Congress is about to pass a historic climate bill. So why are oil companies pleased?

Congress is about to pass a historic climate bill. So why are oil companies pleased?
The bill is a devil’s bargain between the Democrats, the fossil fuel industry, and recalcitrant senator Joe Manchin. Yet it’s better than nothing
By Kate Aronoff
Aug 9 2022
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/aug/09/congress-climate-bill-oil-companies

“We’re pleased,” ExxonMobil’s CEO, Darren Woods, said on an earnings call last month, speaking about the Inflation Reduction Act. He called the bill, now making its way through the US Congress, “clear and consistent”. After it passed the Senate Sunday evening, Shell USA said it was “a step toward increased energy security and #netzero”. The world is currently on track to produce double the amount of coal, oil and gas in 2030 than is consistent with capping warming at 1.5C. To state the obvious: climate policy should strike fear into the hearts of fossil fuel executives, not delight them. So what have some of the world’s worst polluters found to like about a historic piece of climate legislation?

Guilt by association only goes so far: that the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed is undoubtedly good news. It will do a lot of good things. Democrats face the distinct possibility of being locked out of power for at least a decade after midterm elections this November, when they’re expected to lose the House of Representatives. Republicans won’t be keen to recognize that another party’s candidate could win the presidency, let alone reduce emissions. That something being called climate policy passed at all is thanks to the tireless work the climate movement has done to put it on the agenda, and the diligent staffers who spent late nights translating that momentum into legislation.

But it also reflects just how much power the fossil fuel industry has amassed. The IRA is the product of a devil’s bargain struck between (among others) Democrats and Joe Manchin, speaking on behalf of his corporate donors. In exchange for his agreeing to vote for some $370bn worth of genuinely exciting climate spending, the West Virginia senator has demanded sweeping permitting reform and an all-of-government greenlight for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Many of the worst provisions are slated to be passed in future legislation this September. The IRA itself contains a remarkable poison pill, requiring that 60m acres of public waters be offered up for sale each and every year to the oil and gas industry before the federal government could approve any new offshore wind development for a decade.

Then again, maybe the oil and gas CEOs have finally come around, and such sweeteners are a distraction from the real story. After decades of lobbying against climate policy perhaps they’ve seen the inexorable march of history towards decarbonization and decided to hitch their wagons to it. Unfortunately, we’ve seen this show before. Over a decade ago the likes of BP and ConocoPhillips joined the US Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of green groups and corporations that set about trying to pass climate legislation at the start of the Obama presidency. The House of Representatives went on to pass the hulking carbon pricing bill it supported, only to see it die in the Senate.

For corporate members of USCAP the situation was a win-win. With one hand they helped craft legislation so friendly to their interests that it would leave their core business model – pouring carbon into the atmosphere – mostly untouched. With the other hand they tried to make sure nothing passed at all. As the political scientist Jake Grumbach has shown, several corporate members of the coalition were simultaneously paying generous membership fees to the American Petroleum Institute, the Chamber of Commerce and other trade associations working actively to kill it. The same was true this time around; the critical difference this time is that their bill passed.

Understanding what’s just happened demands a longer view. For decades, oil and gas executives have worked to create a political climate wholly allergic to comprehensive climate action. Part of that has been lobbying against climate legislation, of course, working to undermine bodies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and spread disinformation. But for nearly a century the same corporations have conducted an all-out attack on the ability of the US government to get big, good things done.

Climate change is ultimately a planning problem: there is no entity other than the state that can electrify the country, expand the grid, build prodigious amounts of mass transit and wind down coal, oil and gas production in time to keep warming short of catastrophic levels. For all its many shortcomings, the FDR-era New Deal sought to construct a state capable of tackling such complicated problems. The right – supercharged by fossil fuel funding – set out to destroy it, polluting our politics with the idea that efficient markets are the only reasonable answer to what ails society. Predictably, they railed against the Green New Deal, too, which rejected that logic.

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Climate impacts have worsened vast range of human diseases

Climate impacts have worsened vast range of human diseases
More than half of human diseases caused by pathogens have been aggravated by hazards associated with climate change, study finds
By Oliver Milman
Aug 8 2022
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/aug/08/climate-crisis-study-human-diseases

More than half of the human diseases caused by pathogens have been worsened at some point by the sort of impacts associated with the climate crisis, a new and exhaustive study of the link between disease and climatic hazards has found.

Diseases such as Zika, malaria, dengue, chikungunya and even Covid-19 have been aggravated by climate impacts such as heatwaves, wildfires, extreme rainfall and floods, the paper found. In all, there are more than 1,000 different pathways for these various impacts to worsen the spread of disease, a cavalcade of threats “too numerous for comprehensive societal adaptations”, the researchers wrote.

Global heating and changed rainfall patterns are expanding the range of disease vectors such as mosquitoes, ticks and fleas, resulting in the spread of malaria, Lyme disease, West Nile virus and other conditions.

Storms and flooding have displaced people, bringing them closer to pathogens that cause outbreaks of gastroenteritis and cholera, while climate impacts have weakened humans’ ability to cope with certain pathogens – drought, for example, can lead to poor sanitation, resulting in dysentery, typhoid fever and other diseases.

“We are opening a Pandora’s Box of disease,” said Camilo Mora, a geographer at the University of Hawaii who led the research. “Because of climate change, we have all these triggers all over the world, over 1,000 of them. There are diseases out there just waiting to be unleashed. It’s like we are poking a stick at a lion – at some point the lion will come and bite us in the ass.”

The researchers combed through more than 70,000 scientific papers that analysed the links between different climatic hazards and infectious disease. Some of these papers look at evidence stretching back 700 years, before the advent of the human-caused climate crisis. Of the 375 different infectious diseases mentioned in these papers, the researchers found that 218, more than half, have been aggravated by climatic impacts now being made more common by global heating.

A smaller proportion of infectious diseases, about 16%, were diminished by climate impacts, according to the paper, published in Nature Climate Change. Kira Webster, co-author of the study, said that as the database of disease grew “we became both fascinated and distressed by the overwhelming number of available case studies that already show how vulnerable we are becoming to our ongoing growing emissions of greenhouse gases”.

