Nel's New Day

January 20, 2016

Michigan Governor Poisons Flint Residents, Wants Federal Money

“If the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water, we would have done something about it.” That was Hillary Clinton’s comment about the poisoned water in Flint (MI) thanks to the man assigned by Gov. Rick Snyder to run the city.

The horror in Flint started six years ago when businessman Rick Snyder was elected governor because he claimed to create jobs and run the government like a business—similar to what Donald Trump promises in his current presidential campaign.

The purpose of business is to make money for the owners and cut costs by eliminating jobs; the purpose of government in a democracy is to make people’s lives better, not to profit off them. Business and government require different skills and philosophies, and Snyder is an example of this difference. When he was on the board of the computer company Gateway, it went from 21,000 U.S. workers to 7,400 in about a decade. Gateway no longer exists.

Under Snyder, GOP legislators passed a law allowing the government to replace elected officials with an “emergency manager” picked by the governor. The manager makes all the decisions—just like in a business. The law was repealed by referendum in 2012 but replaced with a new law in a GOP-controlled legislative session that prevented it from being subject to a voter referendum.

The first time that Snyder used his dictatorial powers was in Benton Harbor where a park had been deeded to the city in 1917 “in perpetuity.” The new emergency manager in 2011 took over part of waterfront park for a luxury golf resort, with the help of a development group. It’s board included the sponsor of the new law. That success of stripping elected officials of any powers for the benefit of private business moved on to Detroit, Flint, Highland Park, and other Michigan municipalities.

Michigan residents couldn’t successfully protest the new dictator approach in its state, and the rest of the United States pretty much ignored the problem until MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow began to show the way that the new “business-like” system allowed massive amounts of lead in the city water that Flint residents pay to receive.

flint-waterFlint’s problem started almost two years ago when its manager “saved” $8.5 million over five years by switching the water source from Detroit through a pipeline to drawing water from the polluted Flint River. The acidic water that leaches lead and other metals from pipes could have been chemically treated to control corrosion, but the manager chose not to spend the $100 a day for that safety.

For 18 months people complained about the taste and smell of the brown water piped into their homes while they got rashes and their hair fell out from showering in it. As any good businessman, the manager denied any problems and said that the water was fine.

Not until Flint pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha compared blood test results for 1,746 Flint children before and after the change in water was any whiff of concern evidenced. Even then, Michigan politicians called her an “irresponsible researcher” who caused “near hysteria.” Not until a September 2015 study from Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards did city officials admit there was something wrong with the water and told people not to drink it.

The manager did try to minimize the problem by testing water in a way designed to minimize lead readings by flushing the water several minutes before taking a sample and using very low flow rates. Edwards, however, found readings as high as 13,000 ppb (parts per billion of lead); 5,000 ppb is considered to be “toxic waste.” The EPA set 15 ppb has a point where steps should be taken to reduce the level although levels as low as 5 ppb can be concerning. A few miles away, Troy (MI)’s lead in the water measures 1.1 ppb.  [Pipes from a Flint water study]

flint-water-study-photos

Everyone suffers for exposure to lead, but children are particularly susceptible. Symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Memory loss
  • Pain and tingling in hands and/or feet
  • Weakness

Exposure while a woman is pregnant damages the nervous system of the developing fetus. It can also cause miscarriage, stillbirths, and infertility in both men and women. Children suffer from lasting neurological and behavioral damage, intellectual disabilities, serious difficulty controlling impulses, retaining information, and learning in school. It is difficult or impossible for them to later have thought-intensive jobs. Lead keeps the body from absorbing nutrients for cell development and the growth of strong teeth and bones. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) stated:

“The lead builds up in soft tissue — kidneys, bone marrow, liver, and brain — as well as bones and teeth. … Some scientists believe that low-level chronic lead exposure in childhood can alter secretion of the human growth hormone, stunting growth and promoting obesity.”

People in Flint started in April 2014 to persuade the city to take action about the poisonous water. In May 2014, the city learned that trihalomethanes ( TTHMs) were above levels allowed in the Clean Water Act but didn’t tell residents for another eight months and didn’t change to safe water. In October 2014, GM noticed that the water was corroding engines and started trucking in water from outside the city. While Flint continued to deny any problems with the water, the governor’s office secretly ordered that Flint be supplied filters. The discrepancies between reports of toxicity in the water from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the city of Flint during last year indicate a cover-up by the governor’s appointed manager.

Snyder’s business-like approach became such a PR disaster that he started reluctantly thinking about a solution. Although he switched back to Detroit water last October, the damage to the pipes was most likely done by then. Snyder waited until Jan. 5, 2016 to declare a state of emergency and another week to mobilize the National Guard to distribute bottled water and water filters–starting with seven guardspersons—one per 14,285.7 people.

Finally Snyder asked President Obama to declare a federal emergency. Through FEMA, taxpayers will pay up to $5 million for water, filters and cartridges and other items, but Snyder has been refused an additional $96 million because the Flint water crisis is not a natural disaster. Snyder, his emergency manager, and the GOP legislators who voted for a dictatorship caused the entire calamity, and Snyder finally admitted that he knew about the problems with water for several months, perhaps as much as a year.

