In Texas, Dead Fish and Red-Faced Desperation - Signs of Things to Come

All those many centuries ago when The Buddha addressed his flock, he told them that even a single act of stupidity, thoughtlessness or other lowly quality of action, would rebound back to them in equal measure. But he added, that unless truly horrendous and serial in nature, just a one-time fall from grace would not likely be ruinous to the life of the offender.

However, he explained that if that kind of act or others like it were to become “habitual” in nature, then Karma would attach to that individual and consequences exactly befitting the situation, assured! He told them that once the “Cause” was established, there was no possibility of ducking the “Effect.”

The Buddha went on to opine, that the idea of Karma applied not only to individuals, but also to groups of individuals, who form with the purpose of perpetrating coordinated harm to others, or the planet. It would be interesting to hear what he’d say about those contributing to what is described in this article, but I think I can guess!


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In Texas, Dead Fish and Red-Faced Desperation Are Signs of Things to Come

Mr. Goodell is the author of the forthcoming book, “The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet.”

In 2019, I happened to be visiting Phoenix on a 115-degree day. I had a meeting one afternoon about 10 blocks from the hotel where I was staying downtown. I gamely thought I’d brave the heat and walk to it. How bad could the heat really be? I grew up in California, not the Arctic. I thought I knew heat. I was wrong. After walking three blocks, I felt dizzy. After seven blocks, my heart was pounding. After 10 blocks, I thought I was a goner.

That experience led me to spend the next three years researching and reporting a book about the dangers of extreme heat and how rising temperatures are reshaping our world. I talked to doctors about how when the core temperature of our bodies rises too high, the proteins in our cells begin to unravel. I sailed to Antarctica to see how changes in ocean temperature accelerate the melting of glaciers, causing seas to rise and flooding coastal cities around the world. I talked to people in the slums of India and in oven-like apartments in Arizona and in stifling hot garrets in Paris. I trapped mosquitoes in Houston and learned about how the spread of dengue fever and malaria is altered by hotter temperatures. I talked to engineers about how heat bends railroad tracks and weakens bridges. In short, I thought I had a pretty good idea about the impacts of extreme heat in our world.


A case worker applies a cooling towel on the shoulders of a homeless man.
City of Phoenix caseworker Mia Stanford putting a cooling towel on a man experiencing homelessness in the extreme heat last year.Credit…Caitlin O’Hara/Guardian — Eyevine, via Redux

And then, in mid-June, a few weeks before publication of my book, a heat dome settled over the entire Southwest as well as Mexico, breaking temperature records and turning asphalt to mush. I had recently moved to Austin, Texas. Yes, Texas is a hot place. But this was different. We’re talking about a heat index — the combination of temperature and humidity — as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Events disturbingly similar to what I had reported on in other places several years earlier were playing out in real time around me, like hikers dying of heatstroke and thousands of dead fish washing up on Gulf Coast beaches (hotter water contains less oxygen, making it difficult for fish to breathe). The red-faced desperation on the faces of homeless people living beneath an overpass near me was spookily evocative of the red-faced desperation I’d seen on the faces of people in India and Pakistan.

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You can argue that Texas has done this to itself. The planet is getting hotter because of the burning of fossil fuels. This is a simple truth, as clear as the moon in the night sky. No state has profited more from fossil fuels than Texas. Revenues from oil and gas production have long been central to the Texas economy and are at least partly responsible for the more than $32 billion projected surplus in the state’s 2024-25 budget. And Texas is also responsible for emitting more than 600 million metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year, more than twice as much as any other state.

The heat dome made visible the barbarity of the state’s political leadership. More workers die in Texas from high temperatures than anywhere else in the country. Nevertheless, on the very day when it was so hot that I didn’t want to walk outside to check the mail until after dark, Gov. Greg Abbott gave final approval to a law that will eliminate local ordinances requiring water breaks for construction workers. Despite the state’s massive budget surplus, many Texas prisons remain without air-conditioning, turning cells into torture chambers on hot days.

If you are lucky enough and well-off enough, perhaps there is no sense that a life-threatening force has invaded your world. This past week, records were set or tied on four consecutive days as the hottest days ever recorded on Earth. On Monday, I happened to be sitting in an air-conditioned cafe in Austin. Around me, people drank iced coffees and bottled water, seemingly unconcerned as the heat outside beat down mercilessly. In my neighborhood, where a couple tore down a modest house, cut down big shady trees and erected a McMansion with a black roof that sucks up heat, massive compressors for the air-conditioning hang off the side of the house like tactical weapons in the climate war.

In some ways, Mr. Abbott’s callousness is not surprising. Many Texans see extreme heat as a feeble foe. At the height of the Texas heat wave, the official Twitter account for a Texas university football team featured a video of a fully suited player running sprints while dragging a heavy chain. “Working in that Texas heat,” the tweet boasted, followed by a fire emoji. Like risking your life in the heat makes you a real cowboy.

