Tuesday, December 08, 2015

I the 2015 election cycle, California Greens ran in 13 local races, winning 10.  That is a good record.  I am, however, surprised that we have not done more in this regard. This level of results indicates that we should.  All of the energy seems to be involved in the focus on the 2016 presidential race, a fact that seems to be driven by the big money that sponsors the outreach efforts of the candidates and the incessant campaign coverage from those oh so savvy pundits on the tube.

This seems antithetical to Green ideals that value, at least is words, grassroots democracy, decentralization and community based economics.  You would think that Greens would be making the effort to do more at the local level.  These are the offices that can literally change our lives and provide the name recognition to gain higher office.

In California, no event will dominate 2016 like a highly probable strong El Niño. This is all the more important as it follows a 4 year severe drought that has had far reaching effects on local government.   In Morgan Hill, two entities control how we get our water and at what cost.  They are the Santa Clara Valley Water District (wholesaler)  and the City Council of Morgan Hill, the retailer.  I use the business terms because both organizations are in the business of delivering water for our use

During the drought, we were asked to use less water, saving what little we had until the rains came again.  As a result, neither the Water District nor the City had as much revenue as they had projected.  Their solution is to charge more for each unit of water.  Since we use less, they need a higher rater to cover the costs that are mostly fixed, not subject to variation with volume.  In his recent book, Water 4.0, David Sedlak traces the history of water systems from ancient days to now and arrives at the conclusion that we can no longer manage this most precious of resources through large scale systems.

In Sedlak's view, Water 4.0 will have to provide for distributed management of water.  That is a bit of what we are doing.  We now have a collection process for rooftop water and use that to make sure our garden and fruit trees are adequately watered as long as we can.  In the past year, we managed to lower our consumption of city supplied water by over 30%.  In a review of Water 4.0 published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Kate Galbraith concludes  with a quote from Sedlak. "If they want to realize the full benefits of conservation, water utilities will have to accept the idea that they are no longer in the business of selling water," he writes. "Rather, they are stewards of a limited resource."

 Both the City Council and the Water District Board are elected offices.  This is where Greens should be focusing energy and effort.   If we can get this right, we might end up with Water 4.0 and a path to higher office because we proved that we can be trusted to govern.

Friday, October 16, 2015


This is a bit of a diversion from my promised series of posts on CA Water and the Delta.  But then, maybe it isn't.  Last month, I read a post by Oregon State professor Michael E. Campana (referenced in my list of sources in Part I.)  based on a review of UC Berkeley engineering professor, David Sedlak's new book, Water 4.0.  Yesterday, I was scanning the new book section at the Morgan Hill Public Library and there it was, Water 4.0.  Now, it is on my table waiting for me to finish it.

The review was written by G. Tracy Mehan III, currently Executive  Director of Government Affairs for the American Water Works Association. That makes him the key lobbyist for those whose business is delivering the water when you turn on the tap.;  Since Water 4.0 intends to turn a lot of this on it's head, that makes Mehan's review doubly meaningful.  Is he more apt to criticize those aspects of Water 4.0 that challenge the function, or the legitimacy of his member organizations?  I can't answer that yet, but welcome the words that conclude his review:
Sedlak has written a stimulating, provocative book that both informs and challenges the reader to think seriously, and creatively, about water management for the next generation.
More pertinent to my thinking, is the idea that we need to dispense with the "grid" as an effective means of distributing water.  As Mehan states, 
He sees climate change with its erratic precipitation patters (too much or too little,) as as the primary driverof this imperative to get beyond this traditional water grid. Other drivers include a growing economy and population; aging infrastructures; escalating costs of water capture, transportation, storage and treatment and tenacious resistance to price increases by local leaders and citizens whether it be for upgrading infrastructure or conservation.
Right now, we have a water grid that is massively expensive to maintain.   The most recent projects from the CA Department of Water Resources calls for spending $10s of billions on infrastructure... known as the tunnels... that will deliver no new water.   It is all part of a gigantic bureaucratic system in which so called stakeholders only pretend to represent the public.  When CA DWR asks for stakeholder input it comes not from the public who use the water, but from the wholesalers like the Metropolitan Water District who continue to need more water to sell to continuing paying for their operation and salaries.These organizations also appear to own the state apparatus that is supposed to oversee the system. 

If this sounds familiar, it should.  The Public Utilities Commission is supposed to regulate electric and gas industry in CA.  We have seen recently where both PUC members and PG&E executives have lost their jobs for being too cozy with each other.  Another hierarchical grid designed for the efficient delivery of  a needed service.  

