Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Nestlé, Flashpoint In U.S. Water Wars, Is Longtime Partner Of Poconos Water Utility


Nestlé, largest bottler in the world, relies on 10 Northeastern Pennsylvania
 wells, but wants more as it seeks an ever larger market share.
Global giant Nestlé SA is no stranger to controversy, and its unquenchable thirst to dominate the American bottled water market while generating immense profits, frequently at the expense of the small towns where it sinks wells, is drawing fire at a time when water has become a national concern.  But the largest public water utility in the Poconos has had an 18-year relationship with Nestlé, which has purchased at least 110 million gallons of water for bottling from it -- and possibly much more -- at bargain-basement rates.
The relationship is so extensive that the utility, the Brodhead Regional Water Authority (BCRA), permitted Nestlé to pump water on its own property for its exclusive use and has shared a lawyer with Nestlé who specializes in buying and developing land for water-related projects. 
Water is the last substantially undisturbed natural resource in the Poconos, and extracting, buying and selling water has become big business for Nestlé and other commercial interests who are cashing in on an extraordinarily cheap and sometimes free commodity that, according to the Pennsylvania Constitution, belongs to the citizens of the commonwealth and not commercial entities. 
Because of contamination of the public water supplies in Flint, Michigan and elsewhere, there is a growing awareness that while water is a vital  and irreplaceable resource, the supply is finite and will dry up if not carefully regulated and managed.   
Swiss-owned Nestlé, which already is the largest water bottler in the world with an extraordinary 52 brands globally, bottles and sells Perrier, Deer Park and 10 other brands in North America alone.  It is cashing in on water on an epic scale because the epidemic of water contamination has forced people to buy and drink bottled water.  In short, the more lead and other contaminants are found in water and the more people become sick from them, the more bottled water Nestlé sells and the more its profits swell.   
In 1998, the Stroudsburg Municipal Authority (SMA) began doing business with Great American Waters, the predecessor of Nestlé Waters North America.  The relationship grew in the early 2000s and continued in 2005 when the SMA became a water supplier for five eastern Poconos townships and was renamed BCRA.   
The authority is uncertain about how much of its water -- which is to say the water the state Constitution says belongs to you and I -- that Nestlé has purchased, most of it for its Perrier and Deer Park brands, although it stresses that the total, whatever it is, has been less than 1 percent of the water it sells to all of its residential and business customers in a given year.   
At the peak of Nestlé's relationship with the BCRA, a 10-year period from 1998 to 2008, it was buying an average of 11 million gallons a year for a total of about 110 million gallons, including a high of 26 million gallons in 2002.  Those are quantities that are difficult to get one's head around, but 110 million gallons is enough water to fill about 165 Olympic-sized swimming pools or 4.3 million large-sized bottles of Perrier.  Meanwhile, back-of-the-envelope calculations show Nestlé has generated about three dollars in revenue for every dollar it has spent on BCRA water.   
Business relationships between water utilities and water bottlers are not uncommon.  The BCRA's ties to Nestlé have been an open secret although this pubic-private relationship has never been promoted by the BCRA in its literature, on its website or annual reports, while its extent has not been revealed until now. 
The fight against Nestlé in a tiny Pennsylvania township is attracting
 global attention. Al Jazeera assigned its U.S. correspondent to the story. 
In contrast, what has been happening in tiny Eldred Township (population 2,665) at the western edge of the Poconos has been very public and is attracting increasing attention in the national and international media as it has become a flashpoint in the U.S. water wars. 
Nestlé is meeting ferocious opposition in Eldred to its plan to sink two bulk extraction wells on private property and pump a minimum of 200,000 gallons a day for its Deer Park brand from the aquifer under Kunkletown village and the surrounding area for enormous profit.  Because it will not be buying water as it has from the BCRA, its profit could amount to upwards of $3 billion over a 10-year period.   
Nestlé, which has about 10 wells in northeastern Pennsylvania and about 50 nationwide, is said to be trying to make inroads in 50 or so communities similar to Eldred, but is meeting with mixed success. 
