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

Fix It: Five Ways to Beat Poverty in America (Now)

What America has always done best is Get Stuff Done.  Show us a problem, we’ll solve it.  Tell us something can’t be done, we’ll do it.  Threaten us, we’ll throw everything we’ve got at kickin’ your ass.

You know what threatens us today?  Poverty.  As I hope I’ve demonstrated the past few Sundays, poverty is a growing cancer on this nation.  The widening gap between have and have-not is dragging us all down, and it’s time we did something about it.

So what do we do?  Here’s a good start:

1.)  Name it.  Stand up and say, “Yes, we have a problem. Let’s talk about it.”  Ideally, a leading political figure or a cable talking head would lead the charge.  John Edwards got a lot of traction with his “Two Americas” theme, but it died for lack of marital fidelity (Ain’t America strange?   If you screw up in exactly the wrong way, none of what you’ve done retains any value.).  Rachel Maddow, we love you here on the Left, but we already know how bad the Iraq War was.  Pick up the banner for something we can all fix.  Anderson Cooper? Oprah Winfrey?  People like you have big microphones the rest of us are lacking.  Use them, please.

But if the people with the big microphones won’t speak up, it’s up to the rest of us.  So if you find it unacceptable for a child to go to bed hungry tonight in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, you speak up.  If enough of us talk, they‘ll start to listen.

2.)  Open Medicare to everyone.  Do I really need to beat this one to death?  I’ll be brief:  There’s no reason under heaven that (again) in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world anyone should go bankrupt over medical bills.  None.  Not one.  It doesn’t happen in other first-world nations, and it should stop happening here.  If we expand the Medicare risk-pool to include all the current uninsured (who are, by and large, young and not disabled – because once you become disabled, you qualify for it already), the financial risk drops across the board.  Allow people to opt-in (and pay for it at-cost) or to choose private insurance (and watch private insurance either wither on the vine or specialize into efficient niche coverage).

3.)  Overhaul the student loan system.  Start by forgiving the existing debt.  Yes, I said that.  I don’t know how to do it exactly – maybe we (the Federal government) buy it all up and makes it all interest-free.  And then find a way to offer new student loans at zero interest.  Also, offer no further loans for “education” at for-profit institutions.

4.)  Infrastructure.  There’s a meme going around that America should invade America and win hearts and minds by rebuilding infrastructure and educating children. Hard to argue with that.  In this Everblog post from earlier this week you can see how much of an investment needs to be made in America’s bridges, roads, schools, etc.  If we make the investments necessary to get us where we need to be we’ll get there on the backs of skilled, well-educated workers.  Which means we’re going to need more of them.  Which means we’ll lower unemployment.  And as a bonus, we’ll live in a safer, more efficient and nicer America.

5.)  Welfare.  Actually, I don’t care what you call it.  The bottom line is that it’s time to get over the grudge we have against public assistance.  People who can’t make ends meet need our help, not our scorn.  And there are quite simply not enough private institutions out there to do the work that needs to be done.  Just give a check to people who need a check.  It’s cheap, in the great scheme of things. Children whose parents can afford to feed them and clothe them and spend time with them have a far greater chance of, dare I say, pulling themselves up by they own bootstraps, than hungry kids who grow up mostly on their own, wouldn’t you say?

Bonus!  6.)   Support organized labor.  Put simply, an organized workforce with the power (both legal and fundamental) to collectively bargain will improve working conditions and pay for all workers.  Which means nearly all of us. 

No, I didn’t include raising the minimum wage.  Yes, I think that’s important, but to speak plainly, it’s chicken-shit.  Put these other items in play and it will happen on its own.

Yes, this is going to cost some money.  I submit that initial investments made in this generation for items 3-5 (item two will end up revenue neutral at worst) will more than pay for themselves in the long run.  Call it trickle-up economics if you’d like.  Grass-roots growth.  How would I pay for them?  That’s a topic for another Sunday, but I’ll give you a hint.

The Everblog poverty series:

A Departure.

Bootstraps!

Is That Stuff Contagious?

I Want a New War.

In addition to writing here at Everblog, Harvey Ward writes about his efforts to live healthier and better at SkippingDessert.Com.  You can also find him on Twitter @hlward.

Ok, So the President Did Talk About Poverty. Kinda.

A few days ago I wrote that the President would not talk about poverty in the State of the Union address.  Perhaps I pre-judged a bit harshly.  He did, in fact, use the word “poverty.”  Exactly four times in a 6,419 word speech.

I do think some of the ideas he talked about might help raise people from poverty – just not the ones you might think.  Yes, raising the minimum wage is a nice start, but if we can make real college educations (not for-profit McUniversities) more available (without tying them to massive debt), if we can put large numbers of people to work fixing our infrastructure and if we can put quality pre-school education within reach of all Americans … we might be able to make a dent in this national scourge.  Reforming immigration might be a nice help in that regard as well.

But as long as our leaders refuse to use the bully pulpit to make us stand up and take notice of the truth about poverty in America, a dent is all we’ll make.

Look for more from me on this in my Sunday post.