Not far from my house is a gym called “HEAT Bootcamp” (the gym’s marketing pitch: “Join the heat wave”). Here, enduring heat is a sign of inner strength (a throwback to medieval times, perhaps, when heat was linked to masculinity through what the philosopher Thomas Aquinas called “the elemental heat of the semen”).

Emergency medical technicians lift a man overcome by heat on a stretcher into an ambulance.
Emergency Medical Technicians assist a patient who after working outside in the Texas heat for hours, called in reporting chest pain.Credit…Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Fortunately, despite high demand for electricity from everyone cranking their A.C., the Texas grid has held steady, largely because of the enormous number of solar panels that have come online in Texas in recent years. People have flocked to Austin’s green spaces, especially the spring-fed Barton Springs pool, proving the value of cool public spaces. At the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin (where my wife is the director) a hot, lifeless courtyard has been transformed into a shady, welcoming patio by the installation of a dozen elegant 40-foot-high structures in the shape of flower petals — proof, if such proof is needed, that a cool city can be a beautiful city.

Among climate activists and others concerned about the future of the planet, there is a lot of talk now about the need for inspiring stories and hopeful solutions. I agree. We are not doomed. In fact, I think the climate crisis is, above all else, an opportunity to change how we think about our relationship with nature and build a happier, healthier, more just world.

But living under the Texas heat dome has reinforced my view that we have to be cleareyed about the scope and scale of what we are facing. The extreme heat that is cooking many parts of the world this summer is not a freakish event — it is another step into our burning future. The wildfires in Canada, the orange Blade Runner skies on the East Coast, the hot ocean, the rapidly melting glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica and the Himalayas, the high price of food, the spread of vector-borne diseases in unexpected places — it is all connected, and it is all driven by rising heat.

We need to start seeing hot days as more than an invitation to go to the beach or hang out at the lake. Extreme heat is the engine of planetary chaos. We ignore it at our peril. Because if there is one thing we should understand about the risks of extreme heat, it is this: All living things, from humans to hummingbirds, share one simple fate. If the temperature they’re used to — what scientists sometimes call their Goldilocks Zone — rises too far, too fast, they die.

Jeff Goodell is the author of the forthcoming book, “The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet.”

Kirkus Reviews, the gold-standard for independent & accurate reviews, has this to say about

What Goes Around Comes Around:

A stable, positive, non preachy, objective voice makes the book stand apart from others in the genre. A successful guide that uses anecdotes to reveal powerful truths about life.

~ Kirkus Reviews

“The author gives readers not just points or principles to ponder, but real human experiences that demonstrate them!
Kirkus Reviews
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“I’ve read a number of books that focus on sharing a similar message, including “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne, “The Answer” by John Assaraf & Murray Smith, “The Celestine Prophecy” by James Redfield, “Think and Grow Rich,” by Napoleon Hill, and I must say that I find Rob’s to be my favorite. – Sheryl Woodhouse, founder of Livelihood Matters LLC

In Texas, Dead Fish and Red-Faced Desperation – Signs of Things to Come

In Texas, Dead Fish and Red-Faced Desperation – Signs of Things to Come

Here’s a case of “Group malfeasance, blamed on poor judgement, from the consumption of too much wine!” A nine month investigation of the American chapter of “The Court of Master Sommeliers” has revealed a widespread expectation/demand of sexual favors in return for mentoring female applicants, undergoing the rigorous exam process, required for membership and recognition as an official Sommellier. 

This follows the complaint of 21 women that their supposed mentors, had pressured them for sex, apparently a well-established condition with a long history. So far 22 men have been investigated. 

The point being, that when a lowly activity becomes “institutionalized” in a grouping of people, ie: company, sport, union, association, religion, etc, it can go on undetected for a long time. It may even acquire an almost “accepted as part of the game” kind of cover, with those participating considering it, “just one of their perks”, and no big deal! That is, until someone blows the lid off.

That’s when everything changes for those who took part. It is not after all, that they didn’t know there was something amiss about the game they were playing. They just thought they had a really good cover! Instead, that cover just went poof, as all covers eventually do. Just another example that, “What Goes Around Comes Around!” Its just difficult to predict when. 

Colombo Family Crime Boss and 12 Others Are Arrested, Prosecutors Say

An indictment unsealed on Tuesday accuses the organization of orchestrating a two-decade scheme to extort a labor union.

Credit…Jesse Ward


For two decades, the leadership of the Colombo crime family extorted a Queens labor union, federal prosecutors said — an effort that continued unabated even as members of the mob clan cycled through prison, the family’s notorious longtime boss died, and as federal law enforcement closed in.

Over time, what began as a Colombo captain’s shakedown of a union leader, complete with expletive-laced threats of violence, expanded into a cottage industry, prosecutors said, as the Colombo organization assumed control of contracting and union business, with side operations in phony construction certificates, marijuana trafficking and loan-sharking.

