Homeless Californians take over vacant houses

This 13 April 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

Homeless Families Are Taking Over Vacant Homes to Protect Themselves From Coronavirus

In most major American cities, residents have been told to stay home and avoid unnecessary contact with others to slow the spread of coronavirus.

But California has by far the largest homeless population in the United States, and while state and local jurisdictions have taken certain measures to protect the unhoused from COVID-19, the vast majority are being left in the lurch.

That’s why a group of families in Los Angeles decided to take matters into their own hands, forcing their way into a number of vacant homes owned by Caltrans, the state transit authority, in the East LA neighborhood of El Sereno.

Natural habitat helps strawberry growers, birds, consumers

This 2013 video from the USA is called Southern California Bird Identification Guide.

From the University of California – Davis in the USA:

Natural habitat around farms a win for strawberry growers, birds and consumers

Removing natural habitat can increase growers’ costs up to 76% with no detectable effect on food safety

March 11, 2020

Conserving natural habitat around strawberry fields can help protect growers’ yields, their bottom line and the environment with no detectable threat to food safety, indicates a study led by the University of California, Davis.

In the study, published in the journal Ecological Applications, researchers conducted grower surveys and experiments at 20 strawberry farms stretching between Santa Cruz, Watsonville, and Salinas on California’s Central Coast — a region that produces 43 percent of the nation’s strawberries.

“Our results indicate that strawberry farmers are better off with natural habitat around their farms than without it,” said lead author Elissa Olimpi, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Daniel Karp, assistant professor with the UC Davis Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology department.


The study’s models indicate that adding natural habitat can decrease crop damage costs by 23 percent. Removing natural habitat can increase costs up to a whopping 76 percent.

Critically, farms with more natural habitat showed no evidence of higher fecal contamination on or surrounding strawberry plants. Also, while bird feces were regularly encountered on the ground, only 2 of 10,000 berries examined showed signs of direct fecal contamination. Those berries would be removed from food production during the hand-harvesting process.

“We found no evidence that conserving habitat presented a food safety risk,” Olimpi said.


The results run contrary to market-driven farm management practices that encourage habitat removal to decrease bird fecal contamination and crop damage. Natural habitat includes forests, grasslands, wetlands, and shrubs.

Those measures were developed in response to a deadly outbreak of E. coli in 2006 that was traced to spinach grown in the region. Since then, private food safety protocols and public regulations were designed to help avert further foodborne illness crises. Yet some requirements may compromise environmental and social sustainability, as a 2019 study by Olimpi describes.

Between 2006 and 2009, roughly 13 percent of the riparian habitat along the Salinas River was removed in response to food safety reforms, notes a 2013 study.


The study notes that wild birds did create crop damage in some cases, particularly at the edges of farms. And while they help control insects, some of those are beneficial insects. But overall, the presence of natural habitat muted the effects of birds on farms and associated damage costs.

In other words, says Olimpi: “No matter your crop damage, birds will be more beneficial when you have natural habitat. We think the natural habitat is providing what they need, so the strawberry field isn’t this oasis for them.”

The work is part of a larger research goal to explore how agricultural landscapes can both support and benefit from biodiversity and ecological communities.

“The future of many species hinges on them being able to survive in working landscapes,” Olimpi said. “If we can find those opportunities in agriculture where we can enhance biodiversity and production, that’s the golden ticket.”

The study was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Saving California condors in the USA

This 22 February 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

SAVED! Prehistoric Bird Escapes Extinction!

On this episode of Breaking Trail, Mario and the crew are in California to work with some bizarre yet magnificent Prehistoric birds.. critically endangered California Condors! Watch as they assist in pulling biometric data and perform health assessments on these incredible birds!

Get ready to meet the prehistoric bird that was saved from extinction!

Thank you to Molly Astell for hosting us and allowing us to showcase the California Condor recovery program! If you want to learn more about the California Condor or contribute to Condor conservation, head here and here.

Amazon boss Bezos’ $165million mansion

This 13 February 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has purchased the Warner Estate in Beverly Hills for a staggering $165 million, according to a report Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal.

