TIME weather

Floods in Vulnerable Houston No Surprise, Despite Controls

"Houston is so vulnerable"

(HOUSTON) — The flooding, property damage and loss of life as torrential rains this week hit the Houston area should be no surprise.

“It happens fairly frequently,” says Sam Brody, director of Texas A&M University’s Center for Beaches and Shores. “Houston is the No. 1 city in America to be injured and die in a flood.”

The Harris County Flood Control District, the agency working in recent years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on hundreds of millions of dollars in projects to ease the flooding impact, has been around since 1937, itself a product of catastrophic flooding two years earlier.

“Houston is so vulnerable,” Brody, who’s been studying the issue for 15 years, said Wednesday. “There’s very little topography. They’ve added hundreds of miles of pavement and can’t keep up with all the positive initiatives. … So we get these floods.”

Flood control efforts on Buffalo Bayou alone, one of several that meander throughout the nation’s fourth-largest city, have cost a half-billion dollars over the past decade. They’ve included bridge replacements, and the addition of detention ponds for rain runoff and green spaces that serve as parks in normal times.

One flooded area in southwest Houston, known as Meyerland, where about 8 ½ inches of rain fell this week, particularly benefited from the improvements of recent years, according to Kim Jackson, spokeswoman for the flood control district that oversees 2,500 miles of channels countywide.

“Prior to construction of the stormwater detentions basins upstream … there would have been more homes flooded by a storm of the same magnitude,” she said.

Experts, however, say flood control has been offset by the population boom around Houston, one of the fastest-growing areas in the nation, and a Texas tradition of strong personal property and land use rights that mean fewer regulations.

“Houston may be doing things to try to improve … but there’s a long history of pre-existing stuff that is still there,” said Walter Peacock, an urban planning professor at Texas A&M and director of the school’s Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center.

“Think about every time you put in a road, a mall and you add concrete, you’ve lost the ability of rain to get into the soil and you’ve lost that permeability,” Peacock said. “It’s now impermeable. And therefore you get more runoff.”

The serious flood history of the region goes back nearly to Houston’s founding in 1836. That’s when two New York real estate brokers, brothers John and Augustus Allen, sold people on the idea of a establishing a town at the confluence of Buffalo and White Oak Bayous, or precisely where cars Tuesday were buried in water on an entrance to Interstate 45. Dozens more vehicles succumbed to high water less than a mile up the interstate, which tends to flood in that spot even in a routine storm.

The first in Houston was recorded in 1843. The flood district’s 20th-century timeline shows three dozen floods of note.

“Bottom line is, we live on the Texas Gulf Coast and we have a lot of in a low-lying area, and we have to deal with that,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, the county’s top administrator, said.

This week’s flooding was labeled historic, but the devastation from Hurricane Ike in 2008, primarily a wind event, and Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 was exponentially worse.

Allison is the storm of recent record in Houston; it left behind $5 billion in damages and flooding wide swaths of the city, including downtown and the famed Texas Medical Center.

FEMA reported Allison dumped 32 trillion gallons of water. Early estimates for this week’s storm are a fraction of that — 162 billion gallons, with about 4,000 homes reporting damage. In Allison, 73,000 homes were damaged, plus 95,000 cars and trucks. Thirty people died in the Houston area, including 22 in Harris County. The death count Wednesday here was seven. About 2,500 cars were abandoned.

Even though Houston is 50 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, any flood control efforts are under the specter of possible rising sea levels that will bring “ongoing consequences” for rivers and canals, according to Peacock.

New Orleans, no stranger to flooding, is seen as especially susceptible to rising sea levels. The Louisiana coast has been steadily eroding, losing 1,900 square miles since the 1930s, and making the area more vulnerable to storms such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In 2012, Louisiana officials announced an ambitious $50 billion, 50-year proposal to stop coastal land loss and build new levee systems to protect vulnerable cities.

Similarly, sea levels along hurricane-prone Florida’s coastline are rising faster than previously measured, according to federal estimates, and are blamed for increasingly frequent nuisance flooding from Jacksonville to Key West. As a result, environmental conservation projects aren’t keeping up with the accelerated pace of the sea level rise.

