Anne’s News

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News About Americans and Their Water  - February 2013

Roughly 40 million Americans living in dry, Western states, depend on the Colorado River and its tributaries for water, as Planning’s February issue relates. Those people (many of them farmers) live in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and California. These states, with little rainfall, share the river through a 1922 compact.

California, Nevada, and Arizona grew dramatically in the late 20th century, with California lapping up more than its share. Now, recent droughts have further reduced water supplies. Government contracts already allow some Western farmers to sell water to thirsty municipalities and profit from the government’s decades of dam- and aqueduct-building. This system will probably expand.

How desperate are Western states for water? Desperate enough to consider “towing icebergs from Alaska,” according to Planning, or reaching out to the Mississippi River. Cloud-seeding and desalinization plants are also under consideration. Experts expect further efficiency and conservation in water use to be the most practical step toward making water go further.

Water wars have crept Eastward, too. They show how, as our population grows and outmatches resources, we require more thoughtful government policies as well as government programs and subsidies. All this is foreign to much of the West, where the frontier, as Frederick Jackson Turner said, produced individuality and “antipathy to control.”

For more on the history of America’s water wars, see Chapter 14, Americans and Their Land.

News About Anne's Novel Manuscript - March 2015

Many thanks to the Hambidge Center for the Arts in Rabun Gap, Georgia, for allowing me a two-week residency in which to work on my novel manuscript and see a few daffodils while Boston was still buried by record snowfalls.

Historic Flaws In Our Democracy Deepen - December 2016

Political Flaws

         Election year 2016 shone a glaring light on some historic flaws in American democracy, particularly the Electoral College. 
         The Electoral College makes sense only as the historic anachronism it is. It reeks of aristocratic and oligarchic tendencies to stifle the vox populi, and of historic political bargaining. Early framers of the Federal Government (particularly George Washington) worried that, after the bitter sacrifices of the Revolution, the states would not be able to unite after all. 
         The attendees of the 1787 Constitutional Convention who drafted the Constititution--mainly large land- and slave-owners accompanied by other state representatives--mistrusted “the people” and therefore democracy itself. They had little experience in designing a democratic government and none in designing a democratic federal government.
         Furthermore, the drafters at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were willing to skew the representation of certain states--notably the ones to which they belonged. They offered states outside the Northeast advantages in representation in exchange for their commitment to the Constitution. (Later laws governing statehood requirements for new, Western states, made similar concessions, offering incentives for these states to join the Union at a very low threshold of population.)       
         Did our Conventioneers of 1787 get it right the first time? No. In 1796, for example, following Article Two of the new Constitution, electors made John Adams the second U.S. president. His opposing candidate, Thomas Jefferson, with three fewer electoral votes, was awarded the Vice Presidency. This, understandably, resulted in a bitterly contentious administration. 
         In 1803, Congress proposed changes to Article Two via the Twelfth Amendment. That newer system, too, was imperfect, but we live with it today. The question is: Why?  Has any democracy emulated the Electoral College? No. The democracies of Europe are all based on one vote per person. We are the only country who installs as president the candidate who lost by 2.8 million votes—at least the only country that admits it.
         The Constitution has required many amendments, notably those enfranchising African American men and, subsequently, women of all colors. Thomas Jefferson foresaw such changes and encouraged them. His words are inscribed on an interior wall of the Jefferson Memorial. “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.”
         In a December 19th editorial denouncing the Electoral College, the New York Times recommends that all states follow the lead of the eleven states plus the District of Columbia who have passed the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
         Abolishing the Electoral College by amendment would be best but the Interstate Compact is a start, and one of which Jefferson, arguably the most Democratic of the Founders (and abroad, like Adams, during the Constitutional Convention) would have approved.

Politico-Economic Flaws

         In addition to these Constitutional flaws in democracy, we must face historic patterns of resource distribution from our Colonial past that survive as laissez-faire attitudes toward wealth distribution in modern America. These attitudes predispose us to policies incompatible with democracy. 
          In order to colonize and hold its North American territories, England and other nations presiding over America’s settlement made generous distributions of land to which the wealthy and well-connected had by far the greater access. Eventually America’s young federal government, too, though sometimes trying to serve the small holders of land, sold land and mineral rights at a furious pace. Their goals: encourage settlement, generate revenue, and meet the demand for new land pressed by children of the farms and estates of the East where rising land prices prohibited further homesteading. 
         Wherever the land supply dwindled--locale by locale, then region by region--inequality always increased as the wealthy or well-connected pressed their advantages in acquiring the remaining resources. However, until roughly the end of the nineteenth century, available land obviated concerns and distracted from the need for socio-economic policies to protect the lower income groups or vulnerable citizens. The era of available land ended and, even, before that, large farms run as businesses limited the success of the small farmer.
         The Gilded Age and the Roaring Twenties gave a glimpse of our future. Now, since the mid 1970s, our national economy has sorted profits to a shrinking part of our population. Seventy percent of Americans have experienced wage stagnation since the mid-1970s and the wages of seventy percent of college grads have stagnated since 2000, according to the Economic Policy Institute. 
         The wealthiest among us (who are also the best-connected), with assistance from Citizens United and other government permissions, can now buy some elections and political seats outright. The Koch Brothers, for example, directed “$889,000,000 to right-wing candidates and causes in 2016 alone,” according to Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land.
         Without political redress, we can expect inequality to continue its steady rise. And we can expect to see more of the civil unrest that characterized the 2016 election year.