Yet in his State of the State speech this week, Snyder blamed the problem on “entrenched bureaucrats.” He also said, “Government failed you at the federal, state and local level.” The problems came entirely from a state decision to create a legislatively created dictatorship in Flint. Michigan residents elected their representatives who allow travesties such as the poisoning of water in one of its cities.

As if the lead in the water wasn’t enough, an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease in Flint, seemingly a consequence of Flint’s water, has hit 87 people. Ten of these people are dead. Yet Flint is still charging customers for the poisoned water and sending shut-off notices threatening to cut off their water if they don’t pay for it.

In a peculiar coincidence, the office of the public works director who resigned last November during the developing crisis was broken into in late December. No one knows what was taken, and surveillance videos didn’t show anyone breaking into the office.

Distressed by Clinton’s call to do something about Flint’s water, Snyder tweeted, “Political statements and finger pointing from political candidates only distract from solving the Flint water crisis.” He forgets that the problem was caused by politics and that without the growing transparency surrounding the “Flint water crisis,” people would still be receiving the brown, nasty water.

Asked about the problem in Flint,” GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio hemmed and hawed before he talked about not having an opinion because he hadn’t been briefed on it. At the same time, federal GOP legislators voted to overturn provisions of the Clean Water Act—the same provisions that they voted to repeal last June.

As President Obama said about Flint while he was visiting Michigan, “It is a reminder of why you can’t shortchange basic services that we provide to our people and that we together provide as a government to make sure that public health and safety is preserved.” Flint is also a reminder of why people can’t run government like a business.

Reversing the damage to the pipes will cost $1.5 billion. Reversing the brain damage and other health issues is impossible.

Heckofajob, Snyder. And same to all your cohorts.

Snyder has moved Darnell Farley, the emergency manager who switched Flint’s water from the Detroit system to the Flint River, to the new emergency manager of Detroit’s public schools. Here are a few photos of the Detroit schools. (More disgusting ones here.) We’ll see what Farley makes of this.

flint stairway

flint urinals

August 3, 2012

Michigan Voters Win

Ten days ago, I wrote about how petitioners in Michigan went to the state’s Supreme Court to get a referendum on the ballot after it was refused by the Board of Canvassers in a partisan 2-2 deadlock. Their petition was to overturn the state’s emergency financial manager law that has allowed towns and school districts to be taken over and run by Gov. Rick Snyder’s appointees, disenfranchising the voters who selected the people who Snyder deposed.

The Board of Canvassers ruled against the petitions on the basis that they had  the wrong type font size despite the petitions’ approval bythe state’s Board of Elections. The state requirement for font size is 14 point. Petitioners used a Calibri font, making the 14-point size unacceptable to challengers. To see how hard the anti-referendum people fought to keep a legitimate referendum off the ballot, the ten pages following p. 16 of the Opinion make for good reading.

The petitioners won! In a 4-3 decision, the judges ruled today that the petitions met the state requirements and can be certified for November’s election. One of the four Republican judges broke from the other three to join the Democrats. The immediate result is that the law, which has been used for over a year, is now frozen for the next three months until the Michigan voters determine its outcome.

Putting the law in limbo creates confusing implications for towns and school districts that had lost its local leadership. In Muskegon Heights school district, the new emergency manager privatized all the schools into a charter system. In Benton Harbor, the new emergency manager sold the local park, donated to the city a century ago, to a wealthy developer. Three holes of the private golf course are already in place.

In Detroit schools, the new emergency manager ordered a ceiling of 61 students in every class. For the past two years he fired all the teachers. This year he has forced any rehired teachers to follow his personal contract with greatly reduced teacher pay and refused any negotiations with the teachers. Detroit leaders slashed the city workforce to avoid Snyder’s assigning the city an emergency manager. The question is whether this agreement will stand because it was done under duress.

Flint, Pontiac, and Ecorse all have governor-appointed emergency managers as do public schools in Detroit and Highland Park. River Rouge and Inkster also have consent agreements to avoid an emergency manager.

Snyder said that the emergency managers will remain because an earlier law will go into effect. Challengers said differently, meaning that question will almost certainly go to court. The earlier law did not allow as much latitude for the manager in breaking contracts and removing pensions.

The repeal side is behind by 10 percentage points, but 20 percent of voters are undecided. A November vote at least gives people the right to determine their fate rather than handing it over to the governor’s appointees.

July 24, 2012

GOP Vision for America

Yesterday I had breakfast with a friend who used to be a Republican, and I realized how lucky Democrats are these days. Not everyone in the party is  enamored with everything that Obama does, and the Democrat lawmakers are sometimes irritating. But the old-guard Republicans are lost.

During our discussion she said, “I’ve lost my party! I don’t tell anybody that I’m a Republican any more. I say that I’m an independent.” So I thought about the Republican vision for the United States: miserly, selfish, controlling, and violent. Conservatives are changing the United States from the “can do” to the “won’t do” beliefs.

