Fighting the Assaults on Net Neutrality and Our Economy

by Harvey Wasserman

originally published by TruthDig

A net neutrality protester near the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

 

Let’s all take a moment to savor this great grass-roots U.S. Senate victory in Alabama of Democrat Doug Jones over accused child molester Roy Moore. Let’s also celebrate the victory of the moderate Ralph Northam over the extremist Republican Ed Gillespie to be governor of Virginia, and a possible flip of the Virginia legislature, with the influx of a strong contingent of progressive women.

Breathe deep. Stretch up your arms. Shout for joy.

Okay?

Now let’s use all that great new energy to fend off Donald Trump’s twin assaults on net neutrality and our core economy.

Losing could leave us blind and impoverished. So don’t even think about it.

On net neutrality, the fight is ongoing and long-term.

On Trump’s tax scam, we have at best a few days.

A mass movement already is in place to save the internet.

Thursday’s vile 3-2 FCC vote to end net neutrality has long been expected. Mass demonstrations, community organizing, court challenges, an attempt at a congressional reversal and much more are in motion.

This is new territory, a fight for control of humankind’s central nervous system. The alternative to winning is brain death.

As for the GOP tax scam, the clock is ticking.

The Senate version passed 51-49 on Dec. 1. The House-Senate reconciliation committee wants a new version rubber-stamped next week. Despite the bill’s immense impact, there’s been a complete lack of public hearings orsane scrutiny.

It’s not likely there’ll be enough Republican votes in the House to stop it.

In the Senate, we need just three.

The likeliest is Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the only Republican to vote no last time. Trump has punked him with a stream of personal insults. Corker is not running for re-election. Like all other potential swing votes, he is no doubt being promised the world to vote yes.

Next might be Maine’s Susan Collins. She voted against gutting Obamacare. Her first yes vote on the tax bill reportedly was based on promises from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that Medicare and Social Security would be protected. But co-perpetrator and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s life mission has been to destroy both. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, among others, proudly proclaims that this will start the process.

Why anyone would believe anything the GOP leadership says is hard to fathom. Maine’s struggling elder community, among others, has displayed great anger, including heated demonstrations at Collins’ office and her public appearances. She must know that if she votes yes again, she will drown forever in an unforgiving grass-roots tsunami.

Arizona’s Jeff Flake has been yet another target of Trump’s venal abuse. Flake dramatically announced he won’t run for re-election. But then he voted for the tax bill. Why?

Arizona’s John McCain did the same. The “Great Maverick” cast the decisive vote to save Obamacare. He’s been undergoing what must be a hugely expensive course of treatment for brain cancer.

This may be among the last votes McCain casts, and it’s likely a death sentence for millions of Americans who can’t afford the kind of health care he’s been getting. Does he care?

Ron Johnson of Wisconsin hinted at opposing the first draft based on its rough treatment of small business. But apparently his good friend Paul Ryan found Johnson’s price.

Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski voted against destroying Obamacare. But she’s ecstatic about this bill’s death sentence for the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, where her biggest donors want to drill for oil and further heat the planet.

Maybe other Republicans can be turned. Trump’s minions surely have scoured every GOP wish list. And they have no intention of waiting for Doug Jones to take his seat.

But somewhere, somehow, amidst the warm glow of the Alabama turn, we must find a way to stop this bill.

Here are just a few reasons why:

● It enacts one of history’s most blatant thefts of essential resources from working- and middle-class Americans to the rich and super-rich. Trump himself would profit.

● It worsens the kind of wealth gap that fed the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed.

● It guts Obamacare, leaving tens of millions without medical coverage while facing needless disease—and possibly death—for themselves and their children.

● It opens the all-out GOP assault on Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, with the impoverishment of millions sure to follow.

● It attacks public education with massive supports for private schools that will profit Trump cronies like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

● It ends teachers’ ability to deduct what they spend on supplies for their students.

● It taxes graduate students’ scholarships, tuition waivers and other essential steps to advanced degrees, slashing what’s left of our professional education system.

● It lets tax-free churches engage in partisan campaigns, allowing mega-rich donors to launder “purchases” of “pious” candidates.

● It slashes support for wind power, solar energy, electric cars and other “Solartopian” advances while funding massive new tax breaks for obsolete, planet-destroying King CONG (coal, oil, nukes and gas).

There’s much, much more.

Trump’s “tax reform” and internet assault are at the cutting edge of a suicidal war being waged by the psychotic rich against the rest of us—and the planet.

We are in Koyaanisqatsi; life out of balance. The center is not holding. Our social and ecological fabric is giving way. Our survival is at stake.

These turning-point elections in Virginia and Alabama give us hope.

Now the gritty substance of the war for our ability to communicate, and for the core of our life support systems, is in a different kind of play.

Like those elections, these are conflicts we cannot afford to lose.

So let’s win. Again.

““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`

Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman co-wrote THE STRIP & FLIP DISASTER OF AMERICA’S STOLEN ELECTIONS at www.freepress.org, along with Bob’s FITRAKIS FILES.  Harvey’s SOLARTOPIA!OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH is at www.solartopia.org.His LIFE & DEATH SPIRAL OF US HISTORY will be out in 2018.

Follow Harvey Wasserman on Twitter @Solartopia

Will Jim Crow Strip & Flip the Alabama Senate Race?…Or Will Today’s Major Court Victory Stop that From Happening?

by  Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman

DECEMBER 11, 2017

doug v roy

 

While the whole world watches Tuesday’s Alabama US Senate election, race-based battles behind the scenes could decide the outcome.

They focus on likely stripping of voter rolls to prevent African-Americans from casting their rightful ballots , and flipping the electronic outcome should that prove insufficient.

But election protection activists have just won a major court victory that could make electronically flipping the election more difficult.  An in-depth feature will follow on that tonight.

The national Democratic Party has poured significant resources into this race. We hope it will provide careful scrutiny on whether legitimate citizens are allowed to vote, and on how the votes are actually counted.

In particular, we urge that there be no definitive concession shy of a full recount, and of public hearings on who was allowed the right to vote and who was denied it, including access to regular rather than provisional ballots.

Three key voter access issues include:

  1. The state recently passed legislation making it easier for ex-felons to vote. But critics charge there has been no significant official attempt to actually notify ex-felons of the change. A court has ruled that the state is not obligated to make such an effort ;
  2. The state has imposed strict voter ID laws that could make it harder        for citizens of color to vote. The state has also shut motor vehicle offices in areas where black voters are likely to apply for credentials that would allow them to cast ballots ;
  3. With an intense chilling effect,  Alabama’s Republican secretary of state has threatened felony prosecution against several hundred citizens who may have switched party affiliation in the recent primaries

 

.There is also significant concern over the nature of the ballot and the potential for a recount.

Election protection activist John Brakey has pointed out that most of the machines currently used in  Alabama can produce an electronic ballot image that is usable for recounts. But in a letter to Brakey, Alabama’s secretary of state said he may not require the use of this feature.

Brakey and others were in court today demanding that the state’s ballots be reliably counted, and that the electronic ballot images be created and preserved for a possible recount.

