The Flint disaster can happen in your city too

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released their last infrastructure report card in 2013 and gave the United States an overall D+. This country’s infrastructure is in dismal shape, which means many people have been, are being, and will be harmed in some way, be it via a bridge collapse, poisoned water, crumbling schools, sewage or oil leaking into the ground or homes (yes, sewage leaking into the home has happened to me (in New Jersey) and to my parents (in Indiana)), and sadly, the list goes on.

Investment in infrastructure is imperative to prevent it from collapsing all around us. Failure to do this not only poses great safety risks to the public but is also a drain on our economy. Investment doesn’t mean using taxpayer dollars only—private-public partnerships should be sought. Infrastructure must be better regulated too. Some may scream there is too much regulation and perhaps on paper that is true, but time and time again it is revealed post-disaster that systems and equipment were not being adequately maintained or regulated. Prioritizing penny-pinching and profit-seeking over people’s safety should never be an acceptable way to operate.

The Flint, Michigan, water situation could have been avoided. It is an example of the devastating consequences when poor governance, lax oversight, minimal to no accountability to the public, poverty, austerity, and aging, unsafe, or contaminated infrastructure collide. The Republican Governor with his mania for austerity and appointing emergency managers (in Flint, Pontiac, Detroit, Highland Park, Benton Harbor, to name a few) has contributed a good deal to this crisis—and yes, he did, no matter how much some people want to spin it. Governor Rick Snyder asserts that Flint’s water crisis was only brought to his attention in October 2015. Even if that proves to be true, why did he wait three months before taking any action to right this wrong? Continue reading

A Most Dysfunctional House

So we are experiencing a government shut down.

The last time we had one, I was an adolescent and news via internet, blogs, and the like weren’t popular. (Cue the sound of your modem . . . )

I actually had health insurance 17 years ago, and I was (unfortunately) using it.  (I say “unfortunately” because being sick and in the hospital = not fun).  So yes–I spent one shut-down (1995) in the hospital. I would ask my parents and nurses about the effects, but I gathered from my sources it wasn’t really hurting anyone too much. I still really don’t know, but I gather I was being spoon-fed some information so I could focus on recovering—?

Now, I’m not yet insured (not my choice). I have two children.

And I know what it’s like to be poor.

The shutdown hurts the poor.
It hurts children.
It hurts the barely-existing middle-class.

. . . and more . . .

My friend and fellow blogger found this gem:

“We’re not going to be disrespected, We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

— Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN)

I know. Sigh. Deep breaths.

WTF!?!?!

Let’s review:

  1. The Executive Branch approves the ACA/Obamacare, which was drafted by the Heritage Foundation.
  2. The Judicial Branch of the government, the Supreme Court, has ruled that the ACA/Obamacare is Constitutional.
  3. HALF of the Legislative Branch has approved the ACA/Obamacare. Sure, some of the members of the Senate may not like it, but they realize that it is, in fact, law.

Could this be the most dysfunctional House in a century? It certainly seems to be in my three decade lifespan.

Olympic National Park, May 2005. (Photo by me)

The National Parks are gated shut. You can look at the nice photograph, but don’t expect to be able to see anything like it in person right now.

Headstart funding is killed.  Meals-on-Wheels and WIC are slaughtered.  Crucial scientific research on all sorts of things–including pediatric cancer–has ceased because the NIH is gone.

And there’s more we’re not investing in because Rep. Stutzman, Rep. Yoho and others have a point to prove.

I’m sure they’ll figure out what their point in a few weeks.  I’m also sure people directly impacted by this tantrum-led shutdown won’t care, won’t get their medication, their food, their education, etc. These aren’t things you just “make up for” with more later.

So while we wait for the House majority to figure out what the hell their point is, we’re hurting our most vulnerable citizens first.

Investing in the future of this country is clearly not a priority.

Be sure to thank your Representative if they did their best to prevent this.

If you’re in a situation like me, then make your voice heard and call/email your Representative of this sad, dysfunctional House.

I posted the what follows earlier this week. Sadly, it bears re-posting:

(transcript below video):


[clip begins partway through former Vice-President Al Gore’s speech at the Brookings Institution this morning] …I will have more to say about this [climate change report] on many other occasions, but, because this report was released just hours before we gathered here, I would not have felt right about not addressing it.

Now, I’m gonna talk about the potential for a shutdown in just a moment, but, uh, I think the only phrase that describes it is political terrorism. “Nice global economy you got there. Be a shame if we had to destroy it. We have a list of demands. If you don’t meet ’em all by our deadline, we’ll blow up the global economy.”

