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“A Story About How We Treat The Poor”: Sometimes, Race Is More Distraction Than Explanation

Dear white people:

As you no doubt know, the water crisis in Flint, Mich., returned to the headlines last week with news that the state attorney general is charging three government officials for their alleged roles in the debacle. It makes this a convenient moment to deal with something that has irked me about the way this disaster is framed.

Namely, the fact that people who look like you often get left out of it.

Consider some of the headlines:

The Racist Roots of Flint’s Water Crisis — Huffington Post

How A Racist System Has Poisoned The Water in Flint — The Root

A Question of Environmental Racism — The New York Times

As has been reported repeatedly, Flint is a majority black city with a 41 percent poverty rate, so critics ask if the water would have been so blithely poisoned, and if it would have taken media so long to notice, had the victims been mostly white.

It’s a sensible question, but whenever I hear it, I engage in a little thought experiment. I try to imagine what happened in Flint happening in Bowie, a city in Maryland where blacks outnumber whites, but the median household income is more than $100,000 a year and the poverty rate is about 3 percent. I can’t.

Then I try to imagine it happening in Morgantown, West Virginia, where whites outnumber blacks, the median household income is about $32,000 a year, and the poverty rate approaches 40 percent — and I find that I easily can. It helps that Bowie is a few minutes from Washington, D.C., while Morgantown is more than an hour from the nearest city of any size.

My point is neither that race carries no weight nor that it had no impact on what happened in Flint. No, my point is only that sometimes, race is more distraction than explanation. Indeed, that’s the story of our lives.

To be white in America is to have been sold a bill of goods that there exists between you and people of color a gap of morality, behavior, intelligence and fundamental humanity. Forces of money and power have often used that perceived gap to con people like you into acting against their own self-interest.

In the Civil War, white men too poor to own slaves died in grotesque numbers to protect the “right” of a few plutocrats to continue that despicable practice. In the Industrial Revolution, white workers agitating for a living wage were kept in line by the threat that their jobs would be given to “Negroes.” In the Depression, white families mired in poverty were mollified by signs reading “Whites Only.”

You have to wonder what would happen if white people — particularly, those of modest means — ever saw that gap for the fiction it is? What if they ever realized you don’t need common color to reach common ground? What if all of us were less reflexive in using race as our prism, just because it’s handy?

You see, for as much as Flint is a story about how we treat people of color, it is also — I would say more so — a story about how we treat the poor, the way we render them invisible. That was also the story of Hurricane Katrina. Remember news media’s shock at discovering there were Americans too poor to escape a killer storm?

Granted, there is a discussion to be had about how poverty is constructed in this country; the black poverty rate is higher than any other with the exception of Native Americans, and that’s no coincidence. But it’s equally true that, once you are poor, the array of slights and indignities to which you are subjected is remarkably consistent across that racial gap.

That fact should induce you — and all of us — to reconsider the de facto primacy we assign this arbitrary marker of identity. After all, 37 percent of the people in Flint are white.

But that’s done nothing to make their water clean.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 24, 2016

April 25, 2016 Posted by | Flint Water Crisis, Poor and Low Income, Poverty, Race and Ethnicity | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Republicans Could Not Have Done Anything Wrong”: Rubio Inexplicably Applauds Snyder’s Handling Of Flint Scandal

In recent months, the Republican presidential field hasn’t paid a whole of attention to the crisis in Flint, Michigan. In mid-January, with the national spotlight shining on the man-made disaster, Marco Rubio was asked for his perspective – and he had no idea what the reporter was talking about.

Six weeks later, the topic came up in last night’s debate, held in Detroit, where Fox News’ Bret Baier reminded the GOP candidates that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton “have both been to Flint. They are both running ads in this state focusing on that, focusing on supporting Flint and fixing the problems, showing images of people in Flint thankful that they’re there.”

The co-moderator asked Rubio, “Without getting into the political blame game here, where are the national Republicans’ plans on infrastructure and solving problems like this? If you talk to people in this state, they are really concerned about Flint on both sides of the aisle. So why haven’t GOP candidates done more or talked more about this?”

