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Monday, February 23

A Message for Indian Readers

1.  The country that shifts to a focus on water security now, even if this means scaling back on development and trade, will come out on top in global trade and internal economic security by the turn of this decade.

2.  If this focus on water is confined to only a few regions in India, then you're going to see the same basic problem that Mumbai faced with millions of job-seekers from all over India converging on the city. However, it's going to be even worse when these internal refugees are fleeing severe water scarcity. And internal refugees will be competing with huge waves of refugees from S.W. Asia and maybe parts of Central Asia who'll be fleeing water scarcity within about two years. The waves could include people from parts of Pakistan. There will be no way to keep all those refugees out of India -- although I hope the Indian military is war-gaming that scenario.

3.  Add to this an increasing problem worldwide that's even struck here in the USA, as California agribusiness shifted some agriculture from the state's worst-hit drought regions.  Seemed to work at first, as crops were shifted to fertile parts of Oregon and Texas. Then farmers in those parts began running out of water.  This happened within about only two years -- from water abundance to drought.  Turned out the farmers didn't know how little groundwater they had left.

So this could be called 'rolling artificial droughts' or man-made droughts.  Rolling from one nearby region to another. But this sets up conditions for a chain reaction of artificial droughts that engulf more and more land. 
Meanwhile, the people affected by these rolling droughts flee to other regions within the country. But because of modern transportation these internal diasporas can happen very quickly -- and thus, quickly overwhelming the infrastructures in the region that sees the refugees.

4.  These chain reactions can occur more quickly in this era than modern governments are capable of dealing with.

5.  Every aspect of water security should come under close review in every Indian state, including cleaning up water polluted by industrial and agricultural chemical runoffs. I don't know whether governments in all those states or the national government have the capacity for this kind of review or whether any such review done earlier needs updating.

So this could be a crowdsourcing project.
 
6. As to China -- I can't even try to estimate how long they've got left, although I do know from news reports last year that they're facing severe and entrenched water crises in several regions. I also know they waste oceans of water.  So I'd leave them and their river-source bullying to heaven and the Indian military.

I'd focus on asking what you as a private citizen can do to protect and amplify every single drop of water available to India -- even if you can only help publicize the urgency of the situation or do research on water issues for a small region in the country.  But there has to be a tremendous amount of data mining so that financial and human resources applied to solutions are used in the most efficient ways.

Make your start at figuring out how you can best help, and I think help will come to you in this regard.  Why now?  I don't write the scripts; I just say the lines.

*******

Surgery

Last of three surgical procedures this month on Friday.  There will be more procedures, different ones, later this year.  Three different conditions in my right leg, all connected and contributing to each other.  I'll live but there's been a lot of pain since January.  Less pain now, after the procedure on Friday.  At the end of it all I hope to walk normally again after more than a year of being crippled. 

I hid it from people, even my doctor, until I couldn't walk anymore without hanging onto something don't you dare laugh Pundita it's not a damn bit funny.  It was actually two years I hid it. [laughing] Okay, maybe a little longer than that. It was a tactical triumph while it lasted.

What can I say?  Some people are just born hating disorder more than death, but if one doesn't die then eventually one has deal with a lot of disorder that piles up.   

Now where was I?  The marijuana industry.  But first I guess a few words about war. Here we go again.

********  

Wednesday, February 4

How to become a Marijuana Grow House Hazard Expert the Hard Way

The situation has only gotten worse since MSN first reported on it, as have the fires in grow houses.  An interesting point from the MSN report is that location is no bar to the dangers from the houses; that's because the indoor growers are making so much money from pot agriculture that they can afford to rent or buy in the very best neighborhoods. After turning a house into a danger zone then fixing it up just enough to fool the innocent buyer, they move to another house and repeat the performance.

There was one article, from years before the MSN one, about the dangers from grow houses that described situations so awful they were almost funny. The article was published in a police journal in Canada and featured anecdotes from police raids on the houses.  There didn't seem to be a licensed electrician among the growers, and their grasp of basic chemistry was tenuous; they got carbon monoxide confused with carbon dioxide as a way to stimulate plant growth. 

I'm sorry I didn't save the article but these two are enough to convey the gist:   

Move over, meth: Marijuana 'grow houses' an increasing menace
By Melinda Fulmer of MSN Real Estate
[January 2011]
A home that was used to grow pot can be a nightmare for a homebuyer, with problems ranging from mold to bad wiring.
When Mikey and Zeina Kostelny found their first home in the suburbs of Altadena, Calif., it appeared to be a buyer's dream, complete with fresh paint, carpet and fixtures.

But that dream quickly dissolved into nightmare after the sale closed in late 2008 as the couple began to discover problems hidden behind its glossy finishes — from mold to gas leaks to bad wiring — all stemming, they believe, from its undisclosed past as a marijuana grow house.

"After we moved in, we smelled fresh paint and then another smell," Zeina Kostelny says. An inspection later revealed dangerous Stachybotrys mold throughout much of the house, forcing them to move and foot the tab for more than $42,000 in remediation and repair. Months later, an electrical fire pushed them into an apartment again.

The tsunami of vacant, bank-owned properties in many parts of the country has helped fuel a surge in indoor marijuana production, turning once-empty homes like the Kostelnys' into high-dollar and high-risk pot farms that spell trouble for prospective buyers and neighbors.

"In the last several years, we've seen a dramatic increase in the number of grow houses," says Covina, Calif., Police Chief Kim Raney, who has overseen several busts. "It's almost a perfect environment, because you have had a housing market that's upside down, people losing their houses to foreclosure and people trying to find ways to make their mortgage," he says.

Pot house 101

A total of 4,666 marijuana grow houses were busted in the U.S. in 2009, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration — just a tiny fraction of the number in operation, experts say.

Most grow houses go unnoticed or unreported, for fear of retaliation from the gangs — many of them Asian — that run them, according to the DEA.

And the houses are often in places you'd hardly suspect, such as gated Florida communities and upscale Georgia neighborhoods — even Beverly Hills, California.

How can growers afford such high rent? It's easy. With only 50 plants in a house, and at least three growing cycles a year, growers can easily net as much as $300,000 a year from sales to dispensaries and buds sold on the black market, says Ron Brooks, president of the National Narcotic Officer's Associations' Coalition.

"Marijuana is so lucrative as a crop," he says, and it carries less prison-time risk than other drugs.

Of course, it's not just the grower taking on risk. Once marijuana-growing operations move into your neighborhood, they bring more danger and more damage than vagrants, thieves or taggers could ever do.

"You've got fire hazards and properties that aren't being well-maintained," Brooks says. "No one's living there, or maybe someone's there who's armed and guarding the house."

The damage they do

Indeed, police say, indoor growing may sound benign, with row after row of bushy pot plants sprouting up under ultraviolet lights, but these operations can devastate properties.

Most grow houses wind up having extensive mold damage because of the irrigation and moisture needed for the plants, says Dennis Rommelfanger, a home inspector with U.S. Inspect in Huntington Beach, Calif., who has seen several of these houses.

Mold is an expensive problem to deal with. It is also one of the hardest problems to accurately assess, Rommelfanger says, especially if the surfaces have been painted over, as they were in the Kostelnys' home.

"We do use moisture meters," he says.

But the reading has to be 20% moisture or higher for him to advise deferring a sale, and he says a home can have mold damage with a lower moisture reading than that.

What's your home worth?

Big-time marijuana growers also cut holes in the ceiling to provide ventilation to their plants and run water lines. Many change the ductwork and rewire the house to accommodate the hot grow lights and other equipment such as humidifiers and dehumidifiers.

And most growers snake wires up to the power line to bypass the electric meter, not only because their work is electricity-intensive, but because high meter readings can tip police off to their whereabouts.

One Pennsylvania real-estate investor, Steve Babiak, commenting on real-estate investor site BiggerPockets.com, recalled a house where growers had cut holes in the foundation to hook up jumper cables to bypass the electric meter.
[...]
[END MSN REPORT]

Fire District Officials Announce New Training for Fighting Fires at Marijuana Grow Houses
Bay City News Service via Patch
February 21, 2014

Contra Costa fire officials are also encouraging residents to report homes showing signs of marijuana growing operation.

As the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District responds to a growing number of fires at marijuana grow houses, the district is turning to new strategies to keep firefighters and community members safe from the unique dangers posed by these fires.

Firefighters risk their lives on a regular basis, Contra Costa Fire Protection District investigator Vic Massenkoff said, but a blaze at a large-scale pot growing operation pose some of the greatest hazards for fire personnel.