While Bezos, the richest man in the world, treats his workers at Amazon and at the Washington Post like shit …

Apparently, Bezos thinks his luxurious New York penthouse is not enough yet.

New plant, animal species discoveries in 2019

This 10 October 2019 video says about itself:

Today we’re exploring 10 new species discovered around the world, within the last year.

From the California Academy of Sciences in the USA:

Scientists at the California Academy of Sciences describe 71 new species in 2019

December 5, 2019

Summary: From geckos to goblin spiders, flowering plants, and Mediterranean ants — spanning five continents and three oceans — these 71 new species described by Academy scientists grow Earth’s tree of life.

In 2019, researchers at the California Academy of Sciences added 71 new plant and animal species to our family tree, enriching our understanding of Earth’s complex web of life and strengthening our ability to make informed conservation decisions. The new species include 17 fish, 15 geckos, eight flowering plants, six sea slugs, five arachnids, four eels, three ants, three skinks, two skates, two wasps, two mosses, two corals, and two lizards. More than a dozen Academy scientists — along with many more international collaborators — described the new species discoveries.

Proving that our vast and dynamic planet still contains unexplored places, the scientists discovered these new plants and animals across five continents and three oceans — venturing into Croatian caves, diving to extreme ocean depths, and surveying savanna forests. Their results help advance the Academy’s mission to explore, explain, and sustain life.

“Despite decades of tirelessly scouring some of the most familiar and remote places on Earth,” says Shannon Bennett, PhD, and Academy Chief of Science, “biodiversity scientists estimate that more than 90% of nature’s species remain unknown. A rich diversity of plants and animals is what allows life on our planet to thrive: the interconnectedness of all living systems provides collective resilience in the face of our climate crisis. Each newly discovered species serves as an important reminder of the critical role we play in better understanding and preserving these precious ecosystems.”

Below are highlights from the 71 new species described by the Academy in 2019.

Flowering plants in need of protection

Emeritus Curator of Botany Frank Almeda, PhD, described a rare white-blossomed plant Trembleya altoparaisensis this year based on several specimens collected over 100 years ago by the famous 19th-century botanist Auguste Francois Marie Glaziou. As rare now as it was then, the plant proved difficult to find in the wild. “People don’t think plants move,” says Ricardo Pacifico, a PhD student working with Almeda and visiting researcher at the Academy, “but they do.” When an environment changes, plants will move to areas that better suit them. For botanists like Pacifico — who sometimes relies on a single museum specimen collected decades ago to track down a plant’s current whereabouts in the field — these migrations can be both challenging and rewarding. Luckily, on a recent expedition to the lush canyons of Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park in Brazil, Pacifico was able to track down a living specimen of Trembleya altoparaisensis to inform Almeda’s species description.

Almeda emphasizes the importance of Pacifico’s fieldwork to document exactly where these plants thrive in the wild. “Sure, national parks are protected,” he says, “but we must ensure we know what grows in the parks.” He says that finding and documenting species such as T. altoparaisensis and Gravesia serratifolia — another new species from a national park in Madagascar described by Almeda and his former student, Heritiana Ranarivelo — is crucial for effective management of the parks in the event of wildfires or other disasters.

A long-snout skate with potentially high stakes for steaks

Thanks to a discovery by Ichthyology Research Associate David Ebert, PhD, the Falkland Islands have welcomed a new-to-science skate. Since the 1970s, the Falkland Island fisheries have been one of the largest distributors of skates — cartilaginous ray-like fish that live at depths of up to almost 2000 feet (600 meters). The fish are particularly popular in Korea, where they are fermented or filleted into steaks. Through their research, however, Ebert and his team have shown that some of the skates on the market might not be Dipturus chilensis as previously thought, but are instead the newly described species Dipturus lamillai. Ebert urges fisheries to reevaluate their sustainability and surveying practices in order to prevent overfishing of the newly described species before its population status can be fully evaluated — and to ensure the wrong skate doesn’t end up as a steak on a dinner plate.

