August 26th, 2011
A Weather Channel news release lays out the station’s mission in covering Hurricane Irene:
For The Weather Channel Companies (TWCC), keeping people prepared and safe during severe weather events is the company’s number one priority. Therefore, the company is taking extensive measures across TV, online, mobile, radio and social media to keep viewers and users informed as Hurricane Irene progresses up the East Coast, affecting up to 55 million people.
That’s not just PR blather, either. In a noon interview, Bob Walker, executive vice president and general manager of network and content for the Weather Channel, said this to me before signing off: “Be safe.”
Some viewers out there, though, are getting a variation on that message from Weather Channel coverage. “Be scared” might just sum up the feeling, as reflected in a sampling of thoughts from Twitter this afternoon:
What are all these people talking about? Perhaps this passage from the Weather Channel Web site provides a clue:
Irene is a hurricane that poses an extraordinary threat and is one that no one has yet experienced in North Carolina to the mid-Atlantic to the Northeast and New England [emphasis added]. This includes Norfolk, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Hartford, and Boston.
Talk about a Categorical statement!
For more high-volume stuff, here’s a Weather Channel Web banner:
Is it all too much?
Local weatherman Bob Ryan says maybe. While expressing great admiration for Weather Channel hurricane expert Bryan Norcross, Ryan calls “pretty apocalyptic” his vision for the course of Irene.
Weather watchers with the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang pronounce a similar skepticism. Gang member Dan Stillman: “It’s not going to be unprecedented for North Carolina or even the mid-Atlantic. And given that it will probably be no worse than a low-to-mid-end Category 1 when it gets to New York City, it’s not going to be their Katrina — even though significant flooding and damaging winds are possible, both inland and especially toward the coast, in both the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast.”
That kind of talk doesn’t blow away the Weather Channel brain trust. Here’s why: This forecasting colossus has a bunker of 200 scientists and meteorologists looking at all the models. “It gives us a great advantage,” says content chief Walker. When asked about the people citing Weather Channel hysterics, Walker responded, “I can’t speculate as to what it is that they’re reacting to.” But: “Our people here are very, very cautious to make sure that our brand represents the best in quality...in being forthcoming and clear.”
So what accounts for the tone of the Weather Channel’s Irene coverage? Herewith a few considerations, as spelled out by Walker:
1) Irene is enormous, spanning about 500 miles;
2) Irene is headed for parts of the country that “have not seen a Category 1 or 2 hit them in decades and in some cases even longer,” says Walker;
3) The atmospheric conditions that would otherwise knock Irene out to sea “weren’t there,” says Walker.
Another point on the channel’s coverage: “All of our editorial discussions start by a full briefing by the meteorological team and our tone is determined based on what experts and scientists are telling us,” says Walker.
Whatever your take on the Weather Channel’s editorial tilt on Irene, the winds and rains and sandbags are good for business. On Wednesday, the station’s Web site scored 63 million page views and 12 million unique visitors; yesterday, 99 million page views and 16 million uniques.
With the crowds comes accountability: If the Weather Channel turns out to have overhyped Irene, next week will deliver some tough questions to the channel’s Atlanta headquarters. And let’s not consider the possibility that it’s underhyping things.
More From the under-reporting Washington Post (Ironically, all Irene stories)
August 26th, 2011
Associated PressBy JENNIFER PELTZ - Associated Press,MICHAEL BIESECKER
MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (AP) — Whipping up trouble before ever reaching land, Hurricane Irene zeroed in Friday for a catastrophic run up the Eastern Seaboard. More than 2 million people were told to move to safer places, and New York City ordered the nation's biggest subway system shut down for the first time because of a natural disaster.
As the storm's outermost bands of wind and rain began to lash the Outer Banks of North Carolina, authorities in points farther north begged people to get out of harm's way. The hurricane lost some strength but still packed 100 mph winds, and officials in the Northeast, not used to tropical weather, feared it could wreak devastation.
"Don't wait. Don't delay," said President Barack Obama, who decided to cut short his summer vacation by a day and return to Washington. "I cannot stress this highly enough: If you are in the projected path of this hurricane, you have to take precautions now."
Senior hurricane specialist Richard Pasch of the National Hurricane Center said there were signs that the hurricane may have weakened slightly, but strong winds continued to extend 100 miles from its center.
The moment Saturday when the eye of the hurricane crosses land "is not as important as just being in that big swath," Pasch said. "And unfortunately, it's a big target."
