Tuesday, January 29, 2019


From The Economist - July 18 - 2018

Jewish or democratic?


Israel is still arguing over how to balance its two identities

“THIS is a pivotal moment in the history of Zionism and the state of Israel," said Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, in the early hours of July 19th. Israel's parliament, the Knesset, had just passed a law stating that the right of national self-determination is "unique to the Jewish people". Israel's non-Jewish citizens were excluded. The nation-state law, as it is known, was necessary "to ensure the foundation of our existence", said Mr Netanyahu. But Arab Knesset members called it the "law of Jewish supremacy" and chanted "apartheid".

The nation-state law seems designed to offend Israel's minorities. It repeats clauses from other laws, but eschews the section of the declaration of independence that commits Israel to the "complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex". Israel has always struggled to balance that pledge against its status as a Jewish state. Unofficial discrimination has existed for decades, in that Arabs receive fewer state resources than Jews. What is new is that lawmakers in Mr Netanyahu's coalition are seeking to codify inequality in law.

In fact the nation-state law is not as sweeping as Mr Netanyahu's grandiose language suggests. In lieu of a constitution, the Knesset has, over the years, passed a series of "basic laws". One, from 1992, enshrines the same civil rights for all citizens. The new measure, also a basic law, does not change that. Harder-line drafts were watered down during years of political wrangling. A clause that would have promoted Jewish-only communities was replaced with a vague commitment to "Jewish settlement". Another specifies that Hebrew is Israel's "official language", while Arabic, spoken by a quarter of the population, merely has "special status". Yet the use of Arabic in the public domain has grown on Mr Netanyahu's watch.

In arguing for the nation-state law, Mr Netanyahu may have been motivated by the search for votes rather than by state-building. Anxious to win a fifth term in elections that must be held by late next year, the prime minister looks set on repeating his strategy from 2015, when he exhorted nationalists to "protect the state of Israel" against "the Arab voters moving in droves to the polling stations". To keep his coalition together, he has often acceded to his ultra-Orthodox and nationalist allies. But many are still frustrated. Because the nation-state law is only declaratory, few think it will sway Israel's Supreme Court, which often rules in favour of democratic values over Jewish nationalist ones.

Critics of Mr Netanyahu's government, one of the most right-wing and religious in  Israel's history, say the nation-state law is indicative of its efforts to make Israel less democratic and more illiberal. It has passed laws aimed at weakening the courts and stifling the press and civil-rights groups. It has kowtowed to conservative supporters, exacerbating tensions within Israeli society. And it has made little effort to seek peace with the Palestinians. But Mr Netanyahu is under little pressure to change his ways. President Donald Trump has backed him, for example by recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Much of the Arab world is working with Mr Netanyahu to counter Iran. And the Israeli opposition is too weak to pose a credible threat to the government.

Despite the new law, Israel's democracy is robust. The Knesset contains a wide range of views (the nation-state law passed by 62 votes to 55). The legal system holds power to account-in recent years it has sent both a prime minister, and a president to prison for criminal offences. Mr Netanyahu himself is facing numerous investigations over corruption. The Israeli press is free and refreshingly irreverent towards politicians. Efforts by the government to stifle dissent have been diluted or failed because of judicial and media opposition and a lack of support within the ruling coalition, which commands a small majority.
On the same morning the new basic law passed, police detained a progressive rabbi in Haifa for carrying out Jewish marriages without the approval of the state Rabbinate, which is ultra-Orthodox. A day earlier Mr Netanyahu was forced to vote against a measure, which he had previously endorsed, that would have allowed gay men to have children with surrogate mother. His reversal was a sop  to his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners. The new law does not resolve these conflicts. Even Israelis themselves cannot agree on what it means to be a Jewish state ■



From The Economist - July 28 - 2018Le
The Economist July 28ti
Planet China

China's "project of the century" inspires admiration and anxiety. There are good reasons for both

SHUNNING all false modesty, China's leader, Xi Jinping, calls his idea the "project of the century". The country's fawning media hail it as a gift of "Chinese wisdom" to the world's development. As for the real meaning of the clumsy metaphor to describe it-the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)-debate rages.

The term itself is confusing. The "road" refers mostly to a sea route; the "belt" is on land. Countries eager for China's financing welcome it as a source of investment in infrastructure between China and Europe via the Middle East and Africa. Those who fear China see it instead as a sinister project to create a new world order in which China is the pre-eminent power.

All roads lead to Beijing

One cause of confusion is that the BRI is not a single plan at all. A visitor to its website would click in vain to find a detailed explanation of its aims. There is no blueprint of the kind that China's leaders love: so many billions of dollars to be spent, so many kilometres of track to be laid or so much new port capacity to be built by such-and-such a date.

Chinese maps show the belt and road as lines that trace the routes of ancient "silk roads" that traversed Eurasia and the seas between China and Africa (see Briefing). That was the original conceit, but these days China talks about BRI as if it were a global project. The rhetoric has expanded to include a "Pacific Silk Road", a "Silk Road on Ice" that crosses the Arctic Ocean and a "Digital Silk Road" through cyberspace.

To the extent that this is all about building infrastructure, the idea is welcome. Trillions of dollars' worth of roads, railways, ports and power stations are needed in countries across Asia, Africa and Europe. China's money and expertise could be a big help in spreading wealth and prosperity.

