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Mr. Fish survives a MoveOn house party, Sandra Postel solves the water crisis, Daniel Denvir and James Harris take stock of segregation, Narda Zacchino puts Gen. Stanley McChrystal in the dustbin of history, and Nomi Prins and Robert Scheer digest President Obama’s speech.
Click to listen to the show, or continue reading the full transcript below.
Peter Scheer: Welcome to Truthdig Radio, bringing you the best interviews, culture and commentary from Truthdig.com, nominated this week for a Webby Award, and KPFK. On this week’s show, Mr. Fish survives a MoveOn house party; Sandra Postel solves the water crisis; Daniel Denvir and James Harris take stock of segregation; and Narda Zacchino puts Gen. Stanley McChrystal in the dustbin of history.
But first: President Obama gave a speech today detailing his philosophical differences with Republicans on the deficit. It’s been described as a partisan break with Obama’s usual above-the-fray approach. Robert Scheer is not so sure. Joining Bob to talk about it is Nomi Prins, author of “It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses and Backroom Deals From Washington to Wall Street,” and proprietor of NomiPrins.com. Welcome.
Robert Scheer: Hi.
Nomi Prins: Hello.
Robert Scheer: So, Nomi, you’re there. How are you? Where are you?
Nomi Prins: [Laughs] I am good. I’m actually in L.A. for a minute.
Robert Scheer: Oh, good. Listen, you’ve written—you worked at Goldman Sachs, you’ve written some of the best stuff on these pirates on Wall Street. And one thing that disappointed me about Obama’s speech—actually has disappointed me about his whole performance—is that he keeps acting as if our problems have … because we have Social Security, we have Medicare, we have this, we have that. But the crisis that we’re experiencing was engineered, was conducted, and was profitable on Wall Street. And that’s what’s really put us in a hole. And as someone who’s written about that, covered that, do you feel it’s sort of left out of the debate?
Nomi Prins: I am so glad you’re bringing that up as the real hole, because it is—it has been astonishing to me that they haven’t centered upon all the factors that have contributed to the entire discussion about the debt, and the entire increase in the deficit, and everything else. Wall Street careened out of control. The lack of control on Wall Street created a financial crisis that Washington paid attention to by creating and lending trillions of dollars to benefit the banking system, none of which trickled down to benefit the rest of Main Street, except for a stimulus package that was really a small part of everything that came out of Washington to benefit the banking system—which hasn’t changed, which isn’t, obviously, remorseful, which is systemically at risk and continues to be at risk to the rest of us, and which is showing record profits again, and whose bonuses are increasing again, as if absolutely nothing happened. Only now, they are being floated on trillions and trillions of dollars, which is the exact reason why there’s a debate about the budget and about debt. But it isn’t anything that’s being included in the conversation about it in Washington.
Robert Scheer: Yeah, I think it’s the big lie, really. I mean, you know, whatever the problems are with Social Security—which I think is largely a phony, you know … the adjustments that can be made to it won’t go crashing in the year ’47 or something; and Medicare is basically about controlling health care costs, it’s not about dismantling a very successful program. But the reason we’re in a bind, the reason we’re arguing about schoolteacher pensions and cutting Medicare and things like that, is because we’re in an economic crisis. We don’t have the jobs, we don’t have the tax revenue. And yet The New York Times reports that the quarterly profits, the fourth quarter last year, had the biggest jump in 60 years. The benefits for the CEOs of the top 200 companies is a median of 9 million bucks a year per person. So there’s two lies to this thing that really bother me, and I don’t want to force this view on you, but I’ll tell you the way I see it, and then you can comment. One is that these companies have paid back the TARP money, and there’s a very good article in The Wall Street Journal last week by three members of the congressional Oversight Committee pointing out that’s garbage. What happened was, they didn’t like the money they got from TARP because it actually had some restraints on what they could pay themselves. So what they did is they took the other trillions of dollars, the $1.1 trillion that the Fed used to buy these toxic assets and take them off their books, the $2 trillion that was made available to them at low interest payments, the almost $400 billion used to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which then allowed the banks to have this threshold. And that money allowed them to, so-called, “pay back” the TARP. So that’s a phony, that it didn’t cost; it has cost us at least $4 trillion. It also wiped out $5.5 trillion of home equity. It has put 40 to 50 million people out of their homes. The consequences are enormous. So the idea that they somehow paid back the money, and [Treasury Secretary Tim] Geithner says this is the best program he’s seen in modern times—that’s a big lie. But the other, even bigger lie is this liquidity trap that Paul Volcker talks about. That we have to give them cuts, we have to give them money, we can’t frighten them or they won’t create jobs. Well, the fact is they have all this money now and they’re sitting on it. They’re not creating jobs. So the idea of throwing even more money at them, it seems to me, is absurd.
Nomi Prins: Well, I absolutely agree with you. In fact, the profit aside, the taxes that the corporations have paid in general, were in 2009 at their lowest level historically, at 6.6 percent of total receipts that are coming in to Washington; they’re 8.9 percent of total receipts coming in to the Treasury as of last year, and it’s not clear they’re going to be very much more. So in general, anyone who is not benefiting directly by running or profiting as a corporation or being at the head of a corporation is footing 90 percent of the bill, 41 percent of which actually is money going into Social Security and retirement and Medicare and everything else. So this is actually … being funded, so the idea of even focusing on that as a problem, relative to the larger problem of all the float that has been given to corporations and banks, is completely misdirected. The fact that Tim Geithner continues to gloat on about the success of—and he only talks about the TARP program, he doesn’t talk about the trillions of dollars besides the TARP program that have been on offer to banks—is actually criminal. He created, under his Treasury, $4.1 trillion worth of Treasury debt was created. That debt was not created, and did not get used, by the general population; that debt was created to give liquidity, to give low-cost funding to the banking system; the banking system used that. So yes, paying back TARP out of cheap money that has made other people in the country, the majority of the country, indebted is not a successful program. It’s an evil program. It’s a criminal program. And that’s the program that Tim Geithner has been running, and obviously not just by himself, with the Fed which has taken on the role of buying some of that debt to cause it to appear as if it’s more—and it’s funny to talk about debt as being more valuable, but that the debt is more valuable because the Fed is buying it. So there’s this complete shell game going on between the banks and the Fed and the Treasury Department, which is a multitrillion dollar shell game, and the debate in Washington, and the conversation that Obama is having today about annual cuts, amounts to a fraction of a trickle of anything remotely near that amount of money. And so the debate’s wrong; the actions were criminal; and the fact that there is such a low cost to financing, the fact that the Fed is buying treasuries, or the Treasury Department is creating debt, is exactly why corporations can have profits. That’s why banks can have profits—they are getting money for nothing. And when you get money for nothing, you can look pretty stellar when you turn around and use it, particularly if you don’t have to use it and there are no strings attached as to how you use it.
