Tag Archives: Charles Fishman

Coming Water Wars, City-to-City, State-to-State

New Orleans  Everyone is watching the U.S. Supreme Court for key decisions this term around race, gay rights, and other issues, but their rejection of claims from Tarrant County, Texas where Fort Worth is located in the sprawling metroplex of north Texas, on any water from Oklahoma as part of the Red River Compact, may signal the coming American “water wars” that could dominate many areas in the 21st Century and literally make or break entire cities.   In this case an Oklahoma law prohibiting supplying water to out-of-state applicants was upheld, asserting a state’s rights to regulate its water over any rights claimed as part of a congressionally approved allocation system like the Red River Compact.  In the midst of a terrible drought now this is a blow to the almost 2 million users served by the Tarrant Regional Water District, and as significantly could lead to restrictions on future development in the area without access to sufficient water.

            Fort Worth is not alone.  Atlanta is already gulping for water having passed on a small investment that would have given it water rights many decades ago and now barred from access to these sources after years of losing litigation.  And, we’re not talking about Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas that have been tackling this problem for years with different levels of failure and success.  

            Earlier this year I read with great interest The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water by Austin-based, ex-Fortune writer, Charles Fishman.  I had found his book on Walmart many years ago helpful in organizing and had talked to him at the time. After visiting Atlanta in January I was surprised and intrigued to stumble on the water crisis in that city.   The book was helpful in getting my arms around the coming crises nationally here.

            Years ago, when we were successfully fighting the privatization of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board the companies all derided questions about whether or not private companies were seeking access to our great water surplus from the Mississippi River to export to other cities and states.  If we had a Governor not trying to run quixotically for President and a Mayor with enough vision to look past his next election, there would be real work in seeing in our broke-ass part of the country whether or not there might be a way to successfully commodify our surplus water capacity so that we might relieve the problems of cities within 8-9 hours drive like Atlanta and the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

            Make no mistake water, sewer, and all of attendant issues with both of them in our cities are going to be dominant issues in the coming decades.  No one can live without water and the notion that each area can bottle up the resource and restrict it just to the home folks, as the Supreme Court has just ruled, is a game changer.


Is Manufacturing Coming Back to the USA?

New Orleans    Sometimes it is hard to determine whether something is really a trend or just more spin, but either way the spike of interest in manufacturing (i.e. jobs!) coming back to the USA is worth close attention.  Perhaps the evidence is circumstantial, but it’s physical and some of it means serious numbers of jobs, and not just any jobs, union jobs.

The largest case in point can be found in Charles Fishman’s story, “The Insourcing Boom,” in The Atlantic which is largely about the decision of General Electric and its high touch, high publicity CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, to invest almost a billion bucks in ramping back up Appliance Park in Louisville to make refrigerators or at least a good part of them in the USA.  Another 1000 union jobs have already come on line, and it looks like more in the offing.  Fishman was the author of one of the best books ever on Walmart a couple of years ago, so he’s not your run of the mill flack for business.  A companion piece on a smaller scale by James Fallows, also in The Atlantic, made the case for some smaller scale tech jobs being done in the San Francisco Bay Area rather than overseas in China.

In both pieces the pattern that couldn’t be missed is that there are huge efficiencies in combining design with engineering with production that save on the cost of labor and parts when consolidated in one location under one roof in the USA, rather than alienated across the world in China or elsewhere.  Add those pieces together and companies like GE or even these small startups actually save money by being close at hand where they can actually put their arms around the work rather than chasing low wages and cheap materials across the globe.

 Two more pieces of evidence, though perhaps random, have emerged recently.  One was a piece in the Times about the huge 78 ton mining trucks that are made around Decatur, Illinois and exported around the world.  Caterpillar is at least still marginally union though one of the most anti-union, union manufacturers in the country.

Finally, the announcement by Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, that they were going to make a token, largely symbolic and undefined $100 million investment in manufacturing some pieces of their empire in the US, after former Chairman and Co-Founder Steve Jobs became infamous for insulting President Obama and saying that tech jobs “are never coming back” to America, is a clear sign that even the worst of the lot over at Apple are hearing the sounds of a stampede back to the USA, at least in the media even if not in practice.  Couple this with the concern over the callousness of textile manufacturing and the absurdly flimsy monitoring program that led to the deaths in Pakistan and Bangladesh sweatshop fires, and there’s some small hope that manufacturers are starting to get the message that jobs and products belong in this country and not just chasing low wages around the world.