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

Reflections on Katrina, 10 years later

hlward:

I wish I had something profound and hopeful to write about Hurricane Katrina and the City – the people – of New Orleans. It’s been ten years now, and I’ll be damned if I can find anything to reflect on that doesn’t make me feel ashamed of my country.

I could go through the litany of ways every level of government failed our brothers and sisters in New Orleans, but what would be the point?

Instead I think I’ll tell you some things I’ve learned since August 29, 2005.

– Every major city in America is a short series of official mistakes from being part of the “Third World.” Your comfortable suburb and mine could look just like the Lower Ninth Ward if just a few bad things happen. The question is, will your state and the federal government send help for you? Or will CNN show up first and make you and your home the next iconic image of helplessness and despair? Let’s be clear: The United States government has the capacity and resources to save you and your family – and probably a lot of your stuff – if whoever is in charge when the shit hits the fan makes you a priority.

– New Orleans is now the “Third World.” George Bush did not prioritize the families of New Orleans, and they have not recovered. They will not recover. New Orleans will never be “The City That Care Forgot” again. Yeah, New Orleans had its problems before Katrina. Not like this.

– When disaster strikes, if your leaders consider /for one moment/ how their actions will affect their political careers, people will die. You might die. Ray Nagin, Kathleen Blanco and George Bush are case studies in this respect. And no, political leaders do not always act like those fools did. Great leaders prove themselves in time of crisis. The people of New Orleans were not fortunate enough to have one single great leader in the long chain of government officials.

– New Orleans is doomed. That’s something I used to think was part of the charm … you always knew disaster was right around the corner, but you hoped you’d have time to finish your drink before the reaper showed up. And if you didn’t have time you were pretty sure you could get a go-cup anyway. At least that’s the way /I/ always felt. The reality isn’t romantic or charming at all. The reaper won’t let you bring a go-cup. You will stand in line at the SuperDome with no food or water or you will camp in the August sunshine on the remains of an asphalt bridge. It’s going to happen again. We know now that the People In Charge knew very well that the levees would break before the levees broke. And we know that that they will break again when the next storm comes. We know that despite the best efforts of the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Mississippi River wants to reroute itself many miles West, far from the city. When those things happen, the devastation will be complete.

– It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to put people ahead of profit. We can say “no” to the idea that “Government should be small enough to be drowned in a bathtub.” We can take care of each other and we can all prosper. But if we choose to allow some to prosper and leave the rest to fend for themselves … we can all end up like our brothers and sisters in New Orleans.

Maybe that’s the closest thing I can find to “hopeful” in the wake of Katrina. We can do better. Will we? I can’t tell your that.

samanthaimperiatrix:

2005 was a big year for me. I became a mother, and I got married for the first time. Watching the horrors unfold in New Orleans fell as I held my infant son, and put the final touches on the wedding. I saw the images of the people in towns on their roofs, the houses completely envelloped in water, and the residents clinging for some shred of dignity.
“How can this be happening here? Aren’t we a big important country? Isn’t there more we can do? Or could have done?”
I tried to mentally block out the blame that passed around from agency to agency over the next months, but in some sense they were all guilty. They all failed those people in some way. Living in coastal Florida my entire existence, I cringe at the thought that we could be next. The next horrific images and stories you see on the news next of an American city underwater could be mine.
Shortly there after, people from the Biloxi area transferred to my work, because they were now out of jobs, and had nothing to go home to. I made friends with some, and they told me their stories.
There was no media embellishment there. They were as bad as you imagine.


Seyyal Edibe:

In 2005, my family and I were living in Germany, where I was working for the Army. We had been there since 2002, but I had not managed to “settle in” and feel at home there. It was like I was on an extended vacation, except I had to work … a lot. A by-product of that is I felt like I was living in some netherworld: I didn’t really fit in in Germany, but I wasn’t in the U.S. either. We were finally able to get Sky TV out of the UK after almost a year, so we could watch English-language TV, but it was British TV. We had CNN, but it was CNN International. The only American news feed we had was Fox News. I know.

