More Good News! VIDA Blocked; Invasive Species Kept Away From Great Lakes

Pictured: Joe Manchin

It’s water Thursday, and hopefully we’ll get to the roundup after work tonight, but wanted to bring you a rare bit of good news: the Vessel Incident Discharge Act, which would have removed needed protections against invasive species in the Great Lakes, was actually defeated in the Senate yesterday!

We talked about this last year, and were officially Not Optimistic, saying it was part of the GOP’s mad desire for “letting industry control their own regulatory regimes.” That’s a big part of this, and something we need to keep fighting against.

It’s also an interesting story, because it is part of the larger geological and hydrological history of opening up the Great Lakes to the world. The Niagara Falls was an enormous barrier to any creatures trying to make their way to the Lakes, if they could even get past the punishing downstream currents of the St. Lawerence.

But the building of canals and the invention of steamboats changed all of that, in ways that transformed not just the economy of our country, but the basics of geology. Global trade, in which huge vessels picked up ballast water from the Bosporus, teeming with life perfectly suited for that environment, brought that life here, where it wasn’t suited (and obviously vice-versa, this isn’t an assault against America or anything).

Trade is good. Connecting the world is good. They’ve brought enormous benefits. But there are huge risks and downsides, which we need to work against so that everyone benefits. That “everyone” should also include ecosystems, which are where we, you know, live. That’s why regulations about ballast water were important, and why trying to remove them was insane.

I don’t have to tell you that nearly every Republican voted for VIDA, right? But they also had some Democratic help.

Democratic Sens. Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp(N.D.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.) voted with Republicans to advance the bill. Everyone, besides Jones, is up for reelection in a state won by Trump in 2016.

Casey and Donnelly are Great Lakes senators, which is particularly maddening. But think about what that says: it says that red (or reddish) state senators feel that any environmental legislation is so toxic, even one as obvious and benign as this, that they are siding against it for cheap political points. Even though I doubt that there are many people in landlocked West Virginia too damn concerned with inconvenience to oceanic freight, Manchin sided against clean water.

That’s nuts. One of the consequences of opening up the Lakes to the world is that every river system that is connected to them can can be infested with invasives. And since Chicago reversed the river, that means the Mississippi watershed, which includes the Ohio and all its tributaries, which includes the Kanawha and the Monagahela, which are in West Virginia. And I think the Missouri runs through North Dakota and, well, Missouri.

The point is, that thanks to geology and our economic choices, we’re all connected. It’s our politics that suffers a vast disconnect, where even pointing out that we should make it slightly harder for oxygen-killing mussels to infect every waterway, the source of our country’s strength, is some kind of commie tree-hugging bullshit.

But that can change. We can get better. Rejecting VIDA is a hopeful sign that sometimes the good guys can win. It’s not un-American to protect America. As we learn more, and as voices speak up, we’ll expand that idea of America to our land, our water, and ultimately, the people who live here.

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Thursday Water News: Drugs in the Water, Messing up the Mississippi Basin, and Pruitt Takes Control

In last week’s water news, we ended on a sort of kind of happy note, raising a moderately-filled glass that Capetown’s Day Zero was pushed back until next year. It was nice to have a sort of kind of happy note! Water is good, and we should be happy when there is happy news!

This week will not have it. This week will end with Scott Pruitt, if that’s any indication.

Let’s get at it!

Drugs in the Water: Not The Good Kind

 

 

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Remember: drugs lead to jazz

 

Last year, I wrote a long piece about antidepressants in the Niagara River. It is one of my favorite posts on this blog, and won praise from a cousin who said “Brian, I love you, but you are pretty depressing.” It’s like a Pulitzer!

Anyway, the point was that antidepressants leeching into our waters were causing fish to not eat, not reproduce and to stop caring about avoiding predators. Really, it made them stop doing the only thing they were good at, which was: continue being fish. I thought the symbolism of it was a little on-the-nose.

 There is is something deeply wrong here. Our society drives people to medications, which can do good or ill, and the waste of our addictions and needs ultimately ends up pissing itself into the water, where it infects other species and drives them toward involuntary suicide.

