How “Free Trade” Kills Democracy

“Comparative advantage.” It used to mean that one region can grow bananas, another region can grow cotton. So they trade, and both regions can have cotton AND bananas. That is not what the term means today. Now it means low wages and lack of environmental protection.

In the US we (used to) have democracy. When people get to say what they want, they say they want good wages, good schools, good infrastructure, protect the environment, good courts, things like that. These of course cost money, but they money comes from the advanced business environment supported by good schools and infrastructure… So the prosperity from businesses growing due to good infrastructure and schools and courts etc is the fruit of democracy.
In places without democracy people are told they can’t have those things so wages are low and there is no cost to protect the environment.

If we let companies just close factories here and open them there and bring the same goods back to sell in the same stores, what we have done is made democracy a “comparative disadvantage.” “Free trade” lets those companies escape the costs of good wages and protecting the environment while still enjoying open access to the good market that democracy had created.

“Free trade” turns democracy into a comparative and competitive disadvantage. Over time it erodes the tax base that gave us good schools and infrastructure — the fertile soil in which businesses can grow. Also known as “look around you.”

Is that really what we want?

The Democratic Platform: It’s Time to Deliver on Democracy

From The Democracy Initiative:

During the weekend of June 17-18th, the Democracy Initiative attended the Platform Drafting Committee for the Democratic Party and spoke on the subject of protecting and expanding our democracy. Members of the DI went to Phoenix, Arizona to provide testimony on the importance of voting rights and money in politics.

Election Results

Imagine this scenario. We are in Russia, and voting is conducted by handing your ballot through a curtain. You are not allowed to look behind the curtain. You are never allowed to see the stack of ballots that was handed through the curtain. Then at the end of the day the ballots are destroyed and Putin comes out and announces who won.

Are you going to take Putin’s word for it?

This is exactly the scenario of our current computerized voting systems. If you have a voting machine and do not have a paper ballot that can be counted with independent observers verifying the count, you are really just trusting Putin to look behind the curtain and then tell you who won.

If you have a voting machine with a “paper trail” but not one compares the paper trail to the reported count you are still trusting Putin behind the curtain to tell you who won.

Even if you have paper ballots but they are counted by computers, and no one conducts an independent audit to test if the marks on the ballots match the reported results, you are still trusting Putin behind the curtain to tell you who won.

You should not trust any election unless the system allows anyone including you yourself to count the ballots. That is transparency. If you or someone you trust cannot examine the ballots you can’t trust it and why should you? No other system can be trusted. Billions and trillions are at stake in our elections so there are interests that will go to great lengths to make sure the elections go their way — if they an get away with it.

The question to ask about any election result is, was the process transparent and verifiable and if so DID someone verify it? Otherwise it’s Putin and curtain.

What’s The Problem With “Free Trade”?

Our country’s “free trade” agreements have followed a framework of trading away our democracy and middle-class prosperity in exchange for letting the biggest corporations dominate.

There are those who say any increase in trade is good. But if you close a factory here and lay off the workers, open the factory “there” to make the same things the factory here used to make, bring those things into the country to sell in the same outlets, you have just “increased trade” because now those goods cross a border. Supporters of free trade are having a harder and harder time convincing American workers this is good for them.

“Free Trade”

Free trade is when goods and services are bought and sold between countries without tariffs, duties and quotas. The idea is that some countries “do things better” than other countries, which these days basically means they offer lower labor and environmental-protection costs. Allowing other countries to do things in ways that cost less “frees up resources” which can theoretically be used for investment at home.

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Supreme Obstruction

A Supreme Court justice has died. Normally (and according to the Constitution) the process is that the president nominates a successor, the Senate holds hearings, and there is a vote on whether to confirm that nominee. According to the Constitution, that’s their job, and they took an oath to do that job.

President Obama has said that of course he will fulfill his constitutional duty to nominate a successor to Justice Scalia. But this time Republicans have announced that they will refuse to participate in the constitutional process and will not consider any nomination that the president brings them.

This is part of an ongoing Republican attack on our form of government.

Ongoing Attack On Government And Rights

The country has been through years and years of Republican obstruction of everything government does. Why is that?

The architect of the modern conservative movement was corporate and tobacco attorney Lewis Powell, and his blueprint was “the 1971 Powell Memo,” titled, “Attack on American Free Enterprise System.” The memo claimed that “the American economic system” (capitalism) and “business” were “under broad attack” from “Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries.” It complained of “the stampedes by politicians to support almost any legislation related to ‘consumerism’ or to the “environment.” It called on business as a class to “conduct guerrilla warfare” against this on “the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences” as well as politicians the public and the courts. The goal was for business to “consider assuming a broader and more vigorous role in the political arena.”

