Foxconn Gets a Pollution Pass for Its Wisconsin Factory

Read more of this story here from DCReport.org by David Crook.

Trump and Walker OK Plant Pumping Clean Lake Michigan Water and Then Dumping Polluted Water Back

Get paid to pollute!

That’s the unspoken new policy of the Trump administration and its ally in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker. Their administrations are giving environmental protection waivers together with billions of dollars in subsidies to Foxconn, the giant Taiwan manufacturer best known for assembling iPhones.

Foxconn will be allowed to suck up to 7 million gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan and then dump that water, which may be laced with pollutants from making liquid crystal display panels, back into the lake.

Local officials are aghast. They understand the dangers to health and tourism if America goes back to the pre-Nixon policies of treating the Great Lakes as an industrial toxic waste pond.

Foxconn has not revealed what toxic metals and chemicals will be used but said it plans to distill the water it uses to decrease water use and recycle water.

The Trump administration helped arrange a $10 billion deal for Foxconn, which has started construction in Mount Pleasant, a Racine County village of about 26,000 people. If fully built out the industrial complex would be three times the size of the Pentagon.

Gov. Walker exempted the Foxconn factory from any major environmental review. Last-minute changes by Trump political appointees at the EPA could keep Foxconn from making expensive improvements to reduce smog.

Action Box/What You Can Do About It

Call EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler at 202-564-4700 to tell him your thoughts about protecting our Great Lakes or write him at EPA Headquarters / William Jefferson Clinton Building / 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW / Mail Code: 1101A / Washington, D.C. 20460

Midwest Environmental Advocates can be reached at 608-251-5047 or advocate@midwestadvocates.org

“We can protect our natural resources and support job creation at the same time,” said Ann Hasenberg, a Walker spokeswoman.

These pro-pollution favors are being challenged in court by Lisa Madigan, the Illinois attorney general.

Walker met with billionaire Terry Gou, the chairman of Foxconn Technology Group, in April 2017 in the office of Trump’s chief of staff. That meeting came just days after a White House aide called an executive at a Wisconsin economic development organization. The meeting between the two has been portrayed as part of the romance between Foxconn and Wisconsin that the company and the state claim will bring up to 13,000 jobs to Wisconsin. Notice that “up to.”

But the legalese and fine print underlying the deal suggest that Gou was more interested in how best to exploit our nation’s Great Lakes, home to a fifth of the world’s surface fresh water. Mount Pleasant is a “straddling community” only partly in the Great Lakes basin. Such communities can tap water from the Great Lakes provided the water is used “solely for public water supply purposes.”

Wisconsin, known under Walker for rarely enforcing its own standards for industrial water pollution, approved using water from Lake Michigan for the 22-million-square-foot industrial complex’s water needs.

Local officials understand the dangers if America goes back to treating the Great Lakes as an industrial toxic waste pond.

An LCD plant coats glass sheets with dozens of layers of thin material that conduct electricity. Washing the glass as each layer is applied uses millions of gallons of water.

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources brought in a manager to oversee quick environmental permitting for Foxconn.

“We can get these jobs going on the ground and still have the environmental protection – and I will even say enhancement – as a result of this project,” Cathy Stepp, then the secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said in 2017.

Stepp, who campaigned for Trump, later joined the EPA and is now a regional administrator in the Midwest for the EPA where her duties will include overseeing some of the chemicals used at Foxconn. The former deputy secretary at the Wisconsin DNR, Kurt Thiede, is now Stepp’s chief of staff.

Trump’s Army Corps of Engineers said it had no jurisdiction over wetlands that would be filled. Wisconsin gave up state authority over wetlands on the Foxconn property.

“Right now, we don’t have any authority on the site,” said Todd Vesperman, a Corps section chief.

Featured image: Polluted water at a Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China (2012 photo by Jordan Pouille)

Read more

Court Orders Ban on Harmful Pesticide, Says EPA Violated Law

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by MICHAEL BIESECKER / The Associated Press.

WASHINGTON—A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that the Trump administration endangered public health by keeping the widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos (clor-PEER-i-fos) on the market despite extensive scientific evidence that even tiny levels of exposure can harm babies’ brains.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to remove chlorpyrifos from sale in the United States within 60 days.

A coalition of farmworkers and environmental groups sued last year after then-EPA chief Scott Pruitt reversed an Obama-era effort to ban chlorpyrifos, which is widely sprayed on citrus fruits, apples and other crops. The attorneys general for several states joined the case against EPA, including California, New York and Massachusetts.

In a split decision, the court said Thursday that Pruitt, a Republican forced to resign earlier this summer amid ethics scandals, violated federal law by ignoring the conclusions of agency scientists that chlorpyrifos is harmful.

“The panel held that there was no justification for the EPA’s decision in its 2017 order to maintain a tolerance for chlorpyrifos in the face of scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children,” Appeals Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff wrote in the majority’s opinion.

EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said the agency was reviewing the decision. It could appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Environmental groups and public health advocates hailed the court’s action as a major victory.

“Some things are too sacred to play politics with, and our kids top the list,” said Erik Olson, senior director of health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The court has made it clear that children’s health must come before powerful polluters. This is a victory for parents everywhere who want to feed their kids fruits and veggies without fear it’s harming their brains or poisoning communities.”

Chlorpyrifos was created by Dow Chemical Co. in the 1960s. It remains among the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the United States, with the chemical giant selling about 5 million pounds domestically each year through its subsidiary Dow AgroSciences.

Dow did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. In past statements, the company has contended the chemical helps American farmers feed the world “with full respect for human health and the environment.”

Chlorpyrifos belongs to a family of organophosphate pesticides that are chemically similar to a chemical warfare agent developed by Nazi Germany before World War II.

As a result of its wide use as a pesticide over the past four decades, traces of chlorpyrifos are commonly found in sources of drinking water. A 2012 study at the University of California at Berkeley found that 87 percent of umbilical-cord blood samples tested from newborn babies contained detectable levels of the pesticide.

Under pressure from federal regulators, Dow voluntarily withdrew chlorpyrifos for use as a home insecticide in 2000. EPA also placed “no-spray” buffer zones around sensitive sites, such as schools, in 2012.

In October 2015, the Obama administration proposed banning the pesticide’s use on food. Pruitt reversed that effort in March 2017, adopting Dow’s position that the science showing chlorpyrifos is harmful was inconclusive and flawed.

Read more

Missing the Full Forest

Read more of this story here from DCReport.org by David Crook.

Trump Weighs In on the California Fires … and Get’s Everything Wrong

Even hundreds of miles from the multiple wildfires in Northern California, smoke from the fires turns the sky gray. These wildfires are huge and dangerous, as well as sneaky and hard to put down.

Apparently, the scientific and emotional reality from that danger doesn’t really reach Washington – or Washington in exile at the Trump resort in Bridgewater, N.J.

Trump decided to wade into the forest firestorms, which are bringing up anew conversations about the effects of climate change, by tweeting earlier this week.

 

NASA satellite view of the smoke and fires in Northern California.

 

“California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear stop fire spreading!”

But this tweet, as usual, has a couple of reality problems.

