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How the New York Democrats’ Midterm Debacle Unfolded

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This year’s midterm elections saw the much-anticipated Republican “red wave” turn into a red trickle in most of the country with one glaring exception: bright blue New York.

President Joe Biden won the state by 23 points in 2020. Democrats control all of New York’s statewide offices and wield super-majorities in both houses of the state legislature. National Democrats expected that the party’s control over the once-in-a decade redistricting process would help shore up its razor-thin congressional majority. 

A mighty stream of hubris, incompetence and cronyism laid waste to the New York Dems’ own electoral aspirations and that of Democrats across the country. 

Instead of expanding their majority, New York Democrats lost four congressional seats in an election in which their party didn’t lose more than two seats in any other state. Meanwhile, as The Indypendent goes to press, the Republicans appear headed for a tiny (one to three seat) House majority once all the mail-in votes are counted in California. The New York Dems’ debacle will be the difference between ceding control of the House of Representatives to a MAGA heavy Republican caucus intent on creating partisan gridlock as opposed to continuing Democratic control of the White House and Congress that would make more progressive legislation possible during the second two years of the Biden administration. 

There was no one cause, nor one culprit, for the New York Dems’ face plant. Instead, the causes of their failure flowed into each other as tributaries forming a mighty stream of hubris, incompetence and cronyism that would lay waste to their own electoral aspirations and that of Democrats across the country. 

A Journey in 11 Steps

1. State Senate Leaders Rush a Top Court Pick

Madeline Singas and former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at an event supporting an extension of the NY Property Tax Cap. Seaford, NY, June 2015. Photo by Ann Parry

Madeline Singas was a controversial choice to join the New York Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) when she was nominated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in May 2021. Singas, the Nassau County DA, was a career prosecutor who once redacted information from a police report that could have helped prove the innocence of three men that were wrongfully convicted of double murder and spent 24 years behind bars before being released in 2021. 

Singas is well to the right ideologically of the Senate Democrats, including Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris who championed the nomination of his fellow Greek American. Five state senators led by Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn) wrote a public letter opposing Singas’ nomination. Salazar told The Indypendent she thought she could rally enough Democratic votes to block Singas’s confirmation. But the fix was in. Two weeks after her nomination, the State Senate leadership brought Singas’s nomination to the floor. They took advantage of pandemic-era rules to rush her nomination through while several senators were outside the Senate chamber. Singas got her 14-year term on the high court. It wouldn’t take long for Gianaris and his Senate colleagues to rue the day they put her there. (200)

2. Kathy Hochul Takes Command, Sort of

Kathy Hochul. Photo by Marc A. Hermann / MTA

Cuomo resigned in disgrace in August 2021 after being credibly accused of sexual harassment by 11 women. His Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was sworn in as New York’s first governor. She soon won praise from fellow Albany politicos for running her administration in a more collegial manner than the vengeful Cuomo. At the same time, she quickly took advantage of the power of her office and New York’s lax campaign-finance laws to raise tens of millions of dollars from the same wealthy special interests that bankrolled Cuomo. With a huge campaign warchest, she could look forward to mimicking Cuomo’s tried-and-tested electoral strategy: Carpet bomb New York with television and digital ads while doing minimal in-person campaigning. Hochul also decided to keep Jay Jacobs, a longtime Cuomo ally, as the head of the New York State Democratic Party despite the grumblings of progressives.  

3. Dems Go to Sleep on a Key Ballot Initiative

Chair of the New York State Democratic Committee Jay Jacobs. Photo by NYS Democratic Party.

With redistricting coming up in 2021, Albany Democrats put a measure on the ballot to ensure that the courts would not take over the process if a bipartisan commission could not agree on new legislative maps. New York Republicans spent $3 million to oppose the initiative and toured the state to rally opposition to it. The New York Democratic Party spent no money nor did they  campaign for the measure which was defeated. Jacobs had other priorities at the time, namely stopping India Walton, a socialist who won the Democratic primary in the Buffalo mayor’s race. Jacobs backed Buffalo’s incumbent mayor, who ran as a write-in candidate, while denouncing Walton, a Black woman, as being the political equivalent of a former KKK grand wizard. Walton would ultimately lose. Hochul ignored renewed calls for Jacobs’ resignation. 

4. Dem Legislators Pass Redistricting Maps

After the bipartisan redistricting commission failed to agree on new maps, responsibility for completing redistricting shifted to the Democratic-led state legislature. In February, the legislature released maps that would have put the Dems on track to win 22 out of 26 seats statewide. New York City’s only Republican district, NY-11, was redrawn to loop in heavily Democratic Sunset Park and Park Slope to offset conservative-leaning Staten Island. A district that would have pitted Park Slope stroller moms against retired Staten Island cops in the middle of the largest media market in the country would have been a culture-war blockbuster for the ages. But alas, it was not meant to be. 

5. Singas Delivers the Decisive Vote

Chief Justice Janet DiFiore. Photo: NYSBA.