The company was handed an overwhelming defeat in Cascade Locks, Oregon (population 1,148) earlier this month after a six-year effort to locate its first bulk extraction well and bottling plant in the Northwest, while its plans to sink a well in Fryeburg, Maine (population 3,449) were upheld by the Maine Supreme Court.
Jane Lazgin, a Nestlé Waters North America spokeswoman, told the Wall Street Journal that the company is dismayed by the pushback in Cascade Locks and elsewhere.   "We use water just as others in industry use water to make foods, drinks and manufactured products," she said.   
Nestlé and other bottlers fear that bans like the one in Cascade Locks will spread, and Lazgin warns in a curtsy to Chicken Little that the Cascade Locks ban "sets a precedent for other bans on industrial or argiculture use of water." 
A key to Nestlé's success nationally is its ability to hot wire the political establishments in smaller communities that are anxious, if not desperate, to attract major corporations although bulk water extraction operations generate very few jobs.  There is a rumor that Nestlé will open a bottling plant in the Poconos if the Eldred wells are approved, but that is wishful thinking on the part of Nestlé proponents.  The company already has a massive bottling complex in Breinigsville in the Lehigh Valley only 30 miles from Kunkletown.  It could not justify another plant in the region, has stated that water from Eldred would be trucked to the Lehigh Valley, while the traffic-impact studies it attached to its application for the wells show just that.   
Winning over politicians to do their bidding was a piece of cake for Nestlé in the Stroudsburg area, but it has encountered unexpected obstacles in Eldred, which it cavalierly assumed was populated by country bumpkins whom it could push around.   
The actions of the Eldred Planning Commission secretary helped give Nestlé the legal cover to extract massive quantities of water in an area of the township where it would have been prohibited. The secretary's daughter was an Eldred township supervisor and girlfriend of the owner of the property where Nestlé has a tentative lease agreement to sink wells.  
Those maneuvers are the subject of a property owners' lawsuit, while candidates for township supervisor believed to be pro-Nestlé were defeated in the 2015 elections and several pro-Nestlé township officials have resigned or been forced out as anti-Nestlé forces have gained momentum, if not the upper hand.  
Nestlé designed, funded and built a facility with BCRA approval 
for its exclusive use on the authority's property.
Nestlé's unanticipated obstacles in Eldred are more of a nuisance than a setback for a company with a bottomless well of cash.   
Having failed to buy the political establishment in Eldred, if only figuratively, Nestlé can prolong the public hearings on its application -- now into their fourth month with no end remotely in sight -- and in the process bankrupt the opposition, which it already is well on its way to doing although the citizens' case is powerful.   
That case, in a word (okay, about 80 words) is that Nestlé's plans are inconsistent with the goals of the township's comprehensive plan, substantial tanker truck traffic would create noise and safety problems, there would be no long-term public benefit while property values and tax revenues would plummet, no jobs would be created, there are toxic dumps on the site that could leech into the water table and . . . the township might eventually be wrung dry because Nestlé would pump from an area considerably beyond what it would lease although it has repeatedly and disingenuously claimed otherwise.   
The housing market already is collapsing in Kunkletown and realtors say home prices have plummeted an average of 33 percent there although Nestlé has yet to pump a drop of water.   
Back in 1998, when Nestlé approached officials of the old Stroudsburg Water Authority about pumping water from the Brodhead Creek aquifer to be trucked to Breinigsville, local officials saw dollar signs, although not as many as did Nestlé.   
In an unusual move, Nestlé was given free rein to design and build, at a cost of $750,000, a temporary well, pipeline and adjacent structures at the SMA's headquarters off Mill Creek Road in Stroud Township.  (Officials say the well was never used and Nestlé ended up tapping directly into one of the authority's wells through the temporary pipeline.)  After the temporary arrangement ended, Nestlé filled tanker trucks at an average rate of about 140 trucks a month from January 2001 to near the end of 2008 at the SMA/BCRA headquarters facility for shipment to Breinigsville. 
