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

American Civics 101

English: Sandra Day O'Connor, 1st Female Assoc...

English: Sandra Day O’Connor, 1st Female Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“The more I read and the more I listen, the more apparent it is that our society suffers from an alarming degree of public ignorance.” ~Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

On September 5, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor gave a speech at Boise State. During that talk, she lamented the fact  that the American public is largely ignorant of basic American civics facts. To name a few:

  • Two-thirds of Americans cannot name a single Supreme Court Justice;
  • About one-third can name the three branches of government;
  • Less than one-third of eighth graders can identify the historical purpose of the declaration of independence (“and it’s right there in the name,” she added).

Those are highly depressing statistics. Here are eight basic questions I think everyone should know (and no Googling!):

Who is the governor of your state?

Who are your senators?

Who is your Congressional representative?

Name 4 of the 9 current Supreme Court Justices (I believe one should know all nine, but I’ll cut the reader some slack).

Who is the Senate Majority Leader? Minority Leader?

Who is the Speaker of the House?

Who is the current Secretary of State?

How old do you have to be to vote?

In 2011, Newsweek gave 1,000 Americans the U.S. Citizenship Test–38 percent failed. Immigrants taking their naturalization tests to become citizens know more about American civics than many natural-born Americans. Democracy requires informed citizen participants. Too many people prefer to sit back and let others make the rules that affect their lives and then complain about it when policies negatively impact them, their families, or their communities.

So what to do? Making civics a major part of K-12 education, again, is one solution. Ms. O’Connor founded iCivics in 2009 “to reverse America’s declining civic knowledge and participation. Securing our democracy, she realized, requires teaching the next generation to understand and respect our system of governance.” This web platform teaches children basic American civics through educational videos and games plus there are lesson plans for teachers. These teaching materials have been used in schools throughout all fifty states. It would behoove adults to take a look at the site too. We live our democratic principles by knowing how our government works, who is leading us and what responsibilities for governing their roles include, and what actions we can take to influence policymakers.

Democracy only works when people voice to their elected officials how they feel about the issues, when they actively participate, whether it is voting, writing a letter or email, working on a campaign, or advocating for some project in their community. Some citizens do this already, yes, but they may not have your best interests at heart. It takes all of us expressing opinions, sharing facts, debating and engaging in the policies of this great country.

Too many people feel they have no influence so have given up. Life is hard enough without having to make time to consume enough news—and a variety of it—to be informed or to get involved in politics, even at the local level. However, if you don’t believe you can make a difference just look at the 2012 Presidential election. In states where citizens felt they were being prevented from voting—that their right to vote was being suppressed—they said, “No you won’t.” Activists spread the word about voter suppression tactics and on election day, some voters stood in line for up to eight hours to cast their ballot. Regular people can make a difference. Yes, big money and corporate interests are too entrenched in our government, but ordinary Americans can change that if they care enough.

Caring starts with knowledge. Once the knowledge is there, then the desire to engage is sparked, and that spark can make a huge difference in the future trajectory of this country; a country where everyone is encouraged to participate and most do. We will never eliminate money in politics completely, but we can lessen its influence and that is what democracy is about – all of us having a say, not only those who possess the most capital.

Take a look at iCivics, show it to your kids, ask their teachers to utilize it. How well would you do on the citizenship test? Once citizens know how our democracy functions and how it was established, protecting it becomes that much more important. Knowledge is power. Don’t let a few make all the rules for the many. Learn and engage. American democracy depends on it; American democracy depends on you.

Cross-posted at The Feisty Liberal

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Ayn Rand is Fiction

Just a reminder that Ayn Rand’s writings are fiction. That means she made it all up. It’s not how the real world works, any more than Stephen King’s scary stories are. It’s alluring for the richest of the rich to believe that their wealth is proof of their inherent superiority, but that don’t make it so.

What’s more, Rand’s extremist ideas clearly are the product of her traumatic life experiences. As a recent Tom Hartmann post points out,

Ayn Rand hated governments and democracy. She considered them systems of mob rule. She grew up in Russia, and as a child watched the Bolsheviks confiscate her father’s pharmacy during the Russian Revolution. Likely suffering from PTSD from that incident, Ayn Rand devoted her future writings to evil government, including the “evil” of its functions like taxation, regulation, and providing social services to the poor and sick.