After their stinging defeat in the legislature, the Republicans decided to go shopping. Judge shopping, that is. They found a sympathetic district judge in Steuben County, in New York’s rural Southern Tier, who ruled that the legislature’s maps violated the state constitution. The case made its way to the Court of Appeals where a 4-3 majority upheld the lower court. Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, a close ally of Andrew Cuomo, authored the majority opinion. Madeline Singas delivered the decisive fourth vote. The case was remanded to Judge Patrick McAlister in Steuben County who was given the final say over redistricting. 

6. Hochul Raids Congress for a New Lt. Gov

Former Lt. Governor Brian Benjamin.

Hochul originally tapped Harlem State Senator Brian Benjamin to be her lieutenant governor. Benjamin brought racial and gender diversity to the ticket as well as regional balance with Hochul being from Western New York. He also brought five indictments on federal corruption charges that were announced by federal prosecutors on April 12. Whoops! 

Hochul quickly sacked Benjamin and replaced him with Antonio Delgado, a Hudson Valley congressman who had won two hard-fought races in 2018 and 2022 in New York’s 19th congressional district. Delgado’s departure would put Dems at a disadvantage in a key swing district. 

7. The Final Maps

The final redistricting maps were released on May 21. A swath of light blue districts were established across the Hudson Valley and Long Island that could be flipped if the Democrats faltered in what was expected to be a red wave year. 

8. Sean Patrick Maloney Puts Himself First

Sean Patrick Maloney

Fleeing for higher ground in the face of an expected red wave, Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney took advantage of the chaos unleashed by the new congressional maps to abandon NY-18, the district in the Hudson Valley he repped for 10 years, to run in the slightly more Democratic-leaning NY-17.

The only problem was this district already had a Democratic congressman, Mondaire Jones, a Black, gay progressive who was elected to a first term in 2020 by 24 points. Jones decided not to duke it out with his senior colleague. Instead, he moved 30 miles south to Brooklyn to run for a newly created seat but fell short in that primary. Maloney’s selfishness was all the more stunning given that he was the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the very group in charge of defending and expanding the Democratic majority. 

Maloney used a 10-1 fundraising advantage to crush a subsequent primary challenge from progressive State Senator Alessandra Biaggi who he denounced for being a bail reform supporter. On primary night, Maloney crowed that his victory was a win for “common-sense Democrats” who reject “defund the police” radicals. The tables would soon be turned on Maloney. 

9. NYC Mayor Stokes a Crime Panic

Photo by Caroline Williams / Mayoral Photo Office.

No politician has worked harder to revive the 1970s-era image of New York as a crime-ridden hellhole than Mayor Eric Adams. The former NYPD police captain teamed up with the New York Post in 2021 to ride fear of rising crime all the way to City Hall. The murder rate jumped in 2020 amid pandemic lockdowns and then plateaued in 2021. Since becoming mayor, Adams has continued to stoke crime fears, claiming that NYC was experiencing the same level of violence as the early 1990s when the murder rate was five times higher than it is today. As for the Post, it delivers a steady drumbeat of sensational, crime-themed cover stories — and local television news often follows suit with similar coverage. 

Adams’ success in turning a crime panic into electoral gold inspired his centrist Democratic allies. They launched similarly lurid attacks in New York City Council and state legislative races. Their targets: leftwing candidates from the Working Families Party and the Democratic Socialists of America. Adams fearmongering also provided bipartisan validation for little-known Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin who ran a one-note campaign about crime. With a boost from the Post, his polling numbers soared in September and October. In the race’s final days, Zeldin pulled to within a few points of Hochul. Adams’ alarming rhetoric and over-the-top media coverage had also had a powerful effect on the surrounding suburbs. 

10. Hochul’s Listless Campaign

Kathy Hochul started her election campaign as an overwhelming favorite and then ran like she was in a witness protection program. There was little in the way of voter outreach. “No text, no phone calls, zero campaign volunteers in my neighborhood,” tweeted a concerned Democrat in Forest Hills, Queens. “No idea what the Hochul campaign is doing.” When it became clear that Hochul just might lose the race, the Working Families Party leapt into action in the final two weeks of the campaign and launched phone banks and door-to-door canvasses. Hochul would ultimately prevail by six points. She won New York by 17 points less than Biden did in 2020, the worst underperformance by any Democratic governor in 2022. While she survived, her weak showing at the top of the ticket took a toll on down-ballot candidates. 

11. Maloney Caught By Surprise

After Sean Patrick Maloney bulldozed his way into NY-17, he had a lot of new constituents to win over. A post-election report in Slate suggests he barely tried. When Maloney wasn’t antagonizing or ignoring local grassroots groups, he disappeared on an October junket to Europe. Late in his race, Maloney realized he was in danger of losing. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee he was in charge of shifted money from toss-up races on the West Coast to prop up Maloney. He lost anyway as did the candidates in O-6 and CA-27 who were defunded on his behalf. The Dems also narrowly lost Antonio Delgado’s old seat further up the Hudson Valley plus two more seats in the suburbs of Long Island. Maloney pointed to Hochul’s lackluster performance and the role of the media in whipping up a crime panic whose blast radius extended far into the suburbs outside New York City. As for his own shortcomings, he had little to offer. 

