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Toxic bushfire haze blankets eastern Australia

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Toxic haze blanketed Sydney Tuesday triggering a chorus of smoke alarms to ring across the city and forcing school children inside, as “severe” weather conditions fuelled deadly bush blazes along Australia’s east coast.

Fire engines raced office-to-office in the city centre with sirens blaring, as inland bushfires poured smoke laden with toxic particles into commercial buildings.

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Emergency services responded to an “unprecedented” 500 automatic call-outs inside a few hours according to New South Wales Fire and Rescue’s Roger Mentha.

A regional fire headquarters miles from the nearest blazes was itself evacuated while throngs of mask-wearing commuters choked their way through thick acrid air and the organisers of a harbour yacht race declared it was unsafe to proceed.

AFP / Laurence CHU Australia haze

“The smoke from all the fires is just so severe here on the harbour that you just can’t see anything, so it’s just too dangerous,” said spokeswoman Di Pearson of an event that normally foreshadows the famed Sydney-Hobart yacht race. “The vision is just so poor.”

Some of the city’s commuter ferries were also cancelled “due to thick smoke” and school kids were kept inside at breaktime and sent home early as pollution levels soared far above “hazardous” levels.

For weeks the east of the country has been smothered in smoke as drought and climate-fuelled bushfires have burned. But the scale of the problem on Tuesday shocked even hardened residents.

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Bruce Baker — an 82-year-old who lives in Gosford, north of Sydney — said he was skipping his daily morning walk because of the smoke.

“This is the worst it’s been, for sure,” he told AFP. “It dries your throat. Even if you’re not asthmatic, you feel it.”

Authorities recommended that the vulnerable cease outdoor activity altogether and that everyone stay inside as much as possible, although one couple braved the toxic air to get married on the waterfront in front of Sydney Harbour Bridge shrouded in smog.

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A cricket match between New South Wales and Queensland also went ahead, despite a barely visible ball.

AFP / DAVID GRAY ddddThe Sydney Harbour Bridge is enveloped in haze as a couple get married on the shore

Tuesday had been expected to bring strong winds and high temperatures that made for “severe conditions where embers can be blown ahead of the fire into suburbs and threaten properties.”

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But New South Wales Rural Fire Service said “deteriorating fire conditions have been delayed by a thick blanket of smoke” over the east of the state.

As the day developed there were nearly 100 bushfire incidents in the state of New South Wales alone and dozens more in Queensland.

Total fire bans were put in place across much of the east of the country and in large parts of western Australia.

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Temperatures in some inland areas eased past 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit).

– The ‘big dry’ –

To the northwest of Sydney, several fires already burning for weeks have combined to create a “megafire” that has already destroyed 319,000 hectares (788,000 acres) of land, mostly inside national parks.

AFP / SAEED KHAN The toxic haze has made conditions on the water hazardous, with a harbour yacht race cancelled because of poor visibility

Prime Minister Scott Morrison — who for weeks has not commented on the smoke haze — defended his government’s handling of the fires and said there were no plans to professionalise the countryside’s largely volunteer force.

“Our policy is sensible when it comes to addressing and taking action on climate change. Our actions on climate change are getting the results they’re intended to get,” he said.

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Morrison’s conservative coalition has been criticised by former fire chiefs for failing to heed warnings about climate change.

AFP / SAEED KHAN dddFirefighters have deliberately started small blazes — a practice known as ‘back burning’ — to reduce the fuel available to uncontrolled fires

The crisis has been propelled by a prolonged drought that has made vegetation tinder dry.

The Bureau of Meteorology has reported that Australia experienced its driest November on record this year.

The “big dry” has left farmers desperate and small towns facing the prospect of running out of water completely.

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A swathe of the east of the country has seen “rainfall deficiencies” since early 2017 — almost three years.

Many dams in New South Wales are empty and almost all are well below capacity.

Firefighters south of Brisbane recently reported 1,000 litres of water were stolen from tanks at their station.

Amid the shortage, Tuesday also saw the toughest water restrictions in a decade being introduced for Sydney — with curbs on everything from hosepipe use to washing cars.


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MSNBC’s ‘demotion’ of ‘feckless’ Chuck Todd celebrated: ‘Hurray! More Nicolle, less Chuck’

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MSNBC host Chuck Todd was moved to an earlier timeslot where his show, "Meet the Press Daily," will likely earn lower ratings. Meanwhile, Nicolle Wallace seems to have been promoted to a two-hour timeslot leading into primetime.

Wallace, who has extensive experience in Washington, previously served in George W. Bush's White House until abandoning the GOP as the era of Trump came to power.

Todd has made several missteps where he's been unwilling to press GOP leaders who lie openly and obviously on camera.

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George Conway blasts ‘blundering cheat’ Trump in new op-ed: ‘His name should live in infamy’

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Prominent conservative attorney George T. Conway III has written yet another Washington Post op-ed blasting President Donald Trump.

"If there’s one thing we know about President Trump, it’s that he lies and he cheats. Endlessly," Conway wrote. "And shamelessly. But still, mostly, incompetently."

"So it should have come as no surprise that Trump finally went where no U.S. president had ever gone before. In a tweet last week, he actually suggested that the country 'Delay the Election.' That trial balloon was a brazen effort to see if he can defraud his way into four more years in the White House," he explained. "And why not try? After all, Trump has managed to swindle his way through life, on matters large and small, essential and trivial."

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Trump’s ‘delay the election’ tweet laid the groundwork for him and his followers to have an excuse if he loses

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Writing in The New York Times this Monday, Gail Collins and Bret Stephens discuss their contention that President Trump is seeing the writing on the wall regarding the 2020 election, an analysis born from his recent tweet where he suggests delaying the election.

According to Stephens, Trump's tweet is a sign that he knows "in his heart" that he's going to lose in November.

"He’s laying the groundwork not for a coup but for an excuse, both for himself and for his followers," Stephens says. "It creates a mythology to explain defeat, attack Joe Biden and keep the Trump family relevant in the Republican Party. The fact that he’d pull a stunt like this is another reason it’s so important that he lose in a landslide in November."

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