blaming the incident on Obama’s “weakness.” In May, US officials accused Beijing of an “unsafe intercept” when Chinese planes buzzed an American spy plane flying off the coast of China. Later that month, two US nuke ‘sniffer’ aircraft were intercepted by Chinese planes in the East China Sea. In July, Chinese jets again drove off an American spy plane flying over the Yellow Sea. Just last week, a US ship fired warning shots at an Iranian boat in the Persian Gulf after the craft approached within 150 yards and ignored American warnings to stay away.

Those are just a few examples from a spate of recent incidents that have seen US boats and planes intercepted or harassed. Not to mention, Russian and American jets are always buzzing and chasing each other off over the Baltic and the Black Sea.

This willingness to confront the US military may be indicative of the wider, aforementioned problem for Washington: Its global influence is waning, the country and its military are enjoying less respect and clout internationally, and rising powers are beginning to assert their own national interests more forcefully.

The assumption of US dominance in regions like the Western Pacific and South China Sea has ended. In Europe, Russia has not been shy about challenging the seemingly endless eastward expansion of NATO. In the Middle East, too, Russia has come to be seen as an equal to the US in terms of clout, influence and the ability to arbitrate in regional conflicts. Despite its archipelago of more than 800 bases across the world, the US can no longer dictate to the world in the way it once could.

All these powers, that the US has worked so hard to keep in check, are continuously being pushed toward each other by a common goal: to end US domination and build a more multipolar world.

Most often, these developments are portrayed as “muscle flexing” and “aggressive” by Western media, while American efforts to maintain global hegemony are seen almost exclusively as benign and crucially important for democracy and world peace.

Among American politicians and pundits, there’s a temptation to pick someone to blame for this diminishing power. Republicans often want to blame “weak” Obama, while Democrats prefer to blame George W. Bush. In future years, the focus of their blame will undoubtedly shift to Donald Trump for compounding the image of the once-superpower now in the midst of a flailing and embarrassing decline from within.

If we had to pinpoint the most significant turning point or catalyst, it would probably be the invasion of Iraq under Bush. But it’s not about one president or policy. What sets an empire on a path toward decline is rot from within the system. That system does not change with elections, no matter how radical the candidates.

It is the system Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about in a 1953 speech, two months into his presidency. Despite his military background, the former Supreme Commander of Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe warned against “a burden of arms draining the wealth and the labor of all peoples; a wasting of strength that defies the American system or the Soviet system or any system to achieve true abundance and happiness for the peoples of this earth.”

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,” he said.

In his farewell address eight years later, Eisenhower warned again: “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

But it’s not just the overuse of the military causing the problem. There are other trends which will eventually affect America’s global decline.

US infrastructure is crumbling. About 56,000 bridges across the country are marked as “structurally deficient.” The country cannot boast a single airport which ranks among the top 20 in the world. More than two-thirds of American roads are “in dire need of repair or upgrades” — and the American Society of Civil Engineers has given the overall condition of the country’s infrastructure a “D+” grade.

Recent OECD literacy, science and math tests have seen students from Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan come out on top, while the US trails 20 or 30 places behind. Over the long run, trends like this may contribute to the US losing its reputation for cutting edge technology and innovation. All of these factors contribute to imperial decline.

Like any declining empire in denial, the top priority becomes to preserve its status at any cost. A desperate attempt to preserve that dominance can be seen in Washington’s haphazard, erratic and nonsensical foreign policies. This is not at all president-specific. Each of the last four presidents has been foreign policy failures.

When speaking of the decline of American empire, people often assume it will happen in one big bang. We wake up one day, and the empire has suddenly fallen. Empires don’t rise or fall in a day. In reality, it can be so slow you barely notice it until it’s no longer possible to correct the course.

The US has, in the past 17 years, invaded Afghanistan, invaded Iraq, launched a “humanitarian” intervention in Libya which destroyed the country, fueled a proxy war in Syria and aided Saudi Arabia’s slaughter of Yemen. Now, the Trump administration appears to be angling for a war with Iran.

Contrary to the official narrative, none of this has been to do with democracy or fighting for human rights. It has been a scramble to maintain America’s status as the world’s top-decider and go-between.

China, which is forecast to have a bigger economy than the US by 2030, has managed to quietly expand its influence and strengthen its military without deploying it abroad or starting pointless wars. Meanwhile, the US has overextended itself around the globe to little avail. It has alienated powers like Russia and Iran by constantly saber rattling in their directions, slapping sanctions on any nation which fails to do its bidding — ultimately encouraging its so-called enemies to unite against it.

The growing willingness of other countries to outwardly challenge US power on the seas and in the skies may just be a visible example of the results.

“Since 1991, we have lost our global preeminence, quadrupled our national debt, and gotten ourselves mired in five Mideast wars, with the neocons clamoring for a sixth, with Iran,” wrote Pat Buchanan in a recent piece for The American Conservative.

Americans concerned at the direction their country is taking should ask themselves whether continuing on the current course will be worth it.

History would argue it is not.

Lesson for Trump: Hardball Against Senators Is a Game He Can Lose

August 1, 2017

by Carl Hulse

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The recalcitrant senator kept crossing up the inexperienced new president on big-ticket legislation even though they represented the same party.

