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Death toll from the Paradise fire jumps to 42, making it the worst in California history

The death toll from the Camp fire in Paradise jumped to 42 on Monday, making it the deadliest fire in California history, as President Trump approved a major disaster declaration for the state.

Officials said they recovered the remains of 13 additional victims Monday as teams continued to search the burned-out remains of thousands of lost homes. Ten of those remains were located in Paradise; three were found in the Concow area. ​​​​​

Three of the victims were identified Monday as Ernest Foss, 65, of Paradise; Jesus Fernandez, 48, of Concow; and Carl Wiley, 77, of Magalia.

Trump’s move came just two days after he criticized California, erroneously claiming that poor forest management caused the fires of the last week and threatening to cut off funding. His comments were met with widespread outrage from both California officials and many firefighters.

California firefighters criticized President Trump for a tweet Saturday that incorrectly stated that this week’s devastating fires were the result of poor forest management.

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!” Trump wrote.

It was not the first time Trump has blamed California for destructive wildfires with dubious claims.

California Professional Firefighters President Brian Rice said Trump was out of line.

“The president’s message attacking California and threatening to withhold aid to the victims of the cataclysmic fires is ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines,” Rice said in a statement.

“At this moment, thousands of our brother and sister firefighters are putting their lives on the line to protect the lives and property of thousands. Some of them are doing so even as their own homes lay in ruins. In my view, this shameful attack on California is an attack on all our courageous men and women on the front lines,” he added.

The San Diego Union-Tribune Excerpt
Hector Becerra/Nov. 10

 

But on Monday, Trump struck a more conciliatory note.

“I just approved an expedited request for a Major Disaster Declaration for the State of California,” he wrote on Twitter. “Wanted to respond quickly in order to alleviate some of the incredible suffering going on. I am with you all the way. God Bless all of the victims and families affected.”

Gov. Jerry Brown sought the declaration Sunday, as fires raged both in Butte County and in Southern California.

The Woolsey fire, which broke out Thursday in Ventura County and spread to Malibu, has obliterated roughly 435 homes and businesses. However, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials said about 15% of the burn area has been surveyed for damage, so the number of structures damaged in the inferno probably will increase. About 57,000 structures are still threatened, and the blaze has already killed at least two people, authorities said.

A couple whose charred bodies were found in a vehicle in Malibu on Friday probably died trying to escape the flames, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Guillermo Morales said.

Expedited request for a Major Disaster Declaration for the State of California,” he wrote on Twitter. “Wanted to respond quickly in order to alleviate some of the incredible suffering going on. I am with you all the way. God Bless all of the victims and families affected.”

Investigators are still trying to identify the car’s driver and passenger, both of whom were burned beyond recognition, Morales said. Investigators don’t think the two lived at a home on Mulholland Highway. The home’s residents “have been accounted for,” Morales said.

“This driveway looks like a small road. It’s not like a normal driveway, and the whole landscape around there is burned to a crisp. We think they were probably overcome by the flames,” Morales said.

On Monday, the remnants of two cars were visible about a third of a mile up a long, curving driveway, beyond an electronic gate at 33133 Mulholland Highway that had been left open. Scattered across the pavement were a few fragments: screws, broken glass, pools of melted metal. A softened windshield was draped over the cliffside.

A lull in winds over the weekend allowed firefighters to make some headway with the blaze, boosting containment to 20%, Cal Fire Division Chief Chris Anthony said. However, Santa Ana winds that arrived Monday morning and are expected to gain strength through Tuesday could cause the fire to spread erratically. By Monday night, the blaze was 30% contained.

Northeast winds are expected to blow 20 to 30 mph, with gusts up to 55 mph in Los Angeles, according to the National Weather Service. A red-flag warning — signifying a potent mix of heat, dry air and winds that could explode a small fire into a deadly conflagration — has been issued for the region.

Anthony said the main push for firefighters through the day will be preventing burning embers from jumping outside the containment lines, and keeping the Woolsey fire from spreading to Topanga Canyon.

