California wildfires, over 1,000 people missing

Firefighters taking on the Woolsey Fire in Southern California [photo courtesy Cal Fire]

By Evan Blake in the USA:

Death toll rises to 71, more than 1,000 missing from devastating California wildfires

17 November 2018

The ongoing wildfires in California, including the most deadly and destructive in the state’s history, are a horrific exposure of the collapse of social infrastructure and the consequences of government neglect.

The immense toll is just beginning to be comprehended. On Friday, the official death toll from the Camp Fire in Northern California reached 71, while the number of missing persons skyrocketed from 631 to 1,011.

The Woolsey Fire in Southern California began on November 8 and has destroyed over 98,300 acres, roughly the size of Denver, Colorado. Over 295,000 people have been forced to evacuate the region, and there have been three confirmed deaths as of this writing. The fire is now 69 percent contained.

In Butte County, Northern California, the Camp Fire began on the same day and has caused far greater damage. The fire currently encompasses 146,000 acres, with 50 percent containment, and has forced 52,000 people to evacuate. The fire has destroyed 12,263 structures, including 9,844 single residences and 144 multiple residences.

Another 15,500 structures are still threatened by the Camp Fire, which is not expected to be fully contained until November 30 at the earliest. Statewide, roughly 9,400 firefighters have been deployed to fight the ongoing fires, of whom roughly 1,500 are prison inmates that are paid a meager $1 per hour.

The largely working-class, elderly towns of Paradise and Magalia, as well as multiple smaller census-designated places, have been essentially wiped off the map by the Camp Fire. Each day, an average of eight new bodies have been found in the rubble, as nearly 500 search-and-rescue personnel survey the area.

On Thursday, the number of missing people skyrocketed from 300 to 631, then to 1,011 on Friday evening. Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea has said that officials have finally processed all the 911 calls and missing person reports made over the past week.

A map of the building damage in Paradise, CA and surrounding areas

Officials have not released the names of all 1,011 missing people, but the most recent public list showed that the vast majority are elderly, with 91 percent over the age of 50, and therefore more likely to have perished given the rapidity of the wildfire’s spread and the complete lack of a citywide warning system.

The Camp Fire will likely rank among the top five deadliest wildfires in US history, and the deadliest since the Cloquet Fire in Minnesota killed an estimated 1,000 people in 1918. The fact that such a devastating event could take place in modern America speaks to the immense social crisis of contemporary capitalism, which subordinates all aspects of social life to the pursuit of private profit.

Beyond those killed or made homeless by the Camp Fire, millions more have been impacted across the Northern California region, as toxic particulate matter has fanned out and spread hundreds of miles westward, creating hazardous air for millions of residents in the densely populated Bay Area, as well as large parts of the Central Valley.

According to the air quality-monitoring network Purple Air, Northern California currently has the most polluted air in the world, worse than notoriously smoggy cities in India and China. On Friday afternoon, the air quality reached the highest “hazardous” rating on the Air Quality Index scale in the cities of Chico and Oroville, where most Camp Fire evacuees have fled, as well as the heavily populated Sacramento region, effecting over 600,000 people. At least 25 other cities in Northern California ranked in the highly toxic “Unhealthy” and “Very Unhealthy” range.

The cumulative, long-term health impact of this air pollution may never be fully known. The toxic air can cause asthma attacks and prompt strokes and heart attacks. Due to the fact that school funding is tied to attendance, almost every major school district in the region remained open throughout the week, until conditions became so bad that they were forced to close on Friday. Ambulances were sent to schools in the region Thursday to hospitalize students having severe asthma attacks.

Air quality monitors across Northern California show hazardous conditions for millions [Courtesy]

US President Donald Trump—who has feuded with the state’s Democratic politicians—initially threatened to cut off federal funding to the state. He has since backpedaled slightly, and the White House announced Thursday that Trump will visit “individuals impacted by the wildfires” this Saturday.

