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

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I now interrupt your regularly scheduled programming…

…Why, you ask? Because a certain story of American gusto has taken the nation by storm. And, well, I am not totally buying the narrative.

By now, we’ve all heard the heart warming story. 56-year-old James Robertson walks over 21 miles to work…5 days a week…for 10 years. Let me repeat that. Mr. Robertson has walked over 21 miles to work for 10 years. After his car gave out on him over a decade ago, this man did what he needed to do in order to remain gainfully employed. In the process, the job became his life.

 

The sheer time and effort of getting to work has ruled Robertson’s life for more than a decade, ever since his car broke down. He didn’t replace it because, he says, “I haven’t had a chance to save for it.” His job pays $10.55 an hour, well above Michigan’s minimum wage of $8.15 an hour but not enough for him to buy, maintain and insure a car in Detroit.

Is this job really worth it? I mean, walking that far every Monday through Friday! Why not just quit?

“I can’t imagine not working,” he says.

Okay, so this man is no taker. He exemplifies the idea that a man who won’t work won’t eat. Right?

Robertson’s 23-mile commute from home takes four hours.

He also seems to understand that anything worth having might be difficult to obtain and keep. The four-hour journey to keep a $10.55/hour job practically yells commitment. Right? And his employers speak very highly of him. His manager speaks of Mr. Robertson as a model employee.

“I set our attendance standard by this man,” says Todd Wilson, plant manager at Schain Mold & Engineering. “I say, if this man can get here, walking all those miles through snow and rain, well I’ll tell you, I have people in Pontiac 10 minutes away and they say they can’t get here — bull!”

I know what you’re thinking. What exactly is the issue? What can be said other than the fact that Mr. Robertson’s actions are the embodiment of what we think of as American Spirit? His story is remarkable. I find that there are, indeed, a few remarkable things about this story. (Spoiler Alert: American spirit doesn’t make my list.)

Topping the list, of course, is James Robertson. In my view, this is not a case of American can-do spirit. In fact, America plays little to no role here save setting and nationality. This a case of a remarkably determined man doing remarkable things in order to survive. The triumph or victory (if you call it that) belongs solely to the man himself. His grit, his determination, his perseverance, and his commitment make him a man to be respected and admired.

Secondly, I find it remarkable that so many Americans read his story, recognized his actions, and responded. According to  USA Today, over $230,000 has been raised on behalf of Mr. Robertson. That number is expected to rise.  I was pretty sure that there were still good people in the world, and the response reaffirmed that belief.

Finally, I find it remarkably disheartening that this story, while touching and inspiring, is not unique. My life has allowed me to experience many, many James Robertsons. I grew up in a community where this type of feel-good story was the norm. I have witnessed single mothers walk to work after death, divorce, or abandonment removed fathers from homes. I have witnessed married women walk similarly exhaustive treks in order to supplement the father’s income so that the family could make ends meet. I have witnessed fathers walking from home to Job 1, then Job 2, and sometimes Job 3 before walking home again.

Circumstances of birth, I suppose, make these people good Americans. In my eyes, they are simply good people. And therein lies my issue…this nation is full of good people doing remarkable things on a daily basis. Not in an effort to be labeled “good Americans”, but because they must be done. The stories of James Robertson and countless others make me wonder why Americans can’t see the economic failure embedded within the feel-good.

But… I return you to your regularly scheduled programming…

Ferguson, Pt. 1

Some links I found interesting about what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri:

What’s goin’ on?

Things we’ve been reading:

First, a friend of mine shared this.

I lightly broke it down (do read it) with this response:

1. Referring to yourself and/or group of friends as “bro” seriously might as well be a sign you’re a douchcanoe.
2. “Midnight or after, if you have been talking for awhile and they’ve had a couple drinks, ask if they want to dance. If you see an untalked to group or a solo girl, go up to her and ask if she wants anything to drink. If she says yes, get her a drink and then ask if she wants to dance. If she says no, ask her to dance. DANCING IS FUN!!!!! Always try to dance. If she does not want to dance and is with friends, say “aw thats no fun” (or something like that) and then ask one of her friends.”
I thought the stereotype was that guys don’t like to dance, which made the all caps insistence DANCING IS FUN massively humorous. But is DANCING FUN with creepy guys who call each other “bro?”
He really does need to learn about the body though. There’s a lot in between “just under the boob” and “fingering her.”  Just sayin’.
3. “If she starts putting her hair over her ear, THAT MEANS SHE WANTS A KISS.”
I had no idea this was part of the mating ritual of humans. I’m sure my husband is stewing “That feminist bitch I married never puts her hair over my ear, dammit.”
WTF is he talking about? Well, he sure is fond OF ALL CAPS.
4. ” 6. Ejaculate (should also be self explanatory) ”
No, I’m sorry, I don’t follow, care to explain? Preferably in ALL CAPS, AMIRITE BROS? How many women do you think this “bro” *shudder* has so cleverly used this MASSIVELY AWESOME ADVICE ON, [name of friend]? Success rates count.

