OUR PICKSDecades of Lax Rules Enable Train Disasters | The Polarized Pandemic | ‘The Last of Us’ May Already Be Here, and more

Published 24 March 2023

·  How Decades of Lax Rules Enable Train Disasters
Not much is stopping a catastrophe like the one in East Palestine from happening again

·  Utility Player: California’s Disastrous Electricity Policy
PG&E is the largest energy utility in the United States. It’s also behind the greatest utility-caused tragedy.

·  Squeezed by Investigations, Trump Escalates Violent Rhetoric
Trump warned any indictments brought against him may lead to “potential death & destruction” around the country

·  Far-Right Activists Wary of “Trap” after Trump Calls for Protests
Some Trump supporters fear Trump’s possible indictment is an elaborate government trap to arrest them

·  Cyber Warfare is Upon Us: Why the Next Generation of ‘War Games’ so Important
After September 11, 2001, the nature of modern warfare and the way we think about our enemies changed

·  OK, But Where Will the Next Pandemic Come From?
Assessing the origins of a pandemic is a difficult but critically important task

·  The Polarized Pandemic
COVID-19 has contributed to the fragmentation of domestic and international politics

·  The Real Horrors of ‘The Last of Us’ May Already Be Here
The drama about a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested America may describe the present, not the future

·  “We’ve Lost the Aqueduct”: How Severe Flooding Threatens a Los Angeles Water Lifeline

Struggling to maintain the city’s Eastern Sierra aqueduct

·  Six Oath Keepers Convicted in Connection with January 6 U.S. Capitol Riot
The high-level convictions for four defendants is another significant win for the Justice Department

How Decades of Lax Rules Enable Train Disasters  (Kendra Pierre-Louis, The Atlantic)
Starting in the late 1970s and ’80s, the U.S. and Canada massively deregulated the railroad industry. They shrank oversight budgets and “outsourced a lot of safety work and obligations to the companies,” says one expert. “Transport regulators became just an auditor. It was kind of a paper exercise—there were fewer people out in the field” making sure railroads were following the rules.
According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Transportation, even when the agency found evidence of wrongdoing by the railways, criminal penalties were not often pursued, and regulatory penalties had “little deterrent effect.” Meanwhile, the cargo was becoming riskier: The shale boom of the mid-aughts led to more oil being transported by rail. At its peak in 2014, rail moved roughly 10 percent of domestic oil.

Utility Player: California’s Disastrous Electricity Policy  (Travis Kavulla, American Affairs)
Pacific Gas and Electric is by some measures the largest energy utility in the United States. It is also the culprit of “the deadliest corporate crime in American history”: the manslaughter of eighty-four people, who suffocated and were incinerated, or who otherwise perished, during the maelstrom of a 2018 fire caused by the company’s Caribou-Palermo electric transmission line. The energized wire that fell to the ground, creating the ignition, was loosed from its moorings when a dilapidated metal hook finally broke, nearly a century after PG&E’s predecessor, Great Western Power Company, bought it from the long-defunct Ohio Brass Company.
Katherine Blunt’s California Burning takes its readers through a history of PG&E, its financial motivations amid California’s manic political landscape, and its lack of focus in the face of many distractions on the maintenance of the critical infrastructure in question, all leading to this terrible denouement. Blunt has extensively covered these events in the Wall Street Journal, together with her colleagues Russell Gold and Rebecca Smith. The tragedy and horror of the story retold in whole, coming together in Blunt’s book-length treatment, is even more than the sum of the news stories she and her colleagues have written.