Monday, May 14, 2012

Water Budgets Meet Financial Budgets in CA Water Wars

There is an increasing body of evidence that any resolution to the peripheral canal and Delta infrastructure is meeting a financial wall around which there is no room to maneuver. What is happening in California is no different in many ways from what is happening elsewhere. Water wars are driven by allocations, financial and hydrological. Coastal urban allocations in California are disproportional in their priority because of the use of geo-political entities. As the Central Valley becomes more urbanized there is an increase in their political representation. But as long as diversions are the solution of choice in California, regional planning will never be utilized to integrate urban users with agricultural and rural users in the decision-making process.

There is a real base of support here in California among ag and rural users for regional planning. At this stage, this is primarily to get the State Legislature out of the process. Politically, there remains the Arnold attitude towards water that “We can have it all.” This is simply because of the political control of the State Legislatures by urban users.

Establishing new geographical and political parameters for diversions would change this impulse. Coastal waters have not been included in the array of supply options in California.  There remain untapped potential supplies that have been modeled elsewhere. “Desalination systems account for a fifth of the freshwater used in Israel and, according to existing plans, by the end of the decade that amount will be doubled.” The freshwater fetishness has provided other options not previously on the table. Wastewater has been tapped by Orange County as a source for municipal water supplies. Pacific Institute concluded in a 2006 study: “Is desalination the ultimate solution to our water problems? No. Is it likely to be a piece of our water management puzzle? Yes. In the end, decisions about desalination developments will revolve around complex evaluations of local circumstances and needs, economics, financing, environmental and social impacts, and available alternatives. We urge that such decisions be transparent, honest, public, and systematic.”

Point being: that the tax structure has too long defined the water debates for revenues. No discussion of a tiered water severance tax has been broached. No local revenue raising regional bodies are being proposed to provide collaborative adaptive governance for long-term regional planning. Diversions will always prove to be projects with enormous price tags attached. California’s state budget has been the source of its system of aqueducts throughout the state. But that party is over. In November 2012, the Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2012 will be on the ballot in California. If passed, it will enable the state to borrow $11.1 billion for water projects. “The state makes yearly debt payments of about $10 billion on its $89 billion debt load.”

Fundamental questions to raise are: Will the charge of the project to users impact on local ag and urban water use in the Central Valley? Will this impact the economic situation and food production of the Central Valley? Are there any options that can address the issue of supply of water equitably for the Central Valley? I think I have included several of those options that have not been developed. A public planning process would certainly increase the options explored for their feasibility.

The concerns of the Delta residents are distinct and addressing them needs to acknowledge that existing political entities have not proven capable of addressing the complexities of infrastructure needs. As things stand the water war has benefited neither the Delta nor the Central Valley. It raises the question of whether the Central Valley Aquifer provides a hydrological linkage between the two regions that could bring them together in a regional water planning process. Is it possible for such diverse stakeholders to sit down together at the same table and map out a common future in regards to water management? Can they accurately gauge supplies, evaluate demand, establish a regional or sector-based annual water budget, improve measurement and monitoring, develop infrastructure, establish sustainable goals for conservation, maintain appropriate water quality guidelines based on the character of the usage, raise revenues, and work in conjunction with Federal and state agencies?

That’s a plateful. The questions that can be raised to get a clearer picture of the context faced by water users and the environment today are: Can the State Legislature continue to use the Public Trust Doctrine to build massive projects, more often than not, for California's coastal metropolitan uses from rural regions of the state? Can our state budget manage to come up with the funds needed to finance the projects as they have been developed in the past? Can the supplies address the demands of the wide array of beneficial water use in a sustainable manner? Can growth be balanced on the basis of renewable supplies of water? Can rural communities work in conjunction with long-term planners in developing rural conservation ordinances that don’t deplete the aquifer? Will urban users recognize their own responsibilities in adapting to local resources without depending on other regions of the state for their supplies?