Whatever empty platitudes Trump issues during his visit, his administration will do nothing to make survivors whole or address any of the underlying causes of the epidemic of wildfires that have ravaged California in recent years. Nor will the Democratic politicians that run the state, including Governor Jerry Brown or Governor-elect Gavin Newsom.

Both parties are responsible for this catastrophe. Funding for the state agencies that oversee fire prevention and management has been continually cut in recent decades at both the state and federal level, while the energy monopoly Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has been allowed to subordinate public safety to its private profit.

In a report published last June, Cal Fire found that PG&E equipment caused 16 wildfires last year, 11 of which involved violations of state fire prevention codes, making them potentially liable for $15 billion in damages. Southern California Edison, which provides energy for much of Southern California—including the region impacted by the Woolsey Fire—admitted in late October that its equipment helped spark the massive 2017 Thomas Fire that killed two people and burned over 280,000 acres.

However, in September Governor Brown signed into law SB 901, which limits the potential damages for which utilities are liable. The law also allows regulators to reduce assessed damages when weather exacerbates the disaster, and to take into account the company’s “financial status” to limit the costs to shareholders and allow the utilities to raise rates on the public.

PG&E shares have fallen by as much as 53 percent since the Camp Fire began, as the first ignition point for the fire is reported to have been under PG&E power lines near the Poe Dam. PG&E acknowledged Tuesday that it had submitted an “electric incident report” moments prior to the outbreak of the fire, sending its shares plummeting.

In response, late Thursday California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker held a private meeting with Wall Street investors and analysts, in which he reportedly said that he wishes to avoid a PG&E bankruptcy, and that he will allow the company to pass on wildfire-related costs to customers through a bond-purchasing program. After-hours trading caused PG&E stock to surge more than 44 percent, erasing the day’s 30 percent decline.

In an interview with the Chronicle, Picker stated, “If [PG&E] can’t borrow money, if they have liquidity problems and they can’t do vegetation management, that’s a problem. That’s not good policy, to really let them get financially unstable.”

Almost all of California’s electricity is transmitted through wooden aboveground power lines, which are known to cause wildfires due to poor maintenance. Two rational but more expensive solutions are the use of underground lines or steel aboveground lines. Instead, PG&E has since 2013 begun cutting power to entire regions that experience conditions conducive to wildfires. In the days prior to the Camp Fire, PG&E sent warnings to customers in Butte County that they would temporarily cut power, indicating that they knew conditions were ripe for a wildfire. However, no cutoff was made before the fire broke out.

Both the Democrats and Republicans preside over a capitalist system that has proven incapable of addressing climate change, which is responsible for increasingly extreme and unpredictable global weather patterns. The 2011-2017 California drought was the driest period in state history since records began in 1895. Then 2017 brought one of the wettest years in state history, while 2018 has seen a return of drought conditions. The Camp Fire itself began after 210 continuous days without rain in the region.

The experience of the Camp Fire has affected millions of people and will deepen the ongoing radicalization of the working class. As Robert Starling, a restaurant dishwasher who fled the Camp Fire in Magalia, told the World Socialist Web Site, “This country has failed. We need to have an overhaul. I don’t know how it’s going to be done, if it’s going to take another revolution. […] Things like this will make people mad and instill enough drive to do it.”

In a socialist society, the major corporations, including PG&E and Edison International, would be nationalized. Billions would be reallocated from the military and the bank accounts of the super-rich toward the rational planning of cities, including the universal use of underground or metal aboveground electrical infrastructure. Emergency response technology would provide instant notification of any wildfires or other extreme weather events, and fire departments would be fully funded to prevent any future outbreaks. Programs to halt and reverse human-induced climate change would create a stable climate and lay the basis for sustaining future generations of mankind.


London Grenfell disaster witness statements

This August 2017 video from England is called LOWKEY ft. MAI KHALIL – GHOSTS OF GRENFELL (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO).