This is a tweet worth examining. There are no “lies” in it, just policy misunderstandings. Simply put, to me, any president, Trump included, should be able to describe accurately what problem his administration is trying to solve. So, inaccurate linkages of wildfires to water management or hiding a business-leaning set of deregulation moves behind causing wildfires is plain lazy. He is not doing his homework. Or he is turning a disaster that is burning homes into a partisan political statement on a totally unrelated water management issue.

For openers, available water does not seem to be the problem in these wildfires. There are nearby lakes and reservoirs, and the prime tools for fighting these fires include creating fire breaks and dropping chemical retardants; water suppression generally plays less of a dousing role.

Secondly, the reference to bad environmental rules probably is about the long-term debate between big farms, which want free irrigation waters, and environmentalists, who want to maintain natural wetlands as water moves downstream.

And then Trump also throws in forest clearing, as if that is related to the cause of the fires. Indeed, his administration is moving to allow commercial logging of healthy green pine trees for the first time in decades in the Los Padres National Forest north of Los Angeles, a tactic the U.S. Forest Service says will reduce fire risk, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The tweet never mentions climate change, because Trump views it variously as a “hoax” manufactured by the Chinese or bad policy because it unduly punishes U.S. investment and business growth. It is not about adding jobs.  Nor does it reflect any empathy for those who have lost their homes.

Scientists – people Trump apparently disdains – say that the earth is warming, which in turn is drying areas like California, that weather patterns are becoming more extreme in too much rain and flooding, or too much heat, leading to drought. Overall, California is facing dry forests and conditions in which wildfires can take hold quickly. Gov. Jerry Brown has said this dryness is the new norm.

The L.A. Times noted that the brunt of Trump’s tweet attempts to tie the fires ravaging Northern California to complaints by members of the state’s Republican congressional delegation about environmental protections that have reduced water deliveries to San Joaquin Valley agriculture. But Scott McClean, deputy chief of the state Department of Forest and Fire Protection, says, “We’re having no problems as far as access to water supply. The problem is changing climate leading to more severe and destructive fires.”

Meanwhile, the White House is seeking to reopen some of the most sensitive and sought-after public lands in the state not just for timber production, but also for potential solar, wind, broadband infrastructure, mining, off-road vehicle and grazing uses. Environmental groups have long argued that the logging industry has used fire as an excuse to plunder forests, cutting big trees and leaving behind only small, unmarketable timber.

The timber industry, however, says that in order to remove flammable deadwood and stop the spread of insects to still-healthy trees, it needs greater access to more valuable live trees.

So far this year, an estimated 4,800 fires have burned about 550,000 acres, destroying more than 1,000 homes and killing eight people including four firefighters, authorities say.

Since the early 1990s, when people started moving in greater numbers to forested areas, the Forest Service has been under pressure from the environmental movement and the timber industry to come up with a strategy acceptable to both. Timber harvesting in Southern California has been largely restricted to post-fire thinning and salvage logging operations in and around alpine communities such as Idyllwild, in the San Jacinto Mountains, and Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains. Most of the marketable wood generated by those efforts was cut and sold as firewood.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue raised annual timber production targets for the Los Padres National Forest from 200,000 cubic feet of wood in 2017 to 400,000 cubic feet this year.

L.A. Times columnist Michael Hiltzik said that Trump “deserves some sort of award for most glaring misstatements about (climate change and water policy) in the smallest number of words.” Hiltzik adding that “It’s proper to note that the environmental policies being promoted by the Trump White House will make climate change worse, further endangering forest areas.

Trump “has no idea what’s causing the wildfires this season, no conception of how to fight them and no plan in place to alter the trend of more fires or more severity. Doing so means devoting attention to a complex problem that involves science, nature and government action. That can’t be accomplished via a Sunday night tweet.”

Amen.

Read more

How Fair Is That Fair Trade Label?

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Valerie Vande Panne / Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

If you consider yourself a conscious consumer, you might have stood before the chocolate section at your Whole Foods, reading label after label of “fair trade” logos, and wondered, what the heck do all these different certifications mean?

If you asked yourself that—you’re correct to wonder. There are dozens of “fair trade” logos slapped on products, and some are as empty as you might suspect.

But there are some certifications that do mean something, like no child labor was used in the creation of the product (ahem, fast fashion brands like Adidas and H&M).

Here’s a basic primer on “fair trade” to help you shop smarter, and bring more meaning to your purchases.

What “Fair Trade” Usually Means

We say “usually” because, well, merely using the words doesn’t mean the company adheres to all the principles of fair trade. According to Fair World Project, the principles of fair trade are:

Long-Term Direct Trading Relationships

Payment of Fair Prices

No Child, Forced or Otherwise Exploited Labor

Workplace Non-Discrimination, Gender Equity and Freedom of Association

Democratic & Transparent Organizations

Safe Working Conditions & Reasonable Work Hours

Investment in Community Development Projects

Environmental Sustainability

Traceability and Transparency

By meeting these points, a company is demonstrating their support for localized sustainability—not just environmentally, but also by ensuring workers are compensated justly across the supply chain, from the remotest parts of the world to your store. Fair trade principles should be found encompassing many of the products you purchase regularly, from produce, coffee, tea, and chocolate to non-food items like clothing.

“Fair trade” designation is especially helpful for those consumers unwilling or unable to purchase products from local farmers, regenerative fiber cooperatives, etc.

How “Fair Trade” Is Measured

There are two primary ways “fair trade” companies are measured: By third-party auditors and certifiers, and by member organizations.

Member organizations have companies that join and say they are “fair trade,” and perhaps meet some, or even all, of the criteria for fair trade. However, there isn’t always an on-the-ground auditing process to ensure these “members” of fair trade organizations are, in fact, meeting all those criteria, and there might not be an on-the-ground audit of what’s happening with their products in the home countries, such as in rural Guatemala, or Zimbabwe.

Certifiers provide a third-party audit of an entire company’s supply chain related to the product or company seeking “certified” fair trade status.

A company can be “certified” but not a “member,” and vice versa.

Some certifier labels to look out for:

Fair for Life (FFL): This label is issued by Ecocert, and according to the Fair World Project, has “strong eligibility requirements with a focus on marginalized producers.”

Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) and Fair Trade Certified: While this organization seems at one time to have been highly regarded, they are no longer endorsed by Fair World Project. FWP cites the organization ignoring concerns from small farm producers as well as falling short on living wage requirements.

Fairtrade International (FLO) and Fairtrade USA: This multi-member association of more than two dozen affiliated organizations works to develop fair trade standards, experts, and helps everyone from small producers to government bureaucracies understand and cultivate fair trade principles. They also have their own constitution.

Some membership-based labels to watch out for:

Fair Trade Federation is North American–oriented and devoted to “building equitable and sustainable trading partnerships and creating opportunities to alleviate poverty.”

World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO): This organization is “the only global network whose members represent the Fair Trade chain from production to sale,” according to Fair World Project.

Fair World Project is a comprehensive place to learn more about fair trade and its certifiers and meanings—especially since one of their primary purposes is “to keep eco-social terms meaningful.” That’s an important point and no easy task—just look at how everything from “handcrafted” to “natural” to “organic” has been corrupted.