A menagerie of microendemic and critically endangered reptiles

Academy Research Associate Aaron Bauer, PhD, has described more than 205 reptiles during his career, and this year he adds another 15 mottled day geckos, three island-dwelling skinks, an ostentatiously orange lizard, and a high-altitude girdled lizard to the tree of life. Bauer recommends that many of these reptiles be listed as critically endangered due to their microendemism — a term used to describe species only found in an extremely small geographic range. This restricted distribution means these animals are particularly susceptible to any sort of disturbance, such as deforestation. In the case of the newly described skink Kuniesaurus albiauris, invasive fire ants already threaten its restricted, native habitat in New Caledonia. Bauer says that finding these microendemic species is crucial for conservation. “If we don’t explore isolated habitats, like mountaintops,” he says, “we would miss a huge part of the biodiversity that’s unique to these regions.”

Californian corals make a case for conservation

Despite being less than 60 miles off the coast of San Francisco, much of the biodiversity in the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary remains a mystery. This is especially true of deeper-dwelling species. “We know the intertidal zone, but the deep sea is out of sight, out of mind,” says Invertebrate Zoology Curator Gary Williams, PhD, who described two new California coral species this year. Williams says that deep-sea surveys using remotely operated vehicles — like the 2018 expedition led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that collected a new lemon-yellow octocoral Chromoplexura cordellbankensis — are increasingly important for informing the expansion of marine protected areas and protecting the beautiful biodiversity thriving in the unexplored depths of our own backyard.

A fleet of fish (including a cat-eyed cardinalfish and a fish named C. wakanda)

From the purple, armor-like scales of the vibranium fairy wrasse Cirrhilabrus wakanda to the scintillating stare of the cat-eyed cardinalfish Siphamia arnazae, Academy researchers described 17 stunning new species of fish this year. Many of the colorful creatures come from tropical reefs — ecosystems known for both their biodiversity and their vulnerability to climate change. As the oceans continue to warm, the species that depend on the reef’s abundant resources are jeopardized. Efforts to document these species, such as those by Academy researchers and their collaborators, helps to ensure that conservationists, policymakers, local communities, and beyond better understand what is at stake.

Cave-dwelling and ant-loving arachnids

As you move east from the Pyrenees Mountains on the border of Spain and France to the Balkan Mountains outside Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia, a group of related cave-dwelling harvestmen (organisms related to spiders) becomes more adapted to life in the dark. This gradient of traits — known in biology as a character cline — helps researchers better understand the process of how a new species branches off on the tree of life. There is now a new link in this character cline chain thanks to the description of the cave-dwelling harvestman Lola konavoka from Croatia by Academy Curatorial Assistant of Entomology Darrell Ubick.

This year Ubick also co-describes the first — and only — species in a new family of “ant-worshipping” spiders. These curious arachnids spend most of their time underground in ant mounds, although scientists aren’t sure why. “The only way to see what they’re doing,” says Ubick, “is to dig them up. But then they’re no longer in their natural state.” It wasn’t until a recent expedition to Mexico’s Chihuahuan desert — the spider’s namesake — that scientists were first able to witness the species in the wild. But since they were found scattered around the surface of a collapsed ant nest, their underground behavior remains a mystery.

A stunning assortment of sea slugs

Academy Curator of Invertebrate Zoology Terry Gosliner, PhD, has described about one quarter of colorful sea slug species known to science, but these masquerading marine invertebrates still find ways of surprising him. Parts of Madrella amphora — one of six new species Gosliner describes this year — closely resemble the snail eggs that tend to surround their habitat. “We recently confirmed through genetics that sea slugs mimic the colors of other species” says Gosliner, “but it’s rare to see sea slugs mimic other animals entirely.” Two of the other new-to-science sea slugs are notable for being unusually small members of a group of typically large nudibranchs known as sea hares — named for two appendages on their head that resemble bunny ears.

Endangered lizard conservation in California, USA

This 2014 video from the USA is called Blunt-nosed leopard lizard, endangered species project.