These kinds of questions are centered on the issue of water governance and not simply diversions. The answers to the questions require a review of existing entities as they empower users and efficiently and effectively manage our water resource. It is becoming increasingly clear that the state of California cannot simply drop bonds out there to provide new supplies for coastal regions. The state’s regions need to develop the most holistic evaluation of their resources and establish their own priorities in regards to the maximum utilization and development of the resource.

Regions in California already have the resources, both natural and financial, to develop new long-term plans to be implemented in a fair and consistent manner.  It should be said that coastal regions and others have begun to demonstrate innovations in ground water management. “The regions are increasingly developing their own means of addressing water management that have produced new models of stakeholder engagement, Among other things, we see agencies using measurable objectives for limiting groundwater drawdown; analyzing suites of management options with transparent decision criteria and simulations; collaborating with neighboring agencies; involving a broad range of agricultural, municipal, environmental, State, and federal stakeholders in their planning decisions; undertaking groundwater metering as well as monitoring; actively controlling pumping to limit groundwater drawdown; and protecting hydrologically connected surface waters and groundwater-dependent ecosystems.”

Bad actors in water use should not be extended the continued graciousness of getting supplies from others as a reward. On the other hand, the potential for improving the employment situation in areas such as Los Angeles has been demonstrated to be the most effective in the development of water resources. In a recent study by the Economic Roundtable it is presented that: “Los Angeles is the most populous region of California, with average daily water use of 135 gallons per person – 49,275 gallons per person annually. Population growth and demands from other regions for an increasing share of the water that has traditionally come to Los Angeles is making it increasingly difficult and expensive for Los Angeles to import enough water to meet local demand…Periodic droughts and the high costs of importing water from the Sacramento Delta and Colorado River Basin make the need to achieve greater water use efficiency even more urgent.” “Findings from the Economic Roundtable’s study indicate that there are much greater local benefits from investing in local water use efficiency projects than from equivalent investments in massive statewide projects.”

The plentifulness of our resources and the resourcefulness of our people can effectively and efficiently be utilized at the regional levels. Whether in the Delta, the Central Valley or the metropolitan coastal regions, there lies the foundation for new and adaptive water governance that does not simply jump from crisis to crisis. Now, more than ever, we have to find new avenues for construction and development of our resource infrastructure. Those being impacted by decisions need to have political entities that are open, transparent and representative of stakeholders, managers, specialists and the environment.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

L.A. Times' Steve Lopez: Obama's 'Hollywood Hypocrites'

EDITOR'S NOTE: There are times when an MSM columnist really "gets it." This one by Steve Lopez about Obama's $40,000 a ticket fundraiser in the San Fernando Valley gets it right on the money

Posted on the Los Angeles Times Web Page, May 10, 2012
Clooney's Obama Party Full of 'Hollywood Hypocrites'
By Steve Lopez

They say tonight's soiree for President Obama at George Clooney's house in Studio City is supposed to gross $15 million, and the operative word is "gross."

Yeah, pardon me for being such a party pooper, but isn't it a little offensive that 150 of L.A.'s high rollers would shell out $40,000 to kiss Clooney's ring and get maybe 10 seconds of face time with Obama?

And what about the thousands of saps who pumped an average of $23 into Obama's campaign coffers for the chance to be one of the two peons chosen to break bread with the VIPs?

I'd rather watch the Lakers game from a bar stool, which in fact is what I may do.

I haven't seen Clooney's guest list, but I'd bet $2 -– and not a penny more –- that his house will be full of that particularly unctuous strain of liberals who live for events like this that make them feel good about themselves but don't really give a toss for their own community. Los Angeles could end up declaring bankruptcy and these posers will be telling friends about their big night at George's house.

Fifteen million dollars -– a third of it raised by the local big shots -– is peanuts to Obama, really. Another drop in a bucket the size of Santa Monica Bay. And isn't money the root of all evil in politics, whether it's from out-of-control "super PACs" or wanna-be-seen moguls who might be expecting something in return for ponying up?

Los Angeles is shutting school libraries, laying off teachers and shutting down fire houses. And VIPs are paying $40,000 for a Wolfgang Puck hors d'oeuvre and a silly photo with a president who only now has come to think it might be OK for gay people to have the same rights as straight people.

