Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Why is the Hurricane Harvey response lurching around and late to get started?

Twelve years to the day after Katrina our government is still improvising and coming up short on dealing with this predictable disaster in Texas and Louisiana and, of course, has done nothing worthwhile to prevent it.  

The reason why was displayed today listening to the California Report on KQED.  Our upbeat reporter was talking upbeat innovation with our upbeat candidate challenger who wants to run against “old guard” (read white, male, Republican) in a congressional district on the border with Nevada.  

What was so innovative? Some new internet site to raise money for politicians online that will let them sell their campaign ideas before actually becoming a registered candidate. The “innovation” was to test market this kind of fundraising. 

In the course of her report, the upbeat reporter had talked about how prior challengers to the old white republican guy hadn’t gotten very far and had only raised $50,000 to $100,000 which the reporter called “chump change”. 

Now “chump change” is an ugly, money grubbing expression closely related to the phrase “money talks and bullshit walks,” but to call more money than most of us make in a year “chump change” says a lot, including the fact that most of us are seen and treated as chumps by those who bask in the favor of our vile, money-mad, status-minded elites.  

Why are we evacuating residents of Houston in private fishing boats?  

Because we have a political system that organizes itself around money and the job of governing and providing for us chumps is secondary at best and usually an afterthought or brand positioning for the next round of vote marketing and paid advertising “political” campaigns.  

We all know this.  So much has been said and reported that there is not one person in the country who does not know that to be an elected official one needs piles of cash.  All of us have seen the avalanche of political advertising every two years.  

Why should we expect our elected officials to have any other priority than Dollars?  

Why isn’t Houston ready for this hurricane? It is hardly the first one to hit the area between New Orleans and Corpus Christi.  Galveston has been blown down how many times now?  

The words “fiscal reality” have already been used to explain away the poor response, failing dams and levies, failed pumps, lack of evacuation vehicles, etc. while the press is flooded with a bunch of boosters talking about how well the underfunded local, state and federal emergency agencies are cooperating and how heroic the first responders are.  There is no talk of why everyone is so underfunded past the vague, now accepted poverty of “fiscal reality.”

The first responders and the volunteers with their fishing boats ARE heroic.  
The elected officials who made the “fiscal reality” decisions are not.  

A couple days back a very important Op-Ed was published by Newsweek.  In it the point was made that Houston was the proud home of regulation-free urban growth under a system of free market madness worse than the nationwide norm. 

The article gets to the point when it comes to letting the market take the place of zoning. 

I say only worse than the norm, because the norm is to cave into the moneyed interests first and then “balance” the “needs of the other stake holders” second.  Our government is a process of players at the table where you have to have cash to play and the rest of us are chumps who are not “stake holders” and who are not at the table when “win-win” deals are cut because having a stake in the game is more important than unfunded things like paying attention to science or being a citizen.

And not listening to basic hydrology science is THE source of the current problems in Houston.  

There is every material reason not to have allowed Houston to expand in that area using those methods. 

Even without global warming, Houston was a place where the hurricanes were going to come, have come and will come again. The city was built in the path of heavy rains and they paved over the ground that should have soaked up the water in the process.  

So now there is a flood?  Well duh, we built a city in a flood plain

Those rains are going to come, and the reason we don’t have rain proof cities there is squarely the fault of the elected officials, state, local and federal. 

And who were all those national, state and local elected officials listening to?  
Let’s try looking at where those politicians get their campaign funds for starters.  

Well, just looking at the disaster news, one sees that the prices for gas has gone up at the pump and supplies have dropped because the refineries that transform the oil are in the areas affected.  

Any wonder that the local political class is so close to the free market fanatics and the climate change deniers?  Or is someone going to try to tell us that the world's largest industry, the oil industry, does not advocate for itself and exert influence where they have so many refineries?  

By the way, until the situation gets better, Chevron’s office in Houston is mostly closed. It is one of the largest Chevron has and one of the largest in Houston.  

It is easy to sit in California and take pot shots at Texas and its ultra-right Tom Foolery, especially when a center of climate change denial is busy shaping fiscal realities and finding a balance between the economy and whatever they don’t want to do, as their feet are wet. 

It would be a lot funnier if this was not costing lives, and causing suffering and loss for tens of thousands of common people in their homes. 

And California has little to boast.  