I still remember that day. Germany is 6 hours ahead of East Coast U.S. so that in itself can be disorienting. I want to say we found out about Katrina from CNN International. It was a nice, sunny day in Germany, which isn’t exactly the norm, even in August. So I turned to Fox to get the “hometown version.”

All I can say is that it was surreal. I was seeing Katrina through the eyes of a “foreigner,” but at the same time not: I had attended Loyola for a semester and a summer, and had been stationed there for 3 years. I knew East Bank from West Bank. Algiers. Ninth Ward. The French Quarter. The CBD. New Orleans East. Crescent City Connection. The Huey P. Long Bridge. My husband and I sat there in disbelief: watching how one of the most famous cities in the U.S. had devolved into little more than a Third World country. I sat there and watched while Shepard Smith (who’s from Mississippi, BTW), was actually /screaming/ on TV that people were dying on the Crescent City Connection because people were on the Gretna side of the bridge standing there with guns, threatening to shoot them if they even tried to enter Gretna for food and water. And another meltdown as he reported how children were being sexually molested in the SuperDome that had become a makeshift shelter for those who were unable to leave New Orleans for a myriad of reasons.

I sat there and watched the coverage hour after hour. Horrified, but unable to change the channel. Because somehow, I felt it was my /responsibility/ to watch this, so when I went back out into the community, I could attempt to explain to the Germans I regularly interacted with “our” side of the story. I watched people sitting on the roofs of their houses, which was the only thing above the water line, shooting at National Guard helicopters trying to rescue them. I listened while they described how old people in nursing homes had never been evacuated because there was no evacuation plan, so they just died in place. How people in hospitals were dying because there wasn’t sufficient auxiliary power to keep their life support systems going, or any coherent mass evacuation plan. How New Orleans police were breaking into luxury car dealerships and taking cars because “the police cruisers [were] underwater” or they “needed SUVs to navigate the flooded streets.”

All of a sudden “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” stopped being the battle cry of committed partiers and more a declaration of “We’re a bunch of clueless, careless idiots.”

And we won’t even discuss Mayor Ray Nagin surveying the devastation in designer suits and declaring New Orleans would arise as a “Chocolate City!”

alethiam:

I went to the coast of the panhandle after Katrina brushed by Florida. I was with two friends, and the normally clear water was murky with stirred up sand (and god-knows-what else). We could see there had been a storm surge. The usually brilliant white sand was covered with rotting dead fish and a few dead sharks. The smell of death and the dark, but gentle, waves of the Gulf were ominous. I took some photos of the beach, but not of the death or destruction. I’m not sure why.

I remember being relieved when I heard Katrina was only a Category 3 as it made landfall over the coast to the West of me. I had studied photographs of New Orleans before and after Camille, and thought the city would be spared a little.

And then, the levees broke. I hadn’t foreseen that. I had to go over to a friend’s house to watch TV, and the images and witness reports were horrific.

A year later, I found myself in New Orleans. We drove around the city, curious to see how it was recovering.

Parts of the city seemed unscathed. But right next to a beautiful home, there would be a house, boarded up, with spray paint on it, informing all it was too be demolished. The city was discombobulated. It was trying, but next to every effort were ashes or ruins.

We kept driving, and ended up in a middle class neighborhood. Something seemed amiss, though. It was evening, and there were no cars on the road or in the driveways. No lights were on inside the homes. There were no people walking on the sidewalk. I looked from my right to my left. To my right, there were houses. To the left, there was water that was higher than the houses.

All of this must have flooded. No one lived in these houses anymore. They were ruined. It was such an eerie, spooky feeling. The lake to the left of me no longer seemed scenic. The water, calm in the evening sun, was suddenly cruel; it was a destroyer of lives and dreams.