•   •   •

Since election day, calls have grown for State Party Chair Jay Jacobs to step down. On Nov. 14, more than 1,000 elected officials, party leaders and organizers signed a letter urging Gov. Hochul to dismiss Jacobs. While many of the signatories were progressives who had previously clashed with Hochul and the party establishment, they were joined by normie Democrats such as State Senators Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) and Andrew Gounardes (D-Brooklyn). 

The Democratic Party, like the Republican party, has never been controlled by a grassroots base.

The reformers say they want a new leader who can unify the left and the center of the party to better fight the Republicans instead of each other. Hochul waved away critics, many of whom had just rescued her faltering campaign. She insisted she would keep Jacobs and vowed to oversee the party’s rebuilding herself. 

“There’s a lot of different ideas for how to get to basically the same result and I’m the person who has to be responsible for that,” Hochul said. “I gratefully own that mantle.” Translation: You can run along now. 

Amid the clamor for the New York Dems to change their ways, it begs the question, what exactly is the Democratic Party? Is it a brand? Is it elected public officeholders, staffers, candidates and campaign consultants? A collection of bank accounts stuffed with contributions from wealthy special interests looking to turn money into political favors? A political safe harbor for historically marginalized groups who are threatened by the Christian nationalist white supremacy of the other major political party? The repository for goodwill generated by the party’s past ties to the New Deal and the Civil Rights eras? A political battleground where a fraught coalition of capitalist class interests and grassroots social reformers are constantly vying for power, resources and control of a ballot line of incomparable political value? 

The Democratic Party is the world’s longest-enduring political party. Founded in 1832, its architect was New York governor and future president Martin Van Buren, the original machine politician. Over nearly two centuries, the party has been all over the political map — from defending slavery and states rights in the 19th Century, to becoming the party of the New Deal and civil rights in the 20th Century to aligning itself with corporate-friendly neoliberalism in recent decades — but like the Republican Party it has never been controlled by its grassroots base. 

Here in New York, the institutional Democratic Party over the past decade became a “cheering squad for Andew Cuomo” says George Albro, co-chair of the New York Progressive Action Network (NYPAN). The party apparatus was further distorted, Albro says, by Cuomo’s penchant for enabling alliances between Republicans and rogue Democratic legislators in order to stave off progressive demands on his administration. 

Cuomo’s autocratic reign overlapped with a surge in left electoral campaigns in New York. These came after Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential run showed working-class champions could be a force in electoral politics. Bartender-turned-political phenom Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was elected to Congress in 2018. Progressives rode a blue wave and flipped the State Senate later that year. Eight democratic socialists have been elected to the legislature, the largest such bloc in modern U.S. history. 

Cuomo resigned in disgrace last year, but the state party he fostered is still attuned to fighting the left instead of the right. How to engage (or not) the Democratic Party has bedeviled the left for over a century. For a rising new generation that has jumped into electoral politics, the calculations are additionally complex. 

Maria Ordoñez, 23, joined NYPAN in the wake of Sanders’ 2016 campaign and finished second in a crowded field when she ran for a city council seat in 2021. In June, she garnered more than 5300 votes to became the first non-machine candidate from West Harlem’s Assembly District 70 to win a seat on the New York State Democratic Committee in decades. 

Ordoñez signed the petition calling for Jacobs’ ouster and is hopeful Hochul will yield as more party officials voice their displeasure. She also uses her position’s bully pulpit to advocate for issues such as affordable housing that are of concern to her community and helps constituents with accessing government services.

“Virtually all of them were born into the political class. And the status quo works for them, even when it’s not at all working for the vast majority of New Yorkers.”

“It’s what you make of it,” Ordoñez said of her position.

Being on the State Committee has allowed her to see the workings of the party up close. Progressives now make up 20% of the state committee, Ordoñez says. They are treated to emails from Jacobs boasting of his accomplishments. In September, the Committee re-elected Jacobs by voice vote lest dissidents have a chance to put their opposition on the record. Despite the hostility progressives face from the party establishment, Ordoñez vows not to walk away.

“I think that the way to create change is through going inside [the party] and getting people involved,” Ordoñez added. “To ignore the Democratic Party is like trying to cover the sun with one finger.”

In 2018, Julia Salazar became the first open socialist elected to the state legislature in almost a century and at 28 years old she became the youngest woman to ever serve in the New York State Senate. She has called for Jacobs’ resignation since last year. She also signed the petition calling for Jacobs’ ouster, but doubts it will have any effect. With Hochul safely re-elected and set to wield power for the next four years, most prominent New York Democrats are publicly avoiding the controversy. 

“I think they have no motivation to lead in any meaningful way,” Salazar said of the party’s leaders. “Virtually all of them were born into the political class. And the status quo works for them, even when it’s not at all working for the vast majority of New Yorkers.”

While she’s “begrudgingly” a Democrat, Salazar says she prefers to focus on building her home organization, the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. The DSA is a member-led organization which in New York has knocked off a slew of entrenched incumbents in recent years and is active in the militant wing of the labor movement. 

