Greece, California wildfires, not ‘natural’ disasters

This video says about itself:

Greece wildfires: ‘I jumped from the flames’ – BBC News

25 July 2018

Greece wildfires: Katerina Pantelidis tells the BBC’s Gavin Lee how she survived the devastating wildfires in Greece.

High winds spread the fire, trapping many in homes and vehicles and forcing others into the sea as they tried to escape the flames.

By Kevin Ovenden in Greece:

Monday, July 30, 2018

The devastating forest fire in Greece was no ‘natural disaster’

Cuts to the fire service, firefighting planes grounded, water storage tanks in poor repair – it is decades of austerity that made the wildfire near Athens so deadly, says KEVIN OVENDEN

“WORDS are nice … but I want him to tell me and the people who perished, our friends … whose fault it is, if not his.”

That is how one 79-year-old victim of the devastating fire that ripped through the Rafina area north-east of Athens last Monday responded to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s belated acceptance of “political responsibility” on Friday.

“How does he redeem this responsibility?” the pensioner continued. “What does political responsibility mean?”

These and other questions were already ricocheting across Greece last week as grief and anger came together in the wake of the worst death toll from wildfire — 87 people and rising — ever in Europe.

It was not until Thursday that a government minister visited the devastated Mati-Rafina resort, where most of the victims died.
Defence minister and junior coalition partner Anel leader Panos Kammenos was roundly heckled.

“You let the people burn, Mr Kammenos!” shouted one woman. (The word “kamenos” in Greek means “burnt.”)

One reason for the anger is that the government spent most of last week trying to suppress searching questions under a shroud of three days of national mourning while at the same time weaving its own false political narrative.

That began on the evening of the fire itself. Tsipras told television journalists that the fire was an “unconventional” or “asymmetric” incident.

That was the seemingly clunky term used by Tory prime minister Costas Karamanlis after previous deadly fires in 2007 in the southern Peloponnese. The implication, as in “asymmetric warfare,” was that the nation was under attack by a hidden enemy.

A then rising star of the Syriza party answered well Karamanlis’s cynical conspiracy-mongering 11 years ago: “It would be good if those in government, instead of planning communication strategies to defend it, by discovering ‘asymmetric threats’ and invisible enemies, occupied themselves with dealing with the disaster.”

That spokesperson was Alexis Tsipras.

An earlier fire on the same day, near Kineta to the west of Athens, had already stretched the fire service, denuded by nearly a decade of austerity. Eyewitnesses say they saw sparks flying from a faulty electricity pylon.

The national grid has been privatised. The electricity workers union warned that the sell-off would lead to a cut in maintenance and greater risk of fires. It is but one of many warnings.

It is not that this tragedy was unforeseen. In fact, it was foretold.

Last summer, a whistleblower pilot of the Canadair firefighting planes revealed that half the ageing fleet was grounded due to either age — some are 40 years old — or lack of parts.

He contrasted that with the 2.5 per cent of GDP spent on arms and defence, the second highest budget in Nato. “They care about F-16s, not Canadairs”, he said.

Some 30 per cent of fire appliances are off the road — half due to age, the rest for lack of parts.

The reason is obvious. The fire service budget has been cut in the years of austerity imposed by the troika of the EU, IMF and European Central Bank from €500 million to €397 million.

Thousands of full-time firefighting jobs have been lost. Any hiring has been on temporary contracts. Yet at the same time 700 firefighters have been seconded, on the state budget, to serve the 14 now privatised airports handed to the German company Fraport.

The budget for fire prevention in a country where many forest fires happen every year is just €11 million. The water industry has been privatised, again in defiance of warnings that it would leave the pumping stations and storage tanks in rural areas under-maintained.

The litany could go on. And its effects are obvious to all. Co-chair of the Die Linke fraction of MPs in Germany, Katja Kipping put it directly in holding to account the German government and its former finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble for their responsibility in enforcing murderous austerity on Greece.

“The Greek fire service has been cut to pieces by Schaeuble’s austerity diktats — with deadly consequences”, she said.

Turkish trade unionists gathering to show solidarity outside the Greek consulate in Izmir were also clear that this was no “natural disaster”.

So is it this and the implementation of austerity that Tspiras says he is taking “political responsibility” for?