Maybe it is time to lock up these grids.  The alternatives for electricity are clearly available and it is becoming easier to go off grid or to share locally.  When I sit on my deck, I can look across Anderson Lake to a row of houses on the crest of Finley Ridge to the east.  They are all off grid.  Homes were designed to be energy efficient years ago.  

What we are lacking is a regulatory system to manage this.  Can we envision PG&E as managing the distribution of electricity no matter where or how it is generated?  It might require also rethinking our local governmental structures to work deal with a rapidly changing architecture.  It won't be easy, but at least the pieces are there.  

The problem with Water 4.0 is that the pieces are not yet so clearly identified and the impact of land use is much greater.  Right now, our governmental leaders are not even asking the right questions, the word ecology not being in their vocabulary,  let along coming up with the right answers.  If we need distributed electric generation, and distributed water management might we alo need distributed political power in the manner that only Greens are advocating.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Drought, Water and Politics Part II, Saving the Delta

I don't think that you can understand what is happening regarding the CA Delta if you only consider what you are being told.  There are currents running through the politics that are as dangerous as an Ocean Beach rip tide if they are ignored. I hope to lay out what I think is happening though no one is quite willing to say it... yet.   I guess that stubbornness comes with age.

To begin with, we all need to understand just what the delta is and one good way to do this is to view the recently posted Youtube version of Restore the Delta's award winning documentary, Over Troubled Waters.  Words are not sufficient to tell us all we need to know.  We need the imagery.

There are some who do not think that the Delta can be saved, or at least not all of it.  There are two interlocked issues involved.  First, there is climate change with the inevitable result of sea level rise. That interferes with the multiple use of the Delta and it's water: agricultural land, water supply and an ecology that supports all of it's non-human species.  To view the scope of this problem, we need to look at a map.  The views on these maps show just how much of the Delta is threatened.

I have long espoused the view that the CA Dept of Water Resources has no intention to protect the Delta from climate change driven sea level rise.  That is the only rationale for the twin tunnel project that makes any sense at all.  But, I was waiting to find good substantiation for that.  This past week, the Woodland, CA Daily Democrat published an OpEd by Jerry Meral that lays it all out.
Even without earthquakes and floods, Delta islands will almost certainly be inundated by sea level rise during our lifetimes -- making it no longer possible to move fresh drinking water across the Delta to the Bay Area.

Who, you might ask, is Jerry Meral?  He is a long time Jerry Brown crony from Brown's first administration.  In more recent times, he was Deputy Director of the  Dept. Water Reso.urces in charge of, among other things, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan that includes Gov Brown's major tunnel project.  Earlier this year, he  resigned and joined the National  Heritage Institute as Director of the California Water Program.

It is my opinion that Greens should withhold any support for Delta Water Projects until the State of California has a clear plan what has to be done to deal with sea level rise.  Right now, that plan is often referred to but never worked on.

Major infrastructure investments are apt to be throw away projects if they are built in the Delta.  Two current plans are the tunnel project and a decision by the Metropolitan Water District to buy 4 Delta Islands.  In both cases, the lands involved have a high probability of being inundated by sea level rise before their useful life is completed.  The southern terminus for the twin tunnel project is called the Clifton Court Forebay, and that is only 1 M above mean high tide.  This could by severely affected by 2050 during very high tides. 

I wonder how what the residents of the Delta are going to do as they slowly lose their homes and livelihoods.  I also wonder how the State of CA might attempt to mitigate the financial ruin of those families.  It is not something than anyone wants to talk about and for good reason.  They have no answers.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Drought, Water and Politics Part I, Introduction

Not long ago, I promised that I would work on a review of water issues for the Green Party of CA.  It is a complicated set of issues with a long and often ugly history.  I won't go very far into the history of the issues here unless it applies directly to what we are facing now.
For example, when I started looking seriously at CA water issues I was working to unseat Richard Pombo, at that time Chairman of the House Committee on Resources (now Natural Resources).  Often, we saw Pombo, a Republican, together with Sen. Diane Feinstein, a Democrat.  Well, Pombo is gone but not Feinstein and so the history of what she has done in the past is open to criticism and that will be given.  The summary of her achievements is simple.  Nothing has ever worked but she gave great speeches and keeps getting re-elected. I have written about the Delta for years and that means writing about Sen. Feinstein, as I did back in 2006 when we were stuck with an unworkable CalFed compromise that she sponsored and which the current plans was supposed to fix. 