Associated Press reporters Rebecca Santana in New Orleans and Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this story.

TIME Crime

Colorado Gunman’s Notebook of Ramblings Becomes Evidence

Holmes Shooting Notebook
AP A portion of Aurora shooter James Holmes' notebook, after it was presented as evidence in the Holmes murder trial on May 26, 2015, in Centennial, Colo.

Copies of a journal kept by the man on trial for the Aurora theater shooting have been distributed to the jury that will help determine his fate

A notebook containing James Holmes’s ramblings, sketches and thoughts on topics ranging from the meaning of life to murder was presented on Tuesday at his trial for the 2012 mass shooting in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater that killed 12 people and injured 70 others.

It’s a key piece of evidence for prosecutors trying to prove the 27-year-old plotted the killings and for defense lawyers who argue he was experiencing a psychotic episode on July 20, when he opened fire on moviegoers at a premiere of The Dark Knight Rises.

Holmes’s notebook reveals references to violence and death and is stepped in nihilism. He writes about a “self diagnosis of broken mind” and several pages are covered with the question “Why?” over and over again. “When mankind can’t find truth,” he mentions at one point, “untruth is converted to truth via violence.”

The former doctoral student in neuroscience is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Holmes sent the notebook to his University of Colorado psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton, eight days before the shooting, but the package was not discovered until several days after the massacre. Fenton had warned authorities that Holmes was a danger to the public.

Holmes describes in the journal a number of fantasies about different ways to kill, but quickly rules them out. He says a bomb is too regulated and suspicious, biological warfare requires extensive knowledge of chemicals and serial murder is “too personal, too much evidence, easily caught after few kills” before settling on a “mass murder spree.” He writes that he chose this method because it would provide “maximum casualties, easily performed with firearms, although primitive in nature. No fear of consequences, being caught 99% certain.”

At one point, he rules out certain venues, like airports, because he didn’t want his mass killing to be misinterpreted as a terrorist act. Airports have “too much of a terrorist history,” he writes. “Terrorism isn’t the message. The message is there is no message.” The journal also includes diagrams of different theaters within the movie complex, as well as pros and cons for each one.

“And finally, the last escape, mass murder at the movies,” he writes. “Obsession onset: > 10 years ago.”

Holmes describes his psychological struggles as “the real me is fighting the biological me,” and notes that work and romantic failures aren’t the reason for his action, although both are “expediting catalysts.” Instead, he claims, his “state of mind for the last 15 years” is to blame for his actions.

He notes a particular set of symptoms and behaviors that accompanied his self-diagnoses of a “broken mind,” including a “recurring return to mirror to look at appearance, particular attention focused on hair styling. 10+ times a day.” At the time of the shooting, Holmes’s hair was dyed a bright red-orange. He also describes at least one childhood accident that injured his genitals, which he alleges led to an “allergic reaction to sex.”

In one particularly chilling passage, Holmes alludes to the name of the movie he selected for the attack: “I was fear incarnate. Love gone, motivation directed to hate and obsessions, which didnt disapear for whatever reason with the drugs,” he writes. “No consequences, no fear, alone, isolated, no work for distractions, no reason to seek self -actualization. Embraced the hatred, a dark knight rises.”

TIME justice

Cleveland Police Restrictions by DOJ Among the Most Extensive, Expert Says

Cleveland Police Shooting Protest
Tony Dejak—AP Protesters congregate in front of city hall Tuesday, May 26, 2015, in Cleveland. Members of about 40 churches are protesting the acquittal of a white patrolman charged in the deaths of two unarmed black motorists with a march through downtown Cleveland.

The 110-page report's mandates rank alongside New Orleans' requirements

The U.S. Department of Justice’s 110-page settlement agreement with the Cleveland Police Department released Tuesday includes one of the most extensive sets of restrictions ever placed upon a law enforcement agency, according to a federally appointed monitor working on a similar case.

