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Posts published in March 2020

Dead last


A couple of years ago, we left a stormy Oregon Coast and resumed life in the cactus-cluttered landscape of Arizona. Basically, we traded roof replacement for air conditioning replacement.

Arizona, last continental state to enter the union, doing so in 1912, is also last on just about any federal program recognized according to such late entry, every compact and treaty executed in the name of the United States. You get used to it. Dead last.

Now, from our “way-back-there” position, we’re seeing “up-close-and-personal” real signs of climate change. It could get pretty grim. And soon.

Arizona is the last signatory to a compact assigning shares of water coming down the Colorado River. After a dozen years of drought across this scarred landscape, for those who haven’t noticed, that river hasn’t reached as far South as the U.S.-Mexican border occasionally.

Mexico, in what could be considered a good neighborly gesture, hasn’t said much about not receiving it’s liquid apportionment. That’s going to change. What’s brought about the muttering-under-the-Mexican-breath is recent droughts South of the border. Folks down there are beginning to feel the pinch of not having enough water.

Hold that thought. We’ll get back to it.

For many, many years, the big draw for people coming to Arizona and neighboring New Mexico - itself also a late statehood entry - has been the lure of year-round golf. Especially October-April.

Within a 30 mile radius of our house, I count 40 courses. All but a handful open to anyone. All 12 months. During those months - called “Snowbird season” by we locals - population hereabouts just about doubles. It’s a club swingers paradise in the winter.

But - maybe that should be B-U-T - that paradise is facing something it’s not faced before. Remember that word “drought?”

We live in Sun City West where there are nine courses and about 29,000 people. Two are private. But, the remaining seven are open, beautiful and well-kept. And well-watered. SCW has a beautifully engineered re-injection system that captures a lot of the runoff. Without that, we’d have faced our current dilemma earlier.

Still, those seven courses use about 2-billion gallons of water a year. That’s billion with a “B.” The 29,000 of we humans use about 1-billion gallons over the same period. See the problem?

Another item. Millenials. They’re not golfers like their parents. And grandparents. So, the future will see fewer golfers on those well-kept courses. The ones using all that water. The nearby city of Goodyear closed it’s municipal course some months ago and sold it to developers to build new houses. Other communities are considering the same.

As for SCW, if you take away the courses, property values will drop off a cliff. People will leave. They won’t be replaced by as many as have left. The local economies of Surprise, Peoria, Scottsdale, Mesa, Prescott - and dozens of other “Snowbird” havens -will suffer heavily.

So what do we do? Turn 18-hole course into niners? Close a few? Stop watering and use sand fairways? Open some pitch-and-putts?

The main water sources for our last-to-sign-the-compact state are the Colorado and Shasta Lake. Both of which are near all-time lows. The Central Arizona Project cuts through our county but nearly all the water in that man-made engineering marvel is obligated downstream.

Now, that Mexico thought you’re holding. If those folks start demanding their share of that Colorado River flow - as they have a legal right to do -our situation in Arizona and New Mexico could get real bad. In a real hurry. In fact, water-sharing compacts, treaties and other forms of agreement could paper courthouse walls for years to come.

In the meantime, sour local economies in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Southern California could make beggars of a lot of folks.

This is climate change, my friend. The kind of real-life catastrophe our President doesn’t understand and refuses to accept. Millions of people - convinced as long as there’s water in the sink things are O.K. - will follow our clueless leader into dusty oblivion.

We don’t hear many political conversations about all this locally. No deep-dive media stories. Very little street talk. But, I’m sure those who frequent high-priced watering holes and private clubs are talking. Talking about “bottom lines” and “corporate profits” and “shareholder returns.” The guy-on-the-street may not be alarmed because he can still get tee times and the old golf cart’s running well. But, those whose retirement dividends are on the line have got to be losing some sleep over all this.

Climate change is real. We can find so many concrete examples all over the globe. People who traffic in the sciences and environmental issues know and understand it. Whether on the ocean bottom or the sky above, evidence is there. All around.

