Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sunday Reading

Poisoning PeopleThe New York Times on the Republicans’ refusal to help Flint.

A House oversight committee held a hearing on Wednesday whose purpose was purportedly to identify those responsible for the Flint crisis and determine what could be done to alleviate it. But the committee failed to summon Rick Snyder, the Republican governor of Michigan, whose environmental officials and emergency managers were the ones who made monumental blunders that led the city to draw water from the polluted Flint River without treating it properly. Instead, Republicans heaped blame on the Environmental Protection Agency, which made mistakes but was a bit player in this drama.

Then on Thursday, in the Senate, negotiations between Republicans and Democrats on a financial aid package for Flint, to be attached to a bipartisan energy bill awaiting passage, broke down, and Democrats refused to approve the bill without the aid package, pushing any hope of assistance into next week.

The Democrats have already yielded a lot of ground, cutting their original $600 million aid package to less than half of that, only to meet Republican objections that the costs were not fully offset by other cuts in federal spending and that no money should be provided until Michigan had a more thorough plan on how the money would be spent.

There is little doubt that some, perhaps all, of Flint’s corroded pipes will need to be replaced, at a cost that the governor estimates at $767 million and others say could be above $1 billion. We believe that the Army Corps of Engineers ought to do the job and bill the state for its services. It is outrageous that Flint residents, even though the city has switched back to cleaner water from Lake Huron, still have to rely on bottled water and filters because the lead continues to leach from the pipes.

There is no doubt that thousands of Flint residents will need monitoring, medical supervision and educational support for many years to come. Some 8,000 or more children under the age of 6, whose developing brains can suffer irreversible damage from exposure to lead, drank the poisoned water, and some are already showing symptoms. They need immediate access to supportive preschool programs; monitoring by school nurses and teachers trained to spot and care for children with developmental difficulties (Michigan ranks last in the ratio of school nurses to students); and nutritious meals high in calcium, vitamin C and iron, which mitigate the effects of lead.

Experts are uncertain about the degree of permanent brain damage caused by the amount of lead ingested by Flint youngsters. That may take years to assess fully, but these youngsters and their parents deserve every bit of support they can get for the harm they have suffered and will continue to suffer from the government’s mistakes.

And children are not the only victims. Lead poisoning can have severe consequences for people of all ages. It will be crucial for everyone — every baby, adolescent and adult — to be monitored by a primary care doctor who can keep close watch on his or her medical needs. Providing that service will require immediate money from the state and federal governments — and a long-term commitment from the state to the victims for decades to come.

The Ten-Word Answer — Jamelle Bouie on Marco Rubio’s disastrous debate performance last night.

Some politicians, unlucky ones, make mistakes that define their entire careers. For Dan Quayle in the 1988 presidential election, it was a brief comparison with John F. Kennedy. For Howard Dean in the 2004 Democratic primary, it was “the scream.” For Rick Perry in the 2012 Republican primary, it was “oops.” These weren’t the worst mistakes ever made, but they were emblematic of each candidate’s weakness—flubs that reinforced critiques from rivals and the media. Dean screamed just as pundits questioned his temperament for the White House, while Perry stuttered in the face of uncertainty about his intelligence.

Sen. Marco Rubio is a gifted politician and talented communicator. But he’s faced a repeated attack in his six years on the national stage—that his smooth charisma conceals a man of little substance. That, on a fundamental level, he’s not ready for the Oval Office. And on Saturday night, Rubio gave substance to the charge in a remarkable exchange with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the eighth Republican presidential debate.

It began with a question. The moderators asked Rubio to list accomplishments in his record that have prepared him for the presidency. Rubio cited work on foreign policy and issues such as veterans affairs before moving to well-worn rhetoric meant to counter these experience questions by tweaking a popular conservative notion about Barack Obama. “Let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing,” he said. “He knows exactly what he’s doing. Barack Obama is undertaking a systematic effort to change this country, to make America more like the rest of the world.” And in this implicit analogy, Rubio is the Republican Barack Obama who will make a “systematic effort” to make America unique again. “When I’m president of the United States,” he continued, “we are going to re-embrace all the things that made America the greatest nation in the world, and we are going to leave our children with what they deserve: the single greatest nation in the history of the world.”