I think that it makes sense to divide this into specific sections focused on the upcoming issues that require political action.  First and foremost is the question of the State of California's plan to build twa o massive tunnels under a portion of the Delta, carrying the water from the Sacramento  and American Rivers under the Delta to discharge at Clifton Court Forebay northwest of Tracy, where it can be pumped into canals carrying it South to West San Joaquin Valley ag interests and then over the mountains to the Metropolitan Water District.  The scope and cost (upwards of $40 Billion) make essential that we get it right and that everyone understand what is happening, not just what the bureaucrats want you to know.   Clifton Forebay is only about 1 M above mean sea level and no one is talking about the cost to deal with that.  That will come as Part II, and shortly as we only have a couple of weeks to make any impact on the process.

In Part III, I will deal with issues related to the drought we are experiencing now and the deluge we might be getting from a very strong El Niño.  Very few media outlets get this right.  Most oversimplify the issues involved. There are only a few journalists that I trust with this story.  I will list those below.


Journalists:  These are the major CA journalists who have the knowledge and the capability to deal with water issues in CA.  Most of them have years of experience on the "environmental beat" and that show when they don't feed you pablum.
  • Paul Rogers:   Writes for the San Jose Mercury News.  I follow him on twitter(@PaulRogersSJMN) to make sure I don't miss anything.  Twenty years on the beat and tells the story straight.  Also often on KQED.
  • Matt Weiser:  Writes for the Sacramento Bee:  
  • Alex Breitler:  Writes for the Stockton Record and covers San Joaquin Valley issues.
  • Chris Austin:  Chris is a sel described "water news junkie" and maintains the Maven's Notebook.  She catches everything that the others don't cover and a lot more. If you only have time to follow one source, this should be it.
  • Emily Green.  Her blog is Chance of Rain and it is well worth the read including this summer's post, Fixing a Broken Delta.
  • John Fleck.  His inkstain blog is often cited by those who really know western water.   Lives in New Mexico but understands almost everything about Western US Water.
  • Lloyd G. Carter. Lloyd was a journalist until he became a lawyer.  He calls his blog The Chronicles of the Hydraulic Brotherhood. I will mention Lloyd more, as he was key to reporting the selenium pollution of the Kesterson Reservoir by ag interests from the Westlands Water District.
  •  Dr. Peter Gleick  Founder and Director of the Pacific Institujte.  Worldwide reputation on water issues.  Follow him on twitter to see what he is up to now.  @PeterGleick
  • Michael E. Campana  Professor Emeritus at Oregon State University.  Blogs as the AquaDoc  I follow on twitter @WaterWired as much of what he produces is irrelevant unless you have a degree and are interested in a job.  
  • Donald Zeitland.  He has a blog called Aquanomics.. the political economics of water.   But I list him here.  PhD in economics from UC Berkeley and currently Assistant Prof. of Economics at Leiden University in the Netherlands. If you think that water and economics belong in the same sentence, you need to read Zeitland.
Activist Organizations: Both of these have had some supportand or endorsement from GPCA.
Then, there is Dan Bacher: Journalist, blogger, activist and always outspoken.  Dan is managing editor of Fish-Sniffer, a magazine for sport fishing.  Blogs all over the place including at Daily Kos though he is no Democrat (not at Green either).

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Testing the World's Will

Television news does a very good job of covering disasters.  Now, it is the flow of refugees from Syria and other Middle East or North African countries streaming in to Austria, Germany... passing through Hungary where the government does not want more workers, but is willing to pass them on and the people are turning out to help in a humanitarian way.

Television news does not do a very good job of digging in to the root causes of the story.  The "fleeing ISIS" motive is real enough to be all they need.  It is easy to understand.  It has a villain to blame.   But the problems in Syria come more from the reality of a multi-year drought.  With flocks and fields failing to support the rural existence, many Syrians fled to the cities where there was no work.  The unrest that followed is what we have seen, again and again, whether you want to blame the Assad regime or ISIS. 

For this type of news, you need to turn to alternate media, such as this post yesterday by Joe Romm at Climate Progress.   He clearly links the Syrian crisis to climate change.  More importantly, he warns us all that, unless the US makes major changes, we will be the target of an even greater climate driven mass migration.  While Donald Trump is railing against our porous borders and the fact that they allow relatively easy access to the US for those willing to risk the desert, we find that almost all of the Republican Candidates for POTUS have prepared some version of a "stop the immigration" position. 

Romm makes our choices clear:
Given the current political debate over immigration policy, it’s worth asking two questions. First: if the United States, through our role as the greatest cumulative carbon polluter in history, plays a central role in rendering large parts of Mexico and Central America virtually uninhabitable, where will the refugees go? And second: will we have some moral obligation to change our immigration policy?
While every current candidate of the major parties is treating this as a policy, their basis changes.  Some would protect our economy, workers jobs, the rule of law, or in Trump's case, provide safety on our streets, not a single one has come forward to treat this as a moral issue.  To do so would have ramifications that they dare not consider. If climate refugees becomes a moral issue, then surely we must act to prevent it.  Leave the fossil fuels in the ground until we have no other choice would be a good beginning.  Do we have the political will to do this?

