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RECYCLING DEBATE-You have to hand it to libertarian writer John Tierney. He doesn’t give up easily. His long-winded 1996 article, “Recycling Is Garbage,” allegedly smashed the New York Times Magazine’s hate-mail record. It covered the same ground as his recent New York Times op-ed, “The Reign of Recycling,” stating: “Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America: a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources.” 

Is recycling really “the most wasteful activity in modern America?” That’s quite a charge. (What about all that Kardashian coverage?) But it may be true that it would be cheaper to put all our waste in a hole someplace and forget about it. Assuming, as Tierney does, that there are enough conveniently located holes. It would be even cheaper to use the medieval method of tossing it in the street. 

But that’s not the way most people think these days. The consensus is that there are limits, both on the amount of land you can dump in, and the amount of materials you can waste. 

In any case, no one seems to have listened to Tierney. 

Recycling has come a long way. Particularly in the city of Los Angeles. In his recent op-ed, Tierney pessimistically states that recycling “is stuck [at] around 34 percent’’ of America’s trash without sourcing his figure. He quotes a former Environmental Protection Agency official who says going beyond that is impractical. 

You wonder when the official said that. 

According the State of California, the City of LA has achieved a landfill diversion rate of 76.4 percent – the highest of any of the nation’s 10 largest cities, and higher than the statewide 75 percent urban goal set for 2020. And it’s not just Los Angeles City. California’s sanitation officials portray recycling as a state success story, with most of its communities recycling 50 percent of the waste that used to go into landfills — with many recycling as much as 65 percent. According to County Sanitation Districts’ official Nick Morell, an onslaught of new technologies has made it easier to recycle food and other difficult wastes. 

“We’re really mining the waste stream,” he told Capital & Main. To encourage recycling, the state is raising landfill dumping fees from around a dollar to $4 a ton. (Tierney also seems to favor an even higher “landfill tax.”) “We like the carrot and stick approach,” Morell added. Now that more manufacturers are actually making their products easier to recycle (even a new BMW is designed to be recycled after a few hundred thousand miles) and recycling techniques advance, fewer materials end up in landfills. According to Morell, this has helped L.A. County avoid a landfill shortage. 

Tierney seems to allow that only recycling paper and metal can be cost-effective, but he notes that demand for such materials is highly variable. He also accuses “politicians” of pushing the recycling of yucky materials like food wastes, which he claims are cheaper to landfill than to compost. 

But composting isn’t the last word here. After April 1, many if not most California businesses, including state agencies, will have to recycle their organic waste. Morell says in addition to composting, the county is introducing reactors that will ferment such waste to yield methane that can fuel electric generators, just as it does at some conventional landfills. Morell also cites wet food waste as a useful water source. Tierney, who writes a New York Times science column, seems ignorant of the fast-moving technology of recycling. Further, while alleging that recycling raw materials costs jobs, he ignores the tens of thousands of new jobs emerging in the recycling industry. 

Meanwhile, as Morell notes, recycling is now so well-established that even landfill operators do it themselves to make some extra money and save precious landfill space. That Tierney doesn’t believe such land is precious is something we shall deal with momentarily. 

There is obviously room for improvement and there’s no doubt that, in particular, recyclable exports have suffered as importing nations have demanded higher quality products and scrap metal prices have sagged. Yet there’s lots of evidence that recycling just keeps moving ahead, even if it has lately hit a speed bump, with California officials stating that goals of 90 percent recycling are now in reach.

Tierney could not agree less. He maintains that “to public officials, recycling is a question of morality, not cost-benefit analysis.” 

While to its enthusiasts, he claims, it’s a middle-class religion. He notes that, due to falling oil prices, recycling household waste is much less profitable. No one wants food composting next door, he also claims, citing a case in Delaware. He believes: “[C]ities have been burying garbage for thousands of years and it’s still the easiest and cheapest solution for trash.” He seems personally affronted that, as a 2013 survey found, “82 percent of Americans feel a sense of pride when they recycle.” 

Environmentalists argue that there’s a good reason for this. 

