Tuesday, February 9, 2016

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.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Friday, January 29, 2016

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Short Takes

Cleveland Police fires, suspends officers over deadly 2012 shooting.

Lead pipes not being removed from Flint water system.

F.B.I. arrests Milwaukee man for planning temple attack.

Denmark approves seizing refugees’ valuables.

Italy covers up nude statues during Iran presidential visit.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Fed Help For Flint

Finally.

With chanting protesters demanding his resignation in the background, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced Monday that he plans to ask for federal aid to deal with the lead-poisoning crisis in Flint.

At a press conference, Snyder was repeatedly questioned about the state’s admitted mishandling of the water emergency and whether he knew it was a major problem before he addressed it in a press conference in early October.

“I have a degree of responsibility,” he said.

No shit, Sherlock.

It’s always ironic — if not tragic — that all the Republicans who demand states’ rights and run for office on a platform of smaller government, get-the-feds-out, and local control, come running to Washington whenever something like a tornado or a hurricane overwhelms their state.  The first thing they do is demand federal assistance, and they usually do it while saying something along the lines of “Well, we pay all those taxes, we might as well get something out of it.”  That’s code for “Holy crap, we are in over our heads.”

What’s worse, though, is a governor who refuses to ask the federal government for help even though they’re in way over their heads and it either becomes glaringly clear that they’re up the creek or there is a mob of chanting citizens getting on CNN.  Gov. Snyder could have asked for federal help six months ago, but no, he had to be all for freedom and shit until he realized that the state of Michigan will be on the hook for fixing this problem for the rest of the decade, long after he’s logged into the history books as just another right-wing bean-counter who would rather suck up to his Tea Party flakes than actually govern like a grown-up.

It would be just desserts for him if the federal government took their own sweet time to think about sending help to Flint.  But that’s not how they roll; at least not under a Democratic administration.  That’s because they actually care about the people injured by the disaster, not by what political points they can score.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday Reading

Drop the Guns — George Zornick in The Nation on why Walmart decided to end the sale of assault weapons.

For many years, you could walk into America’s most ubiquitous retail store and walk out with a military-style assault rifle. That will soon be impossible. Walmart announced this week that it will discontinue sales of “modern” sporting rifles, which are often fashioned to look like military weapons. It will also cease sales of any other gun that can carry high-capacity ammunition rounds.

The store claims the shift is a response to sales; a spokesman told Newsweek simply that “customers weren’t buying them.”

But there are serious reasons to question that justification, and instead to see a notable moment in evolving American views and standards on gun control.

Nationwide, gun sales are going up, not down, according to FBI data on background check requests. That’s the most reliable barometer of gun sales nationwide. While it doesn’t capture online sales or others where background checks are not required, Walmart does run them.

Analyses of the gun industry consistently show that assault rifles are a popular choice for consumers. The National Sports Shooting Foundation said in congressional testimony last year that there were 5 to 8.2 million assault rifles in the United States. Gun shop owners explained that if assault-rifle sales tail off at all, it’s because customers most likely owned one at some point. “The market is saturated. The market is flooded with them,” one gun merchant toldUSA Today late last year.

Walmart doesn’t report detailed sales numbers, and it’s possible there’s something idiosyncratic about Walmart gun customers that makes assault rifles unattractive. That would make them unlike gun customers nationwide—and Walmart is the country’s largest gun retailer, as we reported in detail in late 2012.

We also know gun sales are a big moneymaker for the retailer. A Walmart executive vice president told shareholders in 2012 that gun sales were a staple of improving sales numbers, and that gun sales increased 76 percent over the 26 previous months.

That’s all to say: Walmart’s explanation for stopping assault-weapons sales is not terribly convincing. More likely, the store is responding to increased concerns about gun control, and realizing that selling military-looking weapons three aisles over from diapers is untenable in a country where mass shootings continue to increase, and where more than half of shooters use assault weapons or high-capacity weapons. When I was working on the 2012 story, I contacted Walmart to request comment on the fact that they were selling the same gun Adam Lanza had just used during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The gun quickly disappeared from Walmart’s site, only to reappear later.

But Walmart executives had to be worried about another similar scenario—maybe even where the shooter buys their gun from Walmart directly.

People are often (and rightfully) frustrated with the lack of progress on gun control at the national level, but smaller victories at the state and municipal level are often overlooked. Several states from Washington to Connecticut instituted tougher gun laws since Newtown, and it’s become an increasingly potent message for big-city mayors.