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

What "The Left" Should Be Doing in the USA in 2015

Check this conversation between Amy Goodman and Richard Wolff.

Instead of obsessing over sex and "race" this should be the focus of "The Left" in the USA today.

RICHARD WOLFF: I think what Syriza shows in Greece is the potential of a mass popular resistance, not only to the austerity policies that came in after the crisis of 2008, but even to the very basic system of the countries of Europe that divide people into a tiny number of very wealthy and a mass of poor, that the system is producing outcomes that more and more people are hurt by, are critical of and want to change. But the conventional politics, the Republican and Democratic parties here and their equivalents all across Europe, don’t see it, don’t act on it, don’t even speak about it. So it becomes a kind of a vacuum, where there’s no political expression of what a growing mass of people feel, both about austerity and about capitalism as a system. And so it’s like a solution into which you drop that last little bit of hard material and everything crystallizes. Everybody is waiting for the new political voice to emerge that speaks to and represents what the traditional politics have failed to do.

Bernie Sanders is doing that in this country, and he’s doing it very well, exactly like Syriza surprised everybody. Indeed, in England, there’s a struggle going on right now inside the Labour Party, where a candidate like Bernie Sanders, named Corbyn, is surprising everybody by the support he’s getting inside the struggle for who will be the new leader of the Labour Party. So you see everywhere the signs of an emerging left wing, not because of some political maneuver, but because of the enormous vacuum that a left leadership can take advantage of, given what has happened in the last eight years of this capitalist global system.

AMY GOODMAN: How does Bernie Sanders compare to Hillary Clinton?

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, she’s the old. She is the staid, do it by the books, the old rules, as Paul said so nicely. She is playing the game the way the game has been played now for decades. Bernie Sanders is saying the unthinkable, saying it out loud, saying it with passion, putting himself forward, even though the name "socialist," which was supposed to be a political death sentence—as if it weren’t there. And he’s showing that for the mass of the American people, it’s not the bad word it once was. It’s sort of a kind of position in which the conventional parties are so out of touch with how things have changed, that they make it easy for Mr. Sanders to have the kind of response he’s getting. And my hat’s off to him for doing it.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what socialism means.

RICHARD WOLFF: Well, that’s a big one. Socialism has traditionally meant one thing, but it’s changing, as well. Traditionally, it meant that instead of private ownership of means of production, of factories and land and offices, you socialize it. The government takes it over. And instead of having bargaining in the market, buying and selling goods to one another, we work from a governmental plan. So it gives the government an enormous power. But the idea was, if the government owns and operates the businesses, and if the government plans how we distribute goods and services, it will all be done more democratically, more egalitarian, etc., etc., than capitalism. That was always the idea. The problem was, socialists have to admit, that giving the government that much power raises a whole new set of problems, which the Soviet Union and China and so on illustrate. So the question is: Are there other ways of understanding socialism that gets us the benefits without the negatives? And I think the new direction is the whole focus at the enterprise level, of changing the way we organize enterprises, so they stop being top-down, hierarchical, board of directors makes all the decisions, and we move to this idea which is now catching on: cooperation, workers owning and operating collectively and democratically their economy and their enterprise.

* * * 

Unfortunately, Ms. Hillary Clinton is not the only one in USA politics representing "the old... the staid, do it by the books...  playing the game the way the game has been played now for decades." The same thing can be said of the old activists and intellectuals who dominate Our So-Called Left in the USA. They have lived their whole lives playing the game of single-issue "Identity Politics" for decades. And just like mainstream Republicans and Democrats our "Lefty" leaders "don’t see it, don’t act on it, don’t even speak about it."

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Thinking About Thinking in 1776 and 2015

Haymo Schauer, a Green Party brother in San Francisco, posted a statement on the California Green Party Facebook page on July 4, 2015:
The USA was founded by wealthy men who wanted to have independence from other rich men in Europe. They did this so that they would have the freedom to act in any way they wanted to enrich themselves further. But the rest of us are not free of these ruthless free men since they violate the rights and boundaries of those beneath them. Until we the majority of the population are free of their tyranny then we have nothing to celebrate.

Such views are not uncommon on "The Left" in the USA. Thus, every thanksgiving, we note that many of our Indigenous brothers and sisters call Thanksgiving a "Day of Mourning". In my African-American community, we remember the July 1852 speech by the great abolitionist Frederick Douglas: "What to the Slave is 4th of July?" as if nothing has changed in the USA in the last 163 years.