Frustrated and angry, the White House fought back, threatening retaliation both petty and portentous, eyeing federal jobs and programs in the state of the rebellious lawmaker to force obedience.

While this may sound like the current situation between President Trump and Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, over her refusal to back the party line on health care, it was actually 1993. The senator was Richard Shelby, then a Democrat of Alabama, and the president was Bill Clinton as he began his first term and found the conservative Mr. Shelby to be a real irritant.

Unhappy with Mr. Shelby’s commentary on the new president’s economic plan, the Clinton White House raised the prospect of shipping some NASA jobs from Huntsville, Ala., to the Johnson Space Center in Texas. The White House went so far as to limit Mr. Shelby to a single pass to a White House celebration of the University of Alabama’s 1992 national title football team — a brutal slap, in Crimson Tide terms.

“I was the one who came up with the phrase, the taxman cometh,” Mr. Shelby recalled in an interview. “That just set him off.”

Presidents of both parties have often overplayed their efforts to strong-arm a member of Congress. It’s often not effective. In Mr. Shelby’s case, it even accelerated his switch to the Republican Party.

Now, the Trump administration has been under scrutiny for its actions toward Senators Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, also a Republican of Alaska, after Mr. Sullivan let it be known last week that he got what he perceived to be a threatening phone call from Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke after Ms. Murkowski’s opposition to advancing a Republican health care proposal.

Mr. Sullivan told The Alaska Dispatch News that Mr. Zinke, whose department controls considerable resources in Alaska, had phoned both senators to let them know the state’s relationship with the Trump administration had been put in jeopardy by Ms. Murkowski’s vote. Howls of outrage followed, along with accusations of White House extortion.

On Sunday, Mr. Zinke, a former congressman from Montana, addressed the issue with reporters during an official stop in Nevada and called the accusation that he had threatened the lawmakers “laughable.”

Whether the phone calls were misinterpreted or not, it was certainly a ham-handed effort. Every decision the administration now makes in regard to Alaska will be interpreted through the lens of the health care dispute and seen as some kind of punishment of innocent residents if the state suffers.

Not to mention the fact that Mr. Zinke was put in the position of challenging a lawmaker who oversees his budget and policy programs. Ms. Murkowski is the chairwoman of both the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the appropriations subcommittee that funds the Department of the Interior. She arguably has more control over some aspects of the agency than the secretary has.

“In my experience, it is not wise for a cabinet secretary to bully the person who controls his purse strings,” said David Hayes, the former deputy secretary of the Interior during the Obama administration, who has worked closely with Ms. Murkowski. “It’s very curious: He seems to have the relationship backward. In many respects, she is his boss.”

Ms. Murkowski’s stance against the administration is likely to bolster her at home in the short term. Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who joined Ms. Murkowski in consistently opposing the president last week, received spontaneous applause from people who were awaiting their flights when she arrived at the Bangor, Me., airport last Friday.

“People admire independence, and I’ll bet they admire it even more in Alaska,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, predicting such pressure tactics would fail — a common sentiment on Capitol Hill.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve seldom seen threats to be very effective,” said Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri.

Mr. Shelby said that when the Clinton White House began discussing the job moves, he returned home and held a news conference to announce that “my vote is not for sale or lease to anybody because it belongs to the people of Alabama.”

“Wow,” he said, “the people rallied around me.”

The Clinton administration ultimately backed off, but Mr. Shelby bolted for the Republican Party the day after Republicans swept into control of Congress in November 1994.

Mr. Shelby said the entire exercise of turning the screws on senators can be counterproductive.

“Tomorrow is another day up here,” he said. “Murkowski, I’m sure, will be with us on a lot of votes.”

The administration pushback is part of the life of the swing lawmaker, the one with the potential to make the difference between victory and defeat on important issues.

Jim Jeffords, a Republican senator from Vermont, was consistently under pressure from Republican White Houses over his career as he resisted tax cuts and other budget policies. He, too, suffered a White House snub in 2001 when he was not invited to a Rose Garden ceremony to celebrate the teacher of the year — a Vermonter. The White House and its allies also made noises about rejiggering the New England Dairy Compact, a major Vermont issue.

Like Mr. Shelby, Mr. Jeffords ultimately left his party and stunned Washington by becoming an independent in May 2001, handing control of the Senate to the Democrats for most of the first two years of President George W. Bush’s term.

So if there is a lesson to be drawn from the experiences of Senators Shelby and Jeffords, it’s that too much hardball from the White House can sometimes lead a lawmaker to decide to play for the other team.


Who is John Kelly, Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff?

From US Marine to the face of Donald Trump’s immigration policy, John Kelly now has become the White House’s highest-ranking employee. But how did he get there?

August 1, 2017

by Lewis Sanders IV


John Kelly “will bring new structure to the White House,” said presiding White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the unveiling of his appointment.

Kelly, a native Bostonian and retired military general, was sworn in on Monday as US President Donald Trump’s chief of staff after serving six months as secretary of homeland security, a role that he used to enact a stringent policy of mass detentions of irregular migrants.

Shortly after the White House announced the resignation of press secretary Anthony Scaramucci, Sanders said that “all staff” are expected to report to Kelly.  The departure from office was widely seen by analysts as Kelly cleaning house within the administration.

Kelly’s just-started stint in the White House is the next stage of his political career that follows extensive experience as a US serviceman.