Mora said there were probably multiple ways that the climate crisis worsened the spread of Covid, such as habitat disturbances by fire and flood that dislodge wildlife, such as disease-carrying bats, into new areas closer to humans. Mora said he has himself suffered from chronic aches in his joints after contracting chikungunya during an outbreak in Colombia a few years ago after a period of intense rainfall caused a boom in mosquito numbers.

“If there are pathogens that cause us harm, climate change is trying to get to every single one of them,” he said. “For me it’s shocking we don’t take this more seriously.”

The World Health Organization has warned that the climate crisis “threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction” and has estimated that an additional 250,000 people will die each year from 2030 to 2050 due to proliferating diseases such as malaria and diarrhea, as well as malnutrition and heat stress.

The new research is an “impressive mining of what’s been studied to demonstrate that climate shocks, on balance, make our already daunting task of combating microbes harder”, said Aaron Bernstein, director of the center for climate, health, and the global environment at Harvard University, who was not involved in the study.

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Landmark US climate bill will do more harm than good, groups say

Landmark US climate bill will do more harm than good, groups say
Bill makes concessions to the fossil fuel industry as frontline community groups call on Biden to declare climate emergency
By Nina Lakhani
Aug 9 2022
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/aug/09/us-climate-bill-fossil-fuel-harm-environment-biden

The landmark climate legislation passed by the Senate after months of wrangling and weakening by fossil-fuel friendly Democrats will lead to more harm than good, according to frontline community groups who are calling on Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency.

If signed into law, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) would allocate $369bn to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions and invest in renewable energy sources – a historic amount that scientists estimate will lead to net reductions of 40% by 2030, compared with 2005 levels.

It would be the first significant climate legislation to be passed in the US, which is historically responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country.

But the bill makes a slew of concessions to the fossil fuel industry, including mandating drilling and pipeline deals that will harm communities from Alaska to Appalachia and the Gulf coast and tie the US to planet-heating energy projects for decades to come.

“Once again, the only climate proposal on the table requires that the communities of the Gulf south bear the disproportionate cost of national interests bending a knee to dirty energy – furthering the debt this country owes to the South,” said Colette Pichon Battle from Taproot Earth Vision (formerly Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy).

“Solving the climate crisis requires eliminating fossil fuels, and the Inflation Reduction Act simply does not do this,” said Steven Feit, senior attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law (Ciel).

Overall, many environmental and community groups agree that while the deal will bring some long-term global benefits by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, it’s not enough and consigns communities already threatened by sea level rise, floods and extreme heat to further misery.

The bill is a watered-down version of Biden’s ambitious Build Back Better bill which was blocked by every single Republican and also conservative Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have both received significant campaign support from fossil fuel industries. West Virginia’s Manchin, in particular, is known for his close personal ties to the coal sector.

“This was a backdoor take-it-or-leave-it deal between a coal baron and Democratic leaders in which any opposition from lawmakers or frontline communities was quashed. It was an inherently unjust process, a deal which sacrifices so many communities and doesn’t get us anywhere near where we need to go, yet is being presented as a saviour legislation,” said Jean Su, energy justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The IRA, which includes new tax provisions to pay for the historic $739bn climate and healthcare spending package, has been touted as a huge victory for the Biden administration as the Democrats gear up for a tough ride in the midterm elections, when they face losing control of both houses of Congress.

The spending package will expedite expansion of the clean energy industry, and while it includes historic funds to tackle air pollution and help consumers go green through electric vehicle and household appliance subsidies, the vast majority of the funds will benefit corporations.

A cost-benefit analysis by the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), which represents a wide range of urban and rural groups nationwide, concludes that the strengths of the IRA are outweighed by the bill’s weaknesses and threats posed by the expansion of fossil fuels and unproven technologies such as carbon capture and hydrogen generation – which the bill will incentivise with billions of dollars of tax credits that will mostly benefit oil and gas.

“Climate investments should not be handcuffed to corporate subsidies for fossil fuel development and unproven technologies that will poison our communities for decades,” said Juan Jhong-Chung from the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, a member of the CJA.

The IRA is a huge step towards creating a green capitalist industry that wrongly assumes the economic benefits will trickle down to low-income communities and households, added Su.

Many advocacy groups agree that the IRA should be the first step – not the final climate policy – for Biden, who promised to be the country’s first climate president.

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The Coronavirus Has One Strategy We Can’t Vaccinate Against

The Coronavirus Has One Strategy We Can’t Vaccinate Against
It may be getting better at dodging one of the immune system’s main defenses.
By Katherine J. Wu
Aug 4 2022
https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2022/08/coronavirus-variants-viral-transmission-interferons/671047/

By the time a cell senses that it’s been infected by a virus, it generally knows it is doomed. Soon, it will be busted up by the body’s immunological patrol or detonated by the invader itself. So the moribund cell plays its trump card: It bleats out microscopic shrieks that danger is nigh.

These intercellular messages, ferried about by molecules called interferons, serve as a warning signal to nearby cells—“‘You are about to be infected; it’s time for you to set up an antiviral state,’” says Juliet Morrison, an immunologist at UC Riverside. Recipient cells start battening down the hatches, switching on hundreds of genes that help them pump out suites of defensive proteins. Strong, punchy interferon responses are essential to early viral control, acting as a “first line of defense” that comes online within minutes or hours, says Mario Santiago, an immunologist at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. At their best, interferons can contain the infection so quickly that the rest of the immune system hardly needs to get involved.

Viruses, of course, aren’t content to let that happen. Pretty much all of them, SARS-CoV-2 included, are darn good at impairing interferon signaling, or finding their way around the virus-blocking shields that cells raise after heeding those molecular calls. And as new coronavirus variants arise, they may be steadily improving their ability to resist interferons’ punch—making it easier, perhaps, for the microbes to spread within and between bodies, or spark more serious disease.

