Roaming Charges: Losing It

An image of Sindh province, taken on August 28 from NASA’s MODIS satellite sensor.

I see you standing on the other sideI don’t know how the river got so wideI loved you baby, way back whenAnd all the bridges are burning that we might have crossedBut I feel so close to everything that we lostWe’ll never, we’ll never have to lose it again

– Leonard Cohen, Tower of Song

The scale of the destruction defies the imagination. There are images and maps. But still you can’t quite wrap your mind around it. With reason. We’ve never seen anything like this. Never experienced it. Heard stories about it. There’s nothing to compare it to, not even the Biblical floods. We’ve gone beyond our own myths and legends.

A third of an entire country–a big country, a country the size of Turkey and Venezuela–lies underwater, inundated by fierce floods from all directions.

Thousands of miles of roads have been wiped out. Hundreds of bridges washed away. Rail lines and airports submerged. Nothing getting in, nothing getting out. The entire nation brought to a standstill. A nation with nuclear weapons and an unstable government, bordered by a hostile regime which has demonstrated every inclination to take devious advantage of Pakistan’s devastated condition.

Fields flooded, crops lost, livestock drowned.

Dams crumbled, power stations shorted out, transmission lines toppled, water treatment plants swamped.

Refineries, factories, hospitals and schools engulfed.

At least 220,000 houses were destroyed (imagine all of the houses in Spokane demolished), maybe a million more suffering some kind of damage, many beyond repair. At least 33 million people–more than the population of Texas and Oklahoma combined–at least temporarily displaced by the storms that have ravaged Pakistan since late June.

At least 1,200 have died, 400 of them children. More are missing. More than 330,000 people (about the size of Cincinnati) are living in camps with no idea when they can return home, how they will get there or what they will return to.

One of the fastest warming bodies of water on the planet, the India Ocean is becoming a simmering cauldron, cooking up heat waves and super-monsoons. This year the heat–heat almost beyond the point of human survivability–came first, in two back-to-back waves in May and June. Then came the rains. Rains like few other regions on earth have ever experienced. Rains that swelled the ancient Indus River over its banks and beyond its floodplains, creating a giant lake 100 kilometers wide almost overnight, which remains visible from space. A lake which can’t be drained, because there’s no place to pump the water to.

The rains that drenched Sindh were 784% above the average for August. The rains that flooded Balochistan were 500% above normal. As much as 40 inches more than normal. Numbers so high they don’t really have a meaning.

One searches for a precedent and finds nothing even remotely close. This is now the precedent. This is the new benchmark. We’re told we must adapt. Adapt to what? Cataclysm? How?

But the floods of August weren’t just driven by extreme rains, they were also charged with runoff of from collapsing glaciers in the Karakoram, Himalaya, Hindu Kush and Pamir Mountains, producing torrents of water crashing down from 20,000-foot peaks. Pakistan has more than 7,000 alpine glaciers, more than any place outside of the polar regions. And this glaciers have been melting 10-times faster than their historic average over the last two centuries.

Pakistan, a country responsible for less than 1% of global carbon emissions, now faces the 8th highest climate risk in the world. But it’s coming for all of us, eventually, regardless of the level of culpability. There’s no place to hide.

Ecological time is moving very fast now, so fast that we risk losing our bearings as a species, losing our connections to the landscape of the past, the very terrain that defined our existence, our ways of living, our sense of who and where we are. What were once fields are now lakes, what were once glaciers now cascades.

And yet the floods of Pakistan are a mere prelude, an overture for the future that awaits us. There’s no going back now, no bridge fuel to the past, no carbon capture time machine, or nuclear techno-fix wormhole out of our predicament. At this terminal point, such fantasies are only a measure of our failure to confront how we got to where we are.

+++

+ How many Biden fist-bumps does this merit?

+ Life expectancy in the US has suffered its sharpest drops in nearly a century. In 2021, the average US citizen could expect to live 76 years, a decline of three years since the COVID outbreak in 2019. The decline among African-Americans, American Indians and Native Alaskan communities has been particularly severe, falling from 71 to 65 in just three years, The life expectancy for Native Americans is now at the level of the average life expectancy for all Americans in 1944!

+ In one long Covid patient, whose infection lasted 471 days, epidemiologists tracked least three genetically distinct versions of the virus had rapidly mutated while inside the patient.

+ A trust run by the Seibel Family, California Governor Gavin Newsom’s in-laws, has contributed $5,000 to Ron DeSantis’ PAC.