Some links I’ve found interesting:
Race and Recovery 10 Years After Hurricane Katrina
A Katrina Lexicon

Millennials’ finances prevent homeownership; is that a problem?

Nothing screams "stock photo" like a picture of excited millennials buying a house.

Nothing screams “stock photo” like a picture of excited Millennials buying a house.

Almost daily, there’s another article focused on the Millennials. (Seriously, a Google News search of “millennials” returned 3.17 million results in 0.30 seconds.) Generally, the articles will make broad claims that Millennials are entitled, spoiled, and lazy, while others will seek to counter those opinions about how mil. Yes, we’ve talked about America’s largest generation ad nauseam, but an issue with millennials is rearing its ugly head and it affects all of us. Millennials are growing up–with the oldest hitting their mid-30s–and more frequently, Millennials are eschewing home ownership, out of necessity or fear of another crash. With home prices and sales rising steadily across the country, this presents Millennials a cause for concern moving forward or an opportunity.

Millennials by and large would like to own a home, but cannot quality for a mortgage (thanks student loans) or they are unable to make enough to save for a downpayment. According to a recent AP story, the average time someone rents before buying a home now reaches 6 years. Forty years ago, that number was only 2.6 years. It’s a staggering increase in the amount of time Millennials spend moving from rental to rental, foregoing one of the backbones of middle class America. According to a recent study conducted by the Urban Land Institute, 50 percent of Millennials rent, 21 percent live with their parents, and only 26 percent own a home. Think about that for a second. More than 70 percent of American Millennials either rent or live with their parents. That’s nearly 53 million Americans from just one generation who do not own a home.

Continue reading

You’re Hired

Although our next election is a year away, candidates are currently doing and saying whatever they believe the American people want to hear. The conservative candidates are so plentiful, one can scarcely keep them all straight. But one of the candidates is not like the others.

 

He is loud. He is obnoxious. He is belligerent. He wears a million dollar kitten on his head.  He is…

trump

 

…The Donald.

A lot can be said about Trump’s candidacy thus far. His disrespectful tone with women, his thoughts on immigration, and his views on political contributions have been ferreted out for our perusal. Well, ferreted is not quite the best word to use, is it? The truth is that The Donald can’t shut up.

While I personally believe that if Trump ever articulated one good political idea, it would die of loneliness…

…He’s hired.

Wait, wait, wait. Don’t curse me like a drunken sailor just yet. I haven’t fallen and bumped my head. I just believe that there are a few things we -conservative, liberal, or other- can learn from this spectacle. Love or hate him. Let’s learn from him.

The Donald is honest. Brutally abrasive, almost cruelly honest. We can debate why he is so blunt, but I don’t believe that matters. What does matter is that Americans are fed up with pandering. A good chunk of America is sick to their back teeth of what they call political correctness.  Although rational people recognize that political correctness is a derogatory term for civility, many loathe it nonetheless. Presently, there is a certain level of admiration for a person willing to tell the unvarnished truth as he or she sees it.  We are seeing this admiration play out in liberal circles as well. A great deal of Bernie Sanders’ appeal is his speaking truth to power approach.

Then, there is the fact that Trump doesn’t need anyone. He is a very profitable business man who has come back from the brink more times than we can count. He is full of the can-do American spirit; He never gives up. As a known contributor to both parties, he has the freedom to entertain all points of view. As a billionaire, he runs a lesser chance of being bought. Americans want someone willing to hear other perceptions and someone comfortable in his/her own decision-making abilities. While very few openly admit to agreeing with most of Trump’s most outrageous statements, they do admire his confidence to stick to his guns. Again, look left…The liberal juggernaut, Sanders, is drawing huge crowds who adore him for sticking to his guns.