Our state is currently building environmentally destructive aqueduct tunnels to take northern water south, under the delta, and “balancing” the needs of “farmers” with the environment (for “farmers” please read “owners of agribusiness”). All the while we Californians still don’t have a sustainable water usage plan, much in the way of water recycling, grey water use, or any serious management of our depleted Central Valley aquifer.  We have declared our drought to be over, but have no plan to really adapt to our own climate and stop using, sourcing and disposing of water in a unsustainable, albeit profitable, way. 

Any idea of how much political power agribusiness wields in California?

We are also letting money dictate the constant loss of farm lands and natural spaces to track homes and strip malls.  We have some regulation and planning, more than Texas, but are still poorly prepared for fires, floods and earthquakes -- all of which just as are sure to come as the gulf winds are sure to blow more rains upon East Texas.  

Any idea of how much political power developers wield in California?  Try that at the state and local level and don’t be surprised that some of the people transforming farmland into profitable real estate are those who owned the land already.  Oh, and protective regulations to keep some of the land as a natural buffer?  Those get chipped away at every session of your county board or city council.  

The distortions I describe here are just development and water regulation. One could go on with other examples.  Mass transit comes to mind.  How many other subjects relating to regulation and planning play out a similar song of not doing the intelligent thing because of political and fiscal realities imposed by those with the cash?  How many don't?

And remember, we live in a state where $50,000 for a candidate running for office is “chump change.”

Of course, when the time comes, we always have heroes in our own first responders dealing with disasters that our own elected officials could have avoided, but don’t because they respond to one thing above all others, and that is money.  

Sunday, August 6, 2017

No plan for more parking

Last week we had a meeting in Temescal to discuss the parking situation, which is not good and not getting better and there is no plan to make it better. 

Our lead speaker was Michael Ford, Parking Manager from the OakDOT, our Oakland Department of Transportation. 

He held up a copy of Don Shoup’s The High Price of Free Parking and declared himself a proud “Shoupista” and went on to give his presentation. 

The plan is to make the price of parking so high that there will always be spaces available to those who can pay up. How high? Well it should be raised until there is always about 15% of the spaces available. Ford described pulling up and having parking available, he did not describe where the people who did not come and park had gone. 

In his presentation our Parking Director called this process “creating parking”. 

Now I am a radical environmentalist, bike riding, Green Party activist and I strongly believe in spending on mass transit, conversion off of fossil fuels and radical reduction of automobile use. 

I don’t see how driving poor people out of their cars will help. 

I also don’t see how having people decide not to park here and drive to another area will really reduce car use or help our local economy. This question was asked very clearly and did not receive any answers. 

In this meeting we got some upsetting news. To start with they handed out a survey results on parking situation in Temescal as they describe it. The map showed that the survey applied to upper Telegraph, the back streets going towards the freeway and one block east into the residential areas east of the commercial strip. It was basically a circle around the business strips and the residential areas that could be used for business parking. Our neighborhoods were “out there”, not surveyed. 

One nearby resident took a quick glance at the map and declared it to be inaccurate even in the limited area it covered, in which this resident lives. That, at least, was acknowledged. We got the normal disclaimer that the information on the map is dated (only five years) and “everything” is so different now and before we do anything we need to do a new study ….. 

According to Mr. Ford he has to balance the parking for three groups:
1 Commuters,
2 Business clientele and
3 Residents. 

After saying that he went on to describe a situation that went about 75% restaurant and shop clients and 25% residents and when it came to talking about what can be done for the people who work here, we talked about something done in another neighborhood as maybe a good example. 

For the business clients, the only thing put forward was raising the prices of parking where it is already over filled. “Price mechanism” was the euphemism and details were scarce. What was clear is that they plan to implement this kind of different price schemes in downtown Oakland first. 

Temescal is on the list as being next because they have a “history”, meaning the study that led to the map that they were handing out. 

For the residents there was only the suggestion that people get neighborhood restricted permitted parking. 

And again, for the people who work in our thriving restaurant and shop district, not one practical thing was offered. 

By creating parking we did not mean any space that was not parking before becoming parking now. We were not talking about the new construction all over our area putting more cars off the street. 

We mean driving client cars out of the commercial district using high prices and we mean driving employee cars out of the neighborhoods with residential permits. 

Then Ford went on to wax poetic and revel in the irony that the City Charter clearly states that parking enforcement dollars should go to pay for parking structures. He seemed to be bemused by the fact that this is not getting done. 

One of the local property owners has already let this crowd know that as a private developer he cannot get a loan for a private parking structure as long as there is free parking nearby, and by that we mean the free parking lot between Walgreen’s and the Post Office in that plaza at Telegraph and 49th. Our BID board president made this point seeking some kind of engagement of the issue.  