The memo led to the building of the massive corporation/billionaire-funded conservative “infrastructure” of ideological “think tanks,” activist organizations and media/propaganda “echo chambers” that constantly push corporate/conservative propaganda out to the public. Book after book, article after article, study after study has warned of this movement effort to alter our government away from democracy and toward a corporatocracy.

Once such conservative movement organization is the Federalist Society, established in 1982 and receiving funding since from conservative foundations including the Earhart, Bradley, Simon, and Olin Foundations, and the Carthage, Koch, and Scaife Foundations. Justices Scalia, Roberts, Thomas and Alito were all members of the Federalist Society.

For how long did the Republican majority on the Supreme Court give us one highly partisan 5-4 decision after another, reversing one hard-won civil right, environmental gain, consumer right, worker right after another? Fifteen years ago the Republican Five even forced on us a president who didn’t receive a majority of the vote.

Since Obama

After Barack Obama was elected president, the Republican minority filibustered more than 500 important bills (on issues ranging from infrastructure funding to ending tax breaks for offshoring jobs) before they took control of the Senate – an unprecedented number. But it has not just been legislation; they have blocked nominees to positions that keep government functioning. They have blocked appointments to judgeships: there are 35 Obama judge appointees who were waiting for a Senate confirmation vote long before Senate Republicans conjured up their no-appointees-during-an-election-year stance, one as far back as September 2014.

Republicans have also continually obstructed by starving government agencies of the funds they need to operate – the Internal Revenue Service is a case in point. They have even shut down the government when they could.

Republicans also dismantle government in the states, cutting taxes for the rich and corporations while cutting the things government does for the state’s citizens. Many of these governors and legislatures achieved majority status following the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates of undisclosed corporate and billionaire money into the political process. Once in, they passed restrictive voting rights laws and extremely partisan redistricting plans to lock in their majorities.

After so many years of this, the public is, to say the least, disillusioned to the point of giving up on government – even our current pretense of democracy.

But this has only gotten worse. This year, President Obama submitted his budget to Congress and Republicans refused to even look at it. They refused to schedule hearings before the House and Senate budget committees. They won’t let the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) come to Congress to testify.

Now, to top it all, Republicans have said they will not even consider any presidential nominee to the Supreme Court. If they prevail, the court will operate with only eight members, and precedent assures us that important cases will receive a 4-4 tie.

This Makes No Sense, Unless…

Republicans won’t consider the President’s budget? Won’t consider a Supreme Court nominee – any nominee? Won’t allow important bills to pass? Won’t allow important governmental posts to be filled? Won’t allow important government functions to be adequately funded? Dismantle important state agencies? It’s like Republicans are saying, “No, we’re not going to let you have your constitutional government.”

What is going on?

Republicans are able to do these things to our government because the “framers” of our Constitution never anticipated that a (well-funded) ideology that opposes the very concept of democratic government would capture a political party, gain seats in the Congress and, as a strategy, simply refuse to participate in the processes of constitutional government.

The Founders did require an oath of office that assumes such participation, but they did not outline steps to take should obstruction be used to block operation of the government.

If you look at all of this from a perspective that Republicans are working within our form of government, it makes no sense at all. They have a constitutional duty to pass budgets, but instead allow the government to shut down. They have a constitutional duty to confirm (or not) appointments to government positions and judgeships, but they obstruct. They have a constitutional duty to consider Supreme Court nominees, but they refuse.

But if you consider that their purpose is to fundamentally change our form of government, it all makes more sense.

People who see much of the public as “takers,” who view taxes as “theft,” who view roads, schools and social services as “free stuff” are not people who prefer a democratic form of government. They (or at least those funding them) want a different form of government where the haves have the power and the don’t-haves don’t, instead of We the People sharing the power and the country.

At some point you have to take them at their word and accept that they mean what they say: “We want to get the government small enough to drown it in a bathtub.” We are not looking at a disagreement over how to run our government here, we are looking at a disagreement over our form of government.

But our Constitution is clear on the form of government We the People have. That is why they are intent on setting the Constitution aside. We must tell Republicans that they took an oath to support the Constitution and its processes – or step aside and let We the People have our government back.

What The President Should Do

President Obama should nominate a known and dedicated liberal/progressive to the court, to balance the movement conservatives on the Court now. However, unlike the conservatives, this nominee should mean it when she or he states support the Constitution, and be ready to decide cases based on the Constitution and law, not ideology.

Republicans will always nominate a dedicated movement conservative who is sworn to advance the anti-government (and therefore anti-U.S. Constitution) conservative project, against voting rights, consumer rights, environmental rights, and for corporate rule.

It’s time the right-wing ideologues are called out for their obstruction of democracy – and to make to clear that the presidential candidates who have participated in or have endorsed that obstruction have no place in our government. It’s not just about a budget or a Supreme Court justice; it’s about restoring the principle that the United States must act as a democracy of the people, every day of every year.

