Nel's New Day

March 17, 2016

Gov. Snyder, Government Isn’t a Business

The U.S. House actually did something today: they held committee hearings about the travesty in Flint with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder testifying. For those of you who lost track of Flint’s water problems in the midst of Trumpmania, a governor with no political experience who was hired on the basis of his “business” skills and anti-government policies said he saved money on the water supply to Flint’s citizens by poisoning them with lead and causing deaths from Legionnaires Disease. The brilliant minds behind the scheme that poisoned Flint residents were a think tank funded by the powerful, conservative DeVos family, owner of Amway marketing.

Leaked emails show that Snyder didn’t poison Flint residents to save money. He just wanted to privatize the utility.  The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) offered Snyder a deal of $800 million over 30 years, 20 percent cheaper than switching to the polluted Karegnondi Water Authority. It also offered a 50 percent reduction over what Flint had paid in the past to stay with DWSD. By breaking up DWSD and starve it of the Flint customer base, DWDS would be forced to privatize, sold off by Snyder. Snyder refused to release the emails from 2013 which would confirm this information. The governor has also slashed corporate taxes while instituting a flat tax and crippling public schools with budget cuts.

Ironically, Michigan could have saved billions of dollars and thousands of people suffering from serious health issues and brain damage for only $50,000 a year. A city administrator refused to pay to add orthophosphate to the process, as is done in Detroit to Lake Huron sourced water. That chemical would have prevented the corrosion of lead pipes.

Snyder came into today’s hearing after ignoring the problems for almost two years and said, “This was a failure of government at all levels. Local, state and federal officials — we all failed the families of Flint.” To Snyder, everyone else was responsible, and he is innocent, despite his appointment of an “emergency manager” instead of allowing elected officials to guide the city’s government processes. That was before he ignored all the complaints from Flint residents about the dangers of the water after his manager changed the water source and caused the disaster. According to Snyder, “Bureaucrats created a culture that valued technical competence over common sense.” He’s wrong only about his personal bureaucrats. No one valued “technical competence” and no one showed “common sense.”

The governor who believes in states’ rights—and would have screamed bloody murder if anyone had tried to violate them—blamed EPA’s Gina McCarthy for not fixing the problem while Snyder ignored it. McCarthy responded that Snyder’s people in Michigan’s DEQ told the EPA that they had done corrosion controls when they hadn’t done anything. She concluded, “We were strong-armed, we were misled, we were kept at arm’s length, we couldn’t do our jobs effectively.”

After the EPA sent Michigan’s DEQ directives about the Flint water two months ago, the state agency’s director questioned the EPA’s “legal authority” to “order a state and its agencies” to protect the health of its citizens. EPA had told Michigan to inform the public about upcoming steps, but Michigan is one of two states in the nation where the governor is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. In that way, the state thinks that it can legally violate the state’s open meetings act as the governor meets with all his emergency managers behind closed doors. Before this order from EPA, the state supplied the federal agency with altered documents and purposely skewed test results to support the falsehood that there was no problem with Flint water.

Snyder also blamed federal regulations. The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act requires chemicals to reduce corrosiveness in public water systems to keep water from leach lead from pipes. Michigan, however, misread the regulations.

With the disaster in the public spotlight, Snyder now feels really bad about what happened. Yet he refuses to provide any funding from the state’s surplus funds of $575 million to replace pipes and instead is spending $1.2 million on lawyers to deal with the crisis. Snyder’s AG, Bill Schuette, also appointed a special counsel, a donor to both Shuette’s and Snyder’s campaigns, to investigate whether anyone broke state laws. The governor also hired a public relations firm with no offices in Michigan in order to cover himself. Its senior vice president in the Florida office is married to Snyder’s Chief of Staff.

Today’s hearing was the second on the subject this week. On Tuesday, the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings (MD), called the testimonies “sickening.” State-appointment Darnell Earley who switched the water moaned about how he’s been “unjustly persecuted, vilified, and smeared.” He claimed that the water was safe even after GM refused to use it because it corroded its auto parts. “I’m not a water treatment expert,” he said. At the same time that he denied any problem with the water, state employees were receiving bottled water at their offices.

Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor who largely contributed to exposing the sham, said, “Apparently being a government agency means never having to say you are sorry.” He said that the agency “covered up evidence of their unethical actions by authoring false scientific reports.”

The water is unusable, but parents were told that the state would take their children if they didn’t pay their water bills because they needed running water in their homes. Flint residents also pay more for unusable water than other U.S. communities pay for usable running water. Average  spending for each Flint household is $864.32—more than twice as much as homes served by public water utilities and ten times as much as Phoenix, Arizona. The average cost for private water utilities is $500, typically 58 percent more than other public utility systems and 2.7 times the average cost in Michigan. The cost in Flint skyrocketed after the emergency manager raised water and sewer costs by 25 percent. Over 40 percent of Flint residents live under the poverty line, and the media income is $25,000.

After Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton brought Flint’s inexcusable condition to the media forefront—soon followed by Bernie Sanders–GOP candidates spoke up. Sen. Marco Rubio, now out of the race, praised Snyder for taking “responsibility,” and Sen. Ted Cruz offered to send water, but only through anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers.” He also single-handedly blocked an aid package of $850 million to help victims in Flint and other cities suffering lead crises.

This week, a resolution “recognizing magic as a rare and valuable art form and national treasure” was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform—the same group holding hearings on Flint.  Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) said he did this as a matter of constituent services. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) tweeted, “The House GOP believes in magic but not climate change.” Evidently representatives don’t believe in constituent service for Flint. Instead of helping Flint and other communities with lead pipes, the U.S. is scheduled to give Israel $30 billion in the next ten years—and Israel wants that increased to $50 billion. House Democrats are pushing a bill to block the appointment of emergency managers instead of elected officials, but it’s an uphill battle.

Michigan’s governor is a Republican dream: Snyder is anti-government and anti-regulation while strongly states’ rights. He firmly believes that government should be run like a business. At least that’s his belief until he wants to blame all his problems on someone else and complain that the federal government didn’t solve his problems years ago so that he wouldn’t be sitting in a House committee hearing. In reality it’s a  nightmare–what happens when GOP leadership is allowed to run rampant over people’s rights.

This week’s test of water shows higher levels than earlier ones. Snyder refuses to replace the pipes until he does extensive studies. People are still without usable running water. That’s Flint under a small government, business plan.

November 26, 2012

We Could Be like Bangladesh

Over 101 years ago 129 women and 17 men died when the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory caught fire in New York City. The youngest to be killed in this disaster was 11-year-old Mary Goldstein. Managers had locked the doors to stairwells and exits to stop stealing and keep the workers from taking unauthorized breaks. As a result, many of the deaths came from people jumping from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors to the concrete streets below.

Because of the outcry from this tragic event, legislation created improved factory safety standards. Nothing like this happened again in the United States. The fire also spurred the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union that fought for better working conditions. After 146 people died in this fire, government could not avoid creating laws to protect workers. The New York legislature passed the first laws, and other states in the country followed. Unions became more success in protecting workers.

The laws were not always successful. Ninety years after this fire, 25 workers at a poultry factory in Hamlet (NC) died in a fire. Again, exits were locked or blocked to stop stealing. North Carolina is one of 23 “right to work” states in the nation which means that the workers in the states have no protection from unions.

Two days ago a fire in a garment factor in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killed at least 124 people. The eight-story building had locked emergency exits and fire extinguishers that didn’t work because they were there to impress inspectors. When the fire alarm went off, workers were told to stay at their sewing machines. Again some of these people died after they jumped from the building.

Workers knew about the dangers of the 4,000 garment factories throughout Bangladesh: just two months ago, tens of thousands of garment factory workers fought police in their protests against low wages and dangerous working conditions. Minimum wage is $38 per month. In addition to sub-standard safety issues, gangs and thugs, hired by employers, wander throughout the factories, harassing and assaulting workers.

Dozens of workplace fires in Bangladesh have killed more than 600 employees in the country’s garment industry since 2006. No owner has faced prosecution for poor safety conditions.  Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest clothes.

Retailers in the United States, including Walmart, purchase clothing from Bangladesh to sell in this country. One day after people in the United States spent long hours on Black Friday joyfully searching for the cheapest clothes, 124 people who worked for $38 per month died in a factory making these clothes. The 124 people who died in the Bangladesh fire lived halfway around the world, but they died making clothing cheap enough that Walmart was willing to buy the merchandise.

Walmart has tried to disconnect themselves from this tragedy. First the company said that after one of their auditors gave a “high risk” safety rating last May to the factory that killed 124 people. The company said they would conduct another inspection within a year. Then they said that the factory was not authorized to provide clothing for Walmart but a supplier contracted work to it “in direct violation of our policies.” (This is the same company that has a policy to pay women and men equally. Their “policies” don’t mean much.)

The fire should make everyone in the United States think about our country’s future if conservatives succeed in doing away with unions and regulations. If Republicans achieve what they call “small government,” workers can return to the days of  huge factory fires, locked exits, and wages like those in Bangladesh.

The next time you shop for the cheapest clothing at Walmart, think where it was made and how the people who made it had to suffer. And think about how “small government” with no regulations may result in the 99 percent of people in the United States living like the people in Bangladesh.

 

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