“It is strategic and practical for everyone left of center who has electoral politics as a part of our theory of change to continue to participate in Democratic Party politics,” Salazar said. “But we have to simultaneously be building something that is beyond capitalism and is resistant to it and actually represents the interests of working people. Otherwise we’re going to see the Democratic Party continue to reach the limit of being able to represent people’s interests, because its interests are always going to be split between capital and the wealthy versus the working class.”

The Indypendent is a New York City-based newspaper and websiteOur independent, grassroots journalism is made possible by readers like you. Please consider making a recurring or one-time donation today or subscribe to our monthly print edition and get every copy sent straight to your home. 


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Libya’s Perfect Storm | Frederic Wehrey

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In a cramped, fluorescent-lit office in Tripoli up several flights of stairs, a middle-aged official and his staff labor on what is perhaps the most important work for future generations of Libyans. It’s a command center of sorts: flashing computer monitors on desks, cables everywhere, and satellite maps on the wall marked with great swirls and arrows. The battle isn’t against a military opponent, like the innumerable armed groups and their political backers who have been fighting for power and economic spoils in this oil-rich state since the ouster of Muammar Qadhafi during the NATO-backed revolution of 2011. The scourge is far more insidious, and the country’s bickering elites seem woefully unprepared to tackle it.

This is the temporary headquarters of Libya’s National Meteorological Center, a nondescript poured-concrete building tucked away on Qurji Road, named for an Ottoman naval captain who also commissioned an ornate mosque in the nearby Old City. The affable, wiry director of the center, Ali Salem Eddenjal, greets me with an apology for the tight spaces: he’s had to relocate from another part of the capital because of violent militia clashes, a story of forced displacement that many Libyans know all too well.  

Still, Eddenjal and his team press on, diligently monitoring, analyzing, forecasting, and reporting a stream of alarming data that most Libyans already experience firsthand. The country is getting hotter, its droughts more severe and prolonged, its rainfall scarcer, its sand and dust storms more powerful and frequent. The latter phenomenon was on spectacular display in March and April, when a blizzard of particulates barreled up from the Sahara and blanketed Tripoli and the surrounding region. The salmon-colored haze, stunning on Instagram, prompted the suspension of flights from the city’s airport. It also elicited a warning from the European Union Mission to Libya that the country’s authorities needed to address the current and impending effects of climate change.    

It’s an admonition that Eddenjal, who wrote a graduate thesis on climate change, doesn’t need to hear. For years he’s been forecasting the devastating effects of anthropogenic global warming on his water-stressed country of nearly seven million people—effects that will be exacerbated by years of conflict, corruption, infrastructural decay, and environmental deterioration. The startling picture he paints in many ways augurs the future of much of North Africa and the Middle East. Libya’s mean annual temperature, along with that of the entire southern Mediterranean, is climbing faster than the rest of the world’s, and is expected to increase two degrees Celsius by 2050. Yearly rainfall is decreasing at a similarly rapid clip, while sea levels along Libya’s long coast are rising by as much as three millimeters per year. 

In a desert country where the vast majority of the population resides in a narrow sliver of territory near the sea, these changes will be catastrophic. As heat, drought, and food insecurity take their toll on Libya’s interior, the already feeble service and sanitation infrastructure in northern cities and towns will buckle under an influx of Libyans from the hinterland, who join the thousands of citizens still displaced by war. Potable water, eighty percent of which is tapped from fossil aquifers deep in the desert by a system of pipelines called the Great Man-Made River, will be diminished by the evaporation of open reservoirs and unsustainable extraction. With soaring temperatures also comes more demand for electricity, which will push an overburdened grid to the point of failure, with life-threatening consequences for health and food security. Meanwhile, storms will surge over shoddy drainage systems, and some coastal areas, like the eastern port city of Benghazi, will be severely damaged or inundated.



Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images

Libyans wade through floodwater following heavy rain in Tripoli, Libya, October 2022

Added to this crisis are two glaring precarities. Libya’s dependence on oil exports to finance its bloated budget for the public sector—which employs 85 percent of the population—has left it dangerously exposed to the impending decline in global oil prices, known as “peak oil,” resulting from the transition to renewable energy and net-zero carbon pledges. And Libya’s miniscule, rapidly failing agricultural sector and reliance on imports for more than three quarters of its foodstuffs render it similarly defenseless against food supply shocks. It’s easy to imagine the cataclysm on the not-too-distant horizon: staggering losses of life and economic ruin, accompanied by the violent dissolution of the country into a patchwork of domains ruled by predatory militias using precious water, electricity, fuel, and food as sources of authority.

Portents of this dystopia have already arrived. Recall, for example, the spectacle a few years ago of Tripoli residents digging for water through concrete outside their homes, after the sabotage of the Great Man-Made River—a favored target of criminals and militias in the south. Or the contest in and around the capital among neighborhoods, backed by armed groups, over electricity rationing during hot summer months. Or the all-too-frequent blockades of oil ports and fields by armed groups and political factions, contributing to long queues for gas and electricity during outages and creating a market for private fossil-fuel generators that spew exhaust in close proximity to people’s homes.   

