Must Must Must Listen Podcast: Robert Reich On This Election

I listened to this on a walk, and it is a must, must, must listen podcast.

Robert Reich, speaking Tuesday at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco: “The Oddest Presidential Election in Living Memory

From the website:

Tue, Sep 27 2016 – 6:30pm
Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley; Former Secretary of Labor; Author, Saving Capitalism

Holly Kernan, Executive Editor for News, KQED—Moderator

In the midst of an unpredictable presidential election, get insight from a veteran political figure who knows Washington inside and out. Time magazine named Reich one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He is a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. Come hear his provocative thoughts on the presidential election and the future of America.

Republicans ‘Working The Ref’ With War On IRS

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen was forced to testify on Wednesday before a Republican impeachment committee. Republicans are doing this because the IRS (under a previous commissioner) dared to check whether organizations applying for special IRS nonprofit status were following the law or illegally promoting candidates.

Republicans in Congress want to send the IRS and other government agencies a clear message: If government employees try to make corporate/conservative movement organizations follow the laws and rules, Republicans will make their lives miserable, bankrupt them and ruin their careers. And thanks to the huge sums of “dark” money flowing to Republican candidates from billionaires and corporations, they have the power to do it.

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Chamber of Commerce Works To Defeat, Not Implement Its Own Members Preferences

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims to be “a business federation representing companies, business associations, state and local chambers in the U.S., and American Chambers of Commerce abroad.” They claim to be “the voice of” their members. They are supposed to represent their members.

So what does the Chamber do when it learns that their members support policies that do not align with the right-wing ideology of the “conservative movement”? Do they work to implement the policies their members support? Or do they hire experts to manipulate their members and the public into thinking that businesses do not support what they know their members actually do support? (Hint: they don’t go with their members.)

If the Chamber of Commerce is not really the voice of its members as it claims, whose voice does the Chamber really represent, and why?

Wait, What?

Here’s the story. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) – the people who exposed ALEC – obtained a confidential poll and webinar done by LuntzGlobal, the polling firm of prominent GOP pollster Frank Luntz, for Chamber of Commerce lobbyists.

The Council of State Chambers (COSC) commissioned Frank Luntz’ firm LuntzGlobal to poll members and potential members, and found they overwhelmingly support progressive policies. The poll of 1,000 local, state and national top senior corporate executives who are either current or prospective Chamber members found that business executives overwhelmingly support progressive policies. Some of the poll results:

● 80 percent of current or prospective Chamber members support raising their state’s minimum wage – only eight percent opposed it,
● 73 percent support paid sick days,
● 78 percent support predictive scheduling policies,
● 72 percent support increased maternity leave time,
● and 82 percent support increased paternity leave time, among other policies.

What did the Chamber do after learning that their members support these policies? In response, the Chamber had Luntz’ firm instruct lobbyists on messaging to use to defeat policies their own members support.

Webinar On How To “Combat” What Its Members Support

LuntzGlobal held a webinar for the Chamber’s Council of State Chambers lobbyists on how to counteract this support, so they can advance their anti-worker agenda. From the webinar:

“So what we’ll try to do is actually give you a few helpful hints on how to actually combat these [workplace reform efforts and their popularity among business leaders] in your states…”

“This webinar reveals just how deeply corporate interests and their lobbyists are influencing the priorities of state Chambers of Commerce, even when that agenda contradicts the opinions of their local business members,” said Lisa Graves, executive director of CMD. “Rather than listening to its members and crafting a policy agenda that reflects their priorities, Chamber lobbyists pick their policy positions behind closed doors and then figure out how to convince their members to fall in line.”

According to CMD:

The U.S. Chamber has close ties to some of the largest multinational corporations in the world, including Koch Industries, whose leaders, Charles and David Koch, have funded an array of groups that actively oppose policies like increasing the minimum wage. The Koch brothers’ group Freedom Partners has donated millions to the Chamber of Commerce in recent years. In January, the Council of State Chambers held a session for state lobbyists on “Policy and Politics in 2016,” where Marc Short, then-President of Freedom Partners, was a designated speaker.

The LuntzGlobal survey reflects a national sample of business owners and executives who are registered voters and who are members of the local, state, or U.S. Chamber of Commerce or match the profile of executives that the chambers would want to attract. In all, 73% were CEOs or owners; more than half (59%) had revenues of between $50 million and $500 million; 39% had fewer than 100 employees while another 41% had 100-499 employees. The results included 250 responses per region (East, Midwest, South, West), with results weighted among all states in each region.