China says anyone can join in. Countries such as Azerbaijan and Georgia, which stand to benefit immensely from better connections to the world, are wildly enthusiastic. One of China's motives is to strengthen security on its western flank by helping Central Asian countries prosper-thereby, it hopes, preventing them from becoming hotbeds of Islamist terrorism. Everyone would benefit from that, too.

But there are worries. The BRI is bound up with the growing cult around Mr Xi. State media call it "the path of Xi Jinping". It has become shorthand for China's overseas aid, state-led investment abroad and for Mr Xi's much-ballyhooed "great-power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics". China urges other countries to praise the BRI, so that their words can be relayed back home as propaganda. Few Chinese dare offer open criticism; that makes mistakes more likely.

The citizens of countries hosting BRI projects may come to regret their governments' enthusiasm. Like all Chinese cash, the BRI billions come without pesky questions about human rights or corruption. Indeed, the terms are often shrouded in secrecy, raising fears that local politicians may benefit more than their people. Projects tend to require the use of lots of Chinese labour, BRI countries risk piling up dangerous amounts of debt, which some fear is designed to give China a strategic hold over them. Pakistan, one of the most important BRI countries, has just held an election in which candidates vied to take credit for Chinese investment; yet the debts are so large that, before long, Pakistan is likely to need an IMF bail-out.

Then there are possible security risks. In his metaphorical flights, Mr Xi sometimes speaks of his belt and road as a single thoroughfare, a "road of peace". But what if the Chinese navy were to take advantage of ports such as Hambantota? This was repossessed by a Chinese state-owned firm after the Sri Lankan government struggled to repay the debts it had amassed to build it. Military planners worry that China could develop a string of such berths that its ships could use to extend their reach far beyond China's shores.

Analysts in Asia and the West believe that China wants to displace America as the Asian hegemon. The BRI could end up furthering that plan, even if it is not its focus. China's crude maps show the belt and road running through disputed territory, including the bitterly contested waters of the South China Sea where China has been busy building fortresses on reefs.

Some Asian countries, including India and Vietnam, are wary and most Western countries share their unease. Last year America's defence secretary, James Mattis, said that: "No one nation should put itself into a position of dictating [BRI]”. In January France's president, Emmanuel Macron, warned that the BRI "cannot be the roads of a new hegemony that will make the countries they traverse into vassal states." He added: "The ancient silk roads were never purely Chinese...These roads are to be shared and they cannot be one-way."

Keep those American signposts

What should the world do about the BRI? For a start, it needs to keep some perspective. Even if China does hope to use it as a political tool to beat back Western influence, Beijing is bound to face difficulties, as projects go awry, debts go bad and people grow hostile to China's presence. History suggests that simply doling out money will not, on its own, usher in a Pax Sinica.

The world can also use its influence to make the BRI more beneficial. Even China's billions cannot finance everything on offer. Money coming from the West, from the European Union and from institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF should be lent according to international standards-including on such things as transparency, environmental safeguards, public procurement and debt sustainability. So long as they are good projects, let China include them in the BRI if it wants to.

Last is security. The way to assuage fears about the BRI’s threat to the balance of power is not by trying to frustrate China's efforts, let alone by starting a trade war or by pulling America's armed forces out of Asia, as President Donald Trump sometimes seems to contemplate. On the contrary, the balance of risks and benefits of the BRI is related to America's commitment to Asia. If the United States is engaged, the world can mitigate the dangers of BRI and reap its rewards. If not, the risks will outweigh the benefits. The BRI is yet one more argument for America to stay in Asia. ■


From  The Economist - Nov. 24 - 2018

Celestial grease monkeys

It will soon be possible to send a satellite to repair another. Or to destroy it!

Jet packs for satellites. According to Daniel Campbell, the boss of Effective Space, the British and Israeli firm which is building them, that is the way to think of the robotic spacecraft his company plans to start launching in 2020. The purpose of Effective Space's devices, which it calls space drones, is to prolong the lives of communications satellites (com-sats) that would otherwise be decommissioned for lack of fuel for station-keeping—in other words, for maintaining their proper orbits.

At the moment, about two dozen big geosynchronous com-sats (those with orbits exactly 24 hours long, which thus hover continuously over the same spot on Earth) are retired each year, most commonly because of fuel exhaustion. Mr Campbell proposes to do something about that. In partnership with Israel Aerospace Industries, a government-owned firm, he plans to build the first two space drones in Tel Aviv, for launch in 2020. Once itself in geosynchronous orbit, at an altitude of 36,000km, each drone will slowly approach and clamp onto such an exhausted com-sat, giving it a new set of thrusters with which to manoeuvre—and thus, since the thrusters should last 15 years, a new lease of life. If this works, dozens more drones should follow. According to Mr Campbell, Effective Space already has one contract, worth $100m, for such repositioning work.

Nor is Effective Space alone in its endeavours. Next year SpaceLogistics, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, an American engineering giant, will launch its first such "mission extension" spacecraft. mev-1, as it is named, will handle station-keeping for Intelsat-901, a big com-sat that is currently low on fuel. SpaceLogistics reckons its docking system can clamp onto 80% of today's geosynchronous satellites. And nasa, America's space agency, is planning something similar for launch in 2020.

This has two robotic arms and is intended to refuel Landsat-7, an Earth-observation satellite that was launched in 1999.

