Tag: government

The 2016 Primaries, Round Three

Now that we are past Semi-Super Tuesday (March 15, that is; not its official designation, of course), it is time again to look ahead to the next round of the primaries, and to consider the greater context into which the primaries are playing out.  First of all, if you are new to this process, and have not read Spark!‘s earlier posts on the subject, you can see all of our blogs on the primaries (three so far) by going to the Elections 2016 Category.  We have covered thus far the process in general (in “Primer on the Primaries“); the “First Round of the Primaries” (covering the beginning of the primaries, up through Super Tuesday, March 1); and the “Second Round of the Primaries” (from late February, through March 15).

The primaries will continue into June, and of course are intended to select delegates for both parties’ conventions in July (the Republicans in Cleveland, July 18-21; and the Democrats in Philadelphia, July 25-28).  For the purpose of this blog, we are designating “Round Three” as taking us through the end of April.  May and June will constitute at least “Round Four;” and possibly more if needed to cover events as we move forward.

As of this writing (March 18), there are still some delegates yet to be apportioned from states that have voted, but which have not completed counting the votes.  Delegate counts are still somewhat unofficial, and are projections based on reports from states and voting districts.  As a result of confusion between the various state parties’ rules and other irregularities, various reporting agencies have minor differences in their delegate counts.  Real Clear Politics‘ projections of March 18 allot the following:

Democratic Race: 2,382 delegates needed to win [out of 4,763]

Hillary Clinton: 1,614 delegates (needs 33.5% of remaining delegates to win)

Bernie Sanders:  856 delegates (needs 66.6% of remaining delegates to win)

Republican Race: 1,237 delegates needed to win [out of 2,472]

Donald Trump:  673 delegates (needs 52.5% of remaining delegates to win)

Ted Cruz:  413  delegates (needs 76.7% of remaining delegates to win)

John Kasich:  143  delegates (needs more delegates to win than are uncommitted)

Marco Rubio:  169 delegates, and out.

Before moving forward, we can see, then that both Democratic candidates still have a viable path to the nomination; but that Clinton’s path is a far easier one than is Sanders’s.  On the Republican side, no candidate has yet a decisive edge for the first ballot in July.  Trump is by far the closest; but he still needs a greater percentage of the remaining delegates than he has shown himself able to secure thus far.  There is good news and bad news ahead for the Trump campaign.  The good news for Trump (and the bad news for the GOP and for the rest of the nation) is that the “winner takes all” states have now started voting.  In those states, Trump only needs to secure a plurality to get all of their delegates; and he has shown himself clearly able to accomplish that.  The bad news for Trump (and the good news for the rest of us) is that the Republicans are becoming increasingly hostile to him, and may manage to pull out enough key victories in states where Trump is weak to keep him from achieving the delegates threshold for the first ballot at the convention.  From there, things get a lot more interesting – and Trump may yet manage to secure a victory in Cleveland, so a brokered convention is not necessarily a Trump defeat.

None of the other Republican candidates has a viable path to first-ballot nomination.  Cruz needs an impossibly high percentage (over 76%) of the remaining delegates, and has nowhere been able to come anywhere close to such a victory, let alone achieving that nationally.  He would basically have to win many major winner-takes-all states to achieve that.  John Kasich, earning recently his first state victory in his home state of Ohio (a “winner takes all” state giving him the entire Ohio delegation), has so few delegates to his name that even if he were to win every single remaining delegate at this point – a 100% victory in every state, requiring nothing short of divine intervention – he would still come in 18 delegates short of a first-ballot win.  Marco Rubio, of course, has suspended his campaign, although his ghost may resurrect at the convention for second or subsequent ballots.

The next round of primary events include:

Thursday, March 10: Virgin Islands (R).  The caucus has already taken place; but no results have been announced yet.  9 Republican delegates will be apportioned, on a winner-takes-all basis.

Tuesday, March 22: Arizona and Utah will both hold dual-party events (primaries in AZ, and caucuses in UT).  The Republicans in American Samoa will hold an open convention; and the Democrats in Idaho will caucus.

Arizona is a winner-takes-all state for the Republicans.  Polls on Tuesday (March 15) showed Trump leading Cruz, 31% to 19%; but there were also 30% undecided respondents among the Republicans.  Clinton had a decisive edge on Sanders, 50% to 24; but that also puts 26% of Arizona Democrats into the undecided category and up for play.  Arizona could be a huge Clinton win; or a marginal Sanders victory.  Arizona has 58 Republican delegates to offer; and 75 Democratic delegates (plus ten super-delegates).

Utah has not been polled recently; but back in February both Cruz and Rubio had slight edges over Trump.  Bush, Carson, and Fiorina were still in play back then; and while Bush voters are unlikely to reach for Trump, Carson voters are more likely.  With Rubio gone, it may be easy to suggest that his voters support Cruz; but the two are widely different species of the Republican order, and Rubio supporters may go for Kasich or even Trump instead.  Some 42% of February’s respondents supported candidates no longer running; and so Utah has the chance to offer some nasty surprises.  February polls also showed Clinton leading Sanders 50% to 44 (with Sanders up a few points from January); and Sanders’s viability may well have been strengthened by his recent performance, so Utah is going to be a big fight for the Democrats as well.  Utah has 40 Republican delegates, 33 Democratic delegates, and 4 Democratic super-delegates.

Idaho’s caucus is currently presumed to be a modest Sanders win, giving both candidates roughly half of its 23 delegates.  Idaho and the other primaries and caucuses that day will give the Republican candidates a total of 107 more delegates; and the Democrats a total of 131 more, not including 18 super-delegates.

Saturday, March 26:  Democratic caucuses in Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington state.  Polling on these states is meager at best, and not up to date.  Together, they will allot to the candidates some 142 delegates, and 30 super-delegates.

April 1-3:  Republican state convention in North Dakota, which will nominate delegates to the July convention in Cleveland.  28 Republican delegates will ultimately be sent to Cleveland from North Dakota.

Tuesday, April 5Wisconsin open primary for both parties.  Wisconsin has no recent polling, but Trump held a significant advantage in February, when the field had more players.  Although the “middle states” have been forming a strong Cruz bastion, it seems unlikely that Trump’s advantage will have lessened; and it is a winner-takes-all state offering Trump (or whichever Republican wins it) all of its 42 delegates.  On the blue side, Clinton and Sanders were running neck and neck at the beginning of the year; so its 86 Democratic delegates make it a significant battleground state.

Saturday, April 9: Wyoming‘s Democratic caucus for its 14 delegates. Following this caucus, from April 14 through the 16th, Wyoming Republicans will hold a state convention to select the 15 remaining delegates selected by the party (there was a caucus on March 12; but it only had 11 delegates selected by that process). Three more Republican delegates from the state are super-delegates, as every Republican state party is allotted three such slots.  Polling data on Wyoming is lacking; but Ted Cruz blasted Rubio and Trump out of the water there last Saturday, taking 9 of the 11 selected delegates.

Tuesday, April 19: New York‘s closed primary for both parties.  The most recent polls showed Clinton with a whopping advantage (71% to Sanders’s 23) for its massive allotment of 247 Democratic delegates; however previous polls showed far less of an advantage (55% to 34 at the end of February), so either the recent Emerson poll is skewed, or Clinton’s success on March 12 has helped to shift New York more substantially in her favor.  Trump has a similar advantage there by the same polling firm (64% to Cruz’s 12; Kasich has a mere 1%), but previous polls by other firms had his numbers in the mid-40s.  The Republican party allots New York’s delegates as “winner takes most”; so as long as he has the plurality, he gets the bulk of delegates, but Cruz could still come out with delegates.  The trick to New York, however, is that it also has a 20% inclusion threshold; only candidates gaining at least 20% of district votes get any delegates from them.  Neither Cruz nor Kasich have been approaching those numbers in New York, so it is looking like an almost automatic Trump victory.  Cruz will likely rue the day he criticized “New York values” on April 19.