There was no discussion of seeking a resolution of either of these roadblocks so we have an area going high rise without a parking structure even being considered anywhere in the district. 

What was offered, some by Ford, and some by attendees, was reasons why other people should not own their own car. There was some ugly stuff about people who leave their cars in the area for a long time and never drive them. Michael Ford told his own disdain story about a woman who wanted to start a residential street parking program near her new home in the MacArthur Transit Village and had two cars; one she keeps in the space provided, and the other she needs for work. 

Now there is part of me that thinks it fine if people are using their cars less and taking transit and I did not hear of any plan to help them have a place to leave that car behind. The practical message was to either own an off street space, or sell your car. 

We got a lecture about the cost of ownership of a car, as if people don’t know what their most expensive possession other than a home means to their budget. Others asked about workers who cannot afford the time to take transit because they need to get to do things like pick their kids up from school where there is no transit or go home where there is poor transit. 

Nothing they answered seemed to have any practical value to me. This meeting left me with nothing I could say to a local employee that might sound like a practical solution getting to or from work with or without their car. 

We heard a lot about how the plans were going to be flexible, and that there were twenty different things that the parking policy could do for us, but when the discussion became specific the plan was clearly always going back to raising parking meter costs, expanding metered parking zones, maybe putting in residential parking permit areas and then do more studies to do the same in other areas, ours included. 

This is where I drilled in on the other OakDOT representative, Danielle Dai. 

She was talking about these studies and I asked about the danger of asking questions that bring about a foregone conclusion and always come up with higher priced parking meters as an answer. So I wanted to know about the methodology. Have we done a census of the local business employees? (Not just count cars on the street). Will they survey residents on what their needs are and how they could be better served with parking rules? 

After some very common waffling I asked her point blank if the OakDOT had the resources to do the kind of studies that they really needed to re-engineer our parking and traffic and the answer was a clear no. 

“No” is also the answer to the question “Is there going to be any more parking?” 

“No” would also be the answer to the question: “Is there an overall plan?” 

There is no comprehensive plan. What we have is different groups pushing around public property, bits and pieces of transit and the odd ad hoc arraignment as if each action was some determinant influence over a market mechanism that will sort things out for us. 

We know that plan. That is the plan that usually hurts those with the least money. 

The only mention of more and better transit was the extension of the bike path and the B Bus. That the B Bus ever started without connecting the train station to BART or filling in the difference between BART stations, combined with neglecting the Grand Lake area, kind of makes one ask “what problem they are trying to solve”? Have they heard of Emeryville? They have a shuttle and one line runs from Amtrak to BART. 

Others asked more questions about the spate of new housing going in all around us and we got another set of philosophical answers justifying insufficient parking in those new buildings. Most of the answers were about how people in these new buildings should adopt a new lifestyle, and there was no clear idea if these new, affluent residents would actually forego car ownership or what that actually should look like. Will a sufficient number of our new residents not own a car to make it work or will they end up using more of the already overcrowded street? Was not owning a car a requirement for anyone moving in? 

Again there was little to nothing said about those who might make less use of their car and instead ride a bike or take transit, such as myself. Where are we supposed to leave our cars behind? Since I own a shop large enough to park that car off the street, I can do that without having to deal with the street sweeping, broken car window break-ins and predatory parking tickets in front of my home. 

I rode my bike back from this meeting knowing that I can do so because of my social privilege, feeling that the parking plans will cause more hardship among the people who live and work here and drive potential clients away from local businesses.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Mime Troope edition 2017

Mime Troope edition 2017

The San Francisco Mime Troope was founding in 1959, making it one year younger than me and the same age as the Cuban Revolution.  I have only been going to their political pantomime theatre in the parks for 28 years, having missed once, in 1995. 

Saturday was season opener in Cedar Rose Park, Berkeley. 

How can one be critical of people whose work one adores and admires?  Who am I, this radical mechanic from back east to provide any theatre reviews?  Yet here I am with a new encounter with an old love that left me feeling a bit sad and a lot disappointed.

This year’s piece is called The Wall, and they mean Trump’s wall of course. 

It was sweet that the band started the pre-show set with a jazz instrumental of the Pink Floyd song.  They went on to do some other surprising covers that I found excellent. 

If there is anything that describes the Mime Troope over the past two and a half decades it is an every improving production value.  The music is great.  The acting is brilliant.  The politics are strong and in sync with my own.  The staging is amazing for what they can do with so little.  The shows go on professionally and are smooth and well presented.  If there was an opening day mess up on stage under the afternoon sun, I didn’t notice it, nor did most of the fellow members of the audience with blankets on the grass.  