Robert Scheer: You know, it’s interesting. People have trouble following this stuff, but this idea that they get money for nothing—or at very, very low cost; that they’re bailed out, and particularly these banks … then you have the homeowners. Nothing has been done to help them with their mortgages in any serious way. We’ve had now … as of the end of next year, there will be 10 million homes lost. And yet, if you are trying to struggle to hang on to your home, and you use your credit cards to help you make some of your payment and put food on the table because you’ve lost your job or you’re strapped—you miss a couple of payments, from the very banks that we bailed out, the Bank of America, CapitalOne, any of them—they will up your interest rate to, what, 25, 27 percent! Which, you know, biblical literature, whether it’s the Quran or Hebraic or Christian, would condemn as usurious, against God’s law, obviously evil. And so here you have this weird situation in which the banks get money for next to nothing from the Fed, and then if you miss a couple of payments you’re going to be paying 27 percent on it. And the media doesn’t comment on it; it’s not part of the discussion. Is that because Wall Street basically sets the agenda?
Nomi Prins: Ah, the media itself, the mainstream media, gets bogged down by Wall Street’s agenda, by the Treasury Department’s agenda, by the Fed’s agenda. I think they all have the same agenda, which is to act as if this financial crisis happened randomly—or perhaps because some people couldn’t pay for their homes, which crashed the housing markets, which crashed the banks, which is completely the opposite of what actually happened—you know, the banks extorted high levels on homes and extorted high rates and changing rates on loans and packaged them and repackaged them, and when that all failed, they came to the government for money. But … the whole story has been spun around, and there’s a reason that the Fed and the Treasury Department, and therefore the administration and much of Congress and Wall Street are on the same side. Aside from the fact that Wall Street lobbies and pays for campaign contributions and everything else, they’re all in the same game. They all have a vested interest in perpetuating the illusion that everything was bad and now everything is good, and they all did the right thing. And the media gets stuck in this, because that’s the material that they’re fed, that’s the material that they choose to take at face value for the most part. And the debate about things like money coming in for nothing and being lent out at personal or even small business interest rates of 10 to 15 percent, 30 percent on some credit cards, is not really even a part of the equation, when it’s really simple math. The Fed and the Treasury Department created cheap money; they created a fabric, a bailout fabric for the banks; the banks take that money, they trade with it, they speculate with it, they lend it out, but whatever they do they’re doing for no risk, because they have the support of this entire network in Washington. So it’s really a collusive shading of the truth. And today’s discussion about debt that, you know, came out of Obama was just kind of perpetuating a lot of that same illusion by not really mentioning it, perpetuating by ignoring it.
Robert Scheer: This is Robert Scheer talking to Nomi Prins. And let me just say I really love your perspective, because you were inside the devil’s temple. You were at Goldman Sachs; you know these people; you’ve seen them up close. And, you know, how do they sleep at night? How do these people, some of them, they claim to be—even liberal; they claim to be Democrats, like Robert Rubin; you know, they claim to care about art and people and they even give to some charities. Don’t they know what thieves they’ve been? Don’t they know of the hurt that they’ve—I mean, what do you think they’re saying to each other? Do you think they even think about it?
Nomi Prins: I think [Laughs]—it’s sort of a phrase Charlie Sheen has recently coined—I think as long as they’re winning, as long as they feel that if there was a crisis, whether by their own making or not, it’s not worth really examining, what’s worse, it is to get out and make money and move on and continue business as usual. And that’s a game; it’s a game of power, it’s a game of influence, it’s a game that’s worked for people inside. I mean, Robert Rubin doesn’t feel to this day—and you’ve written about this—that he has had anything to do with any of the calamity that’s been caused by the blurring of lines on Wall Street, and the immense power that the sheer landscape of Wall Street has net of the individuals that run these companies. And when you select your truth [Laughs], you don’t think about the consequences, unless they affect you personally, unless they ruin your company, unless they affect your own money or own bottom line; then you think about it, then you worry about it. But as long as—you know, there’s a sense inside that, you know, you’re navigating, you’re always kind of trying to …
Robert Scheer: Yeah. And it’s good that we have you to cut through this. We’ve run out of time, Nomi, but I want to thank you for being on. And I want to remind listeners: the top 1 percent of people in this country, as professor [Joseph E.] Stiglitz pointed out last week, control 40 percent of the wealth. Keep that statistic in the mind when you hear the president’s sweet words. Thank you, Nomi, and this is Truthdig Radio.
Nomi Prins: Thank you.
Peter Scheer: Nomi Prins is the author of “It Takes a Pillage.” More info at NomiPrins.com. Robert Scheer is the author of “The Great American Stickup.”
Now, Truthdig readers will recognize the wicked wit of cartoonist, artist and all-around madman Mr. Fish. Setting down his pen to pick up a mike, Fish brings us this special report from the front lines of political discontent.
Mr. Fish: Virtual democracy. [Which is the title of the essay presented below.]