District officials this week announced new training procedures for fighting fires at major residential marijuana grows. Firefighters are being educated on how to spot the signs of a grow operation and to fight blazes at grow houses defensively, or outside of the home, rather than heading inside, where the risks to firefighters are often too great.

The fire district is also instructing firefighters to wait until PG&E personnel have turned off power at the house before going inside.

"There's no material possession that's worth the life of our firefighters," Contra Costa fire Capt. Robert Marshall said.

The emphasis during these firefights is also on preventing the blaze from spreading to neighboring homes, fire officials said.

Over the past few years, the fire district has battled about 35 fires at large pot grow operations, fire officials said. Large-scale grows are popping up in communities throughout the Bay Area and statewide, in addition to the nine cities and unincorporated areas of Contra Costa County covered by the fire district.

"It's an epidemic as far as how many homes are being converted to full marijuana growing operations," Massenkoff said.

The problem is so big that a 2011 study by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientist Evan Mills found that some 8 percent of California's energy is consumed by indoor growing operations.  [Pundita note:  Mills conducted the study on his own time]

PG&E can usually spot customers housing a large marijuana grow when the electricity meter shows commercial-level electricity usage, used to power the grow lights, ventilation and humidity systems used to cultivate marijuana, Massenkoff said.

To avoid detection, large-scale growers typically re-wire a home's electrical system so that it bypasses the utility meter, fire officials said. But the rigged electrical systems often fail, sparking fires that can travel quickly through a home's walls and a phenomenon known as arcing, in which electricity travels back and forth between electrical wires and metal surfaces. This makes firefighters responding to a fire at a grow house much more vulnerable to electrocution.

Other hazards usually found at major pot growing operations include barred windows and doors and extra walls built to mask the operation, Massenkoff said.

On Jan. 24, Contra Costa fire crews found many of the typical red flags while fighting a two-alarm blaze at a home on Tampico Drive in Pittsburg that housed a major marijuana growing operation, the investigator said. The house was completely destroyed, and firefighters had to battle the blaze from outside after the home's roof collapsed -- an all-too-common occurrence in marijuana grow fires, Massenkoff said. That fire "was the straw that broke the camel's back," the fire investigator said.

While no fire personnel were injured in the blaze, he said, "the hazards to firefighters became very evident in this fire...we realized it was time to provide new direction to firefighters on how to deal with fires at these types of properties."

Massenkoff said large-scale marijuana grows are usually uncovered when a fire breaks out, but sometimes law enforcement agencies find out about them from suspicious neighbors.

Contra Costa fire officials are encouraging more residents to come forward when they spot the signs of a growing operation in their neighborhood. Fire officials say red flags include barred windows in neighborhoods where no other homes' windows have bars and windows that are shaded at all hours of the day.

Residents should also be wary of new residents who are never seen moving personal items into their home and have frequent visitors coming and going, district officials said. Massenkoff said fire officials are also hoping more criminals are prosecuted when a fire breaks out due to a large-scale marijuana growing operation.

Several suspects linked to grow house fires in Contra Costa County in recent years have been charged with recklessly causing a fire, he noted. However, in many cases, large-scale marijuana growers whose grow houses burn down are able to use their massive profits to quickly purchase or rent a new grow house, Massenkoff said.

Yearly profits from an average grow house in Contra Costa County total at least $1.5 million, he said.
[END REPORT]

The Arab Spring Curse

And the author isn't even talking about what's been going on in Yemen with the huge Somalian diaspora.  Drought is a big driver of the 130,000+ forced Somali displacements. The Yemenis are also running out of water. Sana'a is on track to be the first capital city that has to be abandoned because the water supply ran out.   

Meanwhile, across MENA the rains are avoiding the region, the aquifers are being pumped dry, and the dams are drying up.

Bottom line?  Mass deaths in the region by the end of this decade due to malnutrition and diseases from water scarcity, and armed conflicts over water resources.
 
Arab Spring a curse on environment
By Dr Mohamed Abdel Raouf
Special to Gulf News
September 23, 2014

The ecosystems and biodiversity are the real victims of military conflicts in many Mena countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya

About three years ago I wrote a policy briefing that was published by the Middle East Institute, titled "Middle East Revolutions: An Environmental Perspective". The key message was that environmental challenges and problems related to water, food, air, waste management etc as well as the unfair distribution of wealth derived from natural resources were the root causes of the uprisings in the Middle East.

I also warned that if the environmental problems are not solved, one could expect more waves of unrest across the region. I had hoped that the Arab Spring would lead to better environmental governance, and social equality. And that in turn would lead to prosperity, a better quality of life and contentment among citizens in the region.

Sadly, after nearly four years, the Arab Spring has turned out to be a real curse on environment and natural resources across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. There is massive destruction of ecosystems and a severe depletion of the already scarce natural resources, as well as corruption and theft of natural assets and heritage.  Besides, fertile land is eroding. Soil, water and air pollution have become the norm; noise and garbage are everywhere.

It is really very ironic because Islamic teachings call for protection of natural resources and environmental stewardship. It is even considered a religious duty to protect the environment and natural resources. Failing to do so, as a Muslim, is considered to be a sin.

In Syria, for instance, one can see that the very low precipitations and drought are among the first modern events in which a climatic abnormality has resulted in mass migration. This has created what are called “environmental refugees” (water refugees in this case).

This has resulted in widespread deterioration of agricultural harvests and led to food insecurity and contributed to state instability. Currently, the environmental situation has deteriorated further not only because of low rains, but also because natural resources have been polluted and/or looted as a result of the military conflict in Syria.

The ecosystems — which are already fragile in the Mena region — and the biodiversity are the real victims of the military conflicts in many Mena countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. Military operations lead to the destruction of soil, rendering it unsuitable for agriculture and for habitation. Whoever the ultimate ‘winner’ might be, the environment is the real victim, especially nowadays when humanity has many weapons of mass destruction.

Across Iraq and Syria many churches, mosques, museums and statues have either been destroyed or looted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil). In addition, Assyrian monuments in Syria are being ruined. That is apart from the destruction of statues of musicians, poets and thinkers because they represent a different ideology than that of Isil.

Sadly, all these treasures, many built more than 5,000 years ago, are being looted or destroyed. This is a loss not only for Iraq, Syria and the Arab region, but also for human heritage and civilisation.

Almost all Arab countries are suffering from water scarcity. In addition, the very poor water governance in the region has led to many disputes/ tensions between sectors and governorates and even between neighbouring countries.

Libya, for instance, was and is still suffering from water insecurity. And despite the fact that the Muammar Gaddafi regime initiated the “great artificial river project”, which depends on withdrawing water from the shared underground aquifer between Libya, Chad, Sudan and Egypt, the sustainability of the project is in deep doubt after the depletion of the available water in the reservoir.

After almost four years of Arab uprisings, it is very obvious that the economy still has the same brown colour, which proved to be a total failure in almost the entire Mena region. Unless the region adopts greener economic policies at least in some key sectors, like the energy sector, one can expect no improvement at all. Problems such as pollution, social inequalities and unemployment will continue and are even expected to increase, making these countries more vulnerable to socio-economic unrest.

However, one still hopes that the Arab Spring and the socio-political transformations in the region will represent a real opportunity for reforms and reconsideration of developmental priorities, notably social justice and job creation, as well as the adoption of green economy as a tool to achieve sustainable development.

Any government in the region, if it really wants to address and resolve the reasons behind the unrest and stabilise these societies, must solve the environmental issues first. Otherwise, the environmental problems and conflict over natural resources will be the catalysts for further instability and tensions in the Middle East.

Dr Mohamed Abdel Raouf is an independent environmental researcher.
[END ARTICLE]
********

Monday, February 2

How the Great Recession masked the marijuana farming disaster

By 2014, as the large scale of the ecological damage done by commercial pot farming was becoming evident, the rationalizations for legalizing commercial cultivation of 'recreational' marijuana had approached the point of absurdity.  See the howler (second report, below) penned by California Democratic politician Shawn Bagley as his solution to pot farming's contribution to California's water scarcity crisis and ecological degradation. His idea is so funny because it entirely overlooks that properly regulating and enforcing regulations on pot farming would eat up whatever revenue the state hoped to gain from legalization.
 
But track back to 2009, to another California Democrat's impassioned plea for said legalization, and it's easy to see why the American national press was in a dilemma about how much to report on environmental issues connected with pot farming.

