Just Go Away! (Trump)

The Former Grifter-in-Chief Won’t Disappear Like a Respectable Ex-President Should

It’s no good trying to ignore Donald Trump.

He keeps popping up in the news. The stories reflect more his insults and influence-bending than actual guidance for the country, more about legal problems than help on getting people vaccinated, say, and more about his fund-raising even as he continues to pump money from those efforts into his private businesses.

Trump may have proved right about one thing. Love or hate aside, we have trouble quitting him.

So, even as efforts continue to reconcile unethical deeds over time and pundits seek to find signs of declining reign over willing Republicans, with $100 million in the bank Trump continues to be the would-be next candidate for president.

Trump keeps coming on, twisting truth or actual events for convenience and letting even friends and allies fall by the wayside on his way to the never-ending spotlight.

Some see as bad signs for Trump an election loss in Texas of his designated candidate and the pending Joe Biden victory of winning bipartisan support for an infrastructure bill that Trump never could get passed.

“The weakness Trump showed this week is real, but it isn’t new. His power over the GOP has always been limited: As president he often found himself balked on policy by congressional Republicans, and his impressive endorsement record reflects a lot of cautious winner-picking, not aggressive movement-building,” says New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.

Even as New York prosecutors are cornering Trump on fraud charges, even as new disclosures show more outrageous attempts to use the Justice Department for his personal political ends, as new orders show he must share his taxes with Congress, Trump keeps coming. He continues twisting truth or actual events for convenience and letting even friends and allies fall by the wayside on his way to the never-ending spotlight.

Again and Again

He is the new Old Faithful.

Among the week’s Trump tally:

  • Undermining Election Results: “Just Say the Election Was Corrupt and Leave the Rest to Me and the Republican. congressmen,” Trump told Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in January, according to notes of the near-daily conversations with Trump disclosed by The Times. Though they had found no instances of widespread fraud, so that Trump and his allies in Congress could use the assertion to try to overturn the election results, Trump told him, though this weekend, Trump insisted that “overturn” means “guaranteeing election integrity.” Whatever translation from truth you want to accept, Trump crossed another big line trying to bully the Justice Department in violation of every ethical, governmental, maybe even legal interpretation available. To anyone but Team Trump, bad news.
  • Surrendering Tax Filings. The Justice Department said the Treasury Department must turn over Trump’s tax returns to congressional investigators on the House Ways and Means Committee as part of its review of the Internal Revenue Service’s presidential audit program. The Trump administration stymied the request for years and the committee sued to obtain the documents. Still, it was an unusual victory, however it turns out, for Truth in Government, since present Attorney General Merrick Garland continues to surprise all with how reluctant he is proving to be in demanding that Trump officials own up to legal abuses of the last administration.

“I am not going to look backward,” Garland has said, in interviews that are deeply unsatisfying to Democrats, government watchdogs and anyone who wants catharsis after four years of Trump’s insistence on his ‘absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department,’ as he put it to The New York Times in 2017,” notes The Washington Post Magazine.

“Those voices are calling for investigations of the politicization of the department under Trump, a public reckoning of the damage done, the spectacle of heads rolling. They speak of ‘truth commissions’ and ‘de-Trumpification.’ That is how you restore confidence in the institution, they say.”

  • A subpoena to the Jan. 6 investigation is looming, says The Post, among others, for Trump to give an accounting of his role in amassing, inciting and failing to stop the rioting at the U.S. Capitol. It’s a tricky thing to require Trump’s testimony, if the committee can sidestep executive privilege claims without having to go to court, because it gives Trump the ultimate platform for repeating his election rigging nonsense. But it also represents testimony under oath, and that is something Trump never wants to do, any more than his acolytes among Republican members of Congress. The number of open questions about Trump’s role continues to increase.
  • Meanwhile, Big Steal rolls along, amid widening reports that the Arizona re-count or re-creation of Election Day in Mariposa County is a sham, with even Republican sponsors in that state fleeing before final creative writing reports are being produced in secret. The continuing theme is that unless Cyber Ninjas makes it all up, there was little to sustain a turnaround in vote counts. Still, the efforts to do similar audits are moving to Michigan, where Republicans seem quite torn about it, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where Trump troops are going door to door asking people how they voted, as if that is somehow OK. But daily, we’re hearing about Republican punishments for anyone veering from the Trump fraud line.
  • Following the Money. Yes, Federal Election Commission reports confirm that Trump’s fund-raising efforts have topped $100 million for the last six months, though the Trump spending reports have gotten less attention. Money from the several Political Action Committees for Trump are sending payments to Trump properties for meetings and housing, reports The Post, with one PAC paying Trump $68,000 during the same time period. Since Trump entered the presidential race in June 2015, he has used his political campaigns and associated committees to pump more than $19 million into his own businesses, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal campaign-finance records. The Post also reported that it could not find evidence that Trump donated his last six months of salary, as pledged, nor his ample pension. The perception of Trump as a grifter also continues unabated.
Not Leaving

Still, none of the fictionalizing seems to halt seeing Trump presenting himself as if he actually still is president, any more than persistent legal and business problems. His supporters remain most comfortable blaming others for any negative news and keep faith with their idea of an iconoclastic bull in the china shop of intellectualism.

Former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows reported this week without explanation that Trump’s “Cabinet” of advisers were meeting with him at the Trump Bedminster, N.J. golf resort, as if it were a shadow presidency interested in anything other than promoting Trump.

The MAGA rallies are back, if a tad more subdued, the insult machine is alive and well, cranking out criticism for a lengthening list of enemies and the hints of an announced re-play of the election mix with the constant reporting about whether Pillow Talk Guy has identified another day in which magically Trump ousts Biden as a legitimate election winner.

I’d be happy never to see Trump again in any form, but we’re not even close.

Terry H. Schwadron retired as a senior editor at The New York Times, Deputy Managing Editor at The Los Angeles Times and leadership jobs at The Providence (RI) Journal-Bulletin. He was part of a Pulitzer Gold Medal team in Los Angeles, and his team part of several Pulitzers in New York. As an editor, Terry created new approaches in newsrooms, built technological tools and digital media. He pursued efforts to recruit and train minority journalists and in scholarship programs. A resident of Harlem, he volunteers in community storytelling, arts in education programs, tutoring and is an active freelance trombone player

Starving cows. Fallow farms. The Arizona drought is among the worst in the country

Starving cows. Fallow farms. The Arizona drought is among the worst in the country

Casa Grande, Arizona-July 21, 2021- Nancy Caywood stands beside the corn that her son Travis Hartman farms using leased land that has water rights. The family hopes the profit from the corn (feed) will help pay the taxes and water dues they own on their own land Caywood Farms. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angels Times)
Nancy Caywood stands beside the corn that her son Travis Hartman farms using leased land that has water rights. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)


The cotton’s gone.
The alfalfa barely exists.

“Can you even call this a farm?” asked Nancy Caywood, standing on a rural stretch of land her Texas grandfather settled nearly a century ago, drawn by cheap prices and feats of engineering that brought water from afar to irrigate central Arizona’s arid soil.

The canals that used to bring water to the fields of Caywood Farms have gone dry due to the drought.
The canals that used to bring water to the fields of Caywood Farms have gone dry due to the drought. In Arizona, 99% of the land is undergoing a years-long drought. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)


On the family’s 247 acres an hour south of Phoenix, Caywood grew up tending to cotton and alfalfa, two water-intensive crops that fed off melted mountain snows flowing from a reservoir 120 miles away. She grew up understanding the rhythms of the desert and how fields can blossom despite a rugged, sand-swept terrain where sunlight is a given but water is precious.