This development may sound kind of familiar: As the coronavirus has evolved, one of its main moves has been to repeatedly dodge the antibodies that vaccines and past infections raise. But there’s a key difference. Although antibodies are powerful, most are able to recognize and latch onto only a super-specific sliver of a single pathogen’s physique. Interferons, meanwhile, are the ultimate generalists, a set of catch-all burglar alarms. Even if the body has never seen a particular pathogen before and no relevant antibodies are present, cells will make interferons as soon as they realize a virus is around—“any and all viruses,” says Eleanor Fish, an immunologist at the University of Toronto. “It doesn’t matter what the virus is, it doesn’t matter where it comes in.”

Once warned, interferon-ized cells leap into action. They will reinforce their exteriors; sharpen molecular scissors that can hack the microbe to bits, should it get inside; and conjure up sticky substances that can stop the virus’s progeny from exiting. All that buys the immune system time to rouse, again with interferons’ help, more precise fighters, such as B cells and T cells.

But this system isn’t foolproof. Some viruses will cloak their innards from cellular sensors, so the relevant alarm wires never get tripped. Others destroy the gears that get the interferon system cranking, so the warning signals never get sent. Particularly resilient viruses may not even mind if interferon messages go out, because they’re able to steel themselves against the many defenses that the molecules marshal in other cells. Strategies such as these are pretty much ubiquitous because they’re so crucial to pathogen success. “I defy you to identify any virus that doesn’t have in its genome factors to block the interferon response,” Fish told me.

This, from our perspective, is not ideal. Derail these early responses, and “there’s a domino effect,” says Vineet Menachery, a coronavirologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch. More cells get infected; antibody and T-cell responses hang back, even as viral particles continue to spread. Eventually, the body may get wise and try to catch up. But by then, it may be too late. The brunt of viral replication might be over, leaving the immune frenzy to misdirect much of its havoc onto our own tissues instead.

Interferons, then, can make or break a host’s fate. Researchers have found that people whose interferons are weak or laggy after catching the coronavirus are far more likely to get very seriously sick. Others experience similar problems when their immune system churns out misguided antibodies that attack and destroy interferons as they try to ferry messages among cells. Interferons also play a very dramatic role in counteracting the viruses that cause dengue and yellow fever. Those pathogens are rapidly wrangled by rodent interferons and never make those animals sick, Morrison told me. In people, though, the microbes have cooked up ways to muffle the molecules—a big reason they cause such debilitating and deadly disease.

Coronaviruses in general are pros at interferon sabotage. Among the most powerful is MERS, which “just shuts down everything” in the interferon assembly line, says Susan Weiss, a coronavirologist at the University of Pennsylvania. That essentially ensures that almost no interferons are released, even when gobs of virus are roiling about, a dismantling of defenses that likely contributes to MERS’ substantial fatality rate. Weiss doesn’t think SARS-CoV-2 is likely to copy its cousin in that respect anytime soon. The virus does have some ability to gum up interferon production, but it would take a lot more, she told me, to silence the system as MERS has.

Still, SARS-CoV-2 seems to be taking its own small, tentative steps toward interferon censorship. For months, several groups of researchers, CU Anschutz’s Santiago among them, have been studying how well the virus can invade and replicate inside of cells that have been exposed to interferons. Recent variants such as Delta and Omicron, they’ve found, seem to be better at infiltrating those reinforced cells compared with some versions that preceded them—a hint that this resistance might be helping new iterations of the virus sweep the globe and cause repeated rounds of disease.

The bump in SARS-CoV-2’s resilience doesn’t appear to be massive—more “at the margins” of enhancing infective success, Menachery told me. Antibody evasion, for instance, might be playing the more dominant role in helping the virus spread and sicken more people. Still, the pattern that’s unfolding raises a discomfiting question, Santiago told me. Interferons’ potency against the virus already seems to be getting slowly but surely undermined; “what if at some point in the future, the virus becomes a lot more resistant?” The challenge of managing COVID, whether through vaccines or antivirals, might disproportionately balloon. And unlike antibody evasion, with interferon resistance, “there’s not anything we can do to vaccinate against this,” Menachery told me.

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Climate endgame: risk of human extinction ‘dangerously underexplored’

Climate endgame: risk of human extinction ‘dangerously underexplored’
Scientists say there are ample reasons to suspect global heating could lead to catastrophe
By Damian Carrington
Aug 1 2022
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/aug/01/climate-endgame-risk-human-extinction-scientists-global-heating-catastrophe

The risk of global societal collapse or human extinction has been “dangerously underexplored”, climate scientists have warned in an analysis.

They call such a catastrophe the “climate endgame”. Though it had a small chance of occurring, given the uncertainties in future emissions and the climate system, cataclysmic scenarios could not be ruled out, they said.

“Facing a future of accelerating climate change while blind to worst-case scenarios is naive risk management at best and fatally foolish at worst,” the scientists said, adding that there were “ample reasons” to suspect global heating could result in an apocalyptic disaster.

The international team of experts argue the world needs to start preparing for the possibility of the climate endgame. “Analysing the mechanisms for these extreme consequences could help galvanise action, improve resilience, and inform policy,” they said.

Explorations in the 1980s of the nuclear winter that would follow a nuclear war spurred public concern and disarmament efforts, the researchers said. The analysis proposes a research agenda, including what they call the “four horsemen” of the climate endgame: famine, extreme weather, war and disease.

They also called for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to produce a special report on the issue. The IPCC report on the impacts of just 1.5C of heating drove a “groundswell of public concern”, they said.

“There are plenty of reasons to believe climate change could become catastrophic, even at modest levels of warming,” said Dr Luke Kemp at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, who led the analysis. “Climate change has played a role in every mass extinction event. It has helped fell empires and shaped history.

“Paths to disaster are not limited to the direct impacts of high temperatures, such as extreme weather events. Knock-on effects such as financial crises, conflict and new disease outbreaks could trigger other calamities.”

The analysis is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was reviewed by a dozen scientists. It argues that the consequences of global heating beyond 3C have been underexamined, with few quantitative estimates of the total impacts. “We know least about the scenarios that matter most,” Kemp said.

A thorough risk assessment would consider how risks spread, interacted and amplified, but had not been attempted, the scientists said. “Yet this is how risk unfolds in the real world,” they said. “For example, a cyclone destroys electrical infrastructure, leaving a population vulnerable to an ensuing deadly heatwave.” The Covid pandemic underlined the need to examine rare but high-impact global risks, they added.