Nestlé ended regular water purchases in late 2008 after -- but not necessarily because of -- regulatory agencies raising concerns that a BCRA well off of McMichael Creek at Glenbrook known as Well No. 3 could adversely impact the level of the creek, as well as the level of wells on adjacent properties, including the Glenbrook Golf Club.  Nestlé continued water purchases on an intermittent basis through to 2014 under a series of five-year agreements with the BCRA, the most recent one of which remains in effect.  
The BCRA is relying on its Well No. 3 (black arrow) 
on McMichael Creek at Glenbrook to help meet its growing needs.
While Kenneth R. Brown's title is assistant secretary/treasurer of the Brodhead Creek Regional Authority, he is the authority and its de facto operating officer and manager.   
In the course of two interviews, Brown described the BCRA's relationship with Nestlé in casual, Nothing To See Here-Move Along terms that belie its extensive history.   
"We haven't been doing business with them for the last couple of years," he said during our initial interview, noting that the Breinigsville plant "is kind of far away."   
"And we charge them more than they want to pay," he added with a wink-wink, nod-nod, alluding to Nestlé's reputation for buying low and selling high.  
The BCRA is staking much of its short-term expansion needs on Well No. 3, but there may be long-term problems with meeting demands on its system.  The authority currently is pumping to about 22,000 customers from Brodhead Creek and its adjacent Wells No. 1 and 2.  The Brodhead, like McMichael Creek, is a trout fishery, and the Brodhead is considered to be the most historic and one of the oldest trout fisheries in America.   
The BCRA is pumping at only 46 percent of the maximum rate permitted by the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), which is the authority regulating major water users in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware with water facilities that are in the Delaware River watershed.   
Among the BCRA's most water thirsty customers is the Kalahari Resort, which opened its huge 100,000 square foot indoor water park in Tobyhanna, Coolbaugh Township, in July 2015, and already is making plans to expand.   
Kalahari had wanted to sink its own well to meet its substantial water needs, but it was found that a well would draw down the water table on the fragile Pocono Plateau to dangerously low levels. Bowing to pressure from the Brodhead Watershed Association, a conservation group, the resort abandoned its well plan and turned to the BCRA.  And so the BCRA now pumps water to Kalahari through a pipeline running along Route 611.   
Hospitals are especially water thirsty because of their many water-related needs, including powerful fire suppression systems, and the BCRA will be adding two major hospital campuses to its burgeoning customer base in coming years.   
The Route 611 pipeline will serve the campus of St. Luke's University Health Network when it opens a hospital near Bartonsville in the fall that will include a large emergency room to cash in on the carnage that reliably occurs on adjacent Interstate 80. 
And the BCRA has pledged to supply the campus of Pocono Medical Center West, which is scheduled to open in 2018 at the site of the defunct Summit Resort property on Route 715 near the Tannersville interchange of Interstate 80.  Because of the possibility that PennDOT will not permit the BCRA to extend its Route 611 pipeline under the interstate, the authority may have to truck enormous quantities of water to the new hospital.   
Think of all those massive tankers decelerating and accelerating outside the hospital as you recuperate after childbirth.  Perhaps your child's earliest memory will be the sound of revving water trucks.  

Regulators have expressed concern about how much water
 can be pumped from McMichael Creek as BCRA's needs grow.
These and additional future needs will rely to a great extent on the BCRA's Well No. 3 on McMichael Creek, which in the post-9/11 world has taken on additional importance because of its relatively remote location and use as a backup should the BCRA's main wells come under terrorist attack or otherwise go down. 
Well No. 3 has caught the attention of the Safe Water Program of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which issues permits for and inspects larger wells, as well as the DRBC.     
In a "Hydrogeology Internal Review" dated June 6, 2005, the DEP wrote that "the site's [overall] environmental sensitivity precludes a large-scale groundwater withdrawal at the location," and states that nearby shallow wells were adversely impacted. 
The BCRA's Brown responded that he was unaware of the review and, in the same breath cast doubt on its accuracy, asserting that the DEP had "let go a hydrogeologist" who got his facts wrong.  He said the nearby well issue, which affected the clubhouse at Glenbrook Golf Club, has been addressed by tying the properties into the BCRA's water system.   
