Sunday, October 27, 2019

Sunday Reading

A Fight For the Soul of Our Democracy — Elijah E. Cummings.

Elijah E. Cummings, a Democrat, represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District until his death Oct. 17.

This op-ed is adapted from a foreword that Cummings wrote July 17 for the forthcoming book, “In Defense of Public Service: How 22 Million Government Workers Will Save Our Republic,” by Cedric L. Alexander.

As I pen these words, we are living through a time in our nation’s history when powerful forces are seeking to divide us one from another; when the legitimacy of our constitutional institutions is under attack; and when factually supported truth itself has come under relentless challenge.

I am among those who have not lost confidence in our ability to right the ship of American democratic life, but I also realize that we are in a fight — a fight for the soul of our democracy.

As an American of color, I have been able to receive an excellent public education, become an attorney, and serve my community and country in both the Maryland General Assembly and Congress because of one very important fact: Americans of conscience from every political vantage point took our Constitution seriously and fought for my right to be all that I could become.

This is the personal debt that I and so many others with my heritage owe to our democratic republic — to the 20-million-plus Americans who serve our republic and its values in our nation’s civil service.

And this is also why I, personally, will remain in the fight to preserve our republic and the humane and equitable values at its foundation for as long as I can draw breath.

It was to our Constitution — and not to any political perspective or party — that I gave my oath when I became an officer of the court, when I joined the Maryland legislature and when I was elected to serve in Congress.

It is this commitment that I bring to my work as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, the committee that has direct oversight over our federal civil service. From my more than two decades of experience performing this oversight, I can confirm that our nation’s federal employees deserve our respect, gratitude and support.

When people in the leadership of the nation attack our courts, the members of our Congress, our civil servants and our media, they are attacking the glue that holds our diverse nation together as the United States of America.

And when these attackers do so on the basis of factually unfounded opinion, rather than verifiable evidence, they are engaged in demagoguery of the most dangerous sort.

This is why our civil service, committed to maintaining the rule of law and decision-making based on verifiable facts, is so important to maintaining the legitimacy of our government, both elected and appointed.

Under our democratic republic, elected leaders make policy but must rely on civil servants, appointed on the basis of merit, to implement those public policies. We must rely on the expertise of our merit-based civil service if we wish to have a government that addresses the factual realities of our lives (to the extent that human beings can ever achieve that goal).

This duty to find and implement the truth, as I have mentioned, is the province of our civil servants, whether they serve in Washington; our states; or in the law enforcement agencies of our country. This is not to say that our government agencies always get it right or that they never overreach. Human beings, however talented and well-meaning, make mistakes.

As citizens of the greatest democratic republic in the world, we have the privilege and duty to recall our nation’s founding and to engage our nation on the basis of those fundamental principles.

I hold fast to this conviction because the functioning — indeed, the very legitimacy — of our democratic system has been under attack for some time. I am speaking, of course, of the continuing attacks on our elections — from sources both foreign and domestic — and of the failure of too many of my colleagues in Congress and the White House to adequately defend us against those attacks.

For the unity and future of our republic, our Congress must reassert its constitutional obligation of oversight, seeking and obtaining the answers to serious questions of governance that, until now, have gone unanswered. We must perform this constitutional duty so effectively and convincingly that those Americans who support this president and his administration and those who disagree will reach a shared and united answer as to how our nation must proceed.

I remain confident that we can fulfill this historic duty. To succeed, however, we will need our federal civil service and the Americans who serve us there to give us their complete and unbiased cooperation. To the extent that we are required to do so, we will enforce that cooperation through action in our courts, but I sincerely hope that this route will seldom be necessary. Toward this end, I will close with this pledge. In the words of my heroine, former congresswoman Barbara Jordan, from 1974:

“My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, [or] the destruction of the Constitution. I hope and trust that all Americans feel — and will do — the same.”

Cheap Water for a Price — Carl Hiaasen on how Nestlé is ripping off Florida’s water.

Florida, perpetually in a water crisis, once again is poised to give away hundreds of millions of gallons that will end up in plastic bottles on the shelves of supermarkets.