Tuesday, April 26: “Mini-mini-Super Tuesday” (I presume that only I am calling it that). Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island will all hold dual-party closed primaries, a huge battle for the Old Colonies.  Some 172 Republican delegates and 384 Democratic delegates are up for grabs.  While there is useful polling data  for Maryland and Pennsylvania, the other three states have not been adequately polled since November, 2015 (when almost all of the original 17 Republican candidates were still running).  A lot of voters have shifted to Sanders from Democratic undecided respondents since then, so only relatively recent polls are useful.  However, the entire region has been continually found to be more favorable to Trump than to other Republicans; and is largely more favorable to Clinton.  Delaware and Maryland have winner-takes-all Republican primaries; and Connecticut has (like New York) a 20% inclusion threshold as well as a 50% winner-takes-all threshold, so it may be a full Trump victory as well.

Total delegates, Round Three:  444 Republicans; and 1,004 Democrats (plus 184 super-delegates to be decided separately).

Based on the polling data available, Spark! projects the following for Round Three:

Hillary Clinton will gain another 520 delegates, giving her 2,134.  At that point, Clinton will need only 18.3% of the remaining uncommitted delegates to win the nomination.

Bernie Sanders will gain 417 delegates, giving him 1,273.  He would then need 82% of the remaining uncommitted delegates to win the nomination.  If our projections come anywhere close to the events, then by the end of Round Three, while Sanders will have come even closer to Clinton’s numbers, Clinton will have achieved enough superiority to take the nomination at the first ballot of the convention with ease.

In the meantime, Donald Trump will gain another 346 delegates, for a total of 1,019.  He would need to get 34.1% of the remaining delegates to win the first ballot in July.

Ted Cruz will gain 71 delegates, bringing his total to 484.  He would need more additional delegates than are available; and therefore could not get a first-ballot nomination.

John Kasich will get another 18 delegates, bringing him up to 161.  He already has no chance for a first-ballot nomination.

The key states to watch during this process are Arizona (for both parties), Washington (for the Democrats), Wisconsin (for both parties), and New York (for both parties).  Collectively, the statistically uninformative Old Colonies battling it out on April 26 will also host a major contest for substantial delegates and for new numbers.

The Low Road and the High Road

High Road, Low Road

Quote of the Week:  He who would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself. –Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine’s words give us a lens with which to look at two diverging routes taken by American political forces.  On the one hand, we have the conservative low road, sinking our nation to its lowest depths of racism, xenophobia, and bigotry, taking us ever further away from our shining City on a Hill and the establishment of a liberal community of prosperity and care.  On the other, we have the liberal high road to the City, to using our wealth (as leading Americans since John Winthrop in the 1630s have urged us) to care for the poor, sick, and unemployed.  Paine informs us that while the low road allows us to apply our Constitution and other national principles only minimally, and only for established American citizens, the high road to the City requires a liberal application of constitutionality to all human beings, regardless of national status.

We have too long allowed our government (even under President Obama’s moderate hand) to traverse the conservative low road.  We have allowed our government to imprison, without charge and without any intention to prosecute, foreign nationals for an unlimited duration.  We have allowed our government to encourage other governments to torture and to evade American principles of legality and morality through machinations like extraordinary rendition.  We have allowed our government to target American citizens believed to be aiding foreign hostile forces, without providing the required basic constitutional protections to those citizens.  So it should come as no surprise when our government wants ever more invasive tools of espionage and oppression, as indicated by the latest court battle with Apple over cell-phone encryption.  It is no surprise that, allowing our government to forget our constitutional principles (and allowing the government to limit constitutional protections to established US citizens – and not even all of those), we now have an entire Republican party hostile to foreigners – immigrants and refugees, the very types of people who (together with slaves) built this country in the first place.  It is no surprise that a Republican candidate is having audiences replicate the Nazi salute as they swear allegiance to their Orangearschlochführer and as they loudly urge him to protect them from Mexicans and Muslims.  This is where the low road is taking us – away from our City on the Hill, and toward an ideological parking lot; empty, barren, and open for sale.

Instead, Paine urges us to take the high road.  Paine pushes us to build Winthrop’s City, a liberal community of care and ethics, and of prosperity and wealth.  Paine urges us to apply our Constitution to all human beings, not just established US citizens.  Paine urges our politicians to treasure all citizens – not just those supporting them at rallies (and unlike those like Trump openly mocking anyone not buying the cheap dime-store make-up job he wants to put on our national legacy and principles).  Paine urges us to remember that when foreign nationals at Guantanamo are denied constitutional protections, we are building precedents for our government to weaken and remove our protections here at home.  Paine urges America to remember its revolutionary principles.  Those principles can only truly shape our polity at home and the rest of the world abroad when we apply them as liberally as we can.  We must guarantee basic constitutional protections to all people, and not ask first where they were born, what language they speak, what faith they profess, or what citizenship they hold.

The Republicans, and extremist forces like Trump, will continue to take the low road away from our City on a Hill, and strive to tear our City down in favor of a parking lot.  We Americans must fight them at every step, and drive forward on the high road, to the City, to a greater community of care and wealth and social justice.  Else we establish a precedent that truly denies protection not just to some loosely defined “outsider,” but to our ideals, to our communities, and to ourselves.

The Second Round of the Primaries

The opening round of the primaries is over, and the pace of the primaries process is about to accelerate dramatically.  The various candidates each have their own strengths going into this next round, from now through March 15 (there are, of course, primaries and caucuses going on throughout March, April, May, in into early June; but the significance of March 15 makes it a good point at which to stop and begin the next phase).

The story thus far:  The primaries have begun with the Iowa Caucus (on February 1), the New Hampshire Primary (on February 9), two separate Nevada caucuses (the Democratic caucus on February 20 and the Republican caucus on February 23), and the Republican South Carolina Primary (on February 20).  Here’s where the two parties’ separate battles for their nominations are looking so for:

Democratic Campaigns:

In terms of basic delegate counts, the Democratic candidates have won:

Hillary Clinton: 52

Bernie Sanders: 51.

While the two Democrats are almost tied, the Democratic Convention also assigns a significant number of votes to so-called “superdelegates” (key party members and legislators, designated beforehand by the Democratic National Committee).  Thus far, Clinton has 451 likely superdelegate votes (based on endorsements), while Sanders has only 19.  A convention vote based only on states voting thus far, plus the superdelegate endorsements, would hand an overwhelming victory to Clinton, 504-70.  However, these numbers also represent only 15% of the total delegates and superdelegates count in Philadelphia in July.  The next round (up to March 15) will finally put the Democrats at the 50% mark for voted delegates.

The last Democratic primary before Super Tuesday is in South Carolina (an open event, in which both independents and Republicans can also vote).  Current polling among likely Democratic voters in South Carolina shows 57% supporting Clinton and 33% Sanders (with the rest still mulling things over).  If those numbers stay true, Clinton should go into Super Tuesday with 82 or so delegates and 533 convention votes total, to Sanders’s 69 or so delegates and 88 convention votes total.  While Clinton’s advantage is (to borrow a favorite Sanders word) huge, Super Tuesday’s 860 delegates could potentially seal the deal for Clinton (as if those numbers did not seem to do so already).  The question is how many of those delegates could Sanders get.