Here are two petitions that you can sign to tell Republican senators to “do their job” and consider President Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court:

● The Sierra Club petition: “We Need Three Functioning Branches of Government. Don’t let Congress’s dysfunction spread to the Supreme Court. Tell your senators to do their job and go through the normal constitutionally mandated process of choosing the next Supreme Court Justice.”

● Senator Sherrod Brown petition: “Senators, do your job.” “Tell Republicans: Do Your Constitutionally Mandated Job. The Constitution is clear — the president nominates Supreme Court justices, and the Senate confirms or rejects them. But Republicans in Congress want to ignore the Constitution. They’re saying they won’t consider anyone President Obama nominates. We, the undersigned, are tired of Republicans’ hypocrisy. A Senator’s Constitutional oath applies regardless of which party controls the Oval Office. Stop making excuses and do your job.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Is Bernie Sanders Promising ‘Free Stuff’ To Buy Votes?

Corporate conservatives have taken notice of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and has started accusing him of “buying votes” by “promising” “free stuff.” Is it true?

Here are some examples of what the corporate/billionaire-funded right is saying:

● American Thinker, “Surprise: Bernie Sanders’s free stuff will be very expensive for you!

Avowed socialist, pretend independent, wannabe Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is promising lots of free stuff for Americans – and anyone else in the country, legally or not – if he is elected. Free health care! Free education from pre-pre-school through post-post-college. Free family leave.

● TownHall, “Newsflash! Bernie Sanders Fans: All That “Free Stuff” Will Break the Middle Class“:

They want “free” birth control, health care, college, “Cash for Clunkers,” free housing for the poor and paid time off for women who are having a child. They want welfare with no preconditions for anyone who wants it, a $15 minimum wage and they want to open our borders to anyone who wants to come here illegally, have a child and live off the American people for the next 18 years.

● Gateway Pundit, “4 of 5 Liberal Millennials Voted for Bernie – Want Free Stuff.”

● WorldNutDaily, Santa Sanders’ appeal: We all like free stuff.

“Free Stuff”?

The idea that things We the People “get” from government is just “free stuff” misunderstands the purpose of government. We the People established our government as a mechanism for all of us to decide to get together to do things that make our lives better.

In a democracy, if We the People decide it is a good idea to, for example, have public schools, does that qualify as “free stuff?” Or is it an investment in making our lives better? And, while we’re at it, an educated population makes the society better.

Aside from public schools, here are a few other bits of “free stuff” that We the People have decided we should have:

● Public roads and highways are “free stuff.” (Except where they have special “Lexus lanes” for those with more money.)

● Medicare for people over 65 is “free stuff.”

● Social Security is “free stuff.”

● Courts and our legal system are “free stuff.”

● Police and fire protection are “free stuff.”

● Sidewalks are “free stuff.”

● An unemployment check when we lose our jobs is “free stuff.”

● The Post Office is “free stuff.”

● Public parks are “free stuff.”

● ANYthing considered “public” qualifies as “free stuff” that We the People make available for all of us.

Each of those “free stuff” items serve a greater societal purpose. Schools and education improve our economy and society. Roads don’t just make our lives better by enabling us to get places, they enable our economy to function so our businesses can prosper.

Some of the “free stuff” that Sanders is proposing to add to this list includes:

Free public colleges and universities. Just as public schools help all of us, a modern society demands a higher level of education. The crushing student debt so many face today also demonstrates the effect on the economy as people are unable to buy homes and support families. (This would be paid for with a “financial transaction tax” of only a fraction-of-a-percent on speculative investments.)

Medicare-for-All enables everyone to get health care, but also saves individuals, businesses and our economy from the costs of a for-profit system. (This would be paid for with progressive income tax increases, mostly at upper levels. Elimination of premiums and co-pays would result in a savings of approximately $5,000 per family.)

Investing in bringing our infrastructure up to par. We’ve been neglecting infrastructure needs and a massive investment is required. Sanders proposes a $1 trillion effort. (This would be funded largely by requiring corporations to pay taxes they already owe, but have deferred.) This will create millions of jobs, driving up wages across the economy. A modern infrastructure enables businesses to compete and prosper more efficiently.

Paid family leave allows parents three paid months to care for newborn children. The benefits to people and society are obvious. (Workers would pay less than $2 a week into a fund to cover this.)

● A $15 minimum wage enables people working full-time to escape poverty, reduces reliance on public assistance programs, and boosts local economies as people have more income to spend.

Note that these proposals are “paid for” and not actually just “free.”

“Promising”?

Conservatives accuse Sanders of “promising” these things to voters.

Is Sanders making “campaign promises,” as if to say, “If you vote for me I will give you these things?” No. Sanders tells voters that no president can do these things alone. He says that if enough people show up and vote, only then can we end the domination of big-moneyed interests, and begin to provide for each other again.