Hurricane warnings were issued from North Carolina to New York, and watches were posted farther north, on the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard off Massachusetts. Evacuation orders covered at least 2.3 million people, including 1 million in New Jersey, 315,000 in Maryland, 300,000 in North Carolina, 200,000 in Virginia and 100,000 in Delaware.
"This is probably the largest number of people that have been threatened by a single hurricane in the United States," said Jay Baker, a geography professor at Florida State University.
New York City ordered more than 300,000 people who live in flood-prone areas to leave, including Battery Park City at the southern tip of Manhattan, Coney Island and the beachfront Rockaways. But it was not clear how many would do it, how they would get out or where they would go. Most New Yorkers don't have a car.
On top of that, the city said it would shut down the subways and buses at noon Saturday, only a few hours after the first rain is expected to fall. The transit system carries about 5 million people on an average weekday, fewer on weekends. It has been shut down several times before, including during a transit workers' strike in 2005 and after the Sept. 11 attacks a decade ago, but never for weather.
Late Friday, aviation officials said they would close the five main New York City-area airports to arriving domestic and international flights beginning at noon on Saturday. Many departures also were canceled.
The airports are John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia, Stewart International and Teterboro.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said there was little authorities could do to force people to leave.
"We do not have the manpower to go door-to-door and drag people out of their homes," he said. "Nobody's going to get fined. Nobody's going to go to jail. But if you don't follow this, people may die."
Shelters were opening Friday afternoon, and the city was placed under its first hurricane warning since 1985.
Transit systems in New Jersey and Philadelphia also announced plans to shut down, and Washington declared a state of emergency. Boisterous New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie demanded people "get the hell off the beach" in Asbury Park and said: "You're done. Do not waste any more time working on your tan."
Hundreds of thousands of airline passengers were grounded for the weekend. JetBlue Airways said it was scrubbing about 880 flights between Saturday and Monday, most to and from hub airports in New York and Boston. Other airlines said they were waiting to be more certain about Irene's path before announcing more cancellations.
Thousands of people were already without power. In Charleston, S.C., several people had to be rescued after a tree fell on their car.
Defying the orders, hardy holdouts in North Carolina put plywood on windows, gathered last-minute supplies and tied down boats. More than half the people who live on two remote islands, Hatteras and Ocracoke, had ignored orders to leave, and as time to change their minds ran short, officials ordered dozens of body bags. The last ferry from Ocracoke left at 4 p.m. Friday.
"I anticipate we're going to have people floating on the streets, and I don't want to leave them lying there," said Richard Marlin, fire chief for one of the seven villages on Hatteras. "The Coast Guard will either be pulling people off their roofs like in Katrina or we'll be scraping them out of their yards."
Officially, Irene was expected to make landfall Saturday near Morehead City, on the southern end of the Outer Banks, the barrier island chain. But long before the eye crossed the coastline, the blustery winds and intermittent rains were already raking the coast. By Friday evening 50 mph winds were measured at Wrightsville Beach, N.C.
Some took to shelters for protection.
Susan Kinchen, her daughter and 5-month-old granddaughter came to West Carteret High School with about 50 others. She said they didn't feel safe in their trailer, and the Louisiana native was reminded of how her old trailer lost its roof to Hurricane Katrina, almost six years ago to the day, on Aug. 29, 2005.
"We live in a trailer with her," said Kinchen, referring to the infant. "I'm not taking any chances."
Hurricane center meteorologist David Zelinsky said earlier Friday that he expected the storm to arrive as a Category 2 or 3 hurricane. Later in the day, other forecasts showed it would strike most of the coast as a Category 1. The scale runs from 1, barely stronger than a tropical storm, to a monstrous 5. On Friday night, Irene was a Category 2.
The hurricane center said Irene could weaken into a tropical storm before reaching New England, but that even below hurricane strength it would be powerful and potentially destructive.
Regardless of how fierce the storm is when it makes landfall, the coast of North Carolina was expected to get winds of more than 100 mph and waves perhaps as high as 11 feet, Zelinsky said.
"This is a really large hurricane and it is dangerous," he said. "Whether it is a Category 2 or 3 at landfall, the effects are still going to be strong. I would encourage people to take it seriously."
Officer Edward Mann was driving down the narrow streets of Nags Head looking for cars in driveways, a telltale sign of people planning to ride out the storm against all advice.