The United States had entered a steep recession that had thrown many millions of Americans out of work. It seemed inhumane to target otherwise law-abiding citizens who were trying to keep body and soul together by growing illegal pot. It was so much easier to blame foreign interlopers for all the environmental damage done by the farming. (See the AP report in the previous Pundita post.)

And of course the water crisis in California and other Western states was years ahead on the timeline.

But note a glaring omission in the following TIME report. Nowhere is the topic of the commercial cultivation of marijuana mentioned. It's all about the great financial help that "decriminalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana" retail sales could bring to California residents suffering from the recession.

From the beginning, going all the way back to the 1990s, the omission was evident in pro-legalization arguments -- but only with hindsight. There simply was no planning, not ever, on how the United States would handle legal commercial marijuana farming.  The oversight turned out to be disastrous.
   
Can Marijuana Help Rescue California's Economy?
By Alison Stateman in Los Angeles
TIME magazine
March 13, 2009
[See website for links in the report]

Could marijuana be the answer to the economic misery facing California?

Democratic state assemblyman Tom Ammiano thinks so. Ammiano introduced legislation last month that would legalize [recreational] pot and allow the state to regulate and tax its sale — a move that could mean billions of dollars for the cash-strapped state.

Pot is, after all, California's biggest cash crop, responsible for $14 billion a year in sales, dwarfing the state's second largest agricultural commodity — milk and cream — which brings in $7.3 billion a year, according to the most recent USDA statistics.

The state's tax collectors estimate the bill would bring in about $1.3 billion a year in much needed revenue, offsetting some of the billions of dollars in service cuts and spending reductions outlined in the recently approved state budget.

"The state of California is in a very, very precipitous economic plight. It's in the toilet," says Ammiano.

"It looks very, very bleak, with layoffs and foreclosures, and schools closing or trying to operate four days a week. We have one of the highest rates of unemployment we've ever had. With any revenue ideas, people say you have to think outside the box, you have to be creative, and I feel that the issue of the decriminalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana fits that bill. It's not new, the idea has been around, and the political will may in fact be there to make something happen."
[...]
Ammiano may be right. A few days after he introduced the bill, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that states should be able to make their own rules for medical marijuana and that federal raids on pot dispensaries in California would cease. The move signaled a softening of the hard-line approach to medicinal pot use previous Administrations have taken.

The nomination of Gil Kerlikowske as the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy may also signal a softer federal line on marijuana. If he is confirmed as the so-called drug czar, Kerlikowske will take with him experience as police chief of Seattle, where he made it clear that going after people for possessing marijuana was not a priority for his force. (See a story about the grass-roots marijuana war in California.)

In 1996 California became one of the first states in the nation to legalize medical marijuana. Currently, $200 million in medical-marijuana sales are subject to sales tax. If passed, the Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act (AB 390) would give California control of pot in a manner similar to that of alcohol while prohibiting its purchase by citizens under age 21.

(The bill has been referred to the California state assembly's public safety and health committees; Ammiano says it could take up to a year before it comes to a vote for passage.)

State revenues would be derived from a $50-per-oz. levy on retail sales of marijuana and sales taxes.
By adopting the law, California could become a model for other states.

As Ammiano put it,  "How California goes, the country goes."

Despite the need for the projected revenue, opponents say legalizing pot would only add to social woes.

"The last thing we need is yet another mind-altering substance to be legalized," says John Lovell, lobbyist for the California Peace Officers' Association. "We have enough problems with alcohol and abuse of pharmaceutical products. Do we really need to add yet another mind-altering substance to the array?" Lovell says the easy availability of the drug would lead to a surge in its use, much as happened when alcohol was allowed to be sold in venues other than liquor stores in some states.

(Read why Dr. Sanjay Gupta is against decriminalizing pot.)

Joel W. Hay, professor of pharmaceutical economics at USC, also foresees harm if the bill passes. "Marijuana is a drug that clouds people's judgment. It affects their ability to concentrate and react, and it certainly has impacts on third parties," says Hay, who has written on the societal costs of drug abuse.

"It's one more drug that will add to the toll on society. All we have to do is look at the two legalized drugs, tobacco and alcohol, and look at the carnage that they've caused. [Marijuana] is a dangerous drug, and it causes bad outcomes for both the people who use it and for the people who are in their way at work or other activities."

He adds, "There are probably some responsible people who can handle marijuana, but there are lots of people who can't, and it has an enormous negative impact on them, their family and loved ones."

(See pictures of Mexico's drug wars.)

In response, retired Orange County Superior Court Judge James Gray, a longtime proponent of legalization, estimates that legalizing pot and thus ceasing to arrest, prosecute and imprison nonviolent offenders could save the state $1 billion a year.

"We couldn't make this drug any more available if we tried," he says. "Not only do we have those problems, along with glamorizing it by making it illegal, but we also have the crime and corruption that go along with it."

He adds, "Unfortunately, every society in the history of mankind has had some  form of mind-altering, sometimes addictive substances to use, to misuse, abuse or get addicted to. Get used to it. They're here to stay. So let's try to reduce those harms, and right now we couldn't do it worse if we tried."

(Read "An American Pastime: Smoking Pot." See a story discussing whether pot is good for you.)
[END TIME REPORT]

Legal Pot could help drought, environment, state coffers
By Shawn Bagley
The Merced Sun-Star
July 20, 2014
We are going through an unprecedented drought, but I don’t have to tell you that. You see it every time you see a brown patch that used to be green grass or dirt that should be your family’s crop. It’s disgusting, and politicians in Sacramento aren’t doing anything about it except bickering.

Whenever they get back from their vacation, our legislators will finally decide to send a water bond to the November ballot. It’ll likely include appropriations for conveyance, storage and restoration – renovations to our water infrastructure that should have been put into place years ago. But there is one industry that we can change today to ensure more water comes through for our families and farmers – marijuana.

Politicians are too afraid to even mention the issue. They don’t trust the people they represent to be smart enough to have a rational discussion about marijuana. They’re afraid of being labeled as “pro-legalization” or “pro-regulation.” Well, I’m pro-realization.

I realize that illegal marijuana growers are polluting and diverting water from vital creeks, streams and groundwater sources. I realize that our law enforcement agencies are stretched too thin and don’t have the resources to combat heavily armed cartels. And I realize it’s time to figure out a reasonable solution to this problem.

Just in the last month, more than 1,000 illegal marijuana plants were discovered in California. Cultivating those plants meant bulldozing mountain sides to create flat land and dumping tons of fertilizer near creeks and streams. Water was diverted into industrial-sized tanks and moved from one watershed to another; dirt from razed mountainsides was pushed into creek channels, and dammed the creeks; fertilizer seeped into those creeks, depleting water sources.

Sheriffs have seen their budgets diminished year after year, so going directly after these cartels at a fast enough pace to eliminate them isn’t really an option. They simply cannot keep up with the “prohibition style” culture that has risen up out of this black market. While law-abiding farmers are cut off from their water supplies, these marijuana farmers continue to steal water to stay in business.

It’s not fair to our Valley farmers that these illegal growers use unlimited water to grow their crop. It’s not fair that Valley farmers have to pay for permits to grow when illegal marijuana growers just grow wherever they want without any regard for how it affects you and me.

So let’s level the playing field by making marijuana growers follow the permitting rules that all farmers must follow. Let’s take marijuana from the black market to the free market. Moving marijuana into the free market will enable other free-market actors to help the state ensure they’re playing by the rules we all abide by. As the only “pro-realization” candidate running for state Senate, I promise to tackle this issue so the outcome will help our state, not hurt it. I’m not afraid of these tough issues, and I’m not afraid to say the status quo isn’t working.

Some say that legalizing marijuana is inevitable in California. I have studied how Colorado and Washington have passed and enforced their new laws regarding marijuana. We can learn from their mistakes and make sure marijuana doesn’t end up in the hands of children, and marijuana farmers will have to play by the same rules.

In 1996 voters passed Proposition 215, allowing for personal medical marijuana use. This proposition was poorly written and resulted in legal challenges and gave more questions than answers. This is why the Legislature must step up and author a comprehensive marijuana bill. One that ensures our community’s safety, environmental protections and an economic benefit to our state.

Bagley of Salinas is a Democratic candidate for the 12th Senate District against Republican Anthony Cannella of Ceres. [...]
[END SUN-STAR REPORT]
********

Foreign Commercial Marijuana Farming in USA: Unintended Consequences of Anti-terrorism Measures

As so often happens a press outlet won't pick up every sentence from a report prepared by a 'wire' service such as the Associated Press. In 2008 Eoin O'Carroll, then the writer at Christian Science Monitor's Bright Green Blog, added an important sentence from an AP report that the San Jose Mercury News omitted from its publication of the same report (see below).