Also, why are people so stupid to think emails won’t be leaked, etc? Geez.

In other news:

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?

Protection or Privacy?

On Thursday, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, by a margin of 288-127. See a vote breakdown here.

The Senate has displayed little interest in considering this bill so far, but it’s still worth considering the pro’s and con’s of CISPA.

This cybersecurity bill is broad, allowing corporations to share customer’s private information with other firms and the government.  This is applicable even in cases where the company has a contract not to do so.  Companies would be exempt from liability should the act pass.

Proponents of the bill claim that its primary purpose is to protect infrastructure and institutions from online attacks.  They say that the bill has nothing to do with government surveillance, and that the information obtained would be usable only in cases where a cyber threat is detected.  They also make clear that the information collected will not be stored and/or used for any other purposes.

big-brother-posterOpponents of CISPA are many and are vocal, calling for a blackout today. They point to the fact that the language is broad enough that it is difficult to be certain what the information gathered will be used for.  “It is written so broadly that it allows companies to hand over large swaths of personal information to the government with no judicial oversight—effectively creating a “cybersecurity” loophole in all existing privacy laws.” (eff.org) Opponents are uncomfortable with the idea of information being used for “national security purposes” as well as concerns over a loss of cybersecurity.  These worries are amplified by the fact that companies would be authorized to hand over information directly to the NSA.

President Obama has threatened a CISPA veto, claiming that it does not do enough to protect privacy and civil liberties.  This threat is semi-assuring, but not altogether a sigh of relief. After all, Mr. Obama had threatened to veto the NDAA, which he later signed into law.  Although top intelligence officials warn that hackers are “a greater national security threat than terrorists”, the administration believes that that the legislation does not adequately address or protect privacy concerns.

Congress could have taken an important step towards calming public outrage if it had not blocked the Perlmutter provision.  Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Co.) stated, regarding his amendment, “It helps the individual protect his right to privacy and it doesn’t allow the employer to impersonate that particular employee when other people are interacting with that person across social media platforms.”  It was voted down 224-189, republican majority.

President Obama’s threat of veto may sound promising, but it is also at odds with his stance that cyber threats are a concern for his administration.  The American people are all too aware of the fact that  government is not always altruistic.   The concern may be valid but is the overreach necessary?  Our nation’s security is and should be of utmost importance to the nation.  Yet, individuals do have the expectation of privacy when using social media.  More importantly, individuals absolutely have the right to due process.

In any case where an individual is suspected of cyber threats, our constitution is very clear on how to handle it.   Obtain a warrant.

I Don’t Want a Big Government

I’m sometimes accused of wanting a big government. That really pisses me off.

True is, I don’t care how big the federal government is. In fact, I want it to be as small as practically possible.

I just want certain things done.

______

I want the most vulnerable people in America protected and cared for. I don’t want the richest individuals and corporations to be able to take advantage of others and impose their arbitrary wills on them.

I want our children and people kept safe.

I don’t want America to fall behind in developing new ideas that can help our people and our economy. I want research that will benefit all of us.

I want America to do whatever we reasonably can to help the poor, starving, and oppressed in other countries. I want good relations with other countries as much as possible, and I want us to stand up for other countries that are our friends and need help.

I want the environment protected for future generations.

I want laws that protect our rights and privacy, and I want those laws fairly and justly enforced.

I want to know that the food that I eat and the medication that I take is safe and effective.

I want world-class highways and infrastructure that are worthy of the richest country on the planet.

I want everyone to have access to good, basic health care.

I want people who lose their jobs for no fault of their own to be supported until they can find another one.

I want our children – all of our children – to receive a good education, regardless of where they live or how much money they have.

I want people treated fairly regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, or anything else that should be irrelevant. Yes, I want people judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

I want safe workplaces, free from discrimination, where they can organize just like managers and owners can.

I want people to be able to speak freely, and worship as they please.

I want the homeless sheltered and the hungry fed.

I want our economy to run smoothly and productively for the benefit of everyone, not just the richest few.

_____

Yeah, I guess I want a lot. But it’s not an unreasonable list, and I don’t think it’s asking too much that the richest country on earth provide these things for its people. Other countries manage to.

If these things can be most efficiently and effectively accomplished with a bathtub-drownable-sized government, then bring it on.

The problem is, they can’t.