Well, obviously, an enormous supply of antidepressants isn’t centered entirely around Buffalo, though you’d be forgiven for imagining that to be the case. As The Guardian reported this week, it is a global epidemic.

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Michigan Water Bill Sums Up War Against the Common Good in Great Lakes

Remember last week, when we had all those lovely pictures of the Great Lakes? And were happy? Well, that’s done with. There’s no more time for lazy beer-drinking bocce along a sun-kissed Lake Michigan shoreline*. The war against the lakes and against the common good as a whole continues apace.

 

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A sort-of-adorable reminder that enormous lakes can disappear.

 

(*There’s always time for that. Holy moly, I can’t wait for the summer.)

A bill has been working its way through the Michigan legislature the last couple of weeks, and is pending a vote. This is the sort of bill that pundits call “business friendly”, but the rest of us might call “an abdication of our natural rights to corporate overlords.” Let’s let the Petoeksy News explain:

House Bill 5638, introduced by state Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis, would eliminate current Department of Environmental Quality requirements for some large water withdrawals proposed by businesses and farms to be screened through an online assessment tool at the agency’s website. This tool is intended to be used prior to large-quantity withdrawals — those of 100,000 gallons or more per day — to determine the impact on local water resources.

Rather than using the current review process, the legislation would allow some applicants instead to seek approval based on hydrological analyses they submit, completed by a hydrologist of their choosing.

 Now, reader, I confess I don’t know exactly how onerous the Michigan DEQ is when approving withdrawals. It might be very costly and time-consuming, and may have an overall negative economic impact that (somehow) outweighs the good it does.
It’s a pretty simple public interface in which the farmer plugs in their needs, and an algorithm determines if it is approved or there needs to be more investigation.  Apparently, some farmers can wait months for an approval.  It was meant to be unbiased, but can obviusly be slow and unwieldly. Maybe it needs reform and streamlining.
This isn’t it.

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On Great Lakes Day, Some Pictures

I have a whole post planned about a terrible new law making its way through Michigan that will reduce oversight on lake withdrawals, as well as the gigantic diversion giveaways Scott Walker wants to give to Foxconn, but since it is Great Lakes Day, I thought maybe some pictures.

Let’s look at the stunning beauty of the Lakes, and think about what an enormous gift, what a continent-defining feature, what life-affirming and life-sustaining bodies these are, how they’ve molded our history and have given birth to millions of paused thoughts. And let’s remember to protect them.

(prior posts on Great Lakes are below)

 

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Courtesy of NASA

Look at how even the enormity of Chicago is just a blurry fuzz at Lake Michigan’s southern end. What I love about pictures like this is that you can see the meaningless and the human intrusion of borders.

 

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Public domain image taken from International Space Station

 

Small as we may be, our impact is enormous. From here, the lakes look almost unnatural, like the human lights (a gross and small-minded echo of the northern lights above) are the natural feature, and there is a vast darkness interposing itself. And in a way, that’s true: the lakes can swallow whole our individual aspirations, lap at our shores unconcerned and erosive. For years, I was terrified by Lake Michigan at night, but could never place it: the vastness and the lack of concern for human existence gave me an unnamable dread. As I got older, I figured it out, but it is no less quieting for that.

 

I saw this on twitter, but there’s no mention of origin, so I’ll just say it is beautiful.

 

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This was taken by the Canadian Space Agency. I like it for the different perspective than our usual “north is up” one, which makes little sense on a round planet. But also: Canadian Space Agency!

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These two beautiful shots were taken by Allison, just this afternoon, at Illinois State Beach Park. If you look closely at the bottom one, pointing south, you can see the dim outlines of the Chicago skyline, some 40 miles away. It’s so far, and so vast, and you’re really just still at the bottom part of the lake. Geologically, you’re right next door to Chicago.

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These were taken by me at various times in the last year. All about the same spot, and all, to me, show the great gift of the Lakes, with their never-same moods contrasting with their omnipresence. They are stabilizing, and we look to them in the morning to reassure of us some continuity, even as the world breaks apart, and even as their changing faces gives us a glimpse of our own impermanence.

Here are a few Great Lakes posts, if you’re inclined to do more reading.