The DRBC, in reviewing the BCRA's plans for Well No. 3, noted in a document dated December 7, 2005, that the well "had the potential to impact McMichael Creek and the surrounding wetlands." 
Brown said he was unfamiliar with the document,   
Well No. 3 is scheduled to come fully online in September 2018, according to another DEP document dated November 25, 2013, but the agency cautioned that "the source capacity is not adequate to meet the future [long-term] water supply needs."   
Brown said he was unfamiliar with that document, as well, but noted that recent tests by the BCRA on Well No. 3 had found what he called its "sweet spot" -- a satisfactory level of daily withdrawals -- and noted the authority is actively looking for a location for a future Well No. 4, possibly north of East Stroudsburg.   
Nestlé's dynamic duo in the Poconos:
attorney Weston (left) and civil engineer Davis 
Nestlé refused to comment about its relationship with the Brodhead Creek Regional Authority.   
Janet Lazgin, the Nestlé corporate spokeswoman, turned an innocuous request for comment into a series of push backs that confirm Nestlé is on the defensive, if not over the battle in Eldred, then the small but mounting number of negative press accounts about its scorched earth business tactics. 
Nestlé's reluctance to comment may also have something to do with the cast of leading characters in Stroudsburg and Eldred.  Two of them are the same people, and that might be making Nestlé a trifle uncomfortable.   
Ed Davis is a civil engineer who has testified during the Eldred zoning board hearings that he was involved in a Nestlé well complex for the SMA/BCRA.   
Davis is having difficulty maintaining his credibility as an expert witness for Nestlé in Eldred.  He has come under fire as opponents of the wells cross-examine him at the ongoing hearings.  Davis testified earlier in response to softball questions lobbed by Timothy R. Weston, Nestlé's lead lawyer in the Eldred fight, that he took into consideration the community surrounding the well site and the zoning guidelines that Eldred shares with four neighboring townships in designing the Eldred well complex, but had to admit under cross-examination that he had not even bothered to read the guidelines.   
Timothy R. Weston happens to have been the BCRA's counsel in land acquisition deals.  He is an experienced hand in pushing Nestlé's agenda in northeastern Pennsylvania, but has come up against a team of experienced environmental lawyers in Eldred who have national reputations and are methodically making mincemeat of Nestlé's arguments.

An abandoned house on the Delaware from the first Poconos water war.
The second war is being fought against Nestl
é.
If you have read this far, thank you.  That may mean you are one of the many Americans who are weary of mega corporations big-footing into their lives with impunity.    
As I noted earlier, business relationships between water utilities and water bottlers are not uncommon, while the Brodhead Creek Water Authority says that the total of all the water it has sold to Nestlé is less than 1 percent of its overall water sales in a given year.  And the BCRA has not broken any laws, at least none that I know of.   
But you also may have concluded that the BCRA's relationship with Nestlé is problematic.  You may wonder if selling water at bargain-basement rates to an immense corporation with obscene profit margins and a long history of scandals, let alone thirsty water parks like the Kalahari Resort, is the most appropriate use of its resources, which is to say our water.  You may wonder what the heck the BCRA is doing when those resources are finite, the demand for water in the Poconos will soar in coming years, and there already are troubling signs that the authority may not be able to meet its obligations.   
If the battle against Nestlé is a war, and that is an appropriate way of looking at it since a way of life is at stake in Eldred Township, then it is not the first water war in the Poconos.  The first water war was over the Tocks Island Dam in the 1970s.   
For all the fury it unleashed, Tocks Island isn't much to look at -- a negligible spit of sand covered with a few oaks and sycamores and some scrub in the Delaware River about three miles above the Water Gap.  But the war over a plan by the Army Corps of Engineers -- a government Nestlé, if you will --  to dam the river at Tocks, creating an immense reservoir that would submerge hundreds of homes and farms, was a lightning rod for the nascent American environmental movement, destroyed the careers of local and national politicians, resulted in suicides, arsons and violence, and expose deep tears in the social fabric of the Poconos that still have not mended. 