Brakey reported to the Free Press at 1:18pm on Monday, Dec. 11 that he won a TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) in Alabama court to force the Secretary of State to preserve the ballot images.

This is essential since the ballot design in Alabama has been called into question by election integrity activists like Mimi Kennedy. The ballot design lends itself to “overvote” problems. The ballot allows voters to vote a straight party ticket, even though in the vast majority of counties there is only the Roy Moore-Doug Jones special U.S. special election on the ballot.

But the ballot also then allows you to vote for the candidate. If you select the straight party vote and the candidate vote – the machines are likely to read this as an “overvote” and cancel out the vote. The machines can be programmed to not accept an overvote.

The only way to resolve this is to compare the ballots with the ballot images.

This campaign, of course, has been infamously unsettled by multiple allegations of sexual misconduct leveled at the Republican candidate Roy Moore. Moore has been strongly endorsed by “conservative Christians” and by Donald Trump, who is currently accused of sexual assault by some 19 women.

The stakes could hardly be higher. The 52-48 Republican margin in the US Senate would shrink to a single vote should Democrat Doug Jones win the seat. He would also become the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Alabama since Richard Shelby, who switched parties and has recently said Alabama can “do better” than his fellow Republican Roy Moore.

About a quarter of Alabama’s five million citizens are black. Should most of them vote, and have their votes actually counted, they could decide the election.

But Alabama’s long Jim Crow tradition weighs heavily against that happening.

There will likely be an “official” outcome on Tuesday. But who gets that crucial seat may actually turn on a willingness to fight for a fair turnout and to guarantee an accurate vote count.

——————-

Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman co-wrote THE STRIP & FLIP DISASTER OF AMERICA’S STOLEN ELECTIONS at www.freepress.org, along with Bob’s FITRAKIS FILES.Harvey’s SOLARTOPIA!OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH is at www.solartopia.org.His LIFE & DEATH SPIRAL OF US HISTORY will be out in 2018.

Follow Harvey Wasserman on Twitter @Solartopia

Warring Visions of Puerto Rico’s Future

by Harvey Wasserman

Originally published by The Progressive on December 1, 2017

171023-F-AX815-296Blue roofs, temporary blue plastic sheeting, installed on homes damaged by Hurricane Maria, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in partnership with FEMA in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

Warring visions have now erupted over the energy and economic futures of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Will the islands become a cutting-edge green-powered solartopia for the benefit of their long-time residents? Or a fossil-fueled robber baron playground like Hong Kong or Singapore, set to operate for the profit of outside corporate investors?

On the solartopian side, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have proposed a $146 billion green “Marshall Plan” to rebuild Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as a prosperous, self-sufficient home for the indigenous citizenry. The bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Senators Ed Markey, Richard Blumenthal and Democratic Representatives Nadia Velazquez and Darren Soto along with Democrat Stacey Plaskett, the Virgin Islands’ non-voting Representative to Congress.

Representative Plaskett has also joined Congressman Ted Lieu, Democrat of California, in co-signing a letter asking that all Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for rebuilding the electric grids of the islands go for solar energy, wind power, and decentralized microgrids.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who famously tangled with Trump over the direction of recovery plans, has said the Sanders-Warren-Lieu approach to rebuilding with green energy provides the blueprint for the “transformation” of the islands to local-controlled self-sufficiency.

The Warren-Sanders bill would give local governments $62 billion for economic development, Medicare/Medicaid parity, and other locally determined needs. It would provide $27 billion more for infrastructure, and $13 billion for FEMA to rebuild the grid “with more modern, resilient technologies” than the coal, oil, and gas burners that powered the islands before Maria.

Solar panels are already pouring in. Even before Maria, Puerto Rico had plans to add 1.5 gigawatts of solar capacity. At least one big solar array largely survived the storm, allowing a local greenhouse to resume business the day after the disaster. A large wind farm on the south side of Puerto Rico also got through, though its impact has been limited by the crippled grid.

After the storm, in consultation with Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rossello, Elon Musk’s Solar City/Tesla donated a solar array that has successfully re-powered San Juan’s Hospital del Nino, making it one of the few hospitals on the island with a reliable source of electricity. As Musk said in a tweet, “The Tesla team has done this [built solar grids] for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too.”

To do more, Tesla announced it would delay the unveiling of its electric-powered tractor-trailer unit to focus on delivering more batteries to Puerto Rico.

The German company Sonnen, which was working pre-Maria with local customers to make the Puerto Rican grid more resilient, has been shipping inpanels, batteries, and micro-grids aimed at making hospitals and emergency facilities self-sufficient. So has the Houston-based Sunnova, which isretaining ownership of the hundreds of panels it has installed, then charging its customers a rate well below what they were paying before the storm hit.

“I am 100 percent backing renewables,” said Governor Rosselló to the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “This is an opportunity to make microgrids in Puerto Rico so they can be sustained in different areas.”

But  not everyone shares the vision of a green-powered future. In October, Puerto Rico’s national utility, PREPA, made global headlines with a $300 million grid rebuilding contract given to Whitefish Energy, a two-year-old two-man operation based in Whitefish, Montana.

Whitefish is the hometown of Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose son had worked for the company. When it began shipping in line workers at huge rates, they were showered by locals with rocks and bottles. Finally the contract was voided and PREPA’s president resigned.

More recently, PREPA awarded a $200 million contract to Cobra Acquisitions LLC, a one-year-old subsidiary of Oklahoma-based Mammoth, which is primarily in the oil, gas, and fracking business. Nearly all Puerto Rico’s pre-Maria power came from fossil fuels. Its future plans still include a $400 million liquid gas terminal.

The fossil-fueled vision has strong support among lawmakers like Doug Lamborn, Republican of Colorado, who is backed by the oil and gas industry. Lamborn told a House Committee on Natural Resources hearing in early November that “renewables are great, but to provide that much electricity in that short a time is unrealistic.” Lamborn instead supports natural gas, with a rollback of environmental protections to encourage drilling and imports.

Committee Chair Rob Bishop, Republican of Utah, also the recipient of fossil industry support, has joined Lamborn in opposing an EPA presence that might restrict drilling and imports for a restored fossil-fired grid.

But corporate visions for the islands hardly stop with gas and oil. Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, thinks “Puerto Rico has the potential of being the Hong Kong of the United States, where businesses would flood in there.”

Benjamin Dierker, of the libertarian Foundation for Economic Education, wants an “economic freedom zone” where environmental, minimum wage and other legal requirements would disappear. The “less restricted environment with more available resources would open the doors to investment and real estate development,” he says.

Desmond Lachman, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, alsowants a reduced minimum wage and “corporate-friendly economic reforms” to make Puerto Rico “the Singapore of the Caribbean.”

Amid all of this corporate conniving, the people of Puerto Rico remain in dire straits.

“Food and water are still in short supply,” Joel Segal, a North Carolina activist with strong ties to the island, said in a recent radio interview on my Green Power & Wellness show on www.prn.fm. “The FEMA people just hand out forms with a phone number to call and a website to consult. People can’t even get tarps to cover what’s left of their homes.”