The important takeaway is that some of those labels you’re seeing are more meaningful than others. Read them! Research them! And when you’re trying to evaluate the quality of a company, take a moment to learn about them, and avoid the ones who contribute to child labor, slave wages, and toxic work environment. Also: It’s not just about certifications. There’s a good chance your local farm is good on all points—but absolutely unable to afford proper certifications. Shopping local, where you can know your farmer and food sources, is always a good choice.

And, you can advocate in your community with your local co-ops, clothing and grocery stores for more, and genuine, fair trade products.

Read more

Where Extreme Heat and Humidity Will Hit the Hardest

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Tim Radford / Climate News Network.

By the close of the century, the two-fisted assault of extreme heat and humidity could make the North China plain a deadly zone.

As water vapour rises from irrigated farmland, in heat extremes which are likely if humans go on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuels, then air temperatures and moisture conditions could become such that outdoor workers could no longer cool by perspiration.

In such circumstances no normal healthy person could survive more than six hours. And since 400 million people already live on the North China plain, by 2070 the consequences of ever-greater temperatures could be devastating, according to new research in the journal Nature Communications.

Simultaneously, a second study in a separate journal confirms that by 2080 excess deaths from extremes of heat will have risen in the tropics, subtropics and even the temperate zones.

In three of Australia’s great cities, deaths from heat waves will have risen by more than 470%.

“Future heatwaves in particular will be more frequent, more intense and will last much longer”

The warning for China – which already emits more greenhouse gases than any other nation – is based on what meteorologists call “wet bulb” temperature, the combination of heat and humidity. When this climbs towards the natural body temperatures of humans and other mammals, conditions become dangerous. The North China plain covers 400,000 square kilometres of fertile floodplain irrigated by three great rivers.

The alarm is sounded by Elfatih Eltahir and a colleague at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.

Professor Eltahir first identified the additional hazard of humidity in extremes of heat with a simulation of close-of-the-century temperatures that pinpointed the Gulf region, between Iran and the Arabian peninsula, as the zone where temperatures could become lethal. But the worst extremes would be over water.

A second examination of likely conditions under what climate scientists call the “business-as-usual” scenario, in which nations go on burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases in ever-increasing quantities, pinpointed Asia as the continent most at risk of lethal heat extremes for the greatest numbers of people.

The latest study is a refinement of the projections, and is based on evidence from the most recent three decades. Warming in the North China region has been double the global average – 0.24°C per decade compared to 0.13°C for the rest of the world. In 2013 there were extremes of heat that lasted for up to 50 days, and maximum temperatures topped 38°C (around the accepted limit for humans).

Irrigation key

And the potential lethal factor for the region is likely to be irrigation: rainfall in the north is low, and evaporation from the soil moisture adds around another 0.5°C to local temperatures. Water vapour is itself a greenhouse gas.

“This spot is just going to be the hottest spot for deadly heat waves in the future, especially under climate change,” said Professor Eltahir.

That extremes of heat combined with higher hazards from humidity are already on the increase, and will continue with ever-greater ratios of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, is firmly established. A second international study, in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Medicine, looks at the risks for more than 400 communities in 20 countries for the decades 2031 to 2100, and once again it is based on a business-as-usual scenario, and data from recent decades.

If the world goes on warming according to the gloomiest predictions, the levels of heat-related excess mortality, the statistician’s phrase for death by heatstroke or heat exhaustion, then deaths in Colombia will by 2080 have risen by 2,000%. Even in Moldova, the sample country with the lowest risk, they will have risen by 150%. In Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, the hazard will have soared by 470%.

Inexorable rise

That heat can kill has been known for decades, and the tens of thousands of extra deaths during heatwaves in Europe in 2003, and Russia in 2010, were harsh reminders. More extremes of temperature are inevitable.

Research of this kind is intended to encourage thinking about ways in which health authorities and city bosses could act to reduce the hazard. But for a global problem, a global solution could be the surest answer.

“Future heatwaves in particular will be more frequent, more intense and will last much longer,” said Yuming Guo of Monash University in Australia, who led the research.

“If we cannot find a way to mitigate climate change (reduce the heatwave days) and help people adapt to heat waves, there will be a big increase of heatwave-related deaths in the future, particularly in poor countries located around the equator.”

Read more

Texas Chemical Plant, 2 Top Officials Indicted for ‘Reckless’ Release

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by EMILY SCHMALL / The Associated Press.

FORT WORTH, Texas—The North American subsidiary of a French chemical manufacturer and two senior staff members were indicted Friday in connection with last year’s explosion at the Crosby, Texas, plant in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Arkema North America, its CEO Richard Rowe and plant manager Leslie Comardelle were charged in the Harris County indictment with “recklessly” releasing chemicals into the air. The charge carries up to $1 million in fines and five years’ imprisonment.

“Indictments against corporations are rare,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement. “Those who poison our environment will be prosecuted when the evidence justifies it.”

After Arkema’s plant lost power, its organic peroxides began heating and decomposing. The compounds, used in a variety of products from plastics to paints, caught fire and partially exploded, sending plumes of smoke skyward.

First responders and neighbors said they were sickened after the incident at the plant near Houston.

Arkema spokeswoman Janet Smith on Friday said the corporation would fight the indictment, citing a U.S. Chemical Safety Board report released last May that credited it for having safeguards that likely would’ve worked in a low-level flood event.

Arkema officials have insisted since the incident last August that they planned as best they could but that the rainfall was unprecedented.

The agency’s lead investigator Mark Wingard said Arkema crews worked “to the best of their ability” to keep equipment that cooled and stabilized its organic peroxides from losing power as six feet of water engulfed the plant.

An internal watchdog at the Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it will audit the agency’s response following several high-profile accidents and spills after the historic storm, including the explosions and fire at the Arkema plant.

Read more

As Climate Turns Deadly, Media Are Stuck in Denial

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Sonali Kolhatkar.

If you live in California, the effects of climate change loom large this summer. In Southern California, where I live, back-to-back heat waves have enveloped suburbs in triple-digit temperatures for weeks now. In Northern California, a fire that has burned more than 100,000 acres and claimed the lives of several people in Shasta County has been declared the seventh worst in the state’s history.

If it was only the Golden State experiencing such extreme events, we might consider the deadly heat an anomaly. But across the world, thermometers are bursting in a global heat wave spanning from Japan to Algeria, to Greece, the U.K. and everywhere in between. This year is on pace to be among the four hottest years on record. The other three were 2017, 2016 and 2015. There can be no clearer indication that global warming—the predictable outcome of excessive fossil fuel consumption—is a reality, just as scientists have predicted it would be for decades.

But you wouldn’t know it from most corporate media reports. While there is adequate of coverage of heat waves and their effects on people and the environment, only a small percentage of media outlets link the heat to climate change. The watchdog group Public Citizen released a report last week titled “Extreme Silence: How the U.S. Media Have Failed to Connect Climate Change to Extreme Heat in 2018.” It examined media coverage by national and local newspapers, as well as TV networks, between January 1 and July 8 and found that only a small percentage of stories covering extreme temperatures explicitly mentioned climate change. Researchers concluded that “major U.S. media outlets are largely failing to connect these monumental weather events to climate change.” Worse, the report “finds that media were significantly less likely to connect extreme heat to climate change when reporting during a major heat event.”