 

 

The Flowers of Trumpism: In Illinois, The Far-Right Comes Grabbling From The Ground

 

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Pictured: Illinois!

On Friday, word started getting around Twitter and various Illinois blogs that Jeanne Ives, Republican challenger to Bruce Rauner, had released a strange, offense ad titled “Benedict Rauner.” In it, she was supposed to discuss how Rauner “sold out” his constituents by pandering to the worst people in Illinois: feminists, immigrants, LGBTQ.

It actually seemed sort of impossible, and indeed, on the venerable Capitol Fax blog, commenters couldn’t quite believe it. It seemed like a joke. I sort of didn’t even pay attention to it, since it seemed ridiculous.

Well, come Saturday, as I was watching my Butler Bulldogs play DePaul (in the manner one watches a cat toy with a mouse), the commercial came on. I honestly goggled gape-jawed while watching. It was the most vile ad I’ve ever seen in the state.

I don’t want to link to it, but the cast is above. In it, these people thank Bruce Rauner for a litany of sins. As least offensive, you have the rich tycoon thanking Rauner for bailing out Exelon, the energy giant. We can all get behind the anti-fatcat message, I suppose.

But you also have the pussy-hatted frump-chic girl thanking Rauner for “making Illinois taxpayers pay for my abortion.” You have the black CTU representative thanking Rauner for giving Chicago teachers everything they wanted. You have the bandanna criminal thanking Rauner for allowing Chicago to be a sanctuary city. That they cast a white guy showed, for once, a modicum of common sense, but the message was clearly there.

And for the cream of the crop, you have the transgendered representative, which in the pinched world of Ives and her supporters, is an ugly man in an ill-fitting dress, stubble and chest hair given places of prominence, thanking Bruce Rauner for letting “people like me use the women’s bathroom.”

The level of outrage here scrapes the sky. Every single one of these was designed to inflame the Breitbart base. Transgendered are tranny pervs, all teachers are black and want handouts, all undocumented immigrants are gangster thugs, all feminists are abortion-loving lesbians (don’t ask for logical or biological consistency).

The Democratic candidates for governor united as one to condemn it, and after a few hesitations, the Illinois GOP did as well. Bruce Rauner took a bit too long to do so; when asked, he immediately pivoted to repeating “Mike Madigan” like an incantation. But everyone is pretty outraged.

Ives? She doesn’t seem to understand the fuss. In a talk yesterday, which Eric Zorn, who does god’s own work in the state, transcribed, she gave some boilerplate dissonance about “respecting everyone in God’s image”, even if she disagrees with them, but is sad that people who disagree with her are all up in arms. It was standard maddening dishonesty. It was the Q&A that got good.

When asked again about the ad, she replied:

“The fact that you saw a visual representation of the policies he put in place is maybe considered offensive. I don’t understand that. That’s exactly the fat-cat Exelon guy, that’s exactly who you bailed out. Hello!  The teacher from CPS, that’s whose pension you just bailed out. The transgender man, that’s exactly what, typically, a transgender man looks like  (groans in the audience). Sir, with all due respect, I’ve had them show up at my door, so …”

It’s just what they look like. That’s the teacher! That’s the fatcat! (the fatcat is good inoculation against bigotry, in theory.) That’s typically what a transgender man looks like. And she knows! They’ve showed up at her door. I guess, selling cookies?

Look, this is all clearly dishonest. The ad was designed to appeal to the hard right, who feel sold out by Bruce Rauner, because while he is doing everything in his power to destroy unions, crush workers, and turn Illinois into Wisconsin, he isn’t quite there.

For one thing, he isn’t powerful enough to do it to the extent they want (see for example the outrage that teachers are getting the pensions they were promised, which is apparently a capital crime). For another, he sometimes, whether for political or personal reasons, he isn’t the culture warrior they demand. He isn’t, at the end, a total bigot.

