The Fire in Paradise and the Criminal Liability of PG&E

Fire in Paradise

PBS Frontline (2019)

Film Review

This Frontline documentary concerns the November 8, 2018 wildfire that destroyed the town of Paradise (pop 50,000) in Northern California. It provides a minute by minute account of a small brush fire ignited by a faulty PG&E transmission tower that became a fire storm in 45 mph winds.

It’s rapid and patchwork spread made it impossible for firefighters to do much mroe rescue residents and assist them in evacuating

According to filmmakers, PG&E considered shutting the grid down in view of high wind speeds but decided against it. At present, the Butte County district attorney is still weighing criminal charges against the company for “reckless arson.”

Most PG&E transmission towers have a life expectancy of 65 years, but many are over 100. Malfunctioning high voltage lines has caused 100s of California wildfires in the last few years. The company has already experienced one criminal conviction for a 2010 gas explosion. This is in addition to $3 billion in fines for wildfires caused by transmission towers and lines.

At present they face $10.5 billion in liability claims for the fire that destroyed Paradise. In July they filed for bankruptcy protection in the face of multiple liability claims.

The film also suggests police and Cal fire erred in failing to evacuate Paradise residents sooner. Because there is only one road leading down the valley, Paradise, located in the Sierra Madre foothills, can only be safely evacuated by zones. A number of people burned to death in their cars, thanks to the gridlock caused by thousands of residents trying to evacuate simultaneously.

In all, 85 people died in the Paradise fire. A week after the evacuation, the winds died down sufficiently for 5,000 firefighters from around California to begin efforts to put it out. It wouldn’t be totally extinguished until winter rains started two weeks after the fire.

A Closer Look at Trump Supporters


Fusion (2016)

Film Review

This documentary, filmed a month before the 2016 election, explores the life circumstances of a cross section of Trump supporters, referred to by Hillary Clinton as “deplorables.”

Commonalities shared by this demographic are

  • recent personal or family experience with job loss, bankruptcy or foreclosure.
  • strong feelings about Wall Street outsourcing manufacturing jobs to third world countries.
  • strong feelings about US politics being a “crooked” system set up to destroy the middle class.
  • strong opposition to their perceived corporate control of the two major political parties.
  • a perception that Trump, unlike other politicians, “can’t be bought.”

When answering filmmakers’ questions about Trump’s perceived racism and xenophobia, their replies vary. Some (especially women) feel that Black Lives Matter activists have a point about the abysmal way Black people are treated in the US. Others claim that Black people (and women) are demanding special privileges not enjoyed by white men.

Most deny that Trump is racist, claiming he only wants to prevent terrorist attacks by banning immigrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. They agree with his proposed wall because they believe his claims that most illegal Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and rapists. This flies in the face of research indicating undocumented immigrants (who are loathe to draw attention to themselves) commit far fewer crimes than either legal immigrants or native born Americans.

The Trump Show

The Trump Show

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This feature, which traces Trump’s rise as a reality TV star, asserts that he continues to view himself as the star of a reality TV show rather than the real-life president of the most powerful country in the world.

Prior to the launch of The Apprentice in 2004, no one in the New York business community took him seriously – viewing him as an unreliable has-been blowhard with a string of bankruptcies. Mark Burnett, the show’s director coached him how to create a new fictional narrative for himself, portraying a claw back from failure to fulfill the American Dream.

Reality TV is all about emoting, dumbing everything down and continually provoking conflict and outrage. Trump proved to be a master at provoking outrage during his battles with moderators during the election debates. Thanks to viewer ratings that shot through the roof, the networks loved him.

Because TV continues to filter reality for most Americans (especially older and blue collar Americans for whom TV is their only source of news), Trump’s apparent willingness to speak his mind and challenge hypocrisy and authority continues to resonate with a significant proportion of the US public.

A 1991 BBC Documentary About Donald Trump

Trump: What’s the Deal?

BBC (1991)

Film Review

Trump: What the Deal?  is a 1991 documentary about Donald Trumps early life. It’s been suppressed for 24 years owing to his threats to sue the BBC

Even back in 1988, Trump was known as the “people’s billionaire.” According to the filmmakers, this was largely due to shrewd marketing by his press agent (all the rich had press agents during the 1980s – it was fashionable to be ostentatiously wealthy).

According to the documentary, Trump has an ugly history of classic sociopathy, which includes “truthful hyperbole” (his own term for bending the truth), collaborating with mobsters, known criminals and notorious Mafia attorney Roy Cohn to score questionable tax abatements from New York City officials, cheat contract workers out of payment, conceal asbestos contamination and illegally harass and evict tenants (even after the court ordered him not to).

The film debunks Trump’s claim of being a self-made billionaire. He inherited his wealth from his father. According to Forbes magazine he’s been in bankruptcy court five times (most recently in 2014). He’s notorious for using borrowed money (often in the form of junk bonds) to finance real estate developments and filing for bankruptcy protection when he can’t meet debt repayments.