In Sanders’ words, “Change always takes place when millions of people fight back.”

Conservatives claim that Sanders is trying to “buy votes” when he tells people they can have “free stuff” like free college tuition. But in a democracy, what does this mean? Politicians don’t “give” things to the public; the public votes for representatives who are supposed to do what the public wants.

An Ecosystem Of Democratic Prosperity

We the People built an economic ecosystem by investing in infrastructure, education, research, courts, regulations, environmental protection, monetary stability – all the things necessary to provide fertile ground for businesses to prosper. Part of that ecosystem is that We the People reinvest part of the return from our investment back into the system to keep it going. Democracy also means that We the People mutually benefit from the gains that result from that ecosystem of democratic prosperity.

Our shared investment created American prosperity; the return from that investment should also be shared and expanded. (Another word for “shared” is “distributed.”)


Related: “When Government ‘Saves Money’ And Gets ‘Smaller,’ We All Lose

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

When Government ‘Saves Money’ And Gets ‘Smaller’ We All Lose

Many say we should “run government like a business” and “save money” by “cutting spending” and “making government smaller.” Does this work? Do We the People really save money by doing these things?

Have you heard the phrase “penny-wise and pound-foolish”? How about “a stitch in time saves nine”? Maybe “eating the seed corn?” When government “saves money,” all of these snippets of time-honored wisdom, warning of what happens to those who try to “do it on the cheap,” should come to mind.

Infrastructure

You can “save money” by not changing the oil in your car. But have you ever seen a car that has never had its oil changed? After a while white smoke pours out the back because the rings are ruined. Other parts of the engine are also being ruined. Eventually the engine will seize up and quit and you have to either replace the engine or scrap the car. A simple and inexpensive procedure every few months would have prevented many thousands of dollars in expenses later.

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Government Run Like A Business Led To Lead In Flint’s Water

“If the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water, we would have done something about it.”
– Hillary Clinton

“There are no excuses. The governor long ago knew about the lead in Flint’s water. He did nothing. As a result, hundreds of children were poisoned. Thousands may have been exposed to potential brain damage from lead. Gov. Snyder should resign.”
– Bernie Sanders

You might have heard that there is lead in Flint’s water. You’re not going to believe how much. And you’re not going to believe how bad lead exposure is for people. But you’ll probably believe it happened because government-hating Republicans set aside democracy so Flint’s residents couldn’t stop them from running government “like a business” and cutting government spending.

Trade Policies Sent The Jobs Away

Michigan is one state that has been hard hit by our country’s trade policies. Once considered the center of the automobile industry, factories and jobs were sent out of the country to places where people are exploited and barely paid, and the environment is not protected. (Yes, we let them do that.)

The result has been absolutely devastating (see “ruin porn“) to Michigan cities like Detroit and Flint as jobs disappeared and people who could afford to move to try to find jobs did just that. The rest of the city’s residents are left in poverty amidst miles of boarded-up, abandoned and falling-down buildings and homes, empty storefronts, and absolutely overwhelmed and underfunded public services. Help from the state and federal governments is not forthcoming.

Run Government Like A Business

Rick Snyder is a businessman (CEO, venture capitalist) who in 2010 campaigned for governor on running government like a business, promising to be the CEO governor who would create jobs. Michigan was starved for jobs, first from Wall-Street-sponsored deindustrialization, then from the Wall-Street-caused crash and recession/depression. So any promise of jobs went a long way. Maybe it was time to try turning government over to someone wealthy from outside government who said he knew better than government how to run government. Daily Beast noted at the time, “there is a more than a hint of plutocrats-know-best in Rick Snyder’s campaign pitch.”

But government in a democracy is nothing like a business. It is supposed to organize itself to deliver services and make people’s lives better, not profit off the people. Managing government and business requires entirely different skill sets and mindsets. (Also, that thing about businesses “creating jobs?” That’s not what businesses strive to do; they strive to cut costs and eliminate jobs. According to the Daily Beast, “While Snyder was on the board of Gateway [a U.S.-based computer company that had its heyday in the 1990s but ceased independent operations in 2007], the company’s workforce contracted from 21,000 American workers in 2000 to 7,400 workers in 2003.”)

Emergency Manager Law, Setting Aside Democracy

In 2011, Republicans passed a controversial law allowing the governor to run government like a business and appoint a CEO-style “emergency manager” when a city is considered to be financially irresponsible (i.e., too black). Under the law, it does not matter that the people of the city already elected a mayor, council and other leaders. The governor sets the election aside, brings in an emergency manager to take control of the local government, reduce its size and cost, and privatize public property, no matter the effect on the people there.

Like a turnaround CEO brought in from another company, the emergency manager has few connections to the community. Cut services, cut costs, strip, streamline, just like a business would do. (Such cities are typically surrounded by well-off “white-flight” suburban areas that are not required to financially or otherwise participate in solving the problems.)