Now more than ever. Looking out at her farmland recently, Caywood held back tears.

The eastern Arizona reservoir that provided much of her water was drying up, leaving empty the canals and ditches that surround her property. Bigger-than-usual summer rains did not prove ample to rescue dead fields. The drought was at her door.

Across the U.S. West, shifting climate patterns are wreaking havoc. An early start to fire season is scorching rural Oregon and parts of Northern California. Record temperatures have led to deaths of hundreds of residents of Seattle and Portland, Ore. Lake Mead, the massive Colorado River reservoir outside Las Vegas, is at its lowest point since its 1935 federal construction, threatening water supplies to Arizona, Southern California, Nevada and Mexico.

Saguaros, which are native to the desert, are still susceptible to damage under extreme conditions.
Saguaros, which can naturally withstand drought better than non-native plants, are still susceptible to damage under extreme conditions. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)


In Arizona, 99% of the land is undergoing years-long drought that has accelerated. Large swaths of the region are now in extreme distress and the picture may well get worse, with less reliable mountain snowfall to feed streams and a morphing monsoon season that has only proved a temporary reprieve and even led to flooding. The state, where more than a third of all water can trace itself up the Colorado River to Lake Mead, will also be forced to make do with less beginning next year because of the lake’s dwindling supply.

“Arizona is pretty much an irrigated state and we’ve managed our water resources generally well,” said Stephanie Smallhouse, a fifth-generation cattle rancher on the far outskirts of Tucson who is the president of the Arizona Farm Bureau. “But it’s near impossible to manage yourself out of a drought.”

The history of Arizona is the history of water. Before European colonizers and American settlers moved in, Indigenous people relied on the Gila, Salt and Verde rivers outside Phoenix. The Colorado River flowed on what’s now the state’s western edge, while snowmelt from New Mexico’s Black Mountain Range formed the Gila River that came from the east to meet the Colorado, creating a lifeline for tens of thousands of subsistence farmers in Native American communities.

But as technological advances led to the construction of dams and reservoirs in the early 20th century to divert rivers for new residents — like Caywood’s grandfather — Native land went fallow, leading to sickness and poverty. As cities such as Tucson and Phoenix and farmlands between them grew over the decades, they were aided by another feat in water engineering when construction on the Central Arizona Project launched in 1973. Today, the intricate canal system carries Colorado River water hundreds of miles from Lake Havasu on the California-Arizona border to taps and irrigation ditches across central Arizona.

The Hayden-Rhodes Aqueduct, fed by the Colorado River, runs through Scottsdale, Ariz.
The Hayden-Rhodes Aqueduct, fed by the Colorado River, runs through Scottsdale, Ariz. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)


It’s a history that informs who wins and loses amid drought. The state has dozens of irrigation districts that tax customers in exchange for regulating water flow from different sources. The map they form can at times resemble gerrymandered congressional districts, with it not unusual for neighboring farms to get water from canals that lead to mountains and reservoirs in opposite directions.

Longevity also goes into the equation.

“Water policy in Arizona is also rooted in the idea that a person who comes and diverts water for a beneficial use should have higher priority than the next one who comes along if there is a risk for shortage,” said Sarah Porter, the director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University.

When it comes to water, one city or farm is not always equal to the other in the state where the $23-billion agriculture industry uses up more than 70% of irrigated water, a large chunk of it on crops the federal government encourages with subsidies, such as cotton. In central Arizona, city dwellers and tribal lands tend to get first dibs on water before farms. Still, nearly everyone is preparing. Cities are raising water prices. The state is locked in a battle with hundreds of lush golf courses over demands that they cut back on water.

Yuma, a major farming region known as the “Salad Bowl” for growing broccoli, lettuce and leafy greens that are shipped across the country each winter, is in many ways spared. It has priority over water from the nearby Colorado River in part because irrigated agriculture has taken place there for more than a century. Vegetables also need significantly less water than crops that are popular inland.

A worker moves irrigation tubes on a farm in Pinal County.
A worker moves irrigation tubes on a farm in Pinal County. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)


It’s farmers in the center of the state who are most worried as shortages loom. Among the hardest-hit are those in Pinal County, a largely rural patchwork of farms and cattle and dairy ranches nestled between Phoenix and Tucson where family farmers live alongside exurbs that are rapidly expanding as agriculture recedes.

Along Interstate 10, typically green farms have turned brown, skinny cattle are left with little grass to graze and saguaros lie dead. “For sale” signs advertise desperate owners looking to sell their land at discount for solar power panels and housing developments.

“There’s nothing nefarious about how the water is divided,” said Paul Orme, an attorney who represents several irrigation districts in the county. “But because of agreements that have been negotiated and where these farmers have fell in those, you could see up to 30% of farmland in Pinal County no longer irrigated over the next few years.”

For those like Caywood, that time has already come.

Casa Grande, a city of 55,000 founded in 1879 as a mining town that’s named after a structure built by the ancient Hohokam people, is one of those places at the center of the water crisis. Home to dozens of alfalfa, cotton, wheat and corn farms and as well as dairy and beef ranches, it’s long been sustained by a mix of rains, aquifers and canals drawing on the Colorado River, among other reserves.

Caywood stands in what used to be an alfalfa field.
Caywood stands in what used to be an alfalfa field. It went fallow after her family lost access to irrigated water from the San Carlos reservoir because its water levels were too low. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)


The Caywood farm has a different source. When Caywood’s grandfather, Lewis Storey, established it in 1930, he agreed to pay for water from canals connected to the San Carlos reservoir 130 miles away. Storey thought the reservoir, formed on the Gila River, would be plentiful for generations with its 19,500 acre-feet supply. An acre-foot covers the amount of water that could seep a foot deep across a football field.

The family had long used that water to grow cotton that made up towels and sheets found in big-box stores. The seeds went separately for cattle feed. Alfalfa was cut and baled for ranches across the Southwest.

This summer, the San Carlos reservoir hit zero acre-feet.

“If you want to eat ice cream, you need people like us growing the feed,” Caywood said recently as she sat in the small, wooden shed on the property where she keeps a digital slideshow of the once-lively green and white fields to show kids who still come by on field trips. All that survived now were old mesquite and cottonwood trees on the edges of the land.

“We’re wiped clean,” Caywood said. “You can’t grow.”

Cattle go up for sale at Marana Stockyards in Marana, Ariz.
Cattle go up for sale at Marana Stockyards in Marana, Ariz. “If you can’t grow grass, you buy it. But the hay is too expensive because there’s less water to grow it and less water expected down the line,” said Clay Buck Parsons, who runs the auction house with his father, Clay Parsons. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Emaciated cattle are often sold at Marana Stockyards.
Emaciated cattle are often sold at Marana Stockyards, which has seen an increase in sales amid the decreased feed availability that the drought has caused. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)


An hour south of the the Caywood property at the Pinal County line, the ranchers who show up each week at Marana Stockyards are feeling the trickle-down effects of the drought. The Parsons family has auctioned cattle here for 25 years. Business is picking up.

Dozens of men in cowboy hats and leather boots arrive each Wednesday to watch their bulls, cows and calves sold off. Clay Buck Parsons, a third-generation rancher and auctioneer, ushers cattle into holding pens outside the red barnyard-like building while Parsons’ dad mans a computer as locals in the stands make bids and buyers log in online.

“We’ve sold 12,000 more head this year already than last year,” said Parsons, 29. Most go to Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma.

“You can’t feed the animals without grass,” he said, looking out at dozens of black Angus mother cows whose shoulders and ribs jutted out from grazing on dying fields.