In their online rebuttal to Tierney, enviros Richard Fuller and Magdalene Sims note that if you bury all the trash, you are burying paper and metals – materials that Tierney agrees produce “more than 90 percent’’ of all the greenhouse benefits of recycling. They claim that most experts agree that $40 a barrel oil prices are certain to soar. And they add: “Today, there are many more people on the earth generating an exponentially greater amount of garbage, including a lot more toxic trash than ever before. Simply putting all that into the ground is not a forward-looking solution.” 

Tierney’s big stumbling block is his blind insistence that landfills are better than recycling. He provides no data for this, adding an unsubstantiated assertion that “[T]hey have been welcomed in rural communities that reap large economic benefits.” He also makes a rather weird generalization about landfill availability. In his 1996 article, he “found that all the trash generated by Americans for the next 1,000 years would fit on one-tenth of one percent of the land available for grazing.’’ According to Department of Agriculture figures, that boils down to about 58,000 acres. Ted Turner has ranches far larger than that. 

But this is grazing land that tends to be located hundreds, or even thousands of miles from the large waste-producing cities. So even if the city fathers of Yankton, S.D. agreed to accept urban waste from Seattle 1,500 miles away, it would not pencil out. Assuming Yankton wanted it. I would not assume that. Even counties abutting LA County are restricting LA dumping. 

They are not alone. Maybe it’s my luck, but in nearly 40 years of municipal reporting in small and large communities in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and California, I never heard of any place that “welcomed” landfills. In every community that had one, the key conversation was how to get rid of it or prevent its expansion. These landfill communities’ leaders had been told, as Tierney states, that there was enough greenery around to “buffer residents from the sights and smells.” 

The reality was usually a countryside permeated by the reek of unsorted raw garbage arriving in an unending stream of dripping, two-lane-blacktop-busting, diesel-belching, five-ton trucks. What’s more, in the 19 years since Tierney first made his case, much of the “rural” landscape located a drivable distance from refuse-exuding cities like New York and Los Angeles has become densely developed. 

So now you have to sell landfills to the affluent, property-value-obsessed burghers of places like Diamond Bar or Morristown, N.J. Or even the not-so-affluent people of Kern County, who have already filed suits against Los Angeles’ waste dumping. LA County’s landfill alternative is a tract purchased back in 2000 that is 200 miles away and which would cost twice as much to use as the facilities it would replace. 

Jackie Cornejo, who guides the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy’s Don’t Waste LA project, which has resulted in laws repurposing the city’s waste flow, explains the landfill health problems untouched by Tierney. (Disclosure: LAANE is a sponsor of Capital & Main.) 

“Pollution from landfills and diesel-powered collection vehicles harms public health, increasing hospitalization and leading to missed school and work,” she said. “[It] increases rates of cancer, heart and respiratory diseases, and contributes to premature death.’’ 

There’s an even more important issue. Landfill gases from organic wastes include methane, much of which escapes to boost global warming far more than do equivalent amounts of carbon dioxide. As Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe’s associate director, recently stated: 

“For far too long the climate impact of waste management has been overlooked. Now it’s clear that waste prevention, reuse and recycling are climate change solutions that need to be fully integrated into a low carbon economy.” 

Tierney’s thesis reflects the classic right-wing credo that natural resources, whether they are the materials in plastic bottles or the land in which to dump them, are infinite. But as our current pope put it, “[T]he lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods…leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.” 

If that’s religious thinking, so be it.

 

(Marc Haefele is a commentator on KPCC’s Off Ramp program and has written for the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. This first appeared at CapitalandMain.com.)  Photos: Britta Gustafson (top) and Ashley Felton (lower.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

-cw                

  

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 101

Pub: Dec 15, 2015

 

GUEST WORDS--10. An abject apology from Donald Trump for being a Birther; anti-immigrant; a builder of buildings that look like big Dunhill cigarette lighters; the world's most punishing source of Green Cards for women who marry him to get one; daring to rate women as no longer Tens when he himself has never been a One; going bankrupt multiple times in order to stick other people with his bad-judgment debt; pretending he ever hit a home run when actually, he was born on Third Base -- and oh, yes, setting the hair weave industry all the way back to Rogaine.