The dam plan was beaten back by a citizens group not unlike the Concerned Citizens of Eldred after years of public meetings and lawsuits, but not before the residents of those homes and farms were evicted and their way of life, dating back generations as also is the case in Eldred, was utterly and inalterably destroyed.  
Ironically, water has actually helped keep the Poconos' economy afloat in recent years.   
The housing market crapped out in the mid-2000s long before the rest of the nation, and for a while Monroe County led all counties in the U.S. in home foreclosures per capita.  This is because politicians, not content to try to continue to build the tourist industry and brand the Poconos as a one-of-a-kind destination with beautiful woodlands chockablock with trails, waterfalls, creeks and rivers, as well as golf courses, ski slopes and family-friendly resorts, climbed into bed with rapacious developers and usurious financial institutions after the 9/11 attacks to sell the Poconos as a safe haven from a world gone crazy.  In the process, they made a once special place like practically every other place with the same big-box stores, strip malls and fast-food restaurants, not to mention the same gridlocked traffic.   
People flocked to the Poconos from the Bronx, Queens and northern New Jersey by the thousands after 9/11, but the gauzy illusion that the area was a paradise soon gave way to a harsh reality of which wise locals already are all too aware: There was a somnambulant political establishment resistant to reform, most roads were more typical of those in Third World countries, many bridges were in atrocious condition, social services were overwhelmed, schools ranged from mediocre to poor, crime rates were well above Pennsylvania county-by-county averages for telling indicators such as adult major crime, drunk driving and vehicular fatalities, there was an increasingly degraded environment and stratospherically high local tax rates for which citizens got little in return that have been crushing to all but the affluent.   
If there has been a bright spot amid this sick economy, it is water.  There has been a proliferation of water parks, including Kalahari, that are supplanting ski slopes as the region's largest tourist draw. Five water parks have opened in recent years with more planned, which is not surprising when you consider that the parks' biggest expense -- the enormous amount of water needed for their gigantic pools and slides -- flow into the parks essentially free of charge because the taking and distribution of water is largely unnoticed, underregulated and sometimes the result of secret deals between politicians and developers who are given tax breaks, zoning easements and handshakes for creating jobs, virtually all of which are unskilled and minimum wage. 
Does Nestlé have a magic number?  If so, it might be $750,000. 
That's the amount Nestlé spent to build that temporary well facility way back in 1998 at the outset of its long and largely unnoticed relationship with the largest public water utility in the Poconos.  That's the amount it says it will sprinkle on Eldred Township in the form of a community development fund in exchange for those $3 billion in profits if gets its way.  That's also the cost of a shiny new pumper for the Kunkletown Volunteer Fire Company that might end up not having any water to fight fires by the time Nestlé is done. 
You are welcome to leave a comment about this post in the comments section below, and may do so anonymously. If you have further information on Nestlé’s activities in the Poconos, email the writer at kikokimba@gmail.com. Click HERE for a related post.

Weston-Davis photographs © 2016 Alyssa Meadows
Tocks photograph by Jeffs4653 via Flickr

Remembering Eddie & Preserving The Poconos' Last Great Natural Resource

 As befits a Libra, Eddie Joubert believed that being in balance with the people and other creatures around him was important.  This remarkable man may not have been a water sign, but he was entranced by the idea that Pocono waterways -- from the smallest rivulet to streams like Cherry Creek, which ran right behind his bar in Delaware Water Gap -- flowed into larger and larger waterways and eventually into the Lenape, the Minsi Indian name for the Delaware River and the one he preferred to use.
It was the water, as well as the verdant forests, rolling hills, old-soul mountains and tales of Native American burial grounds, that had drawn Eddie to the Poconos from the mean streets of North Jersey, where he grew up and had been a Teamsters Union organizer.  The Poconos is where he wanted his children to live, and he devoted the rest of his days to trying to give them a good life, as well as supporting environmental causes and helping wake tiny Delaware Water Gap from its long slumber.   