[pause] Really? Um. Where are the American people in this? Why does partisanship have anything to do with such a despicable and dishonorable threat to the integrity of the United States of America?

All Over the Place

Summer is winding down for many families in the South, where school starts before Labor Day.

This is why, I imagine, so many of the writers here are busy.

So here are some links of just some of what we’ve been reading; please let us know what you’ve been reading and writing in the comments!

Shared Suffering

Anyone who took the time to read my last post, may be a little surprised at what I say next.

Beneath all of the sadness and hiding behind all of the outrage…was pride.  Yes, you heard me, Pride!

Why?  What on Earth was there to be proud of??

martin 1

US!!

Not just the above us, but…

martin 5

THIS US!!

The us that stood together –  shoulder to shoulder, our voices mingling – to protest our displeasure.  Displeasure with a culture that hasn’t yet gotten over its biases.  Displeasure at how cases, involving our children, are handled.  Displeasure at how our laws are written.  Displeasure at how our justice system works.

A large number of Americans – all across the nation – came together for a common cause.   No matter our respective “colors”.  How’s that for tasting the rainbow?  You’re proud, too, right?

(Feel the but coming?)

But with that being said, many of us know that we are not headed for the pot of gold.  We know that our (individual) voices are often marginalized, if not silenced.

And as much pride as I have in what we did above, I fear that we won’t use that momentum going forward. 

That is because each of us is guilty.  We are guilty of paying especially rapt attention to the hot-button issues that touch us on a personal level.  And..we are ALL guilty of not paying (as much) attention to the suffering of others.  Sure, we are quick to jump to the defense of someone who has been blatantly wronged and gets enough media coverage (which seems to be up to fate).  But, then what?  We have a tendency to return to our respective corner, lick our wounds, and rest up for the next assault against our rights.

I, as a non-wealthy, cisgendered, black woman, have my own problems.  (You do, too.  Am I right?)  Sometimes it is difficult to step out of my shoes and into someone else’s.  Further, it is extremely easy to focus on what matters to me, to the exclusion of all else. 

I was as guilty as anyone else.  I spoke out against an injustice, here or there.  I volunteered for a campaign or two.  And I was proud of it.  But, I have come to realize that is not enough.  Not by a country mile.

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.  – MLK

We must combine our grievances to fight for the common good.  We can not afford to become so encapsulated in our little bubbles, that we forget about the gay couple who asks only the freedom to marry.  We can not focus all of our energy on the plight of the woman when our oceans are becoming more acidic by the day.  It would be a mistake to disregard the plight of the immigrant, in favor of the black struggle.

Let’s be perfectly honest.  Any politician who does not believe that a woman is a fully cognitive being, capable of making her own decisions..probably won’t believe that poor people are not making a concerted effort to remain in poverty.  If any politician is able to look in your face and deny climate change, that politician is equally likely to think ‘drill, baby, drill” has no impact on the environment and that “education mills” have got it all wrong.  Any politician that doesn’t recognize the ingrained cultural biases in society..probably won’t understand why “the gays” are making such a fuss.  A future leader who will snatch your right to vote..will snatch your right to marry.  If he or she wants to pay for prisons and not schools..chances are he or she will not be too worried about the uninsured.  If a politician can’t value the unions..how much does he value the worker?

Consider this…

Those who have no problem stepping all over our rights have a plan.  They have a view of the world that we do not share.  Say what you will about them, they are tenacious.  They are determined and they are fighting with all they have.  They are investing millions and millions of dollars into their efforts.  They are buying the kind of country they want.  And have absolutely no guilt over it.  In fact, when we are hesitant to get with their program, we are labeled as lazy.  Or takers.  Or, sometimes, traitors.

And what are we doing?  We’re waiting..

Well, we can not afford to rest up for the next assault on our rights any longer.  We simply can not.  When we fight for the rights of the poor, the worker, the children –  we are fighting for our rights.  When we battle for the rights of our fellow citizens, we win the battle for ourselves.

As long as justice and injustice exist, human beings must be willing to do battle for the one against the other.

 – John Stuart Mill

Wanderlust & Nostalgia

The sound of steady rain from tropical storm Andrea is the current soundtrack of my life, and I feel more mellow today. I thought of writing about politics, but I want to remember how beautiful this country is right now.

I find myself nostalgic and full of wanderlust. Being stationed in Florida, my heart yearns to go west.