“If you can’t grow grass, you buy it. But the hay is too expensive because there’s less water to grow it and less water expected down the line. So the ranchers are cutting down on their herd to maintain smaller numbers where they can still make a profit.”

Clay Parsons owns Marana Stockyards, which he runs with his son.
Clay Parsons owns Marana Stockyards, which he runs with his son, Clay Buck Parsons. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Rancher Mike Mercer, left, regularly buys and resells cows at Marana Stockyards.
Rancher Mike Mercer, left, regularly buys underweight cows at Marana Stockyards. He feeds them for a few months before reselling them for profit. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)


Buck said it costs up to $4 a day per cow for hay, four times more than grazing on grass. The cost of raising beef can be several thousand times more than some vegetables, such as lettuce. But ranchers here said family history — and profits — had until recently seemed worth holding on to.

One of the regulars to come that day was Mike Mercer. At 54, he has been ranching since his teens. For many years, his land in Mammoth, a village of 1,650, provided for 700 mother cows. Now, he can’t have more than 100 at a time as grass disappears.

“You can’t run cattle. It’s just — everything’s gone,” Mercer said. “A lot of guys are switching into copper mining or welding or trucking.”

These days, Mercer buys skinny, sickly cows, feeds them for a few months on hay in a covered feedlot, and resells them at a profit. On that day, he sold 88 to buyers in Texas and Oklahoma.

The Parsons family's auction house has sold 12,000 more cows this year than last year.
The Parsons family’s auction house has sold 12,000 more cows this year than last year. Many ranchers can no longer afford to feed their cattle because of the drought. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)


A Christian who believes God is responsible for the drought, he prayed for a change.

“You just keep saying we can’t have another year this bad and then we have another year even worse…. Leave it in God’s hands. Because I don’t know what else to do. You pray for rain. Oh, God, yeah. Pray for rain.”

Caywood, a former farming teacher at the University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources Division in El Centro, Calif., also questions those who say climate change is to blame for her struggles.

I don’t believe in it. I believe things are cyclical. But I can’t believe that it’s happening so quickly,” said Caywood, who has a master’s degree in agricultural education.

Nancy Caywood, left, and her grandson Thomas Hartman, age 14.
Nancy Caywood, left, and her grandson Thomas Hartman, 14, stand at the office of Caywood Farms. Hartman is learning to farm, raising steer and chickens. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)


Her son, Travis, built a home on the farm where he lives with two sons. She is thankful that he has continued in the family tradition. But she is more thankful that he is also a firefighter and EMT, a job that provides a stable income. Her `14-year-old grandkids Thomas and Cameron are learning to farm, raising steer and chickens. She has encouraged them but also told them to consider backup plans.

In the good years, the farm would easily make tens of thousands of dollars in profits, more than enough to cover $22,000 in annual property taxes. This year, Caywood, who had hoped to retire, may dip into savings to cover the bill.

Recently, her son leased two 80-acre plots in different irrigation districts that have access to canal water from the Colorado River. Just a few miles from Caywood Farms, corn stalks reach 5 feet into the air. They’ll be chopped up for dairy cow feed.

The family didn’t want more farming land but found it necessary to cover the taxes on its dying historic property.

Except there’s one problem.

Because of the drought, Arizona will have 18% less water from the Colorado River next year. Farms like Caywood’s son’s will be hit hardest because of rules governing how water is divided in the state.

"We have no cotton. It's gone. It's dead. The alfalfa barely exists," Caywood said.
“We have no cotton. It’s gone. It’s dead. The alfalfa barely exists,” Caywood said. She may be forced to use her savings to cover taxes on the farm, which isn’t making money anymore. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)


“It seems there’s really no way out of drought,” Caywood said the other week, browsing old photos of her parents and son standing by cotton bales.

Sometimes, she felt as though it wasn’t just a farm but a family and way of life slipping away. Her father, Tommy, died in January at 98. Her 94-year-old mother, Sammie, was in and out of the hospital.

All around her, farms were disappearing. Next door, the Wuertzes sold much of theirs for solar panels. Down the street, an abandoned construction project stood where alfalfa once grew. Caywood had gotten offers from buyers too. She rejected them.

She looked at the barren fields where her grandfather taught her how to examine the changing color of a cotton blossom to tell where the plant was in its life span. She thought back to when water flowed freely in the dried-up irrigation canals where she would sneak away to swim as a kid.

Days like those seemed long gone. She prayed for them to come back again.

As drought cuts hay crop, cattle ranchers face culling herds

Associated Press

As drought cuts hay crop, cattle ranchers face culling herds


STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — With his cattle ranch threatened by a deepening drought, Jim Stanko isn’t cheered by the coming storm signaled by the sound of thunder.

“Thunder means lightning, and lightning can cause fires,” said Stanko, who fears he’ll have to sell off half his herd of about 90 cows in Routt County outside of Steamboat Springs, Colorado if he can’t harvest enough hay to feed them.

As the drought worsens across the West and ushers in an early fire season, cattle ranchers are among those feeling the pain. Their hay yields are down, leading some to make the hard decision to sell off animals. To avoid the high cost of feed, many ranchers grow hay to nourish their herds through the winter when snow blankets the grass they normally graze.

But this year, Stanko’s hay harvest so far is even worse than it was last year. One field produced just 10 bales, down from 30 last year, amid heat waves and historically low water levels in the Yampa River, his irrigation source.

Some ranchers aren’t waiting to reduce the number of mouths they need to feed.

At the Loma Livestock auction in western Colorado, sales were bustling earlier this month even though its peak season isn’t usually until the fall when most calves are ready to be sold. Fueling the action are ranchers eager to unload cattle while prices are still strong.

“Everybody is gonna be selling their cows, so it’s probably smarter now to do it while the price is up before the market gets flooded,” said Buzz Bates, a rancher from Moab, Utah who was selling 209 cow-calf pairs, or about 30% of his herd.

Bates decided to trim his herd after a fire set off by an abandoned campfire destroyed part of his pasture, curbing his ability to feed them.

Weather has long factored into how ranchers manage their livestock and land, but those choices have increasingly centered around how herds can sustain drought conditions, said Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of natural resources at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

“If it rained four inches, there wouldn’t be a cow to sell for five months,” said George Raftopoulos, owner of the auction house.

Raftopoulos says he encourages people to think twice before parting with their cows. Having to replace them later on might cost more than paying for additional hay, he said.

Culling herds can be an operational blow for cattle ranchers. It often means parting with cows selected for genetic traits that are optimal for breeding and are seen as long-term investments that pay dividends.

Jo Stanko, Jim’s wife and business partner, noted her cows were bred for their ability to handle the region’s temperature swings.

“We live in a very specialized place,” she said. “We need cattle that can do high and low temperatures in the same day.”

As the Stankos prepare to shrink their herd, they’re considering new lines of work to supplement their ranching income. One option on the table: offering hunting and fishing access or winter sleigh rides on their land.

The couple will know how many more cattle they’ll need to sell once they’re done storing hay in early September. They hope to cull just 10, but fear it could be as many as half the herd, or around 45 head.

Already, the family sold 21 head last year after a disappointing hay harvest. This year, the crop is even worse.

“With the heat, it’s burning up. I can’t cut it fast enough,” Jim Stanko said of the hay crop.


The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for coverage of water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/environment.


German Greens: Preventing climate disasters will be costly

Associated Press

German Greens: Preventing climate disasters will be costly

July 26, 2021


BERLIN (AP) — The Green party candidate hoping to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany’s upcoming election warned Monday that efforts to better prepare the country against climate-related disasters is going to be costly and will require tapping into additional sources of revenue.

