News & Current Affairs

August 17, 2008

Fay brings rain, wind to Cuba en route to Florida

Fay brings rain, wind to Cuba en route to Florida

HAVANA, Aug 17 (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Fay brushed Cuba’s southern coast with gusty winds and heavy rains on Sunday and was expected to move ashore overnight before heading toward Florida as a likely hurricane.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said maximum sustained winds were 50 mph (80 kph), but Cuban forecasters said gusts up to 66 miles per hour (110 kph) had been recorded at Cabo Cruz, which juts out into the Caribbean.

In its latest advisory, the hurricane center said Fay was cruising parallel to the coast at 17 miles per hour (27 kph) about 135 miles (215 km) west-southwest of the Cuban city of Camaguey, and 285 miles (460 km) south-southeast of Key West, Florida.

Fay, which killed at least five people when it struck Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Saturday, was crossing over warm waters — 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) — and expected to strengthen before going ashore in Cuba’s central provinces, forecasters said.

The hurricane center predicted Fay, the sixth storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, would move slowly across Cuba overnight before emerging in the Florida Straits or Gulf of Mexico on Monday.

It said Fay could be near hurricane strength before striking Cuba and may be a hurricane, which means winds of at least 74 mph (118 kph), when it reaches Florida’s west coast.

Hurricane watches were posted along much of Cuba’s southern and northern coasts, including Havana, and in southern Florida.

Heavy rains were reported in some Cuban coastal provinces but so far only minor flooding and damage had occurred, officials said.

Rains up to 8 inches (20 cm) were possible, the Cuban Meteorological Institute said.

People in flood-prone areas were being evacuated, as were foreign tourists staying at coastal resorts in the storm’s path, they said.

In Guantanamo, the weather was not bad enough to stop the annual Carnival celebration, said Pedro Alvarez, 35, a resident of the coastal city that neighbors the controversial U.S. military detention center where the Bush administration holds more than 200 accused terrorists.

“Up to now there has been just a very light, off-and-on rainfall, so much so that last night the people continued celebrating Carnival,” he told Reuters.

FLORIDA EVACUATION

In the Florida Keys, 90 miles (144 km) north of Cuba, officials on Sunday initiated a Keys-wide evacuation of visitors. Anyone planning to visit the area in the next few days needs to postpone their trip, they said.

In Florida’s upper Keys, recreational vehicles, trucks hauling boats and other traffic were heading north and leaving the string of islands at the state’s tip, according to police.

“Traffic is reported to be bumper to bumper, but is flowing smoothly, albeit slowly,” the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department said.

At a briefing at the state’s emergency response center in Tallahassee, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican, said the state had geared up for the storm. “Florida is prepared. We are ready. We are vigilant,” he said.

About 500 Florida National Guard troops have been deployed and some schools that were to open on Monday will be closed.

The hurricane center said it expected Fay to eventually hit Florida’s western coast, which is well east of the United States’ oil and natural production in the Gulf of Mexico.

But Shell Oil Co said on Saturday it was pulling 200 workers from offshore platforms as a precaution and on Sunday said it would take another 200 out.

In addition to the hurricane alert in Cuba, tropical storm warnings and watches were in effect for the Cayman Islands and southeastern Florida.

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Florida emergency for storm Fay

Florida emergency for storm Fay

map

The US state of Florida has declared a state of emergency ahead of the arrival of tropical storm Fay, which has swept through the island of Hispaniola.

At least four people were killed in flooding in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share Hispaniola, officials said.

Some 2,000 people had to leave their homes in the Dominican Republic and hundreds of properties were damaged.

Fay could become a hurricane as it moves towards Cuba then on to Florida.

At 0300 GMT on Sunday, Fay had maximum sustained winds of 74mph (118km/h), and was located some 280km (175 miles) south-east of Camaguey, Cuba, the Florida-based National Hurricane Center said.

It said the storm was moving west at 14mph (22km/h).

Cuban officials have ordered evacuations from low-lying areas in several provinces, where Fay is expected to come ashore on Sunday or Monday.

A tropical storm watch remains in effect for the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

Fay is expected to reach Florida after it crosses Cuba.