Will Rogers said, “Democrats are the only reason to vote for Republicans.” Jay Leno said, “If God had wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates.” Groucho Marx said, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it is too dark to read.” All of those quotes are true, and I mention them here because we are about to enter the 2012 election cycle, when truths will become scarce and quotes by candidates will only be worth repeating later on, to indict the speaker as a liar when he or she runs again in the next election.
Why so cynical? Well, let me answer by reading something I wrote on April 13th, 2007, exactly four years ago. It was right before the 2008 election cycle, and I was just as hopeful about that outcome as I am about this one. Here’s what I wrote.
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When it was over, Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org, spoke to me and all the other people involved through a laptop speaker and said: “Tonight was a historic event.” Everybody in the room clapped while I sat on the rug picking cookie crumbs off my pants, and feeling a little bit embarrassed by the pronouncement, figuring that a truly historic event should be more self-evident than needing to be pointed out—“We’ve done something historic tonight!”—twice in a row.
The event took place at the beginning of the 2008 presidential campaign season, and was to be, according to the email invitation that I’d gotten the week before, the “very first Virtual Town Hall meeting.” It promised to involve thousands of house parties across the country. It would give hundreds of thousands of people, via the Internet, the chance to “hear directly from candidates” and to “inject [progressive perspectives] into the debate early” so that presidential hopefuls “know where we stand,” thereby allowing us to “shape what issues count in ’08.”
There was mention of participants getting a “front-row seat,” and “hearing the candidates answer questions straight from MoveOn members’ mouths,” the old dynamic of not being able to “connect with presidential hopefuls face-to-face” being “turn[ed] on its head.” The description read like an impossible promise, like it was being hawked by a sideshow huckster peddling a fantastic stunt that was wildly appealing, not because of the triumph that its success would inspire but rather because of the perverse thrill that its failure would guarantee.
As if I were signing up to watch a pair of Siamese twins play tennis against each other, I entered my name and phone number onto the online invitation and was promptly given the Pasadena address where I’d need to go in order to “make history” with my “fellow progressives.”
With my prerequisite laptop in hand, I arrived at my host Yuny P.’s house dressed like Richard Lewis, all black, like an exclamation point, and sauntered into a living room the color of pancake batter and decorative hotel soap; puce and tan and waiting room white. A half-dozen large, soft-spoken women rested on sofas and in chairs, appearing as if they’d been poured into their immense t-shirts and Fila sneakers by a pastry chef, none of them wishing to meet my eyes. They looked like the moms of the hipsters that I wanted to hang out with. Smiling hard into their peripheral vision, I considered reaching for my car keys and putting on my best oops-I-forgot-to-turn-off-the-oven face, when I was grabbed suddenly by Yuny, a Latina grandma in slippers with a face like the moon. “You brought your computer!” she said. “Good!” She turned me towards a TV the size of Damien Hirst’s shark tank and asked, “Can we get the computer inside the television so that everybody can enjoy it?” Although I was dressed in black, I wanted to tell her that I was not a witch.
“Well,” I said, “what kind of cords do you have?”
Yuny bent down next to base of the gigantic picture tube and replied, “I have red, yellow and … white.”
The fictional oven that I had forgotten to turn off called to my head like a siren as I shrugged my shoulders.
Two excruciating hours later—after the Virtual Town Hall had been revealed to be nothing more than a pre-recorded collection of brief statements made by seven democratic presidential candidates to give MoveOn members, we’ll call them virtual progressives, the chance to experience the comedic hijinks of Bill Richardson saying mah-slums over and over again and Hillary Clinton chasing her personal integrity around her own narcissistic political ambitions like Sambo’s tigers around a tree—I felt no more reassured as to the health and wellbeing of our system of self-government than I was prior to arriving. In fact, I worried that virtual democracy was being tested to replace real democracy and that, given the joy on the faces of everyone around me, it had a pretty good chance of succeeding.
On the way out, an awkward bald guy in glasses as thick as hockey pucks, his eyes I imagined having been destroyed by hours of scouring the Sgt. Peppers album cover for clues corroborating the death of Paul McCartney, stopped me to say that Dennis Kucinich was our best hope for peace in the world. “I tend to agree,” I answered. “Unfortunately, the presidential election is a beauty contest and Kucinich is too short and too funny looking to win.”
“He’s not short!” said the guy, a faint Klingonese accent buried inside his tongue like pantyhose and a garter belt beneath everyday clothes.
“He’s not?” I said.
“No, I’ve met him. He comes up to here on me.” He touched the bridge of his nose.
“Were you two dancing?” I asked.
“Nothing, I’d just heard he was short.”
“Maybe here,” said the guy, touching his upper lip. I left feeling as if the political viability of sustaining a healthy social democracy into the 21st Century was sinking. Or maybe I was just getting taller.
* * *
Peter Scheer: This is Truthdig Radio. I’m Peter Scheer with Josh Scheer. We’re joined by Sandra Postel, who is the head of National Geographic’s freshwater initiative and author of “Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity,” among other books. Go to NationalGeographic.com/freshwater to learn more. Welcome.
Sandra Postel: Thank you very much.
Peter Scheer: Can you just give us a broad view of where we stand with freshwater supply, agriculture, drinking water, and a global view of where we are now?
Sandra Postel: Sure. Well, of course water is finite; fresh water is finite. So there’s only so much there to meet everybody’s needs, and as populations have grown and economies have grown, we’re finding in more and more parts of the world that we’re not in a sustainable situation with regard to fresh water. We’re already overtapping the limited supply that’s there. And so in more and more places, or in areas where rivers are running dry, groundwater is being depleted, and there’re all kinds of signs that we’re not in a sustainable balance with our use of fresh water. The biggest single user around the world of fresh water is agriculture; 70 percent of all the water that we extract from rivers and lakes and groundwater goes to irrigated agriculture. So growing food is a very water-intensive, of course necessary, but a very water-intensive activity. So that’s a big concern as populations grow, and you know, we’re 7 billion now, heading toward 8 billion by 2025. And much of the world is also experiencing a rise in income, and that’s a very good thing, but one of the first things people do when they have more money in their pocket is to expand their diet options, and that often includes eating a lot more meat. And many want to eat, you know, have diets that are more like what Americans are accustomed to, which includes a lot of meat in their diet. And meat is a very water-intensive thing. So the demands are going to increase to meet the food and the changing dietary needs of this expanding population. The other piece of this, of course, is what this is doing to the aquatic environment. You know, there is only so much water; it has to meet human needs and all the ecosystems’ needs. So we’re seeing increasing stress on ecosystems as well.