Particularly concerning are tipping points, where a small rise in global temperature results in a big change in the climate, such as huge carbon emissions from an Amazon rainforest suffering major droughts and fires. Tipping points could trigger others in a cascade and some remained little studied, they said, such as the abrupt loss of stratocumulus cloud decks that could cause an additional 8C of global warming.

The researchers warn that climate breakdown could exacerbate or trigger other catastrophic risks, such as international wars or infectious disease pandemics, and worsen existing vulnerabilities such as poverty, crop failures and lack of water. The analysis suggests superpowers may one day fight over geoengineering plans to reflect sunlight or the right to emit carbon.

“There is a striking overlap between currently vulnerable states and future areas of extreme warming,” the scientists said. “If current political fragility does not improve significantly in the coming decades, then a belt of instability with potentially serious ramifications could occur.”

There were further good reasons to be concerned about the potential of a global climate catastrophe, the scientists said: “There are warnings from history. Climate change has played a role in the collapse or transformation of numerous previous societies and in each of the five mass extinction events in Earth’s history.”

New modelling in the analysis shows that extreme heat – defined as an annual average temperature of more than 29C – could affect 2 billion people by 2070 if carbon emissions continue.

“Such temperatures currently affect around 30 million people in the Sahara and Gulf Coast,” said Chi Xu, at Nanjing University in China, who was part of the team. “By 2070, these temperatures and the social and political consequences will directly affect two nuclear powers, and seven maximum containment laboratories housing the most dangerous pathogens. There is serious potential for disastrous knock-on effects.”

The current trend of greenhouse gas emissions would cause a rise of 2.1-3.9C by 2100. But if existing pledges of action are fully implemented, the range would be 1.9-3C. Achieving all long-term targets set to date would mean 1.7-2.6C of warming.

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Why The Massive China Police Database Hack Is Bad News For Surveillance States Everywhere

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

Why The Massive China Police Database Hack Is Bad News For Surveillance States Everywhere
from the are-you-sure-you-want-to-spy-on-everyone? dept
By Glyn Moody
Aug 3 2022
https://www.techdirt.com/2022/08/03/why-the-massive-china-police-database-hack-is-bad-news-for-surveillance-states-everywhere/

A couple of weeks ago, Techdirt wrote about how an anonymous user had put up for sale the data of an estimated one billion Chinese citizens, probably obtained from the Shanghai police.  Back then, what exactly had happened was a little unclear — not least because the Chinese authorities were shutting down any discussion of the massive and embarrassing leak.  The Wall Street Journal has written a follow-up piece on the incident that clarifies the situation and puts things in a wider context (paywall alert):

The Wall Street Journal has since found dozens more Chinese databases offered for sale, and occasionally free, in online cybercrime forums and Telegram communities with thousands of subscribers. Four of the stolen caches contained data likely taken from government sources, according to a Journal review, while several others were advertised as containing government data.

Tens of thousands more databases in China remain exposed on the internet with no security, totaling over 700 terabytes of data, the largest volume of any country, according to LeakIX, a service which tracks such databases.

An accompanying graphic shows that the volume of data exposed in China is not just greater than that in the US, but well beyond the levels of leaks in other countries around the world.  The Wall Street Journal’s Karen Hao found several people claiming to offer the dataset holding information on a billion Chinese citizens — one wanted around $200,000, another was prepared to sell for $100,000.  And the publicity surrounding the hack seems to have encouraged others to join in:

a user claiming to be a police officer from central China’s Henan province inspired by the Shanghai theft, offered the personal information of 90 million people for one bitcoin, or roughly $20,000.

A third post promoted an alleged nine million records from China’s Center for Disease Control for $2,000. A few days later, a fourth popped up selling 40,000 records of Chinese citizens’ names, phone numbers, addresses, and government ID numbers for $500.

Hao points to a key factor that is driving this flourishing trade in highly personal data on a vast scale: state employees in China are poorly paid and thus easy to bribe.  But another is the fact that the more data that is held on a database for surveillance purposes, the harder it is to control, and the easier it is to exfiltrate huge quantities in a single hack, which can be sold for large sums on the black market. It is probably no coincidence that the big leak of a couple of weeks ago came from Shanghai, which has had one of the most complete surveillance systems in the world up and running for a while:

Shanghai was among the first cities to unveil a fully integrated data platform with AI capabilities in 2019. The platform pulls in data from various government functions such as public security, public healthcare and transportation, as well as from private companies offering express and food delivery, according to a state-media interview with a Shanghai police department director.

That means there was more and richer data in Shanghai than in other locations.  All it took was one misconfigured database, or one dishonest police officer, for the privacy of a billion Chinese citizens to disappear, probably forever.

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Mexico’s Cruel Drought: ‘Here You Have to Chase the Water’

Mexico’s Cruel Drought: ‘Here You Have to Chase the Water’
Nearly two-thirds of the country’s municipalities are facing a water shortage. In Monterrey, a major economic hub, the government delivers water daily to 400 neighborhoods.
By Maria Abi-Habib and Bryan Avelar
Aug 3 2022
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/03/world/americas/mexico-drought-monterrey-water.html

Residents lining up to fill their containers with water in Monterrey, where the entire metropolitan area of about five million people is affected by drought. 

Mexico, or large parts of it, is running out of water.

An extreme drought has seen taps run dry across the country, with nearly two-thirds of all municipalities facing a water shortage that is forcing people in some places to line up for hours for government water deliveries.

The lack of water has grown so extreme that irate residents block highways and kidnap municipal workers to demand more supply.

The numbers underlining the crisis are startling: In July, eight of Mexico’s 32 states were experiencing extreme to moderate drought, resulting in 1,546 of the country’s 2,463 municipalities confronting water shortages, according to the National Water Commission.

By mid-July, about 48 percent of Mexico’s territory was suffering drought, according to the commission, compared with about 28 percent of the country’s territory during the same period last year. 

While tying a single drought to human-caused climate change requires analysis, scientists have no doubt that global warming can alter rainfall patterns around the world and is increasing the likelihood of droughts. 

