All posts by MBusiness

Last Holden Rolls Off Factory Line in Australia

The last mass-produced car designed and built in Australia rolled off General Motors Co.’s production line in the industrial city of Adelaide on Friday as the nation reluctantly bid farewell to its auto manufacturing industry.

GM Holden Ltd., an Australian subsidiary of the U.S. automotive giant, built its last car almost 70 years after it created Australia’s first, the FX Holden, in 1948.

Since then, an array of carmakers including Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Chrysler and Leyland have built and closed manufacturing plants in Australia.

Clocking out for last time

After the last gleaming red Holden VF Commodore, a six-cylinder rear-wheel drive sedan, left the plant in the Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth that had grown over decades to provide its workforce, 955 factory workers will clock off the last time

“It’s pretty tragic really that we’ve let go probably one of the best cars around the world,” an auto painter who identified himself as Kane told reporters.

The 36-year-old was worked at Holden for 17 years and starts a new job with an air conditioner manufacturer Monday. But he knows many other former Holden employees won’t find jobs so quickly.

Dozens of Holden enthusiasts gathered outside the factory, bringing with them generations of Holdens dating back to favored FJ models that were built between 1953 and 1956.

South Australia state Premier Jay Weatherill said car manufacturing was seminal to the state’s industrial know-how.

“It has provided the backbone for our manufacturing capability in this state,” Weatherill told reporters. “It’s given us … the capacity to imagine ourselves as an advanced manufacturing state.”

​Iconic Australian brand

Holden is an iconic Australian brand and has been a source of national pride for generations.

The V8 Holden Commodore has sold in the United States since 2013 as the Chevrolet SS.

The brand will survive although Holdens will all now be imported from GM plants around the globe.

Holden retains design and engineering teams, a global design studio, a local testing ground, 1,000 employees and a 200-strong national dealer network.

The brand that became known as “Australia’s own car,” accounted for more than half the new cars registered in Australia by 1958.

The reasons behind the demise of Australian auto manufacturing are numerous.

The first Holden cars were built in an era of high Australian tariffs and preferential trade with former colonial master Britain, which encouraged global carmakers to set up local factories to increase market share.

Australian import tariffs have since tumbled through bilateral free trade deals with car manufacturing countries like the United States, Japan, China, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia.

The Holden workers’ union blames a lack of government support through subsidies for GM’s decision to end manufacturing.

There had been debate about whether the 7 billion Australian dollars ($5.5 billion) that the government spent on the car industry in subsidies since 2001 was worth the jobs that it created.

“We’re not just losing a car, we’re not just losing an industrial capability. We’re losing an icon and that is a tragedy,” Labor lawmaker Nick Champion, who represents the Holden factory region, told reporters Thursday.

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Workers at iPhone Supplier in China Protest Unpaid Bonuses

Hundreds of workers streamed through dark streets, blocking an entrance to an Apple iPhone supplier’s factory in eastern China to protest unpaid bonuses and factory reassignments, two witnesses and China Labor Watch, a New York based non-profit group, said Thursday.

The protest Wednesday night at Jabil Inc.’s Green Point factory in Wuxi city prompted Apple to launch an investigation and vow to redress the payment discrepancies. “We are requiring Jabil to send a comprehensive employee survey to ascertain where gaps exist in payment and they must create an action plan that ensures all employees are paid for the promised bonus immediately,” Apple said Thursday in an email to China Labor Watch.

The incident highlights the complexity of overseeing global supply chains that can involve hundreds of manufacturers and subcontractors, as well as third-party labor brokers — and their subcontractors — that are tasked with recruiting workers for those factories. Companies differ in the amount of responsibility they are willing to take on. Apple stepped up oversight and disclosure following a spate of negative reports about worker suicides and injuries at suppliers.

After Tim Cook took over as chief executive, in 2011, Apple began publicly identifying top suppliers. It also publishes annual audits detailing labor and human rights performance throughout its global web of suppliers. Apple said it did comprehensive audits of 705 sites last year and documented significant improvements in compliance with its supplier code of conduct.