Finally, he is making politics interesting again. For many years, Americans have been, well, angry. Ranging from mild irritation to frothing at the mouth, anger and frustration has been an ever-present undercurrent in political discussions. The Donald has energized us all. I appreciate that. He and his kitten make me laugh, but his unique brand of outrageous foolery has people paying attention again. We need people paying attention. I’ve been saying for years that WE were the tyranny, that we have become far too uninvolved. Apathy does no favors for democracies. The Donald and his kitten are just entertaining enough to draw in viewers. Viewers are voters. For that alone, Trump, you’re hired.

 

 

 

Remembering Hiroshima

(Disclaimer: this post solely represents the opinion of the author.)

On August 6, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress named Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, the climax of the gruesome struggle in the Pacific between the US and Japan. Approximately 90,000 people were killed immediately, and another 50,000 died within two years. Added to that was the toll paid by the survivors, and their descendents: radiation sickness, cancer, leukemia, mutation, genetic damage, and birth defects decades later add an incalculable amount of human suffering to the toll. Three days later, this Boschian tragedy was re-enacted, at Nagasaki.

It’s almost cliche, now, to dutifully go through the debate: the Japanese started the war, Pearl Harbor, Bataan, Manila, execution of prisoners, refused to surrender. The Bomb not only saved a million(?) Americans, but actually saved Japanese lives as well, by obviating the need for an invasion of Japan.

And so forth. For every one, there is a riposte, every charge, a justification. These justifications-and that’s what they are-are necessary, because they help obscure what the nuclear attack on Hiroshima was:

A massacre. A slaughter of the innocents. I don’t know what else you can call hitting an undefended city, containing few if any targets of military value, with a nuclear weapon.

You can call it justifiable if you want-I’ve given you the basic outline of the usual main points. Many do. But remember what you are doing: you are justifying the massacre of civilians, on a previously-unimagined scale. If massacres are justifiable, then where does it stop? It doesn’t, until it reaches its logical conclusion: justifiable genocide, as promoted in the Times of Israel last year.

Hitler and Stalin both thought massacres were justifiable, as seen in places like Babi Yar, Katyn Forest, the gulag archipelago, and the German concentration and extermination camp system. “Bomber” Harris was a big fan, as seen at Cologne, Hamburg, Dresden, and a hundred other incinerated cities. So was Curtis LeMay, whose firebombing campaign against Japan-hitting a major Japanese city every other day-made Harris look like a bush-leaguer. And of course, the Japanese officers who ordered the rape of Nanking, created IJA Unit 731, and killed hundreds of thousands in China, Korea, the Philippines, and Okinawa thought they were justified too. And Truman, who promised Japan “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on the Earth”, went to his grave justifying his decision.

Nobody escapes the truth. Either these acts are universally wrong, or they are not. And if the massacre on a vast scale is justified, then why not genocide? After a while, they start to become indistinguishable from one another. If it is morally acceptable to nuke a city, then what is forbidden? And why? Is there still something worse, where we can draw a line and say “We won’t do that”?

So, amidst the jingoistic chest-pounding and nationalistic roars on one side, and the solemn memorial of the dead divorced from the acts of the leadership who brought this horror upon them on the other, remember Hiroshima, sacrificed on the altar of the justifiable massacre as an offering to the gods of vengeance. A vast, boiling, multi-colored monument to the failure of human beings to rise above their base, brutal, bloodthirsty programming. Remember the dead, the hibakusha, and the downwinders. And remember, even after all this time-it could still be you, your kids, your family.

We are all downwinders now.

Overcoming Through Forgiveness?

We shall overcome.
We shall overcome.
We shall overcome some day.

 

I always loved that song as a child. I believed it, too. My family is what my son calls a “patchwork quilt”…a little of everything. Growing up, I surrounded myself with all kinds of people, because people are people to me. We all bleed red, right? The idea people were people informed my entire young life. Aging came with knowledge and awareness that my child’s brain could not process. I’ve learned, through experience, that color blindness is a slogan. It’s also a weakness.

The recent events in a South Carolina church are possibly a result of that weakness.