Across the border in recent years, most of the Western half of the United States has been in drought, with conditions ranging from moderate to severe.For the region, this period is now the driest two decades in 1,200 years.

The crisis is particularly acute in Monterrey, one of Mexico’s most important economic hubs and where the entire metropolitan area of about five million people is affected by drought, according to officials. Some neighborhoods in Monterrey have been without water for 75 days, leading many schools to close before the scheduled summer break.

The situation in the city has gotten so dire, a visiting journalist could not find any drinking water for sale at several stores, including a Walmart.

Buckets, too, are scarce at local stores — or being sold at astronomically high prices — as Monterrey’s residents scrape together containers to collect water supplied by government trucks sent to the driest neighborhoods. Some residents clean out trash cans to ferry water home, children struggling to help carry what can amount to 450 pounds of water.

While Monterrey’s poorest neighborhoods are the hardest hit, the crisis is affecting everyone, including the wealthy.

“Here you have to chase the water,” said Claudia Muñiz, 38, whose household is often without running water for up to a week. “In a moment of desperation, people explode,” she said about the violence that has flared as people fight over what water there is.

Monterrey is in northern Mexico, the most parched region of the country, which has seen its population grow in recent years as the economy boomed. But the area’s typically arid weather is struggling to support the population as climate change reduces what little rainfall the region has.

Monterrey’s residents can now walk across the floor of the reservoir that was created by the Cerro Prieto dam and that was once one of the city’s largest sources of water. The reservoir also used to be a major tourist attraction that the local government marketed for its lively waterfront restaurants and its fishing, boating and water-skiing.

Now Cerro Prieto is mostly popular because of the coins buried at the bottom of the reservoir that bakes under the sun. Residents swipe metal detectors across exposed rock and scrub, filling pouches with peso coins once tossed in by visitors as they made a wish.

Along with the Cerro Prieto reservoir, a seven-year drought —  interrupted only by strong rains in 2018, according to a local official — has also dried up water along two other dams that provide most of Monterrey’s water supply. One dam reached 15 percent of its capacity this year, while the other reached 42 percent. The rest of the city’s water comes from aquifers, many of which are also running low.

The amount of rain in July in parts of the state of Nuevo León, which borders Texas and whose capital is Monterrey, was just 10 percent of the monthly average recorded since 1960, according to Juan Ignacio Barragán Villarreal, the general director of the city’s water agency.

“In March it did not rain a single drop in the entire state,’’ he said, adding that it was the first rain-free March since the government started keeping records in 1960. 

Today, the government distributes a total of nine million liters of water daily to 400 neighborhoods. Every day “pipas,” large trucks filled with water and pipes for distribution, fan out across Monterrey and its suburbs to tend to the needs of the driest neighborhoods, often illegal settlements that are home to the poorest residents.

Alejandro Casas, a water truck driver, has been working for the government for five years and said that when he started, he supported the city’s firefighters and was called perhaps once or twice a month to deliver water to a fire scene. His workdays were often spent staring at his phone.

But since Monterrey’s water shortage became so acute that taps started runningdry in January, he now works every day, making up to 10 daily trips to various neighborhoods to supply about 200 families with water with each trip.

By the time Mr. Casas arrives, a long queue snakes through neighborhood streets with people waiting their turn. Some families carry containers that can hold 200 liters, or 53 gallons, and wait in the sun throughout the afternoon before finally receiving  water at midnight.

The water he delivers can be all the family gets for up to a week.

No one polices the lines so fights break out, as residents from other communities try to sneak in instead of waiting for trucks to reach their neighborhood days later. Residents are allowed to take home as much water as their containers can hold.

In May, Mr. Casas’s truck was stormed by several young men who got into the passenger seat and threatened him as he was delivering water to the San Ángel neighborhood.

“They spoke to me with a very threatening tone,” Mr. Casas said, explaining that they demanded he drive the truck to their neighborhood to distribute water. “They told me that if we don’t go to where they wanted, they were going to kidnap us.”

Mr. Casas headed to the other neighborhood, filled residents’ buckets and was set free.

Edgar Ruiz, another government water truck driver, has also seen the crisis worsen. Starting in January he has delivered water from the wells the government controls and has watched nervously each week as their levels plunge.

“In January I distributed two or three pipes,” he said, referring to individual water tanks that can carry up to 15,000 liters. “Now I distribute 10, and they have hired many more people” to drive water trucks. Neighboring states have also sent drivers and trucks to help out. 

He now fears doing his job. Residents used to be grateful when they saw his water truck entering their neighborhood; now they are irate the government has not been able to fix the water shortage.

“They stoned a water truck,” he said. 

María De Los Ángeles, 45, was born and raised in Ciénega de Flores, a town near Monterrey. She says the water crisis is straining her family and her business.

“I have never experienced a crisis like this before,” Ms. De Los Ángeles said. “The water only comes through our taps every four or five days.” 

The crisis, she said, is pushing her into bankruptcy — a garden nursery she owns is her family’s only source of livelihood and needs more water than can be provided by the occasional water that flows through her home’s taps.

“I have to buy a water tank every week that costs me 1,200 pesos,” equal to $60, from a private supplier, she said. That consumes about half of her weekly income of $120.

“We can’t handle it anymore,” Ms. De Los Ángeles said.

Small business owners like Ms. De Los Ángeles are frustrated that they are left to fend for themselves while Monterrey’s big industries are largely able to operate normally. Factories are able to draw 50 million cubic meters of water per year because of federal concessions that give them special access to the city’s aquifers.

The government is struggling to respond to the crisis.

[snip]

‘We risk being ruled by dangerous binaries’ – Mohsin Hamid on our increasing polarisation

[Note:  This item comes from friend Robert Berger.  DLH]

‘We risk being ruled by dangerous binaries’ – Mohsin Hamid on our increasing polarisation
By Mohsin Hamid
Jul 30 2022
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/jul/30/we-risk-being-ruled-by-dangerous-binaries-mohsin-hamid-on-our-increasing-polarisation

In 2017, I published my fourth novel, Exit West, and bought a small notebook to jot down ideas for the next one. I thought it would be about technology. I came across an article by Simon DeDeo, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, discussing an experiment he and his colleague John Miller had conducted in that same year. They simulated cooperation and competition by machines over many generations, building these machines as computer models and setting them playing a game together. An interesting pattern emerged. Rather than constant trading for mutual benefit among equals, or never-ending fights to the death among foes, instead a particular type of machine became dominant, one that recognised and favoured copies of itself, and enormous prosperity ensued, built on ever-growing levels of cooperation. But eventually the minute differences that naturally occurred (or were, in the experiment, designed to occur) in the copying process, as they do in organisms when genes are passed on, became intolerable, and war among the machines resulted in near-complete devastation and a new beginning, after which the cycle repeated, over and over.

