Water

From a Google Image Search – The Arizona Republic

We should all be getting a bit worried about America’s fresh water supplies and the distribution of fresh water. Tempted by pleasant year-round temperatures, or at least the lack of snowy days, and plenty of sunshine it sometimes seems that too many people have decided to move to locations with limited fresh water supplies. The pictures we saw on the media this week of the rock-face record of changing water depths on the Colorado River, which serves as a main source of water for dry states and western states, was quite shocking. A long drought has been forcing states to look at how they will supply water to a ballooning population and a vitally important agricultural area, all drawing water from sources that are drying up. 

I remember reading a book, popular in the seventies, called Future Shock by Alvin Toffler, which warned that climate change would bring drought to America in the future. That was 40+ years ago now. Climate change is, of course, unpredictable. It is entirely possible that western states could be seeing torrential rains and flooding, or that the dwindling snows in the Sierras could be replenished to offer the snow melt that bodies of water and wells rely on. But none of our meteorological experts would predict that such a turn of events is imminent.

If you live in a state with plentiful water, you must have at least given a thought to whether water pipelines will send some of the water you rely on to drier areas, or to areas like Florida which may run out of potable water. Will we willingly share our freshwater resources? Remember the water cycle. There is no new freshwater being added to our reserves. Most water is simply recycled. While it is true that salt in water does not evaporate and storms that arise over oceans do change salt water into fresh water, the water falls so fast that flooding happens and this is often more of a nuisance or even a disaster than a replenishment. In a normal water cycle water evaporates into the air and is returned to the earth as rain or snow. 

The problem is that the rain that is evaporated is not always dropped on the same place it evaporated from. In fact, it is hardly ever dropped back in the same geological location. There are predictable patterns of where water will condense as clouds and fall back to earth. These patterns are never 100% predictable. Ask the farmers. 

Those of us who agree that climate change is real accept that patterns of water and wind and temperature that humans in America (and of course the world) have depended on for decades, perhaps even centuries, are becoming even less reliable than usual. There are more dry years in some places, flash flooding in others, weather events are sometimes more devastating than usual. The fires on the west coast have been fierce and human communities have been burned to the ground. Fire fighters have been faced with almost insurmountable danger and the constant battle with fire has left people exhausted. Landscapes often recover, but for humans, recovery is more problematic.

So, do we send water from relatively water rich areas so that people can continue to live in deserts, or in areas prone to a cycle of disasters and rebuilding, like our beaches? We have all that water sitting in our oceans so it is difficult to believe that water shortages ever will be a problem. However, apparently, desalination is a problem, not just because it’s expensive, but because there is nowhere to put the resulting brine where it will not threaten freshwater supplies. Will we be given a choice? Humans are generous, but when supply is limited are we still inclined to share? People who agreed to tough it out in areas with four seasons, when snow makes it so difficult to get around, might resent shipping water to snowbirds and sun seekers who tried to recreate the green lawns of northern suburbs without a thought for future shortages. How can we capture water that drowns an area prone to hurricanes and send it off to where would be useful? Nature still overwhelms us.

It seems we always see things coming but we never exercise foresight in order to create workable plans. Political divisions make action difficult, giving states more power and then dealing with 50 different policies from 50 different governors doesn’t help, and so we drift through the years with plenty of ideas offered by experts but no plans to stave off crop failures, fires, destruction of habitats, destruction of homes, and possible dystopian water wars. Who gets water, what can people in different biomes use water for, how can we keep our creature comforts and use much less water if we need to, should we transport water from one region of American to another if rains become ineffective for moving water around? Do we have a federal commission to control the use of freshwater resources in American, to husband our freshwater and collect it where rainfall is wasted in order to preserve enough water to always take care of the needs of farmers and citizens? Isn’t it about time we formed such a commission, separate from the EPA to concentrate on managing our freshwater resources?

