Thursday, December 17, 2015

Martin Shkreli Was Arrested But A Far Graver Crime Was Committed In Flint, Michigan-- Will There Be Accountability?


Why isn't Rick Snyder running for the GOP nomination?

The most hated man in America, Martin Shkreli, the pharmaceutical drug gouger, was just arrested in New York this morning on securities fraud charges, though not on price gouging. Related: Tuesday night's GOP debate was filled with hatred and bombast from a mostly desperate group of ugly Republican politicians striking out irrationally at President Obama and Hillary Clinton on the supposed subject of foreign policy and national security, which was nothing more than a backdrop for their permission to screech unaccountable lies at the moon about the president. Just horrible, deceitful, hackish people. Anna Marie Cox published a wonderful scorecard that compared Mike Huckabee to "grandpa farts," Ted Cruz "a mirror that reflects no light," listening to Carly Fiorina to biting down on aluminum foil and the Republican Party frontrunner and probable nominee for 2016 to "dogshit ground into your living room carpet."

There was nothing discussed related to keeping our country and our families safe-- just a contest of who could tell more gruesome, frightening stories to blame on the Democrats. Nothing about conservative governance principles that are putting the country and the people in such mortal danger on a daily basis. Philadelphia-based reporter and author Will Bunch had this mess in the back of his mind when he tackled the news that the Republican-imposed government of Flint, Michigan had been systematically poisoning it's own citizens-- albeit mostly children-- to save a few pennies on the city's water bill.
Residents began to complain of skin lesions, hair loss, chemical-induced hypertension, vision loss and depression. Finally, a health study confirmed what many parents feared: The number of children in Flint with unsafe levels of lead in their bloodstream has doubled in less than two years.

The new mayor of Flint has declared a state of emergency-- but for thousands of kids in the economically challenged Michigan city, that may be too little, too late. Health experts say that lead poisoning can cause neurological and behavioral problems for children that are irreversible.

Who will keep us safe? More to the point, how did America become a nation that will move heaven and earth to keep hundreds of thousands of kids under lock and key should one email happen to mention ISIS, yet at the same time will feed children rank and obviously polluted tap water and for years ignore a mound of evidence that these kids are being poisoned. Since almost all of the Republicans are running on a platform of slashing both environmental regulations and the size of the EPA (which, stating the obvious, was already MIA in Flint under Democratic President Obama), we probably won't get the answer to that question tonight on CNN.

...It is a serious way to run a country to drop everything-- the lack of working class jobs, the never-ending struggle to get health care to every citizen, the massive debt that's typically required to get a college education, policing policies that leave some neighborhoods feeling like an occupied territory-- to make terrorism our one and only focus?

Too often, we use terrorism, and the fear of being attacked, to not only voluntarily give up some of our freedoms but to also squelch debate on ideas that might reduce some of the massive inequality in America and mean a better life for million of people, using the dozens who might be killed by terrorism as an excuse.

I would ask, who will keep us safe from a system in which-- even with all the hard-fought incremental advances under Obamacare-- some 29 million Americans are still not able to obtain basic health insurance, in which thousands -- become needlessly sick or face medical bankruptcy or even die every year in the world's wealthiest democracy?

Who will keep us safe from a political system in which almost every election and every political candidate is for sale to the highest bidder-- most famously, a billionaire like the host of tonight's "Who Will Keep Us Safe?" debate on CNN, Mr. Adelson-- and in which more and more states are passing laws to make it harder for minorities, seniors and college students to vote? And who will keep us safe from the ravages of climate change-- a topic that had most of the world's attention in Paris but which has seemed to escape the notice of the GOP presidential candidates?

Perhaps most importantly, who will keep us safe from those politics that have created a staggeringly unequal society in which nearly all of the income gains of recent years have flowed toward the top 1 percent and  in which jobless middle-aged, middle-class workers have been stripped of almost all hope.