I remember being struck by this article. Not because I fully understood what the simulation was or even how it worked. No, I was struck by its similarity to a narrative I had already been feeling drawn to myself: that the rise and fall of human society is not merely something that has happened but also something that will continue to happen, that moments of peak cooperation contain within them the tendency for differences to become utterly intolerable, and that the transition from one societal epoch to the next is rarely a series of gently eliding waves, each a bit higher than the previous one – to the contrary, humanity’s trajectory on the way down is often far more steep than it was on the way up.

These points might be rather obvious. But they were not always obvious to me, not at an emotional level. I long believed that things would probably keep getting better for our species. We humans might mess up devastatingly, but we were more likely to find a way. A way to avoid nuclear war and mitigate climate change and expand equality and diminish poverty. This had been my mental model’s base case, as it were. Now I was wondering whether humanity’s true base case was far more grim, and whether my own expectations represented instead an optimistic but improbable best case scenario.

To be clear, I never doubted that there would be horrifying wars and mass displacements and economic dislocations in the years ahead. But I somehow imagined that these would be downward zags in our species’ upward-zigging trendline. I am not sure what exactly my faith rested upon. My relative youth, maybe. The overall shifts in human life expectancy and per capita income during my lifetime, perhaps. But also something else. Something from the realm of the spirit, of feeling: a sense of techno-optimism ungrounded in any profound understanding of technology. And now here was this blast of techno-pessimism. DeDeo’s machines had spoken, and they had not said what they were supposed to say. No, you fools, they had proclaimed, the end is quite possibly nigh.

Truthfully, I had been reeling since September 11, 2001, and my move in 2009 to what seemed to be a democratising Pakistan, with expanding freedom of expression and rule of law, had not worked out quite as swimmingly as I had hoped, and then in 2016 my former home Britain voted for Brexit, and my former former home America voted for Trump, and I was admittedly in a bit of a funk. It was as if I had been goading the universe: grant me pessimism, but not yet; and the universe had finally slapped me across the face and responded: now, child, it is time.

The American Empire is waning. This might well be a good thing, for Americans and non-Americans alike. But the early signs are not promising. Like DeDeo’s machines in the moments immediately after peak hegemonic cooperation, we are finding that our differences are becoming intolerable. When empires that span diverse populations disintegrate, history suggests the potential for conflict is high. The British empire in India gave birth to violent sectarianisms; the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian and Soviet empires did much the same. The American empire was far more powerful and wide-ranging than any that came before. As it diminishes, aggressive sectarian impulses are seemingly in the ascendant almost everywhere. Name a country today, and it likely is either run by a strongman who claims to speak for the true people, the folk, or otherwise has a strongman-in-waiting manoeuvring to take control. (There are strongwomen too, but far fewer of them.)

I imagine the empire-building machines of DeDeo’s simulation as doing three things increasingly (and exquisitely) well: identifying differences that permit sorting into categories of like-me and not-like-me, cooperating with those in the like-me category, and destroying those in the not-like-me category. Our species has, similarly, become incredibly skilled at cooperating (thousands of people in dozens of different countries collectively manufactured the computer on which I am writing this). We too have developed the capacity to kill along an entire spectrum from wholesale (nuclear, chemical, biological weapons) to bespoke (quietly disappearing those who trouble us) – which is obviously a pressing, indeed existential, concern. But our ability to kill has not changed as rapidly, in recent years, as our sorting mechanism appears to have. It is our impulse to sort, and the importance that we place on sorting, that has truly gone haywire.

The end of the American empire is coinciding with the age of the cyborg. I spent much of the 1970s as a child in Silicon Valley. My father was a graduate student, my mother had an entry-level job at a technology company (they made a cutting edge storage medium known as the “audio cassette”), and I ran barefoot up bleached blond dry foothills and watched a black and white television set in which I was convinced I saw colours. The science fiction I loved seemed to suggest that the future would contain people just like us playing around with transporter beams and hyperdrives and photon torpedoes. None of that has really come to pass: ours is still a world of automobiles and not land speeders, rifles and not laser guns. But a transformation worthy of science fiction did occur regardless. We became attached to our screens, merged with the machine culture behind those screens, and changed far more than some child might in the process of merely becoming a Jedi.

The machine world is a binary world, and it strikes me that we have learned to apply those zeroes and ones to our thinking, intensifying our impulse to sort one another into like-me and not-like-me at what might well be, historically speaking, the worst possible moment: a moment when, as empire recedes, we are already predisposed to sort excessively and to fetishise tests of purity.

The result, as we can see all around us, is a disastrous confluence of polarisation, militarism, democratic dysfunction, and environmental disregard. In the same way that the most deadly aspect of Covid, before vaccines and pharmaceutical treatments became available, was an overreaction of our immune systems to the virus – the dreaded cytokine storm – destroying healthy lung tissue in an overzealous attempt to fight disease, the challenge we face now is an overreaction of our societal immune systems to one another. It is ruinous for us to be ones rampantly identifying as zeros those with whom we have any significant level of disagreement. It underestimates the human capacity for messy and unexpected plasticity. Other approaches to seeking a better, more inclusive, and more equitable future urgently need to be found.

Literature, fortunately, is a profoundly weird creature, capable of being zero and one at the same time. This characteristic is of vital importance. Profound weirdness is quite possibly what our age of the cyborg most demands.