+ We now have definitive proof that the broken-windows policing strategy, which is being reinstitute under Mayor Eric Adams, is a bust. Worse than a  bust. The massive increases in arrests for low-level crimes—of poverty, health, housing—have done opposite of reducing violent crime. Nine percent of the detainees at the city’s troubled Rikers Island jail complex are now there on misdemeanor charges.

+ A mentally-disturbed man named Michael Nieves locked up in Rikers slit his throat with a razor as guards and a captain watched for at least 10 minutes as the man bled before seeking medical help. Nieves was declared brain dead and taken off of life support on Tuesday. He died soon after. Nieves is the third person suspected of dying by suicide and the 13th person to die this year after being held on Rikers Island.

+ Houston’s bail reforms reduced jail time, crime and recidivism rates and also saved the community $100,000,000s every year by keeping people in their jobs, preserving people’s medical care, reducing unnecessary jailing costs, and keeping people and their children in their homes.

+ Twenty-year Donovan Lewis was in bed when police in Columbus, Ohio broke into his home to try to enforce an arrest warrant. Within a couple of seconds after they opened the door to his bedroom, police shot and killed him while he sat on the edge of his bed. Lewis was unarmed. The only object near him was a vape pen on the night table.

+ Mariame Kaba and Andrea J Ritchie, authors of the new book No More Police: A Case for Abolition, on how police have blamed the criminal justice reform movement for their own incompetence:

So after 2020, all they had to do was redouble their efforts. The cops are yelling in every local community about the fact that “defund happened and they are now suffering as a result”. We’ve had to endure constant articlesabout how cops’ morale is so low, and that’s why “crime is spiking”, because the cops feel bad and they don’t know what to do with themselves and now they can’t kneel on some man’s neck for nine minutes. If we say anything about the impunity with which they harm people, this is going to hurt their feelings. And hurt feelings equals massive crime! It sounds ridiculous if you actually think about it, but it is convincing to vast swaths of the country. What other profession do we say that because they have low morale, we have to suffer violence as a result?

+ Five years ago a San Diego cop named Mike Pina shot and killed an unarmed man named Jacob Dominguez, a 35-year-old father of three. From 10 feet away, Pina fired a police assault rifle at Dominguez’s head, hitting him in the jaw. Dominguez was holding his hands up when he was shot, just 20 seconds after being pulled over by the cops who wrongly suspected him of using a gun at a robbery. Instead of being charged or fired, Pina was promoted to sergeant. Dominguez’s family filed a civil action against the cop. During the trial, Pina said: “All day I’m thinking he’s armed, so I’m not letting him come up with a cell phone.” A jury just found him liable for the use of excessive force. He’s still a member of the San Diego Police Department.

+ A Pew survey finds that almost nine-in-ten Black adults say policing (87%), the courts and judicial process (86%), and the prison system (86%) require major changes or need to be completely restructured in order for Black people to be treated fairly.

+ There are now 18 state laws banning teenage trans girls from participating in K-12 sports. How many teenage trans girls are there currently participating in K-12 sports nationwide? Even one of the most vocal supporters of these discriminatory statutes can only point to 5.

+ This is the story of a young northern California girl and her pet goat, Cedar, who the girl had fed and nurtured and brushed and cared for since the goat was four months old. So proud was the girl of her chocolate-and-white haired goat friend that she entered Cedar in the Shasta County Fair, unaware that once she did so, people would begin eyeing Cedar for much different reasons. Indeed, once Cedar showed up at the fairgrounds the fair itself set in motion the process of auctioning the animal off for slaughter. Indeed, soon enough the fair announced the winning bid of $902 for Cedar’s flesh, made by the local State Senator. Like most rational beings who have raised animals, the young girl–she was only 9-years-old herself–was horrified at Cedar being killed, his body hacked apart for human consumption. She tearfully pleaded with her mother to save Cedar’s life and, like most good mother’s, the girl’s complied, taking Cedar from her holding pen at the fairgrounds and driving the goat to a farm in Sonoma County, far away from those who had lethal designs on the animal. The family offered to compensate the fair for the lost money. The state senator agreed to rescind his bid. But the fair’s livestock director would not be appeased. He threatened to file charges against the girl’s family (the girl herself was only 8 years old) for grand theft, grand theft goat. There must be blood! The fair officials contacted the Shasta County Sheriff, who soon dispatched two deputies to drive 500 miles on the taxpayer’s dime ($5.17 a gallon), across six counties lines to seize Cedar the pet goat from her sanctuary and haul him back to Shasta County, where he was promptly slaughtered, his meat sold off for $11 per pound. In the last year, the Shasta County Fair has made $2.3 million from auctioning farm animals and pets for butchering, probably one of the most profitable ventures in the entire county. Tears be damned.