No. He mentioned the capitulation to Troika-imposed austerity three years ago but only in order to shift the focus to something else.

“Perhaps in the national confrontation back then, we neglected other things”, he said and went on to refer to a history of unregulated or illegal building developments in Greece.

By last weekend, this had become something of a theme in much international coverage. While containing some truth, it is laced with evasion.

There is a history of unregulated building, but it is not, as many commentators are claiming, the product of some “Greek disease” of rule-breaking — a kind of popular bandit mentality.

That was the claim used to justify the structural adjustment programme imposed on Greece under the austerity memorandums.

And it was repeated over the fire with brutal callousness by one liberal-modernising commentator, who wrote: “Greece, despite being a European Union member state and a developed economy, exhibits many of the institutional deficiencies and cultural traits found in less developed nations. A large, centrally controlled state can be a source of secure employment (as in Greece), yet is often grossly inefficient.”

The solution, then? More neoliberal capitalist development and privatisation to become a “properly modern” state, and change the popular “culture.”

But as I explained in my book on the Syriza government and modern Greece, the malfunctioning of the modern Greek state — what I termed a “state of plunder” — is not down to a lack of capitalist development. It is the product of the actually existing capitalist (mal)development of the cold war and neoliberal epochs.

It was an alliance between a kleptocratic oligarchy and a right-wing militarised state that drove through development at the expense of the common people, who until the 1980s were meant to rely on the philanthropy of billionaires like playboy Aristotle Onassis.

The great majority of unregulated building was by the construction and property oligarchs, enclosing land for the rich personally or for tourist development — the country’s biggest industry.

Hence buildings like the walled villa in Mati-Rafina that blocked off the escape route to the sea that 26 people lost their lives trying to find.

Tsipras says it is now time to take action. But he makes no distinction between the profiteering developments and the working-class family who have clubbed together to put an extension on a grandparents’ village property so three generations might at least afford a holiday.

The people as a whole are apparently guilty. But the state could have taken action before in Rafina to open forest lanes and redress the lack of infrastructure.

A forestry expert pointed out to the BBC that the state’s development has itself also failed. The new road built at the time of the Greek Olympic bid could have been designed to act as a firebreak. But highly flammable pine trees were planted either side of it, not those that were proven in Spain to be resistant.

And when the local police chief signalled regional headquarters to sound an evacuation, he discovered that there was no regional evacuation plan for an area that is packed with local tourists in summer.

Contrary to Tsipras’s attempt to decouple the history of profiteering development from the years of austerity, the root of this government’s failure to confront the oligarchs at home lies precisely in its capitulation to the austerity memorandums.

They were imposed by the troika, but on behalf of the Greek billionaire class whose domestic political instruments had proved incapable of pushing through the cuts they demanded.

The capitulation to the troika did not make space to address the deformations of the Greek state and economy. It meant capitulation over those as well.

The government remains committed to eye-watering 3.5 per cent primary budget surpluses that can only mean more austerity even though Greece is to exit the formal memorandum programme on August 21.

It had planned a celebration of that occasion with international guests from the European Commission and other luminaries.

Such a self-congratulatory celebration would be incendiary now. The world can see the consequences of the joint enterprise by the troika and successive governments to satisfy the bankers at the people’s expense.

And it will do no good to blame the little people once again. This is a systemic failure of capitalism.

That means it is the responsibility of the 1 per cent of capitalists and those who have shred all social protection to serve them.

This video from the USA says about itself:

Terrible footage of California Fire-Millions EVACUATE

27 July 2018

Fatal wildfire rips through California towns; residents flee

An explosive wildfire tore through two small Northern California communities Thursday before reaching the city of Redding, killing a bulldozer operator on the fire lines, burning three firefighters, destroying dozens of homes and forcing thousands of terrified residents to flee.

Flames swept through the communities of Shasta and Keswick before jumping the Sacramento River and reaching Redding, a city of about 92,000 people and the largest in the region. The so-called Carr Fire is “taking down everything in its path,” said Scott McLean, a CalFire spokesman for the crews battling the blaze.