In our case, in this cactus-littered landscape, it just happens to appear most prominently between the tee and the green on about 40 local golf courses.

“FORE!” For now.

Mayor Pete has the right stuff


UPDATE: As they say, timing is everything. A scant three hours after I publicly endorsed Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend suspended his race. I still think he has the right stuff. But this just isn’t the right time.

As I’ve closely followed the Democratic debates, townhalls, and interviews these past several months, my path to decision has been long and winding. At various times, I have been most inclined toward Harris, O’Rourke, Inslee, Bullock, Biden, Buttigieg, Warren, and Klobuchar. In fact, I’ve contributed a little money to many of these campaigns.

My considerations have not been driven by ideology. There may be a gap between policy positions held by Warren and Castro on one hand and Biden and Klobuchar on the other, but the chasm is not wide. Each is an intelligent, progressive, compassionate leader. Any one of them would make an outstanding president.

Like most Democrats, my primary concern is electability. My strong secondary concern is whether a candidate can help Democratic senate candidates in those states where we must prevail in order to flip the Senate.

It would be fair to say that I’ve been looking for an inspirational pragmatist. I’ve found that candidate in Mayor Pete Buttigieg. But it wasn’t an easily reached decision. And there are others about whom I was – and remain – enthusiastic.

In candor, I was less than thrilled when I first learned that Pete Buttigieg had thrown his hat in the ring. A great many quality candidates had already announced, and it seemed that this very young mayor with a hard-to-pronounce name from a city smaller than Boise was tilting at windmills. I saw him as someone who would further crowd an already crowded field and did not expect him to have staying power.

As time went by – I found myself increasingly and unexpectedly impressed by his energy, intelligence, focus, and exceptional ability to think on his feet. Time and time again he demonstrated rare political chops.

The first time I took serious note of Mayor Pete was when he was interviewed at length on Morning Joe on MSNBC. The ease and eloquence with which he responded to myriad questions posed by the Morning Joe crew impressed me. His responses were deeply thoughtful, substantive, non-evasive and complete. I decided to give him a closer look. As I did, I grew increasingly appreciative of his decidedly civil approach to governing, even if – as to specific policy positions – I aligned more closely with another candidate. And I came to see that, underneath his warm affability, this guy was tough as nails.

Some say that the Mayor’s relative lack of political experience compared to that of many of his competitors is a detriment. No doubt he would benefit from more time in the political barrel. But he has demonstrated the temperament a president needs – calm, cool, and resolute. I expect he would assemble a first-rate cabinet and staff, people with subject matter expertise who are committed to the facts, stating the truth, and scrupulously adhering to the rule of law. Mayor Pete shines not only because he is wicked smart but because he knows what he doesn’t know. He impresses me as one who can quickly absorb and synthesize a vast amount of advice and information, readily get up to speed, and make sound judgments on the most complex of issues.

Some pundits have made much of the fact that Mayor Pete does not yet enjoy the same level of support among people of color as do others in the race. I have researched his record, read his Douglas Plan, and welcomed his publicly stated commitment to work like hell to earn this support. As a member of a marginalized community, though not one defined by the color of his skin, I believe he has tremendous potential to do so. I also think his willingness to talk openly about the importance of faith in his life will help mightily in this regard.

Many have asked if this country is ready to elect a gay president. Over time, I’ve grown convinced that – just as Americans in 2008 gave the lie to the myth we would not elect a black president – so too will Americans elect a gay candidate who has exceptional communication skills, a prodigious work ethic, and a compelling, healing, optimistic message. As Mayor Pete has said, “[t]he American people understand that the 2020 election is not about my life – it’s about (their lives). If I have the right answers to how I can make your life better, all of the other stuff fades away.” Some candidates transcend the conventional wisdom. I believe Mayor Pete is such an individual.

