Nel's New Day

January 21, 2016

Flint’s Poisoned Water Problems Not Disappearing

In the wake of his PR disaster—and the Flint residents’ water disaster—Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder released 249 emails to show that he was not to blame. Heavy redactions in the emails don’t hide the administration’s dismissive and belittling attitude toward people concerned about health issues from the brackish water coming into their homes. After traces of “coliform and fecal coliform bacterium” appeared in the city’s water plant, officials just added chlorine to the water. An email from Snyder’s Chief of Staff shows how the administration refused to take responsibility:

 “I can’t figure out why the state is responsible except that [State Treasurer] Dillon did make the ultimate decision so we’re not able to avoid the subject.”

The emails accused residents of using their children’s health as a “political football” and refused action after a hospital and a university stopped using Flint water because it was corroding their metal instruments.  An email stated that Flint residents were only concerned about the aesthetics of the water, “taste, smell and color being among the top complaints.”

According to Snyder, the released emails represent all the Flint-related correspondence in 2014 and 2015. Missing are the ones from 2013 which began the debacle through key decisions. Aides have been non-committal when asked about release of these emails. Snyder has been “invited” to appear in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on February 3, 2016 regarding the poisoned water that government has provided Flint residents. He has not been “called” to appear because only Republicans can do this.

The EPA may also be asked to appear at a congressional hearing.

A few missing pieces from yesterday’s blog on the Flint water travesty:

In December 2011, Snyder appointed Michael Brown as emergency manager of Flint to replace elected Flint officials and act unilaterally as an extension of state executive power. Brown was George W. Bush’s head of FEMA during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. He sent untrained rescue workers to the disaster area while telling fire and rescue departments not to send trucks or emergency workers without a direct appeal from state or local governments. Three days after the disaster, he told the media that he was not aware that the New Orleans Convention Center housed thousands of evacuees who lacked food and water and blamed those stuck in the city of not choosing to leave the city, despite the lack of transportation. Brown quit the FEMA job days after the hurricane. Later he declared that President Obama wanted the Deepwater Horizon oil spill so that he could “pander to the environmentalists.” Brown lasted in Flint for only nine months.

In March 2013, State treasury and Department of Environmental Quality officials ignored external reports showing that changing the water to the Flint River would not save money Three months later Flint’s emergency manager abandoned Detroit water.

In August 2014, Flint River water violated National Primary Drinking Water Regulations twice with more violations in September and December of that year. Last September, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services claimed that spikes in illnesses from lead were “seasonal and not related to the water supply.”

The first cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Flint in five years appeared two months after the water source was changed. After a year with 47 cases and five deaths, Snyder declared that the epidemic was over, but the numbers doubled in the next months. The incidence of this waterborne bacterial infection that can be deadly for between 5 to 30 percent of those who contract it is nine times greater in Flint than the national average. Doctors had predicted the onslaught of the disease because of iron caused by corrosion. No one will ever know the source of the Legionnaires’ disease because Michigan failed to take the appropriate cultures. The disease could return with warm weather because the state has not done any testing.

EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman, the director overseeing a region including Flint, resigned after it was discovered that she told the former Flint mayor that a report from one of its own scientists be concealed until it was vetted and revised.

The EPA has announced an emergency order requiring that the state and city “take a series of immediate steps to address the drinking water contamination in Flint.” It said the city and state’s response to the crisis has been “inadequate to protect public health.” The EPA will take over lead sampling because of repeated delays and a lack of transparency in the water crisis continue to pose “an imminent and substantial” danger to residents. Months after the EPA required corrosion controls be added to Flint’s water system and the water source be shifted back to Lake Huron water from the Flint River, “underlying problems” and “fundamental deficiencies” remain. The state has one day to comply with the order.

Michigan is also ordered to create a public website for all reports and sampling results, and the state is to inventory all homes in Flint with lead service lines. The EPA told Flint and Michigan to establish an independent advisory panel on drinking water issues and required that the city must show “technical, managerial, and financial capacity” before moving to a new Lake Huron water system.

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors, President Obama announced that the federal government will send at least $80 million next week, some of it to be used to rebuild water lines and other city infrastructure. The funding comes from a federal revolving loan fund that provides low-cost loans to eligible entities, including municipalities for water infrastructure projects. Replacing lead service lines and making other infrastructure repairs could cost as much as $1.5 billion.