+ The Daily Mail (all caveats apply) is reporting that only days before a widespread crackdown on dissidents by Saudi secret police Jared Kushner gave Crown Prince Bonesaws a list of names called from US intelligence databases.  A source told the Mail: “Jared took a list out of names from US eavesdrops of people who were supposedly MBS’s enemies…He took a list out of these people who had been trashing MBS in phone calls, and said ‘these are the ones who are your enemies’.” Bin Salman has since boasted about using classified intelligence from Kushner as part of a crackdown on ‘corrupt’ princes, businessmen and rivals in Saudi Arabia. As for Kushner, six months after leaving the White House, his “Affinity Fund” was infused with a $2 billion investment  from a Saudi sovereign wealth fund led by MBS over the objections of some of the fund’s top advisors.

+ Welcome to Max Boot’s real America…

+ Median Home Price Martha’s Vineyard: $1.03 million

Median Home Price in the Rust Belt city of Kokomo, Indiana: $150,000

+ So much for the “lazy stoner” myth Jeff Bridges and the Cohen Brothers did so much to perpetuate in the Big Lebowski. In fact, while frequent cannabis users scored marginally lower than non-users on anhedonia ( the ability to better able to enjoy themselves) there was no difference when it came to apathy.

+ Ravil Maganov, the head of the Russian oil conglomerate Lukoil, who opposed Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, died this week in a fall from his hospital window. When will American oil executives start defenestrating out of the windows of tall buildings? It will be the surest sign of real progress on climate change…

+ Bruce Cockburn should rewrite his song Anything Can Happen to account for the modes of death of Russian oligarchs…

+ Micky Dolenz, the last surviving member of The Monkees, has filed a FOIA lawsuit for the remaining FBI records related to the band, which the agency has still failed to turn over.

+  Last month a South Carolina lawmaker named Neal Collins said he felt so guilty for having voted for an abortion ban after a doctor told him it could cause a teenager to lose her uterus or die of sepsis that he “couldn’t sleep for a week.” This week the same politician voted for yet another extreme abortion ban.

+ According to the Washington Post, Ted Cruz is preparing a lawsuit to block Biden’s partial student loan relief plan. Biden so badly wants this to happen before the elections he’s probably instructed Pelosi to secretly fund the lawsuit, the way they have far-right candidates in the mid-term elections. An injunction would get him out of having to fulfill a half-assed plan he never really believed in and he could blame its collapse all on the Republicans.

+ Ginni Thomas, an only slightly more ridiculous figure than her husband Clarence, has now been outed trying to pressure officials from two states–Arizona and Wisconsin–to overturn the results of the 2020 elections. I remember the furor over Michele Obama showing–not even flexing (which would indeed have been humiliating for many of her male critics)–her biceps…

+ The Espionage Act is a “mundane” law?  Tell it to Eugene Debbs, Emma Goldman, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Daniel Ellsberg, Anthony Russo, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange….

+ Trump’s legal representatives are an advertisement for how to get a guilty verdict overturned for ineffective assistance of counsel…It’s about all they’ve got going for them.

+ The approval of labor unions in the US now stands at 71%, according to a new poll from Gallup, the highest approval rating since 1965.

+ According to a new report from the Resolution Foundation, the living standards crisis in the UK will stretch well beyond this winter into next year, as real earnings are forecast to continue falling until at least mid-2023, by which time all real pay growth since 2003 will have been wiped out.

+ An analysis by researchers at Johns Hopkins estimates that vacant buildings in Baltimore cost the city more than $200 million a year. Meanwhile, there are at least 2,200 houseless people in Baltimore (by the city’s own undercount) on any given night…

+ A journalist in Mariupol, who claims to have seen two lists of confirmed deaths in the Ukrainian city, one for identified bodies, one for unidentified bodies, estimates the death toll since the Russian invasion at 113,750, a figure that includes as many as 27,650 combatants. These numbers may be (and likely are) grossly inflated. But even if the real figure is half that, it would still be around 55,000 deaths in a city of 500,000 people or roughly a tenth of the population.

+ For an unvarnished portrait of Mikhail Gorbachev, I’d recommend watching the HBO series Chernobyl, which, in many ways, marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union.

+ Gorbachev is often credited (in the West) or blamed (in Russia) for the consequences of perestroika, the economic restructuring (austerity) that ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the looting of the remains of the Soviet economy. But perestroika was first put into motion in 1979 under Leonid Brezhnev, as a kind of Soviet version of neoliberalism meant to “increase labor efficiency,” first through automation, then  marketization under Gorbachev and finally, under Yeltsin and Putin (whose key advisor in St. Petersburg was Henry Kissinger), wholesale privatization of public assets.