“About 600 workers went protesting for failing to get their bonus,” a worker who asked that only his family name, Zhang, be published for fear of retribution, said Thursday. He said that like many of his colleagues, he was promised a bonus of up to 7,000 yuan ($1,056) if he stayed for 45 days when he signed up for the job through a labor broker. “It has already been over three months but I still haven’t got the money,” he said.

Tu Changli, a security guard at Jabil’s Green Point factory, said a labor broker promised him 2,000 yuan ($302) if he stayed for two months. “I didn’t get it at all,” he said. He also said he saw hundreds of workers protesting. The company he said he works for, Wu Tai Security Co., declined comment.

A spokeswoman for U.S.-based Jabil, Lydia Huang, disputed those accounts, saying only 20 to 40 employees were actually protesting and the rest were night-shift workers trying to enter the factory. “As long as they can present evidence of promises by brokers we will help them to get paid,” she said.

Jabil, in a statement late Thursday, said it was “committed to ensuring every employee is paid fairly and on time.”

Tensions had been running high at Jabil’s Green Point factory. Tu, the security guard, said he saw a worker talked down from the edge of a rooftop in late September. And Zhang said that on Sept. 30, he saw a security guard hit a worker with a wooden stick so hard the stick broke.

Apple in its email to China Labor Watch said both incidents had to do with disputes with security guards, not underpayment, and added that it was working with Jabil “to make sure their security guards are properly trained to avoid and de-escalate situations.”

The current iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 plus had a 2 percent share of the iOS device market nearly a month after their launch, significantly lagging the 5 percent share grabbed by the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 plus at a similar point last year, according to Localytics, a mobile engagement platform that analyzes iPhone adoption rates. Analysts attribute iPhone 8 sluggishness to the pending release of the iPhone X.

 

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Missouri Proposes Innovation Corridor for Amazon’s 2nd Home

Missouri officials were submitting a bid Thursday for Amazon’s second headquarters that would involve an innovation corridor between Kansas City and St. Louis rather than a single location in one of the state’s major metropolitan areas.

 

That’s proposal is in addition to individual applications submitted by Kansas City and St. Louis, two of a number of North American metropolitan areas vying to become the company’s second home. Amazon in September opened the search for a second headquarters and promised to spend more than $5 billion on the site. The Seattle-based company says it would bring up to 50,000 jobs.

 

Missouri Chief Operating Officer Drew Erdmann said the state’s bid could be aided if it succeeds in landing a high-speed Hyperloop track connecting the cities.

 

 

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US Unemployment Claims Fall to 222,000, Lowest in 44 Years

The number of Americans collecting unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level since Richard Nixon was president.

THE NUMBERS: The Labor Department said Thursday that claims for jobless aid dropped by 22,000 to 222,000, fewest since March 1973. The less volatile four-week average slid by 9,500 to 248,250, lowest since late August.

 

The overall number of Americans collecting unemployment checks dropped to 1.89 million, lowest since December 1973 and down nearly 9 percent from a year ago.

 

THE TAKEAWAY: Unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs. The low level suggests that employers are confident enough in the economy to hold onto workers.

 

The unemployment rate last month hit a 16-year low 4.2 percent. Employers cut 33,000 jobs in September — the first monthly drop in nearly seven years — but only because Hurricanes Harvey and Irma rattled the economies of Texas and Florida; hiring is expected to bounce back.

 

KEY DRIVERS: The economic impact of Harvey and Irma is fading; claims dropped in Texas and Florida as more people returned to work. But the Labor Department said that Hurricanes Irma and Maria have disrupted the ability of people to file claims in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

 

 

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Dow closes above 23,000 for first time; IBM soars

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 23,000 for the first time on Wednesday, driven by a jump in IBM after it hinted at a return to revenue growth.

The Dow hit 22,000 on Aug. 2, only 54 trading days earlier and roughly half the time it took the index to move from 21,000 to 22,000. This marks the fourth time this year the Dow has reached a 1,000-point milestone.