Open your eyes, Hollywood hypocrites!

If there's any justice, the traffic jam on Ventura Boulevard will be so horrific that you'll miss the party and end up crying over a Du-par's short stack.

[Updated at 5:26 p.m. Oh come on, give me a break, all you defenders of obscene excess.

The problem is money and the way in which it undercuts democracy. Money from the right. Money from the left.

Money, money, money.

Yeah, sure, Obama’s got to raise all he can to fend off Mitt Romney and hold onto his seat. But is that a race to the top or a race to the bottom?

If money buys victory and access, what about the masses who can’t afford a $40 fundraiser let alone a $40,000 party?

When do they get the president’s ear?

I suspect some of the self-congratulatory high-rollers at Clooney's house are paying more for two hours with the President than they pay their nannies, housekeepers and gardeners in a year.

I’m sure George Clooney and some of his pals are good people who want to save the world and even toss a crumb to a local charity now and again. But if they’re so desperate to celebrate their wonderful ways and important causes, why not a Hollywood fundraising party to save the libraries, rec centers or the parks. Or better yet, might Wolfgang Puck and all the beautiful people be available to stage a fundraiser for campaign finance reform?]


Columnist Steve Lopez joined the staff of the Los Angeles Times in May 2001 after four years at Time Inc., where he wrote for Time, Sports Illustrated, Life and Entertainment Weekly.

Prior to Time Inc., Lopez was a columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Jose Mercury News and the Oakland Tribune. His work has won numerous national journalism awards for column writing and magazine reporting.

A California native, Lopez is the author of three novels and a book of non-fiction, "The Soloist: A Lost Dream, An Unlikely Friendship, And The Redemptive Power of Music."

Putting our House in Order

Let's start out with the premise that "business as usual" is getting nowhere in addressing the current economy. The defaults that are looming on housing, student loans and credit cards remain a dark cloud in regards to increasing consumption to increase demand. The market does work but it will always reflect the overall economy. Corrections are being made, but will not inherently produce a turn around. Obama is not a right-winger. He simply doesn't grasp the basic engine of the economy.

Let's start with the fallacy of "we can have it all- guns and butter". You cannot spend the same funds twice and there is a bottom to the barrel, no matter how many dollars you print. If there is not a change in the fundamental social forces that drive the economy, there will be no change in either the wage gap or unemployment. The focus of this election has been on minor changes in the tax code. The tax code is no more or less than a minor lift to peoples' ability to improve their standard of living or invest in the development of small businesses. If we use the WW2 model to demonstrate the key role of the Federal government in driving the economy, then we are left looking at the wage-price controls that were also a part of that model. If we use the New Deal as the model we are looking at a scenario without the debt/GDP ratio we have today.

"Business as usual" is trying to address constituency political demands the same as yesterday. As an example, the reality is that the political dynamics of "environmentalism" is constituent-based, not ecologically-based. They are resource battles and illustrate the conflict between urban and rural users. Water use, as an example, is confronting the fact that state governmental entities are dominated by urban users, so the "environmentally-friendly" proposal of instream flow is nothing less than the action by municipalities to get allocations previously used for agriculture.

"Business as usual" has addressed educational failings from the top down. We have long recognized the failure of urban public education but it has long-term impacts on our civil life and our society at large. But the solutions continue to make things worse instead of better. Making the situation worse, is the loss of value for studying by students.

The cultural revolution in the US has successfully crushed the old Protestant ethic in academics. In its place is more partying, less studying. It should be said that focus on personal behavior as a component of the political agenda has had many unexpected consequences. Among those effects is the rash of plagarism and cheating. We are seeing teachers cheat, as well as Wall Street brokers. Social workers have been caught robbing as well as Enron execs.

Not everything is economic and how we address charcter development has begun to demonstrate impacts on the focus of young people on their studies.There is something important that we lost with the Protestant ethic- that is a sense of individual accountability and responsibility. If the economy is going to get better than we need to improve our own conduct and expectations of each other.