At least 200,000 citizens have already left Puerto Rico, most headed for Florida.

Residents who have been restoring school buildings and re-starting classes at their own expense are being told by local authorities they must have inspections that never happen and permits that never come. Education activists are afraid that private charter schools will crush the public system, as in New Orleans after Katrina, where only a few public schools remain.

Because land titles have been passed down through generations of the poor, some ancestral residents are not being let back into what’s left of their homes because they can’t officially prove ownership.

“Land prices will plummet,” Segal says. “That will set off an unrestricted corporate rampage” aimed at converting the region to a Trump-style playground of shady financial centers, high-end hotels and mega-casinos for the super-rich.

That’s a future the people of Puerto Rico must avoid — and green energy is one way to do it.

Harvey Wasserman hosts California Solartopia at KPFK-Pacifica, 90.7FM in Los Angeles, and the Green Power & Wellness podcast at prn.fm. He is author or co-author of about 20 books, including Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earthat www.solartopia.org.

Follow Harvey Wasserman on Twitter @Solartopia

WILL THE DIABLO NUKES SHUT BEFORE THE SAN ANDREAS RUBBLE-IZES THEM AND RADIATES LOS ANGELES?

 

By Harvey “Sluggo” Wasserman

diablo solartopia 6.23.2016

 

A major court opinion  has given safe energy advocates new hope two Diablo Canyon nukes can be shut before the San Andreas fault turns them to rubble, sending an apocalyptic cloud into the bodies of more than ten million people .

The huge reactors—California’s last—-sit on a bluff above the Pacific, due west of San Luis Obispo amongst a dozen earthquake faults, They operate just 45 miles from the San Andreas. That’s half Fukushima’s distance from the fault that destroyed four reactors there. Diablo’s wind-blown emissions could irradiate the Los Angeles megalopolis in less than six hours.

The death toll could be in the millions, the property damage in the trillions. The owner, Pacific Gas & Electric, would not be legally liable.

Last year a deal to shut Diablo’s two reactors in 2024 and 2025 was struck by the state, PG&E, the union, surrounding communities and some environmentalist groups.  Diablo’s federal licenses expire in those years, and PG&E agreed not to seek renewals. The power, they said, could be replaced with wind turbines and solar panels.

But the $1.7 billion in rate hikes stipulated in the deal must be approved by California’s Public Utilities Commission. A proposed decision by Administrative Law Judge Peter V. Allen would limit them to less than $200 million.

The CPUC must now factor Allen’s decision into how much it allows PG&E to charge. If it honors Allen’s opinion, the company must then decide whether they’ll continue to operate the two nukes, which increasingly look like money losers.

The company’s standing is not exactly sterling. Massive fires have just swept through northern California, killing at least forty-one people, turning some 5700 structures and whole forests, rural communities and much of Santa Rosa into smoldering ash. (The Trump Administration has just omitted from its latest budget any federal aid to the region).

The San Jose Mercury-News  and others  have loudly speculated that PG&E may have caused the conflagration by failing to maintain power lines that were blown over in a wind storm. Local fire departments were already complaining that trees and underbrush were being sparked by poles and wires PG&E had failed to maintain as required by law.

At very least PG&E now faces a firestorm of lawsuits that will soar well into the billions. Criminal prosecution is also likely.

In 2010 a major fire killed eight people and torched an up-scale San Bruno neighborhood. The cause was badly maintained gas lines—-for which the company had been cited repeatedly. Fines exceeded $1.4 billion. Criminal prosecution remains unresolved.

Other costly lapses have plagued PG&E through the years. Some involve Diablo itself, which opened in the mid-1980s amidst America’s biggest No Nukes civil disobedience campaign, involving thousands of arrests.

Linda Seeley of San Luis Obispo’s Mothers for Peace says the company faces impossible hurdles in dealing with its thousands of tons of radioactive waste, and much more. “Many very expensive components in the two reactors must be replaced far before the proposed 2024-5 shutdown dates. Our concern is that PG&E may try to sneak through without paying to maintain the reactors even at basic safety levels.”

Dr. Michael Peck, the NRC’s in-house inspector at Diablo for five years, has warned that the reactors cannot survive a likely earthquake, and should close immediately. He has since been transferred to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“Diablo may no longer be profitable,” Seeley has said on KPFK-Pacific’s California Solartopia Show. “The cost of wind and solar has dropped so fast it may not pay PG&E to run those plants anymore, even without doing the basic maintenance.”

Because much of Diablo’s aging workforce is retiring, or beginning to look elsewhere for job security, PG&E wants subsidies to retain skilled staff to run the place. Judge Allen specifically rejected much of the rate hike designed to meet that crisis.

The State Land Commission is also being sued by the World Business Academy of Santa Barbara over key leases granted in the 1970s . The SLC gave PG&E a waiver on doing legally-required Environmental Impact Reviews.   (Gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom is one of the three California Land Commissioners who voted in favor of the waiver). Should the Business Academy win its suit, or should the PUC honor Judge Allen’s decision, and PG&E alter its timetable, those leases might be revisited. Without them, Diablo would almost certainly be forced to shut.

Challenges have also been raised against approval from the California Coastal Commission of Diablo’s cooling system.

 

Seeley and other activists have asked the general public to pressure the PUC, state agencies and politicians like Newsom to get Diablo shut sooner rather than later.  “Until they can specify the exact date and time the San Andreas and those other faults will go off,” says Seeley, “nobody should feel safe.” ( additional quotes from Linda Seeley came from phone interviews this week).

 

—————————-

Those interested in helping to shut Diablo Canyon should go to www.mothersforpeace.org.

Harvey Wasserman’s Solartopia! is at www.solartopia.org. He hosts prn.fm‘s Green Power & Wellness Show, and KPFK-Pacifica’s California Solartopia.

Follow Harvey Wasserman on Twitter @Solartopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Puerto Rico Being ‘Ethnically Cleansed’ for the Superrich?

by Harvey Wasserman

originally published  by TruthDig on November 21, 2017

 


A woman shows her pendant featuring a Puerto Rican flag. She lives in a school-turned-shelter after Hurricane Maria destroyed her home. (Ramon Espinosa / AP)

Two months after the Sept. 20 landfall of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico—like the nearby Virgin Islands—is still in a state of horrifying devastation. The help being offered by the Trump administration is thin to the point of being cruel and unusual.

At this point one must ask: Is Trump’s astonishing lack of aid part of a larger plan to cleanse the islands of their native populations, drive down real estate values and create a billionaire’s luxury hotel-casino-prostitution playground à la Cuba before the revolution?

In other words: ethnic cleansing for the superrich.

There is just one piece of good news: Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., has joined Rep. Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands in proposing that Puerto Rico’s electric grid be rebuilt with wind, solar and a network of micro-grids. More than half the original electric grid is still not functioning, with frequent blackouts occurring in areas where the grid is operational.

Amid a widespread green campaign (more on that later), Lieu and Plaskett have asked the public to cosign their letter to the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to “invest in a more resilient energy infrastructure focused on renewable energy technology and distributed generation.”