Annalena Baerbock, whose party is trailing Merkel’s center-right Union bloc in recent polls, said the Greens want to invest significantly more in prevention “and that will cost money.”


“There’s no beating around the bush: protection against floods, rebuilding cities to make them resilient against climate change costs money,” she told reporters in Berlin.

Baerbock said the proposed measures could be paid for with money generated from carbon taxes or a softening of Germany’s debt rules — an idea the Union bloc has ruled out.

The debate over climate change and its impact on Germany has been fueled by deadly floods that hit the west of the country earlier this month. Experts say such disasters will become more severe and frequent as the planet heats up.

Baerbock also accused the Union bloc’s candidate, Armin Laschet, of having a “muddled” policy on climate change that she claimed “is a threat not just to the security of the people in our country but also to Germany as a location for industry.”

Laschet, who is the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, has struck a more hawkish tone on climate change since the floods that killed at least 180 people in Germany, including almost 50 in his state. But in an interview Sunday with public broadcaster ZDF he rejected calls to bring forward the deadline for ending the use of coal in Germany from 2038 to 2030.

Baerbock said her party will shortly announce a program of urgent climate measures that would be implemented within 100 days if the Greens take office after the Sept. 26 election.

1972 Warning of Civilizational Collapse Was on Point, New Study Finds

1972 Warning of Civilizational Collapse Was on Point, New Study Finds

​A motel sign destroyed by a wildfire in Oregon in 2020.
A motel sign destroyed by a wildfire in Oregon in 2020. The climate crisis is one example of how a 1972 study warning of limits to growth appears correct. ROB SCHUMACHER / POOL / AFP via Getty Images.


In 1972, a group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists published an alarming prediction: If industrial society continued to grow unchecked, it would exhaust Earth’s resources and lead to civilizational collapse by the middle of the 21st century.

That study, called The Limits to Growth, sparked controversy and concern when it first emerged. But now, new research published in the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology says we are currently on track to living out its warnings.

“The MIT scientists said we needed to act now to achieve a smooth transition and avoid costs,” Gaya Herrington, the author of the new study, told The Guardian. “That didn’t happen, so we’re seeing the impact of climate change.”

The original Limits to Growth paper used a model called World3 to predict how factors like global population, birth rate, mortality, industrial output, food production, health and education services, non-renewable natural resources and pollution would interact to shape the future. They used the model to show different potential scenarios for the future, some leading to collapse, or a steep decline in social, economic and environmental conditions.

“Given the unappealing prospect of collapse, I was curious to see which scenarios were aligning most closely with empirical data today,” Herrington, who is also sustainability and dynamic system analysis lead at major accounting firm KPMG, said on its website. “After all, the book that featured this world model was a bestseller in the 70s, and by now we’d have several decades of empirical data which would make a comparison meaningful. But to my surprise I could not find recent attempts for this. So I decided to do it myself.”

Herrington found that we are currently closest to two of the original study’s potential futures: BAU2 (business-as-usual) and CT (comprehensive technology). In both of these scenarios, growth would start to decline in about ten years from now. In the BAU2 scenario, Herrington told VICE, this would lead to collapse starting around 2040. In the CT scenario, the decline would be more gradual, leading to what Herrington called “relatively soft landings” in the paper. However, even though the CT scenario does not indicate total collapse, it does still suggest that the status-quo cannot remain in place.

“Both scenarios thus indicate that continuing business as usual, that is, pursuing continuous growth, is not possible,” Herrington wrote in the study.

Neither of these scenarios are locked in place, of course. However, Vice noted that the data indicates policy makers have about 10 years to meaningfully act to change course. Still, Herrington argued in favor of taking that action.

“The key finding of my study is that we still have a choice to align with a scenario that does not end in collapse,” she told The Guardian. “With innovation in business, along with new developments by governments and civil society, continuing to update the model provides another perspective on the challenges and opportunities we have to create a more sustainable world.”

Ultimately, avoiding decline means turning society towards “another goal than growth,” Herrington concluded in the study.

These companies still donate to Jan. 6 seditionists in Congress


These companies still donate to Jan. 6 seditionists in Congress


Tim Fernholz, Senior reporter                         July 27, 2021


REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE. Under CEO Dave Calhoun, Boeing has funneled $269,500 to Republican politicians who voted to reject lawful votes.
FROM OUR OBSESSION – Fixing capitalism
Capitalism is just a collection of human decisions. We can change it if we want to.

The testimony in today’s Congressional investigation into the events of Jan. 6, 2021 was brutal. Witnesses described the melee that resulted as pro-Trump insurrectionists attempted to take over the US Capitol building during the certification of the 2020 presidential election while beating, stabbing, and choking police officers.

“President Trump invited us here,” one officer said the rioters told him. “We’re here to stop the steal. Joe Biden is not the president, nobody voted for Joe Biden.”

Why would people hold this false belief to be true? The former president, Donald Trump, and key leaders in his party told them it was. Today, the belief in the big lie that Trump won the election is a key plank in the Republican Party platform.

“Nothing, truly nothing, has prepared me to address those elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day,” another officer, Michael Fanone, told lawmakers. “And in doing so, betray their oath of office.”

Corporations reneged on promises to end funding to politicians who lied about the 2020 election 

After the shocking incursion, anger over the events of that day was widespread. Many US corporations said they would stop donating to the campaign funds of the 140 Republican politicians who voted to reject election results from states where Biden won the election fair and square. These actions would provide the bare minimum of sanction for undermining the rule of law in the US.

Well, ha. It didn’t take long for major businesses to forget about the rule of law and get back to the business of paying for access to legislators. Today’s hearing, the first of several designed to probe the events of that day and dispel lies about what happened, is a good opportunity to highlight some of the recidivist firms who have no problem backing politicians willing to strip away Americans’ right to vote.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) keeps track of which businesses are donating to members of the “sedition caucus,” the 147 senators and members of congress who voted to reject voters in Arizona and Georgia. No evidence was brought then or now to suggest the results of the votes in those states were compromised.

Many firms said they would “pause” their political giving, providing an easy excuse to resume it quietly. More notable are the firms that made a firm commitment to stop, rather than pause, political giving, and then reneged on their commitment. Some gave to individual lawmakers, while others donated to party committees in the senate (NRSC) and House (NRCC) whose leaders voted to toss out valid electoral results. Here are the 13 companies, ranked by total donations, that reversed their position:

Company Contributions to NRCC and NRSC Contributions to Members and Leadership PACs Total
Boeing $210,000 $59,500 $269,500
Walmart $60,000 $0 $60,000
General Motors $15,000 $42,000 $57,000
PNC $55,000 $0 $55,000
Cigna $30,000 $19,500 $49,500
Comcast $30,000 $0 $30,000
Pfizer $30,000 $0 $30,000
General Electric $30,000 $0 $30,000
Johnson & Johnson $30,000 $0 $30,000
Bloomin’ Brands $0 $20,000 $20,000
Home Depot $15,000 $0 $15,000
Dell $15,000 $0 $15,000
United Parcel Services (UPS) $0 $12,500 $12,500

Spokespeople for the companies argue that this is just another way to support American values. “Engagement with those with whom we disagree is a critical part of the democratic process and our responsibility in legislative advocacy as a company,” Danielle Cassady, a UPS spokesperson, told the Washington Post, somewhat blurring the lines between engaging and supporting financially.

Among all donors to the sedition caucus—not just those who said they’d stop funding—Boeing is also the largest. The top 10 list includes many other defense contractors who depend on government largesse for business, including General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and BAE Systems. Also there is American Crystal Sugar, which spends big in Washington to support farm subsidies and block sugar imports, and Koch Energy, motivated by petroleum subsidies and ideology. Rounding out the list is Nextera Energy, Fresenius Medical Care Holdings, train company CSX, and Toyota, which is (weirdly) lobbying against electric cars.