I have Eddie to thank for my own interest in Poconos water issues as a longtime visitor, more recent resident and career investigative journalist.  Water is the last substantially undisturbed natural resource in the region. But as Eddie understood and did not hesitate to tell others, it was being misused and abused. 
Thirty-five years after Eddie's death, there is a growing awareness that the supply of water is finite and will dry up if not carefully managed and protected against the rapacious encroachment of profit-hungry corporations like Nestlé, which already has sucked millions of gallons of water out of the Poconos and neighboring counties at enormous profit and plans to help itself to many millions more.   The big business-friendly Poconos political establishment views this looming crisis with a practiced yawn, while the few organizations like the Brodhead Watershed Association who do care are chronically underfunded and have limited clout.
 While Eddie would have been admiring of the work of organizations like the Brodhead Watershed Association, he was a coalition builder and would have been bemused, as well as saddened, by the reality that environmental groups in the Poconos have turned the acronym NIMBY, an anti-development pejorative for Not In My Back Yard, into OIMBY, or Only In My Back Yard. 
When the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations formed a coalition to file suit against the National Park Service for caving into fossil fuel interests who were determined to build 197-foot-tall high-voltage electric transmission towers across the northern Poconos, Delaware River and through the heart of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, a dozen New Jersey environmental groups quickly joined the fight.  But similar groups in the Poconos were unmoved by this environmental outrage, which was akin to running a razor blade across the face of a beautiful woman.   
Similarly, the citizens of tiny Eldred Township in the western Poconos have had to go it alone in their fight against the plans of multi-national giant Nestlé to withdraw many millions of gallons of water from their aquifer for their Deer Park Spring Water brand at enormous profit. 
Despite stories in the national and international media and on environmental, clean water and health websites, environmental groups in the eastern Poconos again have been unmoved.  When I pointed this out to Edie Stevens, the highly-regard environmentalist who heads the Brodhead Watershed Association, she haughtily replied, "Eldred Township and the water withdrawal location are not in the Brodhead watershed.  The BWA limits all it's volunteer activities to issues within the Brodhead watershed."   
So there!
§  
My previous articles on Poconos water- and environmental-related issues include several on the ongoing battle between Eldred and Nestlé, one on decades-long efforts to dam the middle Delaware River as it flows past the Poconos, and on a U.S. Supreme Court case on whether construction of a multi-billion dollar liquified natural gas terminal on the lower Delaware could be blocked.  (It could.  And was.)  Meanwhile, here's a report by global news network Al Jazeera on the Kunkletown water war. 
I also have written The Bottom of The Fox: A True Story of Love, Devotion & Cold-Blooded Murder, a book about Eddie Joubert's life, legacy and tragic death. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Why This Memorial Day Is Different


It is Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. 
The holiday originally was called Decoration Day and was a day of remembrance for Union soldiers who died in the American Civil War. After World War I, it was expanded to include soldiers who died in any war.  It more recently was expanded to allow retailers to shamelessly peddle their stuff at those ubiquitous monuments to rampant capitalism -- the shopping mall.  
As always, I've hung an American flag outside of Kiko's House this Memorial Day, a 48-star banner that long waved outside the rural Minnesota farmhouse of my love's Norwegian immigrant forebears during times of peace and of war.  
As always, I will keep the weekend simple and go for a hike and perhaps a swim in our spring-fed mountain pool (brr!). 
As always, I will remember that freedom of speech is not protected by journalists like myself but by the men and women who have given their lives to defend American values. 
As always, I will feel a sadness over loved ones and friends who will not be with us this Memorial Day because of their sacrifices. Nick Tuke, Chuck Callanan, Bobby Tames and Bob Layton.  And the men who perished in the Iron Triangle of Iraq -- Christopher Murphy, Anthony Schober, Joseph Anzack, Daniel Courneya, James Connell, Byron Fouty and Alex Jiminez -- whom I feel like I got to know writing about them in death if not in life.  