From Marine to general

Kelly began his career in the US Marines by enlisting in 1970. After being discharged in 1972, he returned as a commissioned officer in 1976.

Despite serving as special assistant to NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe beginning in 1999, Kelly made his military career mark while serving in Iraq. He served first in 2002 as assistant division commander for the 1st Marine Division before becoming the commander of Task Force Tripoli in 2003 after the fall of Baghdad.

He assumed command of coalition forces operating in western Iraq in 2008. After a year, he returned to the US, where he became the senior military assistant to former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in 2011.

In 2012, Kelly was appointed commander of US Southern Command, which oversees military operations in South America, Central America and the Caribbean, including the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

While serving as the head of Southern Command, the general told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2015 that human trafficking on the US-Mexico border posed an existential threat to the country.

“In my opinion, the relative ease with which human smugglers moved tens of thousands of people to our nation’s doorstep also serves as another warning sign: these smuggling routes are a potential vulnerability to our homeland,” he said. “Terrorist organizations could seek to leverage those same smuggling routes to move operatives with intent to cause grave harm to our citizens or even bring weapons of mass destruction into the United States.”

Surviving the White House

Kelly retired from the military in January 2016, a move that effectively marked his shift to civilian life. Roughly one year later, Trump appointed him as secretary of homeland security.

In that position, Kelly was in charge of more than 240,000 employees, including border patrol agents, the Secret Service and the agency in charge of overseeing immigration and naturalization.

Kelly continues to be a major proponent of Trump’s proposal to build a border wall. The president has described his now chief of staff as a “true star of my administration.”


From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2017, Issue No. 57

August 1, 2017


The Trump Administration budget request would cut federal spending on research and development in every major agency except for the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs, the Congressional Research Service said yesterday in a new report.

“Nearly every federal agency would see its R&D funding decrease under the President’s FY2018 request compared to their FY2016 levels,” the CRS report said.

“The largest declines (as measured in dollars) would occur in the budgets of HHS (down $6.099 billion, 18.9%), DOE (down $1.809 billion, 11.9%), USDA (down $666 million, 25.1%), NSF (down $639 million, 10.6%), and the EPA (down $239 million, 46.3%).”

Federal R&D is generally understood to provide support for scientific, medical, military and other research of economic, social, security or other value that would not normally be undertaken by the private sector. Reducing R&D therefore means foregoing the benefits that might otherwise accrue from such investment.

CRS noted that the Trump budget request is “largely silent” on funding for existing multiagency R&D initiatives such as the National Nanotechnology Initiative, Networking and Information Technology Research and Development program, U.S. Global Change Research Program, Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative, Precision Medicine Initiative, Cancer Moonshot, Materials Genome Initiative, National Robotics Initiative, and National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. The future of these programs, some of which have a statutory basis, is left uncertain in the Administration budget request.

However, the budget request is the first word, not the last word, in the budgeting process.

“Congress may opt to agree with none, part, or all of the request, and it may express different priorities through the appropriations process,” CRS said. “In particular, Congress will play a central role in determining the allocation of the federal R&D investment in a period of intense pressure on discretionary spending.”

See Federal Research and Development Funding: FY2018, July 31, 2017.

Other new or updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Bail: An Overview of Federal Criminal Law, updated July 31, 2017

The Federal Communications Commission: Current Structure and Its Role in the Changing Telecommunications Landscape, updated July 28, 2017

Ongoing Section 232 Steel and Aluminum Investigations, CRS Insight, July 28, 2017

In Brief: Highlights of FY2018 Defense Appropriations Actions, July 31, 2017

NAFTA and Motor Vehicle Trade, July 28, 2017

Rwanda’s August 4 Presidential Election, CRS Insight, July 31, 2017

Honduras: Background and U.S. Relations, updated July 28, 2017

U.S. Petroleum Trade with Venezuela: Financial and Economic Considerations Associated with Possible Sanctions, CRS Insight, July 27, 2017

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated July 24, 2017


Thousands Died in Opioid Crisis While Trump Commission Stalled on Delivering Crucial Report

August 1 2017

by David Dayen

The Intercept

The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis called on President Trump Monday to declare a public health emergency over the epidemic of overdose deaths nationwide. This urgency came in an interim report by the commission that was itself more than a month late.

Per Trump’s executive order establishing the commission, interim recommendations were due June 27, with a final report October 1. The bipartisan commission, led by Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, delayed the report twice before finally issuing it July 31. On a conference call, Christie cited 8,000 public comments as the “driver behind us delaying the report … so we could take [them] into account.”

A declaration of emergency would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to place affected populations on Medicare insurance and reduce the price of necessary prescription drugs, and would allow waivers of several regulatory measures around patient privacy and reporting requirements.

Declaring an emergency would also trigger access to the Public Health Emergency Fund to make grants, sign contracts, and support investigations into prevention and treatment. Unfortunately, as of last year that fund held just $57,000. Congress would need to appropriate more money; The commission report states that a declaration of emergency “would force Congress to focus on funding.”

Joshua Sharfstein, Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, believes such a declaration would be useful. “There are some mechanisms by which an emergency declaration could lead to a more rapid expansion of access to effective treatment,” he told The Intercept. “That could certainly save lives.”

It’s unclear whether the Trump administration will accept the recommendations, however, or continue to stall on fighting opioid abuse.