The agreement requires Cleveland’s police to adopt hundreds of new policies and procedures to fix what the federal government has called a pattern of systemic abuses and unconstitutional practices. It includes mandates to adopt community policing strategies, prohibitions on use of force for people who are handcuffed or restrained and restrictions on firing from and at moving vehicles, as well as extensive mandates on logging use of force incidents—including each time officers unholster their weapons.

The agreement also includes a mandate to invest in police resources like computers, vehicles and other equipment. Geoffrey Alpert, a federally appointed monitor working with police in New Orleans, says he’s never seen a DOJ agreement that included a pledge to boost resources.

“I think that’s essentially the Justice Department saying, ‘Part of the problem is you didn’t fund your police department adequately,'” Alpert says.

Alpert monitors the implementation of what is generally considered the most extensive comprehensive agreement handed down by the DOJ to a law enforcement agency: the 2012 consent decree involving New Orleans police.

MORE: The Problems With Policing the Police

Following a DOJ report that found a history of corruption, use of excessive force and discrimination throughout New Orleans police, the government issued a 122-page agreement calling for a new reporting system to track all use of force incidents; prohibiting threats of violence during suspect interviews; requiring recordings of all interrogations; and even offering guidelines on how officers should refer to transgender residents.

But just as important, says Alpert, the agreement was the first to include outcome measures to determine whether the department was fulfilling its mandated requirements. And since then, he believes the DOJ agreements with departments like Ferguson, Mo., Newark, N.J., and Albuquerque, N.M., have improved over time for each agency.

“Justice has a learning curve,” Alpert says, referring to the DOJ. “You learn from your mistakes, and the agreements after those are oftentimes better versions.”

As the department implements its reforms, Cleveland is awaiting a decision on whether officers will be charged in the deaths last fall of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was fatally shot as he was playing with a replica gun, and Tanisha Anderson, who died following an altercation with police. Rice’s family is suing the police department for negligence.

Last week, a judge acquitted Officer Michael Brelo, who is white, in the shooting deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, both of whom were black. Officers fired 137 shots into their vehicle following a police chase. Brelo, who was acquitted of manslaughter, fired 15 shots into the car after climbing onto its hood. Last year, Cleveland settled a lawsuit with the victims’ families over their deaths.

TIME Aviation

Air France Flight Had a Close Call With a Volcano

Passengers were said to be unaware of the incident

An Air France flight flew a little too close to an African volcano earlier this month.

Flight AF 953 was traveling on May 2 from Malabo in Equatorial Guinea to Douala, Cameroon, and according to Air France the pilots aimed to avoid a storm by taking a route close to Mount Cameroon. The plane’s proximity to the active volcano set off an alarm, and according to CNN, the pilots quickly responded by flying from 9,000 feet to 13,000 feet. The passengers were said to be unaware of the incident.

Air France says its pilots undergo regular training for this type of scenario. The company is conducting an internal investigation, and is supplying its crews with more specifics on how to land near Douala.

“Air France’s priority is to ensure the highest safety standards in all circumstances,” the company said in a statement. “Air France has always chosen the best equipment for flight safety and places great importance on the monitoring of its crews.”

TIME animals

Cow Bolts From Slaughterhouse Only to Be Killed Near McDonald’s

Cincinnati police won't be investigating the matter

A cow that had apparently broken out of a slaughterhouse on Wednesday morning has met its death, authorities in Cincinnati said.

The animal escaped the Tri State Beef Co, causing at least one passerby to document its freedom on social media.

The meat wholesaler followed the cow, which police described to Cincinnati.com as “confused” and “nervous,” eventually killing it near a McDonald’s.

Police said there were no injuries as a result of the incident and that there would be no investigation into the matter.

TIME Aid

Most Foreign Aid Does Not Go to Neediest Countries, Report Finds

Advocacy group ONE urges donor nations to designate 50% of their aid budgets to "least-developed countries"

Amazing strides have been made in reducing poverty worldwide over the last quarter century — the rate has halved since 1990, from 36% of the world’s population to 18% — but rather than clapping themselves on the back, aid organizations are now calling for rich nations to go even further, and help eradicate “extreme poverty” altogether.

