Monday, January 11, 2016

Last Call For Water Water Everywhere

In the comments, our good friend Prup has called me out on not covering the potable water situation in Flint, Michigan.

I was surprised to find no coverage of the Flint, Michigan Water Crisis, as far as the index goes, at least. I have somewhat questioned what I see as an overestimate on racism in some of your posts. Where I see it as one on many factors, or as a major, but not the only, contributing factor, you sometimes see it as the only factor. But there's no question in this one that racism and poverty are the main factors, and it shows HOW they create a situation.

As usual, Jim's right.  I haven't given the situation in Flint more than cursory coverage.  Michigan GOP Gov. Rick Snyder has largely gotten a pass compared to his neighbor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and especially since it involves Michigan. Much of America has given up on the state because there's only so much Republican outrage one can keep track of, given the clown car in 2016 and the growing disaster of Bevinstan here locally.

But the Flint story is hands down one of the worst abuses of Republican government power in a long time, and is definitely a story where, as Jim says, racism and poverty are the main factors. Rick Snyder is guilty of criminal negligence, and it's time for more people to make noise who, can, starting with myself, so here goes with David Graham's primer in The Atlantic:

In Flint, Michigan, a scandal over lead-tainted water keeps getting darker.

On Tuesday, Governor Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency due to lead in the water supply. The same day, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it is investigating what went wrong in the city. Several top officials have resigned, and Snyder apologized. But that’s only so comforting for residents. They’re drinking donated water supplies—though those donations are reportedly running dry—or using filters. Public schools have been ordered to shut off taps. Residents, and particularly children, are being poisoned by lead, which can cause irreversible brain damage and affect physical health. It could cost $1.5 billion to fix the problem, a staggering sum for any city, much less one already struggling as badly as Flint is.

The story is horrifying, on a visceral, “this isn’t supposed to happen here” level. While attention has been slow to focus on Flint, the more that emerges, the worse the story seems. The latest question is when Snyder knew about the problem. This week, an email from Snyder’s then-chief of staff to a health-department official was turned over as part of a freedom-of-information request. In July 2015, Dennis Muchmore wrote:

I'm frustrated by the water issue in Flint I really don't think people are getting the benefit of the doubt. Now they are concerned and rightfully so about the lead level studies they are receiving. These folks are scared and worried about the health impacts and they are basically getting blown off by us (as a state we're just not sympathizing with their plight).

On Thursday, while declaring the state of emergency, Snyder wouldn’t say when he became aware of the lead problem in Flint. The governor—who likes to portray himself as a can-do manager—reportedly grew testy when asked repeatedly about his own awareness.*

How did Flint's water supply get poisoned?  Effectively, Snyder's orders.

The problem dates back to April 2014, when Flint was under the direction of an emergency manager appointed by the state to try to fix the broken city. (Michigan law provides for the governor to select managers, and the provision has been used in several places in recent years, most prominently Detroit.) To save money, the city began drawing its water from the Flint River, rather than from Detroit’s system, which was deemed too costly. But the river’s water was high in salt, which helped corrode Flint’s aging pipes, leaching lead into the water supply.

The move saved millions, but the problems started becoming apparent almost immediately. The water starting smelling like rotten eggs. Engineers responded to that problem by jacking up the chlorine level, leading to dangerous toxicity.
GM discovered that city water was corroding engines at a Flint factory and switched sources. Then children and others started getting rashes and falling sick. Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech environmental-engineering professor, found that the water had nearly 900 times the recommend EPA limit for lead particles. As my colleague Alana Semuels noted in a deeply reported feature in July 2015, residents believe the city knew about problems as soon as May 2014. Yet as late as February 2015, even after tests showed dangerous lead levels, officials weretelling residents there was no threat.

The July 2015 date on Semuels’ story emphasizes the incredible slowness of authorities to respond. That was more than a year after the switch to water from the Flint River. This week’s state declaration of Emergency comes some 20 months after the switch. How did it take so long to get anything done?

Jim's already answered this question for us:

Not even his worst enemies would accuse Rick Snyder of deliberately trying to poison a community of poor, mostly black, working class people, any more than the pharm executive that sends out of date medicine wants to kill Africans. What it is is trying to handle a situation, usually a minor one ("We have to get rid of these pills but the bottom line would be better if we actually got something for them rather than throwing them into the dumpster" or "we can save money by switching the water supply in Flint, but buying and figuring out how to add this chemical is cheap, but it's such a hassle. And it's just for that bunch of n's in Flint, they're mostly criminals anyway, so why go through it. Probably the scientists are over-reacting, the water can't be that bad, can it. It smells funny -- but then so do they *snigger* -- and so, if some of them get upset tummies, it won't be that bad." Only, as we've found, lead in water gives a lot worse than upset tummies, like life-time brain damage.)