So why disappointed? 

I found it predictable, a bit boring and worse still, not very funny. 

This is the same Troope that once suddenly converted an argument between the Dictator of Obscuristan and a US state department operative into an S&M ballad that mixed that kind of a sexual relationship with the international relationship between the United States and producers of petroleum.  That was unpredictable, made a political point and made my ribs hurt from laughter. 

Don’t expect anything like that in this year’s show. 

Maybe the Mime Troope wants to move to drama and away from comedy?  Nobody said that they have to stay stagnant and not change up their art.  There is certainly little to call funny in what is going on with US immigration policy. 

But shouldn't drama have its innovation and surprises too?  What I heard today was the predictable language about immigrant rights that one would hear from a lawyer or some nonprofit fundraiser.  It treated Mexican illegal immigration with the clich├ęs of the movie El Norte. 

It would have been nice to introduce the traditional migratory labor across Mexico and stretching into the US as being from OAXACA State.  Mixteco, Zapateco and Triqui would be good native languages to show, given that they are present here in our fields and construction sites.  But I digress knowing more about Mexico than I do about theatre. 

It's not that all the themes were not good, they were just not engaging.  Little bits like a soldier having served “in the DMZ of North Korea” feels sloppy and detracts from the piece’s authority.  (US troops serve along the De Militarized Zone on the South Korean side). And like I said, most of it was so predictable that the pace started to feel slow and I found myself waiting for it to end. 

There were some of the brilliant Mime Troope funny bits, including Velina Brown perfectly doing a short role as a shopper that everyone in Oakland has met at least once.  One sequence of quick lines was funny, witty and sharp at the same time. 

Maybe I am just being critical of a good show because in the past they have put on so many great shows?  It would be great to see an interview with their playwright and often actor Michael Gene Sullivan to hear what he thinks of this piece and where he wanted it to go.  Seems that the crowd liked it a lot more than I did, so maybe I missed something. 

There was something different and something eternal about the SFMT audience. 

On the side of being the same as always, we were mostly white.  Much more white than any part of the Bay Area, even the North Berkeley neighborhood around the park.  We are also many of the same people, just older.  At 59 I should not feel that I am below the median age. 

There were a few people of color, and a few more people under 50 than that, but a lot less of both than the crowds I first sat in when I moved to the US in 1989 and met my first Mime Troop fans in Dolores Park.

There were two other big differences in today’s audience. 

1, There was a lack of common courtesy with people bringing dogs into the middle of the crowd, walking them and/or themselves over other people's blankets, and setting up chairs blocking the view of those on blankets behind.  All of these things I had learned to be against the rules from the Troope staff in earlier shows.  In fact, I own a chair that sits flat on the ground that I bought specifically for Mime Troop shows and found that it was a polite thing to use at other outside shows, such as Stern Grove. 

2, There are always fewer of us.  Once upon a time, we would make going to a Mime Troope show a group outing, a picnic that we started early to get our blanket somewhere with a good view.  Today it was not hard to get to the side of the people in the full size chairs and see the stage without arriving early. 

Like I said, others enjoyed the show more than I did.  When the dialog said those good things that I agree with, but found a bit old hat, many hands clapped.  When the show was over there was a standing ovation. 

I watched everyone stand up from the back, next to the audio booth.

In years past, that same spot was the middle of the crowd. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

New France

The elections in France are probably a new French way of running its own government and will certainly give us a new French roll in world affairs, starting with European affairs.  

This Sunday’s second round of national legislative voting stands out for:

  • Record numbers of citizens who didn’t vote.  
  • A new party taking the absolute majority.  
  • More women in the assembly than ever before. 
  • The exit of most of the French old guard political class from the game. 

The Fifth Repulic constitution assumed a three or maybe four party country that would choose between the left and right in runoff elections.  

That broke down with the rise of the ultra right National Front as a major force causing France to vote democracy vs neofascist in the runoff for Chriaq’s second term partly because then there were five and partly because the splintered left could not make the runoff despite getting the majority of the votes.  

It broke down again this election with the addition of yet another major group made this election cycle start a six way first round for president, leading to a runoff between the new center movement and the new neofascist leader.  Again the left was divided and could not make the runoff despite again collectively having the largest number of first round votes.  

At the first round the of legislative elections, the new center, En Marche, made runoff in the overwhelming majority of districts with a third of the votes of those who voted.  

So who the hell is En Marche and didn’t France already have a liberal party?  