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog covered this story Monday, in “Leaked documents show strong business support for raising the minimum wage,” It begins:

Whenever minimum wage increases are proposed on the state or federal level, business groups tend to fight them tooth and nail. But actual opposition may not be as united as the groups’ rhetoric might make it appear, according to internal research conducted by a leading consultant for state chambers of commerce.

The survey of 1,000 business executives across the country was conducted by LuntzGlobal, the firm run by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, and obtained by a liberal watchdog group called the Center for Media and Democracy. … Among the most interesting findings: 80 percent of respondents said they supported raising their state’s minimum wage, while only eight percent opposed it.

CMD’s Mary Bottari explains, in “Highlights of Luntz Poll of American CEOs Shows Broad Support for Progressive Policies“:

There is no force in America that has spent more time and effort to keep wages low than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the state chambers that aggressively lobby against increasing the minimum wage. The U.S. Chamber is a $165 million dollar lobby shop (2013 990), which raised and spent $35 million in the 2014 election cycle, according to Open Secrets.

The Chamber has lobbied on Capitol Hill and in statehouses across the country to block, federal, state, and local wage hikes. It has been active in states like Wisconsin to preempt local minimum wages ordinances. It has lobbied against paid sick days in many states, including recently in New Jersey. At the federal level, the Chamber has lobbied againstthe “Minimum Wage Fairness Act,” which gradually raises wages to $10.10.

“Unconscionable”

“With their internal polls showing that business owners and executives support raising the minimum wage by an overwhelming 80-to-8 percent, it’s unconscionable that the U.S. Chamber and state chambers continue to fight the wage increases that America’s workers and our economy need,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.

You can see videos, transcript, the poll, and presentation slides from the webinar here.

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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.

Fact-Check This: Arrogance Of Elites Helps Drive The Trump Phenomenon

For some time now most of the people in this country have been under economic pressure. Pay is not going up very much or at all, while living costs keep rising. One recent statistic stands out – 63 percent of Americans would have difficulty raising $500 to cover an emergency, like a sudden need for car repair so they can get to work. Around them the community’s roads and schools and services are in decline.

Most of the public can see this clearly, yet so many elites can’t see at all, and see it or not, they do little or nothing to make things better. This arrogance of our blind, well-fixed elites is helping drive the Donald Trump phenomenon.

Among the “establishment” – the people “in charge” of our “system,” including the news and opinion elites who serve as gatekeepers of information – there is willful blindness to how things have been getting worse for millions of Americans and their communities. They tell the voters they are wrong, that our trade policies are actually good for them.

The voters turn to Trump, who promises he will make it all better, that it will be beautiful.

No one else (except Sanders) is offering hope.

Magazines Are Good For Us

A perfect example of that elite blindness is last week’s Washington Post “Fact Checker” piece, “Trump’s trade rhetoric, stuck in a time warp” by Glenn Kessler.

According to Kessler, Trump “appears to have not been reading newspapers or economic magazines enough to understand that globalization has changed the face of the world economy, for good or bad. In an interconnected world, it’s no longer a zero sum game in which jobs are either parked in the United States or overseas.”

Right, magazines. That’s the ticket. Trump (and his supporters) should read more magazines that publish elites like Kessler, who can use a lot of big words like “globalization” and “interconnected” and tell laid-off workers to suck it up because it’s “no longer a zero sum game” and that’s that. Too bad for you. If they would only read more magazines they would understand why moving their jobs out of the country is good for all of us.

The Trade Deficit Is Good For Us

On Trump’s complaints about the trade deficit, Kessler writes, “Trump frequently suggests the United States is ‘losing money’ when there is a trade deficit, but that reflects a fundamental misunderstanding. Americans want to buy these products from overseas, either because of quality or price.”

This is simply an astonishing statement. In 2015, the U.S. had a goods trade deficit of $758.9 billion. We have closed so many factories here and moved the jobs there that we paid out $758.9 billion more for imports than we received from exports. That did not happen because “Americans want to buy these products from overseas”; that happened because the owners of the factories wanted to dodge American wages and environmental protection costs, and move production to places where workers are made to live in barracks, forced to stand for 10 hours, and get paid squat.

Moving Jobs Out Of The Country Is Good For Us

Then Kessler gets into the old game of saying that moving the jobs out of the country is good for us because we all get to pay lower prices.