The intersection of Republican indifference to those people, institutionalized racism and classism, slashing even basic government services into non-functionality and a crumbling infrastructure that nobody wants to spend money to fix has directly resulted in the situation in Flint.  More of this will follow, and probably already is happening, in places around the country where the people that don't matter aren't able to make their voices heard over fracking lobbyists, mining companies, chemical giants and conservative think-tanks.

The fact is if this had been a white community, the water problem would have been fixed in 20 days or 20 weeks, not 20 months.

The best part?  The failure in Flint will be used by conservatives to say "See?  You can't even trust government to provide you with clean water anymore.  We need to privatize this now!"

Meanwhile the most vulnerable will continue to suffer, because hey, we don't even believe in fixing the pipes around here anymore, and we keep electing people who assure that will never happen.

Keep On Truckin'

Detroit has been rescued by the American auto market for sure and 2015 was a record year for sales among the Big 3, but the industry was saved not by electrics, hybrids and gas-sipping compacts, but by the very same gas-guzzling pickups and SUVs the Obama administration is trying to avoid.

At General Motors Co, the focal point of Detroit’s bailout, pickups and SUVs accounted for nearly 70 percent of last year’s sales. In 2016 one of the SUVs GM sells in America - - the Buick Envision - will be, for the first time, imported from China, to the chagrin of the United Auto Workers union, a key Obama constituency.

With oil prices expected to stay low for some time, all the major automakers are looking for a bigger slice of U.S. truck market profits.

Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co.  are using auto show press previews on Monday to promote new versions of their full-size pickups, the Titan and the Ridgeline, respectively.

The big splash from bailout beneficiary Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is not a small car, but a sleeker, updated minivan, which comes in a plug-in hybrid version and a powerful gasoline model more people are likely to buy. There are also new luxury vehicles to be unveiled: a revamped Lincoln Continental is expected from Ford Motor Co  and Hyundai Motor Co's new flagship luxury sedan, the G90.

Obama has made boosting fuel efficiency a cornerstone of his energy and climate policy. Mandates from California and other states are prodding automakers to continue rolling out zero emission electric vehicles, such as GM's Chevrolet Bolt, even if sales remain slow.

In his 2011 State of the Union Address, Obama renewed a call he made as a candidate in 2008 to get 1 million plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) on the road by 2015. But sales have been far slower than expected - only about 490,000 vehicles, including 115,000 in 2015, down 6 percent from 2014. Automakers have been forced to cut EV prices and sales forecasts.

The next president will decide the fate of Obama's goal of boosting average fuel efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon (23.2 km per liter) by 2025. A decision on whether the final 2021-2025 regulations are feasible is due by April 2018, under a new president.

The average fuel economy of new vehicles sold in the United States has improved over the past few years, standing at 24.9 mpg in December. It is down 0.9 mpg from the peak reached in August 2014, but still up 4.8 mpg since October 2007.

As long as oil stays low, Americans are going to go back to big SUVs and trucks.  It's who we are, and don't be surprised if they're doing it to stick it to Obama, either.  Hell, there's a whole culture of car and truck lovers "rolling coal" as a screw you to environmentalists nowadays, and gas under $2 a gallon is only going to keep that going as along as possible.  Hell, what happens when a Republican president reverses those EPA standards?

We're kinda terrible about that.

Getting Bad In Germany

The age of an inclusive Europe is likely coming to a bloody end, at least in Germany.

Attacks on women in Cologne and other German cities on New Year's Eve have prompted more than 600 criminal complaints, with police suspicion resting on asylum seekers, putting pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel and her open door migrant policy.

The attacks, mostly targeting women and ranging from theft to sexual molestation, have prompted a highly-charged debate in Germany about its welcoming stance for refugees and migrants, more than one million of whom arrived last year.

The sudden nature of the violent attacks and the fact that they stretched from Hamburg to Frankfurt prompted Germany's justice minister Heiko Maas to speculate in a newspaper that they had been planned or coordinated.

The debate on migration will be further fueled by the acknowledgement by the authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia that a man shot dead as he tried to enter a Paris police station last week was an asylum seeker with seven identities who lived in Germany.

In Cologne, police said on Sunday that 516 criminal complaints had been filed by individuals or groups in relation to assaults on New Year's Eve, while police in Hamburg said 133 similar charges had been lodged with the north German city.

Frankfurt also registered complaints, although far fewer.

The investigation in Cologne is focused largely on asylum seekers or illegal migrants from north Africa, police said. They arrested one 19-year-old Moroccan man on Saturday evening.

Six hundred criminal complaints is not a coincidence, nor is it an isolated incident.  How Germany reacts to these North African men will affect far more than just Berlin, Frankfurt, and Cologne. If Merkel is forced out of office, the government that follows will likely be very reactionary and will be under intense pressure to start rounding people up and deporting them. It won't take much to light a powder keg like that.

Hell, we're not too far away from such a government ourselves, if you recall, with Trump calling for mass deportations.

But it's getting rather scary out there.


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