From the University of California – Davis in the USA:

Detection dogs and DNA on the trail of endangered lizards

Noninvasive scat sampling could strengthen reptile conservation

October 30, 2019

Detection dogs trained to sniff out the scat of an endangered lizard in California’s San Joaquin Valley, combined with genetic species identification, could represent a new noninvasive sampling technique for lizard conservation worldwide. That is according to a study published today from the University of California, Davis, in partnership with the nonprofit Working Dogs for Conservation, U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Scientists have used trained conservation dogs to locate scat and collect DNA samples for everything from bears and foxes to gorillas and whales. But the technique had not been used for reptiles until this study, for which scientists developed a novel approach to identify the presence of the blunt-nosed leopard lizard in the Panoche Hills Recreation Area and Carrizo Plain National Monument, both managed by BLM.

They developed new methods to recover DNA from feces and genetically identify lizard species in the same area. The study, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, is a proof of concept for a host of reptiles.

“So many reptilian species have been hit so hard,” said lead author Mark Statham, an associate researcher with the Mammalian Ecology and Conservation Unit of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “A large proportion of them are endangered or threatened. This is a really valuable way for people to be able to survey them.”


Current methods for surveying lizard species typically rely on live capture or visual surveys. Scat sampling allows biologists to study elusive, rare or dangerous animals without the need for direct contact. In addition to informing about the presence, habitat and genetics of an animal, scat can also be analyzed to inform researchers about diet, hormones, parasites and other health factors.

Using the new method, the authors genetically identified specific species for 78 percent of the 327 samples collected by dog-handler teams across four years. Most (82 percent) of those identified were confirmed as being from blunt-nosed leopard lizards.

To meet regulatory monitoring requirements, more research is needed to assess the viability of using detection dogs to recover usable DNA at larger scales. But the research highlights the broad potential this method holds for surveying and monitoring reptiles.

Study co-authors include Deborah A. Woollett, Alice Whitelaw and Ngaio L. Richards of Working Dogs for Conservation; Susan Fresquez, Jerene Pfeiffer and Benjamin Sacks from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Jonathan Richmond from the U.S. Geological Survey; and Michael F. Westphal of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Funding was provided by the Bureau of Land Management.

Wildfire disasters in California, USA

This 28 October 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Fire crews battle raging infernos in California | ABC News

Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated due to the Kincade fire which burned over 55,000 acres in Northern California.

By Renae Cassimeda in the USA:

State of emergency as California wildfires force 200,000 to evacuate

28 October 2019

California Governor Gavin Newson declared a State of Emergency Sunday as some 200,000 people in Sonoma County and surrounding areas of northern California were ordered to evacuate in the face of advancing wildfires, fueled by wind gusts reaching 90 miles per hour.

Apocalyptic scenes of families having only minutes to desperately grab provisions and prized possessions are unfolding. Residents fleeing the areas in the early hours of Sunday morning were met with heavy traffic and pitch-black conditions on the roads due to lack of electricity. Pacific Gas & Electric blacked out much of the region from Wednesday night in a “preemptive” move that failed to prevent the ignition of new fires. Cell phone service was out in many areas.

Wildfires of this magnitude are expected at the end of summer as dry winds pick up and large areas of uncleared brush fuel a firestorm, like that which last year destroyed thousands of homes and structures and wiped the entire town of Paradise off the map, killing at least 87 people.

The inability to prepare for annual, predictable wildfires is a damning indictment of the irrationality of capitalism and exposes the criminal indifference of the ruling class, particularly the Democratic Party, which controls the state. California is the wealthiest state in the country, and the world’s fifth-largest economy, home to Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Beverly Hills.

On Saturday, Sonoma County evacuation orders forced 40,000 people to leave their homes. Only 24 hours later, the number more than quadrupled to nearly 200,000 people due to the effects of the “diablo” winds on the fires. The evacuation has uprooted residents from a massive area of the state from just outside Santa Rosa, the county seat, west to the Pacific Ocean.

