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October 12, 2017

The numbers from the 22 wildfires blazing through Northern California's wine country are already terrible: at least 23 dead, with more fatalities expected; more than 3,500 homes and businesses destroyed, including at least five wineries; 265 square miles, or 170,000 acres, of scorched or burning land; 8,000 firefighters battling the blaze, some working at least 40 hours straight; tens of thousands of people under mandatory evacuation, including all of Geyserville and Calistoga. But firefighters are worried about what's coming Thursday: Diablo winds of up to 45 mph are forecast to sweep through the area, with little or no humidity.

"It's going to continue to get worse before it gets better," Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said Wednesday. "We are literally looking at explosive vegetation." Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said that California has "had big fires in the past. This is one of the biggest, most serious, and it's not over." And "we are at very low containment on most of these," added Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services. "These fires are literally burning faster than firefighters can run."

Investigators aren't sure what sparked the fires Sunday night, though they are examining reports that the same high winds that spread the fire rapidly and unpredictably also caused them by knocking down power lines. Peter Weber

6:03a.m.

Saudi Arabia paid $100 million to the U.S. government on Tuesday, the same day Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Riyadh for an apparently friendly discussion with the Saudi rulers about the disappearance and presumed murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and government critic. A State Department official confirmed the payment on Wednesday but insisted it had nothing to do with the Khashoggi disappearance, widely blamed on the Saudi government.

The money was party of Saudi Arabia's pledged contribution to a U.S. stabilization effort in Syria, the State Department said. The Saudis promised the payment in August, and "questions persisted about when and if Saudi officials would come through with the money," The Washington Post notes. "We always expected the contribution to be finalized in the fall time frame," said Brett McGurk, the State Department envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition. "The specific transfer of funds has been long in process and has nothing to do with other events or the secretary's visit."

Middle East experts, who suspect the Saudis are also planning to compensate Turkey for agreeing to a joint investigation of Khashoggi's disappearance at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, aren't convinced that the timing of the payment is coincidental. "In all probability, the Saudis want Trump to know that his cooperation in covering for the Khashoggi affair is important to the Saudi monarch," Joshua Landis, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, tells the Post. "Much of its financial promises to the U.S. will be contingent on this cooperation." Peter Weber

5:14a.m.

"Voters who actually like Republican ideas are dwindling, so to stay in power the GOP is using techniques like gerrymandering, blocking judicial appointments, and voter suppression — otherwise known as Mitch McConnell's version of the devil's triangle," Samantha Bee said on Wednesday's Full Frontal. "And this week they have outdone themselves." She breezed through recent cases of voter quashing in Arkansas and Ohio but focused on two states: North Dakota and Georgia.

Bee started with the Supreme Court upholding a North Dakota voting law that effectively prevents thousand of Native Americans from casting ballots because they have P.O. boxes, not street addresses. The law disenfranchises a key Democratic constituency "with almost surgical precision," she said, unless they follow a complicated bureaucratic maze. "We called 911 coordinators in North Dakota, and even they weren't sure how this is supposed to work — probably because its not supposed to," Bee said. And the racially disparate voter purges and suspensions by Georgia GOP Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who's overseeing his own bid for governor? She filed that under "How the f--- is that legal?"

"Republicans are getting more creative, and more shameless, about their attempts to block the vote because they know they're not popular enough to win without cheating," Bee said. (There's NSFW language.)

Popular or not, Republicans think they may have found their golden ticket. The "horrific" Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight may have energized Democrats, "but Republicans think it may help them more," Bee said. "But is the 'red wave' real?" Full Frontal sent Allana Harkin and Mike Rubens to a Dallas Cowboy tailgate to find out, and, well, they seemed surprised at what they found. Watch below. Peter Weber

4:24a.m.

President Trump is facing increasing pressure to take action on the presumed murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. "There's mounting evidence that Saudi Arabia's leaders ordered this killing," Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show, but Trump told The Associated Press it sounded to him like Saudi King Salman "felt like he did not do it." Colbert did not find that persuasive. Trump then said the Saudis shouldn't be presumed "guilty until proven innocent," because "we just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh," he noted. "To which Brett Kavanaugh said, 'Hey, maybe leave my name out of this one. Dismembering a journalist is actually one of the crimes I have not been accused of.'"

The central figure in the story is Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, widely called MBS, who is believed to have ordered the grisly murder. "So many people believe the crown prince was involved in the killing that Washington insiders are now grimly joking that MBS stands for Mr. Bone Saw," Colbert said. "But despite the mounting evidence, including reported audio of the murder, Trump continues to back his buddies the Saudis." Sure, "the world looks to America for moral authority, but Trump says there's something just as important," he added: Selling arms and other "things" to the Saudis, including perhaps the man sitting in the Oval Office.

"If U.S. news has you down, you can just head up north — because as of today, Canada has officially legalized recreational pot," Colbert said. "Naturally, there's going to be a lot of pot tourism, and Canada is ready to attract visitors with this new ad."