On July 18, Senate Democrats condemned the delay in federal action amid a crisis that claimed over 33,000 lives last year. Drug overdoses now serve as the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. On the Monday conference call, commission chair Christie described the death toll as the size of “a September 11 every three weeks.”

Senate Democrats asked the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to revisit a Surgeon General’s report released last November. That report endorsed enhanced access to Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), ready availability of the overdose-reversing medication naloxone (with legal protections for emergency prescribers), community-based treatment programs, continuing education training for providers, and better sharing of substance abuse information.

All of those are key recommendations in the Opioid Commission’s interim report, including everything from equipping all law enforcement personnel with naloxone to MAT research partnerships between drug companies and the National Institutes of Health. The Surgeon General’s report has mostly sat on a shelf for eight months.

In other words, potential solutions to at least slow down the crisis are available and known, but political will has been lacking.

The interim report’s focus on MAT contrasts with the administration’s top health official, HHS Secretary Tom Price, who offered skepticism of the practice on a listening tour in May. Joining the public health consensus, the commission leaned heavily into MAT, asking for funding for more access to treatment (only 1 in 10 opioid addicts are in some kind of drug-assisted program) and supplying all types of MAT at licensed facilities. “MAT has proven to reduce overdose deaths, retain persons in treatment, decrease use of heroin, reduce relapse, and prevent spread of infectious disease,” the report argues.

Spurred on by commission member and former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., the report also asks the Secretary of Labor to strongly enforce mental health parity laws, so insurers support substance abuse treatments as favorably as other ailments. The commission endorsed data sharing between state-based prescription drug monitoring programs. And it waded into a long-running controversy over Medicaid funding at specialized psychiatric or substance abuse treatment facilities with more than 16 beds. The commission wants immediate waivers to open these facilities to Medicaid patients.

Other recommendations hew closer to the traditional Republican focus on interdiction. The commission supported development of detection sensors for fentanyl, the deadly opioid that has grown in prominence recently, and a crackdown on entry of the drug from China. But they did not take the kind of punitive approach to addicts that characterizes the Justice Department’s current rhetoric. “Law enforcement knows we cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat and commission member.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration’s high-profile efforts to roll back public health programs, while at the same time highlighting opioid sufferers in need, creates a troubling juxtaposition.

“The opioid crisis has become a shiny ornament,” said Harold Pollack, a professor in public health at the University of Chicago. “Everything else the administration is doing is making it harder to address the crisis.”

For example, the administration has proposed a whopping 95 percent reduction to the ONDCP’s budget. They’ve called for huge cuts to the NIH and the Centers for Disease Control, major partners in the fight against opioid abuse, as well as $400 million in reductions to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Furthermore, Republicans spent several months trying to slash Medicaid, which pays for 1 in 4 prescriptions for addiction treatments like buprenorphine, and as many as 1 in 2 in states like Ohio. “It clearly is not the right time to roll back the Medicaid expansion and cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the program,” said Sharfstein.

Despite the high profile of the commission, overall the Trump administration has done nothing of substance on the opioid crisis, failing to fill key appointments and delivering mostly talk. Meanwhile, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has undertaken an expansive investigation into the companies profiting from the opioid epidemic, including issuing subpoenas to leading drug companies and distributors and looking into company marketing. The commission had little to say about disrupting the supply of opioids and punishing companies who sell them, although Christie did point out that “in 2015 we prescribed enough opioids to have everyone in America fully medicated for three weeks.”

“The recommendations are good, but it’s so depressing that we can’t approach this in a stable environment where we’re methodically pursuing evidence-based policies all the time,” said Harold Pollack. “The commission is being used as a substitute for what we need to do across a range of public health policy.”

You can follow the progress of President Trump’s opioid commission and all his other demands on federal agencies at our executive order deadline tracker.


Streets of London hit by rise in homeless sleeping rough

An alarming increase in street homelessness in London can be traced back to the financial crisis, and is a warning sign of greater financial problems tied to Brexit.

August 1, 2017

by Abigail Frymann Rouch


London’s Oxford Street bustles with a mix of commuters and shoppers at the end of a long, humid day. Chinese schoolchildren huddle on one side of the road, German teenagers stride past on the other, and a veiled woman wrestles a buggy across a side road. But not everyone is moving.

Meters away on the pavement sits naturalized French-born Serge Arcé, 53 and his dog Malo. He ended up sleeping on the streets nine months ago after losing his job as a pastry chef. His landlord decided to sell the property he was renting. When he approached his local authority for help, “the council said there were 10,000 people on a list for housing.”

Meanwhile Chris,* 44, a printer, sits opposite Trafalgar Square. He has a space at a hostel – one of the few nearby that haven’t closed – that costs him £6 (around 7 euros) a night, but he has to leave by 10 every morning. His relationship broke down, he turned to drink and drugs and he regrets his “stupidity.” He takes medication for his former drug use, but has all but lost the use of one of his feet. He wishes there were a comprehensive system that could help him back into work. “The only way out of any form of poverty is through paid employment [but] if you’re in a hostel paid for by housing benefit and you get a job, you’re straight away homeless,” he told DW.