From O'Carroll's report (emphasis mine):
Following post-9/11 border-security measures, a number of Mexican drug cartels moved their grow sites inside the United States.  Federally managed land offered the best sites for remote, anonymous plots. According to the AP story, the biggest sites are in the Cascade Range, which extends from British Columbia to Northern California, and in federal lands in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
However, national coverage of marijuana cultivation in those three southern states is sparse. As to reporting on the amount and type of environmental damage done in those states by commercial pot growing, that seemed to be a verboten topic when I checked last summer.
 
Yet by odd coincidence the kind of environmental damage done by mountaintop removal coal strip mining in the Appalachian regions of those states is the same as widely reported with unregulated pot farming in California, if you discount the actual mountaintop removal: deforestation; dammed, diverted, polluted waterways and destroyed waterways with attendant destruction of endangered fish; soil pollution and erosion; poisoning of endangered wildlife from industrial chemicals.
   
California and those three other states are by no means the only ones that do large business in illicit commercial marijuana cultivation, even though California has gotten the lion's share of press attention.  Reporting on damage done to other U.S. states by commercial marijuana growing is like flashes of lightning illuminating a pitch dark landscape.
 
October 2008:
"What's going on on public lands is a crisis at every level," said Forest Service agent Ron Pugh. "These are America's most precious resources, and they are being devastated by an unprecedented commercial enterprise conducted by armed foreign nationals."

The first documented marijuana cartels were discovered in Sequoia National Park in 1998. Then, officials say, tighter border controls after Sept. 11, 2001, forced industrial-scale growers to move their operations into the United States.

Mexican marijuana cartels sully U.S. forests, parks
By Tracie Cone
Associated Press via San Jose Mercury News
October 11, 2008

PORTERVILLE, Calif. — National forests and parks — long popular with Mexican marijuana-growing cartels — have become home to some of the most polluted pockets of wilderness in America because of the toxic chemicals needed to eke out lucrative harvests from rocky mountainsides, federal officials said.
Seven hundred grow sites were discovered on U.S. Forest Service land in California in 2007 and 2008 — and authorities say the 1,800-square-mile Sequoia National Forest is the hardest hit.

Weed and bug sprays, some long banned in the United States, have been smuggled to the marijuana farms. Plant growth hormones have been dumped into streams, and the water has been diverted for miles in PVC pipes.

Rat poison has been sprinkled over the landscape to keep animals away from tender plants. Many sites are strewn with the carcasses of deer and bears poached by workers during the five-month growing season that is now ending.

"What's going on on public lands is a crisis at every level," said Forest Service agent Ron Pugh. "These are
America's most precious resources, and they are being devastated by an unprecedented commercial enterprise conducted by armed foreign nationals."

The first documented marijuana cartels were discovered in Sequoia National Park in 1998. Then, officials say, tighter border controls after Sept. 11, 2001, forced industrial-scale growers to move their operations into the United States.

Millions of dollars are spent every year to find and uproot marijuana-growing operations on state and federal lands, but federal officials say no money is budgeted to clean up the environmental mess left behind. They are encouraged that Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who last year secured funding for eradication, has inquired about the pollution problems.

In the meantime, the only cleanup is done by volunteers. Tuesday, the non-profit High Sierra Trail Crew, plans to take 30 people deep into the Sequoia National Forest to carry out miles of drip irrigation pipe, tons of human garbage, volatile propane canisters, and bags and bottles of herbicides and pesticides.

"People light up a joint, and they have no idea the amount of environmental damage associated with it," said Cicely Muldoon, deputy regional director of the Pacific West Region of the National Park Service.
[END REPORT]

********

Pot farming's disaster in slow motion: It's amazing how much damage lazy white guys can do.

A traditional garden on public lands, Pugh says, has one or two growers and fewer than fifty plants. The gardener, who lives locally, hikes in every other day or so, carrying water for his plants. Firearms are uncommon, and locations are predictable. “They’re within a quarter mile of a road,” Pugh explains, “and they’re rarely uphill. White guys are lazy

Much has changed since the following news report was published in October 2009. The meme that the report highlights, which is that the worst ecological damage in the USA from pot cultivation is done by Mexican crime syndicates, had collapsed by 2014.  This happened for three major reasons:

First, as the drought intensified in California, many local communities began fighting 'mom and pop' medical pot growers, who were diverting big amounts of water for their "grows," as they're called. And so the local press began reporting more and more on the situation.  From this, the public -- at least in California -- began to see that while the ecological damage done by the cartel growers was spectacular, the non-cartel growers were causing damage that was death by a thousand cuts.

No people were more surprised by this revelation than California's medical pot growers -- virtually all of whom big defenders of the ecology.  So at first the reaction was denial.  Yet it was a matter of one hand not knowing what the other was doing until the local news reports snowballed.

Second, the landmark study done by energy expert Evan Mills, first published in 2011. He did what no one else had done up to that point: analyzed the carbon footprint of commercial indoor marijuana cultivation.  His finding was that the footprint was huge.

Again, the initial reaction was denial -- and again, from the pot growers who prided themselves on being defenders of the ecology and supported draconian legislation to reduce the carbon footprint.  (I'll be returning to Mills's study in later posts.)

Third, by 2012 NBC News was reporting that the big pot operations (both cartel and non-cartel) were moving out of their traditional haunts in California's national parks and the heavily wooded far north of the state and into the state's farming heartland in the Central Valley -- where they were growing huge plots of marijuana virtually with impunity as the region's tiny, bucolic, underfunded police forces looked on helplessly. This is the same Central Valley that was heading into a catastrophic drought and water scarcity crisis.

All right, with those caveats in mind, I'll turn back the clock to 2009 to convey how much information was emerging, and how early, about the damage done by commercial marijuana farming in the United States. See the website for links to articles cited in the report.
    
Marijuana growers worsening California drought
By Eoin O'Carroll
Bright Green Blog
Christian Science Monitor
October 10, 2009

Officials in California's drought-plagued Mendocino County have noted that large-scale marijuana plots have drained rivers and streams

Large marijuana plots hidden deep in California's public lands have illegally diverted hundreds of millions of gallons of water, compounding shortages caused by the state's ongoing drought.

Public officials in Mendocino County, a region on California's north coast known for its lush redwood forests and potent cannabis, have witnessed rivers and creeks drained by the large-scale drug operations.
"They're using a whole lot of water." said Lt. Rusty Noe of the Mendocino County sheriff's office in a telephone interview with the Bright Green Blog.

Lt. Noe noted that police have seized more than 500,000 pot plants this season in Mendocino County alone. Each plant requires about one gallon of water per day. [A big underestimate by many accounts] California is entering the fourth year of a severe drought, with residents in some areas facing the first mandatory water restrictions in two decades and farms laying off thousands of workers.

"It's really affecting our water supply," said Noe of the illicit growing sites.

Noe also cited other environmental damage caused by the plantations, including the dumping of toxic chemicals (a subject we covered a year ago) and erosion of soil and underbrush.

"These camps are just unbelievable," said Noe, who noted that the problem is getting steadily worse each year.

"It is making a huge resource impact," Dennis Slota, a hydrologist with the Mendocino County Water Agency, told the Bright Green Blog over the phone. Mr. Slota said that he knew personally of two steelhead trout streams that are now dead from illegal water diversion.

Slota suggested that most of the environmental destruction is caused not by Mendocino's local pot growers, who have long taken advantage of the county's mild climate and tolerant views toward the drug, but by mostly Mexican crime syndicates that, in the 1990s, began planting large plots deep in the woods, which they would abandon after the October-November harvest.

His view was echoed by Ron Pugh, a US Forest Service special agent, who was quoted in the spring issue of Terrain, a Northern California environmental magazine.

Says Pugh about the sheer volume of grows, “This is not a hippie thing.”

He’s come prepared with a list of comparisons between a “hippie” grow and a DTO site -- one maintained by a drug trafficking organization.

A traditional garden on public lands, Pugh says, has one or two growers and fewer than fifty plants. The gardener, who lives locally, hikes in every other day or so, carrying water for his plants. Firearms are uncommon, and locations are predictable.

“They’re within a quarter mile of a road,” Pugh explains, “and they’re rarely uphill. White guys are lazy.”

The DTO sites, on the other hand, are as remote as the growers can get, often three miles from the nearest road. They contain an average of 6,600 plants, tended by an average of seven growers who live in tents the entire season, from May to October.