By Paul Bond in England:

Grenfell Tower Inquiry hears harrowing witness statements

15 November 2018

The official inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire of June 14, 2017, which killed 72, continues to hear witness statements from survivors, relatives and the bereaved.

The evidence, focusing on events that night, is harrowing and confirms the wider failings of the authorities that directly led to the catastrophe.

Survivors spoke of stepping on bodies on the single stairwell in the tower as they tried to escape. Helen Gebremeskel, from the 21st floor, explained in her written statement, that “most of the bodies I stood on were not making any noise when I walked on them… I believe that these poor people were already dead.”

Witnesses described heroic efforts by fire fighters, even as it was becoming apparent that their “stay put” policy was breaking down because they did not realize that the fire was spreading rapidly due to flammable cladding materials. Many probing questions were raised about the London Fire Brigade’s (LFB) application of policy that night, connecting this directly with the under-resourcing of public services.

Survivors have described a background of casual negligence surrounding the management and refurbishment of the building run by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) via its tenant management association. They point to a general lack of consultation and a lack of information on safety questions.

Testimony points to the chronic shortage of social housing. In January 2017, Leanne Jackson Le-Blanc, who is disabled with mobility problems, rejected an offer of a flat in Grenfell Tower as she was concerned that the lifts were unreliable and would be unsuitable. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) offered her the same flat in April 2017, warning that if she refused it again, she would be considered “intentionally homeless” and removed from the housing list. She moved in two months before the fire.

Like previous witness statements, much attention has been paid to the refurbishments—during which the flammable cladding was added to the tower—conducted by contractors Rydon on behalf of RBKC and the Tenant Management Organization (TMO).

Mouna El-Ogbani, who lived on the 11th floor, said there were no consultations on changes or refurbishment. Her husband, Youssef Khalloud, noted that no sprinklers were fitted during the refurbishment. He said that this was not raised during the refurbishment because the TMO would only discuss changes inside flats, not to communal areas.

Like many others El-Ogbani was unhappy that Rydon wanted to replace the boiler to a new location by the front door. She refused, and had the boiler replaced in the kitchen. She was also unhappy about the replacement of the gas pipes because they lowered the ceiling, reducing the size of the flat. “We were not happy about this, but had no choice.”

She said, “We never received any fire safety talk and I have always been told to get out of the flat, not stay in it in the event of a fire.”

Khalloud contrasted attitudes to safety at Grenfell Tower with those at the hotel where he worked. Every six months at the hotel he had to do fire safety training, and the fire alarm was tested weekly. “There was none of this in Grenfell Tower.”

He said no one “ever explained” fire procedures. No fire advice was given, verbally or in writing. He had never seen any notices with fire advice in the hallways. Another resident said all the fire signs “were rubbish.”

Khalloud could not recall any fire alarm test or evacuation drill prior to the fire. He said he was “surprised that they did not add anything in relation to fire safety after all the money they must have spent on refurbishing the buildings.”

As is now known, cost-cutting involving cladding materials was a key factor in the fire.

In his testimony Nick Burton, who barely survived after fleeing the building with his wife, Maria Del Pilar Burton, from the 19th floor, said he had never been evacuated, taken part in a fire drill, heard the fire alarms tested, nor been notified of an alarm test. “I was also not aware of any organised fire marshals or fire training for anyone in the block.”

After the refurbishment, the block’s fire panel no longer showed the location of a fire. On two occasions in 2017 Burton said he had to let the LFB into the building because there was no access code. The attending fire fighters were not deployed from a local station, which may have been why they had no direct access. Burton also had to contact the TMO for someone to come and assist them with the new fire panel. On one occasion it took 20 minutes for the TMO representative to arrive after the LFB had been admitted to the Tower.

Hoang Khanh Quang said she received no safety advice between moving into her 10th floor flat in 1990 and 2017. As she put it, “No one cares about teaching me about safety.” Sid-Ali Atmani, who along with Nick Burton spoke movingly at the Socialist Equality Party meeting on the Grenfell fire, on August 19, 2017, was among many witnesses saying they heard no fire alarms on the night. Maria, tragically, later died in hospital, becoming the fire’s 72nd victim.