This is the new reality Walmart is probably responding to—especially since the store’s new growth plan involves pushing into urban centers where, until now, there haven’t been many Walmart stores. (That may also explain Walmart’s quick decision to do away with Confederate flag products after the massacre in Charleston.)

Mayors often used Walmart’s gun sales as a reason not to approve a location, even if the company pledged not to sell weapons at that particular prospective store. New York City is even considering divesting from Walmart because of its weapons sales.

So while Walmart still remains the country’s largest gun retailer, their self-imposed assault-weapons ban can fairly be seen as a small victory for gun control advocates: It’s a new world Walmart finds itself selling in.

You Wanna Talk Katrina? — Cheryl Wagner in TPM on what it cost to stay after the flood.

…My returning neighbors and I slowly but surely stabilized the deserted blocks. Those of us who lived on-site in trailers or in the upstairs of flooded and gutted houses served as watchmen against house strippers and copper thieves. We sat with the elderly who returned to their ruined homes and listened to their stories. We planted gardens. We shared tools and helped each other carry heavy things. We intervened when children returned without adequate adult supervision bounced on moldy curbside mattresses and became the targets of drifter grifters’ stolen goods schemes. We conferred about insurance and Road Home problems and spent years of our lives untangling snafus. We picked through rubble and high weeds and weird and awful garbage and peeked in abandoned windows to help catalog the blight. We met with city officials when neighbors had family members gunned down in front of their houses by patrons of seedy, makeshift bars. Reading it now, the list is as incomplete as it is long and absurd and exhausting.

Despite these efforts, the vantage of 10 years has made it easier to see rebuilding’s true and total cost to me and others. Not only did years of our lives get sacrificed to a bureaucratic and literal quagmire, but also there’s an awful lot that, as the joke goes, can never be unseen. So in my head movie of the rerun of my life, sometimes I cue the reel where I pull a Homer Simpson. His platform when he ran for Sanitation Commissioner becomes mine. “Can’t someone else do it?”

Some of my mixed feelings stem from the mixed results of the rebuild. A good bit of what some neighbors and I had hoped for in the endless series of civic planning meetings never materialized. Simple things like safe neighborhoods and affordable housing and easier paths for former New Orleanians to return to their former homes for many never became a reality. New Orleans and Louisiana is now full of people who, for various reasons, don’t like to talk much about the flood. And now I’m one of them.

Facebook has become a minefield of Louisianans barking at each other to either stop talking about the flood in the way they are talking about it or to just stop talking about the flood, period. Angry diatribes about the production of commemorative Katrina snow globes battle old photos of friends in white hazmat suits cleaning out their flooded houses. Memes circulate of a vintage comic book Batman bat-slapping Robin under the words “Ten years after Katrina? SHUT THE HELL UP.”

Some of this is Katrina fatigue from the are-you-still-chewing-that-old-bone? crowd that did not flood, but it’s also that people who suffered greatly don’t want their wound constantly poked at with a media stick. What don’t they want to be reminded of? You name it. Loss of family or friends that died in the flood. Loss of family and friends from stress or rebuilding accidents or suicide in the flood’s prolonged aftermath that no one ever counted among the official dead. The financial shitstorm the flood opened up in their lives that they are still trying to ride out. All the K-splainers who have moved to town. The cheesy disaster art and music. Their vanished photos and clothes and books and records they know was “just stuff” but used to give them tangible proof of who they were and where they had been anyway. How they don’t trust the government or insurance companies quite the same anymore. Why they can’t afford to rent or live in their old neighborhoods. How places like New Orleans East and Chalmette and the Lower Ninth Ward and elsewhere still look pretty bruised. That some contractors came to town to try to rip them off and succeeded. How that wall looks crooked and that tile seems a little warpy and guess what? It is—because they had to repair it themselves.

What I don’t particularly care to talk about or remember is both little and big. Escape holes cut in roofs. Mattresses and clothes scattered on the sides of elevated highways. Mold and fetid refrigerators and creepy clouds of plaster dust that billowed up the street. All the women sitting on their front steps with their heads in their hands. My basset hounds swallowing roof slate and wire from having to live with me in the disaster zone. And I don’t want to be reminded that my friend was murdered in the aftermath and no one ever got caught or punished for it and she and her memory evaporated, like much of what happened, into time and smoke.