The growers are aided by scanners, radios, night-vision goggles, an arsenal of weapons, and truckloads of plastic pipe to divert area streams to their plants, sometimes from as far as a half-mile away. When they abandon the site in the fall, they leave behind mountains of trash, about as much trash as a small city dump.

Writing for Blue Living Ideas, a news website that covers water issues, Jennifer Lance notes that only 1 in 8 of those arrested in Mendocino this season for growing marijuana are from the county. She also notes that the county's district attorney is investigating at least one recently seized grow operation for "environmental crimes" and "water diversion," on top of drug crimes.

Update:  Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, DC advocacy group that seeks to remove criminal penalties for marijuana use, obviously has a different take. Read his comment here. [See website for link.]
[END REPORT]
********

Sunday, February 1

Pundita blog goes to pot. Brace Yourself.

Reports stacked up since last spring on the environmental damage from commercial pot agriculture.  I first stumbled across the issue in the course of gathering reports on the water scarcity crisis and drought in California. By the summer, as California's drought deepened, so many news journalists and bloggers were addressing marijuana's contribution to water scarcity and other serious environmental problems, I didn't my blog could contribute anything to the discussion.
 
This morning I decided to delete the reports from my file. I was stopped by today's headlines at Google News about California's drought. I hadn't paid attention to the situation for months, not since a series of "Pineapple Express" storms roaring across the Pacific from Hawaii had dumped deluges on California.

At that time I thought, 'See?  They'll muddle through somehow.'

But it turned out the tropical storms hitting California were like a glass of water thrown on a hot griddle.  Meanwhile, El Niño did not deliver hoped-for big rains to the state.  The latest headlines are that hope for a big snowpack in the Sierra Nevada has faded, San Francisco didn't see rain in January for the first time in 165 years, and that 40 percent of the state is still in an "exceptional" drought.
All these signs point to California heading into the fourth year of a severe drought and that the cumulative effects of the earlier drought years will wreak catastrophe on the state this year.

Ironically, it took the worsening drought in California last year  to bring the environmental issues connected with pot farming into the spotlight, even though Associated Press had reported on the issues as early as 2008. The only press outlet that picked up the AP story was the Christian Science Monitor. The few other mainstream reports on the crisis since then couldn't get traction -- until last year.

Yet after a score of big-name press outlets raised hell this past summer about the evils of unrestricted marijuana farming, the issue plummeted back into the mainstream's Pit of Studious Silence.

So I'll play the fool, as long as the reports are at my fingertips.  Several of them are from last year; a few go back much earlier. I'm not going to make an attempt to organize them, beyond what I did when I wrote about the issue. I'm not sure at this point whether I'll publish any of the writings; it would mean editing work. 
Of course there is the Take It or Leave It Warts and All school of blogging, but I'll see.

For now, it's literal potluck posting at Pundita blog for the rest of this week, or until I can't stand looking any longer at that many tragic stories.

For crying out loud, marijuana isn't kudzu; it doesn't creep around strangling other plants.  It's a sweet innocent plant when left to its own devices. So how did its cultivation end up in the same category as blood diamonds, conflict palm oil, and the trade in elephant tusks?

Actually I did learn how it happened by the time I'd plowed through scores of reports.  I wish I'd never found out because I see no humane way to get the situation under control. If after studying the reports you see a way that doesn't involve a totalitarian police state, or shoving legal marijuana cultivation for U.S. consumption onto some hardscrabble countries that are already ecological basket cases, I'm all ears.

********

Ah, but nobody's ever been arrested for driving under the influence of tomatoes, Lt. Nores

The key word in the headline for the following AP report from June 2014 is "medical."  By that date the mask was slipping off commercial marijuana farming done for medical purposes. Or one might say that California's deepening drought had ripped off the mask. Yet the comment by Lt. John Nores of the Fish and Wildlife agency, which is on the front lines of the environmental disaster in California created by commercial pot farming, amounts to an apology for the industry.  Indeed, a number of quotes in the report  are from people who even with the best of intentions sound like apologists, which is why I'm reposting the entire report. They're making points that in light of the reality are hollow.

I understand Lt. Nores was trying to be understanding of people whose income depends on pot farming; after all, California's entire Emerald Triangle was built up by pot profits.  He has to work with those people, try to gain their cooperation.  But I wonder how understanding he is today, as the true picture of California's drought finally emerges.

A couple more notes about the report:  The crusading Scott Bauer, the Fish and Wildlife biologist who's done so much to alert the public to the damage done by pot farming, was informed after the AP report was published that his estimate of 30,000 pot plants grown in each river system was far too low. So then he recalculated. Somewhere I have the report on this, buried in stacks of other reports on what is turning out to be a bottomless environmental catastrophe; if I find it I'll post it. 

Also, the estimate of 6 gallons of water per pot plant for outdoor grown plants that's quoted by the report, and the claims that the estimate is too high, are a matter of dispute. From all I've read on the issue, it depends on the temperature, size of the plants, humidity, soil, etc. The plant's water need during its growing season can easily be double 6 gallons.

Study Finds Medical Pot Farms Draining Streams Dry
Associated Press via Yahoo News
June 1, 2014 

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Some drought-stricken rivers and streams in Northern California's coastal forests are being polluted and sucked dry by water-guzzling medical marijuana farms, wildlife officials say — an issue that has spurred at least one county to try to outlaw personal grows.

State fish and wildlife officials say much of the marijuana being grown in northern counties under the state's medical pot law is not being used for legal, personal use, but for sale both in California and states where pot is still illegal.

This demand is fueling backyard and larger-scale pot farming, especially in remote Lake, Humboldt and Mendocino counties on the densely forested North Coast, officials said.

"People are coming in, denuding the hillsides, damming the creeks and mixing in fertilizers that are not allowed in the U.S. into our watersheds," said Denise Rushing, a Lake County supervisor who supports an ordinance essentially banning outdoor grows in populated areas.

"When rains come, it flows downstream into the lake and our water supply," she said.

Many affected waterways also contain endangered salmon, steelhead and other creatures protected by state and federal law.

Wildlife biologists noticed streams running dry more often over the 18 years since the state passed Proposition 215, but weren't sure why.

"We knew people were diverting water for marijuana operations, but we wanted to know exactly how much," said Scott Bauer, the department biologist who studied the pot farms' effects on four watersheds.

"We didn't know they could consume all the water in a stream."

So Bauer turned to Google mapping technology and satellite data to find out where the many gardens are, and how many plants each contained.

His study estimates that about 30,000 pot plants were being grown in each river system — and he estimates
that each plant uses about six gallons per day over marijuana's 150-day growing season. Some growers and others argue the six-gallon estimate is high, and that pot plants can use far less water, depending on size.

He compared that information with government data on stream flows, and visited 32 sites with other biologists to verify the mapping data. He said most grow sites had posted notices identifying them as medical pot farms.

Pot farm pollution has become such a problem in Lake County, south of Bauer's study area, that officials voted unanimously last year to ban outdoor grows.

"Counties are the ultimate arbiter of land use conflict, so while you have a right to grow marijuana for medicinal use, you don't have a right to impinge on someone else's happiness and wellbeing," Rushing said.
Saying they were being demonized, pot users challenged the law, and gathered enough signatures to place a referendum on the June 3 ballot. They argue that grow restrictions like the ones being voted on in Lake County lump the responsible users in with criminals.

"We definitely feel environmental issues are a concern. But more restrictive ... ordinances will force people to start growing in unregulated and illegal places on public land," said Daniel McClean, a registered nurse and medical marijuana user who opposes the outdoor-grow ban.

While some counties are trying to help regulate the environmental effects of pot farms, Bauer hopes his study will lead to better collaboration with growers to help police illegal use of water and pesticides.

Previous collaborative attempts between government and growers have not ended well, said Anthony Silvaggio, a Humboldt State University sociology professor who studies the pot economy.

"The county or state gets in there and starts doing code enforcement on other things," Silvaggio said. "They've done this in the past"

He said pot farmers believe they are being unfairly blamed for killing endangered salmon while decades of timber cutting and overfishing are the real culprits.

However, the environmental damage has led to a split in the marijuana growing community.

One business, the Tea House Collective in Humboldt County, offers medicinal pot to people with prescriptions that it says is farmed by "small scale, environmentally conscious producers."
[...]
"Patients who cannot grow their own medicine can rely on our farmers to provide them with the best holistic medicine that is naturally grown, sustainable and forever Humboldt," the group's website advertises.
Despite efforts of some pot farmers to clean things up, the increased water use by farms is a "full-scale environmental disaster," said Fish and Wildlife Lt. John Nores, who leads the agency's Marijuana Enforcement Team.