A quick look back at the Public Policy Polling (PPP) tracking poll released earlier this month (which matched initial voting preferences to respondents’ racial identity), combined with the racial composition of South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states (and the proportionate delegates count from those states) demonstrates that of the 911 delegates to be produced from these collective states, at least 500 should go to Clinton, and at least 278 should go to Sanders.  The battle is for the remaining 133 delegates (many responding to the poll were still uncertain for whom they were voting).  Together with the superdelegates, but not including those 133 “undecided” delegates, Clinton still has a massive advantage, 1,004 to Sanders’s 348.  Even if Sanders gets all of those 133 extra delegates, that only brings him to 481, still less than half of Clinton’s take.  To put a dent in Clinton’s advantage and keep himself alive into the convention, Sanders therefore has to exceed expectations founded upon polls like the PPP tracking poll, and convince already pro-Clinton as well as undecided Democrats to vote for him.  With only a week left to do so before Super Tuesday, the Sanders campaign clearly has its work cut out for it.

Republican Campaigns:

Donald Trump has exceeded the expectations of everyone (except himself, and his own trumpenproletariat), and also exceeded the simplistic expectations implied by previous polls.  He now stands as the powerhouse of a newly re-organizing (or disintegrating) Republican Party.  He has a significant majority of delegates thus far (albeit from only four not very large states; so there is ample time for some yet-to-be-imagined counter-strategy by other Republicans to put him in his place).  As of last night (the Nevada Republican Caucus), the current convention delegate counts among the five remaining contenders are:

Donald Trump: 81

Ted Cruz:  17

Marco Rubio: 17

John Kasich:  6

Ben Carson:  4

There are also 8 delegates unaccounted for from states already voted (7 bound to candidates who have dropped out; and one Nevada delegate left to be determined as polls are still being counted).  Trump has a plurality of his party’s popular vote, winning not quite one third (31.9%) of the Republican popular vote.  This first phase of the primaries diminished the largest ever number of contenders for any American primary (17 candidates to start with) to the five current hopefuls.  For at least two of the remaining candidates (John Kasich and Ben Carson), the state primary and caucus rules in many of the state Republican parties doom them to irrelevance.  Only fifteen of the 52 remaining primaries and caucuses have no inclusion thresholds (which mandate some specific minimum performance level in order to gain any delegates); and most inclusion thresholds effectively mean that Kasich and Carson will get few delegates even from states that use proportionate delegation.  Realistically, the three reasonable contenders for the nomination are Trump, Cruz, and Rubio.

Despite showing both in opinion polls and in the popular vote thus far that barely a third of Republicans can get behind Donald Trump, the jobs-to-China billionaire has an advantage in that a number of states (including the key states of California, Florida, and Ohio) assign delegates on a winner-takes-all system (with a mere plurality as the qualifying measure of victory).  Trump needs only to do what he has been doing – beating Cruz and the rest for the greatest number of votes – to win all of those states’ delegates (a total of 744 delegates).  Add those (and the delegates from other winner-takes-all states) to the fact that thus far he has come in first in all of the states voting since Iowa (where he took only one delegate less than the winner, Ted Cruz); and Trump has a shot at going into the Cleveland convention with a majority of delegates.  The prediction of a brokered convention may not turn out, and Trump may well get the nomination on the first ballot.

In the meantime, while Ted Cruz started from a polling advantage over all other Republicans with the exception of Trump, Marco Rubio has come from behind and tied him for second place.  Rubio’s campaign has achieved that underdog campaign dream, the “big mo” (for momentum).  Although on January 7, Cruz topped the polls at 31.8% of Republican respondents (beating Trump’s 27.8 and Rubio’s third-place 11.3), the evidence suggests that as other candidates drop out, Rubio is attracting their votes and getting delegates.  The significance of Rubio’s race goes far beyond the mere triviality of the second-place holder; and Rubio’s accelerating campaign will have some advantages over both Trump’s and Cruz’s in the days ahead.

Thus far, with each state’s primary or caucus the sole event of the day, and with numerous days between these events to prepare for them, Trump has used a combination of campaign strategy and his cult-of-personality approach to public appearances to defeat traditional conservatives like Bush and Tea Party conservatives like Cruz.  Trump has carpet-bombed states with his own form, and with hats and T-shirts (made, of course, in China); while Cruz and the others have spent money on phone banks, door-to-door canvassing, and other direct vote-getting operations.  Trump’s minimalist strategy has worked, in the environment of the first round, an environment that allows candidates time to breathe and to move resources (themselves most especially) to the places where they most need them.  The next round, however, will have an entirely different environment.

The Next Round:

The next sequence of primary events (from now through March 15) are as follows:

February 27 (Saturday):  South Carolina’s Democratic Primary (an open event in which both independents and Republicans can vote as well), apportioning 51 more delegates.

March 1: Super Tuesday.  The largest single electoral event of the primaries season.  10 states will have primaries or caucuses for both parties simultaneously (AL, AR, GA, MA, MN, OK, TN, TX, VT, and VA); plus 6 more single-party primaries and caucuses (American Samoa D, Alaska R, Colorado D, Democrats abroad, North Dakota R, Wyoming R).  652 Republican delegates, and 860 Democratic delegates, will be apportioned by these events.

March 5 (Saturday):  Louisiana and Kansas have closed primaries and caucuses for both parties.  In addition, the Republicans hold closed caucuses in Kentucky and Maine; while the Democrats hold a closed caucus in Nebraska.  155 Republican delegates, and 113 Democratic delegates will be apportioned by these events.

March 6 (Sunday):  The Republicans hold an open primary in Puerto Rico to apportion 23 delegates; and the Democrats hold a closed caucus in Maine for 25 delegates.

March 8 (Tuesday):  Michigan and Mississippi both hold open primaries for both parties.  In addition, the Republicans hold a closed caucus in Hawaii and a closed primary in Idaho.  140 Republican delegates, and 184 Democratic delegates are apportioned.

March 12 (Saturday):  Republican closed events in Guam (a territorial convention) and the District of Columbia (a caucus), for 28 delegates.

March 15 (Mini-Super Tuesday):  The second largest electoral event of the primaries season.  Five states hold simultaneous primaries for both parties: FL, IL, MO, NC, and OH.  Also, the Republicans of the Northern Mariana Islands out there in the Pacific get to throw their two cents (and nine delegates) in.  Some 367 Republican delegates, and 697 Democratic delegates, are up for grabs.  By the end of the day, 1,535 of the 2,472 Republican delegates (62%) will have been apportioned.  Also, some 1,889 of the 3,782 (50%) voted Democratic delegates will have been apportioned.  Both parties should have a pretty good idea of how the candidates will be looking, although for the stronger candidates the game will be far from over.

The two largest electoral battle days of the primaries season are March 1 and March 15.  These days will challenge all campaigns alike; the “establishment” candidates like Clinton and Rubio, and the “insurgent” campaigns of Sanders and Trump.  Unlike the first round of primaries, which allow campaigns long preparation times to saturate each state with public appearances and local campaign operations, and where each campaign can focus squarely upon the only state coming up next, putting all their chips on one square, the political meeting engagements of March require more actual strategy.  Campaigns have three principal resources to divide between the multiple states up for battle:  the candidates themselves (a much more limited resource, especially in March), campaign finances, and supporting endorsements (politicians and celebrities to deliver speeches in support of or in place of the candidates themselves).  Campaigns have to decide how to measure out these resources, particularly the first one.

In Trump’s case, that first resource (Trump himself) is even more significant, because it is almost all that he has.  He actually has far less cash on hand, and almost no significant fund-raising system, than the other candidates; and his money has largely been spent on “swag” (hats and T-shirts) rather than on communication and vote-getting (phone banks, canvassing, etc.).  He also has virtually no endorsements of significance, outside of popular culture icons like Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin (McCain’s Folly from Seward’s Folly).  Super Tuesday will be a test of his ability to advertise himself nationally, and a test of his campaign’s already established support in those states.  In the meantime, Cruz and Rubio have larger actual organizations, and have much more money and public supporters of significance.  They can use these resources to blanket Super Tuesday and March 15 states with personal vote-getting, and to whittle down Trump’s apparent but not overwhelming advantage.  One disadvantage that these larger and better-organized campaigns face, however, is voters’ flexibility.  Most Republican candidates’ supporters show a far greater willingness to consider other candidates than do Trump’s.  With Trump’s supporters dug in, how much can the large-scale maneuver warfare of the Cruz and Rubio campaigns achieve?

