Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sprawl & Sewer Overflows

Don Behm's April 19, 2008 Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article goes on at length about the "swelling sanitary sewers," but no mention is made between this phenomenon and it's connection to urban sprawl. This is a glaring and puzzling omission.

As Dr. Jane Frankenberger, an Assistant Professor in Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University, reports, "The fate of rain that falls on the land is strongly affected by land use. In a forest or grassy area, most rain soaks into the soil (infiltrates), where it eventually is used by growing plants or percolates to ground water. Ground water flows slowly into streams, usually over a period of months, providing steady base flow (flow in streams in times without rainfall) that fish and other aquatic life need. By contrast, most rain that falls on a parking lot runs off immediately, often draining into storm sewers that transport it to a stream or ditch."

As noted by the Envirocast Weather & Watershed Newsletter, "Impervious surfaces can create a number of environmental challenges, such as more frequent and severe urban floods, ... and pollution in the form of storm water runoff." The more we build endlessly upon open space, paving parking lots and highways, we are diverting water with deleterious effects.

American Rivers, of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Smart Growth America, explains, "... sprawl not only pollutes our water, it also reduces our supplies. As the impervious surfaces that characterize sprawling development -- roads, parking lots, driveways and roofs -- replace meadows and forests, rain no longer can seep into the ground to replenish our aquifers. Instead, it is swept away by gutters and sewer systems."

The Alliance for the Great Lakes in the 2007 The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement inform, "The systems [sewage treatment] are aging and many are inadequate to meet currents needs, including the increased volume of wastewater imposed by suburban growth."

Sprawl and Big Box stores and strip malls are integral in creating impervious surfaces, as detailed by the Sierra Club, "Big Box stores like Wal-Mart threaten our landscape, our communities and the environment by building on the fringe of town, paving vast areas for stores and parking lots, and undermining the economic health of existing downtown shopping areas...Large parking lots contribute directly to non-point source water pollution, which is the leading cause of water pollution in the U.S. Each acre of impermeable parking surface produces runoff of 25,000 gallons of water during a 1 inch storm. By contrast, a one-acre undeveloped site only has runoff of 2,700 gallons during the same storm. Runoff from impermeable surfaces leads to erosion, flooding, and the flow of pollutants like oil, chemicals, bacteria and heavy metals into waterways."

With some suburban areas already fearing the possibility of running out of water, the fact that, "Sprawling development slows the replenishment of underground aquifers, making it harder for communities to cope with drought," as noted by Cat Lazaroff of the Environment News Service, should be a major point of discussion when we are speaking about sewer and sanitation problems and resolutions. In the same article, Betty Otto of American Rivers affirms, "Sprawl development is literally sending billions of gallons of badly needed water down the drain each year ... the storm drain"

The National Resource Defense Council elucidates, "Haphazard sprawl development also brings runoff water pollution to more and more watersheds, degrading streams, lakes, and estuaries. Natural landscapes, such as forests, wetlands, and grasslands, are typically varied and porous. They trap rainwater and snowmelt and filter it into the ground slowly. When there is runoff, it tends to reach receiving waterways gradually. Cities and suburbs, by contrast, are characterized by large paved or covered surfaces that are impervious to rain. Instead of percolating slowly into the ground, storm water becomes trapped above these surfaces, accumulates, and runs off in large amounts into waterways, picking up pollutants as it goes."

Here again, yet another crucial issue the media should be leading the discussion on, but sadly are only reporting a, meaningless without full context, portion of the story. They should be forcing our politicians and corporations to think big about and tackle such an immediate need. Fostering debate, thereby leading the charge to develop sustainable policies dealing with sprawl, sanitation, and, in general, the environment.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Class Warfare

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s take on the Columbian trade agreement, “In a fog over trade,” is just more refuse on the pile of globalization garbage being pushed by the free traders. “Democrats once had a reasonable trade policy. They understood that if the economic pie grows, everyone benefits,” chimes the editorial. The economic pie has grown for the last three decades. (Although this growth was not as stellar as the growth during our belittled three-decade, post WWII, high-tax, semi-protectionist days.) Yet wages over our modern, free trade, period for most Americans have stagnated. Wages have not kept pace with productivity, which was supposed to be part of the deal when it was being pushed in arrangements like the NAFTA. In reality, free trade agreements are a means of reversing the power of labor, which workers have fought decades for.

The implication is globalization is a Pareto improvement. Globalization is a change that makes some better off and only a few, so they hope, worse off. But, as we see, this isn't reality. Some are better off, but many are worse off. It's as if we're reinventing the wheel. Developed countries' workers have earned their fair share of the economic pie (fair wages) and the inherent rights from the struggle to obtain such. To simply allow other laborers (lower wage in totalitarian states) to be exploited, thereby weakening and fracturing Labor as a whole, merely redistrbutes profit upward to Capital rather than Labor. This is neither a productive nor a fair economic model the U.S. should be exporting or participating in.

The countries that have accomplished economic ascendancy have done so by fashioning policies to their own needs, not by following neo-liberal orthodoxy (aka The Washington Consensus). Today, China and India have tariffs ranging between 20 and 30 percent on manufactured goods.