The Kincade fire, the largest in the Northern California area, has torn through 30,000 acres of land in just four days and is only 10 percent contained at the time of this writing. It is currently projected that nearly 30,000 structures are threatened, and the fire will take upwards of a week to contain.

Additional spot fires have ignited over the weekend, causing added damage in the area. Two additional fires in Contra Costa County have burned areas, causing portions of major highways 101 and I80 to close. Thousands of residents fleeing south from the Kincade fire have been redirected east as Highway 101 and I80 are prime evacuation routes south from the fire zone.

During initial evacuation orders over the weekend, PG&E shutoffs began for the third time in recent weeks on Saturday, affecting nearly two million customers in California. The shutoff notices came in advance of record winds reaching up to 93 mph to hit the area Saturday evening. Blackouts are reported to last until Monday but are subject to change. Untold thousands of sick and elderly who rely on respirators and other electronic medical devices have been left to fend for themselves.

The blackouts have affected not only Sonoma County, the hardest hit by wildfire, but also counties along the Sierra Nevada foothills, including Alpine, Amado, Butte, Calaveras, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sierra, Tehama, and Yuba counties, as well as Lake, Mendocino, Napa and portions of San Mateo County, just south of San Francisco, and Kern County in the Central Valley.

Since the deadly experience from wildfires in recent years due to faulty power lines, PG&E has taken little or no preventative measures to eliminate the danger, such as transitioning from above-ground wooden electrical poles to steel poles or below-ground energy infrastructure. The lack of preventive measures only reveals PG&E as a company committed to the interests of private profit over any other consideration, including human life.

Now confronted with unprecedented wildfires, PG&E has chosen to impose a further burden on its customers through forced blackouts. Paul Doherty, a PG&E spokesman, reported that someone had shot at his company vehicle with a pellet gun, expressing the immense anger and frustration toward the company for punishing customers with power cutoffs lasting days on end.

Amidst the chaos of evacuation, the widespread power outages have contributed to the loss of phone service because cell towers require electricity and many small cell towers may not have a backup generator. Spotty cell service has resulted in many areas due to the blackouts, causing residents in evacuation areas to miss timely alerts.

Additionally, many people in homes with landlines have also been unable to receive reliable alerts because many landlines use internet VoIP cables which do not work during blackouts. These instances are gross examples of company cost-cutting and disregarding the lives of millions of people directly and indirectly affected by these wildfires.

Though currently the largest, the Kincade Fire is just one of over a thousand fires that have burned through sections of the Pacific coast in 2019, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention.

The effects of climate change have increased the fire risk, as shown most notoriously in recent years with the Camp Fire and Tubbs Fire. In the western portion of the United States, fires are a danger 2-3 months longer than it was decades ago, which means fire season is almost year-round. The area burned has quadrupled since the 1970s, and not only has the area increased, the severity and frequency of fires have increased, and they have become more deadly.

As data has shown that fires have become more frequent and more severe, each coming fire season serves as an example of the deep social inequality in the state. The magnitude of devastation caused by the annual fires can by no means be attributed to a “natural disaster” but reflects the lack of preparedness by an indifferent ruling elite who themselves face no danger.

There are added financial pressures to residents in wildfire-prone areas. According to State Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, California residents who are at risk of wildfire damage and in need of insurance are facing rising premiums, while some 350,000 homeowners throughout the state are reporting being dropped entirely from their fire insurance plans. The California Department of Insurance has seen cases where homeowners were paying an annual premium of $800-$1,000, but upon renewal, saw increases to as much as $2,500-$5,000.

As hundreds of thousands are uncertain where they will escape to and with little to no provisions, the elite of Silicon Valley have boarded private planes and hired small armies of private firefighters to protect their homes.

Over the weekend, Governor Newsom attempted to deflect the fact that social infrastructure, including fire departments, have been starved of funds for decades under California’s Democratic Party leadership. Newsom sought to place the entirety of the blame on PG&E, tweeting, “I have a message for PG&E: Your years and years of greed. Years and years of mismanagement. Years and years of putting shareholders over people. Are OVER.” Newsom received $58,000 in contributions from PG&E for his 2018 campaign for Governor.