Peter Scheer: How does the climate crisis affect this?
Sandra Postel: Well, climate is a big added stressor on water. If we look at water stress around the world now, it’s going to likely become magnified as climate change unfolds. We’re going to see more droughts in dry places, more floods in places that are already experiencing floods, as well as some new places. So there’ll be—we’re already beginning to see that we’ve moved outside the normal range of extremes, if that makes sense. There’s a normal boundary of extreme weather, and we’re already moving outside that boundary. So these extremes are likely to get more extreme, and that’s really complicated for water, water managers and for our use of water.
Josh Scheer: And to get back to the point about the money, though, because climate change, Peter, it’s important. But on your website we talk about gasoline, and people probably don’t know that, how much water goes into gasoline, airline travel, and also with luxury items like bottled water, and how much that kind of impacts the needs of water around the world, right?
Sandra Postel: That’s right. You know, we think about the water that comes out of our tap—and that’s important, this is our local watershed, where our drinking water comes from—but water flows through our lifestyle every day to the tune of 2,000 gallons a day, if you’re an average American. And more than half of that is our diet, and then 35 percent of that water use is in energy. Thirteen gallons of water goes into a gallon of gasoline. The biggest single user in terms of water withdrawals in the United States is the thermoelectric power industry. Coal plants and nuclear plants. We’ve seen in Japan, in the crisis going on in Japan, how much water it takes to cool thermoelectric power plants. And the same is true for coal plants. So there’s an awful lot of water going to cool these plants, and that’s water taken out of rivers; it often goes back into the same river, but it’s at the same time changing the flow of and depleting, you know, depleting supplies in areas where they’re sometimes very much needed. So yes, absolutely, our footprint is a big piece of this. And that’s also an opportunity for us to do something. You know, it’s more than just turning off the tap when we brush our teeth. It’s thinking about our diet, thinking about our energy use, and connecting all those dots, because the nice thing is, if we save energy we’re saving water; if we save water, we’re saving energy.
Josh Scheer: Explain to the Truthdig audience, because maybe—or the KPFK audience as well—can we talk about water scarcity, and what it is, and then what are the two types, physical and economic? Because I think a lot of people … kind of stay within their own zone, they don’t realize that a lot of people are dying in the world because of unhealthy water.
Peter Scheer: Let me just add that according the U.N.—you probably have your own figures, but according to the U.N. 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of physical scarcity.
Sandra Postel: Yes, that’s a very good point. There are two … you can think of this scarcity issue in two different forms. One is where we’re overtapping water, and so we’re using more than is sustainable. The second is what you might call economic scarcity, where we haven’t put the infrastructure in place to meet everybody’s basic needs for water. And so much of sub-Saharan Africa, [and] poor parts of South Asia, are in this economic scarcity situation where people don’t have access to safe drinking water, something we take for granted every day. And there’s more than a billion people in that category now. Something like 2.7 billion without adequate sanitation. So this is a leading cause of disease and death in poor parts of the world, and it’s a solvable problem; it’s not about technology; the technology, of course is there; the water is there. We’re not talking about there not being enough water; there is; it’s access to it. It’s being able to access safe drinking water. And so it’s putting in the pipes, and the wells, and the treatment to get safe drinking water to everybody, to meet basic needs. And that’s, as I say, a doable, solvable, problem; we just haven’t had the political will and the, put the financial resources there to get that basic need met.
Josh Scheer: Just in the last few days, the Indians are announcing they have a new water policy, and I heard that the Chinese are going to spend $600 billion over the next 10 years to kind of make themselves have clean drinking water. Until they have this kind of water issue solved, will they be able to be, consider themselves first-world countries, if we still use that term, or do they still need to deal with their water problem?
Sandra Postel: You mean China itself?
Josh Scheer: In China and India, yeah.
Sandra Postel: Well I think, you know, I think meeting basic needs of one’s people, basic—having clean drinking water and adequate sanitation is basic security. So I think until any country provides for the basic security of their population, there’s a question there as to whether they, what category of economic status they belong to. And of course you could say that about health care, and other things; I don’t know that water is—I mean, water is special in that obviously if you don’t have safe drinking water, you’re taking a risk every day by the water you drink.
Josh Scheer: Peter, I want to jump on this point, because about security, because—well no, because the U.S. Congress is talking about water being security when we’re going to have wars for water, possibly, right? I mean, that’s what a lot of scientists have said, that we’re going to have an issue in years to come with war. So this is a security issue, not just for China or India, but also the U.S. and everybody else. Right?
Sandra Postel: Yeah, I think water is a source of conflict when it’s not divided up fairly and when people’s needs aren’t getting met, whether that’s their food needs, or their drinking-water needs, or what have you. So absolutely, if we don’t figure out how to share the water we have, and meet everyone’s basic needs, there will be tension and conflict over water. I’m not so worried about there being outright wars over water. I’m more worried about the sort of social destabilization that will occur as you have lack of water, rising food prices; I mean this is one of the pressures we saw that led to the situation in North Africa that we’re experiencing now. The fact that two years ago, food prices skyrocketed, and there were riots in a dozen or more countries, because people now couldn’t afford bread. And this is partly a water-stress factor; it’s partly oil prices; it’s all connected. And so water stress and climate change on top of that is going to, I think, manifest through rising food prices and food shortages and water shortages on top of it. So this will be very destabilizing unless we get a handle on it and begin to prepare and adapt to this new future that’s coming.