Violence, of course, comes from the conservatives’ attitude toward gun control. It’s not just that they want everybody to have one or two guns in the house to protect themselves and use for recreational hunting. Instead, they want everyone to have as much fire power as they can afford to buy without considering that a restriction in this–or even licensing guns–might result in fewer deaths. The recently deposed head of the Arizona state senate, Russell Pearce, accuses the people in the Aurora (CO) theater of being cowards for not taking down the young man with four weapons and unlimited rounds for them at his disposal.

As for the current war in Afghanistan, the one that costs us $88.5 a year and where the country wants us to leave, the House managed to debate our situation there—for one hour. That’s all the nation’s destiny is worth to these people.

The conservatives’ craving for control has been clearly shown through the conservatives’ drive to eradicate unions, primarily for teachers, and contraception availability. Both these destroy salaries for women because teaching has been one place in the past where women can come closer to achieving economic equality. Without a decent salary, without the fair pay act which would require that women are paid the same as men for the same work, and without the chance to avoid pregnancy, women are losing the ability to stay out of poverty, where the conservatives think that they don’t deserve help. They want to control women.

Another control from the Republicans is the rash of laws mandating restrictive photo IDs for voting. Initially conservatives said the purpose was to prevent voter fraud, but by now they are admitting, as all sane people knew, that there was no fraud. Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai said,  “[…] Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” Conservatives simply tried to remove as many progressive voters from participating in the election as possible.

Michigan is now a prime battleground against Republican control of municipalities and school districts by dictators appointed by the governor. The process started over a year ago with Public Act 4, signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, that extended emergency manager laws. In Michigan, an emergency manager gives all orders in the town or school district and can break contracts and fire elected officials. The first city that Snyder took over, in the name of fiscal problems, was a tiny, largely black town because a wealthy developer wanted to build a golf course on a public park along the lake.

In protest to the Michigan law, a coalition called Stand Up for Democracy submitted 226,000 signatures for a referendum to overturn the law. They needed just under 162,000, and the Bureau of Elections found 203,238 valid signatures. Another organization challenged the petitions on the basis of wrong font size. The Republicans on the Board of Canvassers succeeded in declaring all petitions invalid. Last month the state Court of Appeals ruled that the signatures should be accepted, allowing a public vote in November. That decision has been appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court which will hear the case tomorrow. Part of the debate will be how the “point” and “type” should be measured, whether by size of the printer’s block or the actual printed character. This comes from the anti-regulation party.

In its supposed craving for austerity, conservative lawmakers have one response for any action that would help the country: we can’t afford it. And they use this excuse with no justification. Health care won’t bankrupt the country as demonstrated by all the other countries with universal health care, but we can be bankrupted with escalating costs and a sick workforce with lost work days and productivity. In fact, repealing the health care act will cost the country $109 billion that the taxpayers will save if we keep the law. The World Health Organization reports that the United States spends 16 percent of its GDP, the highest portion of any country, on health care but ranks 37th out of 191 countries in performance. By contrast the United Kingdom spends 6 percent of its GDP but rates 18th in performance, almost 20 places higher than the U.S.

Social Security isn’t bankrupting the country; it just needs some tweaking the way that President Reagan did 30 years ago. And green energy isn’t too expensive; it hasn’t bankrupted Denmark. Start-up costs for anything are more expensive as the country found out with technology such as television and computers. This area combines austerity with selfishness because those huge corporations that present everyone with high utility bills, charge high gas prices, and give everyone dirty air and water don’t want to lose their customers. Republicans keep talking about all the money that the government lost in solar companies going bankrupt. Facts show companies lost less than 4 percent of the total program funding for alternative energy. Because Chinese companies got massive government subsidies, they were able to flood the U.S. market with solar equipment. Yet this is the time to continue the program because the drop in prices because of Chinese solar panels greatly reduces installation costs.

In its austerity, conservatives balk at providing sufficient education for the nation’s young people. In 2003 the US ranked 15th of 29 in reading literacy, 21st of 30 in scientific literacy, 25th of 30 in mathematics, 24th of 29 in problem solving. Conservatives claim that the United States has bad teachers as conservative lawmakers continue to starve the schools and increase the number of students in classes. The United States conservatives also want to charge high interest rates on student loans for higher education while Europe and Russia have tuition-free colleges and universities free to reduce the shortage of workers in specific fields.

In their selfishness, conservatives frequently avoid addressing a need. The farm bill expires on September 30, but House Republican leaders don’t plan to do anything about it. The bill would save $35 billion during the next 10 years, but Republicans don’t want to touch it until after the November election—an attitude that they seem to have for any legislative activity. Nothing like this has happened for at least a half century. Doing this will put the farmers suffering from the worst drought since the middle of the last century with Medicare doctors whose pay will run out, fired workers who worry about jobless benefits, and possibly millions of families whose tax breaks may expire. The Senate has already approved its farm bill so that the House needs to stop whining about the Senate not taking any action.

If the conservatives want to save the country, they need to take a hard look at the defense budget. The United States not only spends more money than any other country but also spends more than the next 14 nations combined. This nation’s military budget accounts for 41% of the total military spending in the entire world. This is the conservatives’ “dream for America.” T

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