But I want to go. Fuel prices and responsibility be damned, I want to feel the wind in my hair and the Pacific at my feet once again.

Alas, I am stuck here. So I close my eyes and remember that time when I was able to traverse the country fairly freely.

I hiked the Olympic Mountains of Washington State, a lush, gorgeous rainforest. As we hiked up to the snow-covered peaks, crossing rapid rivers of snow-melt and rain, we watched our step. The slugs out there are huge and plentiful.

I stared off at the Grand Tetons and at Jackson Lake, where I found a boat with my name and middle initial docked—just as it’s been since I first traveled there in 1982.

I’ve spent meaningful time in 47 states (Sorry to have missed you, North Dakota, Hawaii, and Alaska).  I’m not talking about changing planes in Los Angeles. I lived and breathed in these places. I’m talking about driving on back roads, getting out and exploring the Cathedral of the Plains, hearing (and feeling) the hum and vibrations of the turbines at the Hoover Dam, chasing rainbows in Colorado, discovering Sioux City, South Dakota has a surprising amount of street art, and staring out at a dry but green plain in Utah, realizing it was the last place the Donner party gathered before it became infamous.

(That last one—that’s actually a rest area with small, unassuming historic sign to inform you of the significance of the place. Suddenly, the quiet green span of land looked intimidating.)

I just saw Django Unchained, and my attention was drawn to the geography. “That’s not Tennessee or Texas!” I said to the screen. “That’s Wyoming!”

I waited until the end of the credits—it was Wyoming. What a dumb thing to do, pretend that the mountains of Wyoming are in the South.

(If you’ve seen them, then yes, you know this is a dumb and distracting thing.)

Do yourself the favor and explore this country as much as possible. Go east, go south. Head northwest. Go.

You don’t have to go far from home or spend lots of money. If you travel a mere 20 miles from your home, you’ll find something of beauty or historic importance you didn’t know was there.

Down the rabbit hole, Out through the Chocolate Factory

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where-” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“-so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice Added as an explanation.

Lewis Carroll

Down the rabbit hole.  Our nation is down the rabbit hole.

Collectively, we feel trapped, confused, helpless, and angry.  We are afraid.

I, too, feel all those emotions.  But, what I feel the strongest is frustration.  Like Alice, all I want is to get… SOMEWHERE.

When did we fall down the rabbit hole?  Does it matter?  I would love to say it is irrelevant how we got here.  But, I can’t.  On our journey, we stumbled over our own fear..er..feet.  We’ve fallen, and can’t seem to get up.

We read our children stories, like Alice in Wonderland, hoping to teach them the importance of life choices.  We encourage them to dream and set goals.  We help them develop courage, determination, and perseverance.  We teach them that not trying is the only true failure.

Well, look at us!  Aren’t we quite the hypocrites?  Even now, when our inability to act is harmful to our children, we do nothing and go nowhere.  From our comfortable spot in the pit, we point fingers.  We blame blacks, women, gays, immigrants, republicans, democrats, or the poor.  Our children, remembering what they’ve been taught, see the grown-ups bicker, complain, and remain…stuck.

We stress to our children the value of education, yet do nothing about this and this.  If we proclaim that education opens doors for our sons and daughters, shouldn’t it actually do so?  We must prepare our children for adulthood by improving ALL of our schools.  Wealth and/or vouchers shouldn’t be necessary to receive a quality education.  Nor should college costs ride a person’s back well into middle age, forcing them to take up residence in a parent’s basement.

We teach our youth to play by the rules, yet allow this.  If we want them to know that playing by the rules is the right thing to do, we must ensure that they grow up in a world where that is expected.  Of everyone.  Corporations are allowed to (legally) cheat the system.  This is a no-brainer, right?  It’s broken, we fix it.  Ah, that would make too much sense.  So, our kids grow up observing that greed is the key to success.  There goes the sharing is caring lesson.

While we are pointing fingers on climate change, things like this happen.  Why is this even a continuing debate?  Overwhelmingly, scientists agree that our planet is being stretched too thin.  Natural disasters, like Hurricane Sandy and the massive tornado in Oklahoma, are going to continue.  We have been warned, again and again, about this.  Is this garbage really easier to believe than 97% of scientists??

As we bicker about who is more patriotic, tragedies like Sandy Hook go unaddressed.  Unless you count this.  Our children are told repeatedly that violence is not the answer because it never solves anything.  Ha!!  Have you noticed that our culture is becoming more violent by the day?  Yeah, kids have, too.  When we have opportunities to come together, and make decisions that will save their lives, we should take them.  Perhaps, they need to give us a pep talk about bullying, eh?