These projects are no small undertakings. But even more sophisticated ideas are in the pipeline. For an inkling, consider a programme called Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) that is being run by DARPA, a research arm of America's defence department.

In April 2021 DARPA plans, in collaboration with Space Systems Loral (ssl), a firm in Silicon Valley, to launch an RSGS spacecraft that has two dexterous robotic arms and thrusters sensitive enough to accelerate or slow orbital velocities by as little as a centimetre per second. Over a lifetime of 15 years or so this craft could inspect and service as many as 30 satellites. Besides refuelling them, it could do such things as plugging in electronics upgrades, extending jammed telescopic antennae and unfolding arrays of solar panels that had not deployed properly.

That last fix would, for example, solve a predicament that has halved the transmission capacity of Estrela do Sul-2, a geosyn chronous satellite built by ssl that has been in orbit since 2011. Moreover, according to Richard White, the firm's government-liaison officer, if a close-up inspection reveals the need for a tool not carried on the servicing spacecraft, it could be sent up via a small-payload "orbital delivery system" which ssl successfully tested for the first time this year.

Advances in space robotics have also led to efforts to develop kit that might be used to capture pieces of defunct spacecraft zipping around Earth. Such junk is abundant in low orbits (those with an altitude of less than 2,000km), and is threatening not only because of the damage it can do to individual satellites, but also because such collisions themselves beget debris, creating the risk of a chain reaction of impacts.

In 2016 China launched a small spacecraft named Aolong ("Roaming Dragon"), reportedly to test a robotic arm designed to capture debris. Chinese officials have suggested that more such vehicles are in the pipeline. Earlier this year, a European consortium also launched a spacecraft designed to test ways of capturing junk. Re-moveDEBR is, as it is called, fired a net on September 16th and successfully caught an object it had released to simulate space junk. This was a world first. In February it will attempt another, by firing a harpoon designed to skewer a chunk of composite material brought along for the test.

Dark stars

These advances in what engineers call "rendezvous and proximity operations" have elated many. But they have a dark side. Something that can grab or dock with objects in space might also be used to destroy them. As William Shelton, a former head of the American air force's space command, puts it, the difference between a service spacecraft and a weapon is merely "a change of intent". According to Mr Shelton, in the past decade China and Russia have made "stunning" progress with such systems. At least one Chinese satellite has bumped into another one, perhaps in a test of the feasibility of such attacks.

Attack by service spacecraft is certainly not the only threat to orbiting satellites. Cyber-invasion of their software is an obvious way to try to neutralise them. They might also be blasted by powerful lasers. And they can surely be knocked out by interceptors launched from the ground. But such "kinetic" attacks generate debris, as a test conducted by China in 2007 showed. Since that debris would threaten other satellites indiscriminately, it would put the attacker's assets at risk as well as those of its opponent. A service-spacecraft attack could avoid that by emptying a rival's satellite of fuel, severing its antennae or spray-painting its lenses and solar panels.

At least five Russian spacecraft, called "space-apparatus inspectors" by the country's defence ministry, have already conducted rendezvous and proximity operations in both geosynchronous orbits and orbits close to Earth. Speaking in September, France's defence minister, Florence Parly, pointed to the troublingly close approach of a Russian military spacecraft named Olimp-K to a French and Italian military satellite as evidence that satellites "are becoming prey, targets". France recently decided to equip its future Syracuse military satellites with surveillance systems that will monitor approaching spacecraft.

Other countries, too, are adapting to the threat. President Donald Trump's space strategy, unveiled in March, states specifically that America will "counter threats" to : [its assets in space. American satellites are now being fitted with special thrusters designed for evasive manoeuvres, says Omar Lamrani, a military analyst at Stratfor, a geopolitical consultancy in Austin, Texas. Spacefaring states, America included, are dividing their assets between larger numbers of smaller satellites and also building more redundancy into their systems. Erwin Duhamel, who was until earlier this month head of security strategy at the  European Space Agency (ESA), observes that officials in several places are now studying the idea of defending important satellites with "bodyguard" spacecraft. Mr Duhamel reckons ten or so satellites crucial to Europe's security are in particular need of such protection.

How such sentinels should defend their charges is debated. They might block the approach of an attacking satellite, or serve as a shield against a laser strike. They could also be armed themselves, with lasers or small "kinetic kill" missiles—basically, sophisticated bullets. Fighting fire with fire in this way does run into the orbital-shrapnel problem, but according to Roy Lindelauf, an expert on satellite-protection at the Dutch defence ministry, there is a way around that, at least for attacks on satellites in orbit close to Earth. Blast a hostile spacecraft from above, he says, and the wreckage will be forced downward to fiery doom in the atmosphere below.

For itself, ESA plans to launch, in 2023, a mission dubbed e.Deorbit. This craft's first job will be to push into the atmosphere a derelict Earth-observation satellite called Envisat. ESA has yet to settle on the best way for e.Deorbit to capture such a "non-cooperative" object (Envisat weighs nearly eight tonnes, and is tumbling as it travels), but reckons that grabbing it with robotic arms or catching it in a tethered net are the most likely options. Either would be a classic piece of dual-use technology that could also be deployed to "neutralise" an inconvenient military satellite belonging to a hostile power.

America may be planning something yet more effective—capturing enemy satellites for inspection rather than destroying them. Two unmanned American air force space planes, OTV-1 and OTV-2, have spent years in and out of orbit since 2010. The programme is classified but a former adviser to Barack Obama, who prefers to remain nameless, says the space planes' cargo bays could be used to remove seized satellites from orbit.

