Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday Reading

Who Poisoned Flint? — David A. Graham in The Atlantic reads the e-mails that tell the story.

Why did it take so long for state and federal government to do something about lead in the water in Flint, Michigan? Or, put another way, who is to blame, and who should have fixed it?There’s a telling moment within the 274 pages of emails released by Governor Rick Snyder’s office about Flint. Dennis Muchmore, then chief of staff to the governor, puzzles over who should be on the hook. He gripes about Representative Dan Kildee, and mentions former state Treasurer Andy Dillon.

[…]

Muchmore went on, “The real responsibility resists with the County, city and [Flint’s water authority], but since the issue here is the health of citizens and their children, we’re taking a pro-active approach.”

The question of who really is responsible has become suddenly widespread. On Thursday, news broke that the U.S. House will call Snyder to testify. The EPA official responsible for Michigan also resigned on Thursday. Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have both called for Snyder to resign. The Wall Street Journal points a finger at every level of government. Disentangling the blame proves to be a difficult task.

Muchmore’s statement may seem a bit callous, but his mention of Dillon is somewhat tangential: After all, Dillon’s role was simply to sign off on the change to taking water from the Flint River, because of the size of the transaction. But Muchmore omitted the reason why Dillon was involved—a fact that also complicates his assignment of blame to the city. The switch to water from the Flint River occurred under the oversight of an emergency manager appointed by Snyder. Under a state law that Snyder signed, the governor can appoint a manager to take over cities in financial emergency.Prior to the switch, Flint had been preparing to move away from water provided by Detroit’s water service and toward a pipeline that would bring water directly from Lake Huron. (The city council did have a chance to weigh in on that change, and supported it 7-1.) But when Flint made the decision, the Detroit Water Services District announced it would terminate service to Flint a year later. That was legal under the contract, but it put Flint in a bad spot, since the new pipeline wasn’t going to be complete in a year. DWSD shrugged, saying Flint should have expected it. That’s how the emergency manager, Darnell Earley, ended up overseeing the switch to water from the Flint River. Flint residents and leaders blame Earley for the decision; Earley insists it was their idea. (Flint reconnected to Detroit water late last year, but there’s lasting damage to the pipes.)In any case, the final authority for the decision rested with Earley, the manager. That makes it jarring to see Muchmore write, in the same email quoted above, that the state departments of Environmental Quality and Community Health complained that the water issue had become “a political football”

[…]

For one thing, it had become clear by the time of writing, in September 2015, that Flint’s water had dangerous levels of lead. The residents weren’t just angry because they saw a partisan gain—they were angry about brown and apparently tainted water coming out of their faucets. Meanwhile, their political representation had been directly curtailed by the appointment of the emergency manager who oversaw the switch. Officials in Lansing withdrew Flint’s power to govern itself, but when Flint begged Lansing for help, it was told that the problem was Flint’s alone.

End It Already — Charlie Pierce is fed up with the kids playing occupiers.

Enough is enough. I mean, really. It’s time for federal law enforcement to, you know, enforce federal law.

On the other end was an FBI negotiator who identified himself to Bundy only as “Chris.” And so opened talks between the leader of the refuge occupation and the federal agency in charge of bringing an end to the armed takeover, now in its third week. For nearly an hour around noontime, the negotiator listened to Bundy’s well-practiced litany of complaints against the federal government while probing for what it would take to end his occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. They ended the call with the promise to talk again Friday.

Isn’t that sweet?

The people of Harney County are fed up. The governor of Oregon is fed up. A group of armed jamokes—some of them with long criminal histories outside of the crimes they are committing at the moment—has seized federal property on federal land and the only people who seem sanguine about the whole business are the federal authorities. The thieves have been allowed to come and go fairly at will. They’ve been allowed to state their case at town meetings. And they’ve been allowed to return to the scene of their current crimes over and over again. Enough. If the FBI is still gun-shy about Ruby Ridge and about Waco, it has had enough chances to arrest these people without storming their winter clown encampment.

In sometimes highly personal remarks, speaker after speaker vented anger—at public officials, at the federal government and at the man in the brown cowboy hat sitting high in the bleachers to take it all in—Ammon Bundy. He and other armed militants on Jan. 2 seized the headquarters compound of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, situated 30 miles southeast of Burns. The refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He sat on the second row from the top as County Judge Steve Grasty, microphone in hand, strode to the foot of that bleacher section.”It is time for you to go home,” Grasty said to Bundy, vowing to meet with Bundy anytime,  anyplace—outside of Harney County. A chant then grew in the gymnasium: “Go, go, go, go, go.” That was a message Bundy heard repeatedly through the evening, one he once vowed to heed. He sat expressionless, making no move to respond or to comment.

