Saturday, July 10, 2010

Maude Barlow and Water as a Human Right

My problem with Maude Barlow's presentation is not the concept that water is a common resource. My issue is what would be the legal ramifications regarding allocations to rural areas versus urban areas when water is made a human right. It needs to be said that water allocations will invariably have a disproportional allocation to agricultural use. Disproportional only in the sense that greater quantities and less efficiencies are characteristic of agricultural use. Even after every efficiency measure is applied this will be the case.

California has large scale agricultural use on a scale that is not characteristic of NM. This creates its own political issue as diversions between regions North-South are frequently the source of water conflicts. California has water rights defined in a complex structure that inevitably creates more conflicts than common understandings. The state has been provided with extraordinary power to divert the water resource that has been exercised in numerous large scale aqueducts. The state legislature is the ultimate authority in these diversions and bonds are the source of such funding. One such bond that includes the peripheral canal from the Delta for increased allocations to the Central Valley is currently on the ballot. The Governor is attempting to get this measure off the ballot now. Greens are encouraged to vote NO if this issue makes it to the ballot.

To get back to Maude Barlow, her position of water as a human right is a projected model that appears to be based on models and existing law in underdeveloped nations. One thing I do not understand is her failure to address the fact that US law already classifies water in the state and federal laws as a common resource. The Federal government and the state governments already have authority in interstate streams and rivers. The issue raised in the US against the concept of water as a human right includes the issue of how this would impact on the issue of paramount rights for tribal lands and reserves. That is a distinct issue but such lands are predominately rural with small scale agricultural use. We have seen in NM that when the legal issue of quantification of rights gets put on the table, that pueblos inevitably respond with golf courses as a measure that assures this beneficial use that will be included in the litigation. I would ask how one would distinguish the "human right" through a quantified yardstick. Would this simply be used to expand greenfield development and increase urban use in the same way as the pueblos worked to increase use?

The urban exponential growth in population is not addressed in the issue of water as a human right. It has been addressed through the regional water planning of the Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly (MRGWA) through the water budget and its Public Welfare Statement and recommendations. The shortcoming in the planning process has been the subordination of the structural political reforms needed to plan AND implement the regional plans themselves. Urban use can be argued to be more "efficient", and this was the debate often within Urban Users and Economic Development Advocates of the MRGWA in regards to quality of life vs. growth issues. (see page 17 of Executive Summary ) I see more support for the issue of human rights from those who are not users. The structure of political debates in this scenario inevitably repeat the classic urban-rural conflicts. That being the case I am reluctant to see it as a move forward in equitable allocations.

Grafting "water as a human right" onto the historical, statutory and constitutional structure of water management that will continue to exist does not legally guarantee clean water as is its claim. It will not end groundwater mining as is its claim. It will not provide the infrastructure needed to deliver water to users in remote regions or guarantee supplies for expanded urban areas. In terms of the character of the water issue in California, it should be noted that those reservoirs that Maude Barlow projected would go empty have been filled this year with the increased precipitation. Her characterization of a universal crisis is a projection of her political agenda not of the regional supplies available.

Missing in her discussion is the issue of population as a stressor on the carrying capacity of resource supplies. I, too have a political agenda. As a Green, I want us to structure our political entities based on common regional long-term planning. Maude speaks against urbanization but really promotes urban users. She mentions green spaces but fails to grasp the dynamics of aquifer recharge and presumes green spaces are inherently measures for such recharge that will demonstratively increase supplies. Planning will address that through the inclusion of the science in the process. Regional planning in NM demonstrated that it can address this and even resulted in a quantified flow model for the Middle Rio Grande region through the work of Sandia National Labs. The denial of the water resource in underdeveloped nations is a result of political structures weighted in favor of corporate interests as a key element of development. Bottled water is an issue where commercial interests from outside the region are provided access to regional supplies. It is not simply an issue of rich folks robbing poor folks but is fundamentally a product of "outside" users being given access to regional supplies. The West is filled with ghost towns, where gold mines once flourished. After extracting the resource the towns were abandoned. (think Intel here, where the town of Rio Rancho, NM grew exponentially as a result of the Intel chip plant that pumps an average of 3,000 acre-feet per year)

Maude Barlow's presumption that privatization is the underlying cause of water shortages fails to identify the failure of government to represent users as users and the failure to provide political representation in appropriate models to empower adaptive governance by stakeholders. The political issue is not the lack of entitlement or access for the poor, whether they are urban or rural to a common resource. That is primarily a pricing issue and Greens in Detroit have worked around the issue of water shutoffs to address the inequities that have resulted. In that regard, the argument is already presumed that water is a human need and denial of access, whether by private or municipal authorities, is an attack on the basic need for human survival.