Since the fire there have been attempts by the media to cast fire fighters as bearing primary responsibility for the deaths at Grenfell, due to the failure of the official “stay put” advice. The witnesses have been plain about the failings they saw, but regularly praised the efforts of fire fighters, who heroically attempted to save lives in an impossible situation.

Ambrose Mendy, whose cousin Mary Mendy died with her daughter on the 20th floor, put it most clearly. Their deaths “were 100 percent avoidable.” They were “horrifically killed due to a fire… exacerbated and assisted by the illegal installation of hazardous materials.” He noted with concern that such materials are still found on buildings across the country.

He queried above all why the “stay put” policy for tower blocks—which would have been appropriate had Grenfell Tower not been covered in flammable cladding—remained in place even when fire fighters were saying they had never seen anything comparable to this fire.

This policy, fatally flawed due to the use of cladding materials, of which the fire fighters were unaware, has been at the centre of criticism of the emergency response. Questions have been asked about why it took so long to reverse the policy given the circumstances. Witness accounts of repeated emergency 999 calls reveal confusion among despatch personnel.

In some later calls residents were more strongly encouraged to evacuate, but most of those evacuated did so on the advice of friends. Helen Gebremeskel initially went to her neighbour Marcio Gomes’s flat. Gomes, seeing the severity of the fire, later told her, “It’s either now or never.” Gebremeskel had earlier received a text advising her to stay put from Nadia Choucair, who died in the fire.

When Youssef Khalloud first encountered a fire fighter, he was advised of the fire but not told to stay put. Mouna El-Ogbani said she was later told by a fire fighter to leave. When Gebremeskel told a fire fighter she had come from the 21st floor, he was “visibly shocked” she had made it out. Gomes stopped on the stairs to assist Gebremeskel’s daughter, who had passed out. Fire fighters rescued them. Gebremeskel said unequivocally, “I owe everything to the brave fire fighter who risked his own life in that inferno to save my daughter.”

Witnesses have begun to draw political conclusions from these events and the way they are being portrayed. Leanne Jackson Le-Blanc cautioned against shifting the blame onto the fire fighters and using them as a convenient scapegoat. “The fact they did not have the right equipment to be able to help more is a reflection on the government, not on the fire fighters. They are still honourable.”

Ambrose Mendy’s conclusions, however critical, also point beyond the LFB. Listening to the fire fighters’ evidence he wondered “why there was no structure” to the rescue operation. Partially answering his own question, he asked “why the LFB were so badly resourced in terms of training and personnel.”

This is a recognition that the primary contributing factor in the deaths were savage cuts to the fire service. Mendy concluded, angrily, “It should not have cost lives for lessons to be learned.”

The Grenfell Fire Forum invites readers to its next meeting to discuss these vital issues on Saturday December 8 at 4 p.m. at the Maxilla Social Club, 2 Maxilla Walk, London W10 6SW (nearest tube Latimer Road.)

California wildfire survivors speak

This 13 November 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

California Wildfires Continue, Survivors Describe Deadly Conditions | TODAY

The fast-moving wildfires in California – outside Los Angeles and up north near the town of Paradise – have now claimed the lives of at least 44 people. President Trump declared a disaster in the state, while 70,000 homes still remain in the inferno’s path of destruction. NBC national correspondent Miguel Almaguer reports for TODAY.

By Evan Blake and Ben McGrath in California:

As death toll rises to 48

Evacuees in California wildfire share their stories

14 November 2018

The confirmed death toll from the Camp Fire in Northern California soared to 48 Tuesday night as officials continued a systematic examination of the destroyed city of Paradise. Hundreds of people remain missing and it is believed the death toll will continue to rise.