But sometimes being willing to talk moves the conversation forward. And what I do want to talk about is this: everything my Mom was worried would take its toll and was unable to communicate to me when I was caught up in the fight-or-flight of the moment. We don’t choose our disasters, but when disasters happen, should we lean in and ride them out to their wild conclusions—or just get the hell out of the way?

Vin Scully Goes For 67 — The long-time Dodgers broadcaster will return for one more season next year.

On the surface, the most impressive thing about Scully is his longevity. When the 21-year-old redhead from The Bronx broadcast his first Dodgers game in 1950, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Bob Feller were active. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Mickey Mantle had not yet started their careers. Cy Young, a 19th century star whose name is synonymous with pitching greatness, was still alive. The Dodgers’ own Jackie Robinson had broken baseball’s color barrier just three years earlier—and the majority of the league’s 16 teams had still never employed a black player. No city west of the Mississippi River would have its own team for eight more years, when Scully accompanied Brooklyn’s Dodgers west to Los Angeles.

But Scully is more than just an announcer who happened to stick around for a long time.

He’s also probably the best baseball broadcaster to ever live, and a man whose influence is felt across the American sports landscape. Scully began his career in an era when the vast majority of baseball games were not televised, and his style—conversational rather than kinetic—was perfectly suited to the medium.

Baseball is a game of stillness, where slight, almost imperceptible shifts carry great consequences. A Scully broadcast includes the standard description of home runs, ground ball outs, and intentional walks. But you also learn that the glare of the afternoon sun caused the right fielder to misjudge a fly ball, or that the pitcher shook off the catcher’s sign three times before throwing a slider in the dirt.

As with other broadcasters, Scully tells you what each player’s batting average is. But you’re also told that the center fielder’s father was a country doctor in Indiana, or that the shortstop toiled in the minor leagues for a full decade before earning his chance in the majors. It is these details that, whether you’re lying in bed with the radio on or stuck in traffic on the 405, turn each Scully broadcast into a vivid work of art.

More importantly, Scully also knows when to be silent. Consider one of his most famous broadcasts, that of Sandy Koufax’s perfect game on September 9, 1965. As the great left-handed pitcher struck out batter after batter in the later innings, Scully expertly conveyed the sense of excitement and wonder permeating Dodger Stadium. But when Koufax retired Harvey Kuenn to preserve the rare feat, Scully said nothing—the crowd’s reaction was all the color he needed. The remarkable conclusion to the 50-year-old game is preserved here:

As televised baseball spread in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, Scully was frequently assigned to the sport’s grandest events, and throughout his career he would cover 25 different World Series. These days are long gone—nowadays, Scully limits himself to Dodgers games on the West Coast. But to those fans lucky enough to listen to his broadcasts, it’s clear that the octogenarian isn’t coasting on his reputation. Scully knows the game’s contemporary players as well as the tens of thousands he’s described in the past, and is never caught unprepared. And in an age when announcers increasingly resort to forced folksiness or blatant homerism, Scully’s quiet professionalism remains as vital as ever.

Scully has intimated that 2016 will likely be his last season. He said last night, “I do feel in my bones … that will be enough.”

Doonesbury — Old timers.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Short Takes

China devalued their currency to stabilize their place in the world market.

Right-wing armed militia freaks show up to “patrol” Ferguson with assault rifles.

Greece is on the verge of clinching a deal for a new bailout.

The EPA is hard at work to clean up its ten-million gallon mess in Colorado and New Mexico.

Watch the skies: The Perseid meteor shower peaks this week.

The Tigers lost 6-1 in K.C.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Friday, May 22, 2015

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Short Takes

The Saudis like the Iran nuclear framework.

California agriculture is exempt from water restrictions.

Closing arguments in the Boston bombing trial.

Carbon monoxide kills eight in Maryland family.

Duke beat Wisconsin.

The Tigers won their Opening Day game against the Twins 4-0.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday, March 9, 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Short Takes

Three men from Brooklyn were arrested on charges of plotting to foment terrorism in collusion with ISIS.

The Senate moved a clean DHS funding bill towards passage.  The House, on the other hand, is not happy about it.

New Fukushima reactor leak went unreported for months.

Morgan Stanley will pay fine of $2.6 billion to settle the mortgage cases.

Chicago voters forced the mayoral election into a run-off.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Short Takes

Secretary of Defense stands up for transgender people in the service.

Malls in U.S. on alert after terror threat.

More winter weather hits the South.

South African miners rescued after fire.

New killer virus found in Kansas.

And the Oscars went to…  (And my brother was right about Birdman.)

Thursday, February 19, 2015