"Whether it's grown quasi legally under the state's medical marijuana laws, or it's a complete cartel outdoor drug trafficking grow site, there is extreme environmental damage being done at all levels," Nores said.

Officials say until the federal government recognizes California's medical marijuana laws, growers will continue to operate clandestinely to meet market demand for their product due to fear of prosecution.
Meantime, enforcing federal and state environmental regulations will be harder.

"If cherry tomatoes were worth $3,000 a pound, and consumption was prohibited in most states, people would be doing the same thing," Nores said.

[END REPORT]
********

The rise of 3D printing and the fall of oil prices

Recently saw a headline that some company in the USA had 3D printed a car.  Yesterday heard a news blurb that China has 3D printed a five-story building.  This is going to revolutionize the construction industry, said the reporter.  Gee no kidding. 

The reporter also noted how fast all this is happening -- within the past two years. For years 3D printers were a novelty printing out novelties.  For years hydrofracking had no measurable impact on the oil industry.
There's still a delayed reaction; societies haven't yet absorbed the vast changes upon them. 

Economists, central banks, deer in the headlights.

********

Thursday, January 29

"I can't do anything!" Chad Dukes delivers the Radio Rant of the Decade, and a look at Yukon Men's lessons about adulthood

Roaring or perhaps wailing of truth, pound-the-table funny, some middle-aged guy I never heard of before hosting at a radio station I never heard of before, recounting a horrifying day in his life when he discovered that just about the only thing he knew how to do was yap into a radio microphone.

He described in vivid detail that over the course of serial incidents earlier that day, he'd been forced to realize that to save his life he couldn't make the simplest household repairs, couldn't keep track of his important personal papers, didn't know anything about the insurance policy he paid into every month.  He wasn't even capable of keeping track of his bank card -- having lost it something like four times during the previous six months. 

"I can't do anything!  ... Looking down at my big gut and enormous man-boobs, I realized I can't take care of my body. I can't even take control of my own teeth ... I realized I have no skills!  I have no backup plan!" 
By backup plan he meant that if he lost his job in radio he wouldn't know how to do anything else except maybe get a job in retail sales.

When he got to the radio station that day he confessed his realizations to male coworkers and asked if they, too, ever felt they couldn't do anything.  The confessions tumbled out; one coworker said he actually knew how to change a tire but "... I can't point out more than three things in a car," and that he couldn't hook up a TV, couldn't spackle or put up drywall.

This, then, decided the host to put the same question to (male) members of his radio audience.  The phone lines lit up with men calling to confess the simple things they had no idea how to do.

One caller said, "What happened to us?  My dad could do all these things."

Someone pointed out that during the eras in the USA when 'shop' courses were routinely available in schools, at least boys learned how to build a table.

Another caller told the host that he should organize one of those retreats where men gather in the wilderness and dance and sing around a campfire to reaffirm their manliness, and discuss the problem of not knowing how to do anything. 

The host burst out that this wasn't a good idea because they'd all die when they had to search for water and build a campfire.
 
Of course there are many American men who do know how to build a campfire and can build a table and even an entire house. They even know how to read a compass.  And dedicated Survivalists have learned to build just about everything from scratch, repair just about anything, and know how to live off the land.  But the host was clearly speaking for many people, females as well as males, although he excluded women from the call-in segment, I think on grounds that men have high expectations regarding their ability to excel at survival.

The radio host's name is Chad Dukes and his show is called "Chad Dukes Versus the World".  The radio station call letters, at least here in the District of Columbia are WJFK (106.7 FM).  There is a podcast of the show's segment; I don't have the link but it would be worth your while to find it.  The show was aired on Friday, January 23 and the rant launched at about 5:40 PM ET.

Yukon Men

Dukes's rant reminded me of a reality show called "Yukon Men."  I watched the 2013 season; haven't checked to see if it's still on the air.  Yukon Men followed the fathers and sons in a few families in a native tribe in Alaska's Yukon that survives by hunting and fishing rather than farming.  One learns from the show that the Yukon wilderness is not only harsh, its weather is deadly tricky in that the onset of winter can happen earlier than expected and with no warning.

So there is a huge amount of lore that has to be transmitted from father to son about surviving in such an environment.  One of the show's lessons is that there's a big difference between doing it yourself and figuring it out for yourself.  Trying to wing it in the Yukon with winter closing in is an easy way to die.
    
The survival lore and its transmission are also the basis for the tribe's rite of passage for males. Before a son can marry and start his own family, he must live on his own in a house he's built and equipped under his father's tutelage -- and survive a winter in the house in a climate of steep subzero temperatures and heavy snows that can cut off help for months.
     
Chad Dukes recounted with wit and honesty the experience of confronting, all at once, one's vulnerabilities. Yet before we can increase our do it yourself survival skills, there has to be an understanding of the need for this.  The Yukon teaches such understanding every winter.  In the absence of such a graphic lesson, Chad Dukes hurtled through the busy hours of his adult life with no awareness of how vulnerable he was.

How to translate that observation into an action path?

The most poignant episode I saw in Yukon Men concerned a very young man from an urban environment in the "Lower 48" who went to the Yukon and sought out the tribe specifically to immerse himself in a more 'grounded' lifestyle. He went to work for one of the fathers in the tribe but it was quickly obvious he wasn't cut out for the work and that the father would have to fire him.

Yet I suspect the young man was trying to immerse himself not so much in a traditional tribal way of life as one where the rite of passage into adulthood was clear for him. Graduation from high school and college and even procuring an income are not clear enough.

In this era a sharp distinction should be made between the education to qualify a child for an income-producing job and the education that prepares a child for adulthood. 

So prospective parents need to hash out the necessary skills for adulthood, codify them, learn to teach them, and work out a rite of passage that demonstrates the child has learned the skills.

Some of the teaching can be done as a cooperative effort, but a striking aspect of "Yukon Men" is that while these men belong to a bona fide tribe, it was the individual father who was responsible for bringing his son across the bridge that separates childhood from adulthood.  (From the little shown about the females, it was the mother who was similarly responsible for the daughter.)

This is very definitely a teaching responsibility as distinct from a provider one.  And while the tribe has communal responsibilities it is the parents who are tasked with bringing their children into adulthood. Mastery of particular survival skills is the visible symbol of a successful rite of passage.  But if mastery is divorced from the symbolism, knowing even all the world's survival skills won't necessarily create an adult. 

********

Wednesday, January 28

Rise of the New Vernacular

The years 2008 - 2010 saw Americans in large numbers ejected by the financial crisis from establishments that make up what's called mainstream society. This has happened before to one degree or another during severe economic downturns. But this time many Americans found very old paths or forged new ones for getting routine things done, paths that aren't part of the established systems, and didn't return to the establishments.  
 
I characterize this trend as the rise in the United States of what I term "the Vernacular" -- although as I explained years ago on this blog I didn't invent this use of the term, which is itself borrowed from architecture.

While it's hard to define a trend by making use of an unfamiliar term, I think it's important to distinguish the trend from the current American dialogue about "big government versus small government" -- a dialogue that forms much of the American Libertarian and Tea Party discourses and their debates with the two established political parties in the USA, and indeed much of the debate between the traditional American Left and Right.

The Vernacular isn't concerned with the size of government and it's not anti-government in an anarchist sense; it's not political. Nor is it anti-establishment although it develops and flourishes outside established orders. When I first wrote about the Vernacular for this blog, in the attempt to illustrate the concept at a glance I published photographs of weeds growing in cracks in paved-over surfaces -- highways and parking lots.

The Vernacular, a term originally borrowed from 'ad hoc' architecture (as distinct from planned architectural developments), refers to the Common Person working out his own ways of wending through the pervasive systems of state-directed society.  With architecture it's the Common Person putting up buildings that don't reflect government planned developments, or making use of planned urban spaces that weren't intended by the planners.

A famous example is homeless people using public park benches as beds, although the newer bench designs attempt to discourage this unplanned-for way of using the public benches.

While the Vernacular is traditionally associated with the poorest and least educated, the rise of the American Vernacular (and its non-American versions) in the closing years of the past decade is rooted in middle- and even the lower end of upper-income groups that are often college educated.

Another feature of the new Vernacular is its international character. This is made possible by globalized digital communication platforms -- cell phones and Internet. These can connect people around the world according to their needs rather than domestic political agendas and state planning.  And the fact that the 2008 financial crisis was a global phenomenon spurred people in far-flung parts of the world to take up Vernacular thinking and gave them common purpose with Americans in the same situations.  
   