The Florida senator’s response was one of the evening’s more unsettling answers. Here’s his answer in its entirety.

“Well, I know I’ve talked about it, and others in our campaign have talked about it, and other candidates have talked about it, as well. What happened in Flint was a terrible thing. It was systemic breakdown at every level of government, at both the federal and partially the – both the state and partially at the federal level, as well.

“And by the way, the politicizing of it I think is unfair, because I don’t think that someone woke up one morning and said, ‘Let’s figure out how to poison the water system to hurt someone.’

“But accountability is important. I will say, I give the governor credit. He took responsibility for what happened. And he’s talked about people being held accountable and the need for change, with Governor Snyder.

“But here’s the point: This should not be a partisan issue. The way the Democrats have tried to turn this into a partisan issue, that somehow Republicans woke up in the morning and decided, ‘Oh, it’s a good idea to poison some kids with lead.’ It’s absurd. It’s outrageous. It isn’t true. All of us are outraged by what happened. And we should work together to solve it. And there is a proper role for the government to play at the federal level, in helping local communities to respond to a catastrophe of this kind, not just to deal with the people that have been impacted by it, but to ensure that something like this never happens again.”

Hmm. So, Flint was an accident; Rick Snyder deserves credit for his handling of the crisis; let’s be sure to blame the feds; and Democratic rhetoric is even more upsetting than the disaster itself. Got it.

New York’s Jon Chait wrote an important rejoinder: “Asked to avoid the blame game and offer specific solutions to urban-infrastructure problems, Rubio is unable. He conceives of the question entirely in partisan terms. He attacks the notion that Republicans consciously decided to poison children, thereby ruling out any possibility of government negligence as self-evidently preposterous. He has nothing resembling a specific idea on the issue, only the firm conviction that Republicans could not have done anything wrong.”

As unsettling as the debate exchange was, it offered real insights into how Rubio sees the world. Six weeks ago, the senator couldn’t be bothered to know what the Flint scandal was. Last night, he recognized the crisis, but only through an electoral prism. Rubio starts with the premise he finds ideologically satisfying – Republicans are correct and free of wrongdoing – and then works backwards … until he can find a way to condemn Democrats.

Rubio simply cannot stop thinking in partisan political terms. By all appearance, he doesn’t even know how. For all of the media’s assurances about Rubio being “whip smart,” the young senator simply lacks the wherewithal to consider policy questions in substantive ways.

The Republican was asked, “[W]here are the national Republicans’ plans on infrastructure and solving problems like this?” This prompts Rubio to reference the agreed-upon talking points; (1) Flint, sad; (2) Snyder, good; (3) Democrats, bad. The growing evidence of neglect, incompetence, and possibly criminal misdeeds surrounding the governor’s office? For Rubio, none of this matters.

The assembled audience applauded, but given the reality, they should have cringed.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 4, 2016

March 5, 2016 Posted by | Flint Water Crisis, Lead Poisoining, Marco Rubio, Rick Snyder | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Unfit For GM Engines, OK For Children”: Rick Snyder’s Top Aides Knew Flint’s Water Was Unsafe More Than a Year Ago

In October 2014, General Motors informed the Michigan governor’s office that the Flint River’s heavily chlorinated water was rusting its car parts. The governor’s environmental-policy adviser, Valerie Brader, decided that water unfit for washing engines probably shouldn’t be ingested by children. More specifically: If the chlorine in the water could corrode car parts, it was probably also corroding Flint’s lead pipes. Governor Rick Snyder’s chief legal counsel, Mike Gadola, agreed, according to emails obtained by the Detroit News.

“To anyone who grew up in Flint as I did, the notion that I would be getting my drinking water from the Flint River is downright scary,” Gadola wrote in an email to the governor’s chief of staff and other top aides. “Too bad the (emergency manager) didn’t ask me what I thought, though I’m sure he heard it from plenty of others.”