Earlier this month he cynically urged PG&E to provide affected customers an automatic credit or rebate of $100 per residential customer and $250 per small business as some compensation for their hardships. This piddling amount is a slap in the face to thousands who may likely lose their homes and entire livelihoods.

The working class is faced with two options: continued disasters of a colossal magnitude under capitalism, or the fight for socialism, to organize the productive forces and labor of millions to finally put an end to what are fundamentally manmade disasters.

Investigators with the California Public Utilities Commission found that the Pacific Gas and Electric Corporation (PG&E) failed to inspect and repair its power lines for years before a faulty transmission line started last year’s series of wildfires including the Camp Fire, the deadliest fire in state history, which killed 85 people: here.

CALIFORNIA FIRES TAKE HUGE TOLL The fires and power outages in California have left seniors with disabilities in life-threatening positions. “I was alone without lights and I was trapped in [a] lift chair for 36 hours,” said 82-year-old Neil Whitelaw, who uses a wheelchair. [HuffPost]

Five additional wildfires broke out in Southern California on Wednesday as the state descends further into wildfire season, which has dramatically intensified due to climate change and decades of corporate and governmental negligence. At present, Cal Fire reports 11 active fires statewide, with the largest remaining the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County, which has burned over 76,000 acres and is only 60 percent contained: here.

PG&E “can tell you what to do and you have to pay them money”, Growing outrage over PG&E role in California fire disaster. By Gabriel Black.

SANTA BARBARA BRUSH FIRE SPREADS TO 4,200 ACRES WITH 0% CONTAINED California officials said firefighters have been unable to contain the raging Cave Fire in Santa Barbara County. The brush fire, fueled by strong winds and dry conditions, had grown to over 4,200 acres, officials said, noting the blaze was “burning under some of the toughest firefighting conditions of anywhere in the world.” [HuffPost]

THE SCHOOL DISTRICT COPING WITH COLLECTIVE POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS A year and a half after the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history, students are coping with the psychological consequences of living through a megadisaster that sent them running for their lives. Apathy, anxiety and depression are up, educators say, along with rates of parental alcoholism, drug abuse and divorce. Some kids still live in travel trailers and tents or make long commutes from towns 30 miles away. It’s a collective post-traumatic stress that has turned teachers into counselors and counselors into fire-trauma specialists. [HuffPost]

Californian Pacific Gas and Electric blackouts, wildfires

This 25 October 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Human Actions Fueling California’s Devastating Wildfires

Tens of thousands have been forced to flee wildfires across the state of California. Human actions, including climate change, are responsible, argues Professor Matthew Hurteau.

By Dan Conway in the USA:

Over two million to be without power over weekend as wildfires sweep through California

26 October 2019

High winds and unfavorable weather conditions caused a string of wildfires to continue burning throughout the state of California Friday into Saturday. This led the massive Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) to announce that for the third time this month it would be deliberately shutting off power to customers across Northern California.

On top of the 180,000 PG&E customers who lost electricity this week, the utility announced that 850,000 Northern California customers would lose power due to heightened wind risk. This latest outage will affect more than 2 million people in total and once again, the wealthiest state in the wealthiest country has proven incapable of coping with a regularly occurring and predictable weather event.

With significant fires raging across the state, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency across the state.

In the wine-growing region of Sonoma County north of the San Francisco Bay area, the Kincade Fire has incinerated more than 22,000 acres and was only 5 percent contained as of Friday evening. The entire town of Geyserville was forced to evacuate as winds topped 70 miles per hour. So far 49 structures have been confirmed destroyed and that number is expected to rise significantly over the weekend.

While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, PG&E filed a mandatory report with the California Public Utilities Commission stating that one of its workers noticed that the State Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had cordoned off an area enclosing a problematic transmission line. The department, Cal Fire, had also located a “broken jumper on the same [transmission line] tower.” Even though lower voltage lines distributing power to homes and businesses in the area had been shut off, the transmission line was still electrified at the time the fire started.

