Desalination: A Dangerous Compromise

[Editor’s Note: This is in response to “Enviros: Compromise is Better than Nothing,” by Jonathan Parkinson, 5/1/09 TPP]

With many areas of the country facing droughts and water shortages, municipalities are scrambling to come up with a sufficient supply of this essential resource to serve current and future generations of consumers. Desalination—the process of turning saltwater into drinking water—has emerged as a potential means of addressing these shortages. If desalination sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.

Proponents of desalination would like you to believe that the process of capturing the ocean in a glass is completely affordable. But this claim is obscured by the fact that municipalities often offer subsidies to privately owned desalination projects. In Tampa Bay, Florida, bidding companies quoted extremely low prices because the Southwest Florida Management District promised to pony up 90% of the estimated capital costs. While the proposed prices seemed like a great deal, citizens would still end up carrying the financial burden of the project through taxes.

The desalination process itself is very expensive, in part because of the large amount of energy that it consumes—nine to 14 times as much as traditional water delivery technologies. Meanwhile, very few plants use renewable resources so most create emissions that contribute to global climate change—a leading factor of the droughts and water shortages that desalination is intended to mitigate in the first place.

Desalination also pollutes marine environments. Bi-products of the process contain a dangerous concentration of acids and other gunk, most of which is dumped into the ocean where it endangers water quality and displaces or kills marine life. While it has been argued that providing water to humans is more important than the fate of the fish harmed by desalination, one must also consider the quality of the water produced by desalting seawater, which contains chemicals that freshwater does not. Some contaminants such as endocrine disruptors and pharmaceuticals are removed during the desalination process, but many are not.

Boron is a chemical of particular concern because only 50 to 70 percent of it is removed by desalination. Current drinking water regulations do not protect the public from boron and it has been known to cause reproductive and development problems in animals and irritation of the human digestive track.

In addition to the environmental and health consequences of desalination, it is also emblematic our society’s cavalier attitude towards natural resources—namely, that they can be consumed to the point of exhaustion and that technology will ultimately find a creative new way of delivering them to the masses. Yet, years of mismanaging our existing water resources is exactly what has led to our current crisis, and no magic solution is going to enable us to undo it.

Addressing our current water woes will require a range of solutions including conservation and improving the integrity of our nation’s water infrastructure system, which loses 1.7 trillion gallons every year due to aging pipes. Expensive, polluting and dangerous, desalination should never be considered as a water supply option unless all other alternatives have been exhausted.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director,
Food & Water Watch
Washington, D.C.

My Right to Bear Arms

What is it with ultra liberals [re: "High Noon" by Hal Crowther, 5/15/09 TPP], which causes them to yearn so to be victims and advocate so passionately for a social climate that would (will) guarantee much better odds that we all become victims?

Nothing new in Crowther's rant, same old exaggerations, distortions and omissions we have been hearing for 200 years.

That “90% of the guns employed in the Mexican murders were purchased in the United States” is a glaring example: Acknowledged by whom? Our BATF has complained that they have not had access to information to allow them to track the weapons to any source in the US.

Knee-jerk commentators positively jump at an opportunity to blame our Constitution for a mess in a neighboring country, which Crowther says has “sane” gun control laws. Yeah, right, as if the Mexicans’ draconian “gun control” as of about 20 years ago didn’t as good as guarantee what is now being acted out across the border ...

As to our own blood-bath horrors, one must ask why they invariably happen in strictly “gun-free” environments—schools, churches, places of employment, etc. ... Fact: Anytime a violent criminal attacks a defenseless victim, the result will be the same foregone conclusion that it has been since the Stone Age.

Crowther’s photo shows him old enough ... to remember the epidemic of “carjackings” that was sweeping our nation ed the intf “concealed carry weapons” in a few states. Note that the epidemic ended abruptly, once the criminal element had to confront the reality of citizens who were allowed to defend themselves and their property ...

If, as Crowther states, it is true that there are 290 million guns in the US, that might be sufficient if they were always where they are needed most. But, thanks to the national paranoia epitomized by folks like Crowther, guns and cops share something in common: Neither is ever there when one is needed.