A strange thing happens when we read novels. We are simultaneously ourselves and not ourselves. We are ourselves because we are alone, in solitude, without anyone else present. Who else could we be? And yet we are not ourselves because we contain within us the consciousness of another person, the writer. This consciousness is transmitted in the form of words, words that we readers animate into people and emotions and images and events. Reading a novel is to experience two consciousnesses present in one body, reader and writer co-creating their novel as it is read, a novel unique to each reader-writer pairing, because it has been imagined into being jointly. The self while reading is uncanny, a plurally conscious peculiarity: transgressive, fertile, and very much at play.

[snip]

‘Soon it will be unrecognisable’: total climate meltdown cannot be stopped, says expert

[Note:  This item comes from friend Jock Gill.  DLH]

‘Soon it will be unrecognisable’: total climate meltdown cannot be stopped, says expert
By Robin McKie
Jul 30 2022
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jul/30/total-climate-meltdown-inevitable-heatwaves-global-catastrophe

The publication of Bill McGuire’s latest book, Hothouse Earth, could not be more timely. Appearing in the shops this week, it will be perused by sweltering customers who have just endured record high temperatures across the UK and now face the prospect of weeks of drought to add to their discomfort.

And this is just the beginning, insists McGuire, who is emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London. As he makes clear in his uncompromising depiction of the coming climatic catastrophe, we have – for far too long – ignored explicit warnings that rising carbon emissions are dangerously heating the Earth. Now we are going to pay the price for our complacency in the form of storms, floods, droughts and heatwaves that will easily surpass current extremes.

The crucial point, he argues, is that there is now no chance of us avoiding a perilous, all-pervasive climate breakdown. We have passed the point of no return and can expect a future in which lethal heatwaves and temperatures in excess of 50C (120F) are common in the tropics; where summers at temperate latitudes will invariably be baking hot, and where our oceans are destined to become warm and acidic. “A child born in 2020 will face a far more hostile world that its grandparents did,” McGuire insists.

In this respect, the volcanologist, who was also a member of the UK government’s Natural Hazard Working Group, takes an extreme position. Most other climate experts still maintain we have time left, although not very much, to bring about meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. A rapid drive to net zero and the halting of global warming is still within our grasp, they say.

Such claims are dismissed by McGuire. “I know a lot of people working in climate science who say one thing in public but a very different thing in private. In confidence, they are all much more scared about the future we face, but they won’t admit that in public. I call this climate appeasement and I believe it only makes things worse. The world needs to know how bad things are going to get before we can hope to start to tackle the crisis.”

McGuire finished writing Hothouse Earth at the end of 2021. He includes many of the record high temperatures that had just afflicted the planet, including extremes that had struck the UK. A few months after he completed his manuscript, and as publication loomed, he found that many of those records had already been broken. “That is the trouble with writing a book about climate breakdown,” says McGuire. “By the time it is published it is already out of date. That is how fast things are moving.”

Among the records broken during the book’s editing was the announcement that a temperature of 40.3C was reached in east England on 19 July, the highest ever recorded in the UK. (The country’s previous hottest temperature, 38.7C, was in Cambridge in 2019.)

In addition, London’s fire service had to tackle blazes across the capital, with one conflagration destroying 16 homes in Wennington, east London. Crews there had to fight to save the local fire station itself. “Who would have thought that a village on the edge of London would be almost wiped out by wildfires in 2022,” says McGuire. “If this country needs a wake-up call then surely that is it.”

Wildfires of unprecedented intensity and ferocity have also swept across Europe, North America and Australia this year, while record rainfall in the midwest led to the devastating flooding in the US’s Yellowstone national park. “And as we head further into 2022, it is already a different world out there,” he adds. “Soon it will be unrecognisable to every one of us.”

These changes underline one of the most startling aspects of climate breakdown: the speed with which global average temperature rises translate into extreme weather.

“Just look at what is happening already to a world which has only heated up by just over one degree,” says McGuire. “It turns out the climate is changing for the worse far quicker than predicted by early climate models. That’s something that was never expected.”

Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, when humanity began pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, global temperatures have risen by just over 1C. At the Cop26 climate meeting in Glasgow last year, it was agreed that every effort should be made to try to limit that rise to 1.5C, although to achieve such a goal, it was calculated that global carbon emissions will have to be reduced by 45% by 2030.

“In the real world, that is not going to happen,” says McGuire. “Instead, we are on course for close to a 14% rise in emissions by that date – which will almost certainly see us shatter the 1.5C guardrail in less than a decade.”

And we should be in no doubt about the consequences. Anything above 1.5C will see a world plagued by intense summer heat, extreme drought, devastating floods, reduced crop yields, rapidly melting ice sheets and surging sea levels. A rise of 2C and above will seriously threaten the stability of global society, McGuire argues. It should also be noted that according to the most hopeful estimates of emission cut pledges made at Cop26, the world is on course to heat up by between 2.4C and 3C.

From this perspective it is clear we can do little to avoid the coming climate breakdown. Instead we need to adapt to the hothouse world that lies ahead and to start taking action to try to stop a bleak situation deteriorating even further, McGuire says.

Certainly, as it stands, Britain – although relatively well placed to counter the worst effects of the coming climate breakdown – faces major headaches. Heatwaves will become more frequent, get hotter and last longer. Huge numbers of modern, tiny, poorly insulated UK homes will become heat traps, responsible for thousands of deaths every summer by 2050.

“Despite repeated warnings, hundreds of thousands of these inappropriate homes continue to be built every year,” adds McGuire.

As to the reason for the world’s tragically tardy response, McGuire blames a “conspiracy of ignorance, inertia, poor governance, and obfuscation and lies by climate change deniers that has ensured that we have sleepwalked to within less than half a degree of the dangerous 1.5C climate change guardrail. Soon, barring some sort of miracle, we will crash through it.”

[snip]

America First is laying plans to perpetuate Trumpism beyond Trump

[Note:  This item comes from friend David P. Reed.  DLH]

America First is laying plans to perpetuate Trumpism beyond Trump
The rightwing group is planning a future more authoritarian, more extreme and more ruthless – with or without the former president
By David Smith
Jul 30 2022
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jul/30/america-first-trumpism-beyond-trump

He spoke in lurid detail of cities overrun by violent crime. He railed against the media, deep state and liberal elites. And he touted his wall with a dire warning: “Millions of illegal aliens are stampeding across our wide open borders, pouring into our country. It’s an invasion.”