Can someone please explain to me why Ammon Bundy wasn’t arrested as he sat in the bleachers? Or on the way to the meeting? Or on the way back to the land he is attempting to steal from the rest of us? If the FBI had been this tender about people’s feelings throughout its history, John Dillinger would have died in his bed at the age of 103 and Fred Hampton might still be alive.

Nothing good can come of waiting these people out anymore. By their lights, they’ve already won, the way Ammon’s deadbeat father, Cliven, won when itinerant gunmen faced down lawful authority, an episode that led directly to the one in Oregon that already has gone on too long. (By the way, the elder Bundy is still a scofflaw who owes you and me $1 million.) And it’s important to remember that they are only the shiny object shock troops of a general conservative movement to destroy what’s left of the commons by taking over the public lands, especially in the West.

Outside of its 180-degree pivot on race, nothing demonstrates how far the Republican Party has strayed from its own history than its abandonment of its legacy as the party of conservation and the environment. The whole idea of preserving public lands for the people of the United States was a Republican idea, root and branch. Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation putting Yosemite under federal protection. The Antiquities Act was signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. For a century, the preservation of the public lands was as close to a bipartisan project as we’ve had. It outlasted McCarthyism and the turmoil of the 1960s and the backlash of the 1970s and even, to an extent, the rise of Ronald Reagan, in which the seeds of the current threat to public lands first were sown.

“Noises Off” Is Still On — Michael Shulman in The New Yorker on the undying appeal of the farce.

Wednesday afternoon; a British country home. The phone rings, and a housekeeper named Mrs. Clackett galumphs in from the servants’ quarters, carrying a plate of sardines. In a weary Cockney accent, she informs the caller that her employer is in Spain. His wife’s in Spain, too. She blanches. “Am I in Spain? No, I’m not in Spain, dear.” She hangs up and begins to leave, as her accent suddenly jumps up several socioeconomic notches and she mumbles to herself, “And I take the sardines. No, I leave the sardines. No, I take the sardines.”

If Mrs. Clackett seems like a stock character in a British comedy—the grouchy, bumbling maid—that’s because she is one. We are watching the dress rehearsal for a play called “Nothing On,” whose doomed tour through English towns like Ashton-under-Lyne and Stockton-on-Tees is the subject of “Noises Off,” Michael Frayn’s ingenious 1982 farce within a farce. A sort of theatrical turducken, the play has a lot to tell us about the comedy of chaos. Paradoxically, it only works when it runs like clockwork: everything has to go right for everything to go so wrong. Fortunately, the Roundabout’s revival, which just opened at the American Airlines Theatre, under the shipshape direction of Jeremy Herrin, nails nearly every slamming door, pants-around-the-ankles pratfall, and flung plate of sardines.

About those sardines: keep your eye on them. And on the telephone. And on the newspaper Mrs. Clackett can’t remember whether to take offstage. By magnifying the minutiae—props, cues, stuck doorknobs—Frayn blows up perhaps the most banal aspect of theatre-making to absurd proportions. Or, as Lloyd (Campbell Scott), the beleaguered director of “Nothing On,” puts it, “That’s what it’s all about. Doors and sardines. Getting on, getting off. Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off. That’s farce. That’s the theatre. That’s life.” It’s not until we see every exit and entrance go absurdly, madly, hilariously askew that we begin to see his point. Viewed from a certain angle, life is about little things that can slip, crack, and slam in our faces.

Perhaps that’s why “Noises Off” is such a crowd-pleaser, frequently revived and frequently beloved. Over three acts, we follow the accident-prone actors as their missed cues and accumulating rivalries lead to catastrophe for “Nothing On” but hilarity for “Noises Off.” Sardines fly, cactuses are sat upon. Frayn gives each character just enough distinction to make the tomfoolery comprehensible. Dotty (the wonderful Andrea Martin), who plays the housekeeper, is a slumming grand dame. Brooke (Megan Hilty), who plays a blond bimbo, keeps losing her contact lenses. Selsdon (Daniel Davis) is a drunk. (The rest of the ace ensemble includes Jeremy Shamos, David Furr, and Kate Jennings Grant, as actors, and Tracee Chimo and Rob McClure, as hapless stagehands.) Likewise, the characters they play in “Nothing On” have only one or two quirks apiece. The point isn’t to delve into individual psychology but to marvel at the extremity of gracelessness, choreographed with meticulous grace.

Doonesbury — At a minimum.