But the most tragic harbingers of the darkening climate future are Libya’s thousands of refugees and migrants, many from African states to the south, who’ve fled food shortages, violence, and crushing poverty—hardships exacerbated by environmental degradation and climate events—only to suffer horrific abuses at the hands of traffickers and Libyan armed groups, sometimes backed by the Libyan state and, indirectly, an increasingly nativist Europe.

Eddenjal knows all of this and more. But for now, he wants to tell me about sandstorms.

Sand and dust storms have become a striking visual avatar for the climate crisis in Libya, though anthropogenic climate change is not their cause. They are natural phenomena that have been around for millennia; Saharan dust plumes carry minerals like iron and phosphorous thousands of miles, ultimately fertilizing the Amazonian rainforest and nourishing phytoplankton in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, thereby reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. But their effects on human livelihood and health are decidedly not beneficial. Their smaller particles wreak havoc on the body, causing or worsening respiratory illnesses and damaging tissues and organs, especially the heart. In the Middle East alone they inflict 150 billion dollars’ worth of economic loss annually. It was a sandstorm that contributed to the lodging of a container ship in the Suez Canal last year, holding up global supply chains for six days.

The territory of Libya has long been both a source and destination of sandstorms, but in the last few years Eddenjal and his team have been recording worrying changes “in [their] seasonality, frequency, duration, and intensity.” The plumes have started coming earlier, in the spring, not only from the dry flats and deserts of Libya’s south but from semi-arid and cultivable areas along the coast, which extended droughts have stripped of vegetation and left more susceptible to wind erosion. Then, locally, there is what Eddenjal calls the “abuse” of the land: human-caused degradation of soil through mismanagement, urbanization, intensive farming, and overgrazing. Even military conflict is said to contribute, by wracking the ground with tracked vehicles, trenching, and shelling (though at least one study has concluded that its effects on sandstorms in the Middle East may be overstated).



Islam Alatrash/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

An olive farm in Misrata, Libya, November 2022

In Libya, these processes have been starkly visible for at least a decade. Money-hungry elites and militias have grabbed vast tracts of farmland and rangeland, parceled them out, and converted them into shops, apartments, and garages. The forests that ring the capital—which were planted during the last century to foster a beneficial microclimate, aid farming, and prevent desertification—have been chopped down in a similar lust for profit. Some Libyans hold NATO and the revolution responsible for this ravaging, but in truth deforestation started in the 1980s with the Qadhafi’s quixotic collectivization of property, which involved dismantling Libya’s ministry of agriculture and the disbanding the police force charged with guarding the forests. The spoliation has only been worsened by periodic clashes around Tripoli since the dictator’s fall, especially the 2019–2020 war for the capital between militias loyal to the government and those commanded by an eastern-based warlord named Khalifa Haftar, who was militarily backed, ironically, by the two Arab states (and US allies)—Egypt and the United Arab Emirates—hosting recent and forthcoming UN climate summits. I saw firsthand the results of their interventions: shell-pocked vineyards and fields, blasted orchards, and ruined farmhouses.        

All of this is personal for Eddenjal, as I can tell from the bright tricolored flag draped on the wall of his office. It’s the adopted banner of the Amazigh people, members of a diverse ethno-linguistic group that stretches across North Africa who have long struggled against socioeconomic, political, and cultural marginalization. In Libya they are also among the most susceptible to climatic effects on agriculture, especially in the Nafusa Mountains to the west of Tripoli. There, olive farmers have seen their harvests ruined by years of declining rainfall and shifts in the seasonality of droughts and sandstorms—adding to the disruptions of conflict and electrical outages, which have raised the costs of agricultural production. A mayor from that region told me that some villages are emptying out and moving to the capital.

Elsewhere on the fringes of Tripoli it’s a similar story. In an area called Sidi Sayeh, the site of a massive landfill and intense fighting, a septuagenarian farmer named Bashir Alafrak told me that “the water is gone.” He said his harvests of sugar beets, potatoes, and watermelons had fallen by as much as sixty percent. Not only is rainfall declining; he now has to dig deeper and deeper for groundwater, which requires prohibitively expensive equipment. A professed supporter of the Qadhafi regime, he acknowledges its environmental mistakes but directs most of his wrath for his predicament against the “nepotism” of the country’s “revolutionary men,” meaning the militias and their political backers. Now he fears he will lose his farm, creating perilous hardships for his family of five, which he supports entirely from his crops—a crushing blow to his identity. “I am a farmer,” he says defiantly, “and will remain a farmer for all my life.”

Despite Libya’s vulnerability to climate change, the country emits more carbon per capita than any other in Africa and even surpasses some leading industrial nations. “The Libyans are in a whole different league,” a western climate advisor who’s worked extensively on Libya told me. This outsized footprint, he says, is partly due to the flaring or venting of excess gas as a byproduct of inefficient oil production. While Libyan oil authorities have taken some modest steps to curtail this practice, they could do much more—as could the country’s main downstream consumer, the European Union. More broadly, Libya’s fractured leadership has not begun to address climate change mitigation in a systematic, meaningful way. Of the 193 signatories to the Paris Accords, Libya is the only one that has not yet submitted a document called a Nationally Determined Contribution, an action plan to reduce emissions and protect society from climate impacts.