The wildfire broke out last Thursday morning and within hours had burned down the entire city of 26,000 people. No wireless emergency alert was issued and thousands of panicked residents clogged the roads trying to escape. An untold number of them did not make it.

Some of the donations for fire survivors in Chico

Reporters for the World Socialist Web Site traveled to the area on Monday and spoke with evacuees at shelters in the nearby cities of Orland and Chico. It became clear that a tragedy of horrifying dimensions unfolded Thursday, with those affected permanently scarred by their experiences. Most of those we spoke with predict the death toll will surge, with one stating, “They should probably add a zero to their current total.”

The total number of those killed may never be known. There are currently over 200 missing person reports from the fire, but those without close friends or family may never be reported. The destruction is so extensive that emergency responders will have a hard time finding all the victims. The Butte County Sheriff told reporters that in some cases “the fire burned so intensely” that the temperatures would “be high enough to completely consume the body.”

Evacuation orders outside Chico

The Camp Fire has burned a total of 130,000 acres and officials say they expect it to be contained by the end of the month. It is joined by the Woolsey and Hill fires in Southern California, which killed two people and forced over 260,000 to evacuate in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

The evacuees shared the common experience of insufficient warning, causing them to flee for their lives and endure hours of deadlocked traffic while flames engulfed their surroundings. They lost almost all their personal possessions. All expressed a strong sense of solidarity with fellow inhabitants of the region.

Robert Starling

At the Glenn County Fairgrounds in Orland, Robert Starling, a restaurant dishwasher, described his experience fleeing from the Camp Fire as it engulfed Magalia, a small town of over 11,000 residents that was hit shortly after Paradise. Starling awoke at 8:45 a.m. Thursday to a phone call from a friend, “panicking, telling us that we need to get out, that the whole town has been evacuated.” Starling told his girlfriend and they quickly left with nothing but their cat.

“We waited in line for hours,” Starling said. “We could see the fire burning everything up behind us. I made what I thought might be my last call to my uncle and told him that I loved him. The flames were in sight and coming up behind us, and I felt the need to call him and say my last words.”

Over the next three hours, Starling and his girlfriend drove at a snail’s pace to Sterling City and then Forest Ranch, from where they could see “Paradise and the whole area in flames and covered in smoke.” From there “it was a five hour ordeal just to get to Chico, which is normally a one hour drive.” They arrived in East Chico at 11:30 pm and stayed for roughly an hour, at which point they were forced to evacuate again to Orland, another three hour drive through heavy traffic.

The preliminary survey of building damage in Paradise

“The way the fire came through, as fast as it did, was unreal”, he said. “It was apocalyptic, like something you’d see in a movie. My place went up in flames with no insurance. Now I’m probably permanently homeless. I don’t know how we’ll recover from here.”

Starling condemned the city of Paradise for not sufficiently preparing residents for such a catastrophe. He said, “The authorities didn’t have time to alert us, and no one came to tell us that the fire was coming, which made me really disappointed that we didn’t have a fire alarm system. Paradise really failed us in this regard.”

Expressing the sentiments of thousands of evacuees and millions of Americans, Starling declared his disgust with state and federal politicians, who he feels have betrayed workers for many years. “I know so many people that haven’t gone out to vote on any topic for the last ten years,” he said. “For me personally, the fact that there isn’t someone who speaks for the working class has prevented me from voting.”

He continued: “This country has failed. We need to have an overhaul. I don’t know how it’s going to be done, if it’s going to take another revolution. If it is, it will be less like the 1960s and ’70s, and more like the early American revolt, where it was deadly. Things like this will make people mad, and instill enough drive to do it.”

Antonio and Amanda Sanchez, along with their young daughter, escaped the fire that destroyed much of Magalia, including their home. Antonio works for Taco Bell, while his wife receives disability benefits. “I woke up at 9 o’clock and we were gone by about 9:30”, he said.

The afternoon sun through clouds of ash in Chico

“I got a call from a friend in Oroville saying are you evacuating”, Amanda said. Antonio added, “There was zero official warning for us.”