It’s a good line, designed for applause. But this time, Rubio had pushback, in the form of Christie.

Behind in national polls and struggling for air in a crowded field, Christie has focused on his experience—as an executive—to make the case to New Hampshire voters and Republicans nationwide. And against Rubio’s disdain for experience, he scoffed. “You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable,” Christie said. “You just simply haven’t. And the fact is—when you talk about the Hezbollah sanctions act that you list as one of your accomplishments, you weren’t even there to vote for it. That’s not leadership. That’s truancy.” He finished with a swipe. “I like Marco Rubio, and he’s a smart person and a good guy, but he simply does not have the experience to be president of the United States.”

In this debate, the candidates could respond to one another, and Rubio countered with a swipe at Christie’s record on fiscal management, accusing the governor of worsening New Jersey’s debt problem. And then he did something strange. He slipped back into his line about Obama.

“But I would add this,” Rubio said. “Let’s dispel with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He is trying to change this country. He wants America to become more like the rest of the world,” ending in the same place he had finished just a few minutes earlier.

Immediately, Christie pounced, locking eyes with the camera as he slammed Rubio for the strange repetition.

“You see, everybody, I want the people at home to think about this—this is what Washington, D.C., does,” said Christie. “The drive-by shot at the beginning with incorrect and incomplete information, and then the memorized 25-second speech that is exactly what his advisers gave him.” He continued, moving from a body slam to a pile drive. “See, Marco, the thing is this: When you’re president of the United States, when you are a governor of a state, the memorized 30-second speech where you talk about how great America is doesn’t solve one problem for one person. They expect you to plow the snow. They expect you to get the schools open. And when the worst natural disaster in your state’s history hits you, they expect you to rebuild their state, which is what I’ve done. None of that stuff happens on the floor of the United State Senate.”

Rubio tried to respond. He tried to jab Christie for his absence from New Jersey from the storm. But his hits wouldn’t land. He was too flustered.

At this point, Rubio could have ended the exchange with silence. Instead, he went back to his talking points. He repeated himself about Obama. “Here’s the bottom line,” he said, like a program trapped in an infinite loop. “This notion that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing is just not …”

Christie cut him off. “There it is! There it is. The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody.” The fight was over. Rubio was shook. Later in the night, Rubio would fall into that rhetoric again, unable to break from his stump speech.

[…]

Rubio needed a win on Saturday. He needed to show Republicans that Iowa wasn’t a fluke, that he could consolidate support and charge ahead of Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz. Instead, at best, he gave a mixed performance, with good answers overshadowed by one of the most uncomfortable moments of the entire Republican debate season.

It’s far too much to say that it will cost him the nomination. But it could push him down the ladder in New Hampshire and create renewed chaos in the nomination fight, as candidates such as Jeb Bush, Christie, and Gov. John Kasich rise, and Trump—largely unscathed—holds his spot on top.

Lesson for Mr. Rubio from Jed Bartlet:

 

Banking Scandal for Bernie — Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.

MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE (The Borowitz Report)—Scandal rocked Bernie Sanders’s Presidential campaign on Friday as the candidate was forced to admit that he received free checking from several big banks.

In a press conference in Manchester, New Hampshire, a chastened Sanders acknowledged that, over the past two decades, he received free checking from Bank of America, Citibank, and JPMorgan Chase in exchange for maintaining a five-hundred-dollar minimum balance.

“I should have acknowledged my relationship with these banks earlier,” a subdued Sanders told reporters. “For that, I am sorry.”

The Clinton campaign immediately seized on the revelation, with one senior Clinton aide alleging that Sanders’s cozy relationship with the banks “effectively strips him of the label ‘progressive.’ ”

“Quite frankly, I don’t know of too many progressives who make five-hundred-dollar payoffs to the big banks,” the aide said. “This doesn’t pass the smell test.”

The news of Sanders’s ties to the banking industry comes just days after damaging reports that he leveraged his relationship with the American Automobile Association to obtain a discount on renting a Nissan Sentra.

Doonesbury — Fantasy.