With the full support and consent of the state Democratic Party, the utility announced this year that it would institute the practice of widespread preemptive power shutoffs during weather conditions deemed hazardous to mitigate fire danger rather than spend the billions needed to modernize its grid thus jeopardizing or delaying its bondholder payments. However, even this has apparently not stopped fires from being sparked by the utility’s power lines.

PG&E was ultimately found at fault for starting last year’s Camp Fire, whose first anniversary is less than two weeks away. That fire caused at least 85 civilian fatalities, destroyed 18,804 structures and completely obliterated the town of Paradise, California, population 26,218. The Camp Fire became the most destructive in California state history and the most destructive in the US in nearly a century.

As a consequence, PG&E, the largest power utility in the US by number of customers, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on January 14 in order to avoid the possibility of over $30 billion liabilities. Nonetheless, PG&E executives continued to be awarded millions in severance and bonuses after the filing and plans were made at least as of April to pay back outstanding private creditors who are were owed approximately $17.5 billion.

Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom delivered a news conference Friday denouncing PG&E for its latest series of power outages. “They simply did not do their jobs,” he said. “It took us decades to get here, but we will get out of this mess. We will do everything in our power to restructure PG&E so they are a completely different entity when they emerge out of bankruptcy. Mark my words. It is a new day of accountability.”

PG&E had cut off power to more than 2 million residents only last week in a manner which showed almost complete disregard for all the residents affected. The company’s website frequently crashed during the outage while most customers received little or no warning that the outages would take place.

Newsom’s latest condemnation of the utility rings completely hypocritical, however, as the recipient of more than $200,000 in contributions from the company to his 2018 gubernatorial campaign fund. Moreover, Newsom has already sponsored legislation removing legal liability standards for electrical utilities and last July signed into law Assembly Bill 1054 or AB 20154, which creates a $26 billion wildfire liability fund meant to diminish the financial impact of the utilities’ negligence. Investor-owned utilities are only required to contribute $5 billion over 5 years into the fund while additional funding for the bill is expected to come through heightened utility bill rates.

Even as Californians in the north dealt with more forced power outages, wildfires and power outages raged through the Southern California region this week.

The Tick Fire in Santa Clarita north of Los Angeles has so far consumed 4,300 acres and is only 5 percent contained according to fire officials. At least six homes have been destroyed by the inferno so far with many more damaged. High winds, single-digit humidity and high temperatures are also expected to spread the fire over the weekend, possibly threatening more populated areas of the region.

Interviews conducted by the Los Angeles Times revealed that many affected residents received no warning of the fires and were prompted to evacuate by the smell of smoke and sound of helicopters flying overhead.

Southern California Edison, the state’s second-largest utility, also shut down electrical power to the region affecting tens of thousands of customers. According to the Times reporting, sheriff’s deputies tasked with giving door to door notices to evacuate ignored entire streets thinking that darkened households meant that residents had already left on their own.

In addition to the Kincade and Tick fires, there are currently 15 major fires burning throughout California centered around the San Francisco Bay, Los Angeles and San Diego areas.

Years of underfunding of fire prevention activities along with man-made climate change have rapidly increased the prevalence of wildfires in California and along the west coast of the United States. Among the list of the top ten most destructive California wildfires in terms of acres burned, all but one of them started in the last two decades. Of these, half started within the past ten years.

What the wildfires reveal above all else is that capitalism has no solution to the continuing proliferation of such disasters, and in fact is instrumental in facilitating their creation and has no adequate means of protecting vulnerable populations for their effects.

Leading corporate media outlets have already transitioned from initial feigned expressions of outrage to now advocating for acceptance of a “new normal” of raging wildfires and mass power shutoffs. In covering the California wildfires this week, the New York Times quoted professor John Abaztoglou at the University of Idaho who said, “I think the perception is that we’re supposed to control them. But in a lot of cases we cannot. And that may allow us to think a little bit differently about how we live with fire. We call it wildfire for a reason—it’s not domesticated fire.”