For those unfamiliar with me, I am a fellow traveler through life who happened to be born with ovaries and not quite white skin. By not quite white, I mean dark -VERY dark- skin. I am a black woman. Yes, black! No hyphenated American here. Move along. Those travelling alongside me are as diverse and colorful as a rainbow. There is one who holds my hand, nudges me forward, and even carries me some days. He is a wonderful man who happened to be born with not quite dark skin. Not quite meaning as white as a cloud, but he’s MY cloud, and I love the caring person that he is underneath the not quite dark skin. With him, I share four of Heaven’s sweetest angels. Speaking of Heaven and angels, yes, I believe in a High Power.

And that brings me to my question. Every headline I’ve read lately has zeroed in on the fact that the families of the victims have forgiven the terrorist who killed their loved ones. Yes, I said terrorist! If you don’t recognize racism as an ideology rife with terroristic tendencies and methods, read a book. But back to my question. Is immediate forgiveness the answer?

On one hand, I applaud -admire even- these families. They have experienced a tragedy the likes of which I can not fathom. Forgiving the terrorist may be a crucial part of their grieving process, and I pray comfort and peace over them, however that’s accomplished. As a fellow believer, I know that love, compassion, and forgiveness are expected. Likewise, I know that truth and justice are required in any truly free and equal society.

On the other hand, I wonder if it is healthy for us, as a nation, to focus on the forgiveness of a killer without much care for the conditions that lead to such forgiveness-needing acts?

I don’t think it is. As it is, in order to be heard, black Americans must react in a certain (submissive?) way to events involving race. We must make the disclaimer that we know all white people aren’t racist. We must exude grace through our pain. We must speak softly. We must condemn ‘black on black’ crime in Chicago and openly plea for less fatherless homes. We must criticize Al Sharpton. We must march, sing, and quote Dr. Martin Luther King. We must do any and everything except…

BE ANGRY. Even after this most horrible and OBVIOUS racially motivated hate crime, we must not show anger. We should forgive immediately? A hate-filled terrorist slaughtered people who welcomed him with open arms, literally responding to an olive branch with a gun, and shows no remorse should be immediately forgiven? He asked not for forgiveness, but for a living witness to what he hoped would be the beginning of a race war…and this is the conversation we’re having? This is after the conversation about motivation, because saying “I’m here to shoot black people” has SO many meanings.

My faith is strong, but I’m not at Forgiveness Avenue yet. I am angry. I am sorrowful. I am angry. I am filled with worry over the state of the nation my children have to live in. I am weary of our cowardice in regards to repairing race relations. Did I mention how mad I am? I wanted to look around and see that others were as disgusted as I was. That everyone was as disgusted as I was.

I’m comforted that I saw some of that. Thank God for good people! I saw other things, too. I saw that far too many of us would rather keep sweeping shit into a corner and spraying Febreeze than to go on and deal with the busted sewage pipe. I saw that far too many of us still don’t recognize the power of language (thug vs mentally ill) and symbols (heritage vs symbol of oppression). Thank you, South Carolina for recognizing that some divisions are bigger than a flag. I saw that in 2015, far too many of my fellow Americans ignore the reality hundreds of years worth of bigotry created, and expect me to forgive in order to overcome.

Someday.

 

 

Defending Hillary

“In the Senate, I have worked across the aisle to make change. When I was elected, the people of New York took a chance on me and it was a great honor that they did. But I knew that I had to go and get things done. I couldn’t just say, ‘Well I’ve been elected, thank you very much.’ That’s not who I am, that’s not what I do.” – Hillary Clinton-*

Surprise—Hillary announced her candidacy for President! Yeah, I know that’s an enormous yawn because everyone knew she would eventually make it official. By now you have also probably heard about a little scandal having to do with the former secretary of state’s emails. I know that I’m a little behind addressing this situation, but now that Clinton has officially declared her intentions, it is time to offer some perspective on the email issue. If you aren’t aware of this, well, the hypocrisy surrounding the outrage (most of which has died down—at least for now) from both the right and (yes) even the left is enough to make one’s head explode—well, mine anyway.