Since the world is a much smaller place these days and movement of people around the world will return to normal someday if we can stabilize COVID, we cannot afford to just consider the distribution of water resources in America. We must also think globally. People may have to migrate to follow freshwater availabilities. Currently, the world’s nations frown on migration. If you live in a desert, that’s your problem. If one country’s industrial pollution ruins farming in another country, oh well. Look what has happen to the Uyghurs in China, as their desert home became even drier and less livable. They lost their autonomy and have attracted the attentions of President Xi, who is being accused of genocide. Look at what is happening to South Americans as drought affects crops and they are not allowed to migrate north. Water management may not be able to wait if we want to avoid mass migrations and even water wars.

On January 31, 2012, I wrote an article called “How Likely are Water Wars?  You can find the post in my books, Loving America to Death. There is a book that just covers 2012 and there is an omnibus edition that covers 2010 to 2016.

https://www.amazon.com/author/nlbrisson

We mourn for lives lost in Afghanistan – photo- Newport News

“Safe Haven”

From a Google Image Search – AP News

Liz Cheney was on Meet the Press with Chuck Todd this morning. Chuck Todd likes to show that bipartisanship is still possible and that he can get Republicans to offer opinions that are outside the cult talking points. Liz Cheney has been in trouble with her Republican colleagues because she refuses to act in lockstep with the Trump cult. She admits that ‘the big lie’ is a big lie, that Trump was not cheated out of winning the 2020 election by fraudulent voting, and that what happened on January 6, 2021 was an insurrection. She is on the bipartisan committee investigating the activities of January 6 th, Trump’s ties to the violence, and the attempt to overturn a valid American election. Cheney shows us an integrity that is missing in most Republican behavior recently. She is certainly not the most frustrating Republican Chuck Todd has forced Americans to listen to in the interests of restoring cross-the-aisle discussions and legislative compromises. So far, his attempts at both-sides-ism have been less than effective and are hardly welcomed by his audience.

In today’s discussion of Afghanistan Liz Cheney said that our troops were in Afghanistan to keep it from becoming a ‘safe haven’ for terrorists and extremists. While that rationale might have been apparent right after the actions against America on September 11, 2001, very little is made of this as a reason for still being in Afghanistan 20 years later. Once Americans get involved militarily in a nation that is struggling, where people are poor and the government seems far away, too corrupt and disorganized to provide help, we start to believe that there is a humanitarian aspect to our sacrifices. This makes losing our soldiers seem to be an act of grace with a purpose beyond our own interests. In the case of Afghanistan when we were seeing positive changes in the lives of Afghan people, especially women and girls, it was easy to forget that this was only true in a small cordoned off piece of Afghanistan that was temporarily being remade in America’s image. It was easy to forget the poverty in far-flung villages where the government held little sway. 

Republicans do not like getting distracted by humanistic concerns. They don’t like it at home, and they really don’t like it abroad. The world is just a surface without boundaries for American troops to roam at will. The world is full of deadbeats to Republicans. If you are poor, you did something to deserve it, or you didn’t do the things necessary to avoid it.

It’s possible Republicans once had a heart that could still be moved to tears, but the party decided along the way that compassion was something they could not afford. Being in Afghanistan to prevent it from becoming a terrorist safe haven is not necessarily a bad reason to be there. Perhaps it should just not be the only reason. There are still forces that would love to topple America, although they can sit back and watch us do that for ourselves in 2021. Our divisiveness about masks and vaccines is so powerful that we cannot act in unison, even to beat a disastrous virus that is changing America even more than our political divisions have managed to change us.

It seems as if someone came up with this ‘no safe haven’ motive for staying in Afghanistan just to spite Biden’s removal of our troops and to make Biden look incompetent. If keeping terrorists at bay was the most important reason for being in Afghanistan all along, why weren’t we constantly reminded of that mission. Instead, the mission got more and more muddled, until it seemed like a rescue operation and another nation building project. People are saying that we are once again peddling democracy to a nation that has no democratic traditions. Trying to sell democracy in a world that is becoming increasingly authoritarian may be unrealistic, but it is understandable. Republicans used to be focused on selling both democracy and capitalism. 