Bucky Domanski, 71, was working in his garage when Mann walked in. He told the officer he planned to stay. Mann handed Domanski a piece of paper with details about the county's evacuation order. It warned that hurricane force winds would flood the roads and there might not be power or water until well after the storm.
"You understand we can't help you during the storm," Mann said.
"I understand," Domanski replied.
Later as heavy rains drenched Nags Head, Domanski had cooked his favorite dinner of veal parmesan and spaghetti for his wife, Joy.
He planned to watch TV, but knows his satellite dish and power could go out any time. He has plenty of flashlights and candles and plans to go to sleep early.
"So far everything is OK. The rain isn't bad. I know it could change. But I just don't think it's going to be as bad as they say. I'm hopeful," he said.
After the Outer Banks, the next target for Irene was the Hampton Roads region of southeast Virginia, a jagged network of inlets and rivers that floods easily. Emergency officials have said the region is more threatened by storm surge, the high waves that accompany a storm, than wind. Gas stations there were low on fuel Friday, and grocery stores scrambled to keep water and bread on the shelves.
In Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell ordered an evacuation of coastal areas.
"We could be open tonight for business, but there's a very fine line between doing the right thing and putting our staff at risk," said Alex Heidenberger, whose family owns Mango Mike's restaurant in Bethany Beach. He expects to lose $40,000 to $50,000 in business. "It's not so much we're worried about the storm coming tonight, but we want to give them a chance to get out of town and get their affairs in order."
Officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington said they were speeding the transfer of their last remaining patients to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The transfer had been planned for Sunday.
In Baltimore's Fells Point neighborhood, one of the city's oldest waterfront neighborhoods, people filled sandbags and placed them at the entrances to buildings. A few miles away at the Port of Baltimore, vehicles and cranes continued to unload huge cargo ships that were rushing to offload and get away from the storm.
In New York, the Mets postponed games scheduled for Saturday and Sunday with the visiting Atlanta Braves. The Jets and Giants moved their preseason NFL game up to 2 p.m. Saturday from 7 p.m., but then postponed it until Monday.
And in Atlantic City, N.J., all 11 casinos announced plans to shut down Friday, only the third time that has happened in the 33-year history of legalized gambling in that state.
"I like gambling, but you don't play with this," Pearson Callender said as he waited for a Greyhound bus out of town. "People are saying this is an act of God. I just need to get home to be with my family."
Jennifer Peltz reported from New York. Associated Press writers contributing to this report were Tim Reynolds in Miami; Bruce Shipkowski in Surf City, N.J.; Geoff Mulvihill in Trenton, N.J.; Wayne Parry in Atlantic City, N.J.; Eric Tucker in Washington; Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, N.C.; Mitch Weiss in Nags Head, N.C.; Alex Dominguez in Baltimore; Brock Vergakis in Virginia Beach, Va.; Jonathan Fahey in New York; and Seth Borenstein in Washington.
August 26th, 2011
McClatchy Washington Bureau / Lauren Biron | Medill News Service
WASHINGTON — In October, Energy Secretary Steven Chu pledged that solar panels and a solar water heater would be installed on the White House roof before the start of summer.
Now, summer is almost over, the 2012 election campaign is well under way, and there are still no solar panels on the White House roof.
Why? That's a mystery.
The Energy Department will say only that the project is mired in the "competitive procurement process." Spokeswoman Joelle Terry declined to go into details of the holdup. Questions about when that process might be completed also were rebuffed. So were queries about the projected cost of adding the panels and where the panels would be located.
The National Park Service, which put solar panels on White House outbuildings during the administration of President George W. Bush, said it couldn't comment on why the previous installation was completed more quickly. It directed questions to the White House, where press spokesman Clark Stevens deferred to the Department of Energy, where spokeswoman Terry stuck to her original statement.
Not even Solar Design Associates, which according to the magazine Solar Today installed the previous panels, was willing to comment. A search of the government contracting website USASpending.gov did turn up a $10,000 contract, awarded in January, to Overly Manufacturing Co. That contract was to "support the contractor" for the photovoltaic system and "ensure that the integrity and warranty of the White House roof is maintained."
No one was willing to reveal the details of the formal government bidding proposal, which was not posted online.
Solar panels atop the White House, America's most famous government building, have long been a policy statement. President Jimmy Carter installed 32 in 1979 when an Arab oil embargo spiked fuel prices.