In an interview with me about this troubling trend, 350.org communications manager Thanu Yakupityage observed that “People are dying. We’re not talking a few people—we’re talking tens of hundreds, of thousands of people who will continue to be affected every year while the media stays silent.”

On Twitter, MSNBC host Chris Hayes offered one explanation for the media’s poor job of covering climate change recently, saying, “Almost without exception, every single time we’ve covered it’s been a palpable ratings killer. [S]o the incentives are not great.” Yakupityage, who told me she was once in a room with Hayes when he said something similar, responded: “If the media is not covering climate change, they’re also not giving people the information they need on how to protect themselves.” In other words, media outlets are betraying the public trust by failing to inform us.

It is tempting to take a head-in-the-sand approach to climate change because it is such a daunting issue for which there seems to be no political will to do what is needed. Books have been written about the human psychological response to climate change. Although the solution for tackling it is obvious—dramatically reduce fossil fuel consumption—moneyed interests and political inaction preserving the status quo give ordinary people the sense that it is an insurmountable problem. As new temperature records are broken each year, we are inexplicably moving toward <i>more</i> fossil fuel consumption rather than less. And there seems to be little we can do to stop this trend.

President Donald Trump, in particular, has added fuel to the fire burning our planet through numerous actions, arguably the worst of which was withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. Recently, his administration offered a perverse argument to justify its freezing of gas-mileage standards in cars: More fuel-efficient cars would encourage more people to drive, which  would endanger more lives by increasing car accidents. According to The Associated Press, the government “contends that freezing the mileage requirements at 2020 levels would save up to 1,000 lives per year.” In Trump’s world, global warming poses no real danger. It is no wonder that so many Americans who see the effects of climate change feel powerless.

Another part of the problem with our mass denial about climate change is that we hear constant qualifications in the reporting of extreme weather. Google the phrases “while no single” and “climate change” and you will see a large number of publications that include some variant of the phrase (this one is from a recent USA Today article): “while no single event can be attributed to human-induced climate change. … ” It may be more scientifically accurate to qualify climate coverage of extreme weather patterns, but it is unnecessary to use such language in reports aimed at the layperson. Such language dilutes the soundness of climate science, on which there is overwhelming consensus. It is a concession to climate denialists, who took a page from the tobacco industry’s strategy to successfully sow enough doubt about climate science to coerce journalists and climate scientists into being overly careful when making claims.

Readers of reports who refuse to definitively connect scorching temperatures to climate change might be less likely to take the long-term threat seriously. There is rarely this much rigor in contemporary media coverage of the cause-and-effect aspect of lung cancer’s connection to smoking, for instance. But when it comes to the most important existential crisis of our time, reporters appear to bend over backward to qualify every connection between extreme weather and climate change.

What every person on this planet needs to read and hear about is a clear identification of the climate culprit. In Yakupityage’s words, “The root of the problem is fossil fuels. The root of the problem is our burning of coal, gas and other fossil fuels. If we as a global community can stop [burning] fossil fuels, we can help to reduce the impact of the climate crisis greatly.”

In the meantime, the media also need to focus on resiliency and adaptation to a changing climate. This is not an acceptance of defeat—it is a practical approach. Talking about resiliency and adaptation can save lives while keeping alive the conversation about reducing fossil fuels in the long term. The alternative is to pretend nobody knows why the planet is getting hotter, why there are more deadly wildfires and hurricanes and why there are more record-breaking heat waves every summer.

The deadly effects of climate change are being broadcast all across our lands in fierce flames and blistering heat. Next it will come in the form of superstorms, submerged coastal areas and other disasters. Here in the U.S., we won’t hear much about any of these alarm bells from politicians eager to retain their seats in Congress this November.

Ultimately, political action from the bottom up is what has always led change. To that end, there is a promising lawsuit that rightly targets the government for endangering the future of our children. The Supreme Court on Monday gave the green light to a case being brought by a number of young Americans, aged 11 to 22, against the government over inaction on climate change. The suit was first launched against the Obama administration three years ago and has slowly wound its way through the legal system, even as the effects of human-created climate change multiply around us.

On the activist front, people worldwide are expected to protest climate inaction on Sept. 8. On the website riseforclimate.org, organizers say, “No more stalling, no more delays: it’s time for a fast and fair transition to 100% renewable energy for all.” The fate of our species depends on how loudly we raise our voices and force the issue of climate change onto center stage.

Read more

Trump Administration Plans to Slash Fire Science Funding

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by By Randy Lee Loftis / Reveal.

UTE PARK, N.M.—Bill Allen pointed to a north-facing slope of blackened pine and juniper forest. A thin vortex of pale white ash, picked up by a hot morning wind, rose from the black and gray landscape a wildfire left behind.

“It started right there,” said Allen, a rancher and retired hardware store owner.

Igniting May 31 on mountainous terrain, the fire grew quickly. Soon, more than 600 firefighters struggled to protect about 200 homes along the Cimarron River. When the fire was declared over 17 days later, it had burned 36,740 acres of forest and grassland.

Like all wildfires, the Ute Park Fire was dangerous and expensive. But no one died and crews saved every home – thanks in part to a century of hard-won firefighting know-how.

Science played a vital role in this success story by helping develop the best ways to battle wildfires. But the Trump administration wants to slash federal funding for wildfire science, at a time when forest and brush fires are getting bigger, happening year-round and becoming increasingly erratic.

Federally funded scientists have been seeking new methods and technologies to predict, prepare and respond – critical for safeguarding people and property. They have discovered ways to reduce risks before fires and restore land and waterways afterward. And they explore how fuels, flames, terrain, smoke and weather interact.

Defunding those efforts will endanger lives, researchers told Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

“A wildland fire (budget) cut is a human health cut,” said Donald Falk, a University of Arizona professor who has received research funding from some of the federal programs the White House has targeted.

Last week, the latest wildfire tragedy struck Redding, California, where scientists said a super-hot, tornado-like “fire vortex” reached almost 5 miles high. Six people, including two children, have been killed and more than 1,400 homes and buildings have been destroyed so far in the Carr fire.

Since 1983, about 72,000 fires  have burned the American landscape every year. That number has not grown. But the acreage has – 10 million acres burned last year, which is nearly eight times as much as in 1983.

Nevertheless, fire science funding has been eroding for more than a decade, even before President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts.

Nancy French, a senior research scientist at the Michigan Tech Research Institute who has federal funding, said she is “extremely frustrated, more so than I’ve ever been in my life.”

“You would think with people’s houses burning in California and the concern that we have for air quality that it wouldn’t be hard to find a way to fund someone like me to make sure that my capability is used to help solve some of these problems,” she said.

Interim U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen did not respond to requests for comment about fire research, and the administration’s budget documents contain no explanation for the cuts. But during a Senate hearing in April, she said the administration’s new budget “does reflect hard choices and difficult tradeoffs.”