Sleeping rough

According to local authority data, the number of rough sleepers across England was 4,134 in 2016 and has more than doubled since 2010. The homelessness database Chain counted a total of 8,108 people sleeping rough in London in 2016/17. Some sleep in parks, others in tents under bridges, some next to building sites: the issue has become more visible.

There’s no one culprit behind the rise in street homelessness, says Caroline Bernard of Homeless Link, which represents 700 charities. “In London especially, it’s people suddenly leaving their accommodation because their landlord asks them to,” she told DW. The government’s austerity program, post-financial crisis, which cut services that address and prevent homelessness, is taking effect, “so people are in a more precarious position.”

The Chain statistics also showed that in London, almost one-third of rough sleepers came from central or Eastern Europe, and only 47 percent were from Britain. “Most have come for work, but there’s an issue around precarious offers of employment,” Bernard added. The proportion – 30 percent – has fallen from 37 percent the previous year, possibly deterred by Brexit and its consequences.

Linda Maytum-Wilson, Chief Executive of Caritas Anchor House, a homeless center in Newham, east London, links the loss of private tenancies to landlords exploiting rising rents. Private rents in London and the south-east have risen by 30 percent since 2007, outstripping wages, and are likely to continue to do so. The government has admitted that the housing market is “broken.”

Another factor is the “massive structural changes” in the labor market, says Professor Nicholas Pleace, Deputy Director of the Center for Housing Policy at the University of York: “the short-term economy, zero-hours contracts, more temporary work, work that’s less well paid – in a context where affordable housing is decreasing.”

Austerity bites

By the time someone ends up on the streets, they rarely need just a roof, and the longer they spend there, the harder and more expensive is to get them back into housing. Maytum-Wilson told DW of an “increased complexity of need” among rough sleepers, related to substance abuse, trouble with the law, and mental health issues. These issues are not new among rough sleepers, but she says services are harder to access and more poorly coordinated. “As austerity bites, it’s harder and harder to integrate services, and the vulnerable fall into the gaps.”

An initiative called No Second Night Out – first introduced by Boris Johnson, the mayor of London at the time, ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games – has alleviated what could have been a far greater crisis:  From January-March 2017, four out of five recorded new rough sleepers did not spend a second sleeping rough. Housing Justice, a charity, has been running 39 volunteer-run winter night shelters in places of worship in London since 2012. A new scheme, No First Night Out, is being trialed in east London and the City. “We agree, across the homelessness sector, that to do something meaningful about rough sleeping, you have to place a greater emphasis on prevention,” says Housing Justice’s director, Jacob Quagliozzi.

Legislators, increasingly alarmed by the scale of the problem, backed the 2017 Homelessness Reduction Act, introduced as a private member’s bill by Conservative MP Bob Blackman. It will oblige councils in England to provide earlier support to people at risk of becoming homeless and has earmarked £61 million (68 million euros) for them. “My aim is that no one is rough sleeping unless he or she makes the choice to,” he told DW. The government is also piloting a Housing First scheme already used in Ireland, France, Denmark and Finland, which enables rough sleepers to get into housing without first going via hostels. The Department for Communities and Local Government say they are investing £550 million by 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, which includes £20 million to trial initiatives for those most in need.

“The £550 million isn’t all new money and … it isn’t that much,” observes Professor Pleace, but “the positive thing about the Homelessness Reduction Act is that it shifts the emphasis toward prevention.”

The test of this act’s success, and that of the Housing First scheme, will be seen on the streets and under bridges in the coming months and years.

*declined to give his full name

Empty property in EU could house all of Europe’s homeless – and more

Across the EU, enough houses are lying empty to house all of the EU’s homeless people, according to British media. Insiders criticize that houses are increasingly being used as investment objects, instead of as homes.

If there were a way to open the doors of all the houses currently standing empty in the European Union to all of the continent’s homeless, there would no longer be any homeless. And most of the houses would still be empty.

That’s according to shocking figures collated by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, which suggest that there are more than 11 million vacant homes across the EU. The EU estimates the number of homeless people to be 4.1 million – which means that, in theory at least, every one of them could have more than one roof over their head.

The Guardian says that 1.8 million homes are empty in Germany. But the situation is worst in Spain, where that figure shoots up to roughly 3.4 million – 14 percent of all properties in the country. The number of empty Spanish homes has risen by more than 10 percent in the past decade. Two million houses are empty in Italy, and around 700,000 in Britain.

Portugal saw a 35 percent rise in vacant properties between the years 2001 and 2011, according to the 2011 census: more than 700,000 houses were empty there.

Property bubble aftermath

According to the newspaper, many of these houses were built during the property boom in the run-up to the financial crisis – often as investments by people who never intended to live in them.

There are a large number of vacant homes in holiday resorts in southern Europe that have never been occupied, because they couldn’t be sold once the financial crisis hit. In addition, hundreds of thousands of semi-finished buildings have allegedly been demolished – as a way to raise the value of existing ones.

Being homeless officially became a crime in Hungary last year

Karima Delli, a French member of the European Parliament (MEP) with the Green party, said the figures were “shocking” and “indecent.” “But they don’t surprise me at all,” she told DW. “Unfortunately, the problem of vacant houses owned by banks is very widespread, and the countries most heavily affected by the crisis, like Spain, are worst hit.”

Delli is a member of the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee. Before she joined politics, she was an activist with a group that squatted empty houses in Paris to draw the media’s attention to the phenomenon. In the French capital alone there are 200,000 houses standing empty, with 2 million vacant in France overall.