A company called Seven Springs Water wants to renew a lucrative permit that allows the siphoning of Ginnie Springs, a scenic recreational site along the Santa Fe River near Gainesville.

For a farcical one-time fee of $115, Seven Springs would be allowed to withdraw almost 1.2 million gallons a day from a river system where the flows already have dropped 30 percent to 40 percent, according to the Florida Springs Institute.

The agreement would be bad for the Santa Fe and also the fragile Floridan aquifer, which supplies drinking water to millions of people. But for Seven Springs the deal is sweet: free water, which it then sells to Nestlé, the world’s largest bottler.

Many of the Nestlé labels are familiar: Perrier, S. Pellegrino, Arrowhead, Deer Park, Poland Springs and Zephyrhills, to name a few. The company is expanding its facility near Ginnie Springs and needs more liquid product.

For decades, Florida has handed out metaphorical free straws to companies that profitably suck the water from natural springs. Approval of “consumptive use” permits rests with regional water management districts, the boards of which are appointed by the governor.

Sometimes the appointees are qualified and knowledgeable; sometimes they act like tools of special interests. Despite Gov. Ron DeSantis’ very public pledge to rescue the state’s natural waters, most of the district boards are crippled by so many vacancies that they can barely assemble a quorum. Like the Everglades and algae-plagued coastal waters, Florida’s famous springs are now in trouble. Too much groundwater extraction combined with diminished annual rainfall have sharply lowered the levels, and introduced harmful nutrients.

Once-pristine Ginnie Springs now carries nitrates from wastewater and farm runoff — ingredients you won’t see listed on Nestlé’s bottles.

The company won’t reveal how much — or little — it pays Seven Springs for the water, but says it’s a caring corporate neighbor that supports conservation causes.

“It would make no sense to invest millions of dollars into our local operations just to deplete the natural resources on which our business relies,” wrote a Nestlé Waters spokesman.

Florida isn’t the only state foolish to give away its most critical resource. Citizen groups in Michigan also have been battling Nestlé over its pumping of public springs and aquifers.

The Florida Springs Council, a consortium of 48 organizations focused on water issues in northern and central Florida is among the opponents of the Ginnie Springs expansion. It notes that the Santa Fe isn’t the same river it was 20 years ago, when the original usage permit was issued.

Trouble was evident as recently as 2013, when the Suwannee River Water Management District reported that the Lower Santa Fe had a “deficit of 11 million gallons per day.” Today, the river is considered to be at minimum flow.

The sane response would be to reduce — not increase — the volumes being pumped out. A jump to 1.2 million gallons per day would more than quadruple the current impact on Ginnie Springs.

Rejecting or at least modifying the application seems like a wise and obvious choice for the Suwannee district board. Unfortunately, that vacancy-plagued panel is one of several that the governor seems to have forgotten.

Nestlé has big money and political clout, so the state is unlikely to completely shut off the Ginnie Springs spigot. Still, it wouldn’t be revolutionary to require water-bottling operations to start paying for what they take, as California does.

The Florida Springs Council estimates that even a puny, one-cent-per-gallon fee on the Seven Springs/Nestlé permit would generate at least $400,000 a year that could fund restoration projects in the Santa Fe River Basin, which is fed by dozens of natural springs.

Statewide, the group says, a fee of only 50-cents-per-thousand gallons on companies such as Nestlé would raise “hundreds of millions of dollars to protect and sustain Florida’s waters.”

One thing is certain: If Nestlé doesn’t have to pay to preserve the springs it bleeds, taxpayers will billed for the damage — as they are now for Everglades restoration and man-made algae outbreaks.

By speaking out against the Ginnie Springs permit, DeSantis would prove he’s aware that the state’s water crisis isn’t confined to South Florida.

Meanwhile, the next time you think of buying a bottle of Zephyrhills or Poland Springs, check out the label. Here are a few words you won’t see:

“Thank you, Florida, for all this tasty, refreshing, dirt-cheap water.”

Doonesbury — Rewriting history (click to embiggen).

One bark on “Sunday Reading

  1. I’m told Elijah Cummings was signing subpoenas on his bed in Hospice until he died. A true patriot to the end. His loss is ours.

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