Extreme poverty is defined as living on no more than $1.25 a day, a figure that encapsulates not only an absence of cash, but often of clean water, education, and even a meal. The circumstance still applies to more than 1.2 billion people, a disproportionate number of whom live in Africa, where poverty has actually increased. Yet most foreign aid goes to countries that are better off.

“We all find it quite surprising how little—32%—of U.S. aid goes to the poorest countries,” says Tom Hart, North America director of the advocacy group ONE, which on Tuesday released a 127-page report calling for donor nations to designate 50% of their aid budgets to “least-developed countries.”

The 50% goal is at the heart of a new global strategy against poverty, aimed at picking up with the conclusion of the 15-year international campaign known as where the Millennium Development Goals. The new effort, dubbed Sustainable Development Goals, will be articulated at a conference in Ethiopia in July, and adopted in the months beyond by assorted convocations of the international bodies ranging from the G-20 to the Committee on World Food Security.

But the brow-beating has already begun, as advocates struggle both to correct misperceptions about foreign aid among the U.S. public, and lobby Washington and other major donors to direct the roughly $140-billion they give each year to where it is most needed.

The fact is that only about 1% of the U.S. federal budget goes to foreign aid. The average American thinks it’s more like 28%, according to a Kaiser poll from earlier this year. And though that American is likely to shelve reflexive objections to the spending when informed of the reality, polls show that the misperception persists year after year.

Advocates for aid believe it can be more effective with the advent of technology that allows aid dollars to be tracked at every stage, including the stages where some of those dollars have in the past disappeared into the pockets of corrupt foreign officials.

The new global strategy expects more of receiving governments — calling for each to provide a basic package of health and education services, with help from donors as needed. For example, Liberia, which was an epicenter of the Ebola outbreak last year, spends $6 per person on basic services each year; it needs to spend $300, and requires $317 million to make up the difference.

The new strategy also calls for specifically directing aid to women and girls. “Poverty is sexist,” the ONE report states, noting that by almost every measure life is harder for women and girls in the poorest countries than it is for men. But at the same time, helping females serves to lift the whole of the societies in which they are so central.

“When we invest in girls and woman, that has more catalytic results that pulls everybody out of poverty,” says Eloise Todd, global policy director for the ONE campaign. Over time, that investment should be made as directly as possible, not necessarily through governments, adds Gargee Ghosh, director of policy and finance for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “We need to focus more on poor people,” Ghosh says.

But the first message to rich countries is that they need to focus on the poorest. Of 29 donors, only Iceland directed more than 50 percent of its aid to the least developed countries. “Something’s going really wrong in the way a lot of donors are allocating their aid,” says Todd. “Finding the end of extreme poverty is going to be a lot harder than the previous 15 years.”

TIME weather

May Is Already the Wettest Month in Texas History

A home on the Blanco River was taken off its foundation after heavy overnight rain caused flash flooding in Wimberley, Texas, May 24, 2015.
Rodolfo Gonzalez—AP A home on the Blanco River was taken off its foundation after heavy overnight rain caused flash flooding in Wimberley, Texas, May 24, 2015.

'It has been one continuous storm after another'

Flooding in Texas has taken the lives of at least 19 people and caused a virtual standstill across the state with school closings and road closures. It turns out all that rainfall has also set at least one new record: May 2015 is now the wettest month in state history, with over four days still to go.

Across Texas, the average rainfall in May has measured 7.54 inches, beating the June 2004 record of 6.66 inches, according to figures provided by the Office of the State Climatologist at Texas A&M University. The wettest region, located adjacent to Dallas-Fort Worth area, has received more than 20 inches of rain.

“It has been one continuous storm after another for the past week to 10 days in several regions of the state,” State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said in a statement. “It has rained so much that the ground just can’t soak any more moisture into it, and many creeks and rivers are above flood stage.”

The beginning of El Niño and the flow of wet air from the South have both contributed to the record downpour, according to Nielsen-Gammon. He predicted that the wet weather should change within the next few days.

