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.

Yet another little election in Germany

Count down to Merkel's third reelection.

As the world was watching the predictable election results for the French presidency, the predictable results for the German Land of Schleswig-Holstein went less noticed. 

Just like in Saarland, the German electorate went slightly to the right and less to the hard right than was expected last year.  Again the Social Democrats are the relative losers, but nothing like the loss their Socialist Party sister party just suffered in France. 

If anything is in common among the voters of England, France and Germany it is a loss of support for the traditional moderate left led by Labor, The Socialists and the Social Democrats respectively. 

A similar shift took place in Spain where the left won the election, but could not form a government without the support of the farther left Podemos movement, so their “Socialists” abstained and allowed the right wing Nationalists to form another government. 

In Austria it was a Green who edged the ultra-right out for the presidency. 

Maybe this is a trend, maybe not.  But member parties of the Socialist International have not been winning European elections recently. 

But back to Germany. 

This time the Free Democrats, a center right liberal party usually referred by their German initials FDP, have received over 5% of the popular vote and came back into the Landtag with proportionally assigned seats.  They got 9 seats, so together with the Social Christians 25 seats they come just short of the 37 needed for a majority.  Five seats short. 

That probably means another Red-Yellow-Black coalition, similar to the one that ran Germany before the FDP fell under the 5% needed to qualify on the national level. 

Red is for the Social Democrats who the yellow Free Democrats and black Social Christians would rather not have in the government, and won’t if they get the votes. 

Another real option is the “traffic light coalition” of the Greens, FDP and Social Democrats.  But again, the votes don’t really show that as probable. 

The only reason the Social Christians don’t get a majority of right wing votes is because the of the 6.6% ultra-right votes going to the Alliance for Germany giving them 5 seats.  Now it is not clear that those people would have voted for a moderate right wing.  That has not been the tendency.  Most polls show that the ultra-right wing voters have a contingent of possible hard left voters, and vice versa. 

With its anti-foreigner rhetoric and newly elected hard line national leadership, we should not expect any party in Germany to be willing to form a coalition with the Alliance for Germany. It is starting to look like 7% is their upper limit. 

And the moderate Social Democratic left, the Greens and the Left Party?  The Social Democrats lost a bit dropping to 27%, the Greens held their 13% and the Left Party came up a small bit, but were over a percent too low to qualify for seats.  Together they could never form a government. 

The French newspaper Liberation calls this a personal defeat for Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz, and they know a Socialist defeat when they see one, which they did on the same day. 

For some reason, Martin Schulz has not caught on.  This is the man who had such a successful career in the European Parliament that he was drafted to come lead up the federal branch of the party.  He is not sparking enthusiasm and frankly, the left seems caught in a slight slump, just bad enough to keep them out of power. 

We will probably see much more of the same vote spreads in Nordrhein-Westphalia in a week.  That Land is much more industrial, unlike Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein, and should be better ground for the Schulz and the left. 

But maybe not, with the low unemployment and the calming of the tensions around Merkel welcoming a million refugees, the listless showing for the left and the ultra-right will probably continue to favor the Social Christians and their Free Democrat friends. 

Probable outcome is that on September 24th we will get a new government of Germany that looks a lot like the old one, maybe without any need to have the Social Democrats involved. 

As France and Germany lead Europe, especially now that the UK is leaving the Union, this coming election shows that the status quo economic and social policies will have inertia.

With or without the Social Democrats in the governing coalition, expect Merkel in Germany and Macron in France to keep pushing austerity for the common people and fewer rules for the rich ones. 

Europe will be stable, but it will be a private sector dominated Europe.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A journalist and I message back and forth about other views of the French election

Ann, I'm just a guy who listens and reads in French most days, as does she, but what she is saying is above my pay grade on both counts. That said, I think it's pretty clear that Macron was put up to running, there is no doubt that the neo liberals wanted their own Obama, Trudeau, symbolic package for the old policies. As to the FN not being fascists, well, no-one says that. They are ultra right, with some neo fascists in their movement. They may be for national sovereignty and some good left ideas, but so were the Nazi's. The racism of that movement is pretty clear. As to mass hysteria. Well, I don't think so.