It’s worth noting the companies who appear to have stuck by their promise to avoid donating to lawmakers who voted to throw out legally cast votes. Amazon’s corporate political action committee hasn’t reported any donations to the Federal Election Commission this year, nor have the two operated by megabank JPMorgan Chase.

Corporations, definitionally amoral and compelled by the profit motive, were always unlikely standard-bearers for American democracy. But if their leadership forgot what it was like to see insurrectionists battering police officers and threatening their lives in an effort to stop the vote, you don’t have to.

Tom Barrack, Donald Trump and the (other) most corrupt White House in history

Tom Barrack, Donald Trump and the (other) most corrupt White House in history

Kevin M. Kruse, MSNBC Opinion Columnist      July 25, 2021

The Trump administration was one of the most thoroughly criminal political machines America has ever experienced. But at least one president may have him beat.
IMage: Then-President Donald Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in 2019.

Then-President Donald Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in 2019.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

The criminal charges brought last week against Tom Barrack, a major fundraiser for former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and chairman of his 2017 inaugural committee, were simply the latest in a long string of indictments (and convictions) of high-level Trump associates. (A spokesperson for Barrack, who was released Friday on $250 million bond, said the former fundraiser “has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset. He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty.”)

The list of Trump associates investigated, indicted or convicted for various crimes goes on and on and on and on and on and on.

Paul Manafort, chairman of Trump’s 2016 campaign, was convicted on charges of banking and tax fraud in 2018. Manafort’s aide and deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, likewise faced indictments for bank fraud and money laundering (among other crimes) before pleading guilty to lesser charges.

Steve Bannon, campaign CEO and special counselor to the president, was charged with criminal conspiracies to commit wire fraud and money laundering. (He pleaded not guilty, but the charges were later dismissed due in part to confusion over his presidential pardon.)

Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime attorney and fixer, pleaded guilty in 2018 to tax fraud, bank fraud, campaign finance violations and other charges. Roger Stone, another Trump confidant and fixer, was convicted in 2019 on seven counts of witness tampering, obstruction of justice and lying to Congress. Michael Flynn, who served as Trump’s national security adviser for less than a month before resigning in disgrace, pleaded guilty — twice — to lying to FBI investigators.

The list of Trump associates investigated, indicted or convicted for various crimes goes on and on and on and on and on and on. (And, we should note, that list doesn’t include those whose transgressions have been ignored, such as the five members of Trump’s Cabinet whose cases the Department of Justice declined to prosecute.)

The latest criminal charges are surely not the last to be brought against Trump’s inner circle, given the wide array of investigations into his family, friends and business associates that are still underway. The final count of indictments and convictions won’t be known for some time, but it’s already clear that Trump’s team will go down as one of the most thoroughly criminal political machines in American history.

To be sure, other administrations have racked up considerable convictions in the past. The Nixon White House, most famously, unraveled not just with the resignations of the president and vice president, but with dozens of members sent to jail, including a former attorney general, White House counsel and several of the president’s top aides. The Reagan administration likewise ended with dozens indicted or convicted.

The bulk of the criminal charges in those administrations centered on abuses of power for political ends, most notably in the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals. Trump’s inner circle has faced fallout from comparable investigations, such as special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into their ties to Russia. But the bulk of the charges levied against them have revolved around more personal crimes of financial fraud and garden-variety graft.

To find the real counterpart to Trump’s gang of money-grubbing grifters, we need to look back a century to the crime-riddled administration of Warren G. Harding.

Much like Trump, who promised as a candidate to “drain the swamp” of criminality and corruption, Harding spent the 1920 campaign calling for a return to a “normalcy” marked by old-fashioned values that he promised to instill in Washington. “We need the stamp of common, every-day honesty everywhere,” he told a gathering of newspaper editors that August. “We need it in politics, in government, in our daily lives.”

Despite such soaring appeals to virtue, the government Harding created proved riven with vice.

Harding had his own considerable sins — drinking, gambling, cheating on his wife — but none crossed the line into serious criminal misconduct. Many of the friends and associates Harding chose for his administration, however, blew well past that line, in an unrivaled wave of official corruption and criminality.

Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall, an old friend of Harding’s from the Senate, famously used his own government position to line his considerable pockets. Fall took the federal oil reserves at Teapot Dome, in Wyoming, and Elk Hills, in California — which were set aside for use by the U.S. Navy — and leased them to private oil companies. A congressional inquiry revealed that oilmen had bribed Fall with an array of ill-gotten goods, including nearly a quarter-million dollars in war bonds, a black bag stuffed with $100,000 in cash and a herd of prized cattle for Fall’s ranch back in New Mexico. Convicted of the crimes, Fall was fined $100,000 and sentenced to a year in prison, the first Cabinet official ever to go to jail.

Col. Charles Forbes, director of the Veterans Bureau, ran an even bigger scam, one that cheated the country out of an estimated $200 million. Tasked with the care of wounded World War I veterans, Forbes ruled that trainloads of brand-new bandages and bedding for them were useless, selling them as cheap surplus to private vendors and getting kickbacks in return. He oversaw similar schemes with the selection of hospital sites and the construction of hospitals. After his swindles came to light, Forbes was sentenced to two years in Leavenworth.

The most brazen member of the Harding crime ring, however, was technically the chief law enforcement officer for the nation, Attorney General Harry Daugherty. Ringleader of a loose collection of con men and cheats known as the “Ohio gang,” he oversaw a diversified criminal enterprise, selling off government appointments, immunity from prosecution, pardons and paroles for criminals, and various acts of minor graft. Justice came for the Ohio gang too, with several sent to prison and nearly as many dying by suicide to avoid a similar fate. Daugherty destroyed evidence and refused to testify at his own two trials but still managed to avoid a conviction.

The most brazen member of the Harding crime ring, however, was technically the chief law enforcement officer for the nation, Attorney General Harry Daugherty.

When Harding finally realized the widespread wrongdoing in his administration, he felt betrayed. “I have no trouble with my enemies,” he told a visitor in spring 1923. “But my damn friends, my God-damn friends … they’re the ones that keep me walking the floor nights!” The president tried to escape the scandals of Washington that summer with a Western tour, but he succumbed to a brain embolism and died that August.

Trump, of course, is not likely to suffer the same debilitating shame over the considerable crimes of his inner circle. As president, he scoffed at most of their indictments and offered pardons for many of their convictions. Although he succeeded in erasing some of their criminal records, the record criminality of his administration will still endure.

‘We’re f—ed’: Dems fear turnout catastrophe from GOP voting laws


‘We’re f—ed’: Dems fear turnout catastrophe from GOP voting laws


ATLANTA — After Georgia Republicans passed a restrictive voting law in March, Democrats here began doing the math.


The state’s new voter I.D. requirement for mail-in ballots could affect the more than 270,000 Georgians lacking identification. The provision cutting the number of ballot drop boxes could affect hundreds of thousands of voters who cast absentee ballots that way in 2020 — and that’s just in the populous Atlanta suburbs alone.

It didn’t take long before the implications became clear to party officials and voting rights activists. In a state that Joe Biden carried by fewer than 12,000 votes last year, the new law stood to wipe out many of the party’s hard-fought gains — and put them at a decisive disadvantage.

Democrats in other states where similarly restrictive voting laws have passed are coming to the same conclusion. Interviews with more than three dozen Democratic elected officials, party operatives and voting rights activists across the country reveal growing concern — bordering on alarm — about the potential impact in 2022 of the raft of new laws passed by Republican legislatures, particularly in some of the nation’s most competitive battleground states.

