For a president already dogged with accusations that he is personally profiting off the presidency, such a massive giveaway to the very hedge-fund managers and real estate executives he promised as a candidate to confront only adds to the stench of self-dealing that engulfs all things Trump. Like autocrats across the world, the 45th American president has perfected the art of the self-deal.
Trump’s Republican Party looks no better, nor will it when an economic reckoning finally comes to pass in a bankrupt America. There will be no justification for having thrown on an additional $1.5 trillion to our existing $20 trillion debt — at a time when unemployment was low, consumer confidence was high and Wall Street was setting records by the day.
It should be painfully obvious to a first-year economics student that there is no rational reason to pass massive tax breaks for billionaires when the economy is humming along.
Not content to damage homes, toss trees and knock out power to millions, Hurricane Irma has left behind a noxious brew of funk, too.
Residents across the region Tuesday reported catching a whiff of a foul, rancid smell that officials blamed on dead fish, stagnant water, flooded ponds and rotting debris – but likely not sewage.
Juliana Calloway said she started to notice the smell Sunday – an acrid odor in the air outside her home in Altamonte Springs, like spent fireworks. At first, she feared a neighbor was burning debris. Soon, Calloway realized the stink wasn’t just in her neighborhood – it was outside her office in Winter Park, too, and at her son’s preschool.
“This morning, it was just so bad,” she said. “I have a 4-year-old, and he was like, ‘It smells like rotten eggs out here, Mommy.’ ”
The stench was reported in Orlando, Longwood, Altamonte Springs, Oviedo and Lake County, among other communities. Many took to social media Tuesday to complain.
Melanie Adamski, who lives near Wekiwa Springs State Park, said she began to notice it Monday. As a cancer patient, Adamski was already suffering nausea, so the smell was especially unwelcome. “It smelled kind of like something rotting – chemicals or sewage,” she said.
Officials say the rotten smell is common in the aftermath of a storm, such as Irma, which rampaged across the state last week with torrential rains and powerful winds.
“As soon as we smelled that, it was like, there’s that smell again. That’s the Fay smell,” said Alan Harris, emergency manager for Seminole County, referring to the tropical storm that caused heaving flooding in 2008. “I remember it very well.”
Government experts pointed to a variety of culprits.
Rotting fish are likely a factor because flooding can kill them off in large numbers by disrupting the salinity and oxygen levels in lakes, rivers and oceans, said Greg Workman, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“I personally believe that there’s been multiple causes. That’s just one of them,” he said. “If you’re in an area where there was a fish kill, of course, decaying fish will give off an odor.”
Orlando officials also noted that heavy rains can saturate the groundwater, resulting in a sulfur-like smell similar to rotten eggs. The muck and sediment left behind as flooding recedes can also stink, they said.
The storm also prompted widespread sewage overflows when pumping stations lost power. While spilled sewage stinks, it’s unlikely to produce the rotten egg smell many described, or to blanket the entire region in a funky odor, officials said.
“You have to be right next to a lift station that’s overflowing to smell that – not miles from the lift station,” Harris said.
Irma also blanketed the region with fallen leaves, branches and entire trees. While it’s unlikely those are noticeably rotten already, local governments are expected to need weeks to collect all the yard waste that residents have piled up since the storm.
Orlando has crews out collecting bundled or bagged plant debris seven days a week, said Mike Carroll, the city’s solid waste manager. Irma left behind about 300,000 cubic yards of plant debris in Orlando – four times as much as the city collected in all of 2016.
Overall, the storm left 1 million cubic yards of debris each in Orange and Seminole counties, according to early estimates. Both counties have drop-off locations for residents who want to clear it themselves.
Carroll said finding contractors with the right equipment to pick up storm debris has been unusually challenging because many crews were already busy in Houston cleaning up the destruction from Hurricane Harvey when Irma set its sights on Florida.
To make matters worse, Irma was massive – causing damage in every population center in the state. Cities across Florida, Carroll said, are “all chasing the same disaster company resources. Our primary contractor has had great difficulty getting more resources.”
Not everyone was bothered by the funk.
Bob Williams of Longwood said he’d seen neighbors griping about the smell online, but he didn’t notice it until he spent a few hours Tuesday clearing branches. Though Williams detected a “slight odor of sewer gas,” he said none of the plant debris seemed to be rotting.
“It’s all dried up, and it doesn’t smell bad,” he said.
MOSUL, Iraq — Bodies of dead Islamic State fighters still lay in the streets of west Mosul. Severed limbs from corpses were burnt, charred and strewn among the rubble of destroyed houses. The stench of death, a mixture of bodily waste and rotting flesh, mingled with the smell of garbage that hung in the air. The only way to cope with the nausea was to avoid deep breaths and take small sips of flavored sodium water from a plastic bottle that was melting in the broiling sun. But the stench was not the only thing the dead ISIS fighters left behind.
As Iraqi forces extend their control over the city, killing or chasing away remaining ISIS fighters, they encounter reminders of the regime imposed by the militant cleric Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who declared a new Islamic caliphate at the Great Mosque of al-Nuri. Meant to be a new era and empire, it has fallen in just three years. Al-Baghdadi himself has been reported killed, although his death has not been confirmed.
The ISIS fighters have continued to resist even after the battle was lost, rocking the city with explosions that shattered ancient structures and sent debris flying to land in heaps on the streets.