Ann Garrison
No one says their fascists?
I heard that everytime I herd this story reported and a friend of mine in France has been screaming at me that Le Pen and the FN are fascists every day.
Ann Garrison
Not sure what you mean by "above my pay grade."
I mean that my skills and expertise are not up to a social analysis of the Front National. I'm just a French speaking news junkie.
Ann Garrison
You're too modest. Everyone else here seems quite sure that she's a fascist and or "far right" even though many of her policies are not. I don't think the words "right" and "left" are descriptive anymore myself.
Ann Garrison
I listened to the archive of Mitch's Monday show last night and he was stuck on the labels but it was otherwise pretty interesting.
Well, that has been the hallmark of the extreme right in Europe from day one. The fascist movement is not really a full on capitalist one, it is mixed. I think people who see strong parallels with the left, especially the authoritarian left, have a point. a point.
the argument your guest to use that the FN is not fascists is the same one Liberation uses to say that they are.
But it is obvious that we are also in a post fascists post communist world and that even those who claim those labels, are not what they were any more than the tories are the same people who burned the white house.
Ann Garrison
Authoritarian is more descriptive. Le Pen does favor the return of mandatory minimum sentences and increased prison capacity, as have plenty of prominent liberal Dems like Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton.
Ann Garrison
Macron also favors increased prison capacity, though she's reported to want 40,000 more cells and he's reported to want 15,000.
Popularism is the word being thrown around. The implication is playing to the public needs and fears.
Ann Garrison
That used to be a positive term, but yes it is being used with that negative connotation now.
But no one uses it on Hillary Clinton, despite her statement that she has a public and private persona.
The ability to move the masses isn't Hillary's main gig.
Do you know the 5 Star Movement in Italy? They blur the lines in a big way.
Ann Garrison
Never heard of them but I'll look it up.
The Wikipedia makes them sound pretty cool.
In certain ways they are. Italy needs a renewed political cast in the way we do.
Ann Garrison
This is an example of the distortion re Le Pen. "She denied Vichy France’s complicity in the deportation of French Jews." (LA Times). What she actually said was that Vichy France was not the Republic, which was then in exile, which is the same thing Mitterand and De Gaulle said.

As I understand it, Fascist generally means the movement started in Italy, and adopted by the German National Socialists.  To say Le Pen is not a fascist is technical.  She is certainly part of that European nationalist far right that pushes many popular economics.  One of the sad facts of history is that many of the social reforms we leftist like, came from this period of their history.  Hitler had a program that made sure Germans worked, could buy an affordable little car and have roads to drive it on.   So, are the FN Nazis?  No.  Do they follow a line of national chauvinism and economic well being for the common people thinking close to that of the traditional fascists?  Most would agree with that.  Are they accused of both in an election year?  It would be surprising if they did not.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Hillary elected president of France

In US equivalents the French presidential election could be viewed as Hillary winning, Trump losing with Romney, Kucinich and Sanders already on the sidelines.

It is a good thing that Le Pen has lost. It would have been a better thing if she had lost by more votes. When her father brought their ultra-right National Front to the final presidential run off the first and only other time in 2002, he only got 20% of the vote against President Jacques Chirac.
Marine Le Pen had 35% this time. When one third of French voters cast their ballots for a neo fascist it is hardly good news. The only good news is that there wasn’t a Trump-like or Brexit-like election surprise. In fact, her final vote was a little bit less than predicted.

A president Le Pen would have made President Trump seem moderate and multi-cultural.
After the first round vote, the French public was left with the poor choice of an inexperienced liberal with views akin to Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, including their dedication to Wall Street and throwing military power around in imperial style or a Neo Fascist who put a new face on an old ultra-right wing movement that she inherited from her father.