9. If Trump doesn't apologize, I wish us all the gift of remembering that Hitler was democratically elected -- in a low voter turnout.

8. I would like state legislatures to stop building prisons with money that once went to universities, thus keeping way too many people in prison and way too many people in lifetime debt. This would not happen if Americans gave ourselves the gift of knowing and caring who our state legislators are.

7. I'm glad we've begun to raise our daughters more like our sons -- but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.

6. I want people to know that the great gift of Black Lives Matter was created by 3 young black women: Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors -- and that has led to 3 great organizing guidelines:

  1. Lead with love
  2. Low ego, high impact
  3. Move at the speed of trust

Gives you faith in the future, doesn't it?

5. I want Uber to stop charging for the weather -- nobody, not even airlines, charge for the weather! -- and I want Uber to stop refusing the disabled, and now, with 30,000 unregulated Uber cars in New York City, driving wheelchair accessible taxis out of business. Don't let Uber become uber alles.

4. I would like us all to send a nice Christmas thank you to President Obama -- for surviving ultra-right-wingers who, if they had cancer, and Obama had the cure, wouldn't accept it.

3. I want any young men who buy a gun to be treated like young women who seek an abortion. Think about it: a mandatory 48-hours waiting period, written permission from a parent or a judge, a note from a doctor proving that he understands what he is about to do, time spent watching a video on individual and mass murders, traveling hundreds of miles at his own expense to the nearest gun shop, and walking through protestors holding photos of loved ones killed by guns, protestors who call him a murderer.

After all, it makes more sense to do this for young men seeking guns than for young women seeking an abortion. No young woman needing reproductive freedom has ever murdered a roomful of strangers.

(This riff is not mine, it's on the Internet -- I thank whoever gave us all this present.)

2. I want the three magical women of BETTY to have everything they need to spread the BETTY Effect around the world. They are such a gift. They organize with music and by their own irresistible examples.  

1. Finally, I want to make it to 100 -- because I don't want to leave, I love it here. You in this room are the biggest gift of all.

(Gloria Steinem is an American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist who became nationally recognized as a leader and spokeswoman for the feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 70s.)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 102

Pub: Dec 18, 2015

 

PERSPECTIVE-Russian premier Vladimir Putin recently lavished praise on Donald Trump.

It came as no surprise to most.  Loose cannons stick together.

There are some looser than these two, but I would be hard-pressed to name a more dangerous duo with the potential of controlling the two mightiest military powers in the world.

In a way, it does not seem logical for Putin to warm up to Trump.  Trump’s tough talk about making our rivals fear us should create tension between Russia and the US, especially when the former desires to reclaim its old glory.  Both nations would seem to be on a collision course with both of them in power.

So what is the nascent bond between them all about?

Plain and simple – hatred of President Obama.

Policies built on hate never end well.  Just look at  Germany in World War 2.

Perhaps only Bernie Sanders or Dr. Ben Carson would make an equally disturbing pairing with Vlad the Sociopath. The two of them rank near the top of the most-clueless-in-foreign-policy poll with the Donald. 

There is a difference, though.  Carson and Sanders are passive-clueless.  That is, they would tend to not take decisive action in the international arena when  necessary.  Trump is active-clueless.  He would take action when none was called for. Either way, the results would not be pretty.

However, it’s a moot point.

None of the three will earn their party’s nomination.

They will continue to make noise, though, until either the money runs out or the public tires of them.

And Vlad will still find himself isolated and without a buddy.

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs atVillage to Villageand contributes toCityWatch.The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone. They should not be construed to represent the opinions of the VVHA or the residents of Valley Village, individually or as a group. He can be reached at: phinnoho@aol.com.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

PENSION REFORM-A pair of potential ballot initiatives written to overhaul California’s public pensions could face a rough road, according to a new poll. 