"No one can ever embargo the sun or interrupt its delivery to us," Carter said at the installation ceremony, having never seen the episode of "The Simpsons" where Mr. Burns blocks out the sun with a giant disk.
President Ronald Reagan removed the panels in 1986. Then came the National Park Service-directed installation during the most recent Bush administration. Those panels went on a maintenance building and on the president's cabana to heat water for the outdoor White House pool.
Chu announced that panels would be going up on the White House itself at the GreenGov Symposium, which was described on its website as "a three-day educational event to identify opportunities around greening the Federal Government." It was sponsored by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and held at George Washington University in Washington Oct. 5-7, 2010.
"As we move toward a clean energy economy, the White House will lead by example," Chu said then when he promised that solar panels would be returned to the White House roof. "It's been a long time since we've had them up there."
The project was intended to be part of the Energy Department's larger SunShot Initiative to make solar technology cost-competitive.
Solar power is one of the staples of the growing alternate energy sector. Both commercial buildings and homes are incorporating the technology, though it still makes up only about 1 percent of the energy produced by alternative fuels in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
A spokesman for the organization 350.org, named after an atmospheric target of 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide recommended by some scientists to ward off the "greenhouse effect" blamed for global warming, expressed disappointment that the solar panels hadn't yet made it to the roof of the White House.
"This isn't rocket science. Hammer it in, make a few connections — you're good to go," said Jamie Henn, the group's spokesman. "If the first lady is going to go out and get her hands dirty planting her garden, then it's up to the president to do some home improvements as well."
His group has been a leading proponent of heads of state adding solar panels to their residences.
"The administration needs to do more to show that they're serious about moving clean energy forward," he said. "There's no better way of doing that than getting on the roof of the White House and proclaiming that there shouldn't just be solar panels there, but on rooftops all across America and around the world."
While it may be a little more complicated than Henn jokes, two other heads of state have installed solar panels on their official residences.
In the Maldives, 48 panels went up on the Mulee Agee Palace in 2010, within days of Chu's appearance at the GreenGov Symposium. President Mohamed Nasheed helped install the solar panels himself and pledged to make the island nation carbon-neutral by 2020. The Maldives, which sit off the tip of India, are vulnerable to the rising seas associated with climate change. How vulnerable? The highest point is less than eight feet above sea level.
In New Delhi, 64 solar panels were installed on the auditorium at Rashtrapati Bhavan, home of India's president, Pratibha Devisingh Patil. One hundred solar-powered streetlights also illuminate various sections of the Rashtrapati Bhavan compound, which boasts of five electric vehicles that are charged with solar power and leave no carbon footprint, according to the government's website. India began greening the presidential compound in 2008 as part of the Roshni initiative to develop green urban habitats.
(Biron reports for Medill News Service, the Washington program of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.)
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August 26th, 2011
By James Rosen
Major reputable poll after major reputable poll, conducted over the last ten days or so, shows Texas Gov. Rick Perry leading the former Massachusetts governor by significant margins.
The polling data suggests not only that Perry survived his early stumbles on the stump – most notably, his suggestions that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke could be guilty of “treason” if the Fed prints more money, and that Texans would accordingly treat Bernanke “pretty ugly” – but that Perry is, in fact, picking up steam.
The latest Rasmussen Reports poll of likely Republican primary voters, conducted on August 15, shows Perry leading Romney by 11 percentage points. The latest Gallup survey, querying Republicans and Republican-leaning independents between August 17 and August 21, shows Romney trailing Perry by 12 percentage points. Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, which tallied Republican primary voters between August 18 and August 21, put the gap at 13 percentage points.
Yet Thursday found Perry, during a radio appearance on “The Laura Ingraham Show,” still peppering Romney with stiff right jabs, as if it were Perry who is the scrappy underdog.
“I think Mitt is finally recognizing that the Massachusetts health care plan that he passed is a huge problem for him, and yeah, it was not almost perfect,” Perry said on the program. That was a reference to conservative criticism that the plan Romney enacted as governor of Massachusetts was too similar to President Obama’s – and to Romney’s frequent retort on the stump that his plan, while “not perfect,” was narrowly tailored the needs of his state.
Flanked by antique paintings at the Exeter Historical Society in Exeter, N.H. Thursday, Romney kept his attacks focused exclusively on President Obama, whom he accused of implementing “the most anti-businesses, anti-job, anti-investment policies that we have seen since Jimmy Carter.”