From a policy point of view, En Marche is capitalist liberalism with a new image, one more akin to Trudeau in Canada.  The new deputies that form the En March majority come from a pool of people who are mostly younger, have backgrounds from outside of traditional politics and were half women.  This election I have been following a twenty something farm owner who ran successful in what was once a traditional Socialist district.  

Yes there was already a Democrat party with similar liberal views in step with the US Democrats and the Canadian Liberals and they have done well in this election too as allies of En Marche. This is a movement that once elected presidents, but now is second fiddle to En Marche. 

But no, this has not been the year of the incumbent or the old faces.  France has had more variety and choice in government than we in the US are ever offered and because of this, both the left and right have had time to govern and time to dissapoint. 

The last government has been voted nearly out of existence.  The Socialists came in behind the Eurocommunist wing in the first round of the presidential vote.  In the new legistlature the party that had the majority and the held the presidency has gone to obscurity in 2017.  

In the presidential primaries, President Holland made history by not even trying to go for a second term, the prime minister resigned to run in his place and was beaten by a more left leaning candidate only to find themselves fifth in the six way first round.  

The Repubicans usually governed France with the Socialists as their opposition and twice the Socialists were the alternative government with a Republican opposition.  They are the group usually called Galulists.  This historical party of power  took a similar beating at the presidentials.  Their former president, Sarkozy, was beaten at the primaries to be replaced by a Mr. Clean of the right wing of their movement who played the anti immigrant card in competition with the neofascist National Front.  That weak candidate turned out to also have a nepotism habit.  They came in fourth in the presidential, and did better in the legislature becoming the key opposition.  

The liberal Marcron and his En March movement took two thirds of the votes in the presidential finals, which sounds great until one thinks that a third of France voted for a women who represented barley masked racist, chauvinist and intolerant Catholic values.  

The En March third of the national legistlature vote and Macron’s first place showing in the presidential first round is probably a better indication of their significant core support, with the rounding up to majorities representing French voters having to choose between what they were offered after the group that represented them got knocked out of the running.  

But be clear, the dissapointment with politicians in France includes a dissapointment with politics itself.  Having seen both the Republicans and the Socialists fail to deliver jobs, development, and better conditions many of the French have turned to En Marche, but many others have just plain turned their backs.  

The French measure voter abstention based on POTENTIAL VOTERS, not registered voters as our press loves to do.  By that measure, half the people did not vote, which in France is unheard of.  The first round the of the legislative election had France's second highest abstention rate and this round makes the new record.  Note that this new French record low is a bit higher than our normal US election participation rate.  

So now we have it.  A new president with a new National Assembly working together will be the French government for the next five years.  What should we expect?  

  • Liberal “reforms” starting with employment guarantees.  
  • Strong pro European Union policies, including support for Merkel's austerity (service cutbacks). 
  • An Obama like interventionist military posture that will continue to intervene in North Africa, the Middel East and continue to be hostile to Russia.  
  • We should also expect some serious changes and reforms, some of which will be of value to everyone but most of which will be of value to the new generations of capitalists.  

And PR, expect lots of PR.  We will get the new look, constantly being told how young they are, how innovative they are and how inclusive, especially female, they are.  

Expect New France to have economic policies and military posture that would make Ronald Reagan smile while the public show will make them look like the republic of cool, hipster, business people.  

Friday, June 9, 2017

The U.K. Elections Numbers Racket, version 2017

British elections do not accurately represent the British people. 

Even when the side you like does well in an unfair election system,
you lose.

Even when an unfair electoral system gives your own side a boost,
it is unjust.

Today we wake up to a new Tory government in the UK as a coalition with the small regional Democratic Ulster Party propping up the Conservatives who lost their majority of seats.

Theresa May is on her way to talk to the Queen to ask to form a new government.

The popular vote shows the Conservatives gaining votes and losing seats. The Labor Party, with Corbyn as leader gained even more new votes and gained some seats. All of the other parties have fewer votes and a mix of more or less seats. The Liberal Democrats lost votes and came up with a big “win”. The Scottish Nationals lost votes and came up with a big loss.

For quick reference here is % popular vote / seats in Parliament

Election 2017: Conservatives win with a house minority of 317 seats
Conservatives 42% / 318, Labor 40% / 261, Scottish National 3% / 35, 
Liberal Democrats 7.4% /12 , Democratic Ulster Party 0.9% /10, Sinn Fein 0.8% / 7
Green 1.6% /1, UK Independence Party 1.8% / 0, Plaid Cymru 0.5% / 4 

Election 2015: Conservatives win with a house majority of 330 seats 
Conservatives 36.9% / 330, Labor 30.4% / 232, Scottish National Party 4.7% / 56
and Liberal Democrat 7.9% / 8 (smaller parties omitted) 

So, with 36% of the vote, how did the Tories have that majority in Parliament to lose in the first place? And how does a new coalition with only 43% of the vote now form the next government? 