The EPA, which could also be called to appear at a congressional hearing said to be set for early next month, also requested that its Inspector General evaluate Region 5’s supervision program for public water systems, a move U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., applauded as a way to “better understand how EPA could have helped prevent Flint’s water crisis and what they can do to keep this situation from ever happening again.”

Last September, a Flint lawmaker asked Michigan’s attorney general, Bill Shuette, to investigate the Flint water situation. Schuette, a Republican thought to be considering a gubernatorial run, refused. In December, his staffer said that an investigation was not necessary. Five months after building negative publicity about Flint water, Shuette said he would launch an investigation the day after Snyder asked the president to declare a federal emergency in Flint.

In the weeks after Schuette refused to investigate, national media attention on Flint increased, and on Jan. 14, Republican Governor Rick Snyder asked President Barack Obama to declare a federal emergency. The next day, Schuette had changed his tune. He said that he would launch an investigation “without fear or favor.” He office is already defending state officials in a lawsuit generated by protesting Flint residents alleging that officials ignored evidence of the toxic water.

Under state law, the AG has to represent emergency managers when they are sued, but the entity that the manager runs has to pay for the legal costs. Thus the same person who investigates the water poisoning also protect the officials who did it while the people bringing the law suit must pay for the defense’s legal costs. Schuette has not said whether he will bring in outside counsel.

Gov. Snyder was an accountant with no elected office experience before he took over a state with a population of almost 10 million people. Before the Flint water crisis, he had contemplated a run for president. Snyder is a prime example of what happens when the private sector attempts to take over government functions.

After almost two years of Flint water’s fiasco, the state Department of Environmental Quality Director Keith Creagh said that “we should have been more aggressive. He blames two top officials in the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance for the misinterpretation of the federal Lead and Copper Rule, but both officials still have state jobs. They just been reassigned to keep away from the Flint water issues. No one has been fired over the catastrophe.

flint safe to washTen days ago, Rick Snyder told the media that the Flint water is so safe that he would let his grandkids bathe in it. It’s a safe assertion because he doesn’t have grandchildren. This poster on the right has been removed from the government website.

This is Republican leadership at its “finest.”

After I wrote the above, I went into the kitchen and ran the water a few seconds, grateful that I don’t live in a state with governor-appointed emergency managers instead of elected officials.

 

April 20, 2011

GOP “Small Government”

Conservatives pride themselves on pushing for smaller and smaller government whereas liberals are known for “big government” (aka regulations that help people be safer and more comfortable). But just look at some examples of the GOP’s “small government” concepts.

Imagine that you lived in a town that could be taken over by the state with no voter rights. That’s what happened in Michigan after GOP Governor Rick Snyder signed, on March 16, the Local Government and School District Financial Accountability Act. The law gives the governor the right to rule towns and cities with neither legislative oversight nor residents’ consent. By declaring that the town or city is in financial distress, he can legally appoint an emergency manager, answerable only to the governor. This person can then dismiss elected officials, close or reorganize schools, alter or abolish government contracts and collective bargaining agreements, control taxes and spending and even dissolve the town as if it never existed.

It seemed impossible that this would actually happen, but Gov. Snyder did exactly that when he appointed Joseph L. Harris as Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) of Benton Harbor, Michigan. With that appointment, elected officials are permitted only to call meetings to order, approve minutes, and adjourn meetings. Why would Gov. Snyder want to do this? When Whirlpool closed its plants and decided to convert old manufacturing land into Harbor Shores, a $500 million golf course and residential development, the development company wanted Jean Klock Park, a beautiful shoreline donated as a park for the public good and a children’s park in 1917.

The bill that allowed Gov. Snyder to take over Benton Harbor was sponsored by Al Pscholka, who has some interesting connections to the town. The former aid to Congressman Fred Upton, a Whirlpool heir, he represents the area that includes Benton Harbor, he is the former vice-president of the development company responsible for building Harbor Shores, and he was on the Board of Directors for a nonprofit involved in the Harbor Shores development.

Once appointed, EFM Joseph Harris didn’t waste any time in moving ahead with his plans. He first replaced people on the Benton Harbor Planning Commission, involved in decision-making about Benton Harbor real estate development, with his personal choices. These hand-picked people decide who gets permits, what the developments will look like, and who gets the best parts of Benton Harbor.

This is just the beginning. Snyder has over 200 EFMs in training, just waiting to take over more Michigan towns and cities. Financial distress in Michigan cities and towns will increase greatly because the state is withdrawing its support of them. And the mainstream national media is not reporting this!