“We didn’t see any spread of fire outside the containment lines on Sunday, but as we’ve clearly seen over the last couple of days, it only takes one ember and one new spark to see rapid rates of fire spread,” he said.

As fire officials saw on Friday, windy conditions can be perilous for communities in the path of a wildfire. Strong winds accelerated the Woolsey fire’s growth as it burned into Malibu, forcing residents to flee quickly as flames engulfed homes, leaving behind only wreckage and a few charred memories.

Nearby, the long, twisting roadways of the city felt like a moonscape. The streets through the Santa Monica Mountains, damaged in places, were framed by scorched speed limit signs and drooping power lines. The fire had burned unevenly, leaving some swaths of land barren and gray. In other areas, unscathed trees and vineyards swam into view in vivid color. Solar panels glinted from scorched hillsides.

The silence was punctuated by the beep-beep-beep of utility trucks, the whir of helicopters dropping water and the roar of the wind blowing ash and dust across the hills. The shoulder of Mulholland Highway was filled with trash, burnt palm fronds and the remnants of people’s homes: a New Yorker subscription card, a page from a 1977 yearbook, a half-burned ticket for going 101 mph in a 60-mph zone.

Along a path of wood chips that crumbled when touched, a white yurt stood intact and pristine, surveying a valley of scorched earth and twisted trees. Stone letters on a ridge nearby spelled out: “LOVE.”

Investigators are still trying to determine what sparked the Woolsey fire. Southern California Edison told state regulators last week that there was an outage tied to its Chatsworth substation two minutes before the fire was reported near Simi Valley, but authorities have not connected the incident to the blaze.

Full coverage of the California wildfires »

“At this point we have no indication from fire agency personnel that Southern California Edison utility facilities may have been involved in the start of the fire,” Edison wrote in an incident report to the California Public Utilities Commission.

Edison wrote that a circuit relayed at the facility at 2:22 p.m. Thursday. Sally Jeung, a spokeswoman for Edison, told KQED-TV that “when a circuit relays, [it] senses a disturbance on the circuit and switches the circuit off.” It’s not clear what triggered the circuit’s sensor.

Edison said that at the request of firefighters, it could turn off power Monday in certain areas affected by the fire, but that such steps so far had not been needed. However, the blaze has damaged Edison infrastructure and equipment, leaving more than 9,000 customers without power, according to the utility.

Officials urge residents who are sheltering in place to evacuate and those who already have left their homes to stay away.

“Maybe 10 or 20 years ago, you stayed in your homes when there was a fire, and you were able to protect them,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said Sunday. “Things are not the way they were 10 years ago.”

Malibu, Calabasas, Hidden Hills, Monte Nido, Gated Oaks, Topanga, Bell Canyon and portions of Westlake Village and West Hills remain under evacuation orders.

In Butte County, a red-flag warning that has been in effect for days was set to expire Monday morning, but as commanders warned crews during their morning briefing at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico, that doesn’t mean the fight against the Camp fire is anywhere near won. The fire had scorched 117,000 acres by Monday night and was 30% contained.

Most of that spread was on the blaze’s northeastern flank toward Sterling City and deeper into the Sierra Nevada and to the southeast, where it jumped the Feather River, officials said.

The fire is expected to transition from being wind-driven to topography- and fuel-driven, making it more predictable, but still potentially explosive as it approaches overgrown, tinder-dry landscape.

Fire officials said Californians should prepare for an increasingly long and potentially deadly fire season. Low precipitation, high temperatures and dry brush have combined to create treacherous fire conditions in the state.

“You have fuels that are dry, no precipitation and low humidity,” Anthony said. “Those are the perfect ingredients for explosive, dynamic fire growth. Our fire problem is only getting worse. It’s getting worse in ways that I don’t think people could predict.”

 

Times staff writers Alene Tchekmedyian, Alejandra Reyes-Velarde and Sonali Kohli contributed to this report.

The 2020 Census at Risk and What’s at Stake

By Jim Tankersley & Emily Baumgaertner    New York Times

WASHINGTON — The United States census is so much more than just a head count. It is a snapshot of America that determines how congressional seats are apportioned, how state and federal dollars are distributed, where businesses choose to ship products and where they build new stores. To do all that properly, the count needs to be accurate.