One consequence of all these developments is that a proposed ban on weapons in space that has long been pushed by Russia and China makes no sense, says Brian Chow, a space-policy expert who recently retired from Rand, a Californian think-tank. Potential weapons are already arriving in space, even if they are not officially labelled as such. A better approach, Mr Chow says, would be to prohibit unauthorised approaches, by declaring sensitive satellites to be surrounded by appropriately sized "no go" bubbles.

Some people reckon this would be illegal. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967, of which America is a signatory nation, states that space is not subject to national appropriation. But, half a century on, that treaty may be in need of revision. ■




Keith Hunt

Tuesday, January 22, 2019


Top Reasons to Support Groundwater Preservation

Written by Dr. Joseph MercolaFact Checked

    Water scarcity is getting worse around the world as aquifers are drained faster than they can be refilled. The most significant contributor to the problem is industrial farming, due to its heavy use of potable water for irrigation.
    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 80 percent of U.S. consumptive water (and more than 90 percent in many Western states) is used for agricultural purposes1 and, worldwide, groundwater is being used up at a faster rate than it can be replenished.

    Many Aquifers Are Nearing Depletion

    One-third of the largest groundwater aquifers are already nearing depletion,2 with three of the most stressed aquifers being located in areas where political tensions run high as it is.3 To give you an idea of how quickly groundwater is being depleted, consider what's happening in the High Plains Aquifer (also known as the Ogallala) in the American Midwest.
    Here, the water level has been dropping by an average of 6 feet per year, while the natural recharge rate is 1 inch or less.4 Once this aquifer is depleted — and many wells have already run dry in the area — 20 percent of the U.S. corn, wheat and cattle output will be lost due to lack of irrigation and water for the animals.
    According to James Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the majority of our global groundwaters "are past sustainability tipping points,"5 which means it's only a matter of time until we run out of fresh water.

    Pollution Threatens Remaining Freshwater Supplies

    Precious water sources are also threatened by pollution from large-scale monocrop farms and concentrated animal feeding operations.6 According to a report7 by Environment America, corporate agribusiness is "one of the biggest threats to America's waterways." Tyson Foods Inc. was deemed among the worst, releasing 104.4 million pounds of toxic pollutants into waterways between 2010 and 2014.
    Researchers have warned that many lakes around the world are now at grave risk from fertilizer runoff that feeds harmful blue-green algae (cyanobacteria),8,9 and once established, it's far more difficult to get rid of than previously thought. The answer, according to the authors of this study, is better land-use management that addresses fertilizer runoff. Dramatic reductions in fertilizer use are also recommended.
    Indeed, the long-term solution to many of our water quality and water scarcity issues is to phase out the use of toxic pesticideschemical fertilizers and soil additives, and to grow crops and raise food animals in such a way that the farm contributes to the overall health and balance of the environment rather than polluting it and creating a dysfunctional ecosystem.

    Pumped Dry

    "Pumped Dry: The Global Crisis of Vanishing Groundwater," a documentary by USA Today and The Desert Sun, shows how people are being rudely awakened to the problem as more and more wells are now running dry. As reported by USA Today:10
    "Groundwater is disappearing beneath cornfields in Kansas, rice paddies in India, asparagus farms in Peru and orange groves in Morocco. As these critical water reserves are pumped beyond their limits, the threats are mounting for people who depend on aquifers to supply agriculture, sustain economies and provide drinking water.
    In some areas, fields have already turned to dust and farmers are struggling. Climate change is projected to increase the stresses on water supplies, and heated disputes are erupting in places where those with deep wells can keep pumping and leave others with dry wells …
    These are stories about people on four continents confronting questions of how to safeguard their aquifers for the future — and in some cases, how to cope as the water runs out."

    India's Water Crisis

    The twin satellites GRACE, which stands for Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, are able to measure water content on Earth by observing changes in the planet's gravitational pull. Data from these satellites reveal groundwater depletion is occurring all-around the globe.
    One of these places is India, which has been edging toward a water crisis for decades. The seriousness of the situation is particularly evident in the northern state of Punjab. The areas' five rivers supply water to a large number of irrigation canals.
    Still, this surface water accounts for just 27 percent of the areas irrigation needs. The remaining 73 percent comes from groundwater. As a result, the groundwater table is rapidly declining, as water is being pumped out at a faster rate than it is replenished. The decline began in 1979, and has increased exponentially in the decades since.
    An elderly Indian woman recounts being able to hit water simply by digging a foot down into the earth when she was a child. Today, some areas have no groundwater available at all. In some cases, farmers have dug up to 60 bore wells on their property without hitting a single drop. In others, farmers have drilled to a depth of 900 feet without hitting water.
    Many farmers that do have functioning wells are forced to deepen them every year, in order to maintain irrigation of their fields. Rice, which is typically the most profitable crop for Indian farmers to grow, also requires more water than other traditional crops, creating a delicate Catch-22.
    Lack of water has been the death knell for many Indian farmers, who commit suicide when their bore wells stop yielding water. For without water, nothing can grow and, without a viable crop, they have no income and no way to repay their debts and sustain their families.
    According to statistics from the Indian National Crime Records Bureau, an average of 32 farmers or farmworkers commit suicide each day. And, while failing wells aren't the only factor contributing to this tragic trend, it's an important one. The state of Maharashtra has the highest farmer suicide rate in the nation, and here, the lack of water is so severe that in many areas rain is the only source of water available for farmers' crops.