But this Memorial Day is different.  So have too many as I have slouched toward my dotage.  Besides being sad, I also am angry -- a slow burn, I suppose -- over the mess that we've made of our once great country.    
As my cousin County Bumpkin is fond of saying, dissent and bickering are the soundtrack of a democracy. But this should be a golden age for America and it is anything but. I cannot recall a time in my life when so few have so much and so many are struggling.   
When America's heart and soul -- its middle class -- is so beleaguered. When we are so incapable of a national consensus on anything beyond the belief that government and many of our institutions have failed us. That things only will get worse before they get better, if they ever get better.  When people who should know better are describing the presidential election as "a choice between the lesser of two evils": A woman, who however flawed, has dedicated her life to making ours better and a bottom-feeding demagogue who preys on our weaknesses and fears.   
So what’s to be done about this dismal state of affairs?  
Nothing.  
Such pessimism is uncharacteristic of me, let alone Americans in general, and I feel a twinge of shame that I am unable to be more upbeat this Memorial Day weekend.  But my glass is well below half empty, especially when I reflect on the sacrifices our men and woman at arms are asked to make.
Sacrifices for what? An ill-focused War on Terror? The mess in Mesopotamia? The pathetic war in Afghanistan? Preparing for the next war? You tell me.  
-- Love and Peace, SHAUN

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Damming The West: Why Last Century's Solutions Don't Address Today's Crises

Damming rivers for cheap water and cheap power seemed like a capital idea in the 20th century, and that's what happened in much of the western U.S. But the 21st century presents other realities.  Pro Publica's Abrahm Lustgarten has researched and written a compelling, in-depth piece rich with perspective (and irony) that has been abridged in The New York Times explaining why the great dams of the American West have run their course.  It is a must-read.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Politix Update: Feelin' The Bern' Becomes Scorched Earth As Sanders Flips Out

I have praised Bernie Sander from the outset of his improbable bid for the presidential nomination. And meant what I said.  But the praise ends here and now, and for good reason. 
Sanders has brought a vitality, fresh thinking and wealth of good ideas to the race that have been, for openers, reminders of how stale the Democratic brand has become despite Barack Obama. Sanders has pushed Hillary Clinton to the left on issues that matter to me. But that was then and now is now, and while Sanders stands no chance of getting the nomination, he has turned Feel the Bern' into scorched earth with the disingenuous argument that even though Clinton will end up with more delegates, the will of his voters count more than the majority of voters.  This destructive intransigence serves no purpose other than stroking his massive ego -- and playing the role of Donald Trump's "useful idiot," as Dick Polman well puts it -- while delaying the inevitable. 
Hardcore Sanders backers, even if many of them were too young to vote in 2008, will point to Clinton's long goodbye that year in her unsuccessful attempt to overtake a young upstart by the name of Obama in arguing that Sanders should stay in the race all the way through to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.   
I wrote on June 8, 2008:
"Like radio waves reaching earth from some cosmic calamity millennia ago, the yarbling of Hillary Clinton sycophants who believe that her candidacy was gang banged into extinction by the mainstream media, right-wing bloggers and Barack Obama acolytes can be faintly heard, although it is so much background noise as Clinton herself and practically everyone else who is determined to take back America link arms and March toward November. 
"Has it only been five days since Clinton's extraordinarily gracious concession speech? It seems like light years in this corner of the universe where the political landscape changes by the news cycle, and yet some diehards just can't seem to face up to the reality that the fancy evening gowns they bought so they could dance the night away with Bill and Hill at her inaugural balls will have to be returned."
The difference this year, of course, is that Sanders is digging in and not letting go, although Sahil Kapur reports that in addition to having a massive ego, Sanders is two-faced and is quietly telling Senate colleagues that he understands the stakes and has no intention of damaging Democratic prospects in the fall.  
Be that as it may, in 2008 Clinton promised to run only to the last primary to give every Democrat a chance to vote, while Sanders vows to take his crusade to the convention despite the mathematical impossibility of catching up to Clinton in pledged delegates. 
"We are in this until the last ballot is counted . . . and then we're going to take the fight to Philadelphia," he promised last week. 