We function as a small bit in a huge society of Gigabits. But if a virus robs us of our own sense of ethics, we ignore what is happening around us to our own detriment. Regional water planning taught me that people can work together when we agree on a common mission- a collective statement of individual shared values. We don't need to resurrect the Protestant ethic to define what we share as a nation. We do need to acknowledge the impact of our words and actions on others. Our economy is not something that starts from the top in some agency or corporate office, it begins with how hard we work as individuals and how we use the skills that we each have for the betterment of this world.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Professor Lakoff’s ‘Political Mind’

Editor's Note -- Scott McLarty serves as media coordinator for the Green Party of the United States and for the DC Statehood Green Party. This review of "The Political Mind" by George Lakoff first appeared in Green Horizon, Spring/Summer 2012.

Finding the Green Frame:
Professor Lakoff’s ‘Political Mind’ and the Green Party

By Scott McLarty

This past summer, some Green Party members opened up a dialogue with economic David C. Korten, who appeared via Skype on a screen before an audience at the party’s annual national meeting in Alfred, New York.

During one discussion with a few Greens, Korten said that the Green Party “must find its narrative.” People can grasp political ideas if they’re presented as part of a story. This makes sense. It’s impossible to think, for example, of the achievement of legal rights for black Americans apart from the dramatic narrative of the Civil Rights movement. Greens need to find their own story that places the party’s ideas and experiences as a growing political movement into a context that will enable Americans understand our claim to be the party of the 21st century.

Professor George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist and professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, has taken this basic idea much further in a series of books, one of which is ‘The Political Mind: A Cognitive Scientist’s Guide to Your Brain and Its Politics.” Like Korten, Lakoff’s sympathy is with progressives. He never mentions the Green Party and we can fault him from viewing US politics from within the restrictive two-party prison. Nevertheless, every Green Party member who thinks about how people think about politics should read the book.

According to Lakoff, progressives tend to subscribe to an 18th-century Enlightenment notion of reason, in which people make logical choices, especially political choices such as who to vote for, based on what’s in their own best interests. Lakoff says that this tendency among progressives is erroneous, demonstrably so, since Americans very often succumb to ruling-class propaganda and vote against their own interests.

Instead, says Lakoff, people think according to culturally-based conceptual frameworks and systems of metaphor. Reason and intellect are grounded in our emotions and our physical bodies — there is no difference between the mind and the brain. This doesn’t mean that humans are irrational. On the contrary, it’s rational to be disgusted and outraged by cruelty, murder, greed, and other evils. Our sense of justice and our political ideals are formed with the help of emotions, which are stimulated by the fields of metaphor in which such notions are communicated. Reason often takes place in the unconscious mind, where these mechanisms function most effectively.

Rightwing politicians and their think tanks have already figured this out. They know how to use the language of metaphor to reach and persuade the public. For example, Republicans describe their plans to lower taxes as “tax relief,” evoking a metaphor of “injury” that depicts taxation as an infliction from which we deserve relief, rather than something (when enacted fairly) that benefits all Americans. (An even more blatant example is the Republican decision to label estate taxes, which are applied only to millionaires, as a “death tax” that will affect all of us when we die, as if government were a vulture that feeds on our corpses.)

Progressives have been slow to learn the power of metaphor, which Lakoff called “frames” in an earlier and equally useful book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant.” For this reason, Republicans have been able to pull much of the public and most of the Democratic Party over their side when arguing for things like the invasion of Iraq, even when all the logical arguments were on the side of those who opposed President Bush’s war plans. The US troops sent over to depose Saddam Hussein were heroes fighting an evil-doer who, like a comic-book villain, was hiding weapons of mass destruction and conspiring with al-Qaeda to destroy America. When no WMDs were found and everyone realized that the Saddam-Osama conspiracy was implausible, the hero-versus-villain frame was discarded and replaced with one in which US troops were “rescuers” sent to bestow democracy on the beleaguered Iraqi people. Both of these frames leave out details like the drive to control Iraq’s oil supplies and assert political control over a large region of Asia.