    The Situation in Kansas

    The filmmakers also visit Kansas, an area of the U.S. where farmers are struggling to keep going due to declining groundwater. As noted by Jay Garetson, a farmer in Sublette, Kansas, "Water is the limiting factor in life in general, but southwest Kansas specifically."
    GRACE satellite data confirms well data from the U.S. Geological Survey, showing a dramatic decline in groundwater in the high plains Ogallala aquifer, the largest freshwater aquifer in the Western Hemisphere. In the 1960s, farmers began drilling wells for field irrigation. Since then, the water level has steadily declined.
    As mentioned earlier, the groundwater in this enormously important aquifer has been dropping by an average of 6 feet per year. Meanwhile, the annual recharge rate is thought to be around half an inch, but no more than 1 inch.11 As noted by one Kansas farmer, "We're now nearing the bottom of that pool of water that in the 50s and 60s we thought was inexhaustible."
    Indeed, in some areas of the state, the groundwater has already dried up entirely. Needless to say, in areas where there is no groundwater, you cannot grow food, and once the Ogallala dries up, the heartland of the United States, where a majority of the nation's food is produced, will become a barren wasteland.

    The Moroccan Water Struggle

    The next stop is Morocco, where many farms have had to shut down operations due to there being no water left. Here, as in India and the U.S., lack of regulation of groundwater resources has led to overexploitation.
    According to Laila Mandi with Cadi Ayyad University, the groundwater level in Morocco is decreasing by nearly 10 feet per year. The Souss-Massa, a heavy agricultural area thanks to favorable climate, is among the hardest hit areas. As noted by one farmer in the area who has had to close down his farm, "The people would like to work, but the water is gone."

    Peruvian Desert Farmers Face Extinction

    In Peru, at the foothills of the Andes mountains, a desert farming district known as Ica boasts a lucrative farming region. According to the former mayor of Ica, Luis Oliva Fernandez Prada, "Ica is destined to be the California of Peru," thanks to its accelerated economic growth. "This place has generated jobs, money for the country, food for the world," Prada says. But in doing so, they're also draining a resource without which they cannot even sustain their own lives.
    Most of the food grown here is destined for export, and the water for irrigation is pumped from wells. Here too, the water crisis is rearing its ugly head. Farmer Memerto Cuya Villagaray says the lack of water "is going to make us disappear … Without water, what are we going to do?"
    According to Maria Teresa Ore, a professor at Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, they used to be able to hit water at a depth of 3 meters (less than 10 feet). Today, there's no water even at a depth of 300 meters (985 feet). People are so desperate they keep drilling new wells even though it's prohibited.
    Jorge Aparcana with the Ica Human Rights Commission comments on the situation, saying, "We're not only destroying the future of the coming generations, but we're also depleting our resources." Historically, Ica has been a producer of dry-zone crops, but in more recent years, that's changed. Driven by profit potential, farmers began growing asparagus, becoming a leading global producer of asparagus.
    "It's a crime to plant asparagus in a desert, because it's a very water-intensive crop," Aparcana says. David Bayer, an Ica resident and water activist agrees, saying the growing of asparagus should have been outlawed before it began to protect groundwater supplies. Ore adds, "Having a crop that demands so much water, although it's true that it's very profitable, the environmental and social costs are not justified."
    "What worries me is not only the depletion of our natural resources, which we're already seeing," Aparcana says, "but also the deep social exclusion we're experiencing."
    Large landlords from Chile, Lima and other areas have moved into Ica, progressively pushing out small farmers and buying up wells, which they then improve and put behind locked fences, preventing anyone from accessing the water. And, since these improved wells are kept running around the clock, they decrease the flow to other, smaller and less efficient wells nearby.
    A few years ago, residents began receiving municipal tap water, but the water is only available for about an hour, twice or three times a week. This is the only drinking water they have.
    According to Bayer, one of the owners of a large agribusiness told him, "I fear that when people don't have drinking water, they will come onto my farm and burn it down." Aparcana also fears the lack of water is a breeding ground for violence, both criminal and political.

    Is California Headed Toward Another Dustbowl Disaster?

    Wells are also running dry in California. Many blame the California water crisis on vineyards that pump groundwater for their grapes. One small farmer says her well went dry a month after a nearby vineyard put down a new 1,000-foot well.
    According to "Pumped Dry," the water table in California has dropped about 70 feet in the past 10 years; half of that being in the last three to four years alone. In the California Central Valley, the amount of water being drained from underground is actually causing the land to sink, which further inhibits the ground's ability to retain water.
    In Porterville, California, a majority of homeowners rely on well water — and all the wells are drying up. Melissa Withnell, board representative and media officer of Tulare County, says the situation is "an absolute emergency." Fifty-five to 60 percent of all dry wells in California are in Tulare County, and a majority of those dry wells are located in Porterville.

    What Are the Solutions?