“Retail investors continue to pour into the marketplace, and with each headline about a new record, and especially round numbers like that, people tend to feel like they’re missing out and you kind of suck more people into the market,” said Ian Winer, head of equities at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

“Ultimately, the only way you’re going to top is by getting everybody all in. And we’re getting close.”

Investors globally pulled $33.7 billion from U.S. equity funds during the third quarter, according to Thomson Reuters’ Lipper research unit. The funds are on course to post net outflows for the full year.

Shares of IBM, which beat expectations on revenue, jumped 8.9 percent and accounted for about 90 points of the day’s 160 point-gain in the blue-chip index.

Solid earnings, stronger economic growth and hopes that President Donald Trump may be able to make progress on tax cuts have helped the market rally this year.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq also hit record closing highs.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 160.16 points, or 0.7 percent, to end at 23,157.6, the S&P 500 gained 1.9 points, or 0.07 percent, to 2,561.26 and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.56 point, or 0.01 percent, to 6,624.22.

“Today the catalyst is clearly IBM … which appears to have turned the corner. It gave the Dow the boost to stay over 23,000,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.

The Dow had briefly surpassed the all-time peak on Tuesday but closed just shy of it.

The financial index jumped 0.6 percent, led by bank stocks recovering from recent post-earnings losses. Bullish calls by brokerages helped to support the bank shares.

Bank shares had run up ahead of recent results, which resulted in some selling following the news, Krosby said.

Investors await news on Trump’s decision on the Federal Reserve chair position. The White House said Wednesday Trump will announce his decision in the “coming days.”

Abbott rose 1.3 percent after the company’s profit beat estimates on strong sales in its medical devices business.

After the bell, shares of eBay fell 4 percent following its results.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.09-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.32-to-1 ratio favored advancers. About 5.6 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 5.9 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

 

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A Lifeline for Millions in Somalia, Money Remittance Industry Seeks More Support

Every month, Fatma Ahmed sends $200 of the earnings she makes in London to her family in Somalia.

“It’s for daily life. For rent, for buying grocery things, to live over there. Because actually in Somalia, that much we do not have,” she said.

Remittances from overseas diaspora constitute a vital part of the economy of many developing nations, none more so than Somalia, where the inflows add up to more than foreign aid and investment combined. However, analysts warn that the industry is poorly understood by regulators and banks, putting the welfare of millions of people at risk.

The two million Somalis living overseas send an estimated $1.3 billion back home every year. With no formal banking system in Somalia, most of the diaspora use remittance services.

Technology makes that possible, says Abdirashid Duale, CEO of Dahabshiil, one of Africa’s biggest remittance services.

“Now, it is so instant, where we have the latest technology, with the internet, secure channels that we can use to send money back home,” Duale said. “Or we use mobiles … smartphones, technology where it will help us to deliver money quickly, but less costly. Technology is supporting us also with the compliance issue.”

Remittance companies rely on global banks to route the money, and those banks must comply with regulations on money laundering and the financing of crime and terrorism.

Citing those concerns, many banks have chosen to withdraw from the market. Such a move is unnecessary, says remittance industry expert Laura Hammond of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

“Very often, it is not based on any kind of empirical evidence that shows that money is going into the wrong hands,” Hammond said. “The fear is just there is a conflict in Somalia, there’s the al-Shabab movement. And so there is a problem in a sense, a real precarious nature of the Somali remittance industry.”

The industry received a high-profile boost last month as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated $1 million using the remittance firm Dahabshiil, along with mobile phone companies Somtel and eDahab, with the money transferred “live” to 1,000 families suffering the drought in Somalia.

The technology is moving fast. However, the cooperation of the global banking system remains key, and the remittance industry wants regulators to do more to support this lifeline. 

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A Lifeline for Millions in Somalia, Money Remittance Industry Seeks Support

Remittances from overseas diaspora constitute a vital part of the economy of many developing nations, none more so than Somalia, where the inflows add up to more than foreign aid and investment combined. But analysts warn the industry is poorly understood by regulators and banks — and its precarious nature puts the welfare of millions of people at risk. Henry Ridgwell reports.