While Republicans have excelled at exploiting frames, thanks to PR whizzes like Frank Luntz, Democrats have mostly relied on stale and ambiguous visions like “Bridge to the 21st Century” and “Hope is on the way.” An exception occurred with Barack Obama’s election victory in 2008, in which he was perceived as the conquering hero who delivered us after eight years of GOP misrule and the young “best and brightest” black man who carried the inherited mantle of Martin and Malcolm into the White House. These frames were effective because they convinced voters that Obama was the voice of progressive, antiwar Americans, even though his actual positions showed otherwise.

Logical thinking, dissociated from persuasive frames, motivates Greens to believe that we can convince the voting public to support us simply by communicating our Key Values and platform positions, along with some debate to support the ideas we stand for. The campaign brochures of Green candidates sometimes look like laundry lists of what they hope to accomplish if elected.

The Green New Deal, a useful distillation of Green Party agenda that many Green candidates have adopted as a sort of campaign manifesto, suffers from the same problem. It suggests President Roosevelt’s New Deal, which put millions of Americans to work and boosted productivity during the Great Depression, but this historical framework is a bit meager for people under 80 years old whose experience of the Depression is an essay they wrote for a high-school history class.

Greens running for office on the Green New Deal must find ways to turn it into a story that can involve voters personally and emotionally. I’m not sure how to accomplish this, but placing it in the context of documents that pushed America towards greater democracy and freedom might be a start: Tom Paine’s Common Sense, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and passage of various amendments, the Emancipation Proclamation, Seneca Falls Declaration, etc. Or perhaps a grand dramatic action, with an element of civil disobedience, to publicize the Green New Deal in the spirit of Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg in 1517, which touched off the Protestant Reformation.

The lack of cultural frames has stymied alternative parties for most of the last century. The Green Party is foreign to the two-party paradigm in which most Americans think about politics. There is nothing constitutional about exclusive rule by two parties, it’s simply a status quo that most Americans accept as natural.

Lakoff has famously compared the competition between the Republican and Democratic parties as a rivalry between the “strict father” and “nurturant parent” (usually mother) models that come out of the “family” frame in which government is perceived as the parents and citizens are the children. Alternative parties are irrelevant to this frame, just as Iraqi oil was irrelevant within the hero-villain frame used to promote the Iraq War.

This is why Green participation in elections seems to have the character of an eccentric distant relative who shows up at the front door when the family unit is about to settle down for dinner. When Greens remind other Americans that Green Parties exist and are often quite successful in elections in Europe, it only contributes further to the perception of the party as something foreign.

The spoiler accusation and other reasons people use not to take the Green Party seriously are informed by the idea that alternative parties are trying to interfere with something as natural as the family. How can the Green Party of the United States persuade people that we don’t only offer good ideas, we represent something that is authentically and indispensibly part of the American political landscape?

Greens must overcome the problem by developing our own frames. Occupy Wall Street provides some clues about how that might be accomplished. Occupy demonstrators seem to fit into a common narrative in US history, that of a popular uprising to defy the power of Wall Street and clear away the corruption of corporate-money politics. In the past half century, such uprisings have been marginalized and objections to the power of business elites have been relegated to the Democratic Party’s “nurturant parent” function, where such conflicts are resolved by the enactment of a few modest social programs while the power of elites remains unaffected. The Occupy Movement, if it can resist cooptation by Democratic Party front groups like that would turn it into “Reelect Obama,” has the potential to overturn these facades.

Lakoff writes:

"America is about empathy and responsibility: people caring both for themselves and for one another, and acting responsibly on that sense of care…. If progressives can stick to these basics, activate empathy in our fellow citizens, and frame issues so that they notice all the protection and empowerment that government affords in their everyday lives, then we have a fighting chance that the minds and the brains of our countrymen will align once more with the fundamental values and goals of American democracy. We need to say over and over that this is what true patriotism is. Moreover, we need language to evoke the frames that tell us why conservatism is destructive to democracy.