By Alec Andersen in the USA:

Seven killed, hundreds of homes destroyed as Carr wildfire spreads across Northern California

30 July 2018

Over the weekend, the death toll from the Carr fire, California’s largest current wildfire, raging in the state’s northern Shasta County near the city of Redding, climbed to seven as the fire more than doubled in size and containment efforts have yielded little progress.

The Carr fire, which over the weekend grew to become the state’s largest, has destroyed 517 buildings, including at least 300 homes, and threatens an additional 5,000 homes in Redding and the surrounding area.

Two young children and an adult were confirmed dead Saturday after flames from the fire engulfed a home near Redding, located 120 miles south of the border with Oregon, late last week.

A neighbor reported five-year-old James Roberts and his four-year-old sister, Emily, missing on Friday along with their 70-year-old great-grandmother, Mary Bledsoe, after the wildfire burned through the family’s house on the outskirts of Redding on Thursday. Nobody had seen nor heard from them after a frantic call from Mary to her husband, Ed Bledsoe, as the fire was closing in.

According to a fundraising web page set up by another local resident, the family did not believe that they were subject to an evacuation order. Ed Bledsoe had left to stock up on supplies Thursday when the fire struck. The elderly couple had cared for their great-grandchildren for years. On top of the anguish Bledsoe faces as a result of losing his family and home, the GoFundMe page tells readers that the property was rented and the couple did not have renter’s insurance, meaning that Bledsoe has effectively been rendered homeless with little hope of reimbursement for the loss of all of his belongings.

On Sunday, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office announced that two additional unidentified people were confirmed to have died in separate incidents, one of whom was discovered in the charred remains of their home, bringing to seven the number of lives claimed by the blaze, with at least seven people still missing. Several people have also been admitted to nearby hospitals with burns and respiratory complications.

These deaths followed those of two firefighters earlier in the week, including 81-year-old contract bulldozer operator, Don Ray Smith, who was working to clear brush and vegetation to contain the fire when his position was overtaken by the blaze, and Redding fire inspector Jeremy Stoke, for whom the details have not yet been released.

Redding, with a mostly working-class population approaching 92,000, is the governmental and commercial center of Shasta County. It was first built in 1868 as a railroad town during the California Gold Rush and experienced periods of relative prosperity as a result of nearby iron and copper deposits, as well as an abundance of lumber from the dense evergreen forests in the northern reaches of the Central Valley.

After the closure of the city’s paper mills in the 1970s, however, industrial production ground to a halt and the economy today, like many deindustrialized rural communities in the United States, is dominated by the service and real estate sectors.

The Carr fire was sparked on July 23 by a vehicle experiencing mechanical failure while traveling on Route 299 outside of Redding. Over the subsequent week, temperatures as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit combined with low humidity, high winds, and drought conditions to facilitate the fire’s rapid spread across the Sacramento River and in multiple directions. Temperatures are expected to remain around 100 degrees over the coming week as the humidity drops to between 10 and 15 percent, setting the stage for further expansion.

The heat of the wildfire has grown so intense that it has altered the weather of the surrounding area, creating powerful winds and fire vortices (“firenadoes”) that can cause the fire to spread in several directions at once and make forecasting extremely difficult. Meteorologists told the Los Angeles Times that this rare weather phenomenon has been a key contributor to the fire’s spread, more than natural atmospheric winds.

Between Friday evening and Saturday morning, the blaze doubled in size to 81,000 acres of land burned. As of Sunday, the area burned had increased further to 95,000 acres and the fire was only 17 percent contained. Some 38,000 residents have been ordered to evacuate the area, many of whom have been forced to proceed to hastily-constructed relief centers run by the Red Cross, United Way and other charities. These relief efforts have been chaotic, with evacuees reporting that one Red Cross shelter was full by 9:00 the morning after the evacuation order was issued, while the Red Cross subsequently announced that it had plenty of capacity to take in more evacuees at a different facility.

Over recent years, the Western United States has suffered a series of droughts that have increased both the frequency and severity of wildfires significantly, particularly on the coast. Carr is one of 17 wildfires raging across the state of California, which just emerged last year from a drought that began in 2011 and caused water levels to decline to crisis levels. Between October and June, the Shasta region experienced only about 55 percent of the average rainfall in prior years.