Gadola went on to note that his mother still lived in Flint. “Nice to know she’s drinking water with elevated chlorine levels and fecal coliform,” he said. “I agree with Valerie (Brader). They should try to get back on the Detroit system as a stopgap ASAP before this thing gets too far out of control.”

It would be nearly a year before the city followed Brader’s advice.

Snyder himself was not copied on the email, and Brader told the News that she never shared her concerns with the executive personally. “I certainly was never in a meeting with him (Snyder), nor did I raise what I wrote in that email,” Brader said. “And to my knowledge, neither did Mike Gadola.”

The governor’s chief of staff, Dennis Muchmore, told the paper that his office agreed with Brader’s assessment but was prevented from acting because of resistance from the Treasury Department and the legislature.

“Since we’re in charge, we can hardly ignore the people of Flint,” Muchmore wrote in an email to communications officials in the governor’s office and Treasury Department. “After all, if GM refuses to use the water in their plant and our own agencies are warning people not to drink it … we look pretty stupid hiding behind some financial statement.”

But Muchmore never asked the legislature for a supplemental spending bill to reconnect Flint to Detroit’s water system, concluding that such a proposal would be “dead on arrival.”

Public-health officials believe that as many as 8,000 children in Flint ingested water with dangerously high levels of lead.

The emails are the latest in an ongoing series of publicly released messages from the governor’s office concerning the state’s handling of the water crisis in Flint. Prior emails showed that government workers in Flint were provided bottled water more than a year before it was given to regular citizens.

 

By: Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, February 26, 2016

February 29, 2016 Posted by | Flint Water Crisis, Lead Poisoining, Rick Snyder | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Kakistocracy”: Government By The Worst Politicians Who Say They Love America, But Hate The American Government

We can see a troubling future looming for America in two seemingly unrelated events — the water crisis in Flint and the Republican presidential primaries.

Both suggest that America is moving away from the high ideals of President Kennedy’s inaugural address — “Ask not what your country do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Instead we see politicians who say they love America, but hate the American government.

There is a word to describe the kind of government Michigan has and America is at risk of developing. It’s called kakistocracy.

It means government by the worst men, from the ancient Greek words kákistos, meaning worst, and kratia, meaning to rule.

Think of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, Governor Paul LePage of Maine and others notorious for abuse of power and utter contempt for those who disagree with them.

We can see one of the worst in Michigan, where Governor Rick Snyder persuaded the legislature to grant him imperial powers to take over local elected governments. Soon a whole city was poisoned.

Snyder, like all leaders seeking to replace self-governance with dictatorship, claims that he acted solely in the best interests of the people. Snyder’s administration did not just fail to forcefully correct the evil it had wrought; it actively tried to hide the awful truth, another badge of dictators.

When the official secret was finally exposed, Snyder showed himself to be at best a slothful minimalist in fixing his mess. He also made what he claimed as a full disclosure, while withholding the most important documents about his toxic administration.

On television you may have seen National Guard troops, called up by Snyder, handing out bottled water. It was a cynical PR stunt: Seven Guardsmen at one location in a city of 99,000 people.

An accountant by profession, who calls himself a tough nerd, Snyder fields mass phone calls rather than take charge in Flint, the once prosperous home of Buick made famous in Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary Roger & Me.

Snyder tries to shift blame to people he appointed. And he remains focused on corporate tax favors, not the people of Flint, a city with a slight black majority.

To those who insist racism is in the past, Snyder’s behavior shows that racialized politics endure.

Bad as poisoning an entire city is, that’s nothing compared to what the Republican candidates for the White House propose – more war, more tax cuts for the rich, massive surveillance and a host of other policies fit not for a land of liberty, but a police state.

Think about Chris Christie, the New Jersey fabulist who misleads about his appointment as U.S. Attorney for the Garden State and who mocks people who say he should be doing more to address shore flooding since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. There’s his false justification for stopping a replacement for the century-old rail tunnel between his state and Manhattan, and his aggressively hiding of the facts about the dangerous George Washington bridge lane closures by his aides.