This isn’t enough for some people. Ives wouldn’t have a shot if Rauner weren’t such a bumbling clod and a terrible politician, but she saw an opening, and she took it. She’s now being backed by Breitbart, as Natasha Korecki pointed out in her morning playbook, and is being funded by the right-wing Uihlein family, out of Lake Forest. They were last seen backing Roy Moore, propelling him to a primary win over Luther Strange. He was backed not in spite of being a theocratic bigot and hateful know-nothing, but because of it. And he lost the general not because of that, but because he likes them young.

In any other year, Ives would have been a fringe candidate, like when Alan Keyes ran against Obama in 2004. Rauner is hard-right, an absolute plutocrat’s plutocrat. Sure, he’s not great at it, but he is giving these people most of what they want, economically. But it isn’t enough. His cloddish nature gives them an opening, but it isn’t just that.

It’s that there is something wild and unburied here. From the race riots of Cairo to the entrenched bigotry of Chicago, Illinois has never been a truly progressive state. With our Great Lakes to Deep South length, and the tension between farm and city, and the tensions in a huge, racially-mixed industrial city, there have always been elements of ugly in out politics.

In my lifetime at least, these have been progressively buried. The Council Wars of the 80s are now unthinkable, and Alan Keyes was a joke. Culture warriors don’t win.

But Donald Trump has stirred something nasty and cruel, an secret serum, a potion that incantates buried corpses from the ground. They are stirring because they feel strengthen. They feel powerful. They feel that it is their time. Trump may be unpopular, but he is still a hero to the worst.

I’ve been shielded from that in Illinois, and maybe that is why the ad was so breathtaking. Maybe people in other states saw that and shrugged; another day in America. But that it can break into this bubble, is being proudly played during Saturday morning basketball, shows to me the far-reaching damage that Trump’s dark magic is doing to America.

(And yes, the Nazi getting the GOP nomination for Congress is pretty bad, but that’s more a product of the Republicans not putting up a challenger in a heavily-gerrymandered district. But while their offense at gerrymandering is adorable, one also has to ask: why does the Nazi identify as a Republican?)

The Fish Are On Anti-Depressants: The Great Lakes, Harvey, and Our Weird Global Climate Experiment

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Storm’s coming…

 

A few years ago, I read this cool report out of Northwestern University about an old, hidden, forgotten cemetery near downtown Chicago, underneath some of the most expensive and tony property in the city. This boneyard was the final resting spot of thousands, maybe tens of thousands, before it was forgotten, paved over, and built upon. Skyscrapers and artisanal donut shops linger with a sneering assumption of permanence over a Potter’s Field.

It’s weird, the things our civilization leaves behind. The past, when it burbles up like poltergeists, give us this disconcerting shudder, a weird hollow dread mingled with our awe. I think that comes from twin recognitions: the first is the Ozymandias-like knowledge that we’re all going to be just dirt in the ground one day, and our buildings won’t last forever. The bodies in the ground remind us of that.

But they also remind us that we leave traces. We have an impact not just on our lives, but on the future. And as a species, we have an impact on an entire planet, in sometimes positive but mostly weird and disturbing ways. We’re changing the ecology of our home in a grand experiment to which no one really consented, but in which we’re all both participants and experimenters.

Harvey is a sign of this. Fish on anti-depressants is a far weirder, but no less profound one. In fact, it might be the most damning and on-the-nose verdict on our society I can think of. Let me explain.

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A Scattering of Summer Thoughts on the Orange-Moon Night of August 8th

This post has like, zero politics, and is just discursive and recursive and indulgent ramblings, so feel free to skip. 

 

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This wasn’t tonight, but that’s what it looked like!

 

You set out on an eastward walk as darkness begins to stretch a light blanket over the sky and crickets warm up their chittering symphony.  You’d say it is still light out when you leave the door, but by the time you’re a few blocks away from the lake, where the air takes on a subtle sweetwater perspiration, cars have their lights on and faces are indistinct until they pass you, barely preceded by snatches of conversation.

“If there was going to be a rule about where to stand, there should have been a sign.”

“We have enough space, but we don’t have enough room.”

You don’t know the signs or the rule, and you can’t help them with their space issues. The conversations are all couples right now, older than you, settled in, comfortable in the minutia of their observations. Relaxed and unhurried as they disappear into the strengthening night. But you’re unsettled.

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