Those who voted for the new left represented by Mélenchon felt that they had no choice but to vote for the Liberal against the Fascist and some of them felt it was better to spoil their ballots, abstain or not vote at all. Mélenchon is sort of the French Sanders if Bernie was really a socialist.

The arguments in the French press looked a lot like the ones in our press calculating that Hillary was a lesser evil than Trump. Sometimes the difference was more than we faced in the US and at times it was less.

The French Democrats and Republicans had less trouble voting for Macron, which says a lot more about the former “Socialist” finance minister than it does about the French right. 

The analogy with US politics ends right about there. In France the ultra-right is an established movement that has functioned and won local elections for many years. Same can be said for the new left, who come from the Eurocommunist and Trotskyist traditions.

All five of the loosing groups are traditional movements and all of them are represented in their equivalent of congress, the National Assembly, along with some local mayors, town councilors, regional governments and any number of other local government elected posts...

The current legislature is dominated by the Socialists who saw the biggest drop in support in this presidential election.

The big losers were the Republicans, Democrats and Socialists who had won every presidential election since their current constitution was approved (The Fifth Republic) as none of them made the final cut.

The new president does not have a political party yet. His movement was just put together in this last period and does not hold a single seat in either house of the French legislature.

Fewer French people voted in this second round of their presidential election reaching an historic 50 year high of 25% nonvoters. The rate of US eligible voters who do not participate is normally double France's all time worst. So maybe there is one other parallel between their election and ours in the fact that the final two candidates were both extremely unpopular. But remember that the French participate in their elections in much higher numbers than we do and have more accurate polls.

Note that in France they have a direct popular vote with a runoff. If we had that system in the US, Hillary Clinton would have just finished her first hundred days.

For the US, this election means that France will remain France in Europe, France helping with NATO, France as the Wall Street of the European Union. In many ways, it means status quo with some slight movement towards an economic policy in sync with what our government has been asking for.

For Europe it means that Brexit is over. There will be no French part two, the Frexit, and Europe will now look forward to some stability and more French leadership.

Germany’s elections later this year will reelect the center right there and confirm Germany as France’s main partner and the European Union will move forward with its founding Franco-German core united, intact and stable.

Macron’s election also means that the power struggle between those who advocate spending and growth and the pro austerity factions led by Merkel's Germany will continue to tilt in favor of public spending cuts. The new French president says he will be Merkel's partner advocating austerity budgets.

For France we can expect some “reforms” along the lines of more space for the private sector to dump employees and more free trade, tax cuts and deregulation as incentives for investors.

Don’t expect French society to suddenly turn away from the increasing anti-Muslim, anti-foreign sentiments or the hardening of their migration laws. The security measures imposed after the terrorist attacks in Paris will stay in place. French military participation on the US side in Syria, Afghanistan, Mali, Chad, Libya and many other countries will continue and France will continue to spend on its armed forces along NATO guidelines.

If any of this leads to a higher quality of life or lower rate of unemployment among the common French working people, it would be a surprise.

The next big step for France politically will be the legislative elections later this year. That will decide who holds the very powerful post of Prime Minister, which is a major part of the French version of checks and balances.

The only hint we have now to guess how this upcoming parliamentary election might turn out, would be to look at how the parties fared in the first round of the presidential elections this year. In that poll, no group got as much as a quarter of the vote. Six political movements were within ten points of each other. The same two round system will be used. Only a few points will decide who makes it to the second round. We should expect all the current groups to get some seats, probably not in proportion to the popular vote.

The new President Macron might well try to form a coalition government with center left and center right deputies, if there are enough of them.

The time for a proportional representation system in the French National Assembly may have arrived as their traditional left-right polarization has become less relevant.

Whatever the final result, this presidential election and the upcoming legislative election could define the French government for about the next five years.

But with a new president that has no political party and the traditional parties in so much trouble, any prediction now would have a high chance of error.

That the majority would vote against the fascist was the easy part, and it should have been easier.

The part of France that is not neo fascist is changing and will continue to do so. France is still in business as before, but it is not business as usual.