The affected communities didn’t like that, and, unlike a business, could still do something about it. Michigan’s emergency manager law was repealed by referendum in 2012. So Republicans re-passed it in a lame duck legislative session. But this time they included a small appropriation, which under Michigan law meant it cannot be subject to a voter referendum. That’s that; the board has spoken, everybody get in line, all row in the same direction, play on the same team, run the ball down the field, just like in a business, or get out. Except unlike in a business there is no “get out” – you still live there.

[fve]https://youtu.be/QFCt-U7Tbhw[/fve]

Public Health Emergency

Flint’s public health emergency started when the city’s emergency manager “saved money” ($8.5 million over 5 years) by switching the city’s water source from Detroit via a pipeline to drawing water from the polluted Flint River. People involved in water systems will tell you that river water is acidic, which leaches lead and other metals from pipes, but they were not asked. The emergency managers could have added corrosion control chemicals to the water, but that would be more “government spending,” and they didn’t.

This happened in April 2014. Immediately people started complaining about the taste and smell of the now-brown water that was coming into their homes. For 18 months people complained. They started getting rashes. People’s hair was falling out. The government, run like a business, did what businesses do: they entered “damage-control mode,” denied there was a problem, blamed the messengers and tried to spin things their way. City and state officials said the water was OK. But there were growing concerns that there was a problem.

A Flint pediatrician, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Children’s Hospital, compared blood test results for 1,746 children in Flint before and after April 2014 and discovered an increase in lead levels. “But when we announced the results, the state called me ‘an unfortunate researcher causing near hysteria,’ an ‘irresponsible researcher.’”

Then, in September, 2015, a study from Virginia Tech‘s Marc Edwards was released showing dangerous levels of lead in the water. Then in October city officials finally said, yes, something is wrong with the water and people should not drink it.

What was happening? Lead and other metals were “leaching” into the water as corrosion affected old pipes. From April 2014 until October 2015 the people of Flint were forced to drink contaminated water, filled with toxic amounts of lead and other metals.

How Much Lead Are We Talking About?

How much lead is in Flint’s water? Brace yourself.

The Washington Post provided a way to understand just how much lead, in “This is how toxic Flint’s water really is“:

In the spring of 2015, city officials tested water in the home of LeeAnne Walters, a stay-at-home mother of four and a Navy wife. They got a reading of 397 ppb, an alarmingly high number.

But it was even worse than that. Virginia Tech’s team went to Walters’ house to verify those numbers later in the year. They were concerned that the city tested water in a way that was almost guaranteed to minimize lead readings: They flushed the water for several minutes before taking a sample, which often washes away a percentage of lead contaminants. They also made residents collect water at a very low flow rate, which they knew also tended to be associated with lower readings.

So the Virginia Tech researchers took 30 different readings at various flow levels. What they found shocked them: The lowest reading they obtained was around 200 ppb, already ridiculously high. But more than half of the readings came in at more than 1,000 ppb. Some came in above 5,000 — the level at which EPA considers the water to be “toxic waste.”

The highest reading registered at 13,000 ppb.

Five parts per billion of lead are a concern. When lead reaches 15 parts per billion, the EPA says you are in trouble. 5,000 parts per billion is considered “toxic waste.”

From April 2014 until October 2015 (and later, and still) the people of Flint were drinking water with up to 13,000 parts per billion of lead in it.

What Lead Does To Health, Especially Children

Lead has terrible and irreversible effects on people’s health, especially children. Even low levels – 5 parts per billion – of exposure have been shown to have many subtle health effects.

According to the CDC, short-term exposure can cause people to feel:
● Abdominal pain
● Constipated
● Tired
● Headaches
● Irritable
● Loss of appetite
● Memory loss
● Pain or tingling in the hands and/or feet
● Weak

But if a pregnant woman is exposed, it can damage a developing baby’s nervous system. “Even low-level lead exposures in developing babies have been found to affect behavior and intelligence. Lead exposure can cause miscarriage, stillbirths, and infertility (in both men and women).”

In children lead exposure has “lasting neurological and behavioral damage.” It leads to 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 can also keep the body from getting nutrients required for cell development and the growth of strong teeth and bones. (One way it does this is to “inhibit or mimic the actions of calcium.”)

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) “How Lead Poisons the Human Body,” “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.”

The NRDC document has a warning for the future: “Unfortunately, most children do not present overt symptoms of poisoning. Because their symptoms (ranging from irritability to stomach upset) may not be immediately recognizable as lead-related the majority of cases go undetected.”

[fve]https://youtu.be/27K54-lV-Z4[/fve]

Cover Up?