In 1941, with America less than a year away from joining World War II, Franklin Roosevelt used the State of the Union address to deliver his famous Four Freedoms speech. In it, he did, of course, speak of freedom from fear-- understandably in a time of rising fascism. But he also noted that a successful America requires "freedom from want-- which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-- everywhere in the world." If that is ever eliminated from our national debate, we cannot truly be free.
Curt Guyette is one of the best investigative journalists in Detroit and his piece in yesterday's Guardian is worth reading. "It might seem counterintuitive that Flint, Michigan’s declaration that there are dangerously high levels of lead in the city’s drinking water -- and in the blood of the city’s children-- is a positive thing," he began. The contamination of the city’s drinking water is, after all, is a gut-wrenching tragedy. But the declaration about the undrinkable water, made by newly elected mayor Karen Weaver on Monday, is positive in this regard: it is evidence that a semblance of democracy has returned to Flint. Such an announcement would have been unimaginable even six months ago, when Flint was still under the control of an “emergency manager” appointed by Governor Rick Snyder. The state’s usurpation of local power essentially obliterated the kinds of checks and balances that are key to a functioning democracy."
A series of emergency managers, accountable only to the governor who appointed them, held near-dictatorial power over an impoverished city of 100,000 residents-- a majority of whom are African American.

Operating under the most extreme receivership law found anywhere in the United States, these emergency managers had the power to break collective bargaining agreements, abolish city ordinances, fire employees, sell off city assets, and slash the healthcare benefits of retirees. About the only thing Snyder’s appointees couldn’t do was miss a bond payment.

In addition to everything else, these emergency managers held complete power over the duly elected city council and mayor. The emergency manager told these officials what they could and couldn’t do and determined how much, if anything, they would be paid. Any decisions the elected officials made could be overruled.

It was under this autocracy that Flint-- in April 2014-- ended a 50-year relationship with the Detroit department of water and sewerage to begin drawing the city’s drinking water from the corrosive, polluted Flint river. The initial savings to the city were pegged at $5m.

As soon as the changeover occurred though, it became apparent that the decision was a disastrous one. Residents began complaining of water that looked, smelled and tasted bad.

Because of high bacteria levels, a series of boil-water notices were issued. Then came news of dangerously high levels of total trihalomethanes, a carcinogenic byproduct of the chlorine being used in increased amounts to combat the bacteria problems.

As early as February of this year, according to emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the ACLU of Michigan, the US Environmental Protection Agency began raising concerns that the highly corrosive river water, along with everything else, was beginning to eat away at the pipes carrying water to Flint’s 40,000 homes. And of particular concern to residents and the federal government alike was the effect of the corrosive water on an untold number of lead service lines and leaded home plumbing.

Despite mounting evidence that levels of lead in the city’s drinking water were increasing, the state-- and the city officials under their control-- adamantly maintained that the water was safe.

If not for a determined coalition of residents who refused to swallow those false claims in addition to the toxic water provided to them by the order of Snyder’s appointee, the full extent of the problem might never have come to light.
It came to light because the residents went around Snyder's anti-democratic government, appointed to oppress them, and worked directly with water experts at Virginia Tech. The state department of environmental quality, a dumping ground for GOP ideologues, discounted their findings. As Guyette wrote, "What is the likelihood that one gubernatorial appointee is going to announce that a decision made by another gubernatorial appointee is resulting in the widespread, systematic lead poisoning of children? And when the city council voted to return to the Detroit water system, the emergency manager/dictator vetoed it. The emergency manager, Darnell Earley is gone now, but is not in prison, nor has Governor Synder been dragged out of his office and hung from a lamppost. Nor is the Republican Party of Michigan disbanded.

I've always been intrigued by a story my mother's younger brother told me when I was a child. He fought in Italy towards the end of World War II and he told me about how the Italian people in a small village between Milan and the Swiss border, Giulino di Mezzegra, caught the country's right-wing dictator who had brought so much pain and suffering to the nation. On April 27-- three days before Hitler's suicide, Mussolini and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, were captured near beautiful Lake Como, shot the following day and strung up in a mundane square near Milan, where my uncle and his detachment found their mangled bodies, which had been abused by the crowds. Does Rick Snyder deserve better? Do any fascists?

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At 10:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember reading somewhere that the states were guaranteed a republican form of government - guess that doesn't apply to cities in Michigan under a "Republican" governor, huh?


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