Let me preface with the fact that I am a huge proponent of transparency and accountability at every level of government and believe that all communication of government business should be conducted on a government server (apologies for the redundancies). However, transparency and accountability are for another discussion and one well worth having, not only in regards to Secretary Clinton, but all elected and appointed government officials.

So what is the hypocrisy surrounding Secretary Clinton’s emails one might ask? Oh, let me count the ways (and this isn’t a comprehensive list):

Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush’s email transparency is a total joke

Jeb Bush had another private email account as Florida Governor

Jeb Bush owned personal email server he used as governor

Andrew Cuomo

Cuomo administration begins large-scale email purges

Mitt Romney

Romney staff spent nearly $100,000 to hide records

Scott Walker

John Doe Transcript: Scott Walker must have known of private email, laptop system

Sarah Palin

Palin outraged that Hillary Clinton pulled a Palin

Colin Powell

Colin Powell relied on personal emails while Secretary of State

Congress members

Congress doesn’t have rules for saving emails

5 million missing emails during the GW Bush administration related to the attorneys general firing investigation. That should be truly shocking and outrage-inducing to anyone concerned with transparency and accountability in government.

Madame Secretary as Right-wing Target Practice

Conservatives are attacking Secretary Clinton because she is the Democratic frontrunner, possesses stronger credentials than anyone currently running on the GOP side, and is a Clinton— and you know there is always something “sneaky” about “those” people and the “rules don’t apply to them.” (Well, the rules don’t apply to most powerful, wealthy people so why should she be held to different standards? I’m not saying that’s right, because it’s not, but just posing the question as food for thought.)

Of course, these omitted emails will now be used to perpetuate the Benghazi hysteria, keeping it front and center through 2016, if possible, although most people have moved past that issue because there was no criminality involved—even the GOP-led investigative report confirmed there was no misconduct. This report was issued by the Benghazi Select Committee, which is headed up by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC).

Mr. Gowdy has requested Clinton turn over to him her personal email server, which she has refused to do. Yet he refuses to release Clinton’s Benghazi-related emails—that she did release—to the public as Democrats in the House of Representative have requested. If Congressman Gowdy were so adamant about transparency and accountability, he’d release them. He has not. My question is why hasn’t he? They must be less than compelling and devoid of any smoking gun. However, it’s a brilliant strategy because to withhold them from the public allows the Republican propaganda machine to continue hyping a conspiracy or possible foul-play surrounding that tragic incident.

Gowdy also prefers the committee to interview Clinton (again) in private. Clinton prefers a public hearing, which most Americans interested in this situation would appreciate. Why is he so adamant about keeping the hearing secret? It all feeds into the way conservatives want to milk this issue through 2016. I guarantee it. Now, that’s not to say the Democrats wouldn’t do the same in this situation because they probably would. Again, it’s politics, which is not for the faint of heart.

Liberal Media Pundits Join In

Liberal media pundits have joined the GOP attackers. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the cable news networks and political blogs. Even liberal MSNBC has denounced her, failing to see that they held her to a different standard than others, such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Perhaps his being a man shelters him from this type of scrutiny? Furthermore, the Clintons have a love-hate relationship with the media, so any opportunity the media sees to go after them they do so, and with great fervor.

Yes, she was secretary of state, but so was Colin Powell. In my view, the disappearance of 5 million Bush administration emails related to the attorney general firings investigation is a much more serious matter. I didn’t hear much outrage from the right when that was revealed.

As the 2016 presidential campaign progresses, the Clinton email issue will continue to provoke political attacks against her. There are valid issues and policy positions that her opponents can exploit, but until everyone else in government is held to the same standards of transparency and accountability, I’m cutting Hillary a little slack on this email one.

* What did Hillary Clinton accomplish while in the Senate? You can read about it here and here.