Different news sources give uneven and usually insufficient coverage of the full popular vote, the difference with the election run just two years ago and the difference between what the people voted for and what they got for Members of Parliament based on a system that awards seats based on who got the MOST votes no matter how low their percentage is. What changed is that in many cases, the math of a 3 way or 4 way race led to a different “winner” in a system that is neither proportional nor allows the public a runoff.

May will probably form her new government with that right wing Ulster Party and life in the UK will go on. Do not expect a reform of this skewed electoral system any time soon. By definition, those who it works for end up in government. Most Brits have not seen a majority government with a majority of the people’s votes behind it in their lifetime.

Despite the distorted results this Parliament does not give the Tories an artificial majority, as it did the last time. Smaller parties are not represented in anything like the percentage of the vote, but the larger ones are. The representation of the Liberals and the Scottish Nationalists and others is exaggerated, yet they add to keeping the Parliament more plural than our own US Congress. 

There was a significant movement of the real votes this time. People cast ballots for the two major parties in an historic high. Some of that may be people who voted Tory or Labor because they didn’t feel that their own preferred movement stood a chance of winning. Much like a US election, Brits and Canadians are often voting for lesser evil. We should not read from these election results who the British People support by percentage. In proportional European elections the outcomes are very different. The far right does better and the vote is very far from their version of a two party system. In this election, the far right party most linked to the successful Brexit vote last year did not win a single seat. 

If anyone won this election, it is Jeremy Corbyn, the head of Labor. 

He is the Bernie Sanders of the U.K. and the Blair faction of Labor has been undermining him with open public criticism. They used their members of Parliament to force a second Labor party leadership vote. Corby won that too.

The Blair faction is called New Labor, and it is similar in its shift to the right to the Clinton-Gore Democratic Leadership Council. Clinton followed Reagan/Bush into Nicaragua, Iraq, Yugoslavia, etc. and Tony Blair followed our W into Iraq Two among other things. Both New Labor and DLC Democrats led us to a destruction of social services, war on drugs, and other actions that showed that they have been drinking the market fanatics’ Cool Aide. 

Corbyn would have none of that. He maintained an anti-interventionist, respect-for-the-sovereignty-of-other-nations foreign policy and advocated socialist reforms at home including the expansion of public services and the renationalization of the British Rail.

The media has been demonizing Corbyn from day one too, with endless referrals to him as impractical, un electable, out of date, unrealistic and all that drivel we hear about any progressive here in the US coupled with personal comments on him being unfit illustrated with bad photo shots. 

Labor under Corbyn has increased its popular vote by 10%, which is good at any time. Like Sanders and Melanchon in France, he has shown that a firm left voice resonates with the people.

The big loser is Theresa May. She thought she could call an early election because Tory numbers were up. They were up, but the system that rewarded the Conservatives in 2015 bit back in 2017.

The UK goes into negotiations for the Brexit from the European Union inside of two weeks as a government with less credibility than it had two days ago. May’s Conservatives have lost credibility at home and abroad and the UK’s political system has joined the US’ political system in its loss of reliability. First-past-the-post in a culture with more than two major parties is inherently unstable. 

What this means for Scotland and Scottish independence is up in the air. Much is being made of the Scottish National Party “loss” in this election while ignoring that the number of seats held was way over the number of votes to justify holding those seats. Brexit may well mean another referendum on independence, and depending on the May negotiations with Brussels, it might win.

The U.K. will be governed by a coalition that will not show much in the way of leadership for the whole of their divided country and they will have another election following Brexit with their flawed political system unreformed.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A not so little election in Germany 

The Nordrhein-Westphalia Land election was held on Sunday. 
The slight shift to the right continues with all the same trends. Gains for the Social Christians, the Free Democrats and the Alliance for Germany and losses for the Social Democrats and Greens. 
In this case, the Free Democrats came back into the Landtag assembly as the third largest party.  They will go on to be government partners with the Social Christians and the former Red-Green government has been voted out. 