Republicans certainly don’t need to come up with more ways to push us all to believe that Biden did not have a good plan or a clear understanding of how many people did not want to live under the Taliban. The ‘no safe haven’ rationale is overkill at this point. But it may be the one that sticks. Republican have discovered and exploited the power of fear for at least the past two decades. Striking fear in people’s hearts is not the same thing as striving to lift human hearts.

Afghanistan, Taliban, Tragedy – From the Cheap Seats

From a Google Image Search – Freenews.today

Like many Americans, I did not know much about Afghanistan before the events of September 11, 2001. For one year I had a colleague at school who was from Afghanistan. He had fled the country well before the attack on the World Trade Center. He came to America for a college education and never left, but homesickness for his native Afghanistan leaked out of him on occasion. I knew that Russia had been involved in a war in Afghanistan, and that they had finally left in defeat. I knew about the Taliban’s strict religious laws and how Sharia law was especially harsh for women. By the end of 2003, along with many others I had read Khaled Hosseini’s book, The Kite Runner, which offered insights into Afghan life before and after the Taliban. In 2004, Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad published her book, The Bookseller of Kabul. Åsne lived with the bookseller and his family for three months under Taliban rule. The bookseller had to hide his books; his wives had to hide themselves.

Why were we in Afghanistan? From the cheap seats, we were there because Iraq was a mistake. It was Afghanistan that was implicated in the attacks of 9/11. We were there because ISIS set out to form an Emirate using violence, kidnappings, fear, intimidation, and they didn’t stay local about it. They seemed intent on intimidating the world. On the news we saw one outrage after another. We were there because Osama bin Laden was hidden away somewhere in Afghanistan, or across the border in Pakistan. We were there because we couldn’t afford to attack Saudi Arabia for any number of political reasons.

For a while our American soldiers were able to push the Taliban back from cities like Kabul and Kandahar. We were able to create a space for an Afghan government that was not the domain of extremists. Women went back to work and school, businesses were freer, as adherence to strict religious laws disappeared, or at least retreated. America hoped to help Afghanistan train an Army to fight off the Taliban, still active in areas of the country.

So, having 20 years of war end with only a couple of months’ warning (at least that’s how it seems) made it look like we were leaving in defeat with our tails between our legs. I was around during the Vietnam War. I recall the rush to leave Saigon, which felt even faster than in Kabul. In The Sympathizer by Viet Trang Nguyen, who heard about the last day in Saigon from refugees of his parent’s generation, the author describes a scene at the airport in Saigon that sounds almost identical to what is happening in Kabul. Each day of the evacuation seems like that final day in Vietnam.

I am shocked that this all happened so fast. I feel embarrassment and shame that our promises to Afghan citizens who helped us may not be kept and that they may, even now, be at the mercy of the ruthless Taliban. Time will tell us how deep our shame will be. It is very telling that we had to stick to Trump’s deal with the Taliban, perhaps because they had become too rich and powerful to bargain with. (Where did they get their funding. That is one of the more interesting questions I have heard people ask.)

The fate of the Afghan women may be the cause for our greatest grief. Will they really be accepted, or will they be banished once more to their husbands’ whims and their domestic routines, brain dead once again so they can’t sin or disobey. Or perhaps there will be repercussions against ‘collaborators’ who may be beaten, imprisoned, or killed, and our guilt will outweigh our grief.

What were our choices: 1) stay and fight the Taliban, shoulder-to-shoulder with trained Afghan soldiers who might run away, 2) send more and more troops to save a few key cities while the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan, 3) push the Taliban back once again at great cost of American lives, 4) establish a permanent base in Afghanistan (it wouldn’t be at all like a base in Germany, or South Korea, or Japan), 5) get those who helped us out earlier (which still could have caused a panic and been just as chaotic). I have heard all these suggestions. However, we are trying to break our addiction to ‘nation building’ and ‘regime change’ activities that have come under negative scrutiny for good humanitarian reasons. These strategies also often fail.