The political issue is the failure to structure those entities responsible for water management in such a way as to be reflective of the region's water use. Maude Barlow fails to extrapolate her own critique of government to include its role in facilitating economic growth and increasing the exploitation of the resource. In our own planning process in the Middle Rio Grande, we saw how urban municipalities repeatedly worked to undermine the concept of balancing growth with renewable supplies. To predict a significant change of behavior by urban users and existing political entities based on codification of the concept of "water as a human right" is unrealistic and fails to present a significant change in the scenarios of the future.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Too Old for a Job, Too Young for Medicare

Editor's Note: Sometimes you find something posted on the Internet that tells your own story better than you could tell it yourself. A big thanks to my friend, Carole Hanisch for sending me the link to the article by Dave Johnson of Redwood City, California below. I was a professional computer programmer for twenty-two years in Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts before settling in California's so-called Silicon Valley just in time for the big crash of 2000. Only two things I can add. First, as an African-American with some 1960s consciousness, even during the boom years I was never seduced by that "USA! USA! We're Number 1 'cause the USA today is the best of all possible words!" baloney. Second, as a Green Party man I'm not blind to the political fact that so-called Silicon Valley is One-Party Democratic territory represented by Congresswomen Anna Eshoo (D-HP) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Cisco Systems) who could not care less and where two Silicon Valley big shots, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina are running for high office as Republicans vowing to "get tough" with "lazy" Americans who don't want to work.


700+ Comments on Daily Kos
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Alex Walker

Posted on Campaign for America's Future, July 7, 2010

Too Old For A Job, Too Young For Medicare Or Social Security

by Dave Johnson

Here is a fact: There. Are. No. Jobs. I'm in Silicon Valley where the official unemployment rate dipped in May to 11.2%. This dip was, of course, because of so many people just giving up trying to get a job, certainly not because of some wave of hiring. The underemployed figure, known as "U-6," is 21.7% in California, 16.7% nationally.

You have to know someone to get a humiliating job standing on a corner waving a sign. And if you are over 40, things are even worse than that. Don't give me any conservative Rush Limbaugh-Ayn Rand dehumanizing nonsense about parasitic lazy people who won't look—there are no jobs.

I know so many people here who are over 40, were laid off in the 2000-era dot com crash, still haven't found a regular job and aren't going to. They have had occasional "contract" positions—which means no benefits, no security, a 15% "self-employment" tax and no unemployment check when the job ends. And now, 10 years later they're a lot over 40 and are not going to find a job because so many employers here won't hire people over 40.

And now there are so many more who lost their jobs in the mass layoffs of 2008-2009 and can't find a job. So many of them are also over 40. In fact, many were laid off in obvious purges of over-40 workers, offered a small severance that they could only receive if they promised to take no age-discrimination action against the employer. (I don't say "company" because some of these worked at nonprofits.)

Most of these people will not find another job, but are too young for Medicare and Social Security.

One Person's Story

I ran into a friend this weekend who I hadn't seen for a couple of years. He had been a computer engineer who had been making 6 figures in the dot-com years. Laid off in the 2000 crash, he moved in with his parents back in the Midwest and worked in a bakery. He came back out here when things picked up a bit and worked in one "contract" job after another. (Contracting is just a scam to get around employment laws—but the government doesn't enforce the rules.) But now he just can't find anything. He managed to get unemployment but now that is running out. He has no health insurance. He can't afford a place to live; he "house sits" for people or visits friends, and doesn't know what he is going to do even two days from now.

What is he going to do? Can you tell me? He has gotten a few interviews, and when they are computer-related is always told he is way overqualified, doesn't seem energetic, probably won't be willing to work 20 hours a day, doesn't look like he is up to date on things that are happening with computers, etc. (How many ways can you say "too old?") He's about 45. If things pick up he will get another job. But people just a few years older will not.