As temperatures continue to climb and precipitation becomes more erratic due to climate change, wildfires like the Carr are expected to become more frequent. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been cutting funds from predictive modeling and other programs designed to improve the response to such events, while Democratic politicians make no mention of these issues that represent the difference between life and death for workers in the United States and throughout the world.

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRE SETS GRIM RECORD The wildfire raging in Northern California is now the ninth most destructive in the state’s history. [AP]

California has already spent more than one-quarter of its annual fire budget — at least $125 million — fighting recent wildfires.

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES BIGGEST IN STATE’S HISTORY The wildfires raging north of San Francisco, which have already has consumed an area almost as big as Los Angeles, is now the largest fire in modern California history. [HuffPost]

19 thoughts on “Greece, California wildfires, not ‘natural’ disasters

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  5. Tuesday, 21 August 2018

    Greek austerity is set to continue! Only way out is through the European socialist revolution!

    GREECE has completed a three-year eurozone emergency loan programme worth 61.9bn euros (£55bn; $70.8bn). This was part of the biggest bailout in global financial history, totalling some 289bn euros, which was secured only through the imposition of massive austerity measures, and which will take the Greek working class and youth four decades of even more austerity to repay.

    Greek capitalism remains a huge rock around the necks of the Greek workers – ahead is more penal servitude for Greek workers and youth to repay the debt. The massively unpopular cuts to public spending and privatisations, all conditions of the bailout, are set to continue. However the economy has been destroyed and is still 25% smaller than when the crisis began.

    ‘From today, Greece will be treated like any other Europe area country,’ the EU’s Commissioner on Economic and Financial Affairs, Pierre Moscovici, declared on Monday. The Greek reforms had, he said, ‘laid the foundation for a sustainable recovery’, but he cautioned that recovery was ‘not an event, it is a process’.

    The truth is that the austerity accords have not ended at all. They are to continue for the next 40 years as Greece will be paying back the EU-IMF loans with interest. To make sure that austerity is carried on, EU-IMF teams will inspect Greek government spending in Athens every three months.

    The whole of the Greek economy, the whole of the state’s income (taxes etc) are not under the control of an elected Minister and government, but under the so-called Independent Authority which is appointed by the creditors and where their representatives have a veto! In this way they can protect the bankers and the banks. Of all of the 321bn euros bail-out, some 80% was paid to mainly French and German banks! Thus the euro was saved from a collapse and the Eurozone remained intact by the enslavement of the Greek workers.

    In Athens, volunteers now run food handout stations and say that ‘The numbers are actually rising,’ adding: ‘The bailout might be ending on paper – but not in reality.’ A lady spoke openly about the ordeal of the Greek workers. ‘I don’t see the crisis coming to an end,’ she says. ‘We are stressed and angry because we don’t have jobs.’ Another women said: ‘The crisis was a slap in the face. We had grown up accustomed to the benefits of living in a European country and suddenly everything came crashing down.’

    Some 300,000 Greeks have emigrated in search of work since the crisis began. Greece’s unemployment rate peaked at 27.5% in 2013 – but for those under 25 it was more than double that, at 58%. Last year, more than four in every ten young Greeks were still jobless. While Greece’s economy has stabilised, its accumulated debt pile stands at about 180% of GDP. Under a deal hammered out with other eurozone states in June, it must keep strict control over its public spending, running a budget surplus, before interest payments, of at least 2.2% of GDP until the year 2060.

    Some analysts predict it will still be paying off its current debt after 2060. Professor Costas Meghir, an economist with Yale University based in the Greek capital Athens said: ‘The Greek government has to be even more disciplined now because it has to rely on foreign markets at reasonable interest rates to be able to borrow.’

    Since first elected in February 2015 the leader of the Coalition of the Left, Alexis Tsipras, formed a coalition government with the small right-wing party, Independent Greeks. In July 2015 a referendum was held in Greece which rejected the austerity accords by 62%. Despite this, Tsipras went ahead and signed with the EU, ECB and the IMF a new, third in a row, austerity programme which continued the slashing of wages and pensions, imposition of very high taxes and huge rises in household bills, the sell off of state properties and public companies, the privatisation of all sea-ports and airports, along with colossal cuts in health, education and social care. He sold out the Greek workers, to save the EU.

    As Greece exits bailout, EU demands further austerity. By Robert Stevens, 21 August 2018:


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