“I’m super worried,” said Max Wood, founder and CEO of Deck, a progressive data analytics company that analyzes voting behavior. “I try to be optimistic, and I do think there are times when this kind of stuff can galvanize enthusiasm and turnout. … But I don’t know that that will be enough, especially with how extreme some of these laws are.”

Democratic efforts to model midterm turnout under the new laws remain in their infancy. But even without a sophisticated understanding of the practical effect, there is widespread fear that the party isn’t doing enough to counter these efforts, or preparing for an election conducted under, in some instances, a dramatically different set of rules governing voter access.

“If there isn’t a way for us to repeat what happened in November 2020, we’re f—ed,” said Nsé Ufot, CEO of the Stacey Abrams-founded New Georgia Project. “We are doing what we do to make sure that not only our constituents, our base, the people, the communities that we organize with, get it. We’re trying to make sure that our elected officials get it as well.”

Since Jan. 1, at least 18 states have passed laws that restrict access to the ballot, according to the Brennan Center’s voting laws tracker, ranging from voter I.D. requirements to provisions making early and absentee voting more difficult.

In Michigan, voting rights activists are fighting a push by Republicans to require voters who cast ballots without a photo I.D. to take additional steps to verify their identity within six days of voting. In 2020, about 11,400 voters cast ballots without a photo I.D. — a tiny proportion of the electorate, but almost exactly the margin by which Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the state in 2016.

“If you make all of those people vote by provisional ballot and you make them go back to their clerk’s office, some number of people are not going to take that extra step,” said Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, a Michigan-based ballot initiative which has shifted its focus from redistricting to voting rights.

Republicans, Wang said, are “trying to peel away Democratic-leaning voters wherever they can. … It’s sort of death by 1,000 cuts.”

Georgia Democrats are rushing to develop a strategy to work around their state’s voting law, which GOP Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law in March, on the heels of unexpected Democratic victories. It has been widely viewed as a blueprint for similar measures in other states.

The state Democratic Party aims to confront the law by building on their voter education program established after the 2018 midterms. They are training county chairs, volunteers and voters on the law’s terms in Zoom and in-person sessions. The goal, according to one party official, is to train volunteers on how to obtain a voter I.D. in all 159 of Georgia’s counties. The party also brought on three new deputy political directors for Black, Latino and Asian American outreach.

This November’s mayoral election in Atlanta represents a test-run of the law and how its requirements will impact voters. While Democrats aim to apply lessons from this election to next year’s midterms, they recognize that the heavily Black, safely Democratic city is a far cry from a statewide race.

“Certainly, the city of Atlanta is very different than other parts of Georgia,” said Saira Draper, voter protection director for the Georgia Democratic Party, pointing out that Fulton County is Georgia’s most populous. “The fact that they’re going to have this opportunity to go through the process, that’s a good thing. And the problems that they encounter, if they encounter problems, it might be a way for us to steer other counties away from these problems.”

What’s missing, however, is an overarching tactical plan to counter the restrictions in the states where they stand to wreak the most harm on Democratic chances. The party and its affiliated interest groups are preparing to spend millions of dollars litigating against restrictive voting laws and bolstering turnout operations, but Democrats have been largely splintered in their response. One reason: widespread hopes and expectations that Washington or the courts will provide some remedy.

“I don’t think the Democratic Party as a whole is prioritizing this issue and its potential damage in the way that they should,” said Doug Herman, who was a lead mail strategist for Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns. “We just went through an insurrection that was stoked by voter fraud lies, and the reaction to that from the Republican Party is to restrict the voting process so severely that only their voters can participate. And I don’t understand the lack of fierce resistance to that from Americans and Democrats.”

The restrictions advanced by Republicans affect so many facets of voting that Democrats cannot agree on which provisions are the most problematic. Some Democrats cite signature-matching laws. Others point to fewer drop boxes or shorter time frames for early voting. Still more consider voter identification requirements especially crippling.

Aneesa McMillan, Priorities USA’s deputy executive director, who runs the group’s voting rights program, said the “most ridiculous thing we’ve had to sue over” was a Michigan law that prevents hiring people to transport voters to the polls.

Yet it’s difficult to project the effect of various laws on 2022 turnout because the rules are so new — and because the last election was held under pandemic conditions that are unlikely to be as severe in 2022. On top of that, even if Democrats can get their voters to the polls, stricter I.D. requirements and other restrictions in some states could make it easier to disallow their votes.

Jaime Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee, said that in addition to portions of laws seemingly designed to curb turnout, “what is even more nefarious is what happens once people, if they can get through all the hurdles that they’ve set up, what happens to their vote once it has been cast?”

Citing a provision of the law in Georgia giving Republican lawmakers more power to intervene in local elections operations, he said, “That is not America, that’s Russia. I mean, that is some straight-up dictator-type stuff.”

Vice President Kamala Harris this month announced a $25 million expansion of the DNC’s “I Will Vote” campaign to bolster voter registration, turnout and election protection programs. Harrison said the DNC in 2022 will have the largest voter protection program it has ever had, doubling the size of its staff, including embeds in states.

“Over the last 3 decades we have witnessed the Republican Party, especially at the state level, put up enormous roadblocks to the freedom to vote for every citizen and part of the problem is that there is one party that believes every American citizen deserves the freedom to vote while the other party erects barriers to the ballot box,” said Donna Brazile, a former DNC chair.

Some statewide elected officials expect a possible blowback effect on Republicans, saying that once Georgia Democrats understand the new rules in place, they will be even more motivated to turn out.

“That may incentivize more voters to turn out and do what needs to be done, to ensure that their ballot is cast,” said state Rep. Sam Park, whose district includes suburban Atlanta’s populous Gwinnett County, the state’s most diverse. “When you see politicians coming after your ability to cast your vote, it’s a reminder of how much power you really have, how powerful the vote really is.”

Harris met with a group of voting rights activists at the White House in mid-July to discuss protecting ballot access, particularly among Black voters. Veteran civil rights leaders have also pulled the president’s ear on the issue, suggesting a number of filibuster workarounds to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act or For the People Act.

But even the White House’s heightened attention isn’t enough to erase the pessimism among many on the left.

“I’m pretty well convinced that it’s going to hurt Democrats significantly in the long run,” said Brian Fallon, co-founder and executive director of Demand Justice, which supports Supreme Court reform. “There’s definitely no combination of lawsuits or Biden remaining popular or voter registration that’s going to overcome that, so I think it’s pretty bleak.”

Congressional Democrats have yet to reintroduce the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore a requirement that certain jurisdictions receive approval from the Justice Department or D.C. district court before making changes to voting laws.

Senate Democrats used a first-in-two-decades field hearing last week in Atlanta to draw attention to voting rights and say they plan to continue holding field hearings in other places where state lawmakers are considering or passing legislation that limits access to the ballot.

Yet they did not provide a clear strategy for how Democrats could counter Georgia’s law and the nearly two dozen newly passed laws like it.

“Hope is quickly turning into frustration,” said Latosha Brown, co-founder of the Georgia-based voting rights group Black Voters Matter. “Constantly, we are showing up to protect democracy. When in the hell are those who claim that they are committed to democracy going to show up to protect those that protect democracy?”

Brown and Ufot pointed to Texas, where statehouse Democrats vacated the state in protest of its voting bill, as one example of the heights they would like to see other Democrats go to in pushing back against punitive voting measures in other battleground states.