The ultra-right comes into Landtag with a small, isolated caucus. 
This highly populated, industrial Land is, or was, a bastion for the Social Democrats and Greens.  To lose it shows that the Social Democrats really don’t stand a chance in the Federal election in September. 
Note that each of the three right wing parties, have been gaining about 5-7 percent each.  A total of a 15-21 percent shift to the right would change politics anywhere. 
With Germany’s proportional representation it does not lead to an artificial majority as it does in the UK, Canada and to a lesser extent the US.  It also does not lead to the losing parties being shut out of the parliamentary public debates as it does in the US.  Trump, May and Trudeau were all elected with a majority voting against them. 
In Germany the Conservative Merkel will start her fourth term with a majority mandate for her party and its probable ally, the Free Democrats.    
In France a president was just sworn in who won two thirds of the runoff vote. 
There is certainly a shift to the right in world politics, but the mandate of conservative majority rule stops at the English Channel.  In no case is the right wing shift artificial, but it is not quite as overwhelming as the electoral results might indicate.
As much as elections reflect real public sentiment, one could also make a case for the left shifting from moderate to more traditionally socialist with small “s” and away from Social Democrats. 
The smart money would be on the German national results in the fall and the governments for next five years in Europe being some close variant of the government and legislature that Sunday’s election gave us in Nordrhein-Westphalia.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The drought is only “sort-of” over

The politics of the drought makes the drought need to be over.

It is a win for Jerry.

And some small bits of progress in water and infrastructure management.

From the heavily limited US view of the “politically realistic” the drought management has been a roaring success and I would be stunned if certain political resumes are not now decorated with the bureaucratic medals of valor that will advance careers.

The hydrology of the state of California still suffers some major inconvenient truths.

The aquifer is depleted and still not well managed.

Under California is, or maybe was, a giant fresh water lake where agribusiness takes well water.

Up here on the surface we have full, or fuller dams, green hills, a high snow pack and in a way the drought is over. Underground our largest water reserve is way down and there is no plan to replenish it or even do that much to keep the agricultural sector from drilling where they wish, as deep as they wish and pumping beyond any sustainability.

Aquifer water is normally among the cleanest. Ours is not. Water filters down through the soil and arrives at the aquifers without biological contamination. Chemical contamination on the other hand travels all the way down. In California that includes the aftertaste of MTBE gasoline additive still in the system, industrial farming chemicals, contamination from everyday combustion engine vehicle use, other industrial chemicals and chemicals used in fossil fuel exploitations, especially in hydraulic fracturing.

Our Central Valley was once mostly wetlands where industrial farming did not need to drill very deeply to exploit pristine, clean, groundwater. A century later those wells run ever deeper to water ever drying soils that are accumulating metals and salts.

Recent droughts have made things worse, and many hand-to-mouth actions were taken by agricultural businesses to fix their problem for themselves that made our collective problems much worse and harder to repair. We have no serious plan to replenish that aquifer or bring ourselves to any kind of water cycle sustainability.

California had a structural problem with water use before most of us were born. With the dams, channels, canals and pipelines around out state we have one of the largest water infrastructure systems in the world and yet it is not enough for our 40 million people nor reliable for our agriculture and fish hatcheries. 

The Oroville Dam scare woke a lot of people up to what some people have been saying for a long time only to be stonewalled by state water management. We should give thanks for what Friends of the River attempted to make right before there was a disaster. We should listen to what such expert groups are saying now and we should figure out how obvious problems were allowed to fester and how legitimate, fact based, public concern was ignored.

A lot of what we have in water infrastructure is not in good shape, and some of it was conceptually bad from the start. Right now the drought is “over” and most of the dams are full, but some are not. To jump into Lake Shasta would probably still kill you from the fall, and things are better. Two years ago the fall would have certainly killed you. In many places we are taking too much out of the dams, spending the reserves in good times, lacking the reserves in bad times. Governor Edmund Brown Jr. would be well advised to think of water the way he thinks of money. (Water really flows, for dollars it is just an expression). We have an average amount of supply of water. There are ways to budget it, save it for a non-rainy day, and think of how to collect up more of it.

Right now we have surpluses of water in many places and no serous way to get it into our largest water reservoirs, the aquifers. We also have still have dams where we still ask too much of them and cannot use them to capacity for the hydroelectric power that would abate fossil fuel use.

Now that we are facing climate change, we need to think about how these already bad averages and cycles will be affected. It is called Global Warming for a reason. That does not mean consistent warming everywhere, or consistent drying everywhere.

Describing our water resources in a way that is simpler than it really is we have most of our central valley reserves in the snow pack and the aquifer, with the dams in the east mostly catching snow pack run off creating a second tier storage and the dams in the north west being more part of the Pacific North West higher rain pattern. To the east we take water out of a larger, multi-state river system.