One major wind farm on Puerto Rico’s south shore did survive Maria intact, as did the solar array of a local greenhouse business. Elon Musk has revived a children’s hospital by shipping in a solar/battery array that is sustaining the few medical facilities in San Juan with reliable power.

But overall, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are in such horrific shape that it’s hard to dismiss the idea that the weak recovery effort might be by design. Consider this:

● Throughout the islands, U.S. citizens are dying due to lack of clean water. Tens of thousands are still without food, clothing, medical care or even basic shelter.

● A CNN survey of Puerto Rico’s burial services found a minimum of 499 deaths in the wake of the storm. That number cannot begin to cover the entire scope of the casualties, as many of the corpses have never made it to funeral homes. The official government death toll is about 65. When Trump visited the island he proudly put it at 16, complimenting FEMA for keeping it so “low.”

● Despite enormous resources available, the Trump administration has failed to deliver even sufficient tarps to cover rooftops that have been shattered or blown away altogether.

● North Carolina activist Ana Blackburn reported on prn.fm radio’sGreen Power & Wellness Show” that her mother, who lives in central Puerto Rico, is feeding more than 100 people per day at a church kitchen that can barely scrap together enough food for everyone.

● She also confirmed widespread reports that FEMA workers are delivering small quantities of bottled water, but nowhere near enough to prevent desperately thirsty locals from drinking contaminated water from polluted streams and even from designated SuperFund sites (hazardous waste dumps), resulting in widespread sickness and death.

● FEMA has been responding to requests for help by handing people without phone service or electricity a flier with a phone number to call and a website on which to fill out an application.

● Many in Puerto Rico have died because most of the island’s hospitals have no power and cannot provide surgery, dialysis and other basic life-saving services. Insulin and other medicines have spoiled due to lack of refrigeration.

● Because so many businesses were destroyed, unemployment is rampant, and the numbers are impossible to accurately estimate, according to the island’s governor. With so many hotels and other attractions wiped out, revenue from the island’s core tourist industry has disappeared.

● Those who do have work restoring power and providing other emergency services return home at night to homes or apartments with no electric power, no air conditioning, no refrigerated food, no means to cook what they have and partial roofs that leak during the frequent rains.

● A New York Times report estimates that at least 168,000 of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million pre-storm residents have already come to Florida, about half to the Orlando area, and thousands more may be trying to flee. Uncounted numbers of Puerto Ricans have fled to other states. Many, many more are expected to follow.

● Just prior to Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Irma had grazed Puerto Rico and left some 80,000 people without power. They were still blacked out when Maria hit.

● Puerto Rico’s notoriously corrupt public-owned utility soon gave a $300 million contract to a two-year-old, two-person firm based in Whitefish, Mont., to restore a centralized grid. Whitefish is the hometown of Trump’s interior secretary, Ryan Zinke. His son has previously worked for the firm.

● On the ground in Puerto Rico, local workers were ignored in the hiring process. The line workers Whitefish brought in at huge expense were massively overpaid, with high commissions added to their salaries. They were soon showered with rocks and bottles thrown by angry Puerto Ricans. The Whitefish contract was finally cancelled, and the utility chief in Puerto Rico who signed it was forced to resign.

● When Irma and Hurricane Harvey devastated large swaths of Florida and Texas, federal aid and resources poured in with reasonable efficiency. As part of a trans-utility agreement, thousands of trucks and line workers rushed into both regions to restore water and power. Many Texans and Floridians still suffer, but the FEMA response has made a major difference.

● Immediately after Irma ravaged the Caribbean, Trump harped on debts owed by Puerto Rico to Wall Street; critics say this was a pretext for not sending aid.

● Trump also attacked San Juan’s Latina mayor for being allegedly ungrateful and incompetent.

● When he finally visited the island, Trump staged a public meeting at which he tossed packages of paper towels at desperate survivors. He then flew home ahead of schedule.

Trump’s “discovery” that Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are surrounded by water did, of course, complicate his administration’s response.

Critics have inevitably raised the issues of race and poverty—along with a possible ulterior motive. On KPFK-Pacifica’s “California Solartopia” Show, longtime activist Joel Segal, a former congressional aide, discussed with me the widespread efforts by independent, safe energy activists that he has helped organize to see the islands’ electric grid be rebuilt with solar, wind and micro-grids.

These, says Segal, would not feed the global warming that will make future storms so powerful. They also would give the islands a reliable electric system at far cheaper prices than the old fossil burners that powered the islands before Irma and Maria.

But in confronting Trump’s non-response to the humanitarian crisis now gripping the islands, Segal also addresses the possibility that the neglect is deliberate.

“There is ethnic cleansing in PR, not enough food, water, medicine, and medical care. People dying in hospitals,” Segal said. “Why? Because they are black and brown people who speak another language. They are not white, therefore, why care about their well-being?”

Segal speculates that while the proposed GOP tax plan would give the rich a $1.5 trillion tax cut, Republicans in Congress do not want to spend $90 billion rebuilding the Caribbean.

In an email to me, Segal added that the hurricane response also might be about stripping the islands of their inconvenient natives and converting them into yet another billionaire’s paradise filled with Trump-type hotels, casinos and sex trade centers.

Even if they are, as Trump complains, surrounded by water.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Will Alabama Voters Be Next to Reject ‘Trumpism’?

by Harvey Wasserman

originally published by TruthDig on November 8, 2017

Phil Murphy, right, won the governor’s seat in New Jersey, but during the race, his Republican opponent released a controversial immigration attack ad linking him to a convicted killer. (Screen shot via The Washington Post)

Steve Bannon’s attempted fascist putsch in Virginia and New Jersey has failed.

Is Alabama next? Can the Democrats keep it from being stolen?

Tuesday’s gubernatorial elections in the Garden State and the state “for lovers” were soundly won by moderate Democrats. The elections were widely featured in the corporate media as referendums on Donald Trump.

But the knife cut much deeper. Steve Bannon, the nation’s leading fascist activist-theoretician, offered to campaign for Gillespie, branding him a “culture warrior” in the course of the race. Although Gillespierefused Bannon’s direct aid in the campaign, Bannon praised Gillespie’s adoption of far-right Trumpist ideology and his brutally racist, anti-immigrant ads that reflect Bannon’s extreme right-wing ideology.

Bannon went so far as to say that Gillespie’s swing to the hard right was what made his race competitive. “I do believe Gillespie’s going to pull this thing out,” Bannon said Sunday, two days before the vote. “The lesson of Gillespie is Trumpism without Trump. … We now have forced the establishment to embrace our platform.”

But once Gillespie lost, both Trump and Bannon attacked him for not fully embracing their positions or their presence. Trump was the first sitting president to not campaign in a Virginia governor’s race since Richard Nixon during Watergate. As the defeat became clear, Trump tweeted from Asia that Gillespie did not represent him.

With immigration as a pretext, Virginia and New Jersey voters wereshowered with visual and textual images portraying blacks and immigrants in race-baiting, fear-mongering terms.