An example of the globalized Vernacular in action is that an American with reasonably good credit can now raise a micro loan from an informal group of 'investors' in America or networked in several countries without having to go through the traditional banking establishment.

This fills a great need. The establishment banking system got to the point where it ignored the small borrower because processing small loans was considered too costly by the banks.  This forced the borrower to turn to high-interest credit cards or payday loan companies to raise a small loan.

The peer-to-peer way of banking, as it's been called, is revolutionizing how people with small funding needs can cheaply raise capital for very small business startups, etc. In this approach loan making is entirely circumventing the establishment. 

Another way to say this is that peer to peer banking opens up to everyone the micro loan concept, which previously had been limited to the world's poorest peoples.  And this kind of banking is being given a boost by the rise of Bitcoin, which also makes it possible to borrow very small amounts of money at a low interest rate. 

Peer to peer banking is just one aspect of the peer to peer way of doing things, which in essence cuts out the establishment's middlemen whether in finance, education, health care, and so on.

Is the New Vernacular a Political Movement?

The Vernacular as it exists today is too amorphous, too diffused, to be politicized.  So analogies are best found in fashion (and pop music) rather than political movements. For example the street attire of the poor or teenagers can eventually be noticed and reworked by high fashion designers, then again reworked by designers for mass retailers and mass produced.

The same process can happen with street music. What starts out as completely anti-establishment sounds gets picked up by a famous recording artist, then eventually reworked until it ends up as Muzak piped into shopping malls.

Fashion or music trends can be politicized to an extent, but only after they've gained wide acceptance in the society. 

In short, any attempt to politicize the new Vernacular would be trying to do things backward. And this is an evolutionary movement, not a revolutionary one -- or rather, by the time it's thought of as revolutionary, a new establishment has already evolved from it.

However, the evolution in this case is well underway; it's just that it's been happening largely under the radar of the mainstream media -- although ironically, the media do pick up news of innovations that arise from the Vernacular, such as Bitcoin, only without fitting them into a larger picture.

The larger picture is reminiscent of that great line in Jurassic Park:  Nature always finds a way.  When our establishments come to rule us, along comes some fool with a washboard and wazoo and starts making music.   

********

Tuesday, January 27

Reality vs Ideologies

I went to the Internet to find reports about Yemen's water crisis and came across Juan Cole's December 29 essay, Did Drought and Climate Change cause Middle Eastern States to Collapse in 2014?

A great many things led to the collapse but yes, as I learned to my surprise in 2014, a year I dubbed, "Oh by the Way," towering over everything is reality in the form of water scarcity that when broken down into categories works out to the cumulative effects from some or all of following conditions:

> Mismanagement of water resources
> Lack of water conservation
> Bad agricultural practices
> Wasteful or excessive industrial practices
> Inadequate water infrastructures
> Existing water infrastructures in disrepair
> Desertification
> Desiccation
> Deforestation
> Diversion of waterways
> Damn building
> Skyrocketed human and farm animal populations
> Unsustainable urban expansion

Note the term "climate change" is nowhere on the list. This doesn't mean the climate isn't changing for the worse in some regions; e.g., getting hotter and drier from climatic conditions.  But the observation doesn't produce the kind of strategies that could stave off the direst and most immediate water crises.

How dire?  Well, Sana'a, the capital city of Yemen, has less than two years before it runs out of "economically viable water supplies," as a 2010 Guardian article put it, which is also when the country runs out of oil reserves. By 2010, other parts of Yemen were draining Sana'a's water basin at the staggering rate of 4 times the amount of replacement water in the basin.
 
How did the country get into such a pickle?  Dope. Specifically the commercial cultivation of a narcotic plant called qat that produces a high when chewed and slurps up huge amounts of irrigation water. As the Guardian put it, Yemenis are literally chewing themselves to death.

That's just Yemen.  The majority of Middle Eastern - North African nation-states are on track for extinction, at least as they exist today. There's too many people and livestock and too little water. But Yemen is a good case study because it's an ancient agricultural region, like Egypt.  Yet when you pile industry on top of agriculture, and pile on top ever-larger cities for burgeoning populations, you're using huge amounts of virtual water in addition to water for agriculture. At some point, a point that is now being reached by several countries in MENA, the way of life is no longer sustainable.

That's the case right here in the USA as well, in certain regions.  And in many other places in the world. So now everyone's in a mad dash to recalculate taking virtual water into account.
 
Yet what do you do, when your way of life has come to depend on exporting your precious water in the form of industrial output?  And when your cities slurp up ever greater amounts of virtual and actual water just to sustain their infrastructures?  And when NASA's amazing GRACE satellite system beams back exactly how much groundwater is left -- the amount being far less than anyone had imagined before?

So I'd advise American wonks to worry less about radical Islam, China's Communist Party, and Russia's designs on Ukraine and worry more about America's water supplies a decade down the line.  I'd also worry less right now about manmade climate change and worry more about manmade water scarcity.  And I urge ideologues of all persuasions to confront the fact that reality doesn't give a damn what you think.

*********

The Toad Method vs Incomprehensible Government Language

From a recent column at WND by Dr Lee Hieb :
[...]
I have some experience in dealing with codes and [government phone] help lines. As a physician, not only do I confront the IRS yearly, but on a very personal and up front way we in private practice confront the Medicare/Medicaid codes. These codes flow over 150,000 pages – and that estimate was 10 years ago, before any of the Obamacare nightmare began to add to the volume.
[...]
Even when you get advice [from Medicare] it may be wrong. A GAO (Government Accountability Office) study done in 2002 reported that 85 percent of the time when advising a medical client, the Medicare customer service representative gave incorrect advice.

After this dismal report card the government set out to do corrective action, and by 2004 [found in a study that] 96 percent of the time the Medicare representative gave wrong information.

These were not surprise quizzes. The response center knew they were being tested, and, "The questions represented common, policy-oriented questions concerning the proper way to bill Medicare in order to obtain payment."

Surprisingly, the CMS [Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services] had some insight into the problem. As reported by Larry Huntoon, M.D., Ph.D. in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons 2004: Among other things, the GAO found that Medicare policies and regulations were so complex and confusing that neither Medicare CSRs [customer service representatives] nor CMS policy experts could understand them.

"CMS officials acknowledged that some policies contain complex language. In addition, they told us that the agency's goal of quickly publishing a policy that is technically correct may sometimes overshadow its effort to develop a clear and understandable document."

In other words, in some cases they purposely publish incomprehensible Medicare policies. Needless to say, in spite of understanding the root cause of the problem, the government took the exact opposite approach and kept going down the same distorted road of unreality by adding thousands and thousands more pages of incomprehensible regulations in the form of Obamacare.

I haven't found an accurate count, but given that the bill itself is 2,400 pages, I will be surprised if our Health and Human Service opus is anything short of 200,000 pages at this time. NO human being can possibly understand this, although they continue to apply the legal maxim that "ignorance of the law is no excuse."

Now there may be some hope on the horizon for [physicians] and you in dealing with this IRS debacle. Dr. Huntoon, a neurologist in private practice ... took the Medicare questions and phrased them so a toad could answer "yes" or "no" by jumping right or left.

The Toad Method yielded a 50 percent incorrect response rate -- considerably better than the 96 percent incorrect response rate of the Medicare representatives.

(Apparently, being able to read actually makes one less able to understand the nuances of government regulations.)

So, this April 15, if you sit for hours [on the phone] waiting for an IRS representative, or perhaps have talked with a representative but couldn't understand or didn't trust the answer, just go outside and grab a toad (probably a frog would work as well, since Dr. Huntoon didn't really control the experiment for species), and double check the answer with Mr. Toad.

If you are audited, you can always take a copy of Dr. Huntoon's research paper with you and maybe even the toad as a demonstration.
As Dr Hieb emphasized, and as everyone who has flunked an IRS audit or the correct Medicare code knows, American government agencies make no allowance for ignorance of the law, and this includes failure to comprehend the language of the law.  But to pound home the point here's a story from her same column:
Like the IRS codes, we little people may not be able to comprehend (or even read) the [Medicare] codes, but we are responsible for being in compliance with the codes or face penalties.  And, just like the tax code, these penalties include fines, fines with triple damages, seizure of assets and jail time.

A dentist who was charged with fraud under the Medicaid code spent nearly seven years in prison, including considerable time in solitary confinement. Finally, at the end of his ordeal, he was released – and the government could only show that the poor dentist had overcharged Medicaid by about $40.