The Commerce Department’s decision to restore a citizenship question to the census beginning in 2020 is prompting concerns about curtailing participation and possibly undercounting people living in the United States, particularly immigrants and minority groups who are expressing discomfort with answering questions from census workers.

Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, acknowledged concerns about decreased response rates in a memorandum released on Monday night. But he said asking about citizenship would enhance the results by helping calculate the percentage of the population eligible to vote.

An undercount of the population would have far-reaching implications. It could skew the data that are used to determine how many congressional representatives each state gets and their representation in state legislatures and local government bodies. It would shape how billions of dollars a year are allocated, including for schools and hospitals. It would undermine the integrity of a wide variety of economic data and other statistics that businesses, researchers and policymakers depend on to make decisions, including the numbers that underpin the forecasts for Social Security beneficiaries.

Here are several of the commercial, political and research efforts that depend on accurate
census data:

Divvying up seats in Congress, state legislatures and more

The Constitution requires the government to enumerate the number of people living in the United States every 10 years, and to use that data to apportion the seats in Congress among the states. The calculation is based on total resident population — which means citizens and noncitizens alike — and it generally shifts power between the states once a decade, in line with population and migration trends.

States including Texas, Florida, Colorado and Oregon are projected to gain seats after the 2020 numbers are in. Illinois, Ohio, New York and West Virginia are among the states expected to lose seats. An undercount could shift those projections.

Lawmakers also use census data to draw congressional district boundaries within states, an often-controversial process that can help decide partisan control of the House. Census data also underpin state legislative districts and local boundaries like City Councils and school boards.

Handing out federal and state dollars

The federal government bases a large amount of its spending decisions on census data. Researchers concluded last year that in the 2015 fiscal year, 132 government programs used information from the census to determine how to allocate more than $675 billion, much of it for programs that serve lower-income families, including Head Start, Medicare, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Pell grants for college and reduced-price school lunch programs. Highway spending is also apportioned according to census data.

Influencing business decisions

To sell products and services, companies large and small need good information on the location of potential customers and how much money they might have to spend. The census provides the highest-quality and most consistent information on such items, and businesses have come to depend on it to make critical choices.

Census data help companies decide where to locate distribution centers to best serve their customers, where to expand or locate new stores and where they have the best chance of seeing a high return on investment. That is why business groups have been particularly concerned about the integrity of that data.

“The 2020 census is used to help construct many other data products produced by the federal government,” said Michael R. Strain, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute who writes frequently on the importance of census data for policymakers and the private sector.

“Some of those products are heavily used by businesses when determining where to open new stores and expand operations, or even what items to put on their shelves. This affects retail businesses, for sure, but businesses in many other sectors as well,” he added.

Planning for various health and wellness programs

Low response rates from any one demographic group would undermine the validity of various population-wide statistics and program planning.

Scientists use census data to understand the distribution of diseases and health concerns such as cancer and obesity across the United States population, including drilling down to race and ethnicity to identify health patterns across demographics. Public health officials then use the data to target their interventions in at-risk communities. Inaccurate census data could lead public health officials to invest in solving a problem that does not exist — or worse, to overlook one that does.

“It’s getting harder to conduct the census, due to a variety of factors, including increasing cultural & linguistic diversity, and distrust of the government,” said Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, an economist who directs the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. “The addition of the citizenship question will make the enumerators’ jobs even harder by heightening privacy concerns and reducing participation among immigrants, who may fear the information will be used to harm them or their families.”

Gaming out Social Security

An undercount in the census could also impact forecasts about Social Security payouts, which are already increasing as a share of the federal government’s revenue.

When Congress plans for the costs of the country’s Social Security needs, lawmakers rely upon demographic projection about the population’s future: the number of children expected to be born, the number of people expected to die, and the number of people expected to immigrate. If baseline data regarding the current population are inaccurate, future projections could be skewed, causing financial challenges down the line.

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