The results from a Capital & Main-David Binder Research poll of 500 likely voters shows that if the election were held today, the numbers of those voting for the measures and those against them appear to be dead even. Those numbers are not what pension-reduction advocates had hoped for going into the 2016 election cycle. 

Drafted by former Democratic San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and former Republican San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, the so-called Voter Empowerment Initiative, and its sibling, the Government Pension Cap Act, received their official summary language (though not their official titles) from the state attorney general last week. Low numbers and lack of support among DeMaio’s fellow Republicans had already forced the pair to abandon a previous effort, the Voter Empowerment Act, last August. But the new polling data don’t hold the bulletproof voter support for either proposal that Reed has said he is counting on.  

The first measure, which would move new state and local employees from traditional defined benefit pensions into 401(k)-style retirement savings plans, tested at 42 percent in support and 42 percent opposed; its sibling measure, which would cap the amount of money government employers could pay for most new hires’ retirement benefits at no more than 11 percent of wages, or a maximum of 13 percent for public safety workers, found 40 percent support and 40 percent opposed. The poll, conducted between December 10-13, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent. 

Last week Reed told the Sacramento Bee that one of the measures would need to test at least at 60 percent to withstand the erosion expected in a heated campaign and to attract the roughly $2 million to $3 million needed for a three-month signature collection drive. After qualifying, the effort would need another $25 million to run a statewide campaign. 

“Generally an even split at this early stage does not bode well for an initiative,” said Floyd Feeney, a professor at the University of California Davis School of Law, in an email to Capital & Main. “Initiatives as a group tend to lose support as the battle progresses. This is a tendency, however, and not an ironclad rule. Money also counts.” Feeney has written two books on ballot initiatives and served as legal advisor to the Speaker’s Commission on the California Initiative Process in 2000-01. 

Veteran Republican political consultant Mike Madrid, of the Sacramento-based Grassroots Lab, said the pension-ballot poll’s dead-heat numbers aren’t impossible to surmount but will present daunting challenges for those seeking to reduce pensions. Especially in a 2016 election cycle that already includes a presidential race, a U.S. Senate seat up for grabs, and a ballot that could have as many as 20 other initiatives. 

“What you’ve got is this mushy middle that can be moved with money and argument in either direction,” he said. “People are going to be sick of campaign ads by about early October. When there’s that many political messages coming at you, the voters just tune out. Unless it’s something like legalizing marijuana, or ending the death penalty or porn actors having to wear condoms.” 

Opponents of the proposals, chiefly within organized labor, have expressed confidence that they would be able to erode support for the measures further if a campaign were to proceed. Last April political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, when asked about Reed and DeMaio’s Voter Empowerment Act, told Capital & Main, “There is an axiom in politics: It is the group whose rights are threatened that generally comes out to vote, no matter the group. And with unions, they do it every election. And they’ve got money and they’ve got organization.”

 

(Dan Braun works with unions, social justice groups and others engaged in creative change campaigns. He lives and drums in Echo Park, Los Angeles. Bill Raden is a Los Angeles writer. This was first posted at Capital & Main. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 -cw

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 102

Pub: Dec 18, 2015

OTHER WORDS-The holiday season is a time for nostalgia. We watch It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story, engage in time-honored traditions, and even sing songs about sleighs and sleigh bells. 

Honestly, when was the last time you rode in a sleigh?

I’ve eaten a roasted chestnut (purchased on the streets of Chicago, so I don’t know if there was an open fire involved in the roasting process), but I haven’t gone for a single sleigh ride in my whole life. 

Donald Trump’s campaign slogan — “Make America Great Again” — plays on this idea of some imagined time in the past when things were better, simpler, than they are now. But The Donald isn’t the only one who evokes this mythical past. 

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats often wax poetic about the strong middle class of the era that followed World War II, or about the social safety net President Franklin Delano Roosevelt put in place before that. 

And it’s true: America did accomplish great things in the past. But I fundamentally disagree that our better days are behind us. 

This notion of a lost Norman Rockwell America is an illusion. 

It’s easy to buy into this trope if you’re an older white man, because perhaps those really were your good old days. The post-war years in which America had a “strong middle class” were the days of a strong white middle class. 