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Significant Differences Remain After 4th Round of NAFTA talks End in Washington

Trade ministers from the United States, Canada and Mexico wrapped up a contentious fourth round of talks this week, aimed at modernizing the North American Free Trade Agreement. But the Trump administration’s proposals to reshape NAFTA have some trade analysts wondering if the 23-year-old trade pact can survive. Mil Arcega has more.

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TV Analyst and New York Deli Owner: An Immigrant’s Pursuit of a Dream

For the last year, the deli that Egyptian-American Hatem El-Gamasy owns in Queens, New York has been the backdrop to on-air discussions on U.S. foreign policy and Middle Eastern affairs that are broadcast in Egypt. But when Egyptian broadcasters caught wind of his daytime job, the calls suddenly stopped. But VOA’s Ramon Taylor reports that El-Gamasy’s dream to achieve journalistic success carries on.

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In Harvey-hit County, Some in GOP Newly Confront the Climate

The church was empty, except for the piano too heavy for one man to move. It had been 21 days since the greatest storm Wayne Christopher had ever seen dumped a year’s worth of rain on his town, drowning this church where he was baptized, met his high school sweetheart and later married her.

 

He had piled the ruined pews out on the curb, next to water-logged hymnals and molding Sunday school lesson plans and chunks of drywall that used to be a mural of Noah’s Ark. Now he tilted his head up to take in the mountain of rubble, and Christopher, an evangelical Christian and a conservative Republican, considered what caused this destruction: that the violent act of nature had been made worse by acts of man.

 

“I think the Lord put us over the care of his creation, and when we pollute like we do, destroy the land, there’s consequences to that,” he said. “It might not catch up with us just right now, but it’s gonna catch up. Like a wound that needs to be healed.”

 

Jefferson County, Texas, is among the low-lying coastal areas of America that could lose the most as the ice caps melt and the seas warm and rise. At the same time, it is more economically dependent on the petroleum industry and its emissions-spewing refineries than any other place in the U.S. Residents seemed to choose between the two last November, abandoning a four-decade-old pattern of voting Democratic in presidential elections to support Donald Trump.

 

Then came Hurricane Harvey. Now some conservatives here are newly confronting some of the most polarizing questions in American political discourse: What role do humans play in global warming and the worsening of storms like Harvey? And what should they expect their leaders — including the climate-skeptic president they helped elect — to do about the problem now?

Answers are hard to come by in a place where refineries stand like cityscapes. Nearly 5,000 people work in the petroleum industry. Some have described the chemical stink in the air as “the smell of money” — it means paychecks, paid mortgages and meals.

 

Christopher, like most people in Jefferson County, believed that global warming was real before the storm hit. Post-Harvey, surrounded by debris stretching for block after block, he thinks the president’s outright rejection of the scientific consensus is no longer good enough.

 

But how do you help the climate without hurting those who depend on climate-polluting industries?

 

“It’s a Catch-22 kind of thing,” he said. “Do you want to build your economy, or do you want to save the world?”

 


 

“Steroids for storms” is how Andrew Dessler explains the role global warming plays in extreme weather. Climate change didn’t create Hurricane Harvey or Irma or Maria. But Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, and most scientists agree that warming and rising seas likely amplify storms that form naturally, feeding more water and more intensity as they plow toward land.

 

“It will be 60 inches of rain this time, maybe 80 inches next time,” Dessler said of Harvey’s record-setting rainfall for any single storm in U.S. history.

As a private citizen and candidate, Trump often referred to climate change as a hoax, and since taking office he and his administration have worked aggressively to undo policies designed to mitigate the damage. He announced his intention to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, a global accord of 195 nations to reduce carbon emissions, and his administration has dismantled environmental regulations and erased climate change data from government websites. This month, his Environmental Protection Agency administrator promised to kill an effort to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired plants.

 

Anthony Leiserowitz, a Yale University researcher, traces the politicization of the climate to 1997, when then-Democratic Vice President Al Gore brokered a commitment on the world stage to reduce greenhouse gases. The political parties have cleaved further apart ever since, and climate change denial reached a fever pitch as the Tea Party remade the GOP during President Barack Obama’s first term.