“Texas Democrats were out of moves, and the only thing they could do to deny quorum was to take their families and leave the state in the middle of the night,” Ufot said. “That’s the kind of response and leadership that this moment requires, and I am waiting for the administration to match the energy of state and local Democrats across the country who are fighting these fights.”

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

Letters to the Editor: What climate deniers and COVID anti-vaxxers have in common

Letters to the Editor: What climate deniers and COVID anti-vaxxers have in common

Vehicles are stranded after a heavy downpour in Zhengzhou city, central China's Henan province on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Heavy flooding has hit central China following unusually heavy rains, with the subway system in the city of Zhengzhou inundated with rushing water. (Chinatopix Via AP)
Vehicles are stranded after a heavy downpour in Zhengzhou city in central China’s Henan province on July 20. (Associated Press)


To the editor: The recent climate-related catastrophes in Germany, China and the United States should be enough to end lingering doubt that our planet is heating and, in turn, wreaking havoc as a result of our continued spewing of greenhouse gases.

Scientists have warned of these horrendous outcomes. But, like the doubters of the COVID-19 vaccine’s safety and efficacy, climate change deniers, many of whom are elected to leadership positions in this country, ignore facts and science as proof stares them in the face.

Hearing the regrets of many unvaccinated hospitalized COVID patients — now gasping for breath — makes for an ominous analogy. Will climate change deniers come around before civilization takes its last gasp in a man-made hostile environment?

Vaccine mandates may be coming, and so should stiffer mandates to end fossil fuel burning.

Gloria Sefton, Trabuco Canyon


To the editor: Thank you for another insightful article on climate change. However, one primary driver of climate change conspicuously absent from the article was human overpopulation, something that scientists have been warning us about for years.

Earlier this month, the group Scientists Warning Europe stated unequivocally that climate change is being driven by both overconsumption and overpopulation, and that there is no hope of assuaging the ravages of climate change, let alone our planet’s nascent mass extinction event, unless we can reverse our 220,000-person-per-day growth. The group says this planet should have no more than 3 billion people on it; now, it has almost 7.9 billion.

If we are serious about mitigating climate change, we will soon need to break the taboo that prevents us from addressing overpopulation.

Robert Johnson, Santa Barbara


To the editor: We have wildfires, floods, pandemics and rising homicides with more and more guns available —and yet there are billionaires having fun and escaping to space.

What is wrong with this picture? It’s like “The Twilight Zone” of my youth come to life.

I want to feel hopeful for the future, for my granddaughters. My family and I do our best in conserving. When will the tide turn and deniers wake up and come back to Earth?

Esther Friedberg, Studio City

‘The air is toxic’: how an idyllic California lake became a nightmare

‘The air is toxic’: how an idyllic California lake became a nightmare


Just to be safe, Noemí Vázquez keeps inhalers in almost every room of her house. She stashes them in her kitchen cupboard, a couple in her purse, one in the bathroom, and, of course, by her bedside.

And then there’s the large, black Puma knapsack where she keeps her nebulizer, several inhalers, and the montelukast pills she takes to treat her wheezing. Her four-year-old granddaughter has her own asthma kit – a neon pink and purple Trolls-themed lunch box that holds a small, child-sized nebulizer and a few inhalers. “She’s smart! She knows: this is her bag,” Vázquez said.

Asthma and allergies are a part of life here in Imperial county, California. A way of life, even, in a region shrouded by a grey-beige dust that haunts Vázquez’s days and nightmares. A few years ago, when the air was particularly thick, she awoke in the night unable to speak or breathe. Her skin was purple. “If my husband wasn’t sleeping next to me that night, I would have passed away,” she said. “I think about all those people who don’t have anyone sleeping next to them. About the kids who don’t know how to talk yet.”

Here, in California’s far south-east, there’s no escaping the noxious air. The haze that hovers over Imperial is a peculiar blend – incorporating pesticide plumes, exhaust fumes, factory emissions, and something curious: vaporized dust rising from the nearby Salton Sea.

The glimmering blue basin that stretches across the desert is either starkly beautiful or grotesque – depending on whom you ask. Formed more than a century ago by a breached canal, the Salton Sea is many things. It is California’s largest lake, an ecological oasis, a former mecca for famous vacationers, and a muddy sink for agricultural runoff. For decades, it has been shrinking, exposing a powdery arsenic-, selenium- and DDT-laced shoreline that wafts into the atmosphere.

Near the sea, hospitalization rates for children with asthma are double the state average, and one in five kids have the condition. Many of the mostly Mexican American farm workers and outdoor laborers who live and work in Imperial, one of the state’s poorest counties, breathe in a dangerous mix of Salton Sea dust and pesticide on a daily basis as well. In Calipatria, Brawley and Westmorland and other towns around the lake, adult asthma rates are among the highest in the state.

It can be a punishing place to live, said Amor García, 31, who moved to the area four years ago. “No one warned us it would be so bad for our health,” she said. On muggy mid-summer days, temperatures here creep up to 120F and the desert streams with a brown vapor. The hot, grimy air clings to hair and creeps under fingernails. The sea steams up a sulfurous stench.

García worries that in the coming years, if nothing is done to address the pollution crisis, the area will become almost unlivable. An unprecedented drought amplified by the climate crisis and growing demand for water in southern California are both hastening the Salton Sea’s decline. Researchers predict that the sea could lose nearly three-quarters of its volume by 2030. By some estimates, the declining water level could expose an additional 1000,000 acres of playa.

“All that dust that gets exposed would mean even more breathing problems and more allergies and asthma for the people who live here,” said Shohreh Farzan, an environmental epidemiologist at the University of Southern California who has been analyzing how the dust around the Salton Sea is affecting children.

A resort for celebrities and presidents

The Salton Sea was formed in 1905 when the Colorado River breached an irrigation canal and filled up an ancient basin in the desert, creating an oasis for migratory shorebirds and, by the middle of the 20th century, for celebrities and dignitaries. Developers dotted the shores with palm trees and built up luxury resorts around its perimeter, and the area became a destination for Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and the Beach Boys. President Dwight Eisenhower used to come by the golf course.

Working-class families like Steve Johnson’s would also come and visit. His grandfather bought a small property by the beach, and as a kid Johnson would fish and swim in the lake during his summer vacations. “We didn’t really mingle with the celebrities – though Zeppo Marx, of the Marx Brothers, I did meet once,” Johnson, 59, recalls, as he nurses a Miller High Life at the Ski Inn, the best – and only – dive bar in Bombay Beach, a once-bustling vacation community by the sea that now houses a handful of mostly artists and anarchists. He moved here two decades ago. “It is just beautiful,” he said. And then he paused. “Well. It’s complicated.”

Related: Severe drought threatens Hoover dam reservoir – and water for US west

Johnson still swims in the lake sometimes – but nowadays he’s an exception. After the breached canal that created the lake was mended, it was mostly sustained by runoff water from nearby farms – water that was full of pesticides and nitrates, which blended with salt deposits in the lake bed to create an increasingly salty sea. By the 1990s, the sea had started getting even smaller, and saltier, killing off masses of fish and birthing noxious algal blooms. Over the past few decades, tens of thousands of migratory birds around the lake have died of either starvation or poisoning.

“And then came the odor,” said Miriam Juárez, 37, who has lived near the sea for most of her life. “It’s repugnant.” Her parents used to take her and her brothers to fish in the sea as well, she said. But her kids have only ever known the lake as a toxic void that periodically spews up fish bones and poison dust. On a searing summer day, as the mercury crept past 120F (48.9C), Juárez’s kids huddled into their air-conditioned bedrooms, her eight-year-old son occasionally popping out to grab a popsicle from the freezer. It’s often too hot and too dusty to play outside – so many local kids opt to get their exercise at the Crossfit gym nearby.