Between April 2014 and October 2015, when studies confirmed that the water was poisoning people in Flint, people fought to get the city and state to do something. The water smelled, was brown, tasted bad and people were experiencing symptoms from it. And doctors were warning that people were showing signs of lead poisoning but could not yet confirm from where it was coming. All along the state kept saying this was not the result of the emergency manager’s decision to switch Flint’s water source to cut government spending, business-style.

It’s not as if people around the country were not trying to sound the alarm.

In May 2014, just a month after the water switch, the city learned that trihalomethanes ( TTHMs) were above levels allowed in the Clean Water Act, but did not inform residents until January 2015, and did not switch back to safe water.

In October 2014, GM noticed that the water was corroding engines and started trucking water in from elsewhere.

In March 2015, The New York Times reported:

After Flint changed the source of its drinking water last spring, Ms. Mays said, she noticed a change in the water’s color and odor. Then she started having rashes, and clumps of her hair fell out. When the city issued a boil order, she stopped using the water for drinking and cooking. Now her family spends roughly $400 a month on bottled water.

… Flint officials insist that the city’s water is safe. They say that the issues of odor and color are separate from the question of whether the water meets federal standards, and that no link to health problems has been proved.

…“I don’t feel hopeful,” Mr. Palladeno said. “At one time, I loved this town. I still love it. There’s good people here. But the governing is killing us. I think we need a federal intervention.”

The Atlantic wrote in July 2015:

Melissa Mays looks around the emergency room at a frail, elderly man in a wheelchair and a woman with a hacking cough and can’t quite believe she’s here. Until a few months ago, she was healthy—an active mother of three boys who found time to go to the gym while holding down a job as a media consultant and doing publicity for bands.

But lately, she’s been feeling sluggish. She’s developed a rash on her leg, and clumps of her hair are falling out. She ended up in the emergency room last week after feeling “like [her] brain exploded,” hearing pops, and experiencing severe pain in one side of her head.

Mays blames her sudden spate of health problems on the water in her hometown of Flint. She says it has a blue tint when it comes out of her faucet, and lab results indicate it has high amounts of copper and lead. Her family hasn’t been drinking the water for some months, but they have been bathing in it, since they have no alternative.

The State of Michigan, under the direction of Governor Rick Snyder, tried to keep the story under wraps, and deny there was a problem, apparently even after they knew there was a serious problem. As late as September the state was still denying there was a problem with the water from the Flint river, and taking issue with the studies saying otherwise. Michigan Live wrote, “State says data shows no link to Flint River, elevated lead in blood“:

Angela Minicuci, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said blood lead levels in Flint have remained fairly steady for children under 16 years old since the city switched from Lake Huron water to the river.

However, while denying there was a problem, the governor’s office was secretly ordering filters be supplied to Flint.

Professor Marc Edwards from Virginia Tech University says the reason the state was still denying the link could be that they altered data from samples. CNN reports in “Did Michigan officials hide the truth about lead in Flint?

Documents and emails show discrepancies between two reports detailing the toxicity of lead samples collected by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the city of Flint between January and June 2015, Professor Marc Edwards from Virginia Tech University said.

… According to Edwards, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the city of Flint collected 71 lead level samples from homes when they were required to collect 100. The final report from the Department of Environmental Quality however, only accounted for 69 of those 71 samples.

Edwards said those two discarded samples were “high-lead” and would have lifted the “action level” above 15 parts per billion.

But wait, there’s more,

Edwards said the samples should have been taken from homes with lead pipes. The reports say they were, but Michael Glasgow, then-assistant supervisor of the Flint water plant, said this is not true. Glasgow told CNN the records were not complete, and the sampling teams did not know which homes had lead pipes.

“In essence, the state took an ‘F-grade’ for Flint water’s report on lead and made it into an ‘A-grade,'” Edwards told CNN.

But wait, there’s more,

The memo notes that residents were instructed to “pre-flush” taps before samples were taken, a practice that has been shown “to result in the minimization of lead capture and significant underestimation of lead levels.”

Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality notified the city on June 25, 2015 that they had found high lead levels in some of the samples. It was after that notification that the samples changed, and showed no more lead.

Now Legionnaire’s Disease, Too

On top of the lead crisis, Legionnaire’s disease is breaking out in Flint, also apparently a consequence of the problems with Flint’s water. So far 87 cases of Legionnaire’s Disease, 10 of them fatal, have turned up.

Federal Emergency

Saturday President Obama declared a federal emergency in Flint. This means the federal government, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies can start to help the people there. FEMA will provide water, filters and cartridges and other items, up to $5 million. However, he did not declare Flint and its county, Genesee, to be disaster areas, which would bring additional funds and assistance, because that status has always been used for natural disasters rather than man-made (in this case we should say Republican-made) ones.

This crisis is terrible news for Flint. It comes as Flint was entering a period of revival. The University of Michigan had opened dormitories for its Flint campus and the result was new restaurants and shops springing up. Housing prices were finally stabilizing and increasing.