This paralysis seems in no small measure due to the fragmentation of Libya’s climate response and factional jockeying over who owns climate policy. To his credit, the previous prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, created an interministerial climate committee in 2020 that was supposed to minimize such friction and coordinate steps to diversify the oil-based economy, incentivize a transition to renewable energy by reducing fuel and electrical subsidies, and rationalize water use. But given the deep divisions in the country, that body exists mostly on paper, leaving the bulk of climate oversight to the minister of environment.

More recently, the current prime minister, a tycoon-turned-populist named Abd al-Hamid al-Dabaiba from the powerful port city of Misrata, is trying to take control of climate policy by establishing a new climate authority in his office. The man responsible for that effort, also a Misratan, is someone I’ve known for years, though I was surprised to learn of his appointment when we met this May: he’s a capable civil society leader and lawyer, but not an environmental or climate specialist. He told me he’d authored a climate strategy document and placed it on his boss’s desk. It remains unsigned. 

In the midst of this top-level gridlock and lethargy, a variety of grassroots environmental and civil society groups have stepped forward on climate resilience with admirable alacrity and creativity. The head of the decade-old Tree Lovers Association, for example, explained to me how its volunteers have engaged in reforestation and other greening activities in western Libya. And yet, as I’ve seen firsthand, such organizations in Libya have struggled against mounting threats from militia groups and the intelligence services—the two are often intertwined—who view any issue-based mobilization as a threat to their dominance. Many activists have consequently left the country. “Collectively, we paid a high price,” the tree association leader told me.

A fifteen-minute drive south from the National Meteorological Center takes you across the multilane artery of Airport Road and into a neighborhood called Abu Salim, an overdeveloped swathe of housing projects and tight streets. This too is a place that is acutely exposed to climate risks, though in ways that are not completely obvious.  

In contrast to the centuries-old Tripoli downtown, Abu Salim is relatively new, planned and built by Qadhafi to accommodate arrivals to the capital from the country’s poorer tribes in the desert interior. It has a bloody history. In 1996 inmates in a notorious prison in the quarter, which housed political prisoners, rioted and were repressed by security forces in a two-day killing spree that left 1,200 dead. The unresolved legacy of that massacre was one of the sparks of the 2011 revolution, though the Abu Salim suburb itself, home to loyalists like members of the security forces and their families, was among the last places in the capital to fall to the rebels.   

In the years of strife that followed the revolution, Tripoli’s neighborhoods came under the sway of powerful militias that ruled them as fiefdoms, exacting tribute and harassing residents while claiming to provide law and order.1 Abu Salim fell to an armed group that now belongs to the Stability Support Apparatus, an umbrella formation billing itself as a government law enforcement entity that receives government funding. In fact it is the private militia for Abd al-Ghani al-Kikli, who goes by his nom de guerre, Ghneiwa.   

A short, balding man with a creased, sun-bronzed face, Ghneiwa met me one evening in June 2019. It was just two months after Haftar had launched his attack on Tripoli, and Ghneiwa’s fighters were among the thousands of young men from the city’s frequently quarreling militias that had put aside their differences and rushed to form a cordon defense in the suburbs. By then the front had stabilized and the militia leader seemed relaxed, disarmingly attired in an oversized polo shirt. We sat on folding chairs on a terrace at his headquarters, overlooking a football match on a field below and, further beyond, a warren of shops.    

Ghneiwa’s rise to become the veritable don of Abu Salim followed the formula of other post-Qadhafi chieftains—a mix of personal charisma, political patronage, and violence. Amnesty International has alleged that the Stability Support Apparatus has carried out assassinations, torture, and kidnapping for ransom. Ghneiwa’s power has also hinged on his paternalistic management and selective dispersal of services to the neighborhood’s residents. Over the past several years, as summertime temperatures spiked in Tripoli, electricity—air-cooling, food-preserving, lifesaving—has been among the most precious and contested of those services. 



Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images

Workers of the General Electricity Company repairing electricity converters, Tripoli, Libya, August 2018

Electricity generation in Libya is staggeringly wasteful and costly, generated by burning natural gas, fuel oil, and diesel, as well as crude oil. It is also heavily subsidized, leading to exorbitant consumption, which further stresses an infrastructure already corroded by years of instability—only thirteen of the country’s twenty-seven thermal power plants are operational—and causes outages of up to forty hours at a time, especially during the summer and winter when demand is high. That, in turn, has sparked fierce and widespread protests. To minimize blackouts and social unrest, the state-owned electrical company has for years implemented a system called “load shedding”—rationing periodic outages proportional to consumption—between different neighborhoods in the capital and nearby municipalities. But the militia bosses of these feuding locales quickly grew suspicious that they were shouldering an unfair burden compared to their rivals. 