Rubio has an additional advantage of “likeability” with respect to Cruz and Trump (both of whom are detested by many establishment Republicans), as well as the “big mo” (for the moment, at least).  Rubio and Cruz represent, to some, different names for the same candidate (the “token Latino” to attract ethnic votes, and established alternatives to Trump’s insurgency); but Rubio’s campaign platform is more moderate in scope than Cruz’s plan to shut down most of the federal government.  Rubio has more overall “electability,” measured by traditional standards – which themselves, in 2016, are coming increasingly into question and being discarded one after another.  Were this not 2016, Rubio would be the GOP’s dream candidate.  But the game is changing, and the measures for victory are changing with it.

On the Democratic front, Sanders, too, has exceeded expectations, particularly in groups which were most favorable to Clinton (women, Latinos, and African-Americans).  While those latter three groups still favor Clinton, Sanders has whittled down her advantage.  But as with Trump, Sanders has enjoyed the ease of the first round to gain points, and now faces the tough battles of March.  Clinton has developed her organization throughout the country, building support and working to disarm the “Clintonphobia” that the Republicans and Sanders have worked hard to reinforce.  The question of March will be the same for Sanders as for Trump: can the insurgencies fight a ground battle on numerous fronts simultaneously, against established campaign machinery backed by the party establishments?

Image from I Agree to See; via Google Image Search.

Fighting Evil, or Growing It

Quote of the Week:  The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it. –Albert Einstein

Einstein warned us that those wishing to perpetrate evil (like Hitler in his time, or Trump in ours) are incapable of operating without two additional forces supporting them.  First, they need supporters who themselves may be unwilling to “speak their minds,” but who also applaud evil men for unleashing the darkest monsters of our psyche, man’s tendencies toward suspicion and hatred.  And evil is equally dependent on those who stay silent and inactive; who work, raise their families, and die while remaining distant from greater events around them.

The United States is at a crossroads, much like Germany was in 1933.  A generation from now, Trump may have disappeared into the footnotes of history, unremembered and without having accomplished anything of substance.  Or, Trump can – if we let him – turn our nation away from its democratic principles and economic prosperity and onto the path toward authoritarianism and poverty.  We can remain a powerful and independent democracy; or become, as Trump’s supporters would have it, a third-world dictatorship and economic colony to China, India, Russia, and Brazil.  Although Trump’s supporters would bristle at that objective, that is where their course will lead us.  The twenty-first century economy requires ever more education and cultural diversity, and pushes into poverty and history ever more twentieth-century (and older) sources of income.  Those on the Left, like Clinton and Sanders, who want to steer our nation forward understand the vital importance education and cultural diversity will have in this new century. Their policies of the Left can help keep our nation free, democratic, prosperous, and powerful.  But Trump, and his fellow Republicans, call for the dismantling of education and other public goods that build our City on a Hill.  Trump’s opposition to education is hardly surprising coming from a mogul who himself shipped jobs to China, helping China (to use his own monosyllabic diatribe) to “win.”  Trump calls for ever greater debts to China through lower taxes (while increasing defense and other spending), and also increasing our provocation of China into military conflict (thereby also risking a nuclear apocalypse as well).  But the trumpenproletariat do not think closely about his policies any more than Germans in 1933 could see past Hitler’s own simplistic “solutions” to German problems.

Americans who value their nation must also value its principles, not merely its strength.  What makes the US “great” is not its military, but the inclusiveness of its society and ideals, the openness of its discourse, and the prosperity of its economy.  To keep our nation “great,” we need to keep it inclusive and diverse – pushing that envelope ever further as we go.  We need to welcome immigrants and refugees to help build our nation with us.  We need to keep our discourse lively and open – engaging each other, rather than staying in the shadows and allowing evil to grow unmolested.  And we need to transform our economy to a 21st century model – green, sustainable, information dominated, and supported by a massively expanded and dramatically improved educational system.

Most of all, to keep Trump from becoming our own nation’s Hitler, to push him back into the ash-heap of history, we need to fight – all of us – against evil where we see it.  We need to combat stupidity and simplicity of thought (the preferred growing environment of hatred and fear).  We need to bring more people to the battlefield of political discourse, and use our weapons of logic and facts.

Talk to your people – your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors.  Explain your views.  Learn theirs.  Engage and combat the evil in front of you – before it knocks on your door and throws you into a paddy wagon.  We can stop this now, in its tracks.  Or we can watch TV, shut our eyes, and bring our nation to its knees and its end.  Which way do you want this to go?  Will you be the evil, or be its end?

Headline image via Google Image Search.

Replacing Scalia: the Basic Math of Progress

With hard-line conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia departed from the bench, President Obama has a rare opportunity – to appoint another liberal Justice to the bench, giving the Court a liberal majority.  There are four conservative justices left: Chief Justice John Roberts (appointed by George W. Bush), and Justices Anthony Kennedy (the last Reagan appointee; and at times a centrist rather than a true conservative), Clarence Thomas (appointed by George H.W. Bush), and Samuel Alito, Jr. (appointed by George W. Bush).  If the president were to get another liberal justice appointed, that justice would join Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer (both Clinton appointees), and Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan (both Obama appointees).  With five liberal justices, it is not unlikely that moderate Justice Kennedy might steer more toward the conservative side of the bench (being as he has a force of balance between the two sides); but a numerical majority of liberal justices would still be able to push litigation and judicial review significantly to the left of the Court’s recent performance.

For the president to get his third appointee on the bench, he has to select and vet a candidate.  Then the Senate would subject his candidate to review in what is likely to be a more than thorough screening under the direction of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  If the candidate is passed by the committee, the vote goes to the floor of the Senate for final approval.  The first problem obviously is that the Republican majority of the Senate gives them the majority in each of the committees, including specifically the Judiciary Committee (which currently has 11 Republicans and 9 Democrats).  As recalcitrant as the current rank of Republican Senators has been (and as uncooperative and openly hostile to the president specifically), it is optimistic to presume that the committee would value the president’s right to appoint a justice over their political objective of disenfranchising the left.  It is more optimistic to presume the floor of the Senate would be any friendlier to the president.

In fact, the Republicans are getting ready simply to block the president’s selection of a new justice for the remainder of his term, keeping at least a balance of equals between the conservative and liberal sides of the bench.  Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), presidential candidate and a member of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, has been leading the Republicans’ pre-emptive assault on the president’s constitutional prerogative to appoint Supreme Court justices.  Leftist petitions have been flooding the internet in the vain hopes of pushing the Republican Senators to reverse course entirely and actually follow the exact kind of popular calls for action that they have studiously ignored since taking the majority in 2015.  However, the math, and senatorial procedure, simply allow the Senate to sit on its constitutional prerogative of approving appointees for the remainder of the president’s term.

While that seems like bad news, this can also be very good news to Democrats.  Current electoral math suggests (not irrevocably, of course) that the Democrats are going to get large masses of new voters to the polls in November, and are going to get the White House on Inauguration Day in 2017.  Those large masses of new voters are also going to vote for one third of the Senators.  There are some 24 Republican senators, and 10 Democrats, up for re-election in 2016 (serving six-year terms, one third of the Senators are elected every two years; “Class 3” is the current rank up in 2016).  With 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and two Democratic-allied independents currently sitting in the Senate, to get a bare majority in the Senate in 2017 the Democrats need to re-elect all ten of their current “Class 3” senators, plus five more to take over Republican seats.  To beat the filibuster threshold (60 senators from the same caucus), the Democrats would need to take 14 seats from the 24 Republican senators up for re-election.  Incidentally, should Senator Sanders (I-VT) win the general election, the Democrats would need to fill that seat as well through another election; Senator Sanders is not up for re-election in 2016, so if he loses the nomination he gets to stay in the Senate for now.  Also, should some Democratic senators lose their seats, the Democrats would obviously need to unseat even larger numbers of Republican senators elsewhere.  Either way, the Democrats need five more seats in the Senate to gain a bare majority, and 14 more seats to beat the filibuster threshold.