Similar images were spread in the 1988 presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush against then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. They linked Dukakis to a pardoned black criminal named Willie Horton. Bush won the election but lost his soul.

The public relations guy responsible, Lee Atwater, issued an apologyjust prior to dying of brain cancer.

Tuesday’s victory in New Jersey was predictable. The truly awful Chris Christie left the state in ruins. His mean-spirited incompetence was staggering on more fronts than can be explained in a single article.

The victory in Virginia was less clear. The current corporatist Democrat governor was term-limited. The state has drifted to the Democrats in recent years. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton won Virginia in 2012 and 2016, respectively, and it has two “blue” U.S. senators. But 2010 gerrymandering gave both state legislative houses to the GOP.

To become governor, the Bush-style Republican Ed Gillespie took to vicious hate-mongering. A victory by Gillespie would have given the GOP an iron grip on the 2020 redistricting process.

Virginia’s 11 congressional seats are split seven to four for the Republicans. The Legislature at Richmond has been firmly in GOP hands, but may be flipped to the Democrats. Hopefully, a fair redistricting process will follow.

But what really matters is that in the former capital of the Confederacy, home of Robert E. Lee, an overtly racist campaign failed. “Trumpism”—using immigration and other cover issues to scream a racist rant—was rejected. This was actually a vote on hate. Thankfully, both Virginia and New Jersey said no.

As an underscore, both Virginia and New Jersey elected African-American lieutenant governors and two Latinas defeated incumbent Republicans for seats in the Virginia legislature. That state’s first transgender candidate also won a seat.

Meanwhile, Democrats took control of the Washington state Legislature, establishing a “Great Blue Wall” against Trump along the three West Coast states—Washington, Oregon and California.

But the next big test will be in Alabama on Dec. 12. The special election to fill the vacated U.S. Senate seat of Jeff Sessions, now Trump’s attorney general, will pit Judge Roy Moore against Doug Jones, a moderate Democrat.

alabama

Moore is the quintessential Bannon fascist. His raucous career has been defined by race hate and Biblical babble. His Deep South defeat would signal the failure of Trumpism’s core bigotry on its ancestral soil. It would also swing a crucial seat in the U.S. Senate, significantly altering the balance of national power.

Alabama is about a quarter black. To win there, the Democrats must confront a computerized Jim Crow assault aimed at disenfranchising blacks. With a Republican governor and secretary of state, the Democrats must painstakingly monitor every ballot, electronic and otherwise.

Alabama’s electoral system now features electronic machines that in many cases offer a ballot image that can be recounted. In a close race, these could make all the difference.

But the Democrats have been slow to act.

Virginia Democrats were urged by election protection activists to prepare for legal action in case a close vote proved vulnerable to theft. But according to a leader of Progressive Democrats of America who was active in the fight on election night, the party did no such thing.

Furthermore, one NAACP organizer in Virginia complained that the party failed to contact key black senior centers to ensure that elders came out to vote. A group called Carpool Vote ferried black voters to the polls.

In Alabama, the party will have to do better in mobilizing its grass-roots supporters, and will need every pixel possible from the state’s electronic voting machines.

In recent congressional elections in Montana and Georgia, Democratic candidates lost close vote counts that might well have been rigged. Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson, along with numerous experts, have expressed the belief that the June race in Atlanta conceded by Democrat Jon Ossoff was stolen.

Given the Virginia/New Jersey rejection of hate, Alabama is now in play. The Democrats have shown they can beat Trumpism.

In Alabama, they also must show they’ve learned some lessons from recent elections.

““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`

Harvey is a lifelong activist who speaks, writes and organizes widely on energy, the environment, election protection, social justice, grass-roots politics and natural healing, personal and planetary.

He hosts “California Solartopia” at KPFK-Pacifica and “Green Power & Wellness” at prn.fm. He edits nukefree.org, solartopia.org and has taught history, diversity and ecology studies at numerous colleges. With Pete Seeger and David Bernz, he co-wrote the Grammy-winning “Solartopia Song.”  Follow Harvey Wasserman on Twitter @Solatopia

 

 

Will the Trump/Bannon GOP Steal Virginia…and American Democracy?

by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman

Ed Gillespie

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie

 

A big chunk of American democracy is riding on Tuesday’s Virginia election.

The outcome could turn on how well Democrats protect the right to vote….and the right to have the votes accurately counted.

If Democrat and anti-Trump activists do not work to guarantee everyone’s access to the polls, they could very well lose the election.  The GOP has perfected the use of Jim Crow tactics to prevent from voting countless black, Hispanic and other ethnic citizens by electronic and other means.  The Democrats have been weak at best at protecting those votes.

They can also expect a “last minute surge” for Republican candidates, followed by “glitches” in electronic voting machines, especially in rural areas where election boards are controlled by Republicans.  If experience in states like Ohio, New Mexico, Wisconsin and elsewhere are any indicator, ballots will be “found” for the Republicans and “lost” for the Democrats in key swing districts.  These could easily determine the outcome.

They can also expect a “last minute surge” for Republican candidates, followed by “glitches” in electronic voting machines. As election protection activist Mimi Kennedy puts it:

” Georgia’s Special Election ‘glitched’ last April, when  Democrat Jon Ossoff’s totals went over 50% in his House race in the 6th District. That majority would have given him the seat outright. But tabulation in large Fulton County “glitched” for two hours, and when it came back up, Ossof fell below 50% and never recovered. This prompted the runoff election in June, which Ossof’s opponent – Georgia’s Republican former Secretary of State – won by a squeaker margin. When a lawsuit was filed to do forensics on the runoff, Kennesaw State University, which handles Georgia elections, wiped the servers clean but told nobody for months. When forced to admit the destruction of election records, the data managers called it “routine housecleaning.” 

“It is predictable that in rural areas of Virginia, where election boards are controlled by Republicans, problems might arise. For many of these counties, the return to paper ballots is brand-new. Ballots must still be counted by software. Experience in states like Ohio, New Mexico, Wisconsin and elsewhere indicate that “glitches” will occur, be blamed on unforeseeable error, and will benefit Republicans, not Democrats, in key swing districts.  Experience also shows that questions asked in such cases will go unanswered, and results, however anomalous, will stand.”

So far, the Democrats have been notoriously lax in fighting against such disenfranchisement and vote count theft.

According to election protection specialist John Brakey, Virginia now has electronic machines that provide ballot images.  These, he says, must be preserved after the election for purposes of a meaningful recount.  It is not yet clear if Democratic operatives are prepared to go to court or do whatever else is required to guarantee such scrutiny. If not, they may once again find that precautionary measures were the only way to avoid more losses from “glitches” that can never be rectified.

Much more is at stake here than just a few statewide offices.

With the governorship will come control of the state’s re-districting—“gerrymandering”—-process for a decade to come.  Should the Trump-right Republican Ed Gillespie become governor, he will conspire with the GOP-controlled legislature to re-draw the state’s Congressional and legislative districts in 2020.