As the discussion turned toward the political aspect of the tragedy, the WSWS pointed out that PG&E (Pacific Gas & Electric) violated state fire prevention laws in 11 out of 16 cases in which their equipment sparked wildfires last year. Antonio responded, “They need to be held accountable. That right there just pisses me off. That and the fact that when they get sued, the customer pays for it.”

When the issue of the $716 billion US military budget was raised, he said, “The money is going in the wrong direction.”

WSWS reporters also spoke to Marion Gorr at the Neighborhood Church in Chico, which is being used as an evacuation shelter. Marion is a teacher at the K-12 Home Tech charter school in Paradise and came looking for her students, many of whom she knew would be displaced.

She described the conditions facing youth in the area, where some 80 percent of students at her school receive free or reduced-price lunches. She said, “Many of the students have a hard time going to school, and they were going to have a hard time getting out during the evacuation.”

Paradise, like many rural towns, is significantly poorer than the rest of California, as are surrounding towns in Butte County that were devastated by the fire, such as Magalia. The median household income in Paradise last year was only $47,500, a full $8,000 less than the national figure and $20,000 less than California overall.

Those directly impacted by the fire are largely still in shock, trying to make sense of the sudden loss of their whole community. Beneath the shock a mood of anger over the indifference of the state and federal government to their suffering is building.

CALIFORNIA CAMP FIRE DEATH TOLL RISES At least 48 people have died in Northern California’s Camp fire, as emergency responders continue finding bodies five days into the ongoing blaze. Here are some of the victims’ stories. [HuffPost]

Australian addresses London Grenfell disaster survivors

This 13 Juni 2018 video from London, England says about itself:

One year on from the fire which killed 72 people, Going Underground goes back to Grenfell Tower. Host Afshin Rattansi talks to victims, protest organizers and those who tried to battle the blaze.

From the World Socialist Web Site in London, England:

Australian Socialist Equality Party National Secretary James Cogan addresses Grenfell Fire Forum

By our reporter

13 November 2018

On Saturday, James Cogan, national secretary of the Socialist Equality Party in Australia, spoke at the Grenfell Fire Forum about the international implications of the fire. He argued that the same conditions that led to the deaths of 72 people in London’s Grenfell tower on the night of June 14 and the early morning of June 15, 2017, exist all over the world.

The event, sponsored by the Socialist Equality Party (UK), was attended by local residents, including campaigners against social cleansing in London.

Cogan brought condolences from the Australian SEP “to all those who lost loved ones and friends in the Grenfell Fire,” as well as political support for the forum and its “campaign to ensure that the lessons of what the SEP in the UK rightly characterised as social murder are learned and politically acted upon by the working class internationally.”

“The horrific event that took place on the night of June 14-15, 2017, both shocked and resonated with tens of millions of people around the world”, Cogan said.

“I have heard it said many times that such a catastrophe should not have happened in the centre of one of the wealthiest cities on earth. And while that is true, the political and social reality is that it did happen.

“As the staggering dimensions of the official disregard for the safety of working-class residents in London became known, it became obvious that, under other circumstances, a fire engulfing an entire apartment building and taking the lives of dozens, if not hundreds of people could have happened, and still could happen, in hundreds of cities around the world.”

Cogan explained that, just as with Grenfell and many other UK buildings covered in highly flammable cladding, which enabled the fire to spread so rapidly, many residential structures in Australia are encased in non-fire resistant aluminium composite panel cladding (ACP, or aluminium composite material, ACM, in the UK).

He said that a secret briefing note from the New South Wales’ Department of Planning and Environment leaked to the Australian newspaper in mid-February 2016 “estimated that there were between 1,800 and 2,500 high-rise buildings with ACP cladding in metropolitan Sydney alone—that is, not including the sprawling working-class suburbs.”