If the Democrats do, indeed, push many new voters to the polls and beat the Republicans in doing so, they will also have the opportunity not just to keep their current senators, but also to unseat some of the 24 Republican senators up for re-election, and to gain a majority (possibly, but unlikely to include beating the filibuster threshold).  With a majority, the new Senate Majority Leader (perhaps Harry Reid, who held the post from 2007-15) would put together a new Judiciary Committee with a Democratic majority.  Under a new Democratic White House backed by a Democratic majority in the Senate, the President could appoint a far more liberal Justice than President Obama would ever be able to get through the current Senate, pushing the Court even further to the left.  As so many of the Republican strategies in recent years have backfired disastrously for the GOP, Cruz’s pre-emptive attack may also be the harbinger of a greater, more progressive America to come.  A more progressive Supreme Court could overturn its own recent Citizens United ruling, could reverse Scalia’s opinion on gun rights not being seated upon militia responsibilities, could find ways to restore some of the recently disemboweled Voting Rights Act, and could back ever more progressive legislation and presidential policy.  Senator Cruz’s pre-emptive attack could, under certain not yet guaranteed conditions, prove to be the greatest thing Democrats could hope for, and could show the Republicans why some things are best not wished for, let alone sought.

Headline image from The Atlantic, “A Closer Look at Confirmed Federal Judges,” (August 12, 2001), via Google Search.

Genius, Mediocrity, and the Perception of Victory

Quote of the Week:  Only mediocrity can be trusted to be always at its best. Genius must always have lapses proportionate to its triumphs. –Max Beerbohm

As a political writer, I take these words to heart.  They are especially relevant to the risks that a writer must take as a natural part of the process.  Not everything I do ever ends up being perfect; and it is astounding how completely different something I have in my head looks once I start putting it into words.  Even outlines and drafts change radically as I enter words here, and often the transformation can be not only astounding but disheartening.  Sometimes I have ideas that work just fine in theory but come out looking more like something I would have written in high school.  At any rate, Beerbohm’s words indicate that as a writer I should be prepared to face a possible disaster (a “lapse of genius,” if you will) in order to strive for the higher goal of a well-constructed and delivered argument.

Looking past my own concerns, Beerbohm’s words are also relevant to the recent Iowa Caucus.  Two candidates in particular (Clinton and Trump), as well as the media, made their results out to be more than what they really are.  Clinton’s “virtual tie” (to use Bernie Sanders’s description) is painted instead as a “victory” (in a state she was expected to win, and by a good margin); at least in part because she is also expected to lose New Hampshire to Sanders, and needs to prevent a perception building up of an unstoppable Sanders momentum.  However, Clinton does have hope on the horizon, in the shape of Nevada (possibly), South Carolina, and Super Tuesday.  South Carolina in particular should be a big win for Clinton, and it is difficult to see how Sanders will keep up in the multiple-front onslaught of Super Tuesday.  But to get her there, Clinton strives to shape perceptions of her campaign as the unbeatable juggernaut.  She simply changed expectations at the last minute by having it appear that any win, even by the tiniest margin, was a “great victory,” regardless of the omens portended by Iowa.  But Clinton is a genius of political organizing, and that includes being married to another great political organizer.  Mediocrity is not a problem that Clinton suffers; and the campaign need not fear its lapse.  The genius of organization behind the Clinton machine should be allowed to consider soberly the reality of Iowa and find a way to connect to the new, young voter (who is overwhelmingly in favor of Sanders, and who well may play a vital role, as young voters did in 2008).  The genius of Clinton should be allowed its lapse; and it should be allowed to see and portray that lapse as what it is – not a fatal weakness, but a problem that needs to be fixed as the campaign moves on to its next objective.

Similarly, Donald Trump brought in a much lower percentage of Iowans than his pre-caucus poll numbers indicated.  Those numbers gave him a second place not far from the first, held by Ted Cruz, but also even closer (by a single percentage point) to Marco Rubio’s third place.  Trump is underplaying the result, treating it as if it had been expected.  Yet Trump had more campaign stops in Iowa than any other GOP candidate.  He clearly invested far more resources in, and expected far greater results from, the people of Iowa (despite at one point insulting them by asking, “How stupid are the people of Iowa?”).  He also moves on to New Hampshire, a state where he is expected to do much better – a likely win.  And yet, the New Hampshire primary is basically “small time,” and like Iowa allows for much time and preparation, neither of which will be available for subsequent steps like Super Tuesday.  Trump’s failure to understand the voters, to understand the campaign process, and to understand his own rivals for the nomination (Rubio especially, whom Trump simply never saw coming) indicates not so much a “genius” showing an inevitable lapse, but the expected results of mediocrity trying to compete with its betters.

With Trump in Iowa, we see mediocrity at its best; unable to look past his own nose, or hear past the crowd of those around him.  Whereas with Clinton, we see political genius afraid to allow itself the comfort of a clear lapse.  For the good of the American political process, Trump’s mediocrity would best continue to “be always at its best,” but Clinton’s genius should be allowed to experience both its first lapse as well as its potential future triumphs.

Headline image via Google Image Search

Flint in Crisis, Part II: Friends in Need

With the city of Flint, Michigan, still deeply in need of aid and support in its continuing water emergency, we move from the basic causal events leading up to this January (detailed in Part I of this report earlier in the week), to a fuller examination of the problem at hand, and what needs to be done to fix the problem.

Flint is no longer using its contaminated river; and is back on Detroit’s water supply, having hooked back up last October.  However, as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow stated recently in a televised town hall visit to the town, “the damage is done.”  Flint’s older lead pipes are corroded, and some of Flint’s galvanized pipes have also been damaged by the corrosives (chloride in particular), and by lead eaten off of connecting pipes by those corrosives.  While the entire system has not been compromised, fixing those parts that are is proving to be a complicated, expensive, and long-term operation for a variety of reasons.  Until the system is fixed, many residents are living day-to-day by depending on bottled water supplies, for cooking, washing, and of course drinking.  For a large city in a modern nation to be denied access to safe running water is simply unthinkable.  Others are more fortunate, and have water filters for at least some of their fixtures; but they are still dependent on external support for regular replacement cartridges.  Cartridges need to be regularly replaced due to continuing high lead levels in the water, and are obviously in very high demand.  There are also test results showing that in some homes the lead levels in the water are too high even for filters to handle safely, in some cases by an order of magnitude.

Lead will continue to leach into the water in all parts of the system using the old lead pipes which have been compromised, until those pipes are either repaired or replaced.  In those parts of the system that are damaged, it is no longer a question of the source of the water in the pipes.  The cleanest water will still be contaminated with lead leaching out of the damaged pipes.  Those parts of the system where the pipes have not been damaged can now use the water coming through from Detroit since last October (although consumer confidence in the system will be another issue entirely).  But what parts of the system are damaged, where is the damage, and how extensive is that damage?  One big problem, identified by University of Michigan-Flint professor Martin Kaufman, is that Flint’s records on its own water system are questionable at best.  With little money for modern resources, Flint still uses an index card system for tracking work done on its pipes.  The cards are not even organized properly, and some of the records are out-dated and incorrect.  The city’s own water officials are in many cases unsure where some of the pipes are, in what condition, and of what construction.  So fixing the system requires much more than looking up where the lead pipes are and replacing those.