Islamic nations, especially religious states present a dilemma for the rest of the world’s nations. The fervor, the passionate embrace of religious extremes mirrors Christianity as it existed in the age of monarchs in Europe. So many Americans and others have moved towards atheism or humanism, or a more casual level of religious observance that we recoil from Islamic extremists who want to kill for Allah, apply religious laws in the strictest sense of the Sharia Laws, refuse to tolerate any religion but Islam. We have many reasons beyond our “loss of face” to keep a close eye on how the Taliban rulers handle governing in Afghanistan.

I wrote this in the first person because I wanted to try to set down my own schema on these matters, and because I write opinions rather than straight news. Some may agree with my perceptions, some may not. I will continue to try to educate myself on these complex events. I hope I got some of this right (isn’t that what Rachel Maddow always asks).

As for who gets the blame, I agree with those who say there is enough blame to go around. We are headed towards a crucial midterm election in 2020. Regardless of whether President Biden was precipitous, or unwise, I know that I do not want a Republican Congress. Republicans began the war in Afghanistan, Republicans engineered the end of the war by treating with insurgents. They deserve the lion’s share of the blame, and they deserve to lose plenty of seats in the 2022 midterms, and the Presidency in 2024. If Republicans don’t lose, I fear for our own democracy.

Freedom Oxymorons of Republicans

From WaPo -TAMPA, FL – JULY 27: Families protest any potential mask mandates before the Hillsborough County Schools Board meeting held at the district office on July 27, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended those who are vaccinated should wear masks indoors including students returning to school. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

Freedom Oxymorons of Republicans

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that juxtaposes concepts with opposing meanings within a word or phrase that creates an ostensible self-contradiction (Wikipedia).

Oxymoron

Bullying people during a pandemic because they want to follow health guidelines and wear a mask to save their families, and calling it protecting “freedom.”

Masks are not even like seatbelts. They are a temporary barrier between we the people and a nasty air borne disease.

Oxymoron

Chanting “we will not comply” and “there’s a place for you in hell” when a school board in Tennessee thought students should use masks to make attending school full time safe. Some parents who do not want to send their children to school in masks, telling a health care expert who gave testimony at the meeting that “he can leave freely” but we “know where you live,” scaring parents and children in order to force school officials to allow them to send their children to school unmasked, and calling it “freedom.”

Oxymoron

Donald Trump, an American President, telling the department that is supposed to provide justice for the American people to just say the 2020 election results were fraudulent and he would do the rest, in the name of “freedom.”

Oxymoron

The Texas legislature wanting to pass laws that give one party, the Republicans, oversight over future elections in the name of “freedom.”

Democrats do not want to provide a quorum to allow a vote on making it possible to overturn the votes of the people of Texas. They can now be arrested and forced to return so the legislation can come up for a totally partisan vote, in the name of “freedom.”

Oxymoron

Greg Abbott, Texas governor, sets up a system in which your neighbors can police your reproductive behavior by suing an abortion provider if they suspect you had an abortion, in the name of “freedom.”

Oxymoron

Ron DeSantis, Florida governor, has decreed that all children must return to school full time without masks as the COVID delta variant ravages his state, and he does this in the name of “freedom.”

Oxymoron

The US Supreme Court allows the US House of Representatives access to only two years of Trump’s taxes, in order to protect the power of the president, and they do it in the name of “freedom.”

A guy who invented a pillow is predicting violence on August 13th and inciting Trump devotees to a January 6freeth do-over, because a coup to overthrow our democracy is being called for, in the name of “freedom.” 

Tucker Carlsen went to Hungary with a big, old grin on his face to interview Viktor Orbán, the illiberal (that means dictatorial) leader of that country, in the name of “freedom.”

If you define authoritarianism so it means freedom, and you do it in the name of freedom, then you end freedom. After 244 years of living in a free society, not a perfect society but one in which you usually don’t get sent to jail or executed for what you think, we seem unable to tell the difference between freedom and the lack of freedom. This is what happens when you say these things are just a matter of semantics. Semantics matter. Words stand for ideas. They may describe abstractions, but they are not squishy enough to allow us to set out to prove that a word is equal to its opposite; to define authoritarianism as freedom, or freedom as authoritarianism. 