+ As Jeffrey Sommers explained in his very information dissection of Gorbachev’s career, although Gorbachev opened the floodgates to “market forces,” he remained a Marxist, unlike his successor Boris Yeltsin, who turned Russia over the neoliberal practitioners of Shock Therapy. That Putin honored Yeltsin the Privatizer with a state funeral and denied one for Gorbachev gives you a pretty good idea of Putin’s economic philosophy, if you needed any more evidence that he is at heart a ruthless neoliberal.

+ Think of the sacrifices the Bush family had to make to get George W. through Yale…

+++

+ Flint, Michigan (pop: 96,000) has been without clean drinking water since April 25, 2014. Now Jackson, Mississippi (pop: 180,000) finds itself in the same manufactured predicament. Like Flint, Jackson is a predominately black city (80%). Like Flint, the drinking water problem was well-known. Like Flint, the people of Jackson have been left to fend for themselves. Like Flint, in Jackson there’s no quick fix in sight and little political will to do anything about it. 

+ The number first in the Amazon hit 33,116 this August, a five-year high. Most of the fires followed illegal logging operations.

+ Overall government support for fossil fuels in 51 countries worldwide nearly doubled to $697.2 billion in 2021, from $362.4 billion in 2020, as energy prices rose with the rebound of the global economy.

+ In the midst of a mega-drought whose severity has not been seen in 1200 years,  the vanishing waters of the  West are being gobbled up by 31 coal plants in the region, which consume 156 million gallons a day to power the very plants whose emissions are driving the drought. That pales compared to nuclear plants, which can suck up Nuclear plants can suck up a billion gallons every day…

+ In 2020, California wildfires released more carbon dioxide than all industrial plants in the state combined.

+ In an act of midnight madness, California lawmakers voted on the last day of the state legislative session to give PG&E the option to keep the reactors operating another five years. Scheduled to close in 2024 and 2025, two 40-year-old reactors sit in an active earthquake zone near the San Andreas fault. The hastily passed law provides a $1.4 billion forgivable loan to PG&E–a company which has pled guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter–with the condition that the utility applies for a federal bailout from Biden’s Civil Nuclear Credit Program to keep the units open through October 2029 and October 2030, respectively.

+ Only days after announcing the phase-out of gas-powered cars, the state of California is asking resident to refrain from recharging their electric vehicles this week in order to keep the the state’s power grid from collapsing under the strain of the upcoming extreme heat event. The implications of allowing the ongoing criminal enterprise known as PG&E to safely run the power grid, Diablo Canyon and the state’s transportation system should have been obvious to everyone not in their pay….(which, of course, doesn’t include Gavin Newsom).

+ The idea that Diablo Canyon will provide a reliable and climate-friendly source of power for the over-taxed California grid is at best delusional, even if one discounts the very real risk of the facility being crippled by a major earthquake. That’s because over it’s forty year history the Diablo Canyon nukes have been off-line twemty percent of the time. Now that the reactors have aged past their “use-by-date,” they are likely to be down for repairs even more frequently.

+ As car deaths are falling in most of the world, they’re rising in the US, which has seen fatalities increase by over 30 percent in the last decade. Now, Americans are more than twice as likely as a citizen of France or Canada to die in a crash, largely because of the size and weight of American cars, trucks and SUVS.

+ Some trims of the 2022 Dodge RAM 1500 favored in MAGAland have an MSR of $77,780…(and a weight of 6450 lbs.)

+ Germany’s 3-month experiment with super-cheap public transport reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 1.8 million tons–equivalent to powering about 350,000 homes for a year.

+ China’s carbon emissions fell nearly 8 percent in the 2nd quarter compared with the same period last year, the sharpest decline in the past decade.

+ The snowpack in the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest melted out in scorched sections of the range’s forests more than two weeks earlier than in unburned areas.

+ Climate change is waking bumblebees earlier from winter hibernation, putting the species at risk, posing a threat to bee-pollinated agricultural crops.

+ A porpoise found stranded on a Swedish beach in June died of bird flu, the first time the virus has been detected this marine species…

+ According to a new poll, 64% of Colorado voters believe that trophy hunting of wolves should be prohibited, and 62% agree that trapping of wolves should not be allowed.

+++

+ If the paranoid assault on public education gets any more vicious, America’s children may all end up like Mr. Krook, the illiterate old rag-seller in Dickens’ Bleak House, so distrustful of instruction that he tries to teach himself to read and write, until that fatal moment when he finally combusts spontaneously…

At last, having been (always attended by the cat) all over the house and having seen the whole stock of miscellaneous lumber, which was certainly curious, we came into the back part of the shop. Here on the head of an empty barrel stood on end were an ink-bottle, some old stumps of pens, and some dirty playbills; and against the wall were pasted several large printed alphabets in several plain hands.