Kessler also says all those jobs aren’t gone because we moved millions and millions of jobs out of the country so investors could pay lower wages, pollute all they want and pocket all of the savings; no, the jobs are gone because of “increased productivity.”

“The manufacturing sector has declined as a source of jobs in the United States, but again Trump would be fighting against economic shifts long in the making. American manufacturing has becomes incredibly productive, so fewer workers are needed to make the same number of goods.”

Kessler makes excuse after excuse, but think back to that $758.9 billion goods trade deficit. Imagine what would happen to the U.S. economy – and to the economic lives of all those Trump supporters – if U.S. manufacturers received $758.9 billion of orders right now. And then another $758.9 billion in orders next year. Think about the factories opening, the workers hired, the wage increases as companies fought to get enough workers, the ripple effect for the suppliers, the stores where people shop and the overall economic health of the communities where these workers live and work.

That is the effect of that trade deficit. It is $758.9 billion of orders our factories are not getting, because that is how much more we are importing than making here.

It isn’t about productivity; it’s about a $758.9 billion goods trade deficit.

NAFTA Was Good For Us

Kessler also explains to ignorant, laid-off auto workers whose jobs were moved to Mexico why this was good for them.

As a result of NAFTA, the United States, Canada and Mexico constitute an economically integrated market, especially for the auto industry. Auto parts and vehicles produced in each country freely flow over the borders, without tariffs or other restrictions, as thousands of part suppliers serve the automakers that build the vehicles. This is known as the “motor vehicle supply chain.” In fact, the prospective Ford plant that Trump complains about appears to be intended to produce cars for export from Mexico — and thus would free up production to produce more trucks in the United States.

Visit Flint, Detroit, other places where workers were laid off and factories were shut down and moved to Mexico. Look at the devastation that resulted, and tell people why this is good for them.

Meanwhile the Mexican auto-worker wage is around $26 a day. That’s $26 per day, not per hour. Workers who try to improve conditions are fired. A newspaper Kessler never reads (he reads magazines) reported last year, in “Workers may be losers in Mexico’s car boom” on the working conditions for those Mexican auto workers who have those jobs that used to be in Detroit and Flint and similar places.

“They don’t treat you with humanity. It was exploitation in general,” said Ricardo Gutierrez, 32, who had spent two years at the plant before losing his job. “But there was nothing we could do.”

[. . .] For a job with 12-hour days, often including weekends, that paid about $75 a week — with $3 of that disappearing into union dues — some decided it was not worth it.

[. . .] “They threatened me. They told me if I didn’t sign, nobody was going to give me work, because they were going to tell all the car companies bad things about me,” Rodriguez said. “Since then, I’ve been looking for work. But I can’t find anything.”

But moving jobs to Mexico was really good for all of us, you see.

Laying People Off And Rehiring At Low Wages Is Good For Us

Who doesn’t know someone whose job was shipped to China? Or who was threatened with their job being moved if they try to demand a raise? Or who is afraid their job will be shipped to China if they take a sick day or a vacation day.

The American workforce consists of:

1) People whose jobs were moved out of the country, who when took forever to find a new one (if they ever did) and who get paid much less now. In the process, maybe they lost their house or their retirement savings.

2) People who know someone this happened to.

3) People who are afraid this will happen to them. This creates a climate of fear. They don’t take vacations or sick days. They take on extra work at nights or weekends. They work “on call,” never far from the phone and checking work email into the night. They try to make everyone else look bad so they’re not first on the firing line.

4) People who don’t get raises as a result of 1, 2 or 3. Meanwhile the cost of living, rent, health insurance co-pays, etc. keeps going up and up. Pressure builds. (Trump beckons…)

5) People who are doing really well, maybe write op-eds for a living, have a great stock portfolio, don’t believe 1, 2, 3 or 4 exist at all, and believe “everyone is better off because of free trade.” (They also read magazines, apparently.)

The people in categories 1, 2, 3 and 4 are potential Trump voters. People in category 5 just don’t get it. Kessler and similar elites are in category 5.

It’s Their Own Fault Anyway

Our elite class loves to explain to laid-off workers why their woes are their own fault. They don’t have a college degree. They should have started their own companies. They’re on drugs. They don’t know how to program computers. They’re too fat or lazy or dim to quickly adapt.

Trump beckons… “There will be so many jobs.” “It will be beautiful.”

At least New York Times columnist David Brooks doesn’t try to arrogantly dismiss the concerns of Trump voters. In last week’s “No, Not Trump, Not Ever,” he writes,

Well, some respect is in order. Trump voters are a coalition of the dispossessed. They have suffered lost jobs, lost wages, lost dreams. The American system is not working for them, so naturally they are looking for something else.