But the monstrous wrongdoing of Snyder and the incompetency and mendaciousness of Christie pale next to some other GOP presidential wannabes. Many of them love war, especially now that, having avoided military service in their youth, they’re too old to face enemy fire on the battlefield.

Senator Ted Cruz wants to “carpet bomb ISIS into oblivion” until the sand “glows in the dark.” Asked about the legality of this, Cruz doubled down during the Fox News debate last month. The Texas senator thinks this is a brilliant military strategy, even though actual experts think it is a terrible idea and so does America’s top general in Iraq.

By the way, indiscriminately bombing civilians is a war crime.

Donald Trump favors the policies of Mexican drug cartels and the most vicious Mafia bosses. He doesn’t just want to wipe out those seeking to create the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant. Trump vows to kill their families, too. Challenged by a college student on this, Trump too doubled down.

It was fellow candidate-at-the-time Rand Paul, the libertarian senator from Kentucky, who pointed out that killing the families of combatants is a war crime.

Of course killing families would only stir hatred of America and lead to more violence. Sending Americans once again into Middle East combat would only enrage more young Muslim men, which is why I earlier described Trump as ISIS’ chief recruitment officer.

Trump would also break up families by arresting 11 million or so immigrants who are here illegally; bar any Muslim from entering the country; spy on mosques; impose tariffs; punish corporations that make investments he dislikes, among his long list of promised extra-Constitutional actions.

Asked about what laws authorize his proposals, Trump claims unnamed experts are on his side.

Trump’s proposal is not so much for a term or two as president, but for a Trump dictatorship. (see Snyder, Rick; imperial powers).

Then there’s the vile language Trump uses, claiming variously that he was just repeating what someone else said or that he will not be forced into political correctness. Evidently Trump’s mother failed at teaching him any manners. The Presbyterian Church, which Trump recently made a public show of attending, also failed at teaching him about asking God for forgiveness, about the sacraments, the names of Biblical chapters, and the last five of the Ten Commandments.

Except for the now-departed Rand Paul, the Republican presidential candidates talk easily of war, almost as if they were proposing a picnic.  And they all insist we need a bigger military, even though more than 40 percent of all military spending worldwide is American.

ISIS is a pipsqueak threat, nothing like the Soviet Union during the Cold War or the Axis powers of World War II.  Yet the Republicans encourage us to live in fear. ISIS is failing and can do no more than harry us, but Trump, Cruz, and some of the other candidates would have us give up our liberties and grant them powers that the framers of our Constitution explicitly denied the executive branch.

Other Republicans have shown their lack of knowledge to be almost Trumpian in its vacuity, especially Senator Marco Rubio and Dr. Ben Carson. The one woman who was running on the GOP side, Carly Fiorina, has a track record in business (and veracity) that deserves boos, not applause.

On top of this the Republicans, everywhere, continue marketing the economic snake oil that what ails our economy is that the rich do not have enough and are in dire need of more tax cuts.

We should not be surprised that in so many places our governments are under the control of men and women who are careless, destructive, incompetent, and passive-aggressive.

Since Ronald Reagan declared in his 1981 inaugural address “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem” we have seen more and more people who hate government going into government.

A government run by people who believe it is bad will, of course, make it fail. They are dedicated not to making our government work for us, but to making their own worst beliefs about government come true. We see this at every level from Uncle Sam down to the local school boards that try to replace biological science with religious beliefs.

Big business has learned to take advantage of government run by those who despite it. With cronies in high places big companies find it much easier to mine gold from the Treasury than the market, the subject of my book Free Lunch.

Our Constitution makes the federal government ours. We choose our leaders. We decide what powers they can exercise. And if we elect people who are nasty, brutish, or megalomaniacal we have no one to blame but ourselves.

That anyone in America would think that any of the Republican candidates, save Governor John Kasich of Ohio, is competent to hold office shows how easily politics can drift from ideals to the basest attitudes. (More than three dozen progressive members of Congress told me this month that while they don’t agree with Kasich on most issues, he is unquestionably competent.)