In a state that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, there are eleven Congressional districts. Gerrymandering has given seven seats to Republicans, four to Democrats.  Thus a fair, non-partisan redistricting process in 2020 could shift as many as three or four seats in the US House of Representatives.  That won’t happen if Gillespie is elected.

Despite a statewide Democratic majority, both houses of the Virginia legislature are controlled by Republicans.

This election will also determine Virginia’s next secretary of state, who will have control over voter registration rolls and vote counts in upcoming elections.

Republican control of the governorship and secretary of state’s office would be very bad news for those fighting the hate-based regime of Steve Bannon and Donald Trump.   Trump has been asked by the GOP to not campaign in the state.  But fascist theoretician Bannon has called the election a referendum on “Trumpism without Trump.”

Bannon, Gillespie and their GOP operatives have saturated the state with vicious, blatantly racist anti-immigrant ads reminiscent of the infamous “Willie Horton” smears run by George H.W. Bush in 1988.  Such fascist scare tactics allowed Bush to beat Michael Dukakis.  GOP strategist Lee Atwater later apologized for those ads shortly before he died of brain cancer.

This year the Trump/Bannon GOP has saturated Virginia with horrific racist and anti-immigrant messages.  They’re also using them in New Jersey, where there is a governor’s race, and elsewhere.  Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Ralph Northam, has responded by saying he will oppose sanctuary cities in Virginia.

But the race has now become a test of how effective such hate-based propaganda can be.

It will also be a test to see if the Democrats are willing or able to protect the right to vote.  And if they can guarantee a fair and accurate electronic vote count after those ballots are cast.

————

Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman co-wrote The Strip & Flip Disaster of America’s Stolen Elections: Five Jim Crows & Electronic Election Theft (freepress.org, solartopia.org).  They broke most of the major stories about the GOP theft of Ohio’s 2004 presidential election.   Follow Harvey Wasserman on Twitter @Solartopia.

Can Democrats Stop Virginia, Alabama Elections From Being Stolen?

by Harvey Wasserman

originally published at TruthDig on November 2,  2017

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez

Donald Trump’s primary enablers, the corporate Democrats, may be poised to blow it again in upcoming elections in Virginia on Nov. 7 and Alabama on Dec. 12.

Both races are critical to stopping the Trump onslaught, and if the Democrats don’t act, the GOP could steal them. Independent election protection activists are working to reach the candidates and state parties. Their success or failure in preventing the theft of these two key elections will say much about the American future.

The Virginia governorship will be a key pivot in upcoming battles over gerrymandering. The far-right candidate, Ed Gilllespie, who now is running about even with Democrat Ralph Northam, could conspire with a GOP-controlled legislature to rig districts for the next decade.

In Alabama, a U.S. Senate victory for Roy Moore—a former judge with a history of racism, sexism and homophobia—would super-charge fascist theorist Steve Bannon’s ongoing putsch. Polls show Moore running even with Democrat Doug Jones for Jeff Sessions’ vacated seat.

In both states aggressive campaigns to disenfranchise voters of color could make the difference. The presence of easy-to-hack electronic voting machines also demand intense scrutiny from an active, engaged Democratic Party.

But the charisma-free trio of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Tom Perez appear incapable of opposing the Trump lunacy.

A new report entitled “Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis” by media critic Norman Solomon and other progressive activists explains what killed the Democratic Party and makes clear that the corporate Democrats in the Senate, House and party prefer Trump running wild in the White House over the social democrats represented by the nation’s most popular politician, Bernie Sanders.

The social democrats are the 30 million or more Americans who supported Sanders in last year’s primaries. They are the sole grass-roots force preventing a total Trump fascist coup.

But the Perez-led Democratic National Committee has purged Sandernista social democrats across the board. The party machinery is now in the hands of corporatists with no connection to the grass-roots activists who were once the soul of the party and embody its only chance to get back in power.

The Clinton corporatists long ago sold the party infrastructure to Goldman Sachs. As wealthy militarists, they stripped the DNC of any meaningful connection to the aggrieved grass roots of the dying American working and middle classes. Their core commitments are far closer to those of Donald Trump than they are to Bernie Sanders. They are far more comfortable with Trump in the White House than they would be with Sanders or someone else truly committed to social democracy.

They are also more than willing to let the GOP steal elections, since the Democrats have effectively won every presidential election since 1992.

But in 2000, Al Gore let Florida Gov. Jeb Bush steal the presidency for his brother George W. In an election allegedly decided by 537 votes, Gov. Bush stripped more than 90,000 primarily black and Hispanic voters from the registration rolls. He then flipped some 20,000 digital ballots from electronic machines in Volusia, Fla., and other counties at critical moments in the election night vote count.

Gore did seek a recount in four counties. But when the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to stop it, he conceded. Gore won the nationwide popular vote by more than half a million. He eventually won a recount in Florida. But despite his hundreds of millions in personal wealth, he’s never done anything to fight the corruption of our electoral system. Instead he’s joined the corporate chorus blaming Ralph Nader for daring to run a campaign that had zero impact on Gov. Bush’s theft of the 2000 election.

hio in 2004 John Kerry was the rightful winner of an election stripped and flipped by Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, who now sits on Trump’s Jim Crow Presidential Commission on Election Integrity to institutionalize election theft on a nationwide basis. Despite his personal millions, Kerry has never lifted a finger to make sure such a theft never happens again.

With Barack Obama, the grass roots rose up to put him in the White House. But the party shunned them once in office, and sat silent while the GOP took a thousand federal, state and local offices, many of them through illegal registration stripping and electronic vote flipping.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by some three million votes. She won the exit polls in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, more than enough to claim the presidency. Despite her immense personal wealth (or maybe because of it), she’s said nothing about any of that. Instead, she’s blamed her failures on James Comey, Vladimir Putin and Bernie Sanders.

Now the Democrats, having purged the Sanders/activist wing from the DNC, continue to lose elections under dubious circumstances. They threw in a winnable Georgia congressional race without a single challenge to obvious stripping of the voter rolls and serious inconsistencies in the electronic vote count. As with Gore, Kerry and Clinton, the corporate Democrats conceded without a whimper.

In Virginia and Alabama, the Jim Crow GOP is working to disenfranchise every likely Democrat.

But a new generation of voting machines will provide ballot images that could be scrutinized. Thus far, the corporate Democrats have no legal team in place to protect the registration rolls or examine the electronic vote count.

The national party, of course, claims to have no money. Bernie Sanders was able to raise millions with small donations. The social democrats might do it again if there was a party worth supporting.

But the corporations that bought the Clintons now have Trump in the White House. They don’t need the DNC. And having purged the grass-roots activists, the corporate Dems can’t raise the kind of funds that Bernie did.

If the Democrats somehow win in both Virginia and Alabama, the Trump rush to total power could be impacted.

That’s why each and every GOP disenfranchisement must be challenged. A well-organized, heavily funded legal team must scrutinize the electronic ballots after the inevitable GOP theft.

And both Democratic candidates must refuse to concede until every vote is counted and recounted.

The brain-dead corporate DNC shows no willingness to do anything like that. So Schumer, Pelosi and Perez need to stand down, and let independent election protection activists do their work.