M. Curtess
Austwell, Texas

Keep the Wall

“Church/State Wall as Essential as Ever” [Dave Zweifel, 5/15/09, TTP], encourages applying the brakes on treating pietistic obfuscation with ultra reverence, for a behemoth consumed with primitive irrationality has no calling to dictate public policy.

The time is now for collective spines to stiffen concerning such philistine imposition of illogicality. When a religious potentate has the audacity to speak out against using funds to buy condoms for Africans with the AIDS virus, something vitriolic has risen to the surface, seemingly immune to a hint of humaneness.

Accommodators of a most fallacious dream world, who would tear down the wall between church and state, may have smashed into a parapet of insurmountability, as the dust-bin of history waits with unflagging patience.

William R. Lamppa
Embarrass, Minn.

Bless Peacemakers

“Step Back from Brink” [5/1/09 TPP] was an excellent editorial. I have read it several times. The main source of political anger is, in my view, “red state” anger at liberals (e.g. gun controllers, welfare cheats, terrorist coddlers ...) that has been cultivated for decades by the Republican Party (and masterfully described by Tom Franks in What’s the Matter with Kansas). But TPP also embodies its own growing number of angry voices that take the other side of the debate (e.g. Wall Street mega-greed, punishment for torturers ...): “blue state” anger.

And now this self perpetuating partisan politico/anger cycle is perhaps being dwarfed by rising economic anger. Being out of work is scary and very frustrating. When one throws into this bubbling mix, evangelical (“end times”) fanatics and the occasional unhappy returning, weapons-trained war veteran, the possibilities for civil “unrest” become all too clear.

What to do? Here are some ideas:

a) As your fine editorial did, keep highlighting the evidence for and danger in, the deliberate provocation of anger.

b) Be careful to express our own anger using balanced phraseology.

c) Prioritize our political wish lists, putting first those changes which would ameliorate the situation.

d) Keep strictly private any steps one takes to enhance one’s own self protection.

e) Try to empathize with one’s ideological opposites (not “ideological enemies”!) and encourage others—on both sides of the question—to do the same.

Blessed are the peace makers...

John Palmer
Charleston, W.V.

Seek Better Way

David Sirota’s thoughtful article, “Questions About Columbine We Still Don’t Ponder” [5/15/09 TPP] focused on the egregious support of militarism in America and the frustrations of economic challenges leading to violence.

Lying hidden behind the patriotic smoke and mirrors of war are the causes that there are those who gain enormous profits at the expense of lives, property and tax money. These unconscionable, greedy interests care only about profit and care nothing about the costs and suffering of the combatants and the innocent “collateral damage.” Every war is financed by loans to pay for armaments and munitions which are analogous to pouring money down the toilet since nothing constructive or useful is produced. Huge amounts of fuel are consumed in warfare in a time of peak oil reserves. In addition to tax money to pay the costs of war, there is a hidden cost picking the pockets of all in the form of inflation. ...

To combat violence, we need to re-educate. People need to learn that there are effective non-violent actions to take in response to the frustrations which now often lead to violence. We need writers to produce stories, novels, children’s literature, television and movie scripts showing models and examples of action of successful nonviolent action. Presently, this is essentially non-existent, with a huge focus on violence as a means of action in entertainment and news media. Even violent torture is repeatedly shown to succeed in extracting useful information in film and television drama despite the fact that professional interrogators know it does not work. How many are able to explain Satyagraha, the non-violent Gandhian method used successfully many times? It is a better way.

Arthur House
Franklin, W.V.

Campaign Bribery

Any thinking person (of course there are many out there who don’t have this ability) should know by now that the banking failure in this country is the result of a quasi-criminal activity which makes organized crime look like a Girl Scout cookie sale [see “Buying Washington” by Robert Weissman, 4/15/09 TPP]. This cabal, organized by the banking industry, also involves the US Congress and the lobbying industry.

The lobbying industry itself has its foundation based upon, to put it bluntly, legalized bribery. As most everyone knows, it’s a system in which we give you (Congress persons) money and then you create legislation favorable to us. You don’t do what you know is the right thing to do; you do what is favorable to us and to hell with the American public who incidentally is paying your wages and elected you to represent them. The public does not have a place at the table in this game because they are not crossing a legislators palm with silver.