It has been recent practice among Republicans, and especially Trump Republicans to use oxymorons and other logical fallacies to make things that free societies do to keep people safe and healthy (mandates) seem like authoritarian actions, and to make bullying and other authoritarian tactics into supposedly heroic acts of freedom fighters. Perhaps we need a national discussion about freedom because it looks like some authoritarianism has wandered into our democracy. This tendency is making us equate freedom with things like threatening people and using violence to get your freedom at the expense of the freedom of others. America was set up in such a way that citizens could revolt if democracy became monarchy, or by extension authoritarianism. Current upheavals are not about saving our democracy/republic. They are about forcing our country to accept one party’s policies without question or opposition. That’s not democracy; that’s not freedom.

Urban Contrapuntal

Last Chance for Change, Kayla Johnson, Syracuse.com

Urban Contrapuntal

In music a contrapuntal is having two different melodies in one piece of music. What is happening in our cities is a kind of social contrapuntal where the actions of one group drown out the actions of another. Syracuse, NY will serve as an example, but it is not the only city with groups that are experiencing cacophony, rather than harmony. 

After the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, many cities saw demonstrations and many of these demonstrations had both peaceful elements and violent elements, usually not involving the same people. In Syracuse many groups combined to protest racism in policing and to ask for police reform. They vowed to march for 40 days, and they achieved that impressive goal. They achieved that goal despite some bad actors who shattered windows at police headquarters, the courthouse, and downtown businesses. Peaceful protestors showed up the next day to help with clean up. 

Protestors, led by a group named Last Chance for Change requested things like demilitarization of the police, a way for citizens to understand what the police unions were saying and doing, a view through the blue wall. They asked that social services be called in for cases involving mental health problems, that a Citizen’s Review Board have a bigger role in affecting policing in the community. On Juneteenth, 2020, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh announced that there would be reforms and a document was drafted and sent to the State of New York for approval. 

At the same time protestors statewide won a battle with the Justice Department for bail reform. The Brennan Center says, “The purpose of the original bail reform law was to reduce the number of people jailed while awaiting trial simply because they could not afford to pay bail.” This would, they say, and I paraphrase, reduce the jail population by at least 40% percent by eliminating cash bail for as much as 90% of arrests. “In a system where everyone is supposed to be presumed innocent, cash bail can be extremely harmful to people who have not been proven guilty. In addition to the trauma of being imprisoned, even a few days in jail can cause people to lose their jobs, housing, or custody of their children.”

But that contrapuntal theme line is always there in our cities. By 2021 homicides in Syracuse, NY looked to be on track or slightly ahead of other years, judges were turning people back into the streets who were repeat offenders because they claimed the guidance on bail reform was unclear, and the police were losing employees and claiming that they could not follow the new reform guidelines and apply law and order in ways that most citizens required. There were murders of two elderly white women living in housing in Syracuse by young people. Several victims of homicide were shockingly young. 

Here is the current list from Syracuse.com: 

Toddrick Rice, 21, January 5, 2021

Eva Fuld, 84, January 25, 2021

Darwyn Quinones, 21, February 13, 2021

Concetta “Connie” Tuori, 93, March 17, 2012

Dior Harris, 11 months old, April 11, 2021

Quentin Harrison Jr., 26, April 28, 2021

Kathleen Montreal, 51, May 8, 2021

Radames Francesco, 15, May 21, 2021

Najee Wright, 13, May 24, 2021

Bobby Ford Jr., 31, June 8, 2021

Darren Rosa, 23, June 8, 2021

N’y Kim, 15, June 23, 2021

Rashein Fortune, 42, June 26, 2021

Tyce Smith, 35 July 26, 2021

Kelvin Sharp, 42, August 2, 2021

On July 4, 2021, five people were shot in two different incidents, two with non-life-threatening wounds, 2 teens shot in the back, a 20-year-old shot in the head.