Moreover, many in the media, especially me, did not understand how they would express their alienation. We expected Trump to fizzle because we were not socially intermingled with his supporters and did not listen carefully enough. For me, it’s a lesson that I have to change the way I do my job if I’m going to report accurately on this country.

Trump voters are “a coalition of the dispossessed.” Government has done nothing for them. Elites: You’re not going to stop Trump by telling his voters how wrong they are about the economy and the effects of our country’s trade policies. They’re not wrong. You are. They’re not stuck in a time warp. You are.

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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.

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.

What Do You Mean ‘Sanders Might Be Another George McGovern’?

George McGovern was the Democratic nominee against incumbent Richard Nixon in the 1972 election. He lost in a landslide. Just as the events of the 1980s shaped the current economic environment, the 1970s “Nixonian” politics of division shaped the current political environment. Did Democrats learn the right lessons from that election?

That’s the core question being asked as “establishment” Democrats worry that Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders would be “too far to the left” to compete against the Republican nominee in a general election.

McGovern, son of a poor pastor who was a war hero and eventually a U.S. senator for South Dakota, had a reputation as a decent man who sided with the people. He campaigned on ending the Vietnam War, cutting military spending, helping economically distressed Americans and confronting Republican lawbreaking.

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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.

Supreme Court Appears Ready To Bankrupt Public-Employee Unions

Renee_AFSCMEAfter a decades-long effort to place ideologically committed “movement” members in the judicial branch of government, funded by extremely wealthy individuals and their corporations, it looks like the resulting corporate/conservative wing of the Supreme Court is ready to make a ruling that would bankrupt public-employee unions. And clearly already-decimated private-sector unions will be the next target.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. In this case the Court is asked to overturn a unanimous 1977 decision that said public-employee unions can charge nonmembers a fee to cover the cost of the services the unions are required by law to provide those nonmembers. The fee does not cover political activities of the union, only the cost of services the unions must, by law, provide.

If the corporate/billionaire class gets its way – and it looks like it will – the terrible inequality you see in the country today is nothing compared to what’s coming. Having grabbed all the income gains since the recession, having wiped out the middle class, having pushed so much to the top that a few families now have more wealth than all of the rest of us combined, now the corporate/billionaire class is coming after the rest of the money in the economy.

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Public Demands Campaign Donor Disclosure So GOP Congress BANS It

Republicans put a surprise sneak law into the big, last-minute “omnibus” budget bill: It bans the administration from making companies and “charities” disclose who is putting up the baksheesh money for political campaigns. The president has to sign it or the government shuts down. The result is that the rigging of our system to work only in the interests of those with big money will get even worse.

What The Public Wants

Poll after poll shows that the public wants something done about the country’s campaign finance system. Obviously just knowing who is bribing funding the politicians as they continue to rig the system against us is at the top of any list: “78 percent of Democrats and Republicans alike favoring a requirement that donor names be made public.”

What The Public Gets

The public might want something done about the campaign finance bribery corruption payoff system we have, but the bribed, corrupt, paid off politicians who owe their careers (and future lucrative corporate positions) to secret, big-money contributions want it kept the way it is, or made even “darker.”

After the Citizens United ruling (by justices who obtained their seats with the help of corporate and billionaire-funded efforts), Republicans filibustered to prevent the majority of the Senate from passing the Disclose Act. “The bill would have required disclosure of anyone who donates to independent groups that spent more than $10,000 on campaign ads – or their functional equivalent – and other election spending.”

Blocks SEC From Requiring Corporations To Disclose

The new “omnibus” budget bill contains “riders” that block the government from doing anything to bring light to the “dark money” swamping our elections. It blocks the president and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from making corporations disclose how much they are putting into the political system, and blocks the Internal Revenue Service from making nonprofits disclose which billionaires are putting money into the political system.

The Wall Street Journal has the story about the budget bill banning the administration from requiring corporations to disclose their political contributions, in “Deal Restricts SEC From Requiring Disclosure of Corporate Political Contributions”:

If signed into law, the provision would prevent the SEC from using funds authorized by the bill to “finalize, issue, or implement” a rule on disclosure of political contributions, or contributions to trade associations and other tax-exempt organizations, according to text of the bill posted early Wednesday.

However, if the President does not sign the bill, the government will shut down.