One potential solution would be to run anti-corrosives and a sealant through the pipes.  Phosphates, highly toxic chemicals, are useful in sealing corrosion on old pipes.  The problem still remains as to where those chemicals need to be applied.  But with phosphates, there are additional problems.  Unlike regular anti-corrosives that most municipal water systems use (which are only used for preventing corrosion, not for sealing already damaged pipes), phosphates are highly toxic and would need to be flushed out of the system (and the system tested for water safety).  They are also only a temporary fix.  The pipes would begin corroding again; and so would need continuous monitoring and testing (for lead to begin leaching back into the water; not a good way to convince consumers of the system’s safety), as well as repeated resealing for as long as those parts of the system were not replaced.

Furthermore, there is the problem of home damage beyond the damage to the city’s water system itself.  Flint master plumber and plumber’s union manager Harold Harrington, featured by Maddow and MSNBC’s Stephanie Gosk in an interview segment, suggests that homes damaged by the corrosives and/or experiencing high lead levels in the water may require from $3,000 to $10,000 of repairs each (pipes, fixtures, water heaters, etc.).  There are an estimated 15-20,000 homes that need water service repairs.  Harrington suggests that some 1,000 plumbers could do that part of the job relatively quickly; but no one in the government has allotted any funding or authorized any work toward that goal.  Obviously, expecting poor home-owners who were not at fault for the failure of the system to pay for these repairs themselves would be both financially unrealistic and morally bankrupt.

Senators Peters and Stabenow (both Democrats representing Michigan in Washington) are attempting to attach an amendment to the Energy Policy and Modernization Act under review in the Senate’s Energy Committee, which would provide as much as $400 million in federal EPA funding for fixing Flint’s water system, and require the state to match all federal funds with an equal appropriation.  The $800 million total, if approved and funded, would meet Governor Snyder’s January 14 estimate of $767 million for repairs (Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, estimates repair costs about twice as high; $1.5 billion).  Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chair of the committee, has not indicated any support for the measure, either for herself or her Republican colleagues, long opposed to federal infrastructural expenditures and oversight.  Sen. Murkowski has at least expressed support for a provision of the amendment enabling Michigan to use $21 million of an existing federal Drinking Water Revolving Loan for forgiving Flint for already incurred debts for its water acquisition.

In the meantime, beyond fixing the water system, Flint has many new problems to fix resulting from the damage already done.  Lead poisoning is irreversible; and whatever damage was done (especially to young children, who are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning) cannot be undone.  Parents, teachers, doctors, and counselors need to observe the children under their care for cognitive and physical indicators of lead poisoning, and provide supports to those children as needed.  Many of these children’s blood lead levels are now going back to normal, as they are back on clean water; so those levels will not indicate who will suffer from lead poisoning, or how extensive the damage will prove.  With Flint already under economic hardship, Flint’s schools (lacking medical personnel, for the most part – they only have “health navigators” to help find external medical supports) need vastly more money for more support programs and for on-site medical staff.  This money will have to come from external sources – the state and/or the federal government, both largely run by Republicans clinging tightly to the purse-strings.  State representative Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint) has asked the governor to forgive Flint’s public school system for its existing debts, as a way to help the schools create better programs and hire essential personnel.

Flint also needs other infrastructural development and investment.  There are virtually no major grocery stores easily accessible to poor residents (the Kroger stores there are on the outskirts, difficult to get to for poor residents).  Dr. Mona Hanna-Atisha, one of the principal doctors involved in alerting Flint to its lead problem and in pushing the local and state governments on the issue, insists that fresh vegetables and unprocessed foods are key needs for developing children.  Such needs will be especially important to families with children suffering from lead poisoning; and they are difficult to come by outside of larger grocery stores.  Such needs can also be expensive, and require greater preparation time.  These factors tend to steer poor families toward unhealthy, high-carb, high-calorie, processed foods (part of the so-called “ghetto tax” suffered by the poor).  Flint is merely the tip of the iceberg in the nation’s problem in providing opportunities and a healthy standard of living for its poor.  These problems plague all poor communities, rural and urban alike.

In the meantime, as Flint struggles to survive this calamity, some support is coming to the city from across the state and across the nation.  Celebrities, organizations, and private individuals are all chipping in with donations of money, water, and other supplies.  The most immediately pressing needs are bottled water and water filters (as well as cartridges for those filters), all of which are being consumed about as fast as they come in.  These needs will continue to be daily requirements for a great number of households until the infrastructural repair work is well underway, a process that has not even begun.  Most large-scale celebrity and corporate donations, while expressing great charity and solidarity, provide less than a day’s water for the city’s population of 100,000.  Flint needs everything it can get, and immediately.  Flint also needs volunteers to help with water distribution, and with blood-lead testing and other services.

While deeper ramifications of the crisis will be examined in Part III of this report (still to come), readers can help Flint now, by volunteering time, and/or donating funds and/or supplies.  For Michigan residents wishing to come in person to help, one of the principal centers of support is the Red Cross in Flint:

Red Cross Blood Donation Center, 1401 S Grand Traverse Street, Flint MI 48503.           (810) 232-1401

The United Way of Genesee County has set up a donations page for contributions to the Flint Water Fund:

http://www.unitedwaygenesee.org/civicrm/contribute/transact?reset=1&id=5

For other ideas on supporting Flint during this crisis, see the following:

MSNBC: How to help Flint, MI

CNN: How to help with the water crisis in Flint

Flint Water Response Team

Come back to Spark! later this week for Part III of this Special Report.

Headline image, volunteer for Who is Hussain preparing water donation to Flint, via Google Image Search.

The First Round of the Primaries

With all pundits’ attention riveted to the Iowa Caucus, the first real electoral event in the 2016 election cycle, it is worthwhile to step back and peruse what in vague terms the first month of the primaries and caucuses is going to involve.  For more information on the general process involved, check out Spark!‘s Primer on the Primaries.  Note that with one exception, all of the events below allot delegates by proportionate representation, so multiple candidates can (and will) come out of them with delegates to the conventions.

Timeline of events for the first month (Feb 1 – March 1):

Monday, Feb 1: Iowa Caucus (both parties)
Tuesday, Feb 9: New Hampshire Primary (both parties)
Saturday, Feb 20: Nevada Democratic Caucus (closed to GOP)
– also, South Carolina Republican Primary (open to all voters; and “winner takes all”)
Tuesday, Feb 23: Nevada Republican Caucus (closed to Democrats)
Saturday, Feb 27: South Carolina Democratic Primary (open)

Then (wait for it): Tuesday, March 1, Super Tuesday: 10 states will have primaries or caucuses for both parties simultaneously (AL, AR, GA, MA, MN, OK, TN, TX, VT, and VA); plus 6 more single-party primaries and caucuses (American Samoa D, Alaska R, Colorado D, Democrats abroad, North Dakota R, Wyoming R).

More events obviously will happen in March after Super Tuesday.  We have another article describing the second round of primaries (up through March 15, and including further discussion of Super Tuesday).  Spark! will bring you further updates as we get closer.

While Iowa is an exciting event for politicians, pundits, and anyone following electoral politics, it is nothing more than the symbolic beginning of the election cycle.  Only three candidates have ever gone from winning their party’s Iowa caucus to gaining the presidency in the same year:  Jimmy Carter in 1976 (who only had 27% of the Iowa Democrats in 1976; there were 37% “uncommitted” that year), George W. Bush in 2000, and Barack Obama in 2008.  Many candidates have emerged from Iowa in strength and were never heard from again; whereas the opposite has also been common. Bill Clinton, for example, seized a massive 2.8% of the Iowa Democratic Caucus in 1992 (losing overwhelmingly to Tom Harkin’s 76%; remember him? Yep, thought so).  Clinton went on to win both the nomination and the presidency.  Iowa is therefore not a predictable indicator of who will win in the end.