MEPs: EU needs homelessness strategy

Last month, the European Parliament (EP) passed a resolution in Strasbourg demanding that the European Commission “develop an EU homelessness strategy without any further delay.” The text was adopted with 349 votes to 45.

Delli criticized lawmakers in the EU’s member states for having turned a blind eye to the fact that the economic crisis was leading to a housing crisis. “Homeless people look different these days,” she told DW. “They’re getting younger, entire families with children are affected, and there are poor workers whose wages are too low for them to afford housing with all the extra costs, especially heating, amid rising energy prices.”

The EP estimates that 500,000 families in Spain have fallen victim to forced evictions during the crisis. Many of the empty Spanish properties were repossessed by banks after owners defaulted on mortgages. Under the Spanish mortgage law, holders not only had to give the house back, but also pay off bank debt. If they couldn’t, upon their death it was passed on to their relatives. In March 2013, the European Court of Justice ruled that the Spanish mortgage law was incompatible with consumer protection because it doesn’t provide the affected people with ways to defend themselves. “The court’s decision actually means that the evictions were illegal,” said Delli.

She hopes that the Commission will take action soon – and also follow the Parliament’s call to stop discrimination of homeless people in some member states. “We managed to include a paragraph in the resolution saying that criminalizing homelessness is illegal,” she pointed out. “In Hungary, homeless people have to pay fines if they sleep rough.”

Fines for long vacancies

Michael Ziehl, of the German-language website Leerstandsmelder.de, believes there should be punishment for owners who leave their property lying empty for too long. “We should consider imposing fines on owners of empty houses in places where living space is rare – or possibly even impose a tax. At the moment it’s the other way around: Property owners get advantages through tax breaks, etc.”

Leerstandsmelder.de is a website where users can pinpoint empty houses to raise awareness. The project started in Hamburg in 2010, but has since spread to 20 cities in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and the number of contributors keeps growing. “The problem about empty houses is that no reliable data is available because they’re not registered anywhere,” Ziehl told DW. “Of course you can make estimates, and of course in theory you could collect the data. But that seems like too much effort for many city councils.”

In Hamburg, there are close to 3,000 empty flats, and a much higher number of vacant office buildings. At least 1.2 million square kilometers of office space are currently empty, according to Leerstandsmelder.de. “If you do the math, it would give you space for 40,000 people,” said Ziehl. “Hamburg is a growing city, which makes it attractive for real estate investors who speculate. That explains why we have so many empty office buildings.”

Fundamental right

Green MEP Karima Delli believes it’s high time to tackle the issue of wealthy buyers using houses as ‘investment vehicles’ rather than homes. “Houses are different from other commercial goods. Housing is also a fundamental right: to live in dignity,” she told DW.

More investment in social housing construction is needed, she added – which, according to her, would kill two birds with one stone. “By creating non-movable jobs in the construction sector, social housing can also serve as a good instrument to get out of the crisis.”


Tampa Bay’s coming storm

The area is due for a major hurricane, and it is not prepared. If a big one scores a direct hit, the damage would likely surpass Katrina.

July 28, 2017

by Darryl Fears

The Washington Post

TAMPA BAY, Fla. — Mark Luther’s dream home has a window that looks out to a world of water. He can slip out the back door and watch dolphins swim by his private dock. Shore birds squawk from nearby nests in giant mangroves.

He said it’s hard to imagine ever leaving this slice of paradise on St. Petersburg’s Bayou Grande, even though the water he adores is starting to get a little creepy.

Over the 24 years since he moved into the house, the bayou has inched up a protective sea wall and crept toward his front door. As sea level rises, a result of global warming, it contributes to flooding in his Venetian Isles neighborhood and Shore Acres, a neighboring community of homes worth as much as $2.5 million, about 70 times per year.

“Why stay?” asked Luther, an oceanographer who knows perfectly well a hurricane could one day shove 15 feet of water into his living room. “It’s just so nice.”

Tampa Bay is mesmerizing, with 700 miles of shoreline and some of the finest white sand beaches in the nation. But analysts say the metropolitan area is the most vulnerable in the United States to flooding and damage if a major hurricane ever scores a direct hit.

A Boston firm that analyzes potential catastrophic damage reported that the region would lose $175 billion in a storm the size of Hurricane Katrina. A World Bank study called Tampa Bay one of the 10 most at-risk areas on the globe.

Yet the bay area — greater Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater — has barely begun to assess the rate of sea-level rise and address its effects. Its slow response to a major threat is a case study in how American cities reluctantly prepare for the worst, even though signs of impacts from climate change abound all around.

State leaders could be part of the reason. Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has reportedly discouraged employees from using the words “climate change” in official communications. Last month, the Republican-controlled state legislature approved bills allowing any citizen to challenge textbooks and instructional materials, including those that teach the science of evolution and global warming.

The sea in Tampa Bay has risen naturally throughout time, about an inch per decade. But in the early 1990s, scientists say, it accelerated to several inches above normal, so much that recent projections have the bay rising between six inches and more than two feet by the middle of the century and up to nearly seven feet when it ends. On top of that, natural settling is causing land to slowly sink.