HOW HURRICANES FORM
Graphic. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Sea surface temperatures above 26.5C (79.7F)
A pre-existing weather disturbance
Moisture in the atmosphere
Favourable conditions, such as light winds or weak wind shear

US weather forecasters said Fay was not expected to strengthen, but that torrential rainfall of 30.5cm could be expected.

Florida’s Governor Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency, saying Fay threatened a “major disaster”.

Residents of Miami have been stocking up on bottled water, fuel and emergency items.

Fay is the sixth tropical storm of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.

Two of the tropical storms so far, Bertha and Dolly, have reached hurricane strength – with winds of at least 119km/h.

August 5, 2008

Money’s power marks US election

If Barack Obama wins his way to the White House, one quiet decision may turn out to have been crucial.

Towards the end of June, he announced that he would not participate in the system of public funding for elections in the United States.

That means he can raise – and spend – perhaps $300m (£150m) compared with the $84.1m (£43.6m) that Mr McCain will get from the tax-payer under the public funding system.

Under the rules, candidates who take public funding for the general election have their spending capped. Accordingly, Mr Obama will be free to spend – Mr McCain will be constrained, although he will be bolstered by the Republican National Committee, which has far more money than the Democratic National Committee.

Tad Devine, who was one of the main strategists for John Kerry in 2004, told the that Mr Obama had learnt from the “swift boating” that floored the Democratic contender.

(A group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ran a series of adverts accusing Mr Kerry of lying about his service in Vietnam to get one of his medals for bravery and two of his three Purple Hearts.)

He says of the Kerry decision: “If we had not accepted public funding we would have had on hand enormous resources and when those Swift Boat attacks came, we would have dealt with them in the medium in which they came, which was paid advertising.”

Mr Obama had indicated that he wanted to stick with the public funding system. Renouncing it, accordingly brought Republican allegations of an about-turn.

Mr Devine, a Democrat, sees it differently.

“It’s a testament that this guy can make tough choices,” he says.

Democrats are still smarting from the mauling they got from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

They were a group of individuals who formed what is known as a 527, after the clause in the tax code that applies to such advocacy groups.

Under the rules, these 527s cannot be connected to a campaign.

But a connection to a campaign can be ambiguous, and where there is ambiguity there will be lawyers.

Democracy

Overlooking the corner of M Street NW and 26th Street in Washington DC is the office of the lawyer for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and for the Bush-Cheney campaign.

He is one and the same man, Benjamin Ginsburg.

He told me: “There was not a direct link. The truth is that I provided legal functions for them.

“I didn’t deal with the messages and I was very careful to make sure there was no co-ordination between the two in terms of their messages and activities.”

Mr Ginsburg is a charming man with a mind like a laser. His office is a museum of mementos of big historical events in which he has been central.

In one corner, there is a metal voting booth from Palm Beach County in Florida in 2000, complete with chads, those small bits of paper – small bits of contentious paper – on which the presidency turned.

He is a great defender of 527s, the outside groups that are raucous and unpredictable in elections.

“This is a democracy,” he says. “People are allowed to express their views outside the political party structure.”

Another Republican, Michael Toner – who used to be chairman of the Federal Election Commission, which polices elections – says the imbalance in funds this time shows that the system is not working.

He wants more money to be available to candidates who take public funding.

Americans do not spend too much on elections, he thinks, but too little.

“Americans spent $3bn (£1.5bn) last year on potato chips. Isn’t the next leader of the free world worth at least that much?

Fair game

Democrats tend to see Swift Boat Veterans, and the campaign they ran last time, as way below the belt.

Republicans, in return, see it as pretty fair game and point their fingers back at campaigns run by MoveOn.org in particular, which has depicted the US military leader in Iraq, Gen Petraeus as General Betray Us.

Move On is a big web-based organisation that does take much money from ordinary people but also in the past from billionaires like George Soros. Ilyse Hogue, MoveOn’s campaigns director, defended the adverts.

“Raising that issue is critical to having a dialogue into how we responsibly and safely withdraw our troops,” she said. “We’re proud of our record.”