August 3, 2021, in localsyr.com, there is a report that says, “At the corner of Turtle and N. Salina St. late night block parties have become a problem. Early Sunday morning Syracuse Police ended up in that area after a man opened fire into a crowd of more than 200 people. A local resident heard gunshots. He said that every 3 to 4 weeks he hears gunshots at these parties. He is worried that someone will be killed. 

Police Chief Kenton Buckner said, “one of the challenges we have is that we have very limited latitude when engaging individuals on the scene, and, in most cases, they only qualify for an appearance ticket, that makes it very difficult for us to move those crowds along.” Two stripper clubs are nearby but they claim the parties are unrelated. They will do what they can to help police, but these people are not their customers.

So, we have 15 murders and plenty of mayhem against the concerted actions of 14 activist groups whose earnest efforts have led to reforms of the Justice system in NYS, and to reforms of policing in Syracuse, NY. But, as you might imagine, pushback is powerful. Traditionalist and conservatives (at the top, Syracuse is a very conservative city) never wanted either bail reform or police reform. 

Protestors used the popular meme about ‘defunding the police’ but they did not ever intend to get rid of the Syracuse police force. Police have created programs in the city during the summer to help steer children in positive directions and offer them more positive relationships with local police. They have helped some youth get paying summer jobs working for community groups. But it is a difficult slog when violence and civil disobedience dominate the local news. 

The original Bail Reform laws lasted 3 months before they were amended allowing judges to impose cash bail for more situations, and these are not necessarily bad changes as the original law was perhaps lacking in guidance for the courts. Judges also have more discretion in setting bail and other conditions of pretrial release, the Brennan Center tells us.

Police continue to chaff at both the bail reform laws and the police reform laws. In Syracuse the plan is entitled “Syracuse Police Reform and Reinvention Plan.” The plan is not a total victory for activists. The department did buy body cameras, did not agree to include social service workers in obvious mental health interventions but did agree to train more officers in mental health responses. Police have not yet decided to take police out of schools, although this was a request, but it is still being considered. They agreed to form a Cadet program with a Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler HS, with the highest rate of poverty, to target those most overlooked by traditional recruitment. At graduation they would be given interesting employment until they passed the Civil Service police exam. They would try to have better cooperation with the Citizen Review Board. All very police-y solutions, not as community oriented as one might wish, and the blue wall will remain intact. 

Sadly, drugs, gangs, turf disputes, family disputes still serve to counteract the efforts of others in the community to reform policing, to make policing less discriminatory in the African American community. The coldness, the hardheartedness of the attacks on the two seniors who were brutally murdered suggest an escalation in the disconnect between social groups, and the role of trauma in allowing a disconnect with the value of a human life. The death of an 11-month-old baby in a drive-by shooting is especially grievous and yet it was, in a way, an accidental death. No babies should be killed in accidental deaths involving guns. We can’t address this either, because traditionalists and conservatives believe that absolutely everyone has a constitutional right to own a gun. 

It seems that conservatives will have their way with policing and bail reform, using their reactionary attitudes to undo the work of activists and keep racism alive until activists demonstrate again. We do need the police to go after those who exhibit antisocial behavior, but the police unions and the blue wall will not allow police officers to get too creative about how they will help the community wipe out the practices that cause the antisocial behavior. We don’t want policing to be as dangerous as it is, but the problems require long-term solutions and the public wants results right away.

“Syracuse is going to get the change,” said Kayla Johnson of the Last Chance for Change group. “This is the time.”

It seems the hopes of Kayla and other groups of activists in Syracuse could be dashed and they will find that the reforms they fought for will dwindle away in the face of the contrapuntal scripts we find in most American cities. Syracuse is a small city, but a great way to examine what is happening throughout America. This does not imply that that the only crime in America is in cities; it’s just harder to find when it is happening in less populated places, or when people live in big houses with air conditioning.