California couple loses two homes in two months

Dr. Antonio Wong and his wife remember falling in love with their first home, a 3,000 square-foot beauty in Southern California they’ve owned for more than a decade.

“You have your first love, your first home, your first car,” said Wong, 50, an anesthesiologist.

They rented out their Ventura home when they moved out of state in 2008.

But California drew them back. In May of this year, Wong and his wife, Pratima, 48, bought their second home in the state, this time in Santa Rosa in the north. It was not far from Wong’s family in the Bay Area.

Now, both homes are gone. They were lost to raging wildfires within two months of each other.

In October, the Tubbs Fire destroyed their Santa Rosa home. Last week, the Thomas Fire torched their Ventura home.

“It was pretty devastating. It didn’t seem like I could lose two houses in two separate fires only two months apart,” Antonio Wong said.

Now, the couple is trying to figure out their next steps.

“I have so much to do to rebuild my house here,” the doctor said. “The thought of trying to rebuild a house down there at the same time is overwhelming. I don’t know what I am going to do.”

A ‘security blanket’

In 2003, Wong bought the Ventura home while he and Pratima were still dating. The former owner allowed them to put less than 10% down and entered into an owner financing arrangement.

The home had three fireplaces. French doors in the living room. Wong added a hot tub in the backyard.

He invited co-workers to host baby showers and other celebrations there.

“When you walk in, you just feel comfortable,” he said. To them, the home was “a security blanket.”

He and Pratima, who hails from Thailand, moved to the Seattle area in 2008 and later to Reno, Nevada, for Wong’s work. None of those places felt like home, though.

Around July 2016, the Wongs moved to Santa Rosa to be closer to his family.

They rented before buying about a year later, just a couple months before the Tubbs Fire.

“Since leaving Ventura, it was the most at home we’d felt,” Wong said. “We started to unpack boxes we’d had packed for years.”

Wong celebrated his 50th birthday at the Santa Rosa home in September. He smoked ribs and brisket for the party.

‘It looked like a torch’

In October, the couple’s 19-year-old adopted son woke up his parents after he saw the glow of the Tubbs Fire in the distance.

Glued to the news, the family gathered their dog and cat. The smoke grew thicker, making the air hard to breathe. The fire hadn’t engulfed homes in their neighborhood yet, but neighbors were already evacuating their homes.

“We didn’t take all the stuff you would take if you thought your house was going to burn,” Wong said. “So, we took a couple changes of clothes and our IDs, and that’s it.”

As they drove away, they saw a pine tree on fire across the street.

“It looked like a torch. That’s when we realized we might not come back,” he said.

The wildfire turned their home into ash and melted two of their cars and a motorcycle. The Tubbs Fire, which scorched more than 36,000 acres was most destructive of the blazes in Napa and Sonoma counties.

“Well, I still have that house down there,” Wong reassured himself, referring to the Ventura home.

The Wongs moved into a Santa Rosa rental unit late last month.

Earlier in November, the couple wore protective gear as they spent hours sifting through the rubble of the torched Santa Rosa home. They were looking for Pratima’s wedding ring and a family heirloom passed down from her grandmother.

“There is not a lot you could do, you just kind of sit there and look at the ashes and try to figure out where something might be,” Wong said.

He added: “It alters your sense of everything.”

Losing the Ventura house was ‘painful’

On December 4, they had a home-cooked meal. That day, the Thomas Fire broke out hundreds of miles to the south.

“It was starting to feel like … we’re going to start rebuilding; we’re getting back on our feet,” Wong said.

Around dawn the next day, Wong woke up to a warning about the Southern California fire, one of six major blazes that firefighters would battle.

“Bad news. Fire in Santa Paula rapidly moving into Ventura. Giving you a heads up since you have house there,” a friend’s text message said.

Hours later, another message said: “You house was just on tv briefly. Spa looked to be on fire.”

The couple’s four tenants, including three military service members, evacuated the Ventura home.

Pratima said it was difficult to watch their residence on fire on television. They still haven’t seen the house in person.