Unfortunately, he is not alone. When you hear your doctor is being charged with Medicare fraud, most of the time what is called "fraud" is choosing the wrong code from 150+ pages of regulation.

To avoid the government thump, practitioners go to great lengths to "be in compliance" with the codes. I did not feel I could safely navigate the Medicare code waters alone in my office. I paid 10 percent of my income to a billing service that itself had 160 employees and hired specialists in Medicare and Medicaid.[...]
If 10 percent sounds steep, the billing service has to go through hell and high water to wring comprehensible answers from CMS and I suspect at least 7 percent of the fee is for hiring clairvoyants to plumb the answers for meaning.
 
Given the stiff penalties for failure to comprehend incomprehensible language, American medical and dental practitioners might want to consider demanding that as long as the codes they supply to Medicare are Toad Compliant they should be exempt from criminal charges and triple fines. They should take the demand all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.  And be sure to enter a toad into the court proceedings.

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Two Screws

"For want of a nail the kingdom was lost."
-- from an old proverb

This writing started as a note to myself so I'm not certain about the date of the WTOP broadcast I mention in the second paragraph.  But my best guess is that it was January 18; in any event it was a few days after a smoke incident on Monday, January 12 in the subway system in Washington, DC that centered on the L'Enfant Plaza stop:

Just heard this at 1 PM on WTOP (the all-news radio station for the DMV -- District of Columbia and parts of Maryland and Virginia nearest the District):
 
When the emergency responders (fire and/or Metro employees) finally got to the trapped subway train, which was more than 40 minutes after thick black-orange smoke had filled the train cars, they ran into another problem.  The latches to open the emergency train doors from the outside weren't there.

Then the same responders found that the passengers trapped in the smoke-filled train couldn't open the emergency doors from the inside until two screws had been removed from the doors.  The report didn't say whether the screws were located inside or outside the train.
 
What's clear is that there's no mention of two screws and the need to remove them shown in the instructions posted in every train car for how passengers can open the emergency doors.

From the prominently displayed idiot-proofed written instructions and illustrations that accompany them, the process of opening the emergency exit doors from the inside is child's play.  Even the most panicked adult passenger could immediately comprehend how to open the doors from glancing at the large poster of instructions placed next to the emergency doors.
      
The missing outside door latches and the surprising existence of two screws are just one part of the mess involving Metro (the company that runs the subway trains), PEPCO (the electric company serving the subway system), the police, and the fire department.  A mess that cost one passenger her life and sent 85 passengers to emergency rooms, and most probably would have resulted in a train full of dead people if some passengers trapped on the train hadn't called 911 to report the situation and explain that several minutes had elapsed with no help arriving.

Reportedly, up until the passenger calls to 911, the fire and police departments had no idea how serious the situation was. They didn't know there were passengers trapped on a train in which smoke was being sucked in through air exchange vents. This, despite the fact that the billowing smoke had been noted by Metro almost as soon as it broke out in the L'Enfant Plaza station on the Yellow Line at approximately 3:15 PM -- must as the 'official' rush hour was getting underway in the nation's capital and throughout the Metro line.  (Because rush hour was just getting underway, if the smoke incident had started just a few moments later there would have been many more commuters trapped on the train.) 

Since I wrote the above, more of the story of what happened during the incident has been coming out, in dribs and drabs, from officials connected with various entities involved; e.g., fire department, Metro, etc. 
The incident is still under investigation -- a multi-agency investigation that could take a year before the final report is issued, according to one news report.  So exactly what happened, and who's to blame for what, is still shrouded in fog. But a couple days ago, I think it was, there was a news report on WTOP regarding an official announcement that investigators were currently looking at 10 lapses or issues that together led to the disaster and/or needed to be addressed to prevent another such disaster.

I note that the disaster wasn't the smoke incident itself, the cause of which is still being investigated -- although from an unconfirmed report it was due to electrical cable(s) falling on a section of the electrified 'third rail.'  The disaster was in the slow and muddled response to the breakout of the smoke. This led to scores of commuters being trapped on a smoke filled six- or eight-car train at L'Enfant Plaza for about 40 minutes before they were freed.

The train on which the commuters rode was also trapped. The conductor couldn't move the train forward out of the smoke-filled station, for reasons that aren't clear to me.  And he couldn't back the train out the station because the track was blocked from behind by other trains, which had been halted because of the smoke.
(There was an unconfirmed report a day or so after the incident that the conductor abandoned his train, which if confirmed would throw light on why the train didn't pull out of the station away from the worst of the smoke.)
    
The WTOP report didn't detail every one of the 10 issues but did mention one shocker: In response to the investigation thus far, Metro has made it procedure for a subway conductor to immediately shut off the air intake to a train in the event of a smoke incident.
   
Why in God's name the procedure was never before instituted by Metro is a mystery; it should be the first thing a conductor should do in those circumstances.  Because it wasn't done that day, poisonous thick smoke in the tunnel kept being sucked into the train cars on the trapped train. And as is now known, with no way for passengers on the train to open the emergency doors -- and with a delay of about 40 minutes before responders could get the doors opened.

By the way this wasn't simply smoke; it contained particles that once lodged in lungs can cause health problems for months and even years after the incident.

There were also complications with communications between various responding agencies, which created confusion.  One confusion was whether electricity to the third rail had been shut off in response to the smoke alarm. Reportedly the question delayed decisions about when to send firemen into the smoky tunnel to free passengers from the trapped train.  According to one early news report, without certain knowledge that power to the third rail had been shut off, those in charge decided it would be very dangerous to send firemen and other first responders into the smoke-filled subway tunnels.

If the report is confirmed I don't understand why the responders couldn't have simply walked on the side of the tunnels where the third rail isn't -- the rail is only on one side of the train cars.  Unless the tunnels intersect at angles and because of poor visibility due to the smoke the responders might have easily gotten confused about the location of the third rail.  In that event it's possible the delay in getting to the train was also due to authorities waiting for the thickest of the smoke to be dissipated by giant fans in the tunnels, which had been immediately turned on to clear the smoke.

As the mention of "ten" issues indicates, there are questions surrounding the incident in addition ones I've touched on.  And because there are so many agencies involved including the federal NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board), which investigates accidents on U.S. mass transport systems, the final report on the incident will probably be almost as many pages as the 911 Commission Report.

Yet when all the investigations are wrapped up and written up and all the finger-pointing in every direction is finished, the incident will amount to just one of those times when everything that could wrong did.

However, Metro (which also operates Washington, DC buses) has been plagued by safety issues on the subway system since at least as early as 2009.  Metro's long-running answer to complaints about the safety issues: We need more money and we need to have dedicated funds rather than sharing them with other agencies.

Of course mass casualty incidents that represent a confluence of missteps, mismanagement, and mishaps occur in every major city in the world.  I mention this one to a Pundita readership that is both national and international because the life-or-death gap between clear instructions and reality in the fire incident is worthy of everyone's note.

The emergency door exit system and instructions for using it were obviously given careful thought and surely garnered from best practices in subway systems in other cities. In light of this, there's no way subway passengers would be expected to remove two screws before they could exit through emergency doors. So the most likely explanation is that the screws were there to protect a panel on a train car during the crating, shipping, and uncrating processes, and that the screws were to be removed after the train cars were installed at their destination.

The same explanation is likely for the missing outside-door latches; it's a good guess they were to intended to be attached after the train cars had been uncrated and installed in order to protect them from damage during crating and shipping of the subway cars and/or while the car parts were being fitted together at their destination. 
 
In short it's unlikely this was a quality control problem arising at the factory; more likely this was an installation problem.  In any case the problem could have been caught at two levels:  inspection and drill.  If an inspection had failed, a drill in escaping from the cars would have caught that the emergency doors didn't work as expected.

So while there were a number of factors that caused a muddled response to a smoke incident, there was actually only one factor in play that nearly killed 85 people:  nowhere was it posted in the train when the last safety drill had occurred.

This is a world in which chances for human catastrophes multiply with the need to coordinate multiple agencies responsible for a mass system, a world in which the systems are increasingly complex.  In that mileu it's misplaced to put one's trust only in instructions; trust must also be placed in drills that routinely test the instructions.

Make no mistake, it was a close call. People who were freed from the train and able to talk spilled out a nightmarish story to reporters of passengers around them fainting, vomiting, and retching as the smoke overcame them.  The terrible irony is that just as the tunnels were being cleared of the worst of the smoke by giant fans, smoke was being pulled into the train cars, and with no way for the passengers to free themselves.  They had only moments left to live by the time they were rescued, and one wasn't able to hold out.
  
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