“You shouldn't be on the Vineyard playing golf,” Romney said, addressing Mr. Obama directly and referring to the president’s current vacation destination. “You should be doing your job, putting Americans back to work!”
The closest Romney came to addressing the Texas governor now outpacing him in the primary polls was when a teenager asked which of his GOP rivals Romney would be most likely to select as a running mate.
After engendering laughs by asking which of those in attendance had put the youngster up to asking the question, Romney thrust the microphone back at the boy and asked who he would pick. When the youth hesitated and said he didn’t know, Romney again drew laughter by quickly yanking the microphone back and saying: “There’s my answer, too! There you go!”
That exchange followed a testier one a day earlier, between Romney and a hostile female voter in Lebanon, N.H., in which the candidate found himself repeatedly demanding that the woman finish her question and allow him time to respond.
“You had your turn,” Romney said sternly, during a lengthy period of crosstalk. “You had your turn madam! Let me have mine. Let me have mine. Listen, I’ll give you have the microphone in a moment, but let me complete – I’m sorry, it’s my turn. You had yours; now it’s my turn. Would you please hold on a moment and let me finish?”
It remains unclear how willing Romney is to demonstrate the same steeliness against his Republican rivals.
“What Romney has done for most of the month of August is to lay low,” said Darrell West, the vice president and director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. “And it’s always risky in politics to let the other guy dictate the pace of events.”
West said it is equally unclear how well Romney would do even if he made an affirmative decision to attack Perry.
“He's not a pit bull on the campaign trail,” West said in an interview. “He's never been very aggressive about going after rivals. He's done well this year by the fact that he hasn't had to go negative on any of his opponents. In 2008, he actually did most poorly when he did go on the attack.”
August 26th, 2011
Surprise !!! (Not)~BLS
The U.S. economy grew much slower than previously thought in the second quarter as business inventories and exports were less robust, a government report showed on Friday, although consumer spending was revised up.
Gross domestic product growth rose at annual rate of 1.0 percent the Commerce Department said, a downward revision of its prior estimate of 1.3 percent. It also said after-tax corporate profits rose at the fastest pace in a year.
Economists had expected output growth to be revised down to 1.1 percent. In the first quarter, the economy advanced just 0.4 percent. The government's second GDP estimate for the quarter confirmed growth almost stalled in the first six months of this year.
The United States is on a recession watch after a massive sell-off in the stock market knocked down consumer and business sentiment. The plunge in share prices followed Standard & Poor's decision to strip the nation of its top notch AAA credit rating and a spreading sovereign debt crisis in Europe.
While sentiment has deteriorated, data such as industrial production, retail sales and employment suggest the economy could avoid an outright contraction.
The GDP report comes as central bankers from around the globe gathered for a conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will deliver the keynote address on Friday, which will be watched for any sign a further easing of U.S. monetary policy is on the way to support the ailing economy.
The downward revisions to second-quarter growth came as businesses accumulated less stock than previously estimated. Business inventories increased $40.6 billion instead of $49.6 billion, cutting 0.23 percentage point from GDP growth during the quarter.
However, the slow build-up of inventories means goods are not piling up on shelves, which should support growth in the third quarter. Excluding inventories, the economy grew at a 1.2 percent rate.
Output was also curbed by exports, which grew at a 3.1 percent pace instead of 6.0 percent. Imports increased at a 1.9 percent rate rather than 1.3 percent. That left a slightly wider trade deficit and trade barely contributed to GDP growth. Trade had previously been estimated to have added 0.58 percentage point to overall output.
The drag from business inventories was offset by consumer spending, which was revised up to a 0.4 percent rate from 0.1 percent. The increase in spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, was still the smallest since the fourth quarter of 2009.
Business spending was revised to a 9.9 percent rate of increase from 6.3 percent as investment in nonresidential structures and equipment and software was stronger than previously estimated. But there are fears that the recent stock market rout could make businesses a bit hesitant to spend on capital and hiring.
The report also showed that after-tax corporate profits increased 4.1 percent in the second quarter after edging up 0.1 percent in the first three months of the year. It also showed inflation pressures abating, with the personal consumption expenditures price index rising at a 3.2 percent rate. That compared to 3.9 percent in the first quarter.
The core PCE index closely watched by the Fed advanced at a 2.2 percent rate, the largest increase since the fourth quarter of 2009. It was revised up from 2.1 percent.