As evident by the sweeping tide of union-breaking across the United States after Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker started his devastation, a conservative idea in one state moves to another. Although Walker says that he doesn’t intend to follow Michigan’s example, a business group in Milwaukee is pushing to stress tests for municipalities, euphemism for erasing elected officials in Wisconsin. Over a dozen states are considering a similar law. Your state could be next.

The federal budget has been settled for this year (which ends in September), but the conflict continues, first with deciding whether to raise the deficit and then to determine next year’s budget. Much has been said in the past few weeks about Rep. Paul Ryan’s recommendation for a budget that removes money for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. while lowering tax rates for the wealthiest people in the U.S. (Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, is from Wisconsin. What is there about Wisconsin!?)

A letter-writer to The Oregonian (Portland, OR) comments that watching Eric Cantor cradling “The Path to Prosperity” document reminds him of the Twilight Zone episode about the advanced alien race landing on Earth. As they promise benevolence and peace, they also have a handbook, ”To Serve Man.” That particular handbook is a recipe book.  He concludes, “Space ships which took Americans on vacations to the beautiful alien homeworld were on ‘the path to prosperity’ for alien restauranteurs and marketers of fresh or frozen food, creating jobs jobs jobs!”

Ryan’s plan, The Roadmap for America’s Future, would give the most affluent households very large tax cuts by reducing income tax rates on high-income households; eliminating income taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest; and abolishing the corporate income tax, the estate tax, and the alternative minimum tax. The Ryan plan would cut in half the taxes of the richest 1 percent of Americans—those with incomes exceeding $633,000 (in 2009 dollars) in 2014. Households with incomes of more than $1 million would receive an average annual tax cut of $502,000. The richest one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans—those whose incomes exceed $2.9 million a year—would receive an average tax cut of $1.7 million a year on top of those from the Bush tax cuts.

At the same time, the Ryan plan would raise taxes for most middle-income families, privatize a substantial portion of Social Security, eliminate the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance, end traditional Medicare and most of Medicaid, and terminate the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The plan would replace these health programs with a system of vouchers whose value would erode over time and thus would purchase health insurance that would cover fewer and fewer health care services in the future.

To offset some of the cost of these massive tax cuts, the Ryan plan would place a new consumption tax on most goods and services. About three-quarters of Americans—those with incomes between $20,000 and $200,000—would face tax increases. For example, households with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 would face an average tax increase of $900. The shift tax in burdens proposed by The Roadmap for America’s Future from the wealthy to the middle class results in people with incomes over $1 million paying much smaller percentages of their income in federal taxes.

How successful will this plan be? There are suggestions that this “roadmap to poverty” will destroy the conservatives.

Remember Arizona and its SB1070 that plans to identify illegal immigrants without profiling? (More small government?) Their latest ploy seems to be too much even for conservative Gov. Jan Brewer. Last Monday, she vetoed two bills: one would have allowed firearms onto parts of college campuses, and the other, referred to as the “birther bill,” would have mandated certain “proofs” of US citizenship for candidates running for president. The latter would have accepted a “circumcision certificate” if a long form of the birth certificate was not submitted. Is is the circumcision certificate that stopped her? Or is it the fact that John McCain might have trouble passing the “birther” law because his birth certificate was issued by the Panama Canal Health Department?

This “birther bill” concept is catching on across the nation. Thirty-seven states are considering it, and some are coming very close. Louisiana’s bill extends the birth certificate requirement to U.S. Congressional candidates. Another state wants not only the candidates’ birth certificate but also those of the candidates’ parents. And running on the birther wave, Donald Trump has a 52 percent approval rate from voting Republicans.

Unfair taxation is the topic of Iris Van Rynback and Pegi Deitz Shea’s picture book, The Taxing Case of the Cows:  A True Story about Suffrage, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully (Clarion, 2010).  One-hundred years after the American Revolution, women could not vote—but they could be taxed.  Sisters Abby, 72, and Julia, 77, Smith believed that this was taxation without representation, especially when town leaders taxed them an additional amount because they were single female landowners.  Their fight that began in 1869 lasted seven years during which time the sisters continually lost their cows and bought them back at auction.  They also had to sue the town for confiscating their home; supporters helped them financially by selling bouquets of flowers and hair from the cows’ tails with a black ribbon with the words “Taxation without Representation.”  These two “older” sisters show that anyone can fight unfair taxes, even when they may not think they have the backing to do so.

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