A survey of just 170 high-rise buildings with ACP cladding in central Melbourne and surrounding suburbs found that 51 percent had non-compliant combustible material. In the Gold Coast area there are, Cogan said, “hundreds, if not thousands, of buildings clad in the most flammable forms of ACP.” According to building engineers, up to 10,000 buildings in Australia could be covered in flammable cladding.

Cogan reported that, as in Britain, in Australia “national and state governments have rejected any responsibility to carry out inspections. It has been left to the owners.” Legislation was written to favour “developers and builders from having to replace flammable cladding”, he said. “Again, it is left to the owners. In numerous cases, the owners are wealthy investors who do not live in the buildings. They have refused to either have the buildings checked, let alone replaced cladding or addressed other fire safety issues.”

He pointed to the recent BBC documentary The Fires that Foretold Grenfell, which established that “warnings about the dangers of ACP have been raised since 1970s.” Repeated recommendations that flammable cladding be banned were “buried and ignored.”

Cogan spoke of the devastating fire that took place in November 2014 at the 23-storey Lacrosse apartment building in Melbourne. The fire “ignited the ACP cladding and jumped from balcony to balcony on one side of the building, engulfing the upper 13 storeys within 15 minutes.” The only reason it “did not result in significant loss of life is the wind direction on the night,” while, “internal fire sprinklers were all that prevented fire from spreading inside apartments.”

“Building regulations in Australia have been written to enable developers and construction companies to avoid having to install sprinklers”, he explained. “Any building under 25 metres is deemed to be ‘low enough’ not to require them. The height stems from the early 1900s. Fire-fighting equipment at the time could only reach 25 metres.

“The consequences were seen in September 2012, with the fire at the EuroTerraces residential block in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown. It was built to the precise height of 24 metres and 90 centimetres and had no sprinklers. Two young women, Chinese students, were trapped by the flames” and were forced to jump to escape. One died, the other suffered life-long crippling injuries.”

Meanwhile, in working-class suburbs, Cogan noted that “most apartment buildings have been deliberately built just below the height of 25 metres. In many cases, they are also covered in combustible cladding.”

“As has been thoroughly documented in the case of Grenfell, the cost of using the most fire-resistant cladding was minimal. The cost of installing sprinklers was minimal. The cost of ensuring adequate maintenance was minimal.

“That is the case in buildings around the world. Decisions are made that the risk to life is justified to lower the costs, and boost the profits, of developers, builders and landlords.”

Such indifference to “the lives of the working class permeates every aspect of capitalist society. … In their workplaces, people often confront appalling disregard for safety and are pressured to keep silent out of fear of losing their job.”

It is now established that the authorities covered up the extent of the toxic pollution that covered the local area after the Grenfell fire. This is, Cogan said, part of everyday life for workers the world over. “It is overwhelmingly working-class communities that have been left to live with the legacy of contamination caused by decades of unregulated industrial operations, in which toxic substances were used and polluted the soil.”

He argued that “the great question in politics is always, What is to be done? How is society to be changed?” Cogan noted that after World War II, out of fear of revolution, the ruling class internationally enacted reforms and “here in Britain, they even declared that the welfare of every person would be guaranteed by capitalism from ‘cradle to the grave.’”

For a few decades, Cogan explained, living standards and social conditions did improve, but for the last 40 years, all the underlying contradictions of capitalism have resurfaced. …

Cogan concluded: “The task at hand is to build the international political movement that is fighting to unite the working class of the world into a common struggle for socialism, for the end of capitalism. …”

Cogan’s report prompted a lively discussion. Dessie, who had worked in the Grenfell Tower creche for years and had been involved in helping survivors, said she had noticed “a rush of programmes on TV making out that the working class has almost ceased to exist. But the truth is we do run the cities like London.”

Agreeing with Cogan’s remark, Dessie said, “We’ve got to start to do things for ourselves.”

At the meeting’s conclusion, Cogan was given a warm round of applause.