What Must Be Done

Michael Moore wrote a public letter to President Obama (with a petition, click through) asking for President Obama to provide federal assistance:

● The CDC here at once to truly assess all of the disease and damage that has been forced upon the people of Flint.

● FEMA has to supply large water containers in every home in Flint — and they must be filled by water trucks until the new infrastructure is resolved.

● The EPA must take over matters from the State (can the governor be removed and replaced like he did to the mayor of Flint?). Immediately.

● You must send in the Army Corps of Engineers to build that new water infrastructure. Otherwise, you might as well just evacuate all the people from Flint and move them to a white city that has clean drinking water — and where this would never happen.

The people in Flint are going to need complete health evaluations and care for any problems that show up. But this is also a long-term public health crisis. People will need evaluation and care for years.

Flint’s children that have been affected are going to need special teaching and other assistance, as well as other help for the rest of their lives.

Rachel Maddow

The reason this story has come to the attention of the nation is because Rachel Maddow has been pounding on it and making people listen. Here are links to some of the segments Maddow has shown. (If you only watch one, watch this one.)

● Dec. 15, 2015 Lead-poisoned children prompt emergency declaration from mayor

● Dec. 18, 2015, Kids’ toxic test results raised alarm over water supply: Doctor

● Dec. 19, 2015, Flint toxic water tragedy points directly to Michigan Gov. Snyder

● Dec 22, 2015, Snyder admin allowed Flint to drink toxic water despite warnings

● Dec. 23, 2015, Flint community scrambles to cope with state’s water error

● Dec. 29, 2015, Michigan governor apologizes for Flint water

● Jan. 4, 2016, New calls for federal probe of Snyder admin in Flint water fiasco

● Jan. 6, 2016, Flint water concerns ‘blown off’ by state: Snyder staffer e-mail

● Jan. 7, 2016, Water donations run dry in Flint, no action from Governor Snyder

● Jan. 11, 2016, Meager progress in Flint toxic water crisis by Michigan’s Snyder

● Jan. 13, 2016, Spike in cases of Legionnaires’ eyed for tie to Flint toxic water

● Jan. 15, 2015, Clinton chastises Snyder on Flint, state calls for federal help

Other Resources

Listen to “Not Safe to Drink,” a special documentary about the Flint water crisis

● Daily Kos, Anatomy of a community poisoned: The water disaster in Flint, Michigan

How To Help

How to help Flint, Michigan

How you can help people in Flint during the water crisis

Ways to help Flint residents during water crisis

Bottles for the Babies

One more thing. Like a business, Flint is telling customers they still owe for the poisoned water. They are sending shut-off notices to residents telling them they will be cut off if they do not pay up.

Government is not a business. It shouldn’t be thought of as a business and especially not run like a business. Government is supposed to represent us, We the People, and help us have better lives. It should serve us, not profit off of us and disregard our lives.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Keystone, Food Labeling Cases Demonstrate TPP’s Threat To Democracy

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has provisions that allow corporations to sue governments for laws and regulations that limit profits. The cases bypass national court systems and are heard by “corporate courts” with the governments allowed no appeal. These investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions are also in trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement.

When fast-track trade promotion authority was being debated, people like Sen. Elizabeth Warren raised warning flags about the ISDS provisions in TPP.

[. . .] In her letter, Warren raises concerns that the deal could include provisions that would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. policies before a judicial panel outside the domestic legal system, increasing exposure of American taxpayers to potential damages.

Continue reading

Lack Of Public Options Shows How The Economy Gets Rigged Against Us

In a country with a Constitution beginning with the words, “We the People,” should our economy work for all of us instead of just a few of us? You would think it should work for We the People, but example after example shows how it is actually rigged to work for only a few people.

Postal Banking

Last week, in “Citizens Deliver 150K Petitions Demanding Postal Banking,” made the point: “We can continue to have a rigged system that enables and encourages predators to take advantage of the public, or we can offer public options that protect and provide services for the public.”

Here is a new video of the speakers at the Postal Banking petition delivery:

[fve]https://youtu.be/zAwC3VyWGH4[/fve]

Nearly 28 percent of U.S. households (54 percent of African-American households) are forced to turn to payday lenders, check-cashers and other financial predators, because they can’t get accounts at private banks. Postal banking — having the post office offer simple savings accounts, bill paying, debit card and ATM services and small loans — would provide low-cost financial services through the nation’s 30,000 U.S. Post Offices.

Every other developed country has a postal banking option to serve their people. We do not. Because we do not, if Americans can’t get a bank account they are forced to rely on predatory services. That rigs the financial services game against We the People.

Health Care

If you need to see a doctor in England you just do, and you don’t have to pay to do it. Almost every other developed country provides health care to serve their people. We do not. We are instead on our own — forced to purchase private insurance with its high deductibles and co-pays.