However, as the first electoral event, Iowa provides the opportunity and time for candidates to prepare offices, staffs, and support; and to get their message out.  It is a battle for a strong “out of the gate” position in the horse race to the nomination.  The results of Iowa are merely the bell clang of that race.  After Iowa, candidates have relatively short periods of time in which to prepare for state primaries and caucuses; and then Super Tuesday comes along, and the campaigns have to battle it out in multiple states simultaneously.  On Super Tuesday, they triage their resources as best they can, to win those states considered to be both in contest and winnable (as well as losable).  After Iowa, there is little chance for candidates and campaigns to take a breath.  Ultimately, therefore, what Iowa represents is not so much the strongest candidates or campaigns, or the ultimate likely victors; but rather just the beginning of the real test for how the candidates have prepared for the four month slug-fest of the primaries phase of the nomination process.

As you prepare for and then watch the Iowa caucus and its results, remember the British wartime advice:  Keep Calm, and Carry On.  This is just step one, of a long and complex process.

Headline image via Google Image Search

Flint in Crisis, Part I: A Tale of Two Cities

Lansing Protest 3

The following constitutes Part I of a multi-part Special Report on the current water crisis in Flint, Michigan.  Part II was published several days later.

The Flint water crisis begins with the decline of the manufacturing cities of Detroit and Flint; and with the “water war” between those cities over Flint’s water supply.  That “war” was escalated by the Republican administration of Governor Rick Snyder, whose entire tenure has been powered by corporate financiers.  Snyder’s administration has been a long, sordid tale of privatization of public goods such as education, municipal services, and utilities.  Taking advantage of poor cities like Detroit, Plymouth, and Flint, Snyder has appointed “emergency managers” empowered to overrun elected municipal governments across the state (some, like Flint and Detroit, with large Democratic majorities and therefore hostile to the governor), and to transfer public services to private profiteers.

Both Flint and Detroit have suffered from the loss of automotive and other manufacturing jobs to non-union southern states and to low-wage foreign markets.  The cities have therefore also lost their principal revenue source: middle-class manufacturing workers.  Snyder has pushed these cities and others into selling off their public services to the private sector that has backed his elections (including his re-election in 2014, with less than 21% of the voting-age public supporting Snyder).  In both 2014 and 2015, Detroit was plagued by its own water crises, which were financial problems involving tens of millions of dollars of unpaid water bills.  Detroit’s response was to cut off water to delinquent accounts.  However, with a major portion of delinquent accounts being owned by about 40 major businesses (including major Detroit sports arenas like Joe Louis Ice Arena and the Comerica Park baseball stadium), Detroit left intact its services to the major debt holders and instead targeted the small-debt holders, the poor families of Detroit.

Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) also sought to reduce its deficits by raising the price of water sold to other municipalities, such as Flint, whose water costs almost doubled between 2004 and 2013.  The DWSD had been the principal supplier of water to the city of Flint, a smaller city even harder hit by globalization.  In November 2011, Snyder began appointing “emergency managers” to run Flint’s financial affairs.  The managers often overruled the decisions of the elected city council.  Snyder’s managers in Detroit and Flint began working in parallel to privatize city services in both cities, with the DWSD a major target.  Too big to be sold outright, Snyder’s corporate appointees worked to parcel out the DWSD into more easily digestible portions.  After Flint ceased acquiring water through Detroit, Snyder’s administration and managers broke up the DWSD into a smaller version of itself (keeping its old name), and a new semi-private, autonomous corporate entity, the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA).

The Republicans’ desire to break-up the DWSD, and the city of Flint’s need to cut their growing costs for water, pushed the two into a search for alternate means of supplying the city’s water needs.  A consortium of city and county water officials, the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA), was created from drain and water authorities in Genessee and Lapeer counties.  The KWA proposed to build a pipeline to bring water from Lake Huron to Flint, with construction to be completed around the end of 2016.

With a major source of its revenue threatened, the DWSD and the city of Detroit argued that Flint was initiating its own “water war” against them.  They also argued that construction costs and risks would make the new pipeline water more expensive than the costs of Detroit’s water.  In several attempts by the two cities to come to terms, and with Snyder’s office running interference, the DWSD apparently offered to cut costs back.  Detroit proposed to cut prices by as much as half, which would have made Detroit water cost 20% less than the construction and operation of a new pipeline system; but Snyder’s office killed the deal.  Finally, in March 2013, the city council approved the plan for the KWA pipeline.  The DWSD retaliated, issuing a cut-off notice to take effect the following April.

With the cut-off to take place at least two years before the completion of Karegnondi pipeline, Snyder’s emergency manager for Flint, Ed Kurtz, pushed the city council into tapping the Flint River, according to reports by both Time Magazine and the Wall Street Journal.  Both the WSJ and Michigan blog Bridge MI deny that the city council were given any choice in the process.  Both organizations cite sources within Flint’s city council saying that the decision was made solely by the state (the emergency managers and the State Treasurer, Andy Dillon).

The Flint River, once contaminated by factory waste disposals into the 1950s, continues to suffer pollution problems from winter-time run-off of road salts and other ground contaminants.  Road salts themselves are heavily corrosive, containing chloride and other corrosive chemicals which have bled into the Flint River, the principal drainage system of the region.  In April, 2014, Flint disconnected its municipal water supply from the DWSD.  Almost immediately after the shut-off of Detroit water, in the spring of 2014, Flint residents noticed a change in the taste, odor, and color of their municipal water.  That summer, Flint doctors recorded unusually high incidences of rashes, hair loss, and other ailments.  In the fall, Flint schools began bulk purchases of bottled water.  In October the GM plant in Flint ceased using municipal water after corrosion damage was detected in parts exposed to water from the municipal system.

The corrosion at GM was caused by high levels of chloride in the municipal water (having some eight times that found in Detroit water).  While most municipalities add safe corrosion inhibitors, Flint water was not treated.  The chloride corroded the old lead pipes of the city’s water system, leaching lead into the water coming out of the pipes.  The lead quickly reached extremely hazardous levels.  While federal law considers 15 parts per billion (15 ppb) as a minimum “action level,” requiring responsive action, EPA tests of Flint residential water reached levels as high as 13,200 ppb, almost 900 times the minimum action level.

Further problems in the river water were detected by researchers called in to investigate increasing medical concerns.  The water had untreated biological issues, with both E. coli and Legionnaires’ virus detected shortly after the water switch.  While the city quickly recommended the boiling of water to combat E. coli, the Snyder administration still refuses to accept a connection between two independent medical reports of Legionnaires in the water, and some 87 recorded cases of Legionnaires in Flint after the water switch.  So far, ten of the Flint Legionnaires patients have died from their ailments.

While the EPA essentially kept quiet on the issue, instead pressuring the Michigan Department for Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and other state authorities to take action, the MDEQ refused to accept the validity of the increasing evidence of large-scale problems in the water supply.  Both city and state governments largely treated the greatest problem cases as isolated local incidents not demonstrating a greater problem. Meanwhile, medical institutions in the Flint area recorded the average level of lead in the blood of local children as doubling since 2013, and in some areas tripling.  In January, 2015, Genesee county declared a public health emergency, and urged Flint residents not to drink the water.

Almost a year later, in December, 2015, a Snyder-appointed task force to look into the problem finally criticized the MDEQ for failing to “properly interpret” federal guidelines on water lead levels, and for failing to require corrosion-control treatment for Flint river water.  Following this criticism, MDEQ director Dan Wyant resigned from his post.  His successor, Kevin Creagh admits to his agency’s “tone-deafness” to the problems.