On Tuesday, 11 reputed members and associates of the Colombo crime family, including the mob clan’s entire leadership, were charged in a labor racketeering case brought by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn.

All but two of the men were arrested Tuesday morning across New York and New Jersey, prosecutors said. Another was surrendered to the authorities on Tuesday; another defendant, identified as the family consigliere, remained at large, prosecutors said.

The indictment accuses the Colombo family of orchestrating a two-decade scheme to extort an unnamed labor union that represented construction workers, using threats of violence to secure payments and arrange contracts that would benefit the crime family.

The charges are an ambitious effort by the U.S. attorney’s office in Brooklyn and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to take down one of the city’s five Mafia families. In addition to the union extortion scheme, which is the heart of the racketeering charge, the indictment charges several misdeeds often associated with the mob, including drug trafficking, money laundering, loan-sharking and falsifying federal labor safety paperwork.

Detention hearings for the defendants in Brooklyn federal court continued into the evening Tuesday, as they entered not-guilty pleas to the charges; prosecutors had asked the court to keep 10 of the defendants in custody.

“Everything we allege in this investigation proves history does indeed repeat itself,” Michael J. Driscoll, F.B.I. assistant director-in-charge, said in a statement. “The underbelly of the crime families in New York City is alive and well.”

Around 2001, prosecutors said, Vincent Ricciardo — a reported captain in the family, also known as “Vinny Unions” — began to demand a portion of a senior labor union official’s salary. When Mr. Ricciardo was convicted and imprisoned on federal racketeering charges in the mid-2000s, prosecutors said, his cousin continued to collect those payments.

Starting in late 2019, prosecutors said, the senior leadership of the Colombo family became directly involved in the shakedown, which extended to broader efforts to siphon money from the union: for example, manipulating the selection of union health fund vendors to contract with entities connected to the family, and diverting more than $10,000 each month from the fund to the family.

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Andrew Russo, 87, who prosecutors describe as the family boss, is accused of taking part in those efforts, as well as a money-laundering scheme to send the proceeds of the union extortion through intermediaries to Colombo associates. He was among nine defendants charged with racketeering.

Mr. Russo appeared in court virtually from the hospital Tuesday; he is set to be detained upon his release, pending a future bail hearing.

The family’s infamous longtime boss, Carmine J. Persico, died in federal custody in North Carolina in March 2019.

Federal law enforcement learned of the extortion scheme about a year ago, prosecutors wrote in a court filing Tuesday; investigators gathered thousands of hours of wiretapped calls and conversations recorded by a confidential witness, wrote the prosecutors, who also described law-enforcement surveillance of meetings among the accused conspirators.

The authorities said they repeatedly captured Mr. Ricciardo and his associates threatening to kill the union official. “I’ll put him in the ground right in front of his wife and kids,” Mr. Ricciardo was recorded saying in June.

On another occasion cited by prosecutors in the memo seeking his detention, Mr. Ricciardo directed the union official to hire a consultant selected by the Colombo family, saying: “It’s my union and that’s it.” Prosecutors said his activities were overseen by a Colombo soldier and the consigliere who remains at large.

Much of the activity outlined in the indictment took place while the defendants were either in prison or on supervised release for prior federal mob-related convictions. Theodore Persico Jr., described as a family captain and soldier, was released from federal prison in 2020 and, despite a directive not to associate with members of organized crime, “directed much of the labor racketeering scheme,” prosecutors said.

Mr. Persico, 58, is set to inherit the role of boss after Mr. Russo, prosecutors wrote.

Several of the defendants were named in what prosecutors described as a fraudulent safety training scheme, in which they falsified state and federal paperwork that is required for construction workers to show they have completed safety training courses.

One of the defendants, John Ragano — whom prosecutors say is a soldier in the Bonanno crime family — is accused of setting up phony occupational safety training schools in New York, which prosecutors said were “mills” that provided fraudulent safety training certificates to hundreds of people.

In October 2020, prosecutors said, an undercover law enforcement officer visited one of the schools in Ozone Park, Queens, and received, from Mr. Ricciardo’s cousin, a blank test form and an answer sheet; weeks later, the agent returned to pick up his federal safety card and paid $500.

The purported schools were also used for meetings with members of La Cosa Nostra — the group of crime families commonly known as the Mafia — and to store illegal drugs and fireworks, according to the indictment.

Mr. Ragano wasn’t charged on the racketeering count, although prosecutors also sought his detention pending trial. In addition to the racketeering count, several defendants, including Mr. Ricciardo and his cousin, were charged with extortion, conspiracy, fraud and conspiracy to make false statements.

William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.


An earlier version of this article misstated the number of people identified in an indictment as members of the Colombo crime family. It is 11, not more than a dozen.