Until they do, Donald Trump will once again run wild, with no effective opposition, leaving the GOP free to steal every election for the foreseeable future—with potentially apocalyptic consequences.

“““““““““““““““““

Harvey Wasserman is a safe energy activist and radio talk host based in Los Angeles. Tune in for California Solartopia on Thursdays at 6:30 pm on 90.7 KPFK-fm in Los Angeles.  Harvey’s Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth is at www.solartopia.org. and you can follow Harvey in Twitter @Solartopia

Swamp Tales: Puerto Rico Cancels $300 Million Trump Crony Electrical Grid Rebuild Contract

by Harvey Wasserman

originally published on The Progressive on October 30, 2017

estamos de pieA flag hangs from a highway overpass in Caguas, Puerto Rico declaring “Estamos de pie,” or “We are standing.” October, 2017.

The swampish saga would be hard to invent. In early October, Puerto Rico’s Energy Power Authority awarded a $300 million tax-funded contract to reconstruct the island’s hurricane devastated power grid to a two-person, two-year-old firm based in the small Montana hometown of Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The company is financially backed by a major donor to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
About eighty percent of Puerto Rico is still without power. Many hospitals are still dark. Local citizens needing medical treatments such as surgeries or dialysis have been forced to flee to places where electric power is available.
Puerto Rico’s power grid centers on antiquated oil, gas, and coal generators, the median age of which is forty-four years. Just two percent Puerto Rico’s juice came from wind and solar. One wind farm, on the south side of the island, survived Hurricane Maria largely intact, as did at least one small commercial solar array.
For Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents, restoring power is a matter of life and death. But the $300 million dollar contract was handed, with no public hearings, legislative discussion or long-term planning, to Whitefish, an obscure company from rural Montana.
At least one Zinke relative—his son—has worked on part-time contract for Whitefish. Zinke claims he had nothing to do with the deal.
Anti-Trump sentiment is rampant throughout the island, fed by a lack of concern expressed by the President for Puerto Ricans’ dire situation, and capped by a recent visit in which he pitched paper towels to a crowd of bewildered local residents. When San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz questioned the contract with Whitefish, the company threatened to stop work, then apologized.
The Puerto Rican power company’s contract astoundingly exempted Whitefish from official audits, stating, “In no event shall [governmental bodies] have the right to audit or review the cost and profit elements.” It also waived “any claim against Contractor related to delayed completion of the work,” meaning Whitefish was empowered to pretty much take as long as it wanted to complete the job.
Whitefish wasted no time deploying a gold-plated battalion of high-priced contract workers into the island. Each was granted $1,000 travel expenses for each flight to and from the island. The workers’ contracts called for $80/day in food expenses and $332/day for lodging. Wages were set at $240/hour for a foreman and $227/hour for linemen doing jobs for which prevailing U.S. wages are about $43/hour for supervisors and $23/hour for linemen. In other words, the deal reeked of Trump-era crony capitalism. When word spread, angry locals showered Whitefish workers with rocks and bottles.
But that was not the worst of it. Whitefish appeared to be rebuilding the wind-ravaged grid along exactly the same lines that existed prior to the storm. In other words, the company was reconstructing what was wiped away a month ago, and what would be virtually certain to be wiped away again by the next hurricane.

Since Maria, a lively public dialog has erupted over how to rebuild the island’s power system with sustainable design. Tesla’s Elon Musk sent in a shipment of Powerwall batteries designed to service solar-powered arrays. Tesla also installed a solar/battery/micro-grid array to make the Hospital del Nino entirely self-sufficient.
Musk has been in discussion with Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló about rebuilding the region along renewable lines, with windmills and photovoltaic panels powering a network of micro-grids that would give towns, neighborhoods and buildings a resilient safety net capable of weathering the inevitable next storm.
Multi-billionaire Richard Branson, whose private Necker Island was ravaged by recent storms, has also called for a “Green Marshall Plan” to rebuild the Caribbean with renewable energy. In a recent New York Times op-ed, coauthored with green energy guru Amory Lovins, Branson wrote that by solarizing and decentralizing the region’s grids, “we can stop blackouts caused by monster storms while also saving fossil fuel and reducing emissions of the greenhouse gases that warm the planet and make these storms more likely and destructive.”
Since Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria roared through Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean, smaller nonprofits and activist organizations have also been focused on the vision of a totally green-powered master plan.
On Sunday, October 29, amidst a firestorm of local and Congressional inquiries,The New York Times reported that Governor Rosselló had canceled the Whitefish contract. The company claims to have already spent millions. The court cases will undoubtedly churn up numerous storms of their own.
But the uproar should also focus on the growing demand that the electric power systems in Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean be reconstructed around renewables and microgrids, rather than fossil-fired central distribution networks.
Most likely those systems will not be built by Trump cronies flown in at huge expense, who then must dodge rocks and bottles being thrown by angry locals.

“““““““““““““““““

Long-time Progressive contributor Harvey Wasserman is a safe energy activist and radio talk host based in Los Angeles. Tune in for California Solartopia on Thursdays at 6:30 pm on 90.7 KPFK-fm in Los Angeles.  Harvey’s Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth is at www.solartopia.org. and you can follow Harvey in Twitter @Solartopia

 

Did an Obsolete, Poorly Maintained Power Grid Spark California Fires?

by Harvey Wasserman

Originally published at TruthDig on October 17, 2017

The sun shines through smoke and haze from fires over Santa Rosa, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The sun shines through smoke and haze from fires over Santa Rosa, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

The raging fires and toxic smoke clouds pouring through Northern California can only be described as apocalyptic.

Were they sparked by Pacific Gas & Electric’s centralized grid?

And where are our federal government and national media?

More than 40 people are dead; many more are missing. Given how fast the fires raced through the region, it’s possible that other humans—as well as farm animals, pets and wildlife—have been incinerated.

In many cases, the margin for escape was five minutes or less. Some people who did not leave their homes at the first sign of danger died. Some stood in home swimming pools for hours while everything burned around them. Flames  leaped over Highway 101 and other major roads, creating firestorms with temperatures of 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit and more.

Much of the quiet, comfortable town of Santa Rosa now looks like Hiroshima after the atomic bombing. Whole neighborhoods have been reduced to smoldering ash. Homes, businesses, factories, farms—some 5,700 buildings to date—plus gardens, vineyards, cars and forests have been vaporized.

The death toll is high, the dollar values incomprehensible. Hundreds of square miles of some of the world’s most vital, lush terrain have been obliterated.

Much of the fallout is now entering the lungs of some 7.6 million Bay Area residents.

The cloud recalls the dust and ash that coated New York City after the 9/11 disaster. The Environmental Protection Agency failed to evacuate Manhattan and did not warn area residents to wear protective clothing and masks. Years later, its then-chief, Christine Todd Whitman, issued a public apology.

That cloud contained arsenic, lead, mercury, zinc, cadmium, creosote, furans, dioxins and much much more—a devil’s brew of toxic chemicals perfectly designed to kill a large number of beings over the short and long term.