    The common theme throughout this investigation is that there's a "free-for-all" mentality at play where the one who can afford to drill the deepest well wins in the short term, but everyone loses in the long term.
    According to the experts interviewed in "Pumped Dry," groundwater as a resource needs proper governance and management, including regulations on use, water pricing, more efficient irrigation systems and engineering solutions to improve the refill rate of aquifers.
    We also need to make a collective change in how we use water, and how we grow crops. Selecting the most appropriate crops for any given area would result in more efficient water usage, and reduce the amount farmers would have to draw from our aquifers. In short, we need to grow food with less water.
    The good news is we already know how to do that, and it's called regenerative agriculture. Unfortunately, this was not addressed in this film, but it's been well-proven that regenerative agriculture biodynamic farming is far more water efficient than industrial farming. To learn how, see "Regenerative Farming — One Solution That Solves Many Problems," or "The Effects of Biodynamic Farming on the Environment and Food Quality."

    Sunday, January 13, 2019


    Top Lifestyle Changes to Build a Better Heart

    Written by Dr. Joseph MercolaFact Checked

    • Clinical research shows you can reverse not only Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure but also heart disease through lifestyle changes that can be boiled down to “Eat well, move more, stress less and love more”
    • These four lifestyle components form the basis of Dr. Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease, which is approved for reimbursement under Medicare’s intensive cardiac rehabilitation program and many insurance companies
    • Diet, exercise, stress reduction and heart-based connections actually alter gene expression involved in the development of heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer
    • Ornish’s program, currently available in 18 states, is divided into 18 four-hour sessions, which include supervised exercise, meditation and stress management, a support group and more
    • A team of health care providers — a doctor, nurse or nurse practitioner, meditation/yoga teacher, exercise physiologist, dietitian and psychologist — can become a certified provider of the Ornish program

    Dr. Dean Ornish, clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), is perhaps best known for his pioneering work in how to use food and simple lifestyle strategies to improve health. This is also the topic of his new book, "Undo It! How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases."
    Ornish is well-known for arguing that high-protein and high-fat diets contribute to America's ever-growing waistline and incidence of chronic disease. We obviously share different positions on this issue.
    Since critiques of Ornish's diet can be found in various places on the internet,1 I decided to focus on what, in my view, is his major contribution to health, which is facilitating an aggressive lifestyle modification program to lower the risk of disease and have it paid for by insurance companies.
    It is virtually impossible for most to have the foundational cause of their disease process reverse in the typical 10- to 15-minutes' doctor visit. So, he took 16 years to get his lifestyle program approved by Medicare and many insurance companies, which allows access to the tools necessary to change the causes of most disease.
    Once a person has the foundation in place, it will be easy for them to research the high versus low-fat debate and try it for themselves and let their body tell them which position is correct. But the important point is that most of their destructive health habits will be changed at that point.
    For the past four decades, Ornish has directed clinical research showing you can reverse not only Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure but also coronary heart disease — even severe cases — through lifestyle changes that can be boiled down to "Eat well, move more, stress less and love more."

    Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Disease

    One of Ornish's studies also demonstrated that these same lifestyle changes can slow, stop or reverse the progression of early-stage prostate cancer, and probably breast cancer as well.
    "We found that these same lifestyle changes actually change your genes, turning on the good genes and turning off the bad genes, specifically the genes that promote heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer, breast cancer and colon cancer," he says.
    "We did a study with Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., who received the Nobel Prize for her pioneering work with telomeres. We found that these lifestyle changes could actually increase the enzyme telomerase in just three months that repairs and lengthens telomeres. Over a five-year period, we found that these lifestyle changes could actually lengthen telomeres.
    When The Lancet sent out a press release announcing this study, they called it 'reversing aging at a cellular level.' We have just begun the first randomized trial to see if this program can reverse the progression of men and women who have early-stage Alzheimer's disease.
    The more diseases we study and the more mechanisms we look at, the more reasons we have to explain why these changes are so powerful and how quickly people can often get better in ways we can measure."
    Since the early 90s, Ornish, through the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, a nonprofit organization, has been training hospitals, clinics and physician groups around the U.S. Despite the program's early success, many sites ended up closing down due to lack of insurance reimbursement. As noted by Ornish, "If it's not reimbursable, it's not sustainable."

    Changing the Reimbursement Paradigm

    To address this problem, they started reaching out to insurance companies. A few, including Mutual of Omaha and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield agreed to cover the program but, by and large, it was difficult to get the insurance industry onboard.
    "I thought, 'Well, if Medicare would pay for it, then that would really change the whole paradigm. Because doctors do what we get paid to do, and we get trained to do what we get paid to do.' If you change reimbursement, you change not only medical practice but also medical education."
    It took 16 years, but Medicare approved and started covering the program in 2010 — officially referred to as "Dr. Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease" under its intensive cardiac rehabilitation (ICR) program2 — which allows for 72 hours of training on how to address the foundational causes of heart disease. According to Ornish, it was one of the most difficult things he's ever done.
    "At one point, halfway through this whole process, they said, 'Well, we'll do a demonstration project, but you have to get a letter from the head of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, that your program is safe for older Americans.'
    I said, 'Safe compared to having your chest cut open?' They said, 'No. Just [that it's] safe for older people to walk, meditate, eat vegetables, quit smoking and love more.' I said, 'You must be kidding.' They said, 'No. We're not.' So, the Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute actually did a literature review, and concluded, 'Guess what? These are not high-risk behaviors' …
    Anyway, after 16 years, we finally did receive Medicare approval … Now that Medicare is paying for it, most of the major insurance companies are covering it as well … I didn't want this to be concierge medicine. I wanted this to be available to everybody. Now, it is."
    The program, currently offered in 18 states, is divided into 18 four-hour sessions, which include supervised exercise, meditation and stress management, a support group (which Ornish says is part of why they're getting unprecedented levels of adherence to the program) and more.
    Data show 85 to 90 percent of patients going through the program are still adhering to it after one year, and have better clinical outcomes, which results in significant cost savings. According to Ornish, in the first year of the program, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield's costs were 50 percent lower than that of a matched control group, and Mutual Omaha cut their cost by nearly $30,000 per patient in the first year.