Unsurprisingly, competition erupted. Armed militias began reportedly disabling the connected breakers on the grid in 2018, making it impossible for the utility company to ration electricity and causing overtaxed turbines to explode. Still others pressured the control room administrators to reduce their share of the outages. This was a tactic Ghneiwa’s militia seemed to practice with particular adroitness, earning him plaudits among residents of Abu Salim and envy among the inhabitants of the downtown districts. As of late this summer, the municipality was still exempt from the utility’s new and unpopular austerity plan.  

Kilowatts are not the only climate-affected currency of Ghneiwa’s power in Abu Salim. In recent years, he and his men have engaged in an enterprise of a far more abominable sort, one that global warming is projected to worsen. I got a glimpse of it back in the summer of 2016 at a walled compound built on a former scrap-metal yard not far from Ghneiwa’s headquarters. A sunny foyer, sprinklered lawns, and a mural of leaping dolphins belied the darkness within.    

This was the Abu Salim Detention Center—not the prison of Qadhafi-era notoriety, but another facility reserved for holding irregular migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, mostly from Africa. It is ostensibly managed by the Tripoli government’s Department of Combatting Illegal Migration, with indirect funding and backing from the EU and its member states. But in reality it is the purview of Ghneiwa’s armed group—an arrangement that exists at the two dozen other detention facilities in Libya, in which the militia controlling the territory where a center is located receives what amounts to official license to torture, extort, enslave, and murder the prisoners in its charge.  

I’ve been to half a dozen of these sites over the years, recording the names and stories of those inside, even if what I saw and heard often eluded the descriptive power of words or photographs. Accounts of interminable truck-borne trips across the desert, watching fellow passengers slowly expire of heat or tumble off the vehicle to die in the sands; of forced labor, cleaning toilets at militia checkpoints; of mock executions and pledges of suicide. The months and years of malnutrition from subsistence on macaroni or rice. The gasoline-burned and scabies-ravaged bodies. The beatings. Their faces are as distinct as ever in my memory. The welder, the student, the semiprofessional midfielder. The nearly naked disabled man with the shaved head, squatting on the floor. The three Nigerian women, one of them pregnant, describing their sexual torment.    

These were only the terrestrial afflictions they had suffered. “The land and the sea are not the same,” one migrant said to me, describing the harrowing Mediterranean passage to Italy that claims thousands of lives every year. I’d heard of the ordeals of survivors who’d seen their relatives slip beneath the waves, and met the unscrupulous smugglers who’d fixed these crossings with shoddy inflatable craft. And I’d gone on nighttime patrols with the Libyan coast guard—who sometimes colluded with traffickers themselves—as they sought to render the migrants back to Libya illegally, with support from EU member states in the form of training, funding, and the provision of equipment like boats.   



Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images

Migrants being held at the Abu Salim detention center, Tripoli, Libya, May 2016

At the Abu Salim center, the warden I encountered was candid with me. “I won’t deny that we beat them,” he said. He apologized for being late: he’d just returned from a funeral for a friend who’d been killed in crossfire between Ghneiwa’s group and another militia. Dressed in a long gown and leather sandals, he reminded me that he was a captain in the police, though in practice that meant little, as his ultimate loyalty lay with Ghneiwa. He had over two hundred migrants and refugees, separated by nationality, in his charge. “We never keep the ones from Eritrea and Ethiopia together,” he said, escorting me to a cavernous hall of cells with cage doors.

I entered one of them, filled with young men from West Africa, including roughly thirty from Gambia. Gambia, an impoverished riverine nation, is the smallest country on the African mainland, but at the time of my visit to Abu Salim ranked among the highest per capita in the numbers of irregular migrants who attempted the Mediterranean crossing. It’s not hard to see why: over three quarters of the population depends on subsistence farming and is thus severely vulnerable to food insecurity, especially as urbanization, deforestation, rising temperatures, floods, and droughts shrink cultivable land. None of the men before me expected to earn a living from farming and fishing anymore—but none had expected their path to end in the abuses they now endured. One of them lifted his shirt. “We don’t understand their language, so this is how they rectify us,” he said, pointing to two large welts on his shoulder, which he claimed were from beatings with a pipe.

The warden told me these men rarely, if ever, went outside the cell for fresh air, since he had too few guards to oversee them. By the time of my terrace meeting with his commander in the summer 2019, that staffing had been stretched even thinner, while the prison population had swelled. Faced with the strain of fighting Haftar, the militia boss decided that fall to free hundreds of detainees in Abu Salim onto the streets, leaving them short of food and water and exposed to artillery and airstrikes, which had already killed dozens of migrants. Others he forcibly conscripted into the war effort to service weapons and transport ammunition.     

At the end of that war in 2020 Ghneiwa emerged as an even more formidable figure, with an expanded official mandate to block migration, brutally, with alleged financial support from the EU. Despite widespread calls for reform, the latest government in Tripoli shows little appetite for loosening the grip of the armed groups: its newly appointed director of the department for countering migration is a militia leader who previously oversaw one of the capital’s most heinous detention sites.