But wait, there’s more. Zach Carter reports at the Huffington Post, in “Congress Is About To Make Citizens United Even Worse”:

Another rider attached to the budget bans President Obama from issuing an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending, including donations to nonprofit groups engaged in elections, as a condition of submitting a bid. As HuffPost has previously reported, this does keep alive the prospect of an executive order mandating disclosure from contractors after they have secured their contract.

That’s right. Thanks to Republican “riders” in this budget bill, corporations do not have to disclose who they are paying to get tax breaks, subsidies, etc., and don’t even have to disclose payments they make to help them get contracts with the government.

Blocks IRS From Requiring Non-Profit Charities To Disclose

The Washington Post has the story about how this affects non-profit “charities” that are used to hide donors, in “Congress’ budget deal halts political disclosure efforts“:

The omnibus legislation would prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from using any federal funds in the coming fiscal year to revise or issue new rules governing the political spending of tax-exempt advocacy groups. The measure would effectively halt a two-year-long attempt by the IRS to set a clear limit on how much money such nonprofit groups, setup under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, can spend on politics.

The Post notes “a 1959 regulation that states that such groups must not be engaged in political activity, as they are meant to be ‘primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.'” Except now they can.

The Journal fills this in a bit more, in “Spending Deal Preserves Nonprofits’ Ability to Spend Campaign Cash in Secret”:

Under the new legislation, the IRS cannot use federal funds in fiscal year 2016 to “issue, revise or finalize” any rules about how tax-exempt 501(c)(4) organizations can spend money to influence elections. Since 2013, the Obama administration has beenseeking to rein in the influence of such groups in elections by creating rules to restrict their spending on campaign-related activities.
Recent elections have seen an explosion in spending by nonprofit groups, such as the conservative heavyweight Crossroads GPS. The 2016 election is unusual in the volume of nonprofits that are spending millions to benefit specific candidates in the primary.
… Unlike super PACs, 501(c)(4)s are not required to disclose their donors, and most won’t have to file any IRS disclosure reports concerning their operations and spending until after the general election next year.

So, thanks to Republican “riders” in this budget bill, the IRS is not allowed to enforce laws already on the books against political activity by non-profits, and can’t even make them disclose who is funding that activity.

Pubic Citizen Reaction

The Post story has Public Citizen’s reaction:

“It’s outrageous that lawmakers are interfering with the most modest measures to increase disclosure of political spending,” Lisa Gilbert, who directs the watchdog group Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, said in a statement. “The American people want – and deserve – to know who is trying to buy our elections.”

Democracy Spring

Note – many groups involved in the Democracy Initiative are working to plan a Spring 2016 mobilization in Washington combined with joint action in states – focused on voting rights and campaign finance reform.

“Collectively, we strive to build a 21st century democracy where the voice of every American is heard and counted with a government that is of, by, and for the people,” the campaign’s statement of purpose says. Note on the left side of the website where it says, “Click Here to Subscribe to our Newsletter!

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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.

What Your Right-Wing Brother-In-Law Might Say Thursday

Here’s something (not) to look forward to: Thanksgiving dinner with your family in the time of Trump.

This week you’re heading home to spend quality time with your family. Of course, your right-wing brother-in-law (RWBIL) is going to be there, spouting off quotes from Trump and Rush and fully Foxified. Actual facts will not be present at this table and would not penetrate the Drudge-shield if they were, but conspiracy theories will abound. Brace yourself.

Starbucks Is Anti-Christian

Don’t be surprised if your RWBIL immediately gets right in your face, loudly proclaiming, “Merry CHRISTMAS,” with an emphasis on “Christmas” and jumping on you if you dare say, “Happy Holidays.” He has not just finally gone crazy, there’s a (crazy) reason he will be doing this. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of that crowd are telling him (and telling him and telling him and telling him – you know how they repeat things) that Starbucks is anti-Christian because their traditional, seasonal red cups are … red this year. But they took off the snowflakes and Santa Clauses, etc. So obviously Starbucks is part of the liberal “war on Christmas.”

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Here It Comes

Trump says “you’re going to have to strongly consider” shutting down mosques in the US.

Update – now the Republicans only Christian refugees should be allowed into the US. This is beyond disgusting, it is getting dangerous.

Ted Cruz said in South Carolina last night: “There is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror. If there were a group of radical Christians pledging to murder anyone who had a different religious view than they we would have a different national security situation.” Jeb Bush said on CNN that the government should focus on helping “Christians that are being slaughtered.”