    Leveraging Motivation

    What really motivates people to make sustainable changes is not fear of dying; it's the joy of living, Ornish says, and his program acknowledges and in fact leverages this knowledge.
    "When they change their lifestyle, most people feel so much better so quickly in ways that really matter to them. For example, people with heart disease often have angina or chest pain … [W]ithin, usually, a few days or a few weeks, they're essentially pain-free. They … say things like, 'Well, I like eating junk food, but not that much. Because what I gain is so much more than what I give up.'
    That's really the key. It's that we're always making choices … These are choices worth making. You feel so much better so quickly that it really reframes the reason for making these changes — from fear of dying or fear of a bad thing happening, to joy, pleasure, love and feeling good. The bigger changes in lifestyle are a big part of that.
    The support groups we have are not really the classical support group of exchanging recipes and shopping tips and types of running shoes, but rather creating a safe environment where people can connect in a deep and authentic love for each other.
    You know, 50 years ago, people had an extended family they saw regularly. They had a job that felt secure. They had a church or synagogue they went to regularly, a club they belonged to, a neighborhood with two or three generations of people. Today most people don't have any of those."
    Twenty years ago, Ornish wrote the book "Love and Survival: 8 Pathways to Intimacy and Health," which reviewed evidence from what are now tens of thousands of studies showing that people who are lonely, depressed and isolated are three to 10 times more likely to get sick and die prematurely than those who have a sense of love and connection in community. "I don't know anything in medicine that has that big an impact," Ornish says.
    Through his studies, Ornish has also learned that most harmful behaviors and habits are adaptive ways to deal with emotional pain. "I've had patients say things like, 'I've got 20 friends in this pack of cigarettes. They're always there for me, and nobody else is. You want to take away my 20 friends. What are you going to give me?'" Ornish says. So, while information is important, it's not usually enough to motivate people to make permanent changes.

    Love — An Oft-Avoided Four-Letter Word in Medicine

    As noted by Ornish, "Love is one of those four-letter words that you're not really supposed to talk about as a scientist or as a doctor." Instead, terms like psychosocial support or bonding are used, but regardless of the terms, Ornish's program is a love-based one.
    "Forty years ago, when I was a freshman in college at Rice University in Houston, I got suicidally depressed," he says. "That was my doorway into learning about this. Creating an environment that feels nurturing and loving, like the support group, is the part of our work that some people make the most fun of …
    That's why in this book, "love more" is the fourth component of, 'Eat well, move more, stress less, love more,' because love is really what enables people to make these other changes. It has healing benefits in its own right. Even the word 'healing' comes from the root 'to make whole.' Yoga comes from the Sanskrit meaning 'to yoke, unite,' 'union.' These are really old ideas that have been rediscovered …
    More money is spent on antidepressants, as well as cholesterol-lowering drugs, than pretty much anything else. We need to address this. Because what I learned when I was so depressed when I was in college is that if you tell someone who's lonely and depressed that they're going to live longer if they just change their diet, or move more, or eat well or stress less … it doesn't work for them.
    They say, 'I'm just trying to survive. I'm just trying to get through the day. I don't know if I want to live longer' … I think just the act of knowing that we're mortal, and understanding what really brings happiness … choosing not to do something that you otherwise could do imbues those choices with meaning. And if they're meaningful, then they're sustainable."

    The Importance of Meditation

    Ornish also discusses the benefits of meditation, which is part of the program. Among those benefits is finding your center so that you can empower yourself without adding stress. "My whole approach is really about addressing the underlying cause of why people get sick," he says, and a major part of the problem is that we're doing something to disturb our innate peace and well-being.
    The answer then is simply to stop doing that which causes the disturbance. Meditation can give you the direct experience of this part of you that is undisturbed and not stressed, and provide the mental clarity to actually notice what it is that you're doing that's causing you to feel uneasy or "dis-eased."
    "I would encourage anyone watching this, when you meditate, at the end of a meditation, when you're feeling more peaceful, just ask yourself a simple question: 'What am I not paying attention to that would be helpful? … Then just listen. You'll be amazed at what comes up," Ornish says.
    "If you want to learn how to meditate, we can do it right now. It takes all of 30 seconds. Close your eyes, assuming you're not in a car or some place that you need to be looking, and take a deep breath. Bring your awareness to one of these mantra sounds. Let's use the word 'one,' because it's secular and it wouldn't offend anyone.
    [Just intone] 'One' … When you run out of air, do it again. Over and over again. What invariably will happen is your mind will start to wander. You'll start to think about 1,000 things you should be doing or forgot to do or whatever. That's normal. Everybody's mind wanders. If you become aware that you're thinking about something else, just bring it back to the sound. Then your mind really begins to quiet down in a very deep way …
    What I find is that the consistency is more important than the duration … Just a few minutes at the beginning of the day or the end of the day can really make a huge difference. If you can do more, even better."