On-the-Ground Help

Wildland fire science emerges from a small community of physicists, chemists, ecologists, meteorologists and others working for government agencies and universities to understand one of nature’s most violent forces.

The U.S. Forest Service, Interior Department, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and even the Defense Department have roles. Fire research budgets at these agencies, always small and declining for decades, would take a major hit under Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget.

One proposed cut would eliminate the Joint Fire Science Program, a cooperative venture by the Forest Service and six Interior Department agencies. Even if Congress steps in to fund the program, the financial uncertainty already has forced it to suspend new research proposals for next year.

In the past 10 years alone, the program funded 280 projects by 1,045 scientists at various universities and other institutions, with studies designed to meet the needs of local and state firefighters. This year’s budget is $3 million.

The program’s research “is indeed being utilized in decision-making on the ground,” said University of Arizona research scientist Molly E. Hunter, a science adviser to the program.

A U.S. Forest Service sign in Carson National Forest in northeastern New Mexico warns the public of a very high danger of wildfire. Under President Donald Trump’s proposed 2019 budget, the Forest Service’s research and development budget, which includes wildfire science, would shrink by 16 percent, or $46 million.

A U.S. Forest Service sign in Carson National Forest in northeastern New Mexico warns the public of a very high danger of wildfire. Under President Donald Trump’s proposed 2019 budget, the Forest Service’s research and development budget, which includes wildfire science, would shrink by 16 percent, or $46 million. (Randy Lee Loftis / Reveal)

Northern New Mexico’s Ute Park Fire, ignited by an unknown cause, is an example of science’s contributions. Homes, mostly vacation retreats, stayed safe during the fire due in part to a fuel reduction plan that Colfax County adopted in 2008 after studies funded by the federal program.

Bea Day, incident commander of a federal-state wildfire team based in New Mexico, said fire and smoke models developed at forestry department research labs – whose budgets are targeted for cuts – helped map her team’s daily strategy to fight the Ute Park Fire. Also in the toolbox are geographical information systems, global positioning systems, satellite observations, air quality monitoring and other science products.

“We utilize all these tools daily,” Day said in an email.

John Cissel, who retired this year as the program’s director, called the Trump administration’s move to end the program a major mistake.

“It seems so short-sighted, especially with a program that’s so meticulously constructed,” he said. He said his decision to retire wasn’t related to Trump’s budget cuts.

The research “has changed the culture and knowledge base around wildfire,’’ said Zander Evans, a scientist and executive director of the nonprofit Forest Stewards Guild, a group of foresters.

The Trump administration has offered no reason for targeting the Joint Fire Science Program. It’s among dozens of areas the White House has proposed slashing or eliminating science funding.

As in the White House’s 2018 budget request, only the Pentagon, Department of Veterans Affairs and NASA would get increased research funding in 2019.

Fire appears only once in the White House’s explanation of its 2019 research and development budget: “In the wake of natural disasters, including a devastating hurricane season and catastrophic forest fires, it is more important than ever to invest in the tools necessary to predict, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from natural disasters.” There’s no mention of wildland fire science.

In the budget proposal, the Forest Service’s spending for all research would drop by 16 percent, or $46 million, from the 2018 level. Interior Department science spending would decrease 21 percent, or $205 million.

Research at NOAA would decline by 26 percent, or $220 million, in the proposed budget. Included would be shutting down NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory, which studies how smoke, radioactive materials and other human health threats travel in the atmosphere.  NOAA also would stop supporting a computer model that predicts smoke travel during a fire.

NOAA spokesman Scott Smullen said in an email that the agency “made tough choices to reduce a number of programs.” He did not respond to a question about how NOAA made the choices.

Scientist and former wildland firefighter Timothy Ingalsbee said the White House won’t save money by cutting fire research. Fires cost more, he said, when science can’t guide prevention and firefighting.

“It makes absolutely no sense,” said Ingalsbee, executive director of the advocacy group Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology. “It doesn’t even make dollars and cents.”

Trees ‘Burn Like a Blowtorch’

As summer approached, New Mexico’s Cimarron Canyon looked ready for a big fire. The weather was hot. Monsoon rains were weeks off, and a stiff wind stripped away any moisture left after winter brought less than a quarter of normal snowfall.

The grasses, ponderosa pines and pinyon-juniper forest were dry and loaded with years of fuel. Junipers are shrubby, aggressively invasive trees so explosively flammable that firefighters call them “little gasoline bombs” and “gasoline on a stick.”

“They burn like a blowtorch,” said Allen, the rancher.

Rancher Bill Allen surveys the aftermath of the Ute Park Fire in northeastern New Mexico. Allen said he knew this year’s conditions – high temperatures, severe drought, strong winds and a buildup of highly flammable vegetation – were likely to lead to a major blaze. (Randy Lee Loftis / Reveal)

For years, federal fire research programs have focused on finding the best ways to manage junipers and other fuels. Experts urge people in fire-prone country to remove junipers near their homes.

Following that advice, Allen has been thinning junipers on his 3,400-acre Ute Creek Ranch, including a 20-acre patch that lies south of U.S. Route 64, not far from homes.

“It didn’t burn because we had taken out the junipers,” he said.

As the Ute Park Fire wound down, the Forest Service’s Burned Area Emergency Response program moved in to advise local officials on erosion control. Such work has benefited from research funded by the Joint Fire Science Program. Colfax County also can consult groundbreaking work on social and psychological impacts of wildland fire.

“Cimarrón,” a Spanish word for “wild,” came to describe the geography and history of Colfax County. The Cimarron River, running 698 miles to the Arkansas River, has carved dramatic vistas through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Since 1939, about 1 million scouts and leaders have encountered the wild at the Boy Scouts of America’s Philmont Scout Ranch, which covers 140,177 acres around Ute Park and the village of Cimarron. Nearly three-fourths of the Ute Park Fire was on Philmont land. Extreme fire danger has prompted Philmont to close its backcountry activities for the first time in its history.

Cimarron Canyon has seen bigger fires – one in 2002 burned about 92,500 acres – but the Ute Park Fire was closer to the village, coming within a mile. In five hours, it had grown to 1,500 acres; in seven hours, 4,500 acres. It kept growing. The night sky was ablaze.

“It looked like hell was out there,” said Shawn Jeffrey, Cimarron’s village administrator.

Officials ordered Cimarron evacuated for four days. For those who stayed to feed and support fire crews, such as Jeffrey and Village Councilor Laura Gonzales, just breathing was hard. Smoke behavior has been a special interest of the Joint Fire Science Program, including research to improve smoke warnings and learn how smoke harms people.

“The smoke was horrific,” Gonzales said. “You could see when the wind would shift and the fire would rotate.”

Studying a Shifting, Growing Threat

Natural fires can help maintain a healthy ecosystem, but today’s bigger, hotter and longer-lasting fires can kill trees, sterilize soil and burn down entire towns. Bigger fires also make more smoke, which kills about 339,000 people worldwide a year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.

The disturbing trends in wildland fire have several causes. People start 90 percent of wildfires, accidentally or intentionally, and more people are moving to fire-prone places. In addition, decades of suppressing every small fire have left lots of fuel for big ones – the “wildfire paradox.”