 

Americans tend to view the issue through their already established red-versus-blue lens, Leiserowitz said. But while there are fractions on each extreme, the majority still fall somewhere along a scale in the middle.

 

A new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll finds that 63 percent of Americans think climate change is happening and that the government should address it, and that two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the way Trump is handling the issue. Most Americans also think weather disasters are getting more severe, and believe global warming is a factor.

 

As the downpour from Hurricane Harvey stretched into its second day, with no end in sight, Joe Evans watched from the window of his home in the Jefferson County seat of Beaumont, and an unexpected sense of guilt overcame him: “What have we been doing to the planet for all of these years?”

Evans, a Republican, once ran unsuccessfully for local office. He ignored climate change, as he thought Republicans were supposed to do, but Harvey’s deluge left him wondering why. When he was young, discussions of the ozone layer were uncontroversial; now they’re likely to end in pitched political debate.

 

“I think it’s one of those games that politicians play with us,” he said, “to once again make us choose a side.”

 

Evans voted for Trump, but he’s frustrated with what he describes as the “conservative echo chamber” that dismisses climate change instead of trying to find a way to apply conservative principles to simultaneously saving the Earth and the economy. Even today, some Republicans in the county complain about Gore and the hypocrisy they see in elite liberals who jet around the world, carbon emissions trailing behind them, to push climate policies on blue-collar workers trying to keep refinery jobs so they can feed their families.

 

Evans isn’t sure if the disastrous run of weather will cause climate change to become a bigger priority for residents here, or if as memories fade talk of this issue will, too.

 

“I haven’t put so much thought into it that I want to go mobilize a bunch of people and march on Washington,” he said. “But it made me think enough about it that I won’t actively take part in denying it. We can’t do that anymore.”

 


 

Most in Texas didn’t believe climate change existed when Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, began evangelizing about the issue years ago. Now studies estimate that 69 percent of Texans believe that the climate is changing, and 52 percent believe that has been caused by human activity. Most resistance she hears now is not with the science itself but over proposed solutions that mean government intrusion and regulation.

Jefferson County’s refineries produce 10 percent of the gasoline in the United States, 20 percent of diesel and half of the fuel used to fly commercial planes, said County Judge Jeff Branick, a Democrat who voted for Trump and then switched his party affiliation to Republican, in part because of his disagreement with the Democratic Party’s climate policies.

 

Branick doesn’t deny that climate change exists, but he calls himself a cheerleader for the petroleum industry and believes environmental policies are “job killers.”

 

John Sterman, a professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, said addressing climate change will invariably lead to gradual job losses in the fossil fuels industry. But communities have lost a dominant industry before, and those able to diversify can prosper. Jefferson County could look to the renewable energy industry, with jobs that require many of the skills refinery workers have, he said. Texas already produces more wind power than any other state.

 

Angela Lopez’s husband works in a refinery, so she understands the worry of the economic cost of addressing global warming. But her county is nicknamed “cancer alley” for its high levels of disease that residents have long attributed to living in the shadow of one of the largest concentrations of refineries in the world.

 

“It’s our livelihood, but it’s killing us,” Lopez said, standing in what used to be her dining room. Now her house in Beaumont is down to the studs. As Harvey’s floodwaters rose, she tried to save what she could. She piled the dresser drawers on the bed and perched the leather couch up on the coffee table. It did no good. The water didn’t stop until it reached the eaves, and the Lopezes lost everything they own.

 

Just about all of her relatives are conservatives, and indeed the political divides in the county run deep: Even as most of the communities along the Gulf Coast turned red years ago, Jefferson County clung to its Democratic roots. The county is ethnically diverse — 41 percent white, 34 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic — with a historically strong union workforce. Trump won Jefferson by just 419 votes.

 

“To come up with real solutions, you have to be honest with yourself about what causes something to happen,” Lopez said. “It’s not just because some storm came, it was bad and unprecedented. It was unprecedented for a reason, so we have to acknowledge that and start working toward being better. And part of that conversation should be climate change.”