The Founders warned us to beware of those who lust for power.

Now we see on full display those who lust not just for the authority our Constitution conveys on the Office of President, but who seek to do as they please without regard for the checks and balances of our Constitution, without regard for thoughtful strategies in dealing with foreign powers and would-be powers, and without regard for human life, not just among the wives and children of ISIS combatants, but among those American citizens who are poor, black, Latino, Muslim — or happen to live in Flint.

Kakistocracy. Use that word. Get others talking about what it means.

 

By: David Cay Johnston, The National Memo, February 13, 2016

February 14, 2016 Posted by | Anti-Government, Donald Trump, Flint Water Crisis, Rick Snyder | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Clinton: I Will Fight For Flint”: The Children Of Flint Are Just As Precious As The Children Of Any Other Part Of America!

It was around the time that the Rev. Kenneth Stewart said he hoped a woman would be the next president that the faithful at Flint’s House of Prayer Missionary Baptist Church stood and cheered.

Maybe the crowd was more boisterous because the people at the church knew that a possible future president was in the building Sunday morning — Madame Secretary, Stewart called her. But it is difficult to imagine the pastor’s soulful performance as anything but normal for a Baptist church in a town failed by its leaders and virtually forgotten by the country until this recent tragedy struck.

“I don’t know what kind of crisis you are in … but be not dismayed,” he screamed.

There are few words to properly do justice to what Stewart laid down on Sunday morning. It was beyond powerful. It caused him to sweat profusely and run out of breath following a 15-minute rap in which he scoffed at the water crisis troubling this city of nearly 100,000 — what is a lack of clean drinking water compared to the power of God?

It was a tough act for Hillary Clinton to follow.

Originally billed as a “community meeting,” as Stewart’s sermon went on it became clear that Clinton would simply be addressing the congregation from the pastor’s pulpit.

Prepared to tell Flint exactly what it wanted to hear, she performed well.

“The time for action is now.”

“One child with lead poisoning is one child too many.”

“It’s not just the infrastructure, it is a problem for human beings.”

Expand Head Start, and support home nurse programs, more money for special education — “All things that address the problems that lead poisoning can cause.”

Clinton tied in her experience as a senator for New York dealing with lead poisoning there — of the paint chip variety — and she made a promise.

“I will fight for you in Flint no matter how long it takes,” she said, garnering one of the louder applause breaks of her remarks.

With her own sermon stretching on, Clinton was looked on by many in Stewart’s church as a second savior. And without stepping too far into the mannerisms and voice inflections of a black preacher, she was more than willing to play that role.

“If what had happened in Gross Pointe, or Bloomfield Hills,” she said in reference to two mostly white, wealthy communities outside of Detroit, “I think we all know we would have had a solution yesterday.”

“The children of Flint are just as precious as the children of any other part of America!”

And the crowd cheered.

Clinton may have served as Flint’s savior on Sunday, but when she leaves the people here will be on their own again, looking to themselves or the original messiah to watch over them and fix this mess.

But having no safe drinking water is the weakest of challenges for the faithful, Stewart reminded his followers. And if you were in the purple pews of his church on Sunday, damned if you didn’t believe him.

“While you tryin’ to figure it out, God already done worked it out!” he proclaimed.

“If a city’s water supply died, can it live again?” he asked.

The answer is yes, because it is always yes as long as you recognize your lord and savior Jesus Christ. Faith cures all. It absolves sin, redeems the sinner, makes pure the wicked, cures the sick, and provides answers when they are in short supply, according to Stewart. Flint’s leaders failed its people, but what the government can’t do, the church and the community can.

Clearly a committed Clinton supporter, Stewart and many in the crowd believe she can help too.

Clinton, Stewart said, is “The one that we been waitin’ on.”

 

By: Justine Glawe, The Daily Beast, February 7, 2016

February 9, 2016 Posted by | Flint Water Crisis, Hillary Clinton, Lead Poisoining | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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