In some parts of the state, rivers and reservoirs went from 20% to 100% capacity in the past month. Still, a drought remained in other parts of America’s largest contiguous state.

TIME Law

Nebraska Abolishes Death Penalty in Landmark Vote

Nebraska lawmakers debate in Lincoln, Neb. on May 27, 2015, whether to override Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto of a death penalty repeal bill, in a vote that would make it the first traditionally conservative state to abolish capital punishment in more than four decades.
Nati Harnik—AP Nebraska lawmakers debate in Lincoln, Neb. on May 27, 2015, whether to override Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto of a death penalty repeal bill, in a vote that would make it the first traditionally conservative state to abolish capital punishment in more than four decades.

Nebraska becomes the first traditionally conservative state to eliminate the punishment since North Dakota in 1973

(LINCOLN, Neb.) — Nebraska abolished the death penalty on Wednesday over the governor’s objections in a move pushed through the Legislature with unusual backing from conservatives who oppose capital punishment for religious, financial or practical reasons.

Senators in the one-house Legislature voted 30-19 to override the veto of Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican who supports the death penalty. The vote makes Nebraska the first traditionally conservative state to eliminate the punishment since North Dakota in 1973.

The override vote — passed by the narrowest possible margin — drew a burst of applause from death penalty opponents in the gallery above the legislative chamber.

“Whenever anything historic occurs, it’s never the doing of one person,” said Sen. Ernie Chambers, an independent who introduced a repeal measure 38 times during his tenure in the Legislature. “I’ve been pushing for this for 40 years but all of this time it’s never been done. If it could be done by one man, it would have been done a long time ago.”

Nebraska joins 18 other states and the District of Columbia in banning the ultimate punishment. Shortly after the vote, Ricketts issued a statement condemning the Legislature.

“My words cannot express how appalled I am that we have lost a critical tool to protect law enforcement and Nebraska families,” Ricketts said in a statement. “While the Legislature has lost touch with the citizens of Nebraska, I will continue to stand with Nebraskans and law enforcement on this important issue.”

Nebraska’s action to repeal the death penalty is unusual because of its traditionally conservative leanings. Maryland was the last state to end capital punishment, in 2013. Three other moderate-to-liberal states have done so in recent years: New Mexico in 2009, Illinois in 2011 and Connecticut in 2012.

Some senators said they philosophically support the death penalty but became convinced the state will never carry out another execution because of legal obstacles. Nebraska hasn’t executed an inmate since a 1997 electrocution, and the state has never done so with its current lethal injection protocol.

Nebraska lost its ability to execute inmates in December 2013, when one of the three lethal injection drugs required by state law expired. Many senators were swayed by the fact that the death penalty has repeatedly tried but failed to administer the punishment.

Some Republican senators said they listened carefully to leaders in the Catholic church who opposed capital punishment. Others argued that the death penalty ran against their belief that government programs are poorly managed and inefficient.

“The taxpayers have not gotten the bang for their buck on this death penalty for almost 20 years,” said Sen. Colby Coash, a Republican and death penalty opponent. “This program is broken. How many years will people stand up and say we need this?”

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, a Democrat and death penalty opponent, said many votes appeared to be swayed by the argument that the state would never again carry out an execution.

“This wouldn’t have happened without the fiscally responsible Republicans who aren’t just beholden to conservative talking points, but are thoughtful about policy,” Nordquist said.

Not all conservative senators embraced the repeal. Minutes after the vote, Republican state Sen. Beau McCoy announced the formation of a campaign committee that will consider putting the issue on the statewide ballot in 2016.

“I’m clearly very disappointed in what just took place, but this fight will continue,” said McCoy, a death penalty proponent.

Ricketts announced this month that the state has purchased two of the drugs that the state now lacks, but opponents have said they still aren’t convinced Nebraska will be able to resume executions. On Tuesday, Republican Attorney General Doug Peterson implored lawmakers to give state officials more time to prepare.