If you’re African American, looking back to the 1950s means looking back to the days of lynching, Jim Crow, and legalized discrimination. How can that inspire nostalgia? 

In the South before the Civil Rights movement, it was open season on African Americans, with white terrorists lynching whomever they chose with impunity. And to secure the white racist vote for his New Deal programs, FDR excluded farm workers and domestic workers from basic wage and work protections. Back then, those segments of the labor force were largely black. 

There were problems in the North too. Housing discrimination against blacks was federal policy — not just a simple, organic process of “white flight.” Policies like redlining systematically denied African Americans wealth, which still harms their families and communities today. 

Nor was life peachy for women in this time.

This was the era that spurred the feminist Betty Friedan to write about “the problem that has no name.” She torpedoed the presumption that all American women ought to rejoice that their roles as cooks, house cleaners, and baby machines were now made easier with modern conveniences. 

No doubt modern women are grateful they’re no longer expected to greet their husbands with a warm meal, a cocktail, and a come-hither look when they come home from a long day of work. 

Trump’s “Make America Great Again” sloganeering — combined with his anti-Muslim, anti-black, and anti-Mexican rhetoric — makes it apparent that he and his followers don’t see the ugly parts of our nation’s past as problematic. But it’s wrong to whitewash history. 

Surely, America isn’t perfect today. We haven’t solved our problems with racism (Donald Trump is Exhibit A) and women still earn less than men. We’ve also got the specters of mass shootings, terrorism, and the climate crisis to boot. 

Yet the answer to our troubles isn’t returning to an imagined, better past. It’s finding our way to a more perfect future. As Bill Clinton said two decades ago, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”

 

(Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. This column was provided CityWatch by OtherWords.org.)  Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 -cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 102

Pub: Dec 18, 2015

INSIDER REPORT-The distinct smell of natural gas penetrates homes for miles around the leaking Aliso Canyon natural gas “storage facility.” By storage facility we mean an abandoned oil well drilled in 1955 that So Cal Gas decided to fill with pressurized natural gas. But to describe this as a leak is akin to calling the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a leak.

Since October, Aliso Canyon has been hemorrhaging 50,000 kgs of natural gas into the air of Porter Ranch. Think BP oil spill with natural gas in a residential neighborhood and you start to understand that this, the worst gas leak in California history is a bonafide un-natural disaster. Lest you think that is hyperbole, renowned environmental advocate Erin Brockovich recently penned an article entitled, “Porter Ranch gas leak a catastrophe not seen since BP oil spill.”

This past week, seven weeks after the leak was confirmed, and after seeing attendance plummet, teachers getting sick, and visits to the nurses office skyrocket, CastleBay Lane Charter School and Porter Ranch Community School were ordered closed by the Los Angeles School Board. The 1100 students and staff will now be relocated to schools in Winnetka and Northridge respectively. “Porter Ranch will be a ghost town soon,” said a dejected Ankana Jitsomwung La Salle, whose son Chance is among the children suffering health effects and has been relocated.

As this crisis deepens, the community and elected leaders are beginning to ask, “Where has Gov. Brown been?” His office has been conspicuously silent.

“In this chaotic crisis, one of the most disruptive environmental and community catastrophic events of our time, we need our Governor to speak up, speak out, and bring the full force of his office to help the families impacted,” said LA City Councilmember Mitchell Englander. Englander has attended several town hall meetings in the area and the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council meeting on the issue. Each meeting brought overflow crowds to venues that could hold well over 1,000 people. 

As this crisis deepens one has to wonder when this nightmare for Porter Ranch residents will end, and when our Governor, who declared a State of Emergency in San Bernadino due to the terrorist attack, will step up and help the thousands who are waiting to evacuate the poison entering their homes from the Aliso Canyon catastrophe.

 

(Jim Alger is a long-time political activist. He is perhaps best known for spearheading the ‘pushback’ effort that culminated in the MOU Agreement between Los Angeles neighborhood councils and the Department of Water and Power. )

–cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 103

Pub: Dec 22, 2015

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