Trump bans helping devastated Puerto Rico

This 13 September 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

Trump Is Now DENYING That 3,000 Puerto Ricans Died In Hurricane Maria

Just when you thought Donald Trump couldn’t sink any lower with his denial of reality, he comes along and Tweets that nearly 3,000 American citizens DIDN’T die during Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and that somehow this death toll number is the fault of the Democrats. This is reality-denial the likes of which we’ve never seen from the Oval Office, as Ring of Fire’s Farron Cousins explains.

By Jonathan Swan in the USA today:

Trump wants no more relief funds for Puerto Rico

President Trump doesn’t want to give Puerto Rico any more federal money for its recovery from Hurricane Maria, White House officials have told congressional appropriators and leadership. This is because he claims, without evidence, that the island’s government is using federal disaster relief money to pay off debt.

The big picture: Trump also told senior officials last month that he would like to claw back some of the federal money Congress has already set aside for Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery, claiming mismanagement.

The White House didn’t comment on this reporting.

  • Between the lines: Trump won’t be able to take away disaster funds that have already been set aside by Congress, and sources close to the situation tell me the White House hasn’t asked Republican lawmakers to do so. But Trump could refuse to sign a future spending bill that would make more money available for Puerto Rico‘s recovery.

Behind the scenes: In late October, Trump grew furious after reading a Wall Street Journal article by Matt Wirz, according to five sources familiar with the president’s reaction. The article said that “Puerto Rico bond prices soared … after the federal oversight board that runs the U.S. territory’s finances released a revised fiscal plan that raises expectations for disaster funding and economic growth.”

  • Sources with direct knowledge told me Trump concluded — without evidence — that Puerto Rico’s government was scamming federal disaster funds to pay down its debt.
  • On Oct. 23, Trump falsely claimed in a tweet that Puerto Rico’s “inept politicians are trying to use the massive and ridiculously high amounts of hurricane/disaster funding to pay off other obligations.”
  • At the same time, White House officials told congressional leadership that Trump was inflamed by the Wall Street Journal article and “doesn’t want to include additional Puerto Rico funding in further spending bills”, according to a congressional leadership aide. “He was unhappy with what he believed was mismanagement of money”, the aide said.
  • A second source said Trump misinterpreted the Journal article, concluding falsely that the Puerto Rican government was using disaster relief funds to pay down debt.
  • A third source said Trump told top officials in an October meeting that he wanted to claw back congressional funds that had previously been set aside for Puerto Rico’s recovery. “He’s always been pissed off by Puerto Rico“, the source added.

Trump’s wariness about sending federal money to Puerto Rico dates back to the beginning of his administration. In early 2017, when negotiating the omnibus spending bill, Democratic congressional leaders were pushing Trump to bail out Puerto Rico’s underfunded health care system that serves the island’s poorest citizens.

  • Trump insisted in the negotiations that he wouldn’t approve anything close to the level of funds Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats requested, according to two sources involved. (And he didn’t.)

The bottom line: Congress took steps to keep disaster relief funds from being used to pay down the island’s debt, and as Bloomberg reported at the time, “neither the island’s leaders — nor the board installed by the U.S. to oversee its budget — are proposing using disaster recovery aid to directly pay off bondholders or other lenders.”

Why it matters: Congress will have to pass a new package of spending bills in December. Hill sources say the package may include a bill to send more federal money to disaster areas. Trump has told aides he believes too much federal money has already gone to Puerto Rico — more than $6 billion for Hurricane Maria so far, according to FEMA. (The government projects more than $55 billion from FEMA’s disaster relief fund will ultimately be spent on Maria’s recovery.)

  • In comparison, per the NYT, “when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, Congress approved $10 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency four days later, and another $50 billion six days later. The federal government is still spending money on Katrina assistance, more than 12 years after the storm’s landfall.”

Trump often blames Democratic-controlled states for the fallout from their natural disasters. On Saturday, Trump threatened “no more Fed payments” for California to deal with its deadly fires unless the state addresses what Trump claims is “gross mismanagement of the forests.”

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