Climate change from human activities, chiefly burning fossil fuels, is raising temperatures and contributing to droughts, especially in the West and Southwest. While the Trump administration discounts climate change risks, scientists and firefighters warn that fires in a hotter, drier climate are more unpredictable and might defy today’s strategies.

“There is a great deal of uncertainty,” the University of Arizona’s Hunter said.

Wildland fire science isn’t simple physics or chemistry. Imagine a laboratory, miles wide, where every minute, infinite variables form infinite new combinations – any one of which might kill you.

“Fire science isn’t rocket science; it’s more complicated,” Daniel Godwin, a wildland firefighter and ecologist in Colorado, said in an online discussion of the Joint Fire Science Program’s budget cut.

It takes money, he said, to do the studies that will keep communities and the environment safe under shifting conditions.

Slopes burned by the Ute Park Fire loom over the village of Cimarron, N.M., one of thousands of U.S. communities at risk from wildland fire. Wind stirs a cloud of ash from the ground. (Randy Lee Loftis / Reveal)

Among the Joint Fire Science Program’s most promising current offspring is the Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment, an eight-year project to improve knowledge of wildfire smoke. Scientists at universities and federal agencies imagined throwing a massive data-collection effort at selected fires, using Lidar, radar, ground monitoring, aircraft, satellites, weather and atmospheric measurements all at once. That has never been done before.

The study seeks to understand the fuels; the smoke’s makeup, behavior and movement; and the chemical changes along the way.

“It’s designed to measure the full spectrum of the fire,” said Tim Brown, a research professor at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, and an architect of the project.

Such knowledge could vastly improve computer models for firefighting – for example, letting incident managers send a drone ahead of a fire to map fuels with fresh data.  Then a model could accurately predict where flames and smoke would go. That could save lives, property and money.

This fall, researchers expected to start their crucial fieldwork, measuring prescribed fires that federal land managers planned anyway but had agreed to schedule to coincide with the experiment. Now, the field study is on hold, and it’s unclear when or whether it will happen. Brown said researchers knew the effort would depend on fickle annual funding but were willing to take the chance.

“There’s a lot of passionate scientists that would still like to carry this forward,” he said. “We’re going to keep trying.”

In an email, Forest Service spokeswoman Dru Fenster said the service had found money to get the researchers for the modeling project some data from other projects. But without the Joint Fire Science Program, she added, the experiment itself is unfunded.

In April, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the ranking Democrat of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, pressed Christiansen, the interim Forest Service chief, on the wisdom of slashing wildfire science as climate change worsens fires. Christiansen didn’t deny climate change’s role or fire science’s importance in her response.

“Our scientific capability is very essential for us to be able to look out ahead and know what we’re facing and then, on the back end of these catastrophic events, how we can best recover the landscape and the communities,” Christiansen said.

The Forest Service’s research budget – including its fire sciences laboratories – already was suffering before Trump. Years of cuts have decimated science staffs, said the University of Arizona’s Falk, who studies fire ecology and resilience in a changing world. For instance, the Joint Fire Science Program used to get about $13 million a year, but took a steep drop in 2011, never to recover. Last fiscal year, it got $6 million; this year, half that.

“There’s no policy being advanced here,” Falk said. “This is 100 percent ideological knee-jerk reaction to any spending.”

Cissel, the program’s retired director, blamed the pre-Trump funding decline on a 40-year federal retreat from science and an Obama-era internal change that had the effect of making fire science compete with the firefighting budget.

“Operational firefighting is reactive,” he said. “Research is proactive. It’s harder to see the proactive, so there’s been a lot of pressure on research budgets.”

Local officials, researchers and foresters in some of the country’s most fire-prone regions – where the quality of fire science can mean life or death – have asked Congress to restore the funding.

In places such as Cimarron, it comes down to knowing how to handle surrounding forests and grasslands so that fire, while inevitable, is also manageable – one of the Joint Fire Science Program’s most vigorous research lines.

“We’ve been working with the local ranchers,” said Jeffrey, the village administrator. “There’s still a lot of fuel out there.”

It also means knowing how a big fire, such as the one in Redding, with its danger and fear, affects people – another area the science program has made a priority. Gonzales, the village councilor in Cimarron, remembers seeing a lot of frightened neighbors.

“We didn’t know – were we going to have to leave?” she said. “It put the scare in a lot of people.”

This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/podcast.

Read more

Our ‘Rentier Capitalism’ Is One More Nail in Earth’s Coffin

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Paul Street.

Paul Street’s column will appear in Truthdig each Sunday through Aug. 12. Its regular schedule will resume when Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges returns from vacation.

“Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.” This famous socialist slogan, adapted from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ “The Communist Manifesto,” struck Noam Chomsky as a poor fit for most people in the world’s rich nations almost half a century ago.

“There is no doubt,” Chomsky wrote in August 1969 (when I was a sixth-grader mourning the Chicago Cubs’ collapse before the onrushing New York “Miracle Mets”), “that we can learn from the achievements and failures of revolutionary struggles in the less-developed countries. …” But, Chomsky added, “In an advanced industrial society, it is, obviously, far from true that the mass of population have nothing to lose but their chains … [since] they have a considerable stake in preserving the existing social order.”

Chomsky’s statement came at the peak of the post-WWII “golden age” of U.S.-led Western capitalism. As the liberal U.S. economist Paul Krugman has noted:

[Post-World War II America] was a middle-class society, to a far greater extent than it had been in the 1920s—or than it is today. … Ordinary workers and their families had good reason to feel that they were sharing in the nation’s prosperity as never before. And, on the other side, the rich were a lot less rich than they had been a generation earlier. … The postwar generation was a time when almost everyone in America felt that living standards were rising rapidly, a time in which ordinary Americans felt that they were achieving a level of prosperity beyond their parents’ wildest dreams.

Similar developments occurred in Western Europe, where les trentes glorieuses (the “30 golden years” of 1945 to 1975) brought unprecedented middle-class expansion and prosperity combined with a significant reduction in inequality and poverty. Things have changed. Inequality has resurged significantly in the “advanced” nations (what one academic calls “the affluent capitalist democracies”), bringing depressing expansions of poverty.

After four-plus decades of neoliberalism, we now live under the rule of a rentier capitalism, in which the top 10th of the upper U.S. 1 percent owns as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent. CNBC reported last fall that 57 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in their savings; 39 percent have no savings at all. Last January, the same network reported that more than a third (36 percent) of Americans would have to go into debt to pay for a major unexpected expense like a trip to the hospital or a car repair.

Four basic underpinnings of the more broadly shared prosperity in the post-World War II years have been undone inside the “advanced” nations, helping to create such shocking inequality and poverty in the U.S.

First, rising productivity used to be matched by rising wages. However, beginning in the 1980s, U.S. wages stagnated while productivity continued to soar.

Second, rising employment used to generate corresponding wage hikes. This is no longer the case. Today, when employment rises, wages stay stagnant or fall because the new jobs pay worse than the old jobs. The long Obama-Trump “recovery” is biased toward—one might even say contingent upon—the expansion of low-paid jobs, as has been most job growth in the long neoliberal era.

