Suffering from the freeze
An arctic blast caused record-low temperatures throughout the U.S. this week, as nearly 90 million Americans were expected to experience subzero cold. Thousands of flights were canceled and schools were closed; the postal service suspended delivery in parts of 10 states; and at least six weather-related deaths were reported in the blast’s opening hours. The Dakotas and Minnesota saw a wind chill of minus 50, which can cause frostbite in five minutes. In Chicago, forecast to be colder than Mount Everest and the Arctic, five city buses were converted into temporary warming shelters. The National Weather Service warned people to avoid talking deep breaths outside and to “minimize talking.” President Trump used the deep freeze to take a swipe at climate science, tweeting, “What the hell is going on with Global Waming [sic]? Please come back fast.”
Out of energy
Pacific Gas and Electric filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this week, estimating that it faces up to $30 billion in wildfire liability. Its bonds have been reduced to “junk” status as California investigates whether PG&E’s equipment sparked the Butte County fire last November that killed at least 86 people and destroyed more than 18,500 homes and buildings. The fire is believed to have started when PG&E’s power lines came in contact with nearby trees, and insurance claims from wildfires that month have exceeded $11 billion. Last week, however, the state’s fire agency stated that it does not believe PG&E’s equipment started a separate 2017 wildfire that killed 22 people and did an estimated $10 billion in damage, although the utilities company still faces numerous lawsuits related to fires that year. In 11 of those fires, investigators found that PG&E failed to clear brush near its lines, among other violations.
President Trump is reportedly “hopping mad” at former aide Cliff Sims, whose tell-all book, published this week, details an “out of control” White House. Team of Vipers describes then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions proposing that staffers take lie-detector tests, Trump asking for an “enemies list” of possible leakers, and colleagues—especially adviser Kellyanne Conway—relentlessly spilling dirt to the press. Sims writes that in the middle of a health-care reform discussion with House Speaker Paul Ryan, Trump left the Oval Office and went into another room to watch television. Trump dismissed Sims, who had also worked on his 2016 campaign, as “nothing more than a gofer,” but much of the White House feels doubly burned by the book. Sims, said one staffer, created “a list of leakers which turns out to be the people he doesn’t like, and the guy who makes the list turns out to be the million-dollar leaker.”
Act of random terror
After a 16-month investigation, the FBI released a report this week that found no “clear motivating factor” behind Stephen Paddock’s attack on an October 2017 country music festival that left 58 dead and nearly 900 injured. Paddock, 64, acted alone, the FBI said, leaving no suicide note, manifesto, or other communications before he fired more than 1,000 rounds from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino hotel. A high-stakes gambler who was twice divorced and hadn’t held a full-time job in decades, “Paddock went to great lengths to keep his thoughts private.” In the years before the shooting, he complained about his declining physical and mental health, and carefully planned an attack on concertgoers in order to produce maximal infamy after his suicide, the FBI believes. He was heavily influenced by his father, a bank robber once on the FBI’s most wanted list.
Trump club fires undocumented staff
About a dozen longtime undocumented workers at the Trump National Golf Club were fired during the shutdown over border wall funding, The Washington Post reported this week. The workers were summoned one by one to meet with a Trump Organization human resources executive and told that the company had audited their immigration documents and found them to be fake. “I started to cry,” said Gabriel Sedano, a maintenance worker from Mexico who was among those fired. “I had worked almost 15 years for them in this club, and I’d given the best of myself to this job.” The Westchester County club does not appear to use E-Verify, which was set up to let companies confirm that their employees are in the country legally. Late last year, a Trump golf club in Bedminster, N.J., also fired undocumented workers after a New York Times investigation revealed their employment.
The Trump administration lifted sanctions this week on three companies owned by Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and recurring subject in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The move came despite fierce objections from Democrats as well as 11 Republican senators, who voted for a measure to maintain the sanctions that narrowly failed in the Senate. The penalties on Rusal, the world’s second-largest aluminum producer, and two other companies had been imposed because of Russia’s “malign activity around the globe.” Deripaska remains under personal sanction for bribing government officials, threatening rivals’ lives, and having ties to organized crime—all of which he denies. A day after the sanctions were lifted, a member of Trump’s transition team, Deutsche Bank executive Christopher Burnham, was named a board member on Rusal’s parent company. House Democrats launched an investigation into deliberations behind the delisting, and whether Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had conflicts of interest. ■