“MoveOn is member-driven, small donor driven. Over the past ten years, 90% of our fund-raising has been from small owners. The current average donation is $42 (£21).

“Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was all big donor funded. It was a couple of big donors calling the shots. That’s the antithesis of how MoveOn works and believes that civil society should work.”

One of the benefits for Mr Obama of raising his own money rather than relying on public funding may be that he can keep better control of his own message.

The reasoning runs that there is little point in giving to candidates if their spending is capped. Why give what cannot be spent?

So his hope may be that giving to his campaign directly might seem more effective for his supporters than giving to fringe groups. So runs the argument.

If that is so, he will be better able to meet whatever gets thrown at him, by fringe groups implying that he is a Muslim, for example.

“They will try that,” says Harold Ickes, one of the legendary political workers in Washington for the Democrats and formerly deputy chief of staff at the Clinton White House, where he earned the appellation “Garbage Man” because of his role as a cleaner up of political mess.

“If you’re talking about a tight election and enough people are convinced of that in Ohio, it can make Ohio slip into the Republican column.”

And race may surface – not formally from the McCain campaign, but from the outside groups.

As Mr Ickes said: “We’re going to find just how deep race cuts in this country.”

The first part of Steve Evans’s two-part investigation into the “The Billion Dollar Election” is broadcast on the World Service on Monday 4 August.

August 4, 2008

US election at-a-glance: 26 July-1 Aug

US election at-a-glance: 26 July-1 Aug

WEEK IN A NUTSHELL

Barack Obama completes his tour of Europe with a visit to the UK, where he meets Prime Minister Gordon Brown and opposition leader David Cameron. John McCain’s campaign launches a number of attack adverts against Mr Obama, accusing him of cancelling a visit to wounded soldiers because “cameras” would not have been allowed (a charge dismissed as false by Pentagon officials), and of being “the biggest celebrity in the world” over footage of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

KEY QUOTES
“There has been a long list. It seems to be getting shorter. And I’m still being mentioned. A lot can change day-to-day. But we’ll see.”
Democratic Virginia Governor Tim Kaine hints about his vice-presidential prospects

“Assuming that Governor Tim Kaine and Governor Kathleen Sebelius are both on Obama’s short-list, I wonder what the tight-lipped Obama world thinks about the leaks coming from Kaine allies as compared to the nada-nothing-bupkis coming from Sebelius’s orbit?”
Marc Ambinder, Atlantic monthly

“He’s the biggest celebrity in the world.”
Voice-over from a John McCain campaign advert, played over footage of Mr Obama’s fellow “celebrities”, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears

“We want to have a serious debate. But so far, we’ve been hearing about Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. I do have to ask my opponent: is that the best you can come up with?”
Barack Obama

“There is legitimate mockery of a political campaign now, and it isn’t at Obama’s. For McCain’s sake, this tomfoolery needs to stop.”
Former McCain adviser John Weaver hits out at his former employer’s new team

“John McCain and the Republicans, they don’t have any new ideas… they’re going to try to say, ‘Well, you know, he’s got a funny name and he doesn’t look like all the presidents on the dollar bills and the five dollar bills…”
Was Barack Obama playing the race card?

“A throng of adoring fans awaits Senator Obama in Paris – and that’s just the American press.”
John McCain

“Race wont have any role in my campaign, nor is there any place for it. I’m disappointed that [Mr Obama]’s used it [the race card].”
John McCain thinks so

NUMBER NEWS

Quinnipiac published polls from three of the key swing states this week – Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania.

Although Barack Obama held leads in all three of them, they all suggested that Mr Obama’s lead has shrunk since June 18, when the company last published polls from the states.

In Florida, he fell from 47% to 46%, with his opponent John McCain rising from 43% to 44%.

In Ohio, Quinnipiac also had Mr Obama beating Mr McCain 46%-44%, but previously the pollster had had them at 48%-42%.

In Pennsylvania, Mr Obama’s 12-point lead in June has dropped to seven, according to the poll.

None of these shifts in the polls provides enough evidence on its own for us to conclude that Mr Obama’s lead is slipping, but taken together, they would appear to indicate a slight weakening for Mr Obama in the most important battleground states.

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