On a porch outside another ruined house nearby, two neighbors who both lost everything to Harvey started having that conversation.

 

Gene Jones, a truck driver who didn’t vote, asked Wilton Johnson, a Trump supporter, if he thought climate change intensified the storm.

 

“I don’t think so, no,” Johnson said.

 

“You don’t? You don’t think about the chemical plants and the hot weather? You don’t think that has anything to do with it?”

 

“I can understand people believing that,” Johnson replied. But he blames natural weather cycles for upending their lives so completely.

 

Jones now lives in a camper in his driveway; Johnson’s father has been sleeping in a recliner in his yard to ward off looters.

 

Johnson feels like he’s gone through the stages of grief. At first, as he fled his home, he denied how devastating the storm might be. Then he got angry, when he realized nothing could be saved — not the family photos or the 100-year-old Bible that fell apart in his hands. He grew depressed and now, finally, he thinks he’s come to accept this new reality as something that just happened because nature is not always kind, and never has been.

 

And he remains unshaken in his support for Trump’s environmental agenda.

 

“We need to be responsible human beings to the Earth, but at the same time we shouldn’t sacrifice the financial freedoms,” he said. “What good is a great environment if we’re poor and living like cavemen? And vice versa, I understand the other side of that: What’s great about living in luxury when you can’t go outside?

 

“I just don’t think we should look at two storms and say, ‘We’re ruining the Earth! Shut the plants down!'”

 


 

When Wayne Christopher was a boy in Jefferson County, it got so hot he remembers frying eggs on the sidewalk. It has always been hot here, and there have always been hurricanes.

 

But it seems to him that something is different now. There is a palpable intensity in the air, in the haze that hangs over the interstate. The region has warmed about two degrees in his lifetime, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and annual rainfall has increased by about 7 inches on average. Christopher counts the number of times a beach road he’s driven on all his life has had to be rebuilt because the ocean overtook it.

 

“The sea keeps moving in — water rising, land disappearing or eroding or whatever you want to call it — it’s happening,” said Christopher, who is 66 now and retired after toiling more than 40 years for the railroad. “I think Mother Nature can come back, but there’s a point to where, if we just keep on and keep on, I don’t know if she can come back.”

 

He thinks the president he helped put in office should do something: take the threat seriously, research before he talks or tweets, not dismiss established science as a hoax because acknowledging it’s real would mean acknowledging that something must be done.

 

But like many others here, Christopher is not pushing to stick with the Paris climate agreement or other global coalitions because he’s not sure it’s fair that the United States should invest in clean energy when other countries that pollute might not. He worries that could cause more job losses to overseas factories, put a squeeze on the middle class and forfeit a slice of American sovereignty.

 

His wife, who also supported Trump, cocked her head as she thought about that sentiment.

 

“I can see the pros, I can see the cons,” Polly Christopher said. “But if you were to simplify it to your children, and they say, ‘Well, everybody else is doing it, if I do it what difference is it going to make?’ you would just get on them and say, ‘You’ve got to do the right thing. Right is right, and wrong’s wrong.'”

 

For weeks, the couple have been gutting Memorial Baptist Church, a place they consider their home. The congregation dwindled over time to about 45, mostly older people, and it was so hard to make ends meet the church canceled a $19,000-a-year flood insurance policy just two months before Harvey hit. Now it could cost some $1 million to rebuild, meaning the church may never be rebuilt at all.

 

So when Christopher’s granddaughter came by to help, found the piano in the otherwise empty sanctuary, sat down and started to play, he was overcome with a sense of grief.

 

“In my head I was thinking the whole time, this could be the last time that piano is played inside the auditorium,” he said. Then she started to sing: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound …”

 

“It did something to me,” he said.

 

Both he and his wife believe President Trump has a responsibility to look at the destruction Harvey left them with and act accordingly.

 

“He’s got a business mind. Whatever it takes to make money, that’s what he’s going to do to make America great again,” Christopher said, and that’s why he voted for Trump. “But it does make me wonder if he looks at global warming as a real harm. Because you can make all the money in the world here. But if you don’t have a world, what good is it going to do you?”

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