Blatant Age Discrimination

Age discrimination is a thing with me because it is so blatant here. It's the culture here, some even say that for programmers it is "35 and out." At various times looking for work I've been told I "seemed tired" and things like that. I was even told once that I wouldn't be able to market some software because I "wouldn't be able to get my mind around" how it worked—when I had designed and written part of it in a previous life. One company here is said to have only 200 over-40 employees out of 20,000.

But it certainly is not a problem that only exists in Silicon Valley. Tell your own story in the comments, please, get this discussion going!

What are people supposed to do? You can't get Medicare until you are 65, and Social Security until 67. But it's near-impossible to get a job or health insurance if you are over 50. I wonder what the effect would be if the government started again enforcing its own rules on age discrimination and contracting.

Among other things Congress needs to get things going by passing the George Miller "Local Jobs for America Act."

Dave Johnson, a resident of Redwood City, California, is a Fellow at Campaign for America's Future, the Commonweal Institute and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Renewal of the California Dream.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

San Jose Considers Water Privatization

A recent article in the San Jose Mercury News provides a good opportunity to review and discuss the issue of privatization of water utlities in a concrete context. The reason for the proposed sale is the budget of San Jose, like many municipalities in California, is facing rough times. There are many details that Greens need to address. One is whether the failure to gain this $50 million by the city will result in the loss of services. This is the current claim by the city. Details need to be provided to get a clearer picture of this. Can these funds be used for public schools? Greens should ask this and establish public education as THE priority during these difficult times.

The article raises other issues such as the possible layoffs of 40 municipal workers. This also is an issue that can be raised in the discussion on the deal. There would seem to be a way to establish a mechanism, consistent with seniority rights to include existing municipal workers in the enlarged private system. The issue of water rates could be phased in after a review of the existing rates for the San Jose Water Company (SJWC) with a possible moratorium on shutoffs for the first year.

Structurally, the SJWC will provide similar services without the same system of "public accountability". At issue is state law and existing city ordinances in regards to rates of private water services. The leverage in going ahead with the sale might be to improve the engagement of rate payers in pricing issues. The issue of Hetch-Hetchy water use begs to be addressed through regional long-term water planning to move towards sustainable water usage and the development of a water budget that defines allocations and prioritization of them. The premise of San Jose's entitlement to Hetch-Hetchy water is the role of the Santa Clara Water District's (SCWD) ability to review allocations and its role in representing the public welfare. Our questions as Greens need to be "How does the SCWD define the public interest in water allocations?" "What is the existing mechanism for users and stakeholders in the region in water administration and management?" "What are the current conflicts between users in the region in regards to allocations and what needs to be done in the future to address water supply issues?"

There is no new water supply here. Whether there is a sale or not will not impact on the supply issue. Likewise, it is not primarily an issue of fighting cutbacks, unless Greens can make it so in regards to education funding. The SCWD has already cut 25 employees from its payroll. It is worth saying that the SCWD is entering its third year without rate increases and this certainly should be included in the debate. SCWD has implemented the state law in regards to conservation measures. One interesting side note is "Santa Clara County's civil grand jury has accused the chairman of the countywide water district of flouting state ethics laws by promoting a series of district projects likely to increase the value of his family's land holdings in Alviso." If anything this reinforces our own position of the need for planning to be integrated with management and inclusion of users, the environment and the science. it also provides a glimpse into the gap between existing "public" regulation and what is in the public interest as determined by the region itself. Accountability requires engagement of diverse users. This prevents phoney numbers games in the supply issue and present a dialogue directly with those on the ground (or in the water as the case may be).

Our position in the California Green Party Water Planning Platform plank provides guidance for Greens in Santa Clara in addressing the issue with clarity. "Integrate land use with water use for urban planning decisions. Political bodies, such as municipal water authorities, need to be more inclusive in the representation of users, hydrologists, environmental health professionals, and environmental advocates in the region and address the issues affecting the regional supply and demand of the resource, as well as water quality. Presently, the interests and concerns of real estate and development interests have a disproportionate voice in new allocations." The road forward has to be based on sustainability and establishing the political entities capable of integrating Grassroots Democracy and Ecological Wisdom.