With ten residents dead, numerous children showing cognitive and physical impairments indicative of excessive lead poisoning, and various rashes and infections plaguing many more residents, public activists attempted to reach the voters and motivate public officials of the state to take responsibility for their actions and fix the problems they caused.  Protesters from across the state marched in Flint on January 8; and then again in front of the governor’s condominium in downtown Ann Arbor on January 18.  The next day, hundreds more protesters poured into Lansing, marching to the steps of the capital building as Snyder delivered his annual “State of the State” address inside.  The United Auto Workers union (UAW) was there in force, representing the aggrieved auto workers whose loss of jobs and income has served as an economic trigger for these events.  Protesters from Flint and other Michigan towns called for justice; for the resignation, impeachment, or even arrest of the governor; as well as for a substantive solution to the Flint water crisis.

In his address on the 19th, Governor Snyder finally apologized for the crisis, saying, “I’m sorry and I will fix it… You did not create this crisis, and you do not deserve this.”  Two weeks before, the governor had declared a state of emergency in Flint and in Genesee County.  On January 12, he also mobilized small units of the Michigan Army National Guard, to provide water supplies and security.  On January 16, in response to the governor’s request for federal support, President Obama declared Flint to be a federal emergency area.  Although the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) requires that federal “states of emergencies” be for natural catastrophes, FEMA has funding for lesser “emergency areas” such as the Flint crisis.  The federal government allotted an initial relief package of $5 million, with FEMA coordinating relief with multiple agencies.  In his address on the 19th, Governor Snyder requested $28 million from Michigan’s state budget for emergency relief.

A full year after Genesee County declared an emergency and told residents not to drink the water, the governor’s office finally noticed and also declared an emergency.  That was almost a full year of tens of thousands of poor families knowing that their water was poisoning them and their children, but lacking the resources to buy enough bottled water for their daily household needs.  Only after a year of repeated complaints by dozens of residents at city council meetings and with bottles of poisoned, discolored, and foul-smelling water from their homes, did the governor finally declare an emergency.

For more information, come read Part II.  Also read our re-blog of “No Words“; our story on “Helping Out in Flint,” and our most widely read story, “Growing a Family With Water in Flint.”

Headline image © 2016, Sparkpolitical.  All rights reserved.

 

When So Few Words Cause So Much Harm to So Many

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” – the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

And there lies the heart of the problem – or one of them, at least.  Today that poorly constructed sentence, with no connective phrasing indicating the relationship between the “well regulated Militia,” the “security of a free State,” or the “right of the people to keep and bear Arms,” would be edited until it actually made sense (unless, of course, it were posted as a meme on Facebook).  Is the right of Americans to own weapons seated solely, or largely, upon the intent of maintaining a people in arms against a foreign invader or domestic oppressor?  Or, as Justice Antonin Scalia argued in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), is there no necessary relationship, and does the Second Amendment simply promise unfettered rights to arms regardless of the “militia,” or the “security of a free State”?

While this is an interesting constitutional argument, over 30,000 lives are taken each year by firearms in the United States.  Roughly a third of those lives are victims of apparently deliberate violence; while suicides account for the largest share of gun deaths each year.  The many Americans lost each year (equivalent to losing the entire Vietnam War all over again every 21 months) deserve much more than an “interesting constitutional argument.”  Furthermore, as national fears ramp up over an increasing wave of violence (the rise of mass shootings, the rise of police violence against civilians, and the fears of foreign terrorism), gun-rights advocates opposing further regulations and gun-control advocates seeking further regulations both cater to fears of those around us.  The gun lobby and those gun-owners who oppose regulation portray a multitude of apparent threats to themselves, and to their families and homes.  They also ally with more extremist elements expressing fears of the “Other,” and with an increasingly publicly acceptable bigotry against non-whites.  The gun-control advocates fear that they may be next to die to some crazed, Christian “holier than thou” shooter in their church, school, or shopping mall; or that their nephew with problems may be the next to use a weapon to end his life.

President Obama, tired of more than a year of almost weekly “thoughts and prayers” consolations to the nation for the latest shootings du jour, finally moved past a catatonic Congress to enact changes to gun sales regulation via the few powers available to his office.  Immediately, the predictable firestorm of reaction was raised against the President by those in the gun lobby who had eagerly awaited such action for seven years without satisfaction.  The tightening of existing regulations on the sale of firearms now seemed to them to be inaugurating the president’s long-awaited crusade to take away their guns.  Quickly the president rose up to the challenge of national dialogue, in a time when we Americans do not bother to actually listen to each other any more.  At a “town hall” meeting hosted by CNN in Fairfax, VA, the president took questions from representatives from both sides of the gun issue.  Although the NRA’s headquarters is located just down the road from the site of the “town hall,” that organization refused to contribute to the dialogue, preferring instead to steer the issue silently through campaign contributions.

The president attempted to connect with gun-owners and sellers, reminding them that each of them probably had to pass background checks themselves.  His executive order focuses on ensuring that everyone purchasing a firearm passes through the same process.  There was not a lot of listening in the hall that night, however; and the president had to repeat his insistence that new regulations would not result in anyone’s guns being taken away, or even make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to acquire firearms.  When George Lakoff wrote about “framing” political dialogue, this was precisely what he was talking about.  People (on all sides of political and moral questions) create “frameworks” within which new information coming in must either fit, or be discarded.  New facts and arguments which do not connect with existing views of reality are simply discarded; not accepted or even noticed as facts or as being relevant, however well reasoned or argued.  Therefore, it does not matter how much the president reassures conservative gun-owners that he is not “coming for their guns”; since the NRA has spent millions of dollars convincing them that he is, that is their reality regardless of what the new executive order actually spells out, or what the president says to explain the language or intent of the order.

Unlike the gun lobby, however, the president made it clear that at least he was listening to  the other side.  He recognized that the Second Amendment (ambiguity notwithstanding) guarantees the right to own weapons, and that the right to do so is not going to go away.  Those of us who are not killed each year by gun violence are simply going to have to live with the most heavily armed national population in the world.  But, as the president noted, there are ways we can work to ensure safety, to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and terrorists as much as possible.  At the “town hall,” at least, one side (the gun lobby) was “framing” the president’s words into an intent to take away their guns; while the other side (the president) was in fact listening and responding to their fears, even accounting for them into his executive order and his message.

There were more stalwart opponents of gun rights at the town hall, however.  Father Michael Pfleger of Chicago (a longtime acquaintance of the president) argued that in Chicago, it is easier for kids to get guns than it is to get computers.  He asked the president why gun ownership and control could not be handled like that of cars (legal, accessible, but heavily regulated, insured, etc.).  The president reminded the father of the public’s paranoia about the government, citing last year’s Texas freak-out over military maneuvers in a state proud to house some of the largest military bases in the country.  Were the government to take firmer steps, especially without Congressional support, the public outcry would simply escalate past the administration’s ability to get anything done.  The president’s executive orders and arguments now positioned him in the center, rather than on the left or right; with the left arguing for greater controls, and the right arguing for fewer controls (or at least against more controls).  The president showed a willingness to listen to both sides.  Nonetheless, in our divisive political culture, the conservatives view the president’s words and actions as being on the left rather than in the center, as those of an activist and opponent rather than as a mediator between two opposing forces.

There is a simple explanation as to why one side in particular, the conservatives fearing a gun-seizing federalist tyranny, wears greater blinders than the other.  As lawyer and blogger Jack D’Aurora noted, the answer is easy:  “follow the money.”  There’s gold in them thar frames. There is money and power to be made by keeping people afraid and “clinging to their guns.”  And until we work harder to push corporate contributions and moneyed political interest groups out of our representatives’ pockets, they will continue to sell us their products and their consequences.  Until we push the NRA and the gun manufacturers (some of whom have also been attacked by the NRA for attempting to improve gun safety, as the president noted at the town hall) out of congressional offices, we will have to live – or die – with an overarmed and under-listening population.

Headline image from a posting by Odyssey, via Google Image Search.