Peter Scheer: Would you—I mean, would you compare it to oil in terms of—in that sense? In terms of destabilizing, and …
Sandra Postel: Absolutely, I would. Yeah, and I think in some ways it’s more a concern, because water has no substitute. We have the option right now to shift away from oil and coal and the fossil fuels that are driving climate change; we have the option to shift to renewable energy sources, to solar and wind and other renewable sources. We don’t have any option to shift away, to transition away, from water. We have the options to use it more productively, share it more equitably, make sure the environment gets what it needs to stay healthy; we can make those choices, but we can’t shift away from water. It’s how we use it and manage it and value it that’s going to make all the difference.
Peter Scheer: Do you see a future where, you know, Canada becomes a great world power because of its water resources? Other countries like that?
Sandra Postel: Well, the thing with water is it’s very different from oil in the sense that we can’t ship it around the world in large quantities. It’s way too bulky, it’s way too expensive, to move it in large quantities around the world. What we do do, and how we do trade water, is to ship it indirectly in the form of grain. This is the way—in a sense you can think of grain as the currency by which we trade water in large volumes around the world. It takes a thousand tons of water to make one ton of grain. So when Egypt is importing half of its wheat, it’s doing that because it doesn’t have the water to grow the wheat. So for every ton of wheat, it’s importing a thousand tons of somebody else’s water. So I think North America, especially the United States and Canada, will be looked to more and more in the future as suppliers of food, and therefore indirectly as suppliers of water, because we are very fortunate to have an abundance of water, both to grow crops and to meet other needs. And much of it isn’t even irrigation water. You know, if you look at the United States, most of our food production is produced using rainfall. So managing our agricultural lands well, and preserving them for the future, is really, really, important. So I think, yes, other parts of the world will look toward Western Europe, North America, Canada and the U.S. to be major suppliers of food in the future. That said, I do think that a lot of effort has to go into food self-sufficiency at the grass roots—you know, basically in the villages where the food is needed. There’s a lot more investment that can happen in affordable irrigation and agricultural practices that improve the productivity of these low-productivity lands, and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, which are going to be hit hard, unfortunately, by climate change.
Peter Scheer: Maybe you can clear this up for me, because you were saying that water is a finite resource, it’s irreplaceable, but that there’s a lot we can do; it’s a solvable problem, there’s a lot we can do to get it out and address these concerns. What are those things that we can do to address this problem? And I guess my concern is, do we ever end up in a situation where we’ve so polluted our resources, or we’ve so exploited them for luxury items, that we run out?
Sandra Postel: Just to be clear about the water cycle, it’s—you know, water is renewable. It’s a renewable resource, but it’s finite. You know, there’s only so much that’s made available by the water cycle in any given place.
Peter Scheer: I see.
Sandra Postel: So we can expect, you know, the water cycle to speed up as climate change comes along; we’re already beginning to notice this, and that’s partly what’s going on with the likelihood of more floods and droughts. So it’s a renewable supply; it’s going to rain every year. Not the same every year, but on balance, it’s going to rain every year, in about the same amount. But it’s only in a finite quantity. And so these signs of unsustainability, that we’re overtapping groundwater, the calculations that I and others have made, suggest we have a bubble in the food economy right now, because we’re overpumping groundwater. So as much as 10 percent of the world’s current food supply depends on the overpumping of groundwater, the unsustainable use of groundwater. And if we’ve learned anything in the last 10 years, it’s that bubbles pop. You know, the dot-com bubble popped; the housing bubble popped; we’ll see a pop in the food economy as groundwater depletion proceeds, and wells go dry, and farmers take that land out of production. It won’t be one big pop all at the same time; it’ll happen gradually in different places; but this is something we have to reckon with. So it’s that sense that water is renewable, but finite, and we’ve got to figure out how to live more sustainably within it. The keys to doing that really are looking at how to use water more productively. Actually, two things: the important thing, in my view, is that we allocate enough water to ecosystems, to the rivers, to the wetlands, to maintain the important services we get from them. Because right now, they’re taking the hit. We’re overextracting water, and ecosystems are dying around the world, from the Aral Sea to the Colorado Delta to the many, many rivers in the western United States that are now basically depleted for periods of time, to the Yellow River in China. So there’s an enormous amount of harm being done to ecosystems we benefit from. And so that’s the first piece, is to make sure we give the water that ecosystems need to be healthy. And then that begins to unleash a whole set of ways of improving water productivity. You know, drip irrigation in agriculture, soil- and water-conserving agricultural methods, reducing the amount of water that’s used to make our products, internal recycling within factories. We have so much slack in the water system, because we haven’t been giving the users of water, whether it’s farmers or factories or homeowners, the right incentive to use water efficiently, to conserve it and use it more productively. And as we get those signals right, and as we begin to dedicate water to the environment and realize—ah! we only have this much to use for ourselves, we’ll get a whole lot more efficient and productive with it. We just haven’t sent those signals out right.
Josh Scheer: Well, thank you very much, Sandra, and again, next time we’ll have to talk about desalination, because I know that’s a big part of it too [Laughs] …
Peter Scheer: That’s Josh’s—that’s Josh’s pet project.
Josh Scheer: No, no—I’m a big water fan, and I’m glad you came out and talked to us about it.
Sandra Postel: OK, my pleasure.
Peter Scheer: Sandra Postel is one of the world’s leading authorities on fresh water. She is the founder of the Global Water Policy project and the author of “Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity,” among other books. Take care.
Sandra Postel: OK, take care.
Peter Scheer: Sandra Postel is head of National Geographic’s freshwater initiative. Learn more at NationalGeographic.com/freshwater.
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Kasia Anderson: Welcome back to Truthdig Radio. I’m Kasia Anderson, associate editor at Truthdig. And I’m here with James Harris, who is host of many a Truthdig podcast, and, I must say, possessor of an excellent radio voice. And we’re talking with Daniel Denvir; he’s a Philadelphia-based journalist and a regular contributor to Salon, AlterNet and The Guardian.