Recently, the editorial board of “The State,” the daily paper in Columbia, South Carolina endorsed Buttigieg noting that “history doesn’t lie.” The endorsement, which I found compelling, read in part:

“During the last half-century, the Democratic Party has only won the presidency when it has resisted the temptation to pick status-quo nominees and shown the courage to choose centrist outsiders with fresh, optimistic messages. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama prevailed in part because they understood the values of real-world America. All three successfully connected with voters by tapping into the sensibilities of average Americans. Buttigieg has gained that needed perspective during his eight years leading South Bend, a Midwestern city that had to reinvent itself and cast aside a Rust Belt image. And Buttigieg’s policies also reflect that essential connection to everyday Americans.”

I agree with this editorial assessment and embrace the power of generational change. Mayor Pete has been unsparing in his criticism of the incumbent while steadfastly asserting a message of unity and inclusion, not waiting until the general election to reach out beyond the Democratic base. He wisely takes pains to appeal to independents and “future former Republicans.” He has “that essential connection to everyday Americans.”

As I’ve said many times, I will not only vote for – but enthusiastically support – the Democratic nominee. But since I have one vote in the nominating process, I will cast it for the person I think will not only beat Trump but best help our down ballot candidates. And, as luck would have it, that is the same person I believe would make the best president. Mayor Pete inspires me, and I believe he has the “right stuff” not only to win the election, but to be a great president and heal the deep divide in our nation.

The swamp


You know what it is when you talk about it, right?

But, well, who and what are part of the Swamp?

The “drain the swamp” formulation was one of the more clever linguistic developments of the 2016 election. It had been used before, such as by both Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi in 2006, but not as commonly. And it has some uses. Donald Trump used it often in his campaign that year, and the #DrainTheSwamp Twitter hashtag is highly popular. (It’s a busy Twitter handle as well.)

It caught fire and a lot of people adopted it because it had resonance. The idea of the political and economic centers of the country (even in the states) as a dank, sunken, corrupt place that does in the unwary and is full of “swamp things” is easy to get and even appreciate. And if you drain it, you get rid of disease-carrying insects and other unwanted pests. The metaphor is clear.

A John Kelley article in Slate points out that the phrase goes back much further, and was long used by the anti-capitalist left: “In a 1903 letter to the Daily Northwestern, Winfield R. Gaylord, state organizer of the Social Democratic Party, precursor to Eugene Debs’ Socialist Party of America, wrote: “Socialists are not satisfied with killing a few of the mosquitoes which come from the capittalist [sic] swamp; they want to drain the swamp.” So it has referred to the swamp of capitalism.

In 1983, Ronald Reagan spoke of “draining the swamp” that is the federal bureaucracy.

There is even some loose truth to it.

But be wary of this one. “The Swamp” sounds wonderfully specific and concrete, but it is neither. It evaporates the closer you look at it.

So what exactly is The Swamp?

While Washington, D.C., was built on lowlands by the Potomac River, and the area around the State Department long has been famously called Foggy Bottom, the fact is that the district (or at least nearly all of it) never has been, in its time of human habitation at least, swampland. Humid and mosquito-ridden, yes; swamp, no. So that direct link doesn’t work.

An Illinois group called American Transparency in 2017 issued a report called “Mapping the Swamp,” but that was simply an attention-getter: Its content consisted of budget reports (and employee compensation statistics) about federal administrative agencies. Is the swamp, then, federal administrative agencies, or does it cover much else?

Kelly’s stab at a definition, at least one for the 2010s: “Trump’s swamp isn’t just home to political cronies and crooks, whom the expression typically targets: The media, polling, leaders of his own political party, the abstract Establishment, and just about anything that challenges his view of the world, and himself, gets sucked into his vortex.”

Writers Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles suggested in an October 2017 New York Times article, “Donald Trump’s pledges to 'drain the swamp' of corruption in Washington attest to his genius for unintentional irony. Nepotism, egregious conflicts of interest, flights on the public dime to see Wimbledon and the eclipse — the Beltway wetlands are now wilder and murkier than ever.”

In the end, the swamp is a test: It is whatever you don’t like.