Colbert also ran through some (sometimes) happier American news about the Joker movie, Calvin Klein's tiger Obsession, gas station boner supplements, and WikiLeaks. Watch below. Peter Weber

3:18a.m.

In the final stretch of the 2018 elections, Republicans have quietly dropped their plans to run on their tax cut and the economy, Samantha Bee said on Wednesday's Full Frontal. "But don't worry, because Republicans have another cool technique for getting votes without doing anything useful: The terrifying culture wars." She had a graphic ready for that, and video clips. "Republicans control all three branches of government!" she protested. "How do you play the victim when you've won everything there is to win? Well, they've found a way: Telling people that Democrats will eat them."

Bee played some ads. "I wish the left were 'crazytown,'" she said. "By the way, do you know what is actually nuts? Conflating Nancy Pelosi with a handful of masked anarchists who hate Nancy Pelosi more than any Republican." She ran through various "scary "groups, like kneeling football players, Beto O'Rourke, and especially women. "The right is really painting a picture of liberal women as deadly bitch tornado," Bee said.

The hot new attack is the incessant incantation of the word "mob" connected to "left-wing" or "Democrat." "The only time I've seen an unhinged mob of Democrats is when NPR runs out of totes," Bee joked, conceding: "Well, if anyone would know about the mob, it's Donald Trump."

"So, is this culture war bulls--t actually working? " Bee asked. "It's unclear. The typical American voter is looking around and seeing that their wages are stagnating, their health care's in danger, and their boss just bought another mega-yacht. I tend to think that's gonna matter more than a few loud pussy hats." There is NSFW language throughout. Peter Weber

2:37a.m.

There's a growing consensus in Washington and Europe that Saudi Arabia, specifically Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is culpable in the Oct. 2 disappearance and likely murder of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And the latest group signaling its conviction of the crown prince's guilt is the U.S. intelligence community, The New York Times reports. This assessment, based so far on growing circumstantial evidence, poses a challenged for President Trump and some of his key advisers, who have urged patience and highlighted Saudi Arabia's denials and the kingdom's economic and strategic importance.

Trump can ignore or disagree with the U.S. intelligence assessment, the Times says, but so far he's keeping Congress out of the loop. The Trump administration has "clamped down" on sharing intelligence about the Khashoggi case and canceled a classified briefing scheduled for Tuesday, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said Wednesday. "I suppose they don't want us to see the intel," he said, and "I can only surmise that probably the intel is not painting a pretty picture as it relates to Saudi Arabia." Based on previous intelligence he reviewed, Corker added, "everything points not to just Saudi Arabia, but to MBS," as bin Salman is commonly called.

Other senators from both parties have also called for a stronger response to Saudi Arabia's apparently brutal murder inside its Istanbul consulate, and they can act without the White House, voting for sanctions with a veto-proof majority. But Trump is reportedly holding out for what The Washington Post calls a "mutually agreeable explanation" from the Saudis, one that avoids implicating MBS. "The president is trying to introduce a little calm into this, to wait and see who's directly responsible," Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani explained to the Post. "While he makes clear he doesn't approve of what has happened, it's complicated because this isn't a pure enemy he's dealing with, like if Iran did it." Peter Weber

1:33a.m.

It will be called the Harmony Playground, where all children will be free to play in their own way.

The town of Clayton, North Carolina, is planning on breaking ground for this inclusive project in 2019. The inspiration came after planners heard about the difficulties some families face when it comes to finding places where their children feel welcome. "You know, it really broke my heart when I started talking to parents that when they have children with special needs, that they avoid playgrounds," Dean Penny of the Clayton Recreational Foundation told WRAL.

Harmony Playground's design takes into account all kinds of special needs and disabilities; for example, the sidewalks will be at different elevations, so a child in a wheelchair will be able to wheel down to the lower level. Several businesses in the area are supporting the effort and helping raise funds, and the town is about halfway to its goal of $800,000. Catherine Garcia

12:55a.m.

Dennis Hof, a Republican candidate for the Nevada state legislature, died on Tuesday, but that might help him get even more votes, his campaign manager said Wednesday.

Hof, 72, owned five legal brothels and a strip club, wrote the book The Art of the Pimp, and appeared on the HBO show Cathouse. His name will stay on the ballot, campaign manager Chuck Muth told Reuters, and he has several things going for him — not only are there more registered Republicans than Democrats in his state Assembly district, but "there are a lot of Republicans who were uncomfortable voting for Dennis because of the nature of his business and they now know that he is not the one who will be serving. They will feel much more comfortable casting the ballot for him knowing there will be another Republican to replace him."

Assembly District 36 covers three counties, and if Hof wins, each county's board of commissioners would nominate a candidate to fill the vacancy, then hold a joint meeting to discuss the nominees and pick one to replace Hof before the 2019 legislative session starts, The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Catherine Garcia

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