    Intermittent Fasting

    In his book, Ornish also suggests making breakfast and lunch the main meals of your day, and then eating a much smaller dinner or nothing at all, so that you're intermittently fasting for at least 12 to 14 hours every day. This is similar to the kind of meal timing schedule as my peak fasting regimen.
    I personally believe a six- to eight-hour eating window is better, and I typically maintain a daily five- to six-hour eating window. The primary reason, from my review of the literature, is the shortened eating window is a more effective activator of autophagy and removal of cellular debris that will contribute to deadly chronic inflammation.
    "First of all, you sleep better because your body's not trying to work, process and digest your food while you're trying to rest and sleep. Also, there's a lot of evidence that [intermittent fasting] gives your body a chance to detoxify and clean itself out.
    It's one of the reasons why when you eat a healthier diet, not just what you eat but how you eat and when you eat, will make a difference as well. The challenge with that is … that most of us in our culture tend to connect with our family or loved ones over dinner.
    When you're pushing back that window to three hours before bed time, that could be a challenge. But, it's just an opportunity for exploring some novel approaches, I guess."

    Removing the Distinctions Between Diseases

    In his book, Ornish presents what is essentially a unifying theory of chronic disease. He explains:
    "We tend to think of heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer and Alzheimer's as being fundamentally different diseases. I'm putting forth a radically new unifying theory, which is that they're really not different diseases.
    They're different manifestations of the same underlying biological mechanisms that are disordered, such as chronic inflammation, oxidative stress, changes in the microbiome, immune function, gene expression, telomeres, chronic stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, autophagy and angiogenesis.
    Each one of these, in turn, is directly influenced by what we eat, how we respond to stress, how much exercise we get and how much love and support we have. Because these underlying mechanisms are so dynamic, most people feel so much better …"
    Indeed, Ornish's work reveals these diseases do not require different sets of diets and lifestyle programs. It's the same for all. According to Ornish, this is also one of the reasons why so many of these diseases are comorbidities. People who have heart disease often also have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and/or other chronic inflammation, for example.
    This makes sense if they're all different manifestations of the same underlying cause. What this means too is that by implementing these healthy lifestyle strategies, you're not just preventing or reversing one particular disease, you protect yourself against all of them simultaneously.
    For example, Ornish completed a randomized trial with Dr. Peter Carroll, chair of urology at the University of California, San Francisco and a leading urologist, and the late Dr. Bill Fair, then-chair of urology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, showing that the same lifestyle changes that reverse heart disease also can often stop and even reverse the progression of early stage prostate cancer.
    And contrary to conventional therapies, there are no serious side effects of these lifestyle strategies. As mentioned earlier, Ornish is now also studying the impact of these lifestyle modifications on Alzheimer's disease.

    Where to Find Ornish's Program

    If you're interested in Dr. Ornish's program, you can get all the information you need from his book, "Undo It! How Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases."
    If you would like further guidance, you can find a listing of all the sites that have been trained and certified to teach the program on Ornish.com, along with support groups you can attend free of charge.
    At present, there are facilities offering the program in 18 states. Ornish.com also lists about 100 video testimonials, including one by Dr. Robert Treuherz, an internist whose heart disease was so severe he was on the waiting list for a heart transplant. While waiting for a donor to appear, he went through Ornish's program at UCLA.
    "After nine weeks, he improved so much he didn't need a heart transplant anymore," Ornish says. "What's the more radical intervention here? A heart transplant, which costs $1.5 million and a lifetime of immunosuppressive drugs, or 'Eat Well, Move More, Stress Less, Love More?' We have over a dozen cases like that."

    Become a Certified Ornish Program Provider

    If you're a health care provider — be it a doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, meditation/yoga teacher, exercise physiologist, registered dietitian or psychologist — his site also provides information on how to become a certified provider of the Ornish program.
    "Medicare and many insurance companies will pay the same reimbursement, whether it's offered in a physician's office or in a hospital or in a large academic institution," he says.
    "We're creating a new paradigm of health care rather than sick care … Medicare currently only pays for reversing heart disease. Some of the other insurance companies cover it not only for heart disease but also for Type 2 diabetes, or even two or more risk factors like obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and so on. Most people with heart disease will be covered if they can go to one of our programs."
    The training, given in the Bay Area, is a combination of didactic and experiential learning where you go through the program from start to finish, just as if you were a patient. In addition to that, you attend lectures by Ornish and others to learn the scientific basis for all of the modalities, and how to incorporate the knowledge into your day-to-day life.
    Further ongoing training is provided both on-site and through video technologies. To maintain the quality of the program, providers are required to go through reaccreditation on an annual basis.
    "Most people who do it say, 'This is what I've been waiting for. This is why I went into health care.' If we're just a collection of algorithms, we're going to get replaced by artificial intelligence and probably an iPhone app before long … For me, at least, it's part of our conspiracy of love. When you go through this program, you can really experience the difference it can make.
    We so often think that advances in medicine have to be something really high-tech or expensive … I think our unique contribution has been to use these very high-tech, expensive state-of-the-art scientific measures to prove how powerful this very simple and low-tech and low-cost program can be …
    Even in three and a half days, people often find that they have life-transforming experiences, which make them that much more passionate and committed and effective in training their patients who they ultimately will be working with."