The fact of the matter is that there is enough money available to prevent most wildfires and quickly extinguish those that do arise. The current estimated cost of burying PG&E’s transmission lines is $67 billion. Even though this number is doubtless highly inflated, it is still less than half the combined wealth of the state’s two richest individuals, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

There will be no solution to the California wildfire crisis and utility shutoffs outside of the working class taking control of the large utilities and running them on the basis of human need rather than private profit. Only on that basis can the power monopolies’ outdated equipment be updated to modern, safe standards such that wildfires can be prevented or quickly eradicated with the uninterrupted provision of critically needed electrical power to all the state’s 40 million residents.

PG&E WASN’T READY FOR OUTAGES The head of Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. told angry California lawmakers that the nation’s largest electric utility wasn’t fully prepared for the effects of its unprecedented outages last month, even as it plans to shut off power to more than half a million people again this week to prevent wildfires. [AP]

JUDGE OKS NEARLY $25 BILLION FOR PG&E FIRE VICTIMS A federal bankruptcy judge approved two Pacific Gas & Electric settlements totaling $24.5 billion to help pay the losses suffered by homeowners, businesses and insurers in the aftermath of catastrophic Northern California wildfires that sent the nation’s largest utility into a financial morass. [AP]

PG&E TO PLEAD GUILTY TO INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER PG&E said its utility unit agreed to plead guilty to 84 involuntary manslaughter counts in connection with the 2018 Camp Fire, the most destructive fire in California’s history. In a regulatory filing, PG&E said the plea by its Pacific Gas & Electric unit was part of a March 17 agreement with California and the Butte County District Attorney’s office. [Reuters]

Homelessness in California, USA

This 25 October 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

“State of Emergency“: Special Report on California’s Criminalization of Growing Homeless Encampments

In a Democracy Now! special report, we look at the rise in homelessness in many major cities across the United States. California has become the poster-child for this economic and humanitarian disaster, with growing encampments in Los Angeles and the Bay Area as more people are forced onto the streets.

The state is home to 12% of the country’s population but half of the country’s unsheltered people. As the crisis deepens, so has the criminalization of homelessness, with increasing efforts by city and state officials to crack down on unhoused people occupying public space. President Donald Trump made headlines this month for attacking California’s politicians over the homelessness crisis, threatening to destroy encampments, increase police enforcement and even jail unhoused people.

But advocates say California has already employed hostile policies that criminalize homelessness, from laws against unsheltered people sitting on sidewalks to frequent sweeps of the encampments that have popped up on thoroughfares and under freeways across the state’s cities. One of these crackdowns is currently unfolding at a massive Oakland encampment that Democracy Now! visited just a few weeks ago.

CALIFORNIANS TURN TO RENT STRIKES AND SQUATTING Rent strikes, squatting and public rallies are the new face of the affordable housing crisis in California. It’s no surprise. In Oakland, the median house sale price is $765,350 and median rent is $3,000 a month. There are almost four vacant homes for every one homeless person in Oakland. The state has a homeless population of about 151,000, up 16% in the last year. Meanwhile, U.S. Census Bureau data shows at least 1.1 million vacant homes in California. [HuffPost]

The Las Vegas, Nevada city council passed “Bill 2019-36,” a cruel anti-homeless ordinance, on November 6 by a 5-2 margin. The measure makes it a “misdemeanor to camp or sleep in the public right-of-way, such as a sidewalk or street, downtown and in all residential areas if space is available at the Courtyard Homeless Resource Center”: here.

BENEATH THE VEGAS STRIP, THE HOMELESS LIVE IN TUNNELS  Donovan has been taking shelter in the concrete tunnels that run under the Las Vegas Strip for two years. These dark passageways are part of a huge drainage network designed to protect the glittering casino district from flash flooding. It’s estimated that nearly 300 homeless people live in these tunnels. [HuffPost]

Three homeless men die in abandoned house fire in New York City: here.