Distinguishing climate-related distress from the myriad other factors that compel migrants—including, increasingly, from Egypt, as well as Syria and South Asia—to traverse Libya’s ecosystems of abuse is difficult, but the fallout from global warming is expected to increase in salience as a driver for human movement. A chorus of scholars, meanwhile, have warned against the use of the term “climate refugee” on the grounds that its politicization could lead to harmful policies like containment and refoulement.2 They argue that the wealthier states of the Global North should work to promote both in- and out-migration as constructive modes of climate adaptation and accordingly fund programs that make it a safer enterprise. But policy deliberations lag far behind in addressing this challenge, and in Libya there are precious few signs of those changes happening. Absent more institutionalized reforms, Libya’s territory and its profiteering militias will likely continue to serve as a convenient out-of-sight catchment for European governments—and especially right-wing, xenophobic politicians—to offload their climate responsibilities.

In the meantime thousands of aspirants for a better life languish in abhorrent conditions and wait. They scribble messages to the outside world on the concrete walls of their cells, like those I’ve seen in so many Libyan prisons: “We are Humans, Not Animals”; “Every Human Has a History.”


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New York Is Hiring a Rat Czar? What the Hell Does That Mean?

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NYC Rat Rodents Eating Off Ground Near Trash Can

Rats. Mice. They have been part of living in a city for as long as anyone can remember. Yet, New York City Mayor Eric Adams is working to deal with the influx of rat migration to the city—by paying someone $120,000 to $170,000 to be what is called a “Rat Czar.”

First noticed by the Gothamist, the rat czar’s write-up there points out all of the strange choices within the job listing, including that requirements include “proficiency in Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint” and a “Swashbuckling attitude, crafty humor, and general aura of badassery.” I asked for that in my diary when I was 13, but seeing it on a job listing is weird.

The Times has mentioned that Adams has often been anti-rat, despite saying he once owned one as a pet. I know not all Black people are a monolith, but I call shenanigans. Back when he was working as Brooklyn borough president, he had a demonstration of a rat trap that “involved ladling drowned rats out of a vat.” Even as a rat-hater, that entire concept makes me want to gag with horror and disgust.

Meera Joshi, the city’s deputy mayor for operations, has defended the decision, saying it is part of the mayor’s agenda. “The idea is that an experienced and skilled leader can get us the most efficiency out of the different assets we have,” said Joshi. “I think anybody who has met our mayor knows it is clearly a priority for him.”

​​Professor Jason Munshi-South is quoted in The New York Times as calling this a “potentially a good idea,” but saying that the real solution will come from the way we handle trash.

“The biggest issue is the way we deal with garbage in this city, which is bags of food essentially are put out on the street every night,” Professor Munshi-South said. “What we know doesn’t work is just poisoning them, drowning them, all these kinds of things that get brought up.”

Benjamin Miller, policy director for the Center for Zero Waste Design, agreed and told the Times in an email, “Our current collection system is heavenly for rats. Back in the day, NYC, by law, required the use of metal trash cans — to avoid rats.”

The comical dragging of this comes after the horrifying announcement that Mayor Eric Adams made on Tuesday that the city police can now remove people with severe, untreated mental illness from the city’s streets and subways. This is being done as a supposed solution to a rise in crime, but it is alarming to anyone who deals with the mentally ill.

Mayor Adams stated that with this new protocol, the city would require hospitals to keep patients until they are “stable” and only discharge them when there is “a workable plan in place to connect them to ongoing care.” Of course, there are reasons people refuse treatment that can be found in, like, several episodes of Law and Order, if people don’t want to take experts’ word for it.

In both cases, we need better solutions to problems than just quick ones that are just inhumanity painted as efficiency.

(via New York Times, image: Katie Dobies/iStock / Getty Images)

The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—

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More Than 1,000 New York Times Employees Threaten to Walk Off the Job

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More than 1,000 New York Times employees said they will walk off the job if management fails to reach a contract agreement with the newsroom union after more than a year and a half of negotiations.

“Enough. If there is no contract by Dec. 8, we are walking out,” read the subject line of the email containing the letter. It was sent to publisher A.G. Sulzberger and CEO Meredith Kopit Levien Friday, according to New York magazine.

“We have spent more than 120 hours across 40 bargaining sessions exchanging and amending dozens of proposals,” the letter said.

The union members want negotiations on health care, pension plans, and an increase in pay. They threatened to stop working for 24 hours next Thursday if an agreement is not met.

“We want raises that reflect our contribution to the company’s success, but the @nytimes has given us lunch boxes and excuses about economic uncertainty,” the New York Times Guild said on Twitter Friday.

There have been walkouts at the Times before, but not of this magnitude, reported New York magazine:

A walkout is technically a strike, though one with an end date. There was a one-hour walkout over a lapsed contract in 2011, and another quick afternoon walkout in 2017 over copy editors being eliminated. 

But those were mostly shows of solidarity. What the employees are preparing to do next week would be something not seen at the paper of record since 1978. 

The last contract expired in March 2021.




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