For many families – including Juárez’s – the pandemic has been especially traumatizing. Imperial county has been one of the hardest-hit regions in California, and the residents’ high rates of respiratory issues has made them especially vulnerable to complications from Covid-19. But it has come with a small silver lining for some: staying indoors and wearing masks for the past year and a half has ameliorated asthma and allergies. “We’re probably going to keep our masks on, even after the pandemic,” Juárez said. “To wear against the dust.”

The masks will be one more addition to the elaborate rituals the Juárez and others have adopted to survive in this dusty valley. She never opens her windows and stuffs towels under the doors of her home in Salton City, just west of the lake. Her kids’ schools have a system of raising green, yellow and red flags to indicate how bad the air pollution is on a given day – but even on so-called good days, many of the kids at her youngest daughter’s schools stay indoors for recess, to avoid aggravating their asthma.

Vázquez, 52, who runs her daycare out of her home, switches out her air filters every week, mops a few times a day, and requests that visitors wear disposable shoe covers – the kind they use in sterile operating rooms – to avoid tracking in dust. Out of the 10 or so kids currently under Vázquez’s charge, five use inhalers for asthma. Over the years she’s seen some really severe cases: kids that could hardly go outside without getting winded, two- or three-year-olds who couldn’t stop wheezing. Most children come to daycare carrying their own medical bags stocked with inhalers, creams and pills for allergies, saline nasal sprays for perpetually blocked noses and a change of clothes in case of nosebleeds, which kids in this neighborhood get constantly.

Seven-year-old Derek, whom Vázquez watched when he was a toddler, had it so bad he was constantly in and out of the hospital and urgent care. He was born prematurely, his lungs a bit underdeveloped, his mother, Melissa Fischer, said. She still has videos on her cellphone from the various times he was hospitalized as a baby and toddler – he’d be hooked up to an IV, and she’d sing to him to keep him calm and cheer him up. He’s doing better these days; he still wheezes on windy days, but his inhaler usually fixes him up.

“I don’t think he remembers being in the hospital,” said Fischer. “But I think it was traumatic.” He’s always exceptionally cautious about new places and experiences, Fischer said, looking over as her son played on the couch. “I think it instilled a fear in him.”

Generations have been harmed and traumatized by the pollution, Vázquez said. She, her 27-year-old-daughter and her four-year-old granddaughter all have severe asthma. The dust has been making generation after generation sick, she said. “And hardly anything has changed.”

A string of broken promises

In 2003, the local water authority in the region signed the largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer agreement in US history with San Diego. Imperial Irrigation District (IID) agreed to start selling much of its massive allotment of water from the Colorado River to city-dwellers and suburbanites along the coast. As part of the deal, IID agreed to send some water to the Salton Sea for 15 more years, buying it and other local authorities time to find a solution for the shrinking lake.

“And for 15 years, everyone just sat there and did a lot of nothing,” said Luis Olmedo, executive director of Comité Cívico Del Valle, a health and social services organization in Brawley, just south of the Salton Sea. A $8.9bn proposal in 2007 to rehabilitate the lake fell through as the Great Recession took hold. In 2015, local authorities broke ground on a project at Red Hill Bay, intending to flood the desiccated lakebed to the south of the lake with water from the sea and the nearby Alamo River, to keep down the dust and create wetlands for birds. Today, it remains flat, dry and dusty – the project has been derailed by budget issues, local politics and “just a lack of will”, said Olmedo. “They keep doing these ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and nothing happens.”

A dust-coated sign staked at the Red Hill site still optimistically promises: “Estimated construction in 2016.”

And still, consulting companies, advocacy groups and local officials have been dreaming up bigger, more creative plans to solve the problem. One idea was to pipe in water from the Sea of Cortez, desalinate it and pump it into the lake. Some local residents have wondered: why not pipe in water from the Pacific? “I mean, maybe that’s wild, but why not?” said Johnson. “We have to try something.”

In recent years, the state’s energy commission has become increasingly interested in the prospect of investing in lithium extraction from the area. It has doled out millions to energy companies to explore mining the element used in the batteries that power cellphones and electric cars. If one small-scale demonstration plant being developed by a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy goes well, the company envisions that the Salton Sea region could produce a third of the world’s lithium, revive the region’s stalling economy and rev up the country’s ambitious plans to decarbonize transportation.

“It’s all just speculation,” sighs Olmedo, shaking his head at the oozing mud pots near one of the region’s existing geothermal energy plants. “While various companies are biding their time waiting for this lithium thing to take off, where does it leave the community? We’re still breathing the toxic air.”

Robert Schettler, a spokesperson for the irrigation district, said: “At IID, we, too, are frustrated with the progress at the Salton Sea, but we continue to work on things there.” The water agency’s leaders have pointed to various dust suppression projects they’ve undertaken in recent years, including planting vegetation to tamp the soil down and “surface roughening” – basically, digging ridges in the dried mud to break the wind and keep the playa from flying up.

The state has also started up a $206m project to restore habitat for fish and birds at the south-west edge of the lake. “Make no mistake, this is a challenging endeavor,” said Arturo Delgado, the assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy at the California Natural Resources Agency. But, he said in a statement to the Guardian, “progress is happening”.

Nancy del Castillo, 42, who lives with her husband and two kids in Salton City, said she had trouble trusting such reassurances. She’s been trying to save up for years to move to a different neighborhood, with better air. There’s still pollution from pesticides, and from diesel fumes up in Riverside and Coachella, to the north – but it’s not as bad.

“The earth has been raising toxic dust for years,” she said. “It seems ugly to me that officials keep deceiving people, telling us they’re going to fix it.”

Castillo and a group of her neighbors have been faithfully attending community meetings, local hearings and even bigger meetings on how to improve the Salton Sea situation for years, she said, and have grown increasingly frustrated.

Once, after she spoke about the air pollution in Imperial county at a meeting in Sacramento, California’s capital, Castillo said, she overheard a man dismiss the crisis: “Yeah, but there’s just a few people living there.” Many families in the region are Mexican immigrants, she said, people who work in the fields or in construction, who can’t afford to move somewhere else, who breathe the toxic air because they have no other choice. But to this man, she said, “it’s like we don’t even count”.

Meanwhile, many local residents worry that time is running out. “With more climate change and more desertification and drought,” the environmental and health issues are going to keep getting worse, said Ryan Sinclair, a professor of public health at Loma Linda University who has been mapping the sea’s decline. The current, unprecedented drought gripping the western US has only put more pressure on the shrinking Colorado River, which feeds 30 farms and cities up and down the region, further complicating the calculus and politics of how and where to send its waning waters. By 2045, researchers estimate that the sea could someday become 10 times as salty as the Pacific Ocean, making it completely uninhabitable for fish. Its receding shores could expose nearby communities to as much as 100 tons of dust each day.

Versions of the same apocalyptic vision are unfolding across the world. Utah’s Great Salt Lake has been shrinking and spitting up arsenic as well. Iran’s Lake Urmia is just about 10% of its original size. The ecological crisis at Kazakhstan’s diminished Aral Sea has become a perverse tourist attraction.

“Still, I don’t want to leave here,” said Juárez. “I want to stay. I want to fight.” Her kids do, as well. She brings out a folder full of drawings and letters that her younger kids and their friends made at school. Her daughter Lisette’s appeal to local officials included a drawing of a stick figure in goggles swimming in the lake, while another stick figure lounges by the shore, under a striped umbrella, sipping a cold beverage. “Dear Sir or Madam, please help us save the Salton Sea,” she wrote above the picture. “Thank you!”