Sea-level rise worsens the severity of even small storms, adding to the water that can be pushed ashore. Hard rains now regularly flood neighborhoods in St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater.

By a stroke of gambler’s luck, Tampa Bay hasn’t suffered a direct hit from a hurricane as powerful as a category 3 or higher in nearly a century. Tampa has doubled down on a bet that another won’t strike anytime soon, investing billions of dollars in high-rise condominiums along the waterfront and shipping port upgrades and expanding a hospital on an island in the middle of the bay to make it one of the largest in the state.

Once-sleepy St. Petersburg has gradually followed suit, adorning its downtown coast with high-rise condominiums, new shops and hotels. The city is in the final stages of a plan to build a $45 million pier as a major attraction that would extend out into the bay.

Worried that area leaders weren’t adequately focused on the downside of living in a tropic, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council reminded them of the risks by simulating a worst-case scenario hurricane, a category 5 with winds exceeding 156 mph, to demonstrate what would happen if it entered the Gulf of Mexico and turned their way.

The fictitious Phoenix hurricane scenario projects that wind damage would destroy nearly half a million homes and businesses. About 2 million residents would require medical treatment, and the estimated death toll, more than 2,000, would top the number of people who perished from Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Florida’s most densely populated county, Pinellas, could be sliced in half by a wave of water. The low-lying county of about a million is growing so fast that there’s no land left to develop, and main roads and an interstate connecting it to Tampa get clogged with traffic even on a clear day.

“If a hurricane 4 or 5 hit us,” St. Petersburg City Council Chairman Darden Rice said, referring to the two highest category storms, “there’s no doubt about it. The plan is you’d better get out of Dodge.”

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s warning was even starker. Standing outside City Hall last year, he described what would happen if a hurricane as small as a category 3 with 110 mph to 130 mph winds hit downtown.

“Where you’re standing now would be 15 feet under water,” he said.

“You live in a paradise and that’s wonderful, but it has storms.”

Eugene Henry, a mitigation manager for Hillsborough County

Video simulations of hurricanes that strafed Florida but missed Tampa Bay look like an epic game of dodgeball.

“It’s like we’re in this sweet spot. It’s like we’re blessed somehow, protected,” said Allison Yeh, a planner for Hillsborough County in Tampa.

The last direct hit from a category 3 in 1921 left the area in ruins, but few people lived there then. A single death was recorded.

Now, with 4 million residents and gleaming new infrastructure, the stakes are higher, and Yeh and her fellow planners are wary. They know a major hurricane like one of several that barely missed the bay in recent years would have a devastating effect.

There are few hurricane-proof buildings in the bay area. One is a gallery, the Salvador Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg with 18-inch-thick concrete walls and pressured glass supported by steel frames that could withstand anything the aforementioned storms could dish out. The building supervisor could stand at the windows and watch a hurricane pass as though it were on the Weather Channel.

The museum is better protected than one of the largest hospitals in the state, Tampa General, which sits on Davis Island, a spit of earth that was dredged from muck at the bottom of the bay a few years after the last hurricane hit. Buckhorn said a category 3 hurricane would level the island’s houses, including his own.

Tampa General has a thorough evacuation plan, indoor generators that can supply energy for several days, and safe floors with reinforced walls and windows.

But parts of two bridges that lead to and from the island would be cut off by floodwaters, a concern of officials in spite of assurances by the hospital’s managers that there’s a contingency for that, too.

Floridians view hurricanes with the same bravado of Oklahomans who face tornadoes and Californians who brave earthquakes and wildfire: They come with the territory, a fact of life in a tropic, they say.

But other problems are less abstract than big hurricanes. Sea-level rise doesn’t need a megastorm to make its presence felt.

“Even when we don’t take a direct hit, even when it’s a tropical storm or a category 1, the rain it delivers to our city puts enormous stress on our rainwater and sewer collection system,” Rice said.

Water is bubbling up all over Florida. Within the next 12 years, according to an assessment by a group of researchers, Risky Business, the value of state property that will vanish under encroaching water could reach $15 billion. By 2050, it could reach $23 billion.

Along the barrier islands that lured more than 6 million tourists who spent nearly $10 billion last year, governments spend a mix of local and federal funds to renourish beaches lost to erosion that even a tropical storm can cause.

“The bay’s getting higher, and the bay needs to go somewhere else. But there’s nowhere for the water to go,” said Mark Hafen, a University of South Florida instructor who specializes in urban and regional planning.

A team of planners in Hillsborough County said they fight against the potential impact of rising water every day, creating alternative bus routes and detours for flooded roads and trying to get the message out to residents in low-lying areas that their homes could be ruined.

“You live in a paradise, and that’s wonderful, but it has storms,” said Eugene Henry, mitigation manager for Hillsborough County. He preaches about improved coastal inspection, color-coded warnings for residents depending on how low their homes are in a flood zone, making them more aware of the threat so they can take steps to protect themselves.

“If the inevitable monster storm comes, it’s not going to keep you safe from 30 feet of storm surge,” he said, but they’ll know when the tide rises to put shutters up. New structures built on the Florida coast, along with homes seeking major renovations, are mandated to have three feet of clearance from floodwaters.

Planners in Tampa Bay are noticing that floodwater is sticking around longer. As the water rises, it’s filling huge outfall pipes, pushing water that would flow down a storm drain back onto streets.