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”  
J. K. Rowling

Let’s choose a direction.  We’ll never get somewhere, if we don’t.  Our children deserve that much.

To them, everything is magical.  Anything is possible.  Adults know better.  We are aware that no Cheshire Cat or Elder Wand exists.  Life is a series of choices (or unfortunate events, depending on perspective).  We learn from mistakes, and try again.

Enough crying and complaining!  The next generation is watching.  If there is an outcome we desire, let’s elect representatives who will help us achieve it.    Those that don’t..replace them.  Occasionally, we will learn that our ideas aren’t good ones.  If that happens, we change direction.  Life has taught us all that there is often more than one way to get where you’re going.  Remember, the failure is in not trying.

So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install, a lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Roald Dahl
 
Choose to educate yourself.  Then, choose to act.
 

Virginia is (Not) for Lovers

Virginia.  My (sometimes) beloved home state.

Home to our nation’s first leader, George Washington.  Home to our most (mis)quoted founder, Thomas Jefferson.  The birthplace of presidents.

Home to Historic Jamestown and  Mount Vernon.  Home to (my favorite) Virginia Beach. <Lover’s Paradise!

But be careful, all you lovers!  Virginia is also home to these gentlemen.

GOP_Convention_0a891-534

Steve Helber/AP – Republican nominee for Governor, Ken Cuccinelli, right, is joined onstage with the other members of the ticket, E. W. Jackson, left, his wife, Theadora, Attorney General candidate Mark Obenshain, and his wife, Suzanne, and Tiero Cuccinelli at the end of the Virginia Republican convention.

Ken Cuccinelli.  What can you say about this contender for Governor?  For starters, you could say he is a Tea Party darling.  Mr. Ken Cuccinelli is anti-Obama, anti-health care reform, anti-abortion, anti-environmental protection, and anti-gay rights.  As attorney general, he fought back against the Affordable Care Act.  He has also compared his fight against abortion to the slavery movement.  Oh, did I forget to mention that he feels the Attorney General’s office is “special”? 

Mr. Cuccinelli is for the extreme right-wing.  He is not for lovers.

Reverend E.W. Jackson.  Reverend Jackson is a relative newcomer to Virginia politics.  He beat out six potential contenders to nab the nomination for Lt. Governor.  I am reluctantly proud to admit that he will be this state’s first African-American nominee for a statewide post in over twenty years.  Why reluctantly?  Here a few of Jackson’s statements:  “Planned Parenthood has been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was.  The Democratic Party and the black civil rights allies are partners in this genocide.”  He feels “Obama clearly has Muslim sensibilities.”  Lastly, he vows to “get the government off our backs, off our property, out of our families, out of our health care, and out of our way.”

One can only assume that remaining true to his Christian faith, he would also be a Tea Party fave.  A lover’s…not so much.

Mark Obenshain.  You’ve just got to love this guy!  Mr. Obenshain favored and introduced a bill requiring women to report a miscarriage to police within 24 hours or face criminal charges.  Can’t you just feel the love??  Nothing says love like forcing a woman, who has just endured the agony of miscarriage, to have the wherewithal to inform local police of her situation.  Mr. Obenshain is a defender of liberty.  Er…certain liberties.  He opposes abortion and health care reform.  From his website, we can get a sense of what he’ll fight for.  From his page, “With the Attorney General called upon to issue opinions and go to court on issues like the right to bear arms and the right to make one’s own health care choices, and with overbearing federal agencies saddling farmers and small business owners with excessive and unwarranted regulations, Virginia cannot afford to elect an Attorney General without a firm commitment to defending liberty.”

Obenshain..Tea Party dream.  Lover’s nightmare.

In order for that motto to hold true, Virginians, there needs to be some love somewhere, no?   Perhaps love and compassion for women suffering the loss of a child?  Perhaps love and equality toward lovers of the non-traditional variety?  Perhaps love and comfort of the ill who need medical care?  Perhaps love and respect for our nation’s leader?  Nah… I’m kidding! That one is pushing it!!

You know what?  Forget love.  That is not what I, as a Virginian, am asking for.  I am asking for a balanced approach to leadership.  I am asking for, at least, a slight left turn towards fairness.  I am asking for less tea, more water.  Water is neutral, right?

How about this slogan…Virginia is for Equality??

Give it a practice run.  It might stick.