We are banned by law from buying into Medicare until we are 65 — and Republicans are trying to get rid of that by turning Medicare into a limited voucher to buy private scam insurance. That rigs the health care game against We the People.

Telecommunications

How about our internet service? Did you know that municipalities — or the Post Office — could offer us “public option” high-speed internet at a very low cost? (In many countries their Post Office offers internet and phone options to the people.) But by and large we don’t get a public option. Instead we have to rely on telecommunications monopolies who deliver slow broadband speeds and make us pay whatever they say we have to pay. (And don’t forget the fees!) This rigs the internet/telecommunications game against We the People.

Public Options Forbidden

We have been through decades of “privatization” – turning public services over to private enterprise. They lay off the well-paid, unionized public employees and hire people at minimum wage. This cuts the tax base, hits local businesses, and forces foreclosures. On top of that, minimum-age employees require public services like food stamps just to get by.

The privatizers justify that by saying that private businesses always do everything better than government. But if We the People decide that we want to provide ourselves with a public option for a service, this is banned because it would be “unfair competition” with the private sector.

Why would it be unfair competition? Because government offers economy of scale, public oversight of operations, transparency, higher standards, good service, and most of all doesn’t have to push all the gains to a few people at the top. This last is, by the way, the real reason for privatization — to push all the gains to a few people at the top.

Our government is meant to serve We the People, instead of just some people. When We the People are not allowed to offer each other public options, it rigs the economy against us and in favor of an already-wealthy few.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Citizens Deliver 150K Petitions Demanding Postal Banking

“The United States has two separate banking systems today – one serving the well-to-do and another exploiting everyone else,” – Prof. Mehrsa Baradaran, author of How the Other Half Banks.

“Car title loan for $1200.00. $300 a month interest. They are killing me and no way to pay back the loan. I dont know what to do! Can you help?” – Marta, IN

We can continue to have a rigged system that enables and encourages predators to take advantage of the public, or we can offer public options that protect and provide services for the public.

Wednesday the Campaign for Postal Banking, Campaign for America’s Future and dozens of other national consumer, labor, and civic organizations delivered petitions signed by more than 150,000 Americans, asking the USPS Postmaster General to implement Postal Banking. Postal Banking would provide low-cost financial services through the nation’s 30,000 U.S. Post Offices.

CAF’s Roger Hickey spoke at the event, saying,

“I’m here to call attention to all the groups you haven’t heard from today.

The idea of Postal Banking is so simple, so innovative — that when people hear about it, they say Yes!!!. Why not?

Despite attempts in Congress to sabotage the Postal Service, Post Offices are still everywhere in America

… postal banking would be a god-send in communities where banks are leaving – and where “Payday loan” and “car title” loan predators suck the financial blood out of the working poor.

…the bankers, and the payday loan ripoff artists — and the conservative enemies of the Postal Service had better get out of the way.”

CAF’s Roger Hickey at the petition-delivery event.

Why Postal Banking?

While every other developed country has Postal Banking to serve their people, America’s rigged, Wall Street-dominated system gives great banking services to people with money but squat to those who do not. As a result of this rigged system, nearly 28 percent of U.S. households are forced to turn to payday lenders, check-cashers and other financial predators. They end up having to spend an average of 10 percent of their income on fees and services.

If this reminds people of the way the US health care system only offers predatory insurance companies with no “public option”, there’s a reason. The US Postal Service (USPS) could provide an affordable, high quality “public-option” alternative right now. But in our rigged system, it doesn’t. Postal Banking is a non-profit banking “public option” that would both serve Americans who need this service — and help preserve the USPS at a time when it is under attack by the same privatizers who have rigged the rest of our system against us.

It would be simple for the USPS to set up Postal Banking. The USPS offered savings deposit accounts until 1967. It still offers money orders and international wire transfers. They have the authority to expand this. Adding savings accounts, bill paying, ATM services and other services would be easy. And this is why Wall Street is fighting to keep it from doing so.

A May 15 report from the USPS Inspector General David Williams said, “Offering expanded financial services would help the Postal Service improve the lives of millions of Americans as it fulfills its universal service obligation.”

“The sad part is that the people who go to loan stores can’t get a loan from the bank because, they either have bad or no credit to get approved. The loan stores take advantage of this and make a bad situation worse. It is completely unethical and a sad picture of the way humanity is on a downward spiral.” – Heather, WI

“I am caught in the payday loans cycle… I cannot afford to pay them off so I have to continue borrowing month after month and it is draining me.” – Toni, KS

See also:

The Campaign for Postal Banking website

This Postal Banking Petition Is Important

Sanders Pushes Postal Banking

Postal Workers And The Public Want A Postal Banking Public Option

A “Grand Alliance” To Save Our Public Postal Service

Why We Need Postal Banking: Statements from Leaders

The Need for Postal Banking: Personal Stories