Tampa and Hillsborough County officials have considered levying a tax to help fix a growing problem, but in a state where Republicans opposed to taxes control the governor’s office and the legislature, that’s a tough sell.

“We do have a real challenge with our storm water drainage system,” said Beth Alden, the executive director of Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, which recently spent millions to clear huge pipes blocked by barnacles left by increasingly swollen tides. “This isn’t a glamorous expenditure, something you’re going to go have a ribbon cutting for.

“It’s something that if we don’t have the funding to keep up, it’s not going to be there. What we’ve been seeing is a very conservative state legislature that has been coming out and trying to reduce the ability of local governments to levy taxes.”

In Hafen’s eyes, there’s an additional problem, one that officials who work at the pleasure of politicians are reluctant to discuss.

“We’ve had a really hard time getting buy-in on sea-level rise on this side of the bay,” Hafen said. “Hillsborough County and Tampa are super conservative. They’re burying their heads in the sand.”

Pinellas County, on the other side of the bay, is more progressive about addressing climate-change impacts, Hafen said. But that didn’t happen until fairly recently. It took a nerdy University of Florida county extension agent to help open everyone’s eyes.

“They weren’t doing a lot to address climate change and sea-level rise.”

Elizabeth Carnahan, Pinellas County director of sustainable living

Elizabeth Carnahan was plucked from academia by the county’s director of sustainable living. Her new role was to focus on climate change and engage with others to make the county more resilient to its impacts, and Carnahan took it seriously.

But Carnahan didn’t see a lot of area collaboration in planning.

“They weren’t doing a lot to address climate change and sea-level rise,” she said. “They were willing, but no one was going to the head of the pack to take it on.”

But they were elsewhere, in Gulf Coast states that were hit by Hurricane Katrina and the Southeast Florida area of Fort Lauderdale and Miami that was raked by hurricanes constantly in the first years of the new century.

Carnahan dropped in on their meetings, talked to planners and listened to their sea-level rise projections and vulnerability assessments. After three years of networking outside the bay, she gathered what she considered the best ideas she heard and imported them to Pinellas County.

The county sponsored a three-hour workshop at the Weedon Island Preserve that Mark Luther can see from his flood-risk home. After that gathering, Carnahan noticed a change in officials in the 30 cities in Pinellas County.

“I could see them calling each other a lot more to share what each other were doing,” she said. Watching this, Carnahan’s boss, Mary Campbell, floated an idea to get scientists together to make climate-related recommendations to local governments.

That group became the Climate Science Advisory Panel. Within months, they helped establish the One Bay Resilient Community, looping Hillsborough and Pasco counties into a network that works on climate-related problems.

Tampa Bay now produces a climate report that compares to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climate Assessment, offering projections for sea-level rise specifically for their region. It is used to plan bridges and roads, to site government buildings that are supposed to last at least 75 years.

“You hear when it starts to storm and you can’t sleep.”

Jessica Lopez, who lives in a mobile home in an area that frequently floods

Living in near-poverty in Clearwater, Jessica Lopez said she has little time to worry about a threat that might arrive years down the road. For her, the future is now.

Last year around June, she fell asleep as rain pounded her mobile home and awoke to a terrifying sight. The rain hadn’t stopped, and water from an overflowing creek had climbed the stairs to her front door.

Lopez, her husband, Matt, and their daughter, Aurora, were trapped. Water was four feet deep in places, up to her neck. She was six months pregnant with a second daughter.

At least two venomous water moccasins swam past a trailer. A community septic tank that sits directly behind Lopez’s back window flooded. “The feces,” she said, “was everywhere.” She put her head in her hands. “It was so gross.”

The problem got worse. Wet dirt shifted under her trailer, causing it to tilt. Lopez worried they would not survive.

Jessica Lopez lives in the Mariners Cove Mobile Home Park. Last year during Tropical Storm Hermine the water, filled with sewage from a damaged septic tank, came up to her front door. But Pinellas County rescuers quickly rushed to the scene. The county is so flood prone that the Mariners Cove Mobile Home Park is one of numerous “hot spots” that emergency management department officials watch closely when it storms.

“We know at those locations, if we get too much rain and get high tide, we know they’re vulnerable,” said Kelli Hammer Levy, director of the county’s environmental management division.

Three months later, Mariners Cove Mobile Home Park flooded again when Tropical Storm Hermine took a swipe at Tampa Bay.

Now Lopez is frightened whenever it rains. “You hear when it starts to storm, and you can’t sleep,” she said. “I’m constantly worried now when it floods and the dirt shifts, it’ll tilt us more and more sideways.”

She and her husband had no idea that the mobile park home was a county hot spot when they moved there about a year ago. Like several residents there, she said managers didn’t include that information when they signed leases for the land where their trailers sat.

The county’s floodplain coordinator told Levy that notifying potential tenants of a flood risk is recommended but not required. Renters and leaseholders are often left in the dark.

Leaving is not much of an option, Lopez said. “If we were to move without paying off the trailer, they would undo everything we’ve done. We’ve paid about $2,000. They would just void that.”

Repetitive flooding is so dire that county officials considered buying out the mobile home leasers and relocating them but lacked the funds, Levy said. The county had already spent $300,000 to purchase nearly three dozen homes near McKay and Allen creeks in Largo and relocate the owners.








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