“What are you doing here?” asked my guardian.

“Trying to learn myself to read and write,” said Krook.

“And how do you get on?”

“Slow. Bad,” returned the old man impatiently. “It’s hard at my time of life.”

“It would be easier to be taught by some one,” said my guardian.

“Aye, but they might teach me wrong!” returned the old man with a wonderfully suspicious flash of his eye. “I don’t know what I may have lost by not being learned afore. I wouldn’t like to lose anything by being learned wrong now.”

“Wrong?” said my guardian with his good-humoured smile. “Who do you suppose would teach you wrong?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Jarndyce of Bleak House!” replied the old man, turning up his spectacles on his forehead and rubbing his hands. “I don’t suppose as anybody would, but I’d rather trust my own self than another!”

These answers and his manner were strange enough to cause my guardian to inquire of Mr. Woodcourt, as we all walked across Lincoln’s Inn together, whether Mr. Krook were really, as his lodger represented him, deranged. The young surgeon replied, no, he had seen no reason to think so. He was exceedingly distrustful, as ignorance usually was, and he was always more or less under the influence of raw gin, of which he drank great quantities and of which he and his back-shop, as we might have observed, smelt strongly; but he did not think him mad as yet.

+ Speaking of reading, the new pilot issue of Ralph Nader’s  print only newspaper, Capitol Hill Citizen, is fresh off the press. This terrific 40-page issue features some familiar writers, including Carol Miller, Jefferson Morley, Russell Mokhiber, Steve Early and Suzanne Gordon and, of course, Ralph, himself. Here’s the backpage…

+ You can order a copy here.

+ Stuart Hall on Marxism without guarantees: “The only Marx worth celebrating is the Marx who is interested in thinking & in struggling on an open terrain, the Marx who offers a marxism without guarantees, and without answers. If someone teaches you where to begin, isn’t that enough?” 

+ WEB DuBois on Paul Robeson: “Robeson said that his people wanted Peace and ‘would never fight the Soviet Union.’ I joined with the thousands in wild acclaim. This, for America, was his crime. He might hate anybody. He might join in murder around the world. But for him to declare that he loved the Soviet Union and would not join in war against it – that was the highest crime that the United States recognised … Yet has Paul Robeson kept his soul and stood his ground. Still he loves and honours the Soviet Union. Still he has hope for America. Still he asserts his faith in God.”

+ Hank Williams: “If a song can’t be written in twenty minutes, it ain’t worth writing.”

+ Ronnie Spector on Jimi Hendrix: “One time, my sister said, ‘You’ve got to come over to Jimi’s house.’ When I got there, he had ten girls surrounding his bed. It wasn’t a regular bed, just a mattress on the floor. It was so rock ‘n’ roll. All we did was sit around and sing all night.”

+ Before running the Paris marathon, Joe Strummer prepared himself by drinking 10 pints of beer, later warning his fans: “’Do not try this at home’. I mean, it works for me and Hunter Thompson, but it might not work for others.”

I Asked Hank Williams How Lonely Does It Get, Hank Williams Hasn’t Answered Yet…

Booked Up

What I’m reading this week…

No More Police: A Case for Abolition
Mariame Kaba and Andrea J Ritchie
(New Press)

Police: a Field Guide
David Correia and Tyler Wall
(Verso)

California Burning: The Fall of Pacific Gas and Electric — And What It Means for America’s Power Grid
Katherine Blunt
(Portfolio)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Valse Sinistre
Bill Drummond and Freedom of Ideas
(Cellar)

Young Blood
Marcus King
(American Recordings)

Hear No Evil
Electric Beethoven
(Color Red)

A Forum of Secular Testimony

“As an instrument of empowerment oil has been spectacularly effective in removing the levers of power from the reach of the populace. “No matter how many people take to the streets in massive marches,” writes Roy Scranton, “they cannot put their hands on the real flow of power because they do not help to produce it. They only consume.” Under these circumstances, a march or a demonstration of popular feeling amounts to “little more than an orgy of democratic emotion, an activist-themed street fair, a real-world analogue to Twitter hashtag campaigns: something that gives you a nice feeling, says you belong in a certain group, and is completely divorced from actual legislation and governance.” In other words, the public sphere, where politics is performed, has been largely emptied of content in terms of the exercise of power: as with fiction, it has become a forum for secular testimony, a baring-of-the-soul in the world-as-church. Politics as thus practiced is primarily an exercise in personal expressiveness.” (Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable)

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3