Curiously, Sander's only hope of winning the nomination  -- and it is an extraordinarily slim one -- is to flip enough superdelegates.  Yes, the very same superdelegates  he declared to be "unfair" as his campaign has shifted from criticizing Clinton to criticizing the Democratic Party.  I happen to agree with him that superdelegates are deck stackers for a party's anointed best hope (Clinton in this case and Jeb Bush in the case of Republicans going into the primaries back in January), but Sanders' hypocrisy is a little . . . uh, odiferous, don't you think? 
As if that's not bad enough, Sanders further states that if his ring isn't kissed by the party elites, that's evidence of corruption.  Does that somehow make corrupt the 13 million people who have voted for Clinton in open primaries as opposed to the 10 million who have voted for him?  (Sanders told CNN on Sunday that he would replace DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz if elected president, and that would be a capital idea under any circumstances.) 
"The Democratic Party has a choice," he said after the kerfuffle over party caucus rules in Nevada earlier this month.  "It can open the doors and welcome into the party those who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change . . . or the party can choose to maintain its status quo structure." 
As I recall, the party did open its doors in 2008, especially after Obama improbably outran Clinton in the primaries and clinched the nomination.  The party's rules have not changed since then despite what Sanders may think and say.  
It is "either" or "or" for Sanders, no middle ground tolerated.  That is deeply troubling for a man who has been in the game for 35 fricking years but suddenly decides only the rules he agrees with matter, kind of like a childhood pal who demanded his playmates play card and board games by his rules when we hung out at his house.   
But where Sanders really jumps the shark is deriding the Democratic Party as a party of "limited participation and limited energy."  Besides dismissing predominately black Southern Democrats, which he has done over and over -- and nowhere is Sanders weaker than when it comes to race -- he conveniently overlooks the very coalition that elected and re-elected Obama, will elect Clinton in November and, truth be told, helped make possible the progressive movement that he embraces.   
My second biggest problem with Sanders beyond his tone-deafness on race is that after a 35-year career, his base remains astoundingly narrow and his claims that he would successfully fight the entrenched power of Washington because Americans of all stripes have his back are pure fantasy. 
I adored left-handed pitching legend Warren Spahn of the Boston and Milwaukee Braves as a child even thought I was a Phillies diehard, and it broke my heart when he didn't realize it was time to go and threatened his legacy by sticking around too long.  No matter how you look at it, 2016 has been an annus mirabilis for Bernie Sanders.   
So sure, stick around until after the California primary on June 7, but then it will be time to go before it becomes glaringly obvious that you've become Donald Trump's new best friend. 
Please?
§  
I like to say that public opinion polls are "snapshots in time," and that is especially true when you consider what the time is.  (Does anyone know what time it is?)  In that context, polls showing Bernie Sanders doing better in head-to-head match-ups with Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton and polls showing Trump beating Clinton bear special scrutiny.   
Having more than a passing acquaintance with polling over the years, as in having worked with some of the best in the business over a long newspaper career, I can make the following observations with some confidence, and hopefully not too much hubris:
* Head-to-head polls are ephemeral in May and won't mean much until after the party nominating conventions in July.   
* Having said that, the candidate leading in Gallup's pre-convention head-to-head poll has gone on to win the presidency in 13 out of the last 16 elections.
* Polls showing Sanders doing better against The Donald than Clinton are reflective of both candidates' extraordinarily huge negatives. 
* Having said that, and as I noted the other day, Clinton is not particularly trusted by many voters whereas Trump is feared, so you can cue the landslide music with some confidence. 
* All of the relatively few polls showing Trump beating Clinton are classic outliers, which is to say deeply flawed in their methodology. 
There's an old saying that "Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line."  That still holds true in 2016.

POLITIX UPDATE IS WRITTEN BY SHAUN MULLEN, A VETERAN JOURNALIST AND BLOGGER FOR WHOM THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IS HIS 12th SINCE 1968.  CLICK HERE FOR AN INDEX OF PREVIOUS COLUMNS. 
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