Iraqi forces listening in on ISIS radio transmissions heard signs of dissent and chaos in the ranks. The militants argued over which brigade had more men, who was most badly injured and whom they should leave behind. Their injuries went largely unattended and open to infection. They were weak, their morale low, and Iraqi forces knew they could take advantage of their weaknesses.
Wahlid, an Iraqi special-forces soldier, told me, “They’re fighting their hardest,” then he added, “but among themselves they have disputes.”
In a dimly lit room in a house near the front lines used as a base by Iraqi special forces, Wahlid told stories about listening to ISIS. The air conditioning was on full blast inside the house. He sat on a couch, drinking energy drinks and smoking cigarettes. An old walkie-talkie on an end table next to him crackled with voices chattering back and forth. An Iraqi commander shouted, “Get the Humvees out; find a safe place.” ISIS had coordinates for Iraqi soldiers in another neighborhood, and he was telling them to move before ISIS attacked.
Related slideshow: In Mosul, the war is never over, even when the shooting stops >>>
Wahlid laughed and with a smirk told what he considered a humorous story about an ISIS suicide bomber stranded in his explosive-filled car in the middle of the road. “The [Iraqi] soldiers shot at him,” Wahlid said. “His car broke down, he pressed the button and it didn’t work. So the militant who was in the car called on the radio back to the other [ISIS] militants, telling them, ‘The infidels broke down my car, but I can’t make it explode, I cannot blow it up because the button does not work. If you have any other way, brothers, blow it up, I want to blow up the car on the infidels.’”
Iraqi forces called for an airstrike. The car blew up.
ISIS fighters left behind a legacy of self-inflicted martyrdom, expecting rewards in heaven if they died fighting their alleged enemies. They saw themselves as heroes. The world did not agree.
Many came from other countries, tens of thousands of them who left behind a life they knew for a desert they didn’t know. Perhaps some of them left their homes for money, or a chance to be part of history. But the history they created is still desperate to leave them behind.
Many times, soldiers on the front lines admitted they couldn’t understand the ISIS fighters. They spoke different languages. Troops reported chatter in what they thought was Russian, Turkish and an Eastern language they couldn’t identify. One of the soldiers from the Najaf battalion, Rami, said that he was ethnically Turkmen and that sometimes he could understand the Turkish ISIS fighters.
The fighters also left behind their identities and documents. An Iraqi soldier said that while fighting at the front line, he noticed a woman in a black robe and hijab, a scarf around her head. He caught her eye. “I waved for her to run toward me,” he said.
He thought she was a civilian trying to escape. But when she moved along the wall in front of her house, he realized she was hiding an M-16 beneath her clothes. She realized she was exposed and fled. The soldier said she got away. He never said why he didn’t shoot.
But when he approached the house later, he found her identification. She had a German name on a German ID card. He also found a marriage certificate, issued by ISIS. She was married to a Russian fighter. What they left behind was a marriage that would never be recognized anywhere else. ISIS created its own system, its own contracts, records that are meaningless to a world that would never recognize the Islamic State.
ISIS had its own religious police, too, and “punishment officers,” who would correct or even arrest civilians who didn’t follow their rules and laws. One member of ISIS left his officer’s vest in the streets.
And when they fled, ISIS fighters left behind their weapons. Iraqi soldiers picked up weapons throughout the fight, some made in ISIS bomb factories, including mortars and rockets, and old Soviet-era rocket-propelled grenades that ISIS modified and improved. If the weapons were functional, Iraqis repurposed them and killed ISIS fighters with their own weapons. Wahlid demonstrated an RPG-7. “They have made some updates to it,” he said. “They’ve mixed the powder, and the wings [they added] will make it fly.”
Some ISIS rebels weren’t killed by Iraqi forces or their own weapons but instead were caught and arrested. They were sent to intelligence battalions to be interrogated. At a small base on the outskirts of Mosul’s Old City, Iraqi intelligence officers allowed foreign journalists limited access to several suspects in custody. Bearded, with zip ties around their hands, the captured fighters were ushered back and forth between rooms. Some of the men’s eyes looked young, some old, but all seemed worn out and solemn. An intelligence officer pointed to one man and said he “knew” the man was ISIS because he had “confessed.”
But of all that ISIS left behind, most of all the armed group left Iraqi citizens grieving, even those who sympathized with the Sunni-linked fighters as a way to resist what they saw as an oppressive Shia-majority government. Even they had turned against ISIS, after three years of living under its governance.
The civilians who fled left behind everything they owned. They left behind loved ones whom they will never get to bury. They left photos of their mothers and fathers, taken in the days before the war and occupation.
Shoes, scarves, T-shirts and dresses littered the streets. White flags still hung on the doors. Families believed that if they hung white cloth on their doors they might be safe. The Iraqi soldiers assured the people of Mosul that the white flags would signal they were on the government side and against ISIS. The civilians didn’t want to be arrested or questioned; they wanted to escape. But as the city grew more dangerous, the white flags were not enough to save them. A new order came down from the Iraqi forces: run.
So they ran. And they left their flags behind, hung from the ruins of their devastated city, once a thriving metropolis in the very cradle of civilization.
Ash Gallagher is a journalist covering the Mideast for Yahoo News.
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