So why don’t you just set up the scene for us a little bit with your Salon article? It’s “The 10 Most Segregated Urban Areas In America.” What kind of sparked you to this project, and what were your major findings?
Daniel Denvir: First of all, the census numbers that are released every 10 years are sort of a gold mine to look at where we are as a country, in terms of issues like race. And race is an issue that, when it’s discussed in the U.S., is often not discussed in a very coherent or productive fashion. So the census allows us to sort of look at the situation with some objective aid and say, you know, there’s still a lot of problems; notably, Americans still tend to live in very different neighborhoods that are segregated by race.
Kasia Anderson: What was the lineup that you had for the top 10 cities? You don’t have to give them all…
Daniel Denvir: Los Angeles came in No. 10. Milwaukee was the most segregated urban area. And just a quick aside, I say “urban area” or “metropolitan area” instead of “city” because a big driver of segregation is that so many white people continue to live farther and farther away from cities, in exclusive suburbs that zone out affordable housing by having minimum lot sizes, by concentrating Section 8 housing in poor towns and cities. So that’s why we talk about segregated metropolitan areas rather than cities.
Kasia Anderson: But that includes those suburbs as well, or it doesn’t?
Daniel Denvir: Yes, yeah. So this data includes those suburbs. New York was No. 2. Detroit was also on the list, Chicago. You know, you see a lot of Rust Belt cities on the list, but you also … if you look at the top 30, top 40, which are all very segregated areas, you will also see Southern cities like Miami and New Orleans and … [states such as] Alabama.
James Harris: So, Daniel—this is James—what does this mean on the larger scale? What indication do you have—I saw you have a lot of comments, a lot of conversation about this—what larger conclusions do you make about people, about segregation, and where people like to live?
Daniel Denvir: You know, first of all, the reason that this matters … there’s the basic idea that diversity is a good thing, and that if we live in communities with different types of people we’ll be better off for it in a variety of intangible ways. But there’s also some very concrete, tangible reasons that integration is important. Where you live has a lot to do with what sort of opportunities you have. An integration activist, a black man, who lives in the Philadelphia suburb of Pennsauken, N.J., discussing why—making sure Pennsauken remained an integrated community, why it was so important for him, said—referring to his wife, who works at a bank—you know, if we lived in the city of Camden, the kids growing up in the city of Camden, who do they know who is going to help get them a summer internship or a summer job? Your health outcomes are lowered, your job opportunities are lowered, your schools are worse. So these are the concrete reasons. And what to do about it? Well, it does have something to do with preferences, but survey data actually shows that black Americans are far more willing to live in integrated neighborhoods than white Americans. So the same old obstacles continue to be in place.
Kasia Anderson: And so, just that we’re clear here, the data you were pulling from was talking about blacks and whites, specifically. So we don’t have included Hispanics, other ethnicities, right?
Daniel Denvir: Yeah and there’re … some places like New York and L.A. also have high rates of Latino-white segregation. But by and large, black and white segregation is a persistent and unique problem in the U.S. Some of the black-Latino segregation can be attributed to first-wave immigrants coming in and, for not very alarming reasons, finding it comfortable to live in neighborhoods where people are speaking their language, where they can access social networks. That becomes a problem if, three generations down the line, people in those communities don’t feel like they can move to other neighborhoods. And that’s what we continue to see when it comes to the neighborhoods and the choices, the housing choices that are offered to many black Americans.
Kasia Anderson: And did you just describe some of the reasons why the data you pulled was limited to blacks and whites? Do you have any other feelings about, you know, bringing in other groups as well, or would that just be too large a project?
Daniel Denvir: Well, you couldn’t have a list [Laughter], in that case. There would be … it would be three or four different top-10 lists, you know. You would have the area that’s most segregated Hispanic-white; the area that’s most segregated Asian-white. I focused on black-white because I do think that the history of racism, you know, from slavery, Jim Crow, into the exclusion of blacks from jobs and housing in the North, that that’s a special and unique problem that has to be dealt with still in the United States. So I think it does deserve special attention.
James Harris: Daniel, you talk specifically about the South; you spent a lot of time, I read your “Five Myths About the 10 Most Segregated [Metro Areas],” your kind of appendage to what you wrote originally. You wrote very beautifully about the South—a quote from your response to Southerners saying, hey, there’s no list of, there’s no cities from the South on here, so perhaps we are free of any blame for segregation—you write: “Conservative white politics are the culmination of a century of divide-and-conquer strategies by wealthy whites—efforts that have constantly frustrated efforts by poor blacks and whites to make common cause.” Let’s talk about this. Does it all come down to class? Is it rich against poor that’s perpetuating where people live? Or are there some other things at play here?
Daniel Denvir: I mean, I think that’s an extremely important point, whether you’re talking about the South or the North. In the South, a very clear history of divide-and-conquer tactics by wealthy agricultural and business interests; you know, every time there’s an effort of working-class whites and poor blacks to come together, that’s frustrated. And it’s frustrated through the politics of racism. And the same is very much true in the North, where you see that the neighborhoods that most violently resisted black people moving in, in Detroit and Chicago, and Philadelphia, were working-class white ethnic neighborhoods, the children and grandchildren of immigrants from Italy and Poland and other places, who themselves had a very tenuous hold on the American dream—came here for jobs, fought for them, unionized. And that pressure that starts with de-industrialization, with the outsourcing of jobs, leads people to hold very tight to the things that they’ve won. And yes, in the North as well we see white people blaming black people for the decline of Detroit. Well, black people didn’t destroy Detroit; you know, capital decided to abandon Detroit. That’s, I mean that’s the real crux of the matter.
James Harris: Interesting. And so, yeah, I think you see in a lot of municipalities—Oakland, Detroit—that phenomena proving true, where you had white flight and then later, when integration set in, you had black flight. And I wanted to ask you specifically about that black flight, about the fact that there are many black people who long to get out of Detroit, because Detroit has meant for them bad living, ghettoes and just a way of life they want to move away from. Where does that fall into these living trends? And so you get a lot of black people, as you said earlier, willing to integrate; but where does that phenomena, of how black people kind of tangle with the inner cities—how does that play into this?