I respectfully disagree with this project. I do not disagree on account of any sentimental attachment to the USA Establishment. I disagree because it is time to quit thinking about the thinking of 1776 or 1852 and start thinking about the thinking needed to save humanity and the planet in 2015.
In my humble opinion, we should remember and honor the revolution of 1776 as exactly no more... and no less... than it was. Yes, it was a no more than a "bourgeois" revolution of wealthy White men. But it was no less than the overthrow of kings, state church, and the nobility of what was then the world's most powerful empire.
Thinking About Our Thinking in 2015

I strongly believe that both "liberal" Democrats and "conservative" Republicans in the USA are incapable of grasping our unprecedented global crisis of the 21st Century.  I am a Green Party man willing to publicly declare that our 10 Key Values of the 4 Pillars of Green Parties around the world are superior... yes, superior... to the thinking of the "Old Liberals" and the "Old Left." 

The Four Pillars of the Green Party are a foundational statement for many worldwide Green parties as a future oriented movement based on the practical experience and wisdom of labor, civil rights, and peace movements.

  1. Ecological Wisdom
  2. Social Justice
  3. Grassroots Democracy
  4. Nonviolence 

The "Old Liberals" talk a good game about "the environment" to appeal to their base of educated middle-class voters. But they refuse to "connect the dots" between environmental issues and social justice. The "Old Left" has never really believed in nonviolence. My "Lefty" friends cherish the old dream of bloody, violent revolution. Never mind that in the USA violent radicalism is more likely to resemble the fascism our Left leaders fear than the revolutionary socialism  they say they want. Finally, one shocking thing is the general contempt of "Our Leaders" from Left, Right, and Center to democracy. They claim to speak for "The People" but their speeches, writings, and Internet posts and tweets are dripping with contempt for "The People" whom they regard as lazy, "dumb", rascist, sexist, fools. 

Give the people strong, independent progressive alternatives. Then, we'll see  who is the fool. 


Thursday, June 25, 2015

El Niño is not our savior.

California is in the 4th year of a drought. There is a lot of hope, speculation that El Niño conditions will last into early 2016 and end the drought. The last strong El Niño was in 1997/8 and the worries at that time were for floods.

This should not get us too excited. While El Niño may end the drought in CA, it is causing a serious drought in the Caribbean with reservoirs drying up, rivers running dry and crops failing. That is almost the conditions we have in California this year. ,

  Dr. Peter Gleick of the Paciific Institute has warned us that an El Niño event in the middle of a drought might not be the reason to become careless with our use of water. To begin with, the summer is not over. The Rain Year has not started and 2015 is already acting like the hottest year on record. It is going to get worse before the summer is over. My neighbors, most of who do not have lush lawns, are talking of just trying to keep trees and shrubs alive. So let's assume a strong El Niño continues. We get a lot of water. What then? How much do we use and how much do we store? Can we bank the water in the aquifers that are currently collapsing. According to a tweet from @PeterGleick "Tulare CA approved new 3284 drilling permits while 1,126 wells have gone dry.Unsustainable." http;//tularecounty.ca.gov/emergencies/in… pic.twitter.com/uly7utfy3W"  They will not all fill up. Some of that aquifer capacity can never be reclaimed as the land above it has subsided. In some areas of CA, this is happening at a rate approaching 1 ft / yr. 

Then, we have to ask what happens following the rains of an El Niño year, assuming that they come as hoped for. Will we return to the averages of that past of have we gone through such a climatic shift that we return to an extension of the drought? I can see a lot of reasons to assume that the drought conditions return and very few, if any, downsides to basing water policy on that assumption. 

 With water policy on the agenda at the next GPCA meeting, we need to get this right. Martin Zehr and I worked very hard to get a new statement of water policy through the GPUS National Committee when we were both on the GPUS EcoAction Committee. I can see no reason why that should not guide us now. Failing to do so just adds to the problem of food scarcity.

I call attention to the very recent report Food System Shock published by Anglis Ruskin University and Lloyds of London Insurance Co. This report describes a realistic scenario of inaction on climate and then projects that out to 2040. The goal is to help the insurer make better plans for the future. The result is to scare the hell out of me, not so much because the ramifications are so severe (and they are, famine, riots, etc) but that we can see it starting to happen now, with this drought, here in California. You see the anything for a bigger profit corporate agriculture and its control over the political process. You see the manner in which so many are cut out our so called democratic decision making processes with secret closed door deal and a nod and a wink from Sen. Feinstein.