Third, rising employment used to produce more tax revenue for the public sector. Again, this isn’t true today, because so many new jobs pay too little and governments have raised the threshold for paying income tax.

Fourth, rising company profits used to lead to higher average pay. That, too, has gone away. As the British economist Guy Standing noted in his indispensable 2016 book, “The Corruption of Capitalism: Why Rentiers Thrive and Work Does Not Pay”: “Profits are more concentrated in [largely high-tech] firms that don’t employ many workers. Employment has grown mainly in low-tech sectors, weakening the link between profits, employment, and wages.”

These four reversals are most evident in the U.S. and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Britain, but they are global in nature and hold across most if not all the world’s rich nations.

The renascent disparity and want in the “advanced” world is direr than the standard economic data indicate. It’s also about the decline of “social income”—the totality of social and environmental resources we rely upon—and the rising insecurity of that income. As Standing observed:

Social income includes non-wage company benefits and perks such as paid holidays and sick leave, maternity and paternity benefits, company pension schemes and subsidized transport. And it includes community benefits—informal support from family, neighbors, and friends, and access to public services and the commons … an important source of income for those lacking other resources. … Conventional income statistics also fail to reflect the fact that the same money income is worth more to the recipient if predictable and certain than if unpredictable and uncertain. For example, guaranteed access to state benefits is worth more than access to benefits of equivalent amount that depend on means testing, behavior testing or the discretion of bureaucratic officials. Income security has a value in itself.

Beyond economic discrepancies, the population is sorted also by related inequalities of health and life quality. The well-off live in better neighborhoods and experience far less exposure to crime and pollution than do the nonaffluent majority in “developed” as well as in “developing” nations. They and their children attend better schools and have more access to greenspace, quality food and good medical care. They travel and exercise more, enjoy cultural resources on a greater scale, marry better-off spouses (“selective mating”) and pass on pronounced inherited advantages to their progeny.

As the author and philosopher Matthew Stewart recently reported in an essay in The Atlantic, the “winners” are getting healthier while “people in the lower deciles are actually getting less healthy in many respects.” White U.S. working-class life expectancy has declined in recent years—an unprecedented development outside wartime—largely due to the collapse of the labor market and social safety net for lesser-skilled workers.

As the Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam showed in his chilling book “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” (2016), the white lower and working (and ex-working) classes are increasingly plagued by many of the same characteristics that 20th-century social scientists identified with the nation’s black urban “underclass”: addiction, high rates of school dropout, fragile and single-parent families, rampant mental illness, domestic and child abuse, and high crime and violence rates.

It isn’t about the dualistic division between “the 1 percent” and everyone else that the Occupy Movement turned into a populist catchphrase—or between Marx’s “bourgeoisie” and “proletariat.” Those dichotomous categories don’t do justice to the multiple lines of class stratification found in contemporary capitalism.

Across the “rich” nations, Standing found, a new “global class structure” has been “superimposed on preceding class structures.” It consists of six core constituent elements defined largely by their ability or inability to garner income from the ownership of property and from the political power and policy influence that flow from that possession: “a tiny plutocracy (perhaps 0.001 percent) atop a bigger elite, a ‘salariat’ (in relatively secure salaried jobs), ‘proficians’ (freelance professionals), a core working class, a precariat, and a ‘lumpen-precariat’ at the bottom.”

The top three groups, Standing determined, “gain most (or an increasing part) of their income from capital and rental income” while the bottom three “gain nothing in rent” and “increasingly … pay rent in some form to the classes above them” (emphasis added). As wealth concentrates primarily in the hands of the rentier plutocracy (the United States’ richest three people—Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett—now possess as much net worth among them as the bottom half of the U.S. populace) and the better-off sections of the salariat and professional class (a “9.9 percent” that Stewart in his Atlantic piece finds to have at least “kept pace” with “the top 0.1 percent”), it is the “precariat” and the “lumpen-precariat” that have most dramatically expanded both in the “advanced” (rich) nations and across the world.

The precariat is composed of “millions of people obliged to accept a life of unstable labor and living, without an occupational identity or corporate narrative to give to their lives,” Standing said. “Their employers come and go, or are expected to do so. Many in the precariat are over-qualified for the jobs they must accept. They rely on money wages, which are often inadequate, volatile, and unpredictable.”

The “remorselessly” growing “lumpen-precariat” is “the underclass”: destitute, often homeless and reliant on charity, “suffering from social illnesses including drug addiction and depression,” and especially subject to mass incarceration and criminal marking in the United States.

The classic working class, or proletariat—people working in stable, full-time wage positions usually with schooling that matches the skills their jobs require—is fading, except in China and India. It has been shrinking dramatically in the “developed” world throughout the neoliberal era, a period of savage deindustrialization in the rich nations. That’s because big capital and the better-off salaried and professional “elites” have increasingly relied less on the production of goods and services for their wealth and income as they make more money on the parasitic extraction of rents rooted in the monopolistic ownership of assets.

This rentier extraction reflects and furthers a panoply of corrupt and oligarchic state-capitalist government policies that reflect a revolving door between politics and big business that is ubiquitous across world governments. These include patent, trademark and copyright laws that monopolize profitable knowledge; multiple and many-sided direct and indirect subsidies; ubiquitous regressive tax breaks, credit shelters and loopholes; regressive austerity measures; multiple and often complex debt mechanisms; economic, environmental and social deregulation, and ubiquitous privatization.

Along the way, traditional “Fordist”-era labor markets have been swept into history’s dustbin by outsourcing, automation and the “flexible,” “on-demand” industry trailblazed by such new regional, national and global “labor brokers” as Uber, Lyft and the aptly named company PeoplePerHour.

Rents have not declined in modern society with the disappearance of feudal landlordism. They are more central to ruling-class incomes than ever before. As Standing explains:

[A] tiny minority … across the world are accumulating vast wealth and power from rental income, not only from housing and land but from a range of other assets, natural and created. “Rentiers” of all kinds are in unparalleled ascendancy and the neo-liberal state is only too keen to oblige their greed. … Rentiers derive income from ownership, possession or control of assets that are scarce or artificially made scarce. … They include the income lenders gain from debt interest; income from ownership of “intellectual property” (such as patents, copyright, brands and trademarks); capital gains on investments; “above normal” company profits (when a firm has a dominant market position that allows it to charge high prices or dictate terms); income from government subsidies; and income of financial and other intermediaries derived from third-party transactions.

Especially disturbing is Standing’s discussion of how advanced- and developing-nation governments have been induced to escalate “the plunder of the commons”—the “giving away” (policy-mediated plutocratic taking) of what was once publicly owned and commonly shared to private owners, who garner rental income streams from natural and social resources formerly owned by whole societies on behalf of all, regardless of wealth and other invidious distinctions. Examples of this ongoing enclosure and dispossession include “the confiscation and usurpation of native land, for mining”; the selling off of formerly public oil reserves to multinational corporations at “fire-sale prices”; the handing over of national parks and other public lands to fracking firms; the relentless governmental privatization and commodification of water, city streets, town squares, community and public gardens (and garden allotments), public transport, public housing, social services, health care, the arts, public libraries, museums, concert halls, the educational system and even fresh air and the criminal justice system.