Daniel Denvir: First of all, it really gets to an important matter here, which is that the very fact that our cities and suburbs are divided up into these different jurisdictional areas, each raising its own property taxes to pay for its own schools—you know, that we live in these extremely fragmented areas where by taking your tax dollars across this magical municipal line, you totally wash your hands of having to deal with the poor people that you left on the other end. So this idea that that is kind of fundamentally what allows that white flight to be possible. So in a city that’s in complete freefall, like Detroit, anyone who has the means is going to try to leave. And that’s what we saw over the last 10 years: a lot of people, largely black people, left Detroit for the suburbs. Detroit had one of the most significant drops in segregation nationwide over the last 10 years, but it’s really not cause for celebration, because it’s a result of the fact that black people were desperate to leave Detroit, and that the white people in some of these suburbs that blacks were moving into—themselves hit by job losses and economic crises—couldn’t afford to sell their house and move.
Kasia Anderson: We’ll have to direct our listeners to the actual Salon article, which is up with very handy colored charts. And thank you for your time. This is Daniel Denver, once again, speaking with us from Philadelphia. I’m Kasia Anderson, and James Harris also joined us for this talk. Thanks a lot, guys.
James Harris: Thank you.
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Peter Scheer: This is Truthdig Radio. I’m Peter Scheer, and I’m speaking with Narda Zacchino, who collaborated on a book with Mary Tillman, the mother of Pat Tillman, called “Boots on the Ground by Dusk: Searching for Answers in the Death of Pat Tillman,” which is available at Blurb.com. She is also a former associate editor and vice president of the Los Angeles Times. Welcome.
Narda Zacchino: Thank you, Peter.
Peter Scheer: So, the reason we’re speaking today is because Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was previously in charge of the war in Afghanistan and was fired by President Barack Obama after the Rolling Stone article “The Runaway General” came out and revealed his conduct in a glaring light, is now back in the news because the same president has offered to have McChrystal head up a panel called Joining Forces, which is meant to … well, why don’t you explain?
Narda Zacchino: The panel is meant to kind of create a civilian-military link and help families of people in the military, to help the kids get an education, help the veterans get jobs; basically to help them transition back into society and to help them out, because so few of our citizens actually are in the military, and so few of them do suffer these terrible repercussions from being in the military. And so this is sort of to help share that burden and make more people aware of the burdens that people in the military and their families have.
Peter Scheer: So is it fair to say that you think this is, in general, a good idea but they’ve picked the wrong man to lead it?
Narda Zacchino: Well, I think it is a good idea to involve more people in helping veterans. I mean, we all know what a terrible job veterans’ hospitals do, and how soldiers are sort of forgotten when they come back from service. And I do think they need more help. I do. And I just think that the selection of McChrystal, who disrespected and caused such misery to the highest-profile military family in America—the family of Pat Tillman—is not deserving of this job. I thought he was deserving of being forced out of his position; I don’t think he’s an honorable man, I think he has a bad character. And I think he’s the wrong person for this job.
Peter Scheer: Well, can you explain why?
Narda Zacchino: Well, yes; he was even singled out in the investigation by the inspector general of the Pentagon who looked into Pat Tillman’s death. And the inspector general concluded that McChrystal was accountable for the inaccurate Silver Star award …
Peter Scheer: Let’s just back up a second and explain, in brief, what happened to Pat Tillman.
Narda Zacchino: OK. Pat Tillman was a professional football player with the Arizona Cardinals. And he enlisted after 9/11, but before we went into Iraq, to help America find Osama bin Laden and, you know, it was sort of … he just wanted to do his job for his country. His brother, who was a professional baseball player for the Cleveland Indians … team also enlisted. So this family gave two sons to the war effort. Pat and his brother both felt very strongly that America’s military should be populated by people, not just people who have no other options in life—you know, who can’t get jobs, are out of work, or whatever, not educated—but by people like them, who are highly educated and do have options. So he gave up his $3-million-a-year professional football job to go into the military.
Peter Scheer: Right.
Narda Zacchino: He was killed in Afghanistan on April 22nd, 2004, by his own troops. And his family was told initially, and had been told for five weeks—the military and the Bush administration held the truth hostage while they circulated this story and basically exploited Pat’s death to stoke patriotism, at a time when Abu Ghraib was about to break, a week later; Fallujah had been a disaster; April had been the worst month for soldiers killed in Iraq. And in fact, ironically, on April 22nd, the day he died, they had … it had become the worst month for soldiers being killed. And so … it was a terrible time in terms of PR for the administration. And when Pat was killed, can you imagine that being piled on top of everything else, if the truth had come out that it was, he was killed by his own troops?
Peter Scheer: And McChrystal is implicated in this cover-up.
Narda Zacchino: McChrystal had a big role in this. First of all, at the time of Pat’s death he was head of the Special Joint Operations Command, which is. …
Peter Scheer: Was a black ops, a black ops unit.
Narda Zacchino: Exactly. Exactly, it’s been called the black ops unit of the military. And they do a lot of secret things, and we can only imagine what they’ve done. But in this case, McChrystal, immediately upon Pat’s death—and people knew it was friendly fire; McChrystal himself knew, within two days he knew. He probably knew even sooner. They immediately started—and he was in charge of this process, of giving Pat Tillman a Silver Star. Normally, soldiers don’t get a Silver Star if they’ve been killed in friendly fire. There has to be some valorous activity on their part, action on their part, to get a Silver Star. And people in the military take these medals very seriously, as you must know. So, in the case of Pat, McChrystal basically supervised this falsification and construction of Pat’s actions, and created this fantasy story; other officers created it and he kind of supervised it.