The snow pack, the Great Basin and the areas around Humboldt and Del Norte will all be affected by climate change and we should make our plans to deal with the worst case estimates. In good years we will not use everything we have, but on bad years, that conservative planning will pay off, and bad years are part of the natural cycles of weather. Climate change certainly means that the ups and downs will get more extreme.

One of the reasons we don’t catch what we need is deforestation. Deforestation includes brush, undergrowth, smaller trees, wild lands and one should not just think of big sequoias and other pines.

Reforestation does not increase the water supply or cause more rain unless there is so much of it that it causes a cooling effect. Reforestation DOES affect how long the water stays around and where it goes and what kind of impact it has on infrastructure.

There is a thing called the run-off rate, (or flood speed) in watershed management. When the area uphill from a river system and its feeder streams is only farmland and housing, then the water rushes off quickly, usually taking precious top soil with it. When the river is high and looks muddy, that's an unhealthy watershed without proper forest cover. We lose topsoil creating dirty water that is bad for marine life and it carries with it all the toxins and trash of our agribusiness/industrial society causing even more damage.

When an area has better ground cover it takes longer for water to make it from rain to river, it is filtered by the forested areas and comes in cleaner. Look at a stream in a redwood park for example. The water is clear, even after the rain. In certain geological areas, that rain water that is being held up in forest cover never goes to the stream, but instead seeps into the ground and goes to the aquifers.

So, we have a state that is currently wet and green, but letting good water rush off while underground we have a serious shortfall and some contamination problems and in the mountains we have a snow pack that may now melt at a faster rate. 

There are some things that can be done and can be done quickly.

We can move from drought consumption thinking to environmentally sustainable thinking in our water use. This drought showed that we know how to save water, there is no reason to stop. 

The Brown administration has called the drought “over” but called on us to keep up the water saving efforts. I agree wholeheartedly.

Moving to a form of water use more in keeping with the different climate areas of our state and its different local biomes should include some changes in what we grow, how we make parks, home landscaping, gardens, etc.

The drought measures should not end, they should become our new normal. 

The use of native plants and low water landscaping would help a lot and we Californians would stop having front yards that look like New England and start having green spaces around us that look more like Mexico, of which we were once a part.

Greywater use needs to become the required standard, the zoning and the code and the State should step in and just make it legal everywhere and mandatory in most places. Our shower, sink and cleaning water can increase our urban and suburban tree coverage at the same time we will be returning tap water to the environment in a way that it can use.

There are ways to make ground water capture zones. Fresh water can be pooled into wetland reserves over deep well perforations, with sand and rock for filtering, in a way that can speed up clean replenishment of the aquifers. Probably the best way to do this is spread out around the state in many small projects, some of which would be fed by diverting water that cannot be held in Sierra Nevada dams. Probably the worst way to do this is with some high energy injection pump systems.

It would be very interesting to ask the hydrology experts and environmental biologists for some aquifer replenishment plans that were based more on science than political expediency or economic opportunism, try out a few models, and then repeat the more successful ones around the state. It will take years, but they will be years well spent. The rewards will be decades long.

Reforestation that targets the watersheds, controls soil erosion and helps aquifer replenishment needs to be a priority. There need to have woodland buffer zones around the water ways and on sharp slopes. Rain that falls needs a chance to soak in keeping that water around a while longer and letting it flow cleanly into the streams and rivers where our salmon run. The top soil needs to be protected.

Global warming is going to change which plants thrive where, and since plants don’t walk, swim or fly, reforestation might be a big part of how we keep our forest communities with a healthy mix and protect part of the spectrum of trees and plants from extinction.

At some point sooner or later we will learn to pipe our sewage back up hill and put it back into the environment. Instead of being a waste that we treat and dump, it needs to become a resource that we put to use. There are ways of treating sewage using natural plants in ponds. From there waste water can be used to grow lumber, fiber for paper, cotton etc. and then join the rest of the water cycle evaporating, seeping down to the ground water or becoming part of the healthy run off. 

Again, a lot of work has already been done on exactly this kind of natural methods to treat waste water right here in California. The government of California needs to be putting out requests for proposals for some small scale tests and eventually build up to where we make use of the sewage from our large urban areas.

As an avid hiker, I am enjoying the lush green of my favorite parks and the lands around them. But even as my boots are getting muddy, I know that our drought isn’t really over, all we have now is a moment of respite. 

More dry times are coming. We need to be ready for them.