It has nothing to do with the mythical “free market” capitalism that neoliberal politicians claim to uphold. It’s about the rich using the state to make themselves richer and to thereby—since wealth is power and pull—deepen their grip on politics and policy.

This plutocratic, even now oligarchic rentier capitalism’s concentration of wealth and power into ever fewer hands has plunged ever more of us into the precariat and lumpen-precariat (this writer has spent the bulk of his adult life in the neoliberal U.S. shifting among the proficiat, the proletariat and precariat). It saddles us with unsustainable and nerve-wracking multiple debt and rental payments that drain and negate our wages. It heightens violence, racism, anxiety, depression, desperation, scapegoating, illness, addiction, irrationality and suicide. It turns millions of upended people into confused and angry fodder for dangerous demagogues who focus working people’s ire on immigrants fleeing social, political and environmental nightmares created in poor (“developing”) nations by the same global system that engenders widespread insecurity within rich (“advanced”) nations.

And these are not even neoliberal capitalism’s worst sins. The “plunder of the commons” has put humanity on the path to ecological self-extinction as we march to the plainly fatal mark of 500 carbon parts per atmospheric million by 2050, if not sooner. As a young opponent of the planet-cooking Dakota Access pipeline screamed in futility through the glass walls separating environmental activists from the Iowa Utilities Board in the late summer of 2016, “We’ve got nothing to lose but a livable planet.” The walled-off protester cried out in Des Moines, Iowa, situated in the agricultural heartland of the world’s richest and most powerful nation.

While those most vulnerable and exposed to the climate and broader environmental crises today are found in the poorest parts of the world, the “advanced” states ultimately have no special exemption from the lethal consequences of the melting of Greenland and Antarctica’s ice sheets and the permafrost layers of Alaska and Siberia. There’s “no planet B,” even for Bezos and his four children.

In light of the ecological peril, it is interesting to note a change of sorts since Chomsky’s take on what the wealthy world has to learn from what used to be called the Third World. As he noted five years ago, “Trying to mitigate or overcome these threats [to the planet] are the least developed societies, the indigenous populations, or the remnants of them, tribal societies and first nations in Canada,” Chomsky wrote. “So, at one extreme, you have indigenous, tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster. At the other extreme, the richest, most powerful societies in world history, like the United States and Canada, are racing full-speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible. Unlike Ecuador, and indigenous societies throughout the world, they want to extract every drop of hydrocarbons from the ground with all possible speed.”

These are the most important questions of the current historical moment: economic hyper-disparity, rentier-capitalist plutocracy and, last but not least, the biggest issue of our or any time, environmental ruin. It has been the role of the Twitter-addicted monstrosity President Donald Trump and the Trump-addicted corporate media to (among other things) keep the eyes of citizens and the news cycle off these and other critical matters (see Chomsky’s brilliant reflections last March on Trump’s central role of constant distraction) and recurrently focused instead on his latest insane outrage.

The irony is that the leading climate change denier, Trump himself, is an epitome of precisely the parasitic, aristocratic and plutocratic rentier capitalism that Standing described in his book, published before Trump’s election. The Fortune 400 billionaire Trump is the ultimate bloodsucking rentier. He’s never contributed to the production of any useful goods or services. The vast personal wealth he relied on to leapfrog over the more traditional Wall Street Republicans he defeated in the 2016 presidential primaries by absurdly posing as a champion of the “forgotten” blue-collar working class (especially its white members) was rooted in inherited wealth, landlordism, epic debt manipulation, public subsidy and branding gone wild. Regarding the last rentier attribute, the Chicago Tribune reported three months ago:

Before he ran for office, Donald Trump made millions by selling his name to adorn other people’s products. There was Trump deodorant. Trump ties. Trump steaks. Trump underwear. Trump furniture. … In 2015, Trump listed 19 companies that were paying him to produce or distribute Trump-branded consumer goods. … “It’s ties, shirts, cufflinks, everything sold at Macy’s. And they’re doing great,” Trump told David Letterman in 2012, during an interview in which he’d also complained that China was overtaking the United States as an economic power. “Number-one-selling tie anywhere in the world. …” “The ties are made in China,” Letterman said. Then Trump ran for president.

It was the wealth garnered from anti-worker rentier and global capitalism—including the brazen trademarking of ties manufactured in China and real estate deals made with corrupt investors, politicos and policymakers the world over—and his related extreme media visibility that ironically put Trump in position to mockingly masquerade as a hero of the fading American proletariat in its ongoing struggle with parasitic global and neoliberal capitalism. Even after he spearheaded a massive tax cut for the already absurdly rich 0.1 percent last Christmas, Trump clings to this pose effectively enough to maintain an approval rating in the low 40s, including support from 90 percent of Republicans and 51 percent of union members.

How much longer Trump can keep his distance from the parasitic rentier capitalism that has made his fortune—and whose aristocratic wealth he has expanded with tax cuts and deregulation advanced in the deceptive name of free market capitalism? Probably as long as the U.S. job market continues to grow, pushing the official unemployment rate down closer to 3 percent.

But it’s not about the endless distraction Trump provides. He’s just a symptom—a noxious and maddening one, to be sure, but a symptom nonetheless. It is the class and profits system on which his and other rentier capitalists’ wealth and power rest that we must ultimately fight against and overcome. Millions upon millions of Americans for decades have been losing middle- and even working-class status, income and security and getting knocked down into the precariat, or having to work twice as hard to avoid falling. And it’s all so the already super-rich can get more absurdly prosperous, not through the production of goods and services, but through rents garnered from their monopolistic ownership of artificially scarce assets and their related control of politics and government.

The main thing we have to lose under the current system is a livable earth. As Marx (a great devotee of science) would certainly recognize if he were granted a posthumous research trip into the 21st century, capitalism has not produced its own working-class “gravediggers” (the “revolutionary” industrial proletariat he thought he saw coming into being in his time). The profits system is not the “dialectical” midwife of socialism. It is an environmental as well as social, political and spiritual cancer—an exterminist endgame wired to take us beyond mere precarity to full-on extinction. If all of us—from the bottom up and top down—don’t figure out how to become the undertakers of this commons-plundering rentier regime, the insight of onetime leading neoconservative philosopher Francis Fukuyama will be borne out, though not in the sense he meant: Capitalism will indeed mark “the end of history and the last man,” through literal extinction.

Read more

Europe Heatwaves Twice as Likely Due to Climate Change, Report Says

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by The Associated Press.

BERLIN — Researchers say heatwaves of the kind currently being seen in northern Europe have become twice as likely due to climate change.

Scientists from the World Weather Attribution team said Friday they have compared observations and forecasts for the Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland with historical records going back to the early 1900s. They concluded the likelihood of three-day stretches of extreme heat in those areas has increased at least two-fold.

The group, which works to determine if there’s a link between weather phenomena and climate change, said current temperatures further north are so unusual there’s not enough data to predict their future likelihood.

Erich Fischer, an expert on weather extremes at ETH Zurich in Switzerland who was not involved with the study, said the authors use well-established methodology and “their estimates may even be rather conservative.”

Read more