Peter Scheer: He also—he also sent a letter to President Bush warning him that if the—I’m quoting now from the “Runaway General” article, which quotes the letter: “If the circumstances of Corporal Tillman’s death become public,” he wrote, it could cause public embarrassment for the president.
Narda Zacchino: And the reason he wrote that memo—and I think we should stress the word if: he didn’t say when the true facts become known of Pat’s death; he said “if” they become known …
Peter Scheer: OK.
Narda Zacchino: … which really meant that they were going to try to milk this as long as they could. Unfortunately, five weeks after Pat died, the—his troops came back and they started talking about it, and they [officials] couldn’t keep a lid on it anymore. But in terms of the Silver Star, they wanted very much for Pat to, at his memorial service, to be memorialized as a big hero. And so they created this fabrication, and I’ll tell you—I’ll tell you how extensive it was. And this all came out, all the details came out in the inspector general’s report on this incident. And what happened was, there’s a policy in the Army that in order for someone to get a Silver Star, there have to be two witness statements, eyewitness statements, to the heroic action. In Pat’s case, they had come under an ambush; part of their unit had come under ambush, but it was nowhere near where Pat was. And he had gone up on the hill to—with some other troops to see if they could see where the firing was coming from. At the time that he was killed, there was absolutely no firing going on; the ambush had stopped. But according to the Silver Star commendation, it had statements from two of Pat’s fellow platoon members. One was a staff sergeant, and one was a private. These two people supposedly wrote these statements attesting to Pat’s heroism. One of them said that he sat down, they sat him down at a computer, and they had him write down what happened, and then they said to him all of a sudden, now you can leave the room. And he didn’t sign off; he didn’t get a copy of what he wrote; and he left the room. The other person doesn’t recall, the staff sergeant doesn’t recall, ever being asked for a statement. And so when they were shown these statements that they supposedly wrote, and they supposedly signed—when they were shown these statements by the inspector general—they said no, they didn’t do this, that they were falsified. So the inspector general concluded that these were falsified statements, they weren’t written or signed by the two people who supposedly did witness this, and so we can only—and that …
Peter Scheer: Well, what does this have to do with Stanley McChrystal?
Narda Zacchino: Because McChrystal was the one who oversaw the entire language, how it was written, and in fact the first version that he approved said that Pat was killed in hostile enemy fire, which he knew not to be true. And then when, as the internal investigation into Pat’s death went on, and it became clear that they couldn’t keep the lid on the friendly fire, they kind of massaged the language so it still left the impression that he was killed by the enemy, but it—but they took out that he was killed by the enemy.
Peter Scheer: So what—let’s just bring this around a little bit. What you’re objecting to is Stanley McChrystal being appointed to head a commission, the job of which is to provide comfort and aid to military families. And what you’re outlining is that he may have improperly helped Pat Tillman posthumously receive the Silver Star. Can you explain why a commendation like that brought discomfort to the Tillman family?
Narda Zacchino: The commendation itself did not bring discomfort, although they believe, and I’ve come to believe, that Pat would have been appalled to have been given the Silver Star when he didn’t essentially earn it. He did save the life of one of, of the young private next to him; he did save his life by making sure he was behind a boulder, that he didn’t put his head up, and Pat actually stood up at one point and he was shot. And … but the family was upset—and the reason I don’t think McChrystal deserves to be, you know, resurrected from the dustbin of military history is because he lied—he condoned falsification of a Silver Star commendation; he may have even had a hand in having somebody falsify it with these false statements. But he knew when he read it. He said the other day that if he had it to do all over again, he would do it differently, but he felt that his actions were acceptable. But he lied; he allowed the documents that were falsified to be submitted; he knew when Pat’s memorial service was being held that the Silver Star commendation was going to be read; in fact, they hurried it through to get it ready to read at his memorial. Pat’s memorial was broadcast on nationwide television. And they wanted that. And I just think he’s a man of disreputable character; you don’t want your top military leaders—especially people who’ve graduated from West Point, where honesty and integrity are supposed to be the hallmarks of military service—you don’t want somebody like that representing the military. And I don’t think that it was right—there are so many people who might have been a better candidate for this job. I think what I’m objecting to, and what the family objects to, is Obama’s judgment in—yeah, he [McChrystal] got fired from his job, for good reason, and he should’ve been left in retirement. And I think what we’re all questioning is Obama’s good judgment. …
Peter Scheer: Well, perhaps it’s a political calculation.
Narda Zacchino: Well, I think it is, because—I don’t know if you know, but the organization that is sponsoring this initiative is called the Center for a New American Security. And they get a tremendous amount of funding from the military-industrial complex—Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, BAE, Boeing Co., those sorts of things. And I think that, you know—I can’t say for sure, but it’s possible that they, you know, helped pressure Obama to resurrect and to try to help …
Peter Scheer: Well, he loves to give an olive branch, Obama. He loves to compromise; he loves to reach across to old enemies—Hillary Clinton being an example, someone he had a bitter feud with. …
Narda Zacchino: Yes, but that was also politically wise on his part, to try to get the female vote, and that made sense. To me, the McChrystal thing doesn’t make sense. I think there are plenty of people in the military who were very ashamed of his actions, and especially—you know, this is the other thing, I think it’s worth mentioning, is Joe Biden’s wife is one of the—you know, she and Mrs. Obama are the two people who are chairs of this, who are—this is their initiative. And if you recall in that interview in Rolling Stone, what he said about Joe Biden, McChrystal? ...
Peter Scheer: Yes, very disparaging. Well, that’s all the time we have, but thank you so much for joining us, Narda Zacchino, who is a former associate [editor] and vice president of the Los Angeles Times and collaborator with Mary Tillman on “Boots on the Ground by Dusk,” available at Blurb.com.
Narda Zacchino: Thank you, Peter.
Peter Scheer: Thank you.
That’s it for this week. Check us out next Wednesday at 2, or anytime online at Truthdig.com. Thanks to all our guests, and thanks also to our board-op and engineer Stan Mizrahi. For Robert Scheer and the Truthdig team, thanks for listening.