For Greens, enlightening Americans about the destructiveness of Republican-style conservatism isn’t enough. We must also enable people to understand that the Democratic Party shares much of the same mindset, even adopting many of the GOP’s agenda. Under President Obama, Democrats have devoted themselves to building the US war machine for deployment anywhere around the world for US interests, often on the basis of “preemption” as in the case of Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions. Democratic leaders have also embraced the temptation to slash Social Security and Medicare, legally questionable mandates requiring everyone to purchase private health insurance, offshore drilling along US coasts, new nuclear power plants, privatization of publicly owned resources and services (including military), taxpayer-funded bailouts and virtual impunity for Wall Street firms whose fraud caused the 2008 economic meltdown but minimal assistance for working Americans hurt by the crisis, and too many other examples to be listed here.

In other words, Greens must introduce their own frames to persuade people that politics restricted to two corporate-money parties is un-American and has damaged our country. This will be difficult. According to the usual media script, bipartisanship is good and gridlock is bad. (We could have used a little gridlock when the US Senate confirmed George W. Bush’s 2000 election “victory” despite a possible election theft, when Congress was asked to cede war powers to the White House in advance of the invasion of Iraq, and when the Wall Street bailout was first proposed in 2008.)

Greens must also find frames strong enough to penetrate the psychology of progressives who are too relieved to have a Democrat in the White House, too ready to believe he shares their progressive agenda, and too loyal or impressed by his charisma when confronted with the need to register protest. Professor Lakoff shows the same tendencies when he writes in ‘The Political Mind’, which came out in early 2009, about Barack Obama’s impending move into the White House.

It’s important to understand that Lakoff is not talking about propaganda, although conceptual frames can be manipulated for such purposes, as the PR successes of the GOP have proved ever since Reagan was elected president in 1980. The flood of deceptive political ads we’re likely to see in the 2012 election, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that removed limits on advertising by corporate PACs on behalf of candidates, will be a crash course on the use of frames. Some are already at work in the GOP primary contest, with Republican candidates accusing each other of being “Washington insiders,” which taps into the “federal government is evil” frame favored by Republicans. (Especially Republicans who work in the federal government.)

Rather, Lakoff means patterns of thinking and communicating that are built into our cognitive wiring, just as all humans use grammar when they speak, even though the particular rules and structures of grammar of a language are learned. Cognitive linguists like Lakoff compare their theory of innate brain structure for culturally learned systems of metaphor with Noam Chomsky’s transformational-generative grammar, which sparked a revolution in linguistics in the late 1950s.

Lakoff’s responses to Chomsky and other “18th-century Enlightenment” linguistics who are skeptical that there exist deep structures for metaphor and frames analogous to grammatical deep structures will be interesting to those (like me) who enjoy a good academic dispute, but these topics are only a small part of ‘The Political Mind’ and Green readers shouldn’t be put off.

Lakoff waxes too optimistic in the final chapter, where he looks forward to an era of truth in politics made possible by the New Enlightment understanding of metaphor and frames advanced by himself and his fellow cognitive linguists. The sophisticated use of frames by rightwing politicians, with the wizardry of Luntz and other PR experts, suggests that deception might become even more pervasive in this era of saturation propaganda. We’ve seen how easily the Tea Party movement was manipulated by GOP operatives into endorsing remedies based on deeper entrenchment of the very ruinous policies, like Wall Street deregulation, that triggered the recent economic meltdown.

But this is an argument for the Green Party and Green candidates to find more sustained and persuasive ways to bring the Green imperative to the public. ‘The Political Mind’ is indispensible for Greens who care about how we communicate.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = Scott McLarty serves as media coordinator for the Green Party of the United States and for the DC Statehood Green Party. He has had articles, guest columns, and book reviews published in Roll Call, Common Dreams, Z Magazine, Green Horizon, The Progressive Review, In These Times, and several local and community publications. He joined the Green Party in 1996 and in 1998 ran for the Ward 1 seat on the City Council of the District of Columbia. Mr. McLarty grew up on Long Island and now lives in Washington, DC.