Nebraska’s officially nonpartisan Legislature is comprised of 35 registered Republicans, 13 Democrats and an independent.

The last time lawmakers passed a death penalty repeal bill was in 1979, but senators at the time didn’t have enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto.

Nebraska now has 10 men on death row, after one died on Sunday of natural causes. Michael Ryan spent three decades on death row for the 1985 cult killings of two people, including a 5-year-old boy. During a legislative hearing earlier this year, Chambers testified that Ryan had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

TIME gambling

World Series of Poker Gambles on Luring New Players

World Series of Poker, Poker, Gambling, Jorryt van Hoof
John Locher—AP Jorryt van Hoof places a bet during the final night of the World Series of Poker final table in Las Vegas on Nov. 11, 2014.

This year's tournament is designed to attract more of the recreational players priced out of higher-stakes events

The World Series of Poker is betting that smaller stakes will sweeten the pots this year.

The globe’s biggest annual poker bash begins May 27 in Las Vegas, with the first of 68 individual tournaments that last year paid out more than $227 million in prizes. And while the 46th running of the World Series will still boast its share of big buy-in events—including the $10,000 Main Event World Championship in July and a high-roller event that costs $111,111 to enter—this year’s tournaments are designed to lure some of the recreational players priced out of the larger games.

For the first time in its history, the World Series is running a $565 event for gamblers who don’t want to fork over four figures to get in on the action. The debut of the “Colossus,” which begins Friday and has a $5 million guaranteed prize pool, is part of a strategy to boost participation rates by spreading the wealth.

Unlike last year, there is no $1 million buy-in event on the calendar in this Series. And the 2015 Main Event, which begins July 5, will no longer guarantee $10 million to the big winner. Instead it is designed to pay at least 1,000 entrants, up from last year’s 695. (The tournament is still expected to award some $8 million to the last player standing.) These are among several adjustments, like more starting chips, implemented this year to make the format more friendly to recreational players.

“Now more than ever, the WSOP has something for everyone,” WSOP executive director Ty Stewart said in a statement.

The tweaks also reflect the challenges poker is grappling with in the wake of the Department of Justice’s 2011 crackdown on Internet gaming. By curtailing access to online poker, regulators blocked the surest path for most recreational players to win their way into the Worst Series. The number of entrants in the Main Event has slipped about 25% since its peak in 2006, which took place amid a poker boom fueled by hole-card camera technology and televised coverage on ESPN.

In response, the World Series has diversified its offerings, running lower-stakes regional tournaments around the U.S. and expanding internationally to Europe, Asia and Australia.

But the juiciest action is still at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, where beginning May 27, anyone over 21 with a chip and chair has a chance to make a million.

TIME Accidents

Tracy Morgan Settles Lawsuit With Walmart Over Highway Crash

In this April 9, 2014 file photo, actor Tracy Morgan attends the FX Networks Upfront premiere screening of "Fargo" at the SVA Theater in New York.
Greg Allen—Invision/AP In this April 9, 2014 file photo, actor Tracy Morgan attends the FX Networks Upfront premiere screening of "Fargo" at the SVA Theater in New York.

A Walmart truck had crashed into the back of a limo van carrying Morgan

(NEWARK, N.J.) — Actor-comedian Tracy Morgan has settled his lawsuit against Wal-Mart over a New Jersey highway crash that killed one man and left Morgan and two friends seriously injured.

A filing in federal court in Newark on Wednesday refers to a confidential settlement reached by the two sides.

Morgan’s lawyer hasn’t responded to a message seeking comment.

Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. calls it an “amicable settlement.” Details haven’t been disclosed.

A Wal-Mart truck slammed into the back of a limo van carrying Morgan and the others back from a show in Delaware last June. Comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair was killed. Morgan suffered head trauma, a broken leg and broken ribs.

Wal-Mart reached a settlement with McNair’s two children in January.

The truck driver, a man from Jonesboro, Georgia, faces several criminal charges, including death by auto, in state court. He has pleaded not guilty. He wasn’t a defendant in Morgan’s federal lawsuit.

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