“Losing that house was very painful, because I know that house was loved by a lot of people, including the previous owners,” she said.

The Thomas Fire, which is larger than New York City, was about 25% contained Tuesday, according to Cal Fire.

Throughout the ordeal, the Wongs have felt the support of family and neighbors in Santa Rosa.

“Everybody has been so supportive,” Wong said. “I don’t know what to ask for. But everybody keeps saying, ‘What do you need?’ “

The couple wants to rebuild the Santa Rosa home, but Wong said he is unsure whether their insurance will cover the rebuilding costs.

And the possibility of a year-round California wildfire seasons, as predicted by Gov. Jerry Brown, frightens him.

“California is changing. There’s been a lot of conversation around this could be the new normal,” Wong said.

He added: “We are scared of fires. Now we have two things to be scared of: earthquakes and fire.”

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USA Today: Trump as ‘not fit to clean the toilets’ in Obama’s presidential library

USA Today isn’t known for its blistering op-eds, which makes the one the paper’s editorial board just published on President Donald Trump all the more savage.

“With his latest tweet, clearly implying that a United States senator would trade sexual favors for campaign cash, President Trump has shown he is not fit for office,” reads the editorial. “Rock bottom is no impediment for a president who can always find room for a new low.”

The reference here is Trump’s tweet Tuesday morning in which he said that Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York was “begging” him for campaign contributions not long ago “and would do anything for them.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted Tuesday that only people with their minds “in the gutter” could possibly conclude that there was sexual innuendo in that tweet language.

The USA Today op-ed didn’t buy that explanation.

“A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush,” reads the piece.”This isn’t about the policy differences we have with all presidents or our disappointment in some of their decisions. Obama and Bush both failed in many ways. They broke promises and told untruths, but the basic decency of each man was never in doubt.”

This is not the first time that the editorial board at USA Today has made its views on Trump’s fitness for office known.

In September 2016, the editorial board broke with its long-standing tradition of not endorsing a candidate in presidential elections by penning an op-ed entitled “Trump is ‘unfit for the presidency.” It wasn’t so much an endorsement of Hillary Clinton as it was an anti-endorsement of Trump.

“This year, the choice isn’t between two capable major party nominees who happen to have significant ideological differences,” read the piece. “This year, one of the candidates — Republican nominee Donald Trump — is, by unanimous consensus of the Editorial Board, unfit for the presidency.”

Trump — and his allies — will undoubtedly cite that history as a way to lump USA Today’s editorial board in with the biased liberal news media who hate the President so much that they are blind to the everyday realities of the average American.

And, for a chunk of Republicans loyal to Trump, that rhetoric will work. But USA Today is far from a reactionary leftist operation. And the disdain dripping from every word of the editorial board’s condemnation of the president is truly searing.

These words, which end the editorial, are particularly striking: “A president who shows such disrespect for the truth, for ethics, for the basic duties of the job and for decency toward others fails at the very essence of what has always made America great.”

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Trump winds up for final pitch to Americans on tax overhaul

President Donald Trump will make his final pitch on tax reform to the American people Wednesday in a speech that will not “lean in on as many of the specifics as his prior tax reform speeches,” according to two senior administration officials who briefed reporters Tuesday.

The administration sees this as a higher-altitude speech, saying the President has already addressed specific rate brackets in previous speeches.

Joined by about 120 people — families and military personnel who have been invited — the President will speak Wednesday afternoon from the Grand Foyer of the White House. Some young people will be among those invited, and the President will dedicate a “very significant portion” of his speech to the next generation that will be affected by tax reform. Trump will talk about some of the families present — couples invited from states like Pennsylvania and Iowa — and share their stories as examples of Americans who will benefit from the bill.

One administration official said Trump will make some news in the speech. “The President will share some information about the plan’s impact on the American people that has not been shared with the American people before.”

The senior administration officials spoke in broad terms about Trump’s campaign trail promises to revive the American dream.

“This idea of economic opportunity for all is really going to be at the core of the President’s closing argument,” one said.