The cloud now swirling over the Bay Area and Northern California contains huge quantities of wood smoke, which can be toxic. Health authorities have warned people to stay inside and to be especially protective of their children and elders.

Bay Area residents have been urged to wear masks, but hospital-grade masks don’t filter out particulate matter. The heavier-duty N95 masks might help, but existing supplies have sold out. The idea for FEMA or the military to take in supplies of more effective protective gear seems never to have occurred to federal authorities.

Protective gear will be an issue during the cleanup, as toxic ash and other chemical residue will coat debris throughout the region.

Mark Sommer, a Bay Area author and renewable energy advocate, noted that thousands of people fled to shelters in Napa and Sonoma Counties.

“Many Bay Area residents seem in denial of the hazards they face, even at their distance from the fires,” he says. “Some even jog through the haze, pumping lethal chemicals deep into their lungs.”

Sommer, whose view from the 27th floor of an Emeryville, Calif., high-rise faces the Golden Gate and Marin headlands, says visibility has been as low as a quarter-mile. It’s been worse, he says, “than on a bad day in Beijing.”

As of Tuesday, nine days after the conflagration began, the biggest fires are at least 50 percent contained. There is hope the winds will die down. Rain is a welcome possibility.

What has not been welcome is the profound neglect of this catastrophe by the federal government and major media. By and large, the story of this unparalleled catastrophe has played second fiddle to Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sorry sex life. With few exceptions, the death of as many as a hundred or more Americans, the incineration of entire California communities and the poisoning of the air in one of the world’s most beloved cities has been of little interest to the corporate television media.

Nor has it moved Donald Trump.

Needless to say, the president has declined to come to California or seriously discuss this gargantuan tragedy with the media or even in his deranged tweets. No emergency panels have been convened, and there’s been no dramatic mobilization of FEMA. Federal resources to help the multitude of taxpaying Americans whose lives have been destroyed, and whose health and survival are still under fire, have been sparse, to say the least.

The widespread assumption is that because California is largely nonwhite and voted overwhelmingly against Trump in 2016, he has even less interest in helping people here than he did with Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria. He has, however, continued to gut federal protections against global warming and to push a power plan based on fossil fuels and nuclear reactors.

Conversely, says Sommer, “The most important story here has been the deeply impressive response of emergency personnel, local authorities, firefighters and surrounding communities offering shelter and supplies to the stricken victims of the fires. It’s the strength of local communities that provides the essential resilience required to deal with the cascading calamities of our new normal.”

Within that “new normal,” there’s widespread speculation that this entire catastrophe might have been sparked by an obsolete pole-and-wires grid that is owned and badly maintained by Pacific Gas & Electric, the region’s dominant utility, according to The (San Jose) Mercury News.

Tied to an aging network of decrepit, fossil-fired power plants, plus two Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors surrounded by earthquake faults near San Luis Obispo, this massive Rube Goldberg grid was by many accounts poised for disaster.

The Mercury News investigation has raised the question of why the wind knocked down so many power lines. According to reporting by Paul Rogers, Lisa Krieger and Matthias Gafni, PG&E is legally required to guarantee that its poles can withstand hurricane-force winds. But The Mercury News says many collapsed in the weaker winds that sparked the fires.

That would lead to the nightmare scenario of a grid-fired catastrophe. In addition to providing wind-resistant poles, PG&E is required to keep the right of way under its power lines free from undergrowth. It also must trim nearby trees so branches and trunks don’t fall on the wires, shorting them out. The Mercury News casts serious doubt on whether that was done, as required by law.

The global-warmed weather conditions that fed this catastrophe are well known. A very wet spring led to a massive explosion of foliage throughout Northern California. But the state’s hot and dry summer turned it all into huge quantities of tinder.

Arson, of course, can’t be ruled out. But PG&E has a brutal history of negligence, according to The Mercury News.

In 1994, the company was convicted on 739 counts of malfeasance and fined almost $30 million after its high-voltage lines were hit by falling trees. The resulting fire destroyed 12 homes and a vintage schoolhouse. Prosecutors showed that the company had taken some $80 million meant for tree-cutting—which might have prevented the fire—and used it to expand profits.

In 2010, company gas lines exploded in the upscale suburb of San Bruno, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes. The Public Utilities Commission fined PG&E $1.6 billion. Criminal charges were filed in federal court based on the company’s repeated postponement of repairs that could have averted the disaster. No PG&E executives have yet gone to jail.

The company also operates two aging reactors at Diablo Canyon, which are surrounded by earthquake faults. Plagued by core embrittlement, nuclear waste mismanagement, collapsing infrastructure and much more, the utility has cut a deal with state regulators, local communities, labor unions and some environmental groups to shut the reactors in 2024 and 2025. But critics fear that a seismic shock—the reactors are less than 50 miles from the San Andreas Fault—could send a radioactive cloud into downtown Los Angeles within five hours. Under federal law, PG&E would be financially responsible for just a fraction of the ensuing holocaust.

This year’s fires will produce a tsunami of litigation. If it’s proved that PG&E’s downed poles were not to code, and that they sparked foliage that should have been removed, the ensuing lawsuits are likely to involve staggering numbers, demands for jail time and maybe the ultimate bankruptcy of the utility, which would be welcomed by many.

Many people are dead, thousands are homeless, the ecological damage is epic, and the rebuilding costs will stretch into the tens of billions. On the heels of three major hurricanes, this “new normal” defies the imagination.

The dominant question remains: Was this fire caused by an incompetent, negligent megacorporation badly running a centralized electric grid? And if so, what will replace PG&E and its obsolete grid as rebuilding begins?

The challenge runs parallel to that of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. There, Hurricane Maria took out the central electric grids entirely. In response, a movement has grown up to replace them with a decentralized network of locally controlled solar panels, wind power and biofuels. Power would be generated and distributed at the community level. To the extent that a heavily revised and downgraded central grid might be useful for large wind and solar farms, its role in a global-warmed world would be as a backup for a decentralized, community-based generation.

Thus begins the campaign to rebuild the islands and Northern California along Solartopian lines, with decentralized solar, wind, biofuels and geothermal energy transcending the old central grid and dumping the old central utilities into the compost heap of history.

As Northern Californians stagger under the shock of deaths, toxic air and ecological and property damage, the debate may seem premature.

The challenge remains: How do we avoid the next global-warmed ecological holocaust? Sommer hopes for “a collaborative design process where cities and their neighborhoods come together to map the architecture of their own power systems.”

But one thing is certain: Their solutions will not include transmission poles that fall over in moderate winds, possibly sparking bone-dry brush left uncut.

==============================

Harvey is a lifelong activist who speaks, writes and organizes widely on energy, the environment, election protection, social justice, grass-roots politics and natural healing, personal and planetary.

He hosts “California Solartopia” at KPFK-Pacifica and “Green Power & Wellness” at prn.fm. He edits nukefree.org, solartopia.org and has taught history, diversity and ecology studies at numerous colleges. 

Follow Harvey on Twitter @Solatopia

….

« Older posts

© 2017 Solartopia.org

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