The editorial states, “The United States must live in the real world - the real globalized world. Protectionism doesn't allow for that.” Japan, Canada, and most European countries enjoy a standard of living as well as if not better than ours. On numerous quality of life indicators, these places score better than the U.S. But they also pay better wages, have universal health care, and have better institutional supports for those at the lower rungs of the ladder. Protectionism does allow for that. In fact, almost all countries have used protectionist measures to protect their infant industries and to develop economically throughout time.

Our new unregulated, hyper-financialized and securitized, speculative economy is the prime culprit in the modern-day war against Labor. Capital is opening up borders around the world so they can avoid regulation, environmental concerns, and paying a decent wage. We have morphed from an economy fueled on labor and production into a capitalist casino. Today, circulating money around the world in highly dubious financial transactions is the key to wealth creation.

Unadulterated free trade, virtually non-existent taxes, and the lack of any protectionist measures, as an economic development policy is a modern scheme (neoliberalism and/or the Washington Consensus). This is a ruse that is failing miserably. Developed countries grew at 3.2 percent during the 1960-1980 period. Their growth stalled to just 2.2 percent, from 1980-2000. Over this same time, developing countries growth decreased from 3 percent to 1.5 percent.

Maybe it’s time for America to, rather than jingoism and conceding to business, start applying, again, the principles established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and strengthened by the New Deal. The standards that allowed one to earn a living wage, afford health care, a home, and be able to retire. This, alongside stronger modernized regulations to curb the risky speculative greed culture. Trying as much as possible to follow the policies of that time of shared prosperity, such as the post WWII period, when the middle-class was created.

55 percent of Americans make under $50,000 a year; and 30 percent make under $25,000 a year. Globalization, which merely allows cheap labor to compete with well-organized labor, benefits the CEOs and shareholders, whom are few in number and contribute nothing to the productive economy. While the wages and rights of the workers, the ones actually producing the goods, are steadily undercut. So, as we see, it’s more of the same old story – the workers make the sacrifice, the rich reap the rewards. I guess this is the "real world" the Journal Sentinel wants to promote?

For Further Reading:
Crunchian Take on Globalization
Economics of Globalization
Essays on Globalization
Essence of Neoliberalism
Global Networks, Imperial Culture
Great Myths and False Promises
Great Myths of Globalization
Labor History
Myth of Foreign Investment Benefits
Rethinking the Global Political Economy
Union Movement's Proud Past
What is Neoliberalism?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Miller Pork

Don Walker’s April 3, 2008 article, from the Journal-Sentinel, “Miller Park: Economic promises got it built. Has it paid?” implies there is a debate among economists about whether communities benefit from stadiums or not. There is about as much a debate among economists on this subject as there is among climate scientists about global warming.

But lets not get bogged down in nuance and fact.

First, we'll start with this corporate welfare defender. In this corner - the number one advocate, expert witness, and stadium-subsidy supporter - why, none other than Bud Selig. (Which is like asking Bill Gates if he thinks one should buy Microsoft.)

Walker states, “Selig believes passionately that such revenue growth did occur in the metropolitan area and commissioned a study released in October 2006 that showed the financial impact.” Amazing! Commissioning a study to show an impact and, low and behold, it does.

Selig then went on to use the well-worn contention about the intangible benefit of a sports stadium to a community. The problem with this type of implied, quasi-analysis is that, through taxation for this stadium, taxpayers felt a tangible deduction in their income. The hopes of everyone gathered at the ballpark to watch the game (direct use), or everyone getting together at the local pub to root on the Brewers (spillover) is all very quaint and well, but it’s not an economic impact analysis and it isn’t an economic development policy. Hoping and wishing should not be public policy.

Most studies show decreased activity in correlated economic sectors and the money being spent is merely a realignment of existing spending patterns. Growth is not occurring. Stadium subsidization is corporate welfare and a zero-sum game. Study after study has been done -- just because you build it, there’s no guarantee anyone is going to come. And, more likely, because you've built it, you now have less dollars in your city for schools, roads, parks, public transportation, etc.

Another hilarious declaration was Selig saying, “It [the stadium] saved baseball for Milwaukee and Wisconsin.” This equivocation reveals the real intent of the whole stadium-booster cabal: use public dollars for private playgrounds or else they will move to another city that will succumb to their bribe. And because this type of extortion is common in so-called economic development practices, it’s happening in every city. If people want to see the biggest welfare mothers driving around in their Cadillac's look no further than the corporate community, whom receive millions of dollars of giveaways, like stadium subsidies, every year.

The numbers the article's proponents cite from the 2006 study also seem to have been pulled from thin air. The talk of increased activity at hotels, restaurants and retail stores is mostly that – talk. Marc Levine of UW-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development [a former employer], the opposing view in the article, states that the actual total employment in the county and employment for hotels is down since the opening of the stadium. When we evaluate a stadium’s impact with measurable indicators we see no such gains in areas such as retail and hotels from having a stadium, as claimed by the boosters. So, I guess we're back to those intangible benefits.

If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry Christmas.