Look for lines like this previewed by one of the administration officials: “The middle class will no longer just be getting by. They’re finally going to have the opportunity to get ahead, and that’s what making America great again is all about.”

The officials spent several minutes discrediting Marist and Quinnipiac polls that have shown that Americans view this tax measure as a benefiting the rich as “polls that are trying to manipulate public opinion.”

There was little talk from the two officials about the prospects for the bill, but one of them did say they feel “very good about the direction the conference committee is heading.”

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Powerful men accused of sexual misconduct: A running list

Just in the past month or so alone, allegations against “The Chew” co-host Mario Batali, “Today” show host Matt Lauer and humorist Garrison Keillor led to their prompt dismissals or suspensions, while music mogul Russell Simmons stepped down from the companies he founded after a second allegation of sexual misconduct surfaced.

And the list keeps growing.

Yes, prominent men have faced sexual misconduct claims before.

But the accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein have opened a floodgate, sparked an international conversation and put new pressure on companies, industries, and political leaders to respond. President Donald Trump has condemned some of the accused, been more muted about others, and found himself again being asked about sexual harassment and misconduct allegations leveled against him during last year’s presidential campaign. The Republican says they’re fake.

The #Metoo moment is also prompting re-examination of past sexual misconduct claims against powerful men, as well. Check out the graphic below for a running list.



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Level Up: Nintendo Switch scores 10 million sold

Nintendo just confirmed what we already knew: its hybrid gaming system is a hit.

The company said on Tuesday the Nintendo Switch — one part mobile, one part home console — has sold 10 million units since its March 2017 launch.

The announcement comes less than two months after Nintendo increased its fiscal-year projection, ending March 31, 2018, from 10 million to 14 million units sold. Nintendo expects operating profit for the year to hit $1.06 billion, up from its original projection of $572 million.

“The fact that we reached 10 million units sold on a global basis and we’re not fully through the holidays is unprecedented territory for Nintendo,” Reggie Fils-Aime, president and COO of Nintendo America said. “The pace is one of the fastest in our own history and in gaming history.”

By contrast, the Wii U sold just over 13 million units since its 2012 launch, before it was discontinued earlier this year.

Fils-Aime attributed the success of Nintendo Switch ($300) to its portability, as well as its game offerings.

To play it, gamers insert a slim tablet into a handheld device that has controllers on each side. Users can then pop the tablet out of the mobile “Switch Console” and plug it into a “Switch Dock” base-station that allows for play on a TV. It will automatically transition to portable mode when it’s lifted from the dock. The concept makes it easy to “switch” from playing the game on the couch to taking it on the go.

More games are coming to Nintendo Switch’s lineup, including those that feature characters Kirby and Yoshi.

Last week, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” for Nintendo Switch was named game of the year at the 2017 Game Awards in Los Angeles. Other games such as “Super Mario Odyssey” and “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” have been widely praised, and titles such as “Bayonetta” and “Bayonetta 2” — which debuted on the Wii U — will come to the console next year.

Fils-Aime previously said it was important for the console to have a consistent flow of new games — unlike the limited offerings made available to the Wii U. The Wii U, which was considered a flop, also lacked a clear user proposition.

According to P.J. McNealy, chief executive at Digital World Research, the gaming industry was ripe for something fresh like the Nintendo Switch.

“The Switch is in a position to become the second console in households,” McNealy said. “The PS4 and Xbox One are in year four, while the Switch is a new console with great first-party titles. Nintendo’s strategy coming in was to load up on [games], such as Mario and Zelda, which help carry hardware sales for several holidays. The company nailed it this year.”

The Nintendo Switch isn’t the only gaming system fans are clamoring to get their hands on. The company’s Super NES Classic Edition throwback console has emerged as one of the hottest gifts the holiday shopping season, similar to the attention the NES Classic Edition attracted last year.

“We continue to ship them daily,” Fils-Aime said. “We’ll be selling the Super NES Classic Edition well into 2018, too. There will be lots more for consumers soon.”

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