If someone meets a legislator in a hotel room and gives him $50,000 for favorable legislation its bribery, but if a lobbyist gives that same legislator $50,000 for that same favor its considered upstanding and legal. Why is this? Because that’s the way government has set up the system of legalized bribery. So that they can be paid for the favors they give. But for whatever the reason it still comes down to being legalized bribery by influence pedaling and bribe giving lobbyists to bribe taking legislators. ...

Its a system of legalized stealing which is beneficial to all the players involved. People have lost many billions from their 401k and mutual fund retirement accounts just so that a few greedy, dishonest bankers and Wall Streeters could make off with their many million dollar bonuses. How unfortunate that our elected officials have sold us out for bribes from crooks.

Robert G. Reed
Bay City, Mich.

No Health Care Compromise

Joan Retsinas notes [“Negotiating for Survival,” 5/15/09 TPP] that HMOs are struggling with their fears that a government-run health-care program may prove successful and leave them out of power. As a sign of compromise, she says that insurers now offer a concession to give up refusal of treatment over pre-existing conditions. However, they want in return that the government mandate all citizens to sign up with a private HMO. (Does that mean no more Medicare as we know it?) The government would subsidize the poor and those too sick to be able to pay the full amount for insurance. That, Retsinas says is “government-sponsored private insurance.”

Retsinas does not discuss the inherent negative implications of this “concession.” Rather than a legitimate concession, the insurance lobby is offering what seems a devil’s bargain. It reflects a way to sanction a two-tier system of health care — one for the wealthy and healthy whose care would be less costly and highly profitable for the private insurance industry and, for the other group of especially vulnerable poor and sickly, subsidized by the government, their need for greater and more costly care would drain the treasury.

Retsinas goes on to suggest a number of “reasonable” concessions which, if offered by the private-sector insurers, might persuade the public to accept subsidizing their role in health care. If Retsinas is suggesting that private insurance has a place along with traditional Medicare, that is unlikely to improve care. According to Drs. Himmelstein and Woolhandler, co-directors of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), “the private plans will not allow a level playing field. Despite strict regulation, private insurers have successfully cherry picked healthier seniors ... They have progressively undermined the public plan—which started as the single payer for seniors and has now become a funding mechanism for HMOs, and a place for them to dump the unprofitably ill. A public plan option does not lead toward single payer, but toward the segregation of patients; with profitable ones in private plans and unprofitable ones in the public plan” (from correspondence with Walter Tsou, macman2@aol.com).

We do not want to risk the real possibility of a two-tier system of health care enacted because of “concessions” from the private industry. That would systematically lead to private insurance maintaining control of their highly profitable base, rather than ensuring the benefits a government single payer plan would create for everyone—a human right to a healthy life, from cradle to grave, affordable, with equitable care, portable, and with minimal administrative problems. That’s the healthy way to go, America.

Sid Moss
Elkins Park, Pa.


In the 5/15/09 Dispatches, “Brace for Health Care Reform Fight” referred to a single-payer health care bill in the Pennsylvania General Assembly as SB 300, which was last year’s bill. The current bill is SB 400, along with HB 1660.

Good Democrats Needed

My senators both voted for Sen. Durbin’s proposal to let bankruptcy judges made adjustments in mortgages for “first” homes. In fact, my junior senator, Ben Cardin, has said for a long time that he thought that ought to be allowed, since the judges already have that power for second “homes” and yachts. That seems to knock out the argument that lenders would have trouble dealing with this practice. They already do when rich people’s luxuries are involved.

I would respectfully suggest that those of you who are cursed with one of the 12 Democratic senators who voted against this decent proposal should find and work for good progressive candidates to run against them in their next primary. The country does not need dud Democrats, and it’s up to their constituents to unseat them.

For anyone unsure how to get involved, I recommend Camp Wellstone; see www.wellstone.org, where you will also find links to some good organizing tools.

Katharine W. Rylaarsdam
Baltimore, Md.

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2009

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