Donald Trump’s return to Washington this week was deja vu all over again. The former US president’s 90-minute speech at a luxury hotel was eerily reminiscentof the nativist-populist campaign that won him the White House in 2016. But while Trump himself never evolves, his audience this time around was different.

While the America First Policy Institute (AFPI), a rightwing thinktank, was happy to indulge the garrulous showman at its inaugural summit, it also maintained a cold-eyed focus on the future. Over two days Trump’s allies and alumni laid out a blueprint for a return to power and a second term more authoritarian, more extreme and more ruthless than the first.

The institute – evidently untroubled by the associations of the phrase “America First” with Nazi sympathisers who wanted to keep the US out of the second world war – has 150 staff, including nine former Trump administration cabinet officials and more than 50 former senior staff and officials. Familiar faces such as Kellyanne Conway, Larry Kudlow and Mark Meadows were feted at the conference.

The AFPI is led by Brooke Rollins, a former domestic policy adviser in the White House, who boasted how the 15-month-old organisation put “boots on the ground” in 32 states on issues from “election integrity to school choice and patriotic education to health care transparency to taxes and spending to fatherhood initiatives to border security to big tech censorship”.

The institute has sued Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for alleged censorship, she added, while fighting Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates all the way to the supreme court and opposing his Build Back Better plan for climate and social spending.

Critics have described the AFPI as a “grift” for Trump hangers-on to make money but others perceive a “White House in waiting”, determined to avoid the mistakes of his uniquely turbulent presidency and, through 22 “policy centres”, guarantee the survival of Trumpism beyond Trump.

Conway, a former senior counselor to the president, told the Guardian: “It certainly is a way to preserve the legacy and for some people it’s also a way to make sure that the entire body of work of the America First movement is all in one place. It’s about policies and principles, not about personalities and politics.”

She added: “I actually believe, and I’ve heard Brooke Rollins say more than once or twice, privately and publicly, that we have this in place in case President Trump runs again and, if he doesn’t, then it’s in place for whomever runs again.

“Whoever the Republican nominee is next time, whether it’s Trump or someone else, will run the way all of these Republican candidates for House and Senate and governor this time, with very few exceptions if any, are running on the America First agenda. They all are doing that this time.”

The summit revelled in apocalyptic portrayals of Biden and Democrats posing an existential threat to the American way of life. It also described America First principles such as making the economy work for all, putting patients and doctors back in charge of healthcare, protecting the second amendment right to bear arms and giving parents more control over the education of their children.

The list of priorities included “finish the wall, deliver peace through strength, make America energy independent, make it easy to vote and hard to cheat, fighting government corruption by draining the swamp”.

Handouts of reading material offered another insight. A “parent toolkit” warned of the perils of “wokeness”, “critical race theory” and “the 1619 Project”, citing examples such as an elementary school in Philadelphia that “forced fifth-grade students to simulate a black power rally”. It offered advice on how to run for school boards.

An op-ed by Rollins about the supreme court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion quoted the British prime minister Margaret Thatcher during the Falklands war: “Just rejoice at that news.”

A document on school safety and gun violence emphasised fortifying schools, improving access to mental health services and “understanding the relationship between culture and violence” rather than limiting access to firearms. Another paper was entitled: “Fatherlessness and its effects on American society”.

During one panel discussion, Rick Perry, a former energy secretary, insisted that the next Republican administration would not be “genuflecting at the altar of the religion of environmentalism”, adding: “We don’t need to apologise to anybody for being for fossil fuels and how they have changed the world that we live in today, the flourishing of the world.”

The gathering also heard about plans to follow through on what Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist, described as the “deconstruction of the administrative state”, centralising power in the presidency like other strongmen around the world.

In his speech on Tuesday, Trump said: “We need to make it much easier to fire rogue bureaucrats who are deliberately undermining democracy or, at a minimum, just want to keep their jobs. Congress should pass historic reforms empowering the president to ensure that any bureaucrat who is corrupt, incompetent or unnecessary for the job can be told – did you ever hear this? – ‘You’re fired. Get out. You’re fired.’ Have to do it. Deep state.”

The comments followed recent in-depth media reporting about the dramatic scope and scale of planning for President Trump 2.0. The Axios website described how his aides are aiming to transform the federal government by replacing thousands of civil servants with loyalists to him and America First.

Axios wrote that the plan owes much to an executive order known as “Schedule F” that was secretly developed in the second half of Trump’s presidency only to be thwarted by his election defeat.

The site added: “The impact could go well beyond typical conservative targets such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service. Trump allies are working on plans that would potentially strip layers at the justice department – including the FBI, and reaching into national security, intelligence, the state department and the Pentagon, sources close to the former president say.”

The AFPI could prove central to this authoritarian vision. Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, drew a comparison with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative thinktank that he said was crucial to the Ronald Reagan administration, to the extent that Reagan gave each cabinet secretary a copy of its experts’ report and told them to implement it.

“The America First Policy Institute is going to do for the next few years what the Heritage Foundation did in 1979, 1980,” Gingrich said. “I think because of the experience over four years under President Trump, we have a seasoned enough cadre that, if we work at it methodically, we can actually have enormous impact on profoundly reshaping the federal government.”

Trump remained the undisputed master of the AFPI universe in Washington, with some panelists expressing nostalgic yearning for what they perceived as the golden age of his presidency, seemingly oblivious to the revelations of the congressional committee investigating his role in the deadly January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.

Rollins described him as “one of the greatest Americans of all time”. Board chair Linda McMahon added: “Our nation greatly misses President Trump and we need his voice and perspective more than ever.” Senator Lindsey Graham opined that Trump was “good” for the Republican party and proclaimed: “I hope he runs again.”

But the thinktank is also seeking to trace an ideological thread in the chaos and carnage of the Trump years, laying the foundation for the future of America First after he has left the political stage or if the mantle passes to another Republican such as Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida.

Marc Lotter, chief communications officer at AFPI, said: “There’s no question that President Trump is the visionary that put all